The Miracle of Numbers

I shared the waiting room of my oncologist this morning with three other cancer patients. We were all there for the same reason – blood tests. After treatments, we all are totally dependent upon the phlebotomist’s reports for our CBC, complete blood count. Certain blood elements are absolutely essential for good health. It differs to some extent for each type of cancer, but we all share some concerns.

For me, it is a particular type of white blood cell, neutrophils, and platelets. Neutrophils are the type of white blood cells that fight disease. Without them the human body cannot fight off infection. Platelets are the little cells that clot the blood when a hemorrhage occurs. A small cut can cause a person to bleed profusely without the clotting properties of platelets plugging the hole. This is not terribly serious with a small cut, but imagine falling and causing a small rupture internally. Without knowing what is happening, a person can bleed out without knowing it until it is too late.

Numbers are important so it is important to understand the them. In the case of platelets, the normal count is 140 to 440 K/UL. When the numbers drop too far below 140, danger arises. I talked to a fellow patient last week. His platelets had dropped to 20 at one time. The resultant treatment was a platelet transfusion. Actually, he had several because the numbers kept bouncing in and out of the danger zone. The lowest my platelet number has reached was 64, in the watch closely range. I have yet to need a transfusion.

The neutrophil absolute numbers are a bit different. Normal is 2.0 – 7.8 X10E3/UL. Anything below 2.0 is cause for concern. My lowest count was 1.1, a serious problem. The preferred treatment method is injections of Neupegen or Neulasta. The purpose of these shots is to cause the bone marrow to increase production of neutrophil cells. This has always worked for me.

Now for the miracle of numbers. Two other patients had gone before me to have their blood drawn (a pinprick of the finger in the case of a CBC). Each was expecting bad news and a shot. The first was called back by the nurse. He returned with a smile. His numbers were good. He would not need the injection – at least until after his next CBC. The second patient was called back. His return was a mixed bag report. His numbers were OK, but he would need to return Wednesday for another test. The miracle day had begun.

Then came my turn. I fully expected to need the Neupegen. I always had. Not only had my numbers not dropped, they had risen! I looked at the report to make sure my name was on top. Yep! There it was. My report. The phlebotomist walked by, we’re good friends by now. I asked her if she really used my blood. Yep, my blood. My numbers are good. Quite a miracle.

Of course any cancer patient will testify that there are always more questions than answers. For me the question is this: does this mean the chemo is not working? Am I not getting the results we are hoping for? That is something I will ask Friday when I see the doctor.

Until then, please keep praying … for me and all the other cancer patients you know or don’t know. We need your support.

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