It all started on the morning of September 20th. I was completely alone at my house, something that happens very infrequently. Mark and Nick were hunting and I had dropped the dog off the night before at a friend’s house, as I was catching a plane to Houston at 11:30 am. I was excited to go to Houston to the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network’s annual conference. I received a grant to go so my airfare and hotel were taken care of. I was excited to hear about new drugs and treatments for breast cancer. I figure one of them might just save my life one day, so what’s not to be excited about? I was also looking forward to connecting with others who have my diagnosis. It would seem like there are cancer patients everywhere in the world, but when you’re actually going through it, you tend to feel pretty isolated.
I woke up that morning feeling very ill. I had terrible abdominal pain, along with other, not so fun to describe, gastro-intestinal symptoms. I will spare you the details. I thought, great…….stomach flu, food poisoning…….why today????? Now I am not a wimp when it comes to being sick, but when you can’t stand in the shower long enough to wash your hair, you have to consider calling off the trip. I, however, was determined. I laid down for a little while, popped an Imodium and decided to be on my way. I mean, hell, I’m going to MD Anderson, this world renowned hospital! If something is seriously wrong, help won’t be far away!
By the time I arrived in Houston, I felt somewhat better. All the symptoms had eased, except the abdominal pain. It was bearable and I was even able to eat a little bit that evening. Saturday the pain was still present, but I think I was so engrossed with the speakers and slide shows and various other events, that I just managed to ignore it. I had a great time connecting with other women (and men) with metastatic breast cancer. I do have to say that I still felt like one of the “babies” of the group since most of the participants were quite a bit older than myself. There were a few of us in our 40’s and even a couple of 30 somethings.
I arrived home on Sunday afternoon and the pain seemed worse. This is where you begin the awful argument with yourself about going to the doctor. Obviously, being Sunday, my only option was the ER. But, was it really that bad? I dreaded the thought of going in only to be told I have the stomach flu. At the same time, I didn’t want to ignore a potentially serious situation. So, Sunday evening, off we went to the emergency room.
If you ever want to freak out ER doctors and nurses, tell them you’re a stage IV cancer patient. It gets their attention. It also gets me every possible scan and test in the book! So we start with the obvious urine and blood tests…..nothing out of the ordinary…..except anemia, which they neglected to tell me. Then it was off to the CT scanner. Tons of fun on Sunday night. CT results back and nothing remarkable that would be causing abdominal pain. At some point in this process, I did get pain medication, which, honestly, just about made the whole trip worth it!
An ultrasound was up next and BINGO…..lesions in my liver. Awesome. Even better that they failed to show on the CT, but are now showing up on the ultrasound. So the doctor quickly gives me the bad news, a prescription for pain meds, and tells me to call my oncologist first thing in the morning. I decide NOT to go to work on Monday.
A call to the oncologist’s office quickly got me……..wait for it…….wait for it……..ANOTHER SCAN! Whoohooo! On Wednesday, the 25th I went in for a PET/CT. For the cancerland rookies…..it’s a fancy CT scan that gives not only images, but also measures metabolic uptake of radioactive glucose that they inject into you. Fun times. I also had an appointment with my oncologist the next day. If you have read my April blog, you know that I waited over a week for PET/CT results last time and it nearly killed me. These results did not take long at all. So, now I know!
The oncologist emailed me the scan results Thursday morning, even before my appointment. Clean scan. Nothing seen in the liver. Keep in mind that while all of this testing is going on, I’m still in pain and completely exhausted! The oncologist kicked around some possible causes of my stomach pain…..diverticulitis, ovarian cysts, fibroids. But, ultimately, there was no good answer. He sent me away with orders for more blood tests and a shot in the dark prescription to help ease stomach cramps. It did absolutely nothing by the way.
That brings us to Saturday morning, September 28th. I was looking forward to a long weekend of sitting on the couch doing nothing…..just me, the remote, and my pain pills. However, as I undressed to get in the shower that morning, I did a double take at the image in the mirror. It seemed there was a very large, red, inflamed area on my abdomen. It was in the middle, going vertical, with small red streaks on both sides. I went to show Mark and of course we were off to the ER.
You would think that the ER on a Saturday mid-morning would be nice and slow right? All of the drinking mishaps and car accidents happen in the middle of the night right? WRONG! We waited over an hour this time. I graded papers. Not even the stage IV cancer status got us in the door any earlier on this day!
Once we were in a room (area with a curtain) in the ER, things moved rather quickly. I saw a couple of different doctors who seemed a little freaked out by the red area on my abdomen. They did blood tests and cultures and, you guessed it! Another CT Scan. For those of you who are trying to keep count, that is three in one week. I also received more IV pain meds, which was a good thing because after that I didn’t really care what tests they ran.
It was determined (or at least it was their best educated guess) that I had a bacterial skin infection known as cellulitis. It is an infection that penetrates below the surface of the skin and invades the soft tissue. It can be serious if left untreated and the infection enters your blood stream. So they admitted me to the hospital for IV anti-biotics. This is NOT how I had planned to spend my weekend.
Sunday morning I woke up and felt fabulous. The anti-biotics were working! The red area was gone, the abdominal pain was much better, and I wanted to go home! But, that was a no-go according to the doctors because they had to transition me to oral anti-biotics and didn’t want to let me go until they were sure I would continue to respond. So it was another night in the hospital. The irony is, I woke up Monday morning feeling as if I had been hit by a truck. That “fabulous” feeling from Sunday was long gone and I almost suggested to them that I stay just so I didn’t have to expend the energy to walk out of the hospital. They sent me home anyway and I went home and slept. And slept, and slept some more. I still don’t know why I decided to go to work on Tuesday, but I wish I had not! The entire week was exhausting. I mean, I can’t remember EVER being that tired. Not even when Nick was a newborn and I was up every two hours to feed him!
Thursday night brought an anxiety attack as my fever seemed to be climbing and pain returned to my abdomen. I was scared the infection was returning. I think the anxiety was worse than the actual symptoms, but I somehow made it through the night. You can ask anyone I work with, I did not look so good on Friday. But I made it. This past weekend I slept, and slept, and slept some more. I can honestly say that today, I feel almost normal. I still have 2 days of anti-biotics left and a couple of follow up appointments next week.
The cause of the infection is a mystery. Most cellulitis is caused by bacteria entering through broken skin from a bug bite, wound, rash, etc. Mine could be caused by the surgical mesh in my abdomen which the plastic surgeon did confirm can happen, even 16 months after surgery. If I continue to get infections I will likely have to go in for another surgery to remove the mesh. Let’s hope this is NOT the case.
I do not know why my health has to always be so dramatic. I don’t like drama, especially when it has to do with doctors, needles, blood, and hospital stays. I prefer to have easy, normal illnesses that I can self diagnose and treat with Tylenol and/or Neosporin. I would think stage IV cancer would be enough without getting an infection that requires Dr. House to diagnose. I guess that’s just my luck!
Anyway, good news is, the cancer is the least of my problems right now! The scan(s) were good and the disease appears stable. Treatment will continue and I will get my pamidronate infusion next week if my blood counts are back up from this little infection adventure!