A part of taking accountability for you health is understanding the results of the blood work that’s being done on you. I’ve tried to Google my way to understanding without much luck. Once they start getting too technical, my eyes start to glaze over and I find myself drifting back over to Facebook and chatting with friends about nothing to do with understanding CBC results. I have learned a few key things over the years though, so I’ll share what I do know, ask some others we know and trust for their input and include a link at the end to the one those higher tech sites that explains it all in detail.
Here’s what I do know: A CBC, Complete Blood Count (often called a CBC with Diff) is a common blood test that can detect infection, anemia and Leukemia. This is the kind of common test they run during yearly physicals, so you don’t need to have cancer to need to understand this. Everyone should be getting a yearly physical, so this definitely applies to you.
Here’s what it checks:
- Red blood cells, which carry oxygen
- White blood cells, which fight infection
- Hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells
- Hematocrit, the proportion of red blood cells to the fluid component, or plasma, in your blood
- Platelets, which help with blood clotting
I get it done weekly when I’m on chemo and monthly when I’m on a break from chemo (remission). The longer you’re on chemo, the longer it takes for your body to recover, so this is a great way to measure your progress. In the book I mentioned the latest progress since I added the daily protein shakes (well, I like to call them Immune Boosting shakes because they are so much more than protein). For me, it’s easy to understand something if I can see it with my own eyes, so here you go, here are my actual CBC results over the past few months.
First two things I look at are the WBC and the ANC. During chemo these take a nose dive. Once the ANC hits 1.0 you are considered extremely anemic/weak and at high risk of catching anything that comes your way, so it means getting the dreaded booster shot (Neulasta), which makes you feel like you’ve got the flu for a few days, but it boosts your immune system, so you can keep in the fight.
The results on 2/17/15 were just after my last chemo cycle and radiation treatment (on my right lung). A few days after that I started on the booster shakes (almost daily). Watching the WBC and ANC bump up every month made me feel like a little kid at Christmas each time. You go in…you repeat a quiet mantra in your head, “please oh please let it be higher.” An hour or two later, an email arrives “Your test results are in.” I logged in, hold my breath as the test results page loads and then a very loud “Wahooooooooooooo~” can be heard around the block. I celebrate for a minute and then my eyes turn to the mysterious MCH, MCHC, MCV results…
Why are they still high? What do they mean exactly and why isn’t anyone involved in my care concerned that they are still high? I did some research and found this: a high MCH “could” mean poorly oxygenated blood. A high MCHC “could” mean too much iron in the blood, and a high MCV “could” mean certain vitamin deficiencies. Well, that was helpful-ish. I dug a little further and found that B12 and Folate were among them, so in May I invested in some high quality (expensive), “Women’s Ultra Mega” vitamins that provide, “high-potency B vitamins (as opposed to the lazy-arsed ones).” They covered B6, B12 and Folate, as well as about 25 other things I can’t pronounce. The MCH/MCHC are now in normal range, but the fekn MCV is still high. Taking these gigantic horse pills daily and still I’m vitamin deficient? I decided to check in with a couple nurses in the know to get their take on it…
Jen RN has this to say: “Your ANC is a measure of the neutrophils in your blood. Neutrophils are white blood cells formed in your bone marrow that are like first responders. They rush to a site of injury or inflammation and help you fight off infection. They do this by ingesting microorganisms, secreting antimicrobials and leaving behind a weblike structure of DNA to help catch and kill anything left behind. A low ANC or absolute neutrophil count indicates neutropenia. Neutropenia means your body is highly susceptible to infection because there are not enough neutrophils to do the job. Neulasta stimulates neutrophil production in your bone marrow. Strict handwashing and hygeine are imperitive to preventing infection when you are neutropenic. Anemia, on the other hand, is a decrease in red blood cells. I’m back at work on Thursday and I’ll ask my favorite heme/onc MD to explain the MCH/MCHC/MCV a little better for me/you.”
In the meantime, Jen RN recommended Lab Tests Online for details on what lab results mean. It’s her go to and less stuffy than many of the others.