Round 2 had been relatively uneventful through the first week. I had none of the long list of side effects that I was bracing myself for based on my experience with round 1. This time, I didn’t get any of the flu-like symptoms or the bone pain. I felt pretty much like myself, except, perhaps, a bit more run down than normal. That could have been attributed to the fact that my white blood cell count bottomed out near zero again. My theory is that maybe I did, in fact, have the flu during round 1. My nurse’s theory is that the first round can be the most disruptive because the drugs are killing off cancer cells, which, in turn, throws the liver and other organs into overdrive to rid the body of cancer and toxins and all the rest. I like that theory, I suppose, since my goal is be cancer free at the end of this road.
I went for my weekly blood workup on Tuesday, when we found that my white blood cell count was, once again, very low. I received the usual warning about staying away from public places and sick people. I was also developing a cough. This was frustrating because I thought I had made it through the winter without a single cold or cough. This is remarkable for me, actually, because every year I end up with sinusitis or bronchitis or some other itis.
By Friday, the cough was getting really bad, so I called the nurse and got the necessary meds, adding to the bucket of meds already devouring an entire shelve in my room. My parents came over to help with the kids and run some of my errands, so I could get some rest. All seemed alright. But then, around 4:00, I reached up and felt a searing pain in my side, near the scars where the drains had been in place after the mastectomy. I was immediately concerned because I had finally been pain-free. In fact, I was doing so well that, on Tuesday, my physical therapist gave me rave reviews and told me that I was healing so well that I would only need to come in occasionally (and she started recruiting me for next year’s triathlon team of doctors, therapists and breast cancer survivors). I raised my shirt to find my side swollen and painful with a red, blotchy rash. I called the nurse right away which started a run-around of telephone conversations with various doctors and nurses. Mind you, this is 4:00 in the afternoon on Good Friday.
First, I spoke with the oncology nurse. She advised me to call the surgeon. The surgeon put me in a panic. Her first thought was that the tissue expander had become infected. She advised me that this would mean emergency surgery to immediately remove the expander. Tonight. After that statement, she said she didn’t want me to panic, but that I needed to call the plastic surgeon right away. Okay, at this point, I started crying. Thoughts about my holiday weekend plans with the kids, not to mention the fear of a huge set-back requiring yet another surgery and recovery which would, in turn, delay the time-frame of the crucial, cancer-crushing chemo, overwhelmed me.
Tears, hugs from my mom and kids, deep breath….
I placed the call to the plastic surgeon. “He’s in surgery right now, can I take your name and number?”, said the receptionist. Sure, no problem.
I called the first surgeon back and she agreed that I could come to her office so she could take a look at my side and help me determine what I needed to do next. It is now 4:45 on the Friday of a holiday weekend. I am SO grateful for the dedication my doctor has repeatedly exhibited. She took one look at my side and said, “you have shingles”.
I have shingles.
The good news is-this is NOT a surgical problem. The bad news is, I was now in the wrong office. Dr. Tjoe placed a call to the medical oncologist, and together they decided that it was time for me to go to the Emergency Room. Hmmm. Could that have been because it was now after 5 on a holiday weekend?
Regardless, I made my way down to the ER. The nurse there was completely confused as to why I was there. We chatted, reviewed the chart and determined that it was the intent of the doctors to have me admitted overnight to start IV antibiotics and watch me for pneumonia due to the cough. So off I went into a room for chest X-rays and more blood work. Wishing I had eaten something before I rushed off to see the doctor, I started fantasizing about the left over Chinese food back home in my fridge. All the tests were done and paperwork was completed to register me for a room. Waiting on results, and my room, I nibbled on dry crackers. Blah. It was getting to be close to 7:00, and boredom and hunger and sadness about my screwed up weekend plans was setting in. Just in the nick of time, my boyfriend showed up with books and podcasts (and a charger for my nearly dead phone) and hugs and good company. The wait suddenly seemed less oppressive. Then, rumors made their way to my ear that I might not have to be admitted after all!!
The rumors proved to be true! My blood work all looked good, and they trusted that I would take the two additional prescriptions, add them to my bulging shelf, and take good care of myself at home. With my kids. And my Chinese food leftovers. The weekend was saved. And now I can check Shingles off my list, and it’s not even an itis. By the way, OUCH!!!!