My medical oncologist and I have a running fake "conflict" about getting the flu shot. She nearly died from influenza when she was a young adult and now she's a huge proponent of everyone getting them. Being immunocompromised, I've always been concerned about injecting myself with a live virus, especially one that is often less than 50% effective. We explore the topic a few times a year and have concluded, thus far, that me getting a flu shot isn't worth the risk right now.
Thinking about the flu shot and immunity generally is a big deal in the metastatic community. Most of us are walking around looking relatively healthy, but carrying with us our lowered immune system. I've been asking medical professionals and others about ideas to avoid getting sick this winter. Yes, I know, Florida doesn't really have a "winter," but I do a fair amount of traveling and these tips are applicable to airports as well.
I doubt anything on this list will be a surprise...
- The first thing any medical person says when I've asked about avoiding getting sick is... "WASH YOUR HANDS." I have been a little surprised to hear that hand sanitizer isn't a big favorite, that good old fashioned soap and water is plenty sufficient.
- In addition to washing hands, the next thing is not to put your hands in your mouth. I am pretty sure this is why my kids catch a lot of virus' "going around."
- My husband often despairs of me, but if I see a sick person, I get away from them. This has resulted in me changing seats on public transportation and, once, on an airplane. Sure, it's possible that feelings were hurt, but staying away from germs is an important step to staying healthy. My kids have sneezed or coughed right into my mouth before. I accept this as a hazard of being a parent, but people who aren't my kids, I stay away.
- For airports and airplanes, while a mask isn't very attractive looking, it can really help with filtering out germs from the circulated air on a plane.
- Get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated. Being sleep deprived or dehydrated affects how your immune system functions.
Whether it's winter or summer, staying as healthy as possible while dealing with all of the side effects from metastatic disease and the medication we're all taking to keep those cancer cells in check, can be challenging. Wearing masks, incessantly hand washing, moving away from sick people; all of these things are disruptive and something else to think about, to keep in mind.
Another thing that I've been paying attention to lately is the absorption of the vitamins I'm taking--Vitamin D is often lower in the winter months because of the lack of sunlight. I recently found out that my B12 levels were nearly nonexistent. B12 is associated with nausea and energy and I was nauseous all the time and had low energy. I was exploring getting a different anti-emetic or perhaps layering multiple anti-emetics when I saw my neurologist and he looked at my vitamin levels. Turns out, Metformin, which I take to regulate my sugar levels since Piqray can cause hyperglycemia, blocks the absorption of B12.
I'm not a doctor, but I love low tech options like this!
This flu season, keep an eye and an ear out and WASH YOUR HANDS!
Have you gained new friends in your metastatic cancer journey?