Cancerversary is another one of those made up words from cancer land. It is the anniversary of one’s cancer diagnosis. I celebrated my 3 year cancerversary yesterday. It was March 9, 2012 that I found out I had metastatic breast cancer. Some say that is not an occasion to celebrate, but, I beg to differ. I feel pretty darn lucky that I have lived and thrived with this diagnosis for 3 years now. So many others are not so lucky. It hasn’t been easy and it surely has had a few bumps in the road, but I could not be more grateful for the facts that I am still working full time, still going on vacation, still watching my son quickly become a man, still sharing good times with friends and family. I hope to be celebrating many more cancerversaries in the future.
Now, with that being said, there was another “bump” in the road recently. Last week, I woke up in the middle of the night and had the most horrible chills. I could not get warm. At 2:00 am I stood in the shower with hot water pouring over me and still had goose bumps all over my body. I managed to drag myself into work for the morning. I taught a class, made some sub plans and got out of there. I had diagnosed myself with the flu. By now I had all of the classic symptoms…..body aches, fever, head ache, chills.
I called the doctor cursing the obvious futility of my flu shot and asked for that new Tamiflu medication that I have heard so much about. They gladly, based on my symptoms, wrote me a prescription for it over the phone. So by the afternoon I was curled up on the couch and ready to take a nice long nap, knowing that the upcoming weekend was probably a bust and I was going to have to spend it feeling awful in bed. Until, I woke up.
I drug myself upstairs to change and as I did I noticed a large, bright red, hot to the touch splotch on my left arm. My arm was obviously swollen because it hurt to even bend and/or extend it. I showed Mark and we both looked at each other with the same thought……infection……ER time.
The good news is, the ER was empty and I was seen right away. There wasn’t much question that it was an infection, but exactly what it was and how it happened were a mystery. Many of you may remember that I had this same diagnosis a year and a half ago when I had cellulitis on my stomach. I think the definition of cellulitis must be….”a fancy name for an infection that doctors have no clue about.” The only difference is that this time it’s on my arm. I was admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics.
This infection seemed more stubborn than the last. In 2013, I spent two nights in the hospital. This time around I spent four nights. I was on two separate IV meds and then switched to oral antibiotics on Sunday. I was just released yesterday. There is still some redness on my arm and I am very nervous that it is going to come back. After already missing three days of work and having life turned upside down, I really don’t want to start the process all over. I am praying that the oral antibiotics continue to kick the infection to the curb.
The really fun part is the permanent consequences of this could be ugly. My left side is the one missing 20 or so lymph nodes. It’s a wait and see game at this point but trauma to the left side, including infection, could bring on what is known as lymphedema. It’s a permanent swelling due to excess fluid that your lymph system can’t handle. It requires physical therapy, compression sleeves, and comes with an increased risk of further infection. I was warned of this way back in 2001 after my initial lumpectomy and node dissection. But, up to this point, I haven’t had any trouble. I am careful not to get blood pressure, blood draws, or other procedures on my left side. I have always been attentive to cuts and hang nails and cleaned and treated them promptly. It’s become a habit of the past thirteen years.
I have heard the stories, but always thought I had escaped the dreaded reality of lymphedema. I guess it’s just another ugly side effect of an uglier disease. Perhaps I will be lucky, the swelling will subside, and I won’t deal with it ever again. I guess we’ll see.
A special thanks for all of the notes, messages, and gifts while I was in the hospital. It was clear to me that there are many people who care about me…….yet something else to be grateful for!