COVID-19 and Cancer: What If My Hair Has Grown Faster Than My White Blood Cell Count?

03/17/2020 By Ellis Emerson

Just over three months ago I celebrated the end of cancer treatment. My hair has grown in, the steroid puffiness has eased, and I feel a lot more like the old me. On the outside. I know that my body, my immune system has still needed time to heal and recover from the trauma of cancer and cancer treatment. It still needs more time.

But to almost everyone else on the outside, looking in? I again embody the 30-something runner I used to be.

Yes, I did just run a marathon again, my first after treatment. Yes, I did get my first real haircut. Yes, my white blood cell count is still half of what it should be. Just as I was getting my post-cancer, new normal footing, a pandemic brought back a sense of chaos and uncertainty.

Most people my age seem quick to say that they aren’t worried. The mortality rate for those under 50 is quite low. This is true. But it’s not true for those immunocompromised by other conditions. I felt alone during my cancer treatment—different from my coworkers and friends and this feeling is coming back now.

Because truthfully, I do worry. About myself and my friends, about my rebounding immune system, about those waiting on “elective” but very real surgeries related to their cancer treatment, about visiting hospitals and doctors for routine testing and scans. Those like me are already at increased risk and yet we’re being put into additional high-risk situations by the coronavirus. Supply shortages, panicked people and hospitals reaching capacity.

What does this mean for those of us already facing health challenges?

I wish I had the answer. I still wonder if every ache is cancer but now I wonder if a cough is the coronavirus. I had just started to rebuild a foundation for it to be rocked again. To be honest, most of the time I don’t feel like I know a whole lot.

So the only answer I have is community. Yes, a new version of community—but I am in my 30s and online communities were the backbone of my high school social life (and yours if you’re anything like me). But community is much more than going out to dinner or bars or movies. It’s caring for those around us. Taking only what we need. Offering to help others with what they need. Being honest about where we are—what scares us about coronavirus, cancer, or being stuck inside with our families for two weeks while the kids are out of school. Or is that last one just me?

We’re all in this together. Just not physically.

So from my computer and my house to yours. I am here. How are you doing?

Editor’s Note:

Ellis Emerson (1985-2022) transitioned on April 29, 2022, at age 36 after facing Stage IV Melanoma for four years. Her zest for life was contagious, admired, and shared with all who knew her, but especially by her daughter, Andie, and her husband, Dave Craig. Ellis had a love for words, writing, running, diversity, inclusion, and equality. She embraced life and those who shared in her life. She is missed by all who knew and loved her as well as the entire Gryt Health team.

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