Did Chemo Ruin My Immune System?

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There was a time when I was a really healthy person. I maybe caught a cold once a year, or occasionally had the sniffles. I hardly ever felt the need to go to the doctor–over-the-counter meds always did the trick.

Then I was diagnosed with cancer. And I went through several rounds of intense chemotherapy. And while that chemo decimated my cancer, it also all but wiped out my immune system. Even though I dutifully got my Neulasta shots after each infusion in an attempt to keep my white blood cell counts up, they almost always plummeted. And after the first dose of Taxol made me incredibly sick and wiped out my white blood cells for almost a month, my doctors knew I couldn’t continue with chemo without inflicting irreparable damage to my immune system and bone marrow.

Since that time, I swear my body has changed. And I’m not just talking about my chemo curls or brittle nails, I’m talking about my ability to resist and fight disease. I don’t have any concrete scientific proof of this claim, but I’m making it anyway: I’m pretty sure chemo ruined my immunity.

I catch everything nowadays. And I have a harder time getting rid of illnesses. Almost every cold turns into a sinus infection. And even more curious, my eczema is pretty much gone.

For those lucky souls who’ve never dealt with this irritating skin condition, eczema is an itchy rash often caused by an over-active immune system. I began suffering from the condition in middle school and have contended with it my entire life. That is, until I received chemo. Since then, I’ve had only one teeny-tiny flare up of eczema. While I enjoy the clear, itch-free skin, I also can’t help wondering what’s going on inside my body to keep it that way.

But my lack of eczema is not the issue here; it’s getting sick more often than I’d like. Sure, some of that can be attributed to being the parent of a preschooler, but I can’t help thinking it’s more than that. For example, within the last month, I’ve had a cold that morphed into a nasty sinus infection, strep throat and now hand, foot and mouth disease (which is a really shitty thing to catch, BTW). I feel like I’ve only been well a handful of days this past month.

Do I have any rock-solid medical proof that this is all due to chemotherapy? No. Do I regret undergoing chemotherapy to treat my cancer? Hell no. It saved my life. But I still can’t help wondering if my sub-par immune system is yet another piece of collateral damage in the war to save my life.

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