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Cancer Survivor Employs Simple Steps to Fight off Infection During Chemotherapy

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog
Pamela Bryant and family
Pamela Bryant and family

Author: Pamela Bryant, MS
Health Communications Specialist, CDC

To do:

  • Biopsy
  • MRI
  • Port-a-Cath
  • Chemotherapy
  • Genetic Testing
  • Lumpectomy
  • Radiation

The above list is not exactly the type of to-do list I ever thought I’d be faced with. As you can imagine, this list of tests, screenings, procedures, and treatments was a bit overwhelming as I was diagnosed last October with a Stage II breast cancer. Not only did I learn I had triple negative breast cancer, but I had to accept that my treatment plan would definitely include chemotherapy—8 rounds to be exact—followed by surgery and radiation. My life and my family’s life was about to change during this time. So we talked and prayed, and then we prepared for this journey.

As a “CDC-er,” my work as a health communications specialist often involves taking what our team of scientists knows and putting it into easy-to-understand language for the general public. So after I learned that I had cancer and was trying to prepare myself and my family for what was to come, I read about one of chemotherapy’s most serious side effects that I had never heard of before – neutropenia. Almost instantly, my CDC background kicked in. First of all, I thought, “how do you even pronounce this word (new-tro-pee-nee-a, by the way),” and secondly, “how can I explain the seriousness of this to my family?”

Pamela Bryant, MS
Pamela Bryant, MS

Once I did a little digging, I found an excellent resource (right in my back yard!) that explained this condition to my family and me. PreventCancerInfections.org is a web site developed by CDC that provides practical steps that patients and caregivers can take to prevent infections. This website also helps explain what neutropenia is (a low white blood cell count), how and why it makes you more likely to get an infection, and what you and your family can do to help protect yourself.

Ironically, my CDC job involves communicating about basic principles of maintaining good health, such as frequent hand washing and safe food preparation. Fortunately, these practices came naturally for me, but I kicked them into high gear while I was receiving chemotherapy.

In addition to getting proper nutrition, enough exercise, and plenty of rest to help my body recover after each round of chemo, I also had to be extremely careful about reducing my risk for infections (at home and work), particularly when my white blood cell counts were at their lowest.

Pamela Bryant, MS
Pamela Bryant, MS

Some practices my family and I followed at home during this time included:

  • Frequent cleaning and disinfecting around the house, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms.
  • Cooking foods to proper temperature and refrigerating leftovers promptly.
  • Washing fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking them.
  • Maintaining good personal and oral hygiene. This was important for me to help keep urinary tract infections, gum disease, and mouth sores at bay.
  • Frequent hand washing with warm water and soap and using hand sanitizer. We were diligent in practicing good hand hygiene especially after coming home from work and school, using the bathroom, and handling garbage.

Fortunately, I never experienced a fever or had any severe illnesses while on chemo. Despite the unpleasant side effects of chemo, I am thankful to have had more good days than bad days.

For me, life after breast cancer treatment means taking just one day at a time and continuing to be mindful of the simple things I can do to keep my family and me as healthy as possible. In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, I’d like to recognize my strong support system of loving and devoted family, dear friends, and caring co-workers who helped me stay strong and positive throughout this process. I also would like to send my words of encouragement to all people living with a history of cancer – including America’s nearly 14 million cancer survivors. So whether you’re a cancer survivor, family member, friend, or medical professional, this time provides an opportunity for all of us to celebrate another day and another milestone!

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

10 comments on “Cancer Survivor Employs Simple Steps to Fight off Infection During Chemotherapy”

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    Pam, thank you for sharing your story of strength and hope with us. Another critical technique that cancer suffers can utilize to prevent infection is asking their healthcare providers if they have washed their hands. Health Care providers, like Nurse Practitioners and Doctors, sometimes forget the basic step of handwashing to protect their vulnerable patients. Just watching to see if your provider has washed their hands, and speaking up if you didn’t see it, can protect you and others around you. A good Nurse Practitioner or Doctor will appreciate the reminder, and appreciate the care you are taking to keep yourself healthy. Check out a video from the Joint Commission that encourages patients to speak up to promote hand washing: http://www.jointcommission.org/multimedia/speak-up–prevent-the-spread-of-infection/default.aspx.

    I was an infection prevention nurse first, then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was in 1997. To my surprise, the two areas of healthcare, Infection Prevention and oncology, did not share information. So as a member of a support group, I devised a powerpoint for Consumers that I called, “enhancing your immune system.” I taught the class to my support group for breast cancer survivors then went on to teach it to over 1000 people in many settings. I’m a 17 year survivor now and bipassed any infectious complications in my breast cancer treatment.

    Pam,

    You are such a dear friend to me and I am so proud of all that you are and what you do! Your strenght, courage, and faith has brought you through this miraculous journey. Thank you so much for sharing your story with others as your positive attitude and spirt shines within!!!

    We are so proud of you!!!

    Thanks so much Pam for sharing your story! You are a fighter and an inspiration for all. It has been great working with you and I will be sure to share your story with others as this is very valuable information.

    I further stress on Hand Hygien( by washing with liquid soap or rubbing with alcohol gel )which is the most important step to prevent infection.
    Respiratory Hygien of family members by using tissue during sneeze and cough or wearing mask
    Cleaning and Disnfection of house surfaces and furnitures by chlorine compounds or dettol and not forget wearing gloves and mask during the process.

    And especially in honor of Pamela Bryant. Would it not be wonderful if all cancer patients (and other people at increased risk of infection) and their families had the knowledge and understanding to protect themselves as you have done.

    Best wishes for your continued well-being.

    etu

    As an Infectious Diseases doc who was also diagnosed with breast cancer I echo your point that knowledge is the most powerful gift we can bring to patients fighting this and all cancers. The time needed to impart that knowledge (from providers to their patients) is often the part of the equation that is missing. Whatever tools CDC can produce via blogs, videos etc. will save lives by communicating the knowledge patients lack at the beginning of their journeys. Keep up your great work.

    Pam’s own positive attitude throughout her diagnosis and treatment was inspirational to me as her co-worker. So proud of you, Pam!

    Thank you for sharing your story and infection prevention tips and for the reference to the CDC site, which will be useful. Best wishes on your recovery journey.

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