In advance of tomorrow’s planned fourth Darzalex infusion, the doctors did a CBC with differential today to see how my neutrophils were standing up to the Darzalex / Pomalyst combination. Surprise! Neutrophils were just 400/uL, where the reference range for this lab is 1800 to 7700 /uL.
In other words, my neutrophils measured less than one fourth of the value representing the very bottom of the reference range – the lowest count that I remember in almost 13 years with myeloma. Doctors and nurses were all asking if I felt OK, because a low neutrophil count (neutropenia) can result in neutropenic fever, potentially a life-threatening condition. In the past my doctors have stopped treatment when neutrophils dropped below 1000.
So what do we do about that? I have a Darzalex infusion scheduled for tomorrow.
First, I don’t believe the number. I don’t doubt the accuracy of the test (much), but I have a history of low neutrophil counts that probably weren’t low. The neutrophils are actually there, but they don’t show up (at least not as neutrophils) in a CBC with diff. In the past, I have used two “tricks” to make the neutrophils appear:
- Take the blood in the afternoon. I have repeatedly found that my neutrophil count is at least double in the afternoon. In lieu of afternoon, take the blood as late in the morning as possible. Today’s draw was at 7:30 am.
- Do some physical exercise just before the blood draw. One doctor told me that the neutrophils hide in muscle tissue and can be rousted by exercise. Another doubted that they hid in muscles, but implied that they were there somewhere, just not appearing as white cells, and told me that it was actually adrenaline that made them come out to play. We’re WAY above my pay grade here, but either way a little high-intensity exercise could do the trick – I do several flights of stairs as fast as I dare, and one set of pushups, as many as I can.
Please note: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. And even though these two tricks do seem to work for me, doctors and patients alike have told me that they don’t work for everybody. Maybe they ONLY work for me.
A third “trick” is dexamethasone (DEX). Not a trick, really, but my doctors seem to agree that DEX may actually support my neutrophil count. As evidence I have had CBC’s for three weeks in a row now, prior to this one, always in the morning and with no exercise, with neutrophils always comfortably within the reference range. In each case I had taken 40 mg of DEX the night before or two nights before. This time we moved the DEX by one day, so the blood draw happened to come first, and got this surprisingly low result. I think the DEX might matter a lot IN MY CASE.
So tomorrow I will use all of the tricks. I have taken my DEX tonight already, and skipped tonight’s Pomalyst capsule. I will get another CBC/diff at 10:30 am, after getting myself just a bit sweaty with exercise. The doctors and I have agreed that a count of 1000 per uL will be the threshold, below which the Darzalex infusion will be postponed until the count gets back up to a safe range. At 1000 or above we will proceed with the infusion and return to the regimen.
We also drew blood for the myeloma markers today: IgG, M-spike, and light chains. That was a “kit,” then sent by overnight express to Mayo Clinic. Those results will come on line tomorrow and I’m mighty interested.