Managing My Compromised Immune System
Last updated: June 2023
Cancer patients may be susceptible to infections from their disease and from the treatment, which can destroy white blood cells (WBC). Our immune system is designed to recognize and destroy abnormal cells. This system of many biological structures and processes within an organism protects us against disease by detecting a wide variety of pathogens such as viruses and bacteria and distinguishing them from the body’s own healthy cells.
Working with my healthcare team
As a cancer patient, my immune system has been affected and I am prone to frequent upper respiratory infections. I can remember mentioning to my oncology nurse practitioner that I had recently purchased several complementary supplements that were reported to enhance the immune system. During my chemotherapy, I experienced neutropenia or a low white blood cell count. It made sense to me that I should try these products.
Fortunately, this astute NP took the time to research the products and advised that they could interfere with my chemotherapy. I immediately stopped the complementary medicines. While we often think that complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) are harmless, some may contain active ingredients that can react chemically and biologically interact with other therapies. It is important that you discuss any these types of therapies with your oncology team to ensure that they will not negatively impact that treatment that you are receiving.
Boosting my immune system
I worked with my healthcare team to find some lifestyle changes that would help my immune system to recover and hopefully prevent the upper respiratory infections that had been plaguing me. Many of these changes included changes to my diet, including modifying the types of food and drink that I commonly consumed. I began eating a protein-rich diet, getting protein from sources like nuts, beans, meats, and seafood. Protein helps to provide amino acids that are used to help create white blood cells. 1 I also ensured that I drank 8 cups of water each day, sometimes with lemon, and tried to minimize my caffeine intake.
Having social support from family and friends helps to improve my mood and reduce stress. Some studies have found that this type of support and even hugging helps to boost the immune system.2 Research has even found that laughing increases the activity of a number of antibodies that our immune system produces, which can also promote a healthy immune system.3 I try to enjoy time with my loved ones as much as possible.
The experience of cancer is filled with stressors. After talking with my health care team, I have utilized several strategies that have been effective in reducing the frequency of my respiratory infections. If you are prone to frequent infections during your experience with blood cancer, your doctor may be able to recommend some ways to help boost your immune system.
How do you feel about your support system?