A letter from Nancy Church, R.N. - BCCS President/CEO
During this past year, there has been a lot of news about COVID-19, its transmission, and the need for protection. One of the terms that has been tossed around in conversations is, “antibodies”. While the word sounds like something we may not want, the opposite is actually true. The human body produces antibodies when it fights an infection. This process helps to build immunity to that specific infection. Antibodies are special Y-shaped proteins that recognize “antigens” which is a fancy name for foreign particles such as viruses. The antibodies are like a key that fits specifically with a particular antigen (virus, bacteria, etc.), similar to a lock. A white blood cell called a B cell produces the antibodies which lock onto the antigen resulting in destruction. If the body encounters the same antigen, the B cells are able to develop antibodies more quickly.
Now what does all this have to do with March Cancer Awareness Month? When the cells that produce antibodies malfunction, this can lead to multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. When the B cells respond to an infection and create antibodies that attack the virus (or other microbe), they mature and change into plasma cells. These plasma cells are found primarily in the bone marrow and continue to make the same antibodies. When plasma cells become cancerous, they multiply rapidly which decreases the production of healthy blood cells from the bone marrow. They also produce abnormal antibodies that are harmful, particularly to the kidneys as well as a substance that dissolves bones, making them weak and easy to break. Multiple myeloma can often be managed through a variety of treatment options including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapy.
While it has been several years since I have been one of the nurses on the road, one of my highlights of a day is when I can help someone in a meaningful way. Awhile back, we received a call from the oncology infusion center regarding a patient needing some ostomy supplies. Fortunately, I was able to help her with these items and started chatting with her. She had colon cancer along with multiple drainage bags and was facing having to go into a nursing home. After discussing what she needed at home, she was delighted to find out that a BCCS nurse could help her with the in-home skilled nursing care. Soon the nurse was busy helping Delores and providing needed medical supplies including a wig. The nurse was there for Delores when she had questions or needed extra assistance due to complications. Despite the difficulties, Delores was able to manage her care and stay in her home with the support of the BCCS nurse. With much appreciation, Delores says, “BCCS means so much to me! Without BCCS, I would be in a world of hurt, and especially without my nurse, Sheryl, I would be in a world of hurt. It has kept me from being in a nursing home”. (permission granted by patient for publication)