Thought I’d share a week in the life of a breast cancer survivor…….
So the drama started Monday at lunch when all of a sudden my armpit started hurting. It started off as a dull soreness. I immediately assumed it was lymphadema and called my oncologist.
Lymphedema (or lymphatic obstruction) is a condition of localized fluid retention and tissue swelling caused by a compromised lymphatic system. It’s basically the biggest risk factor from having all my axillary lymph nodes removed during my surgery. Not all breast cancer patients have their lymph nodes removed. I did because they tested positive for cancer metastatsis at my original diagnosis biopsy.
My oncologist said that since there wasn’t any swelling, it probably wasn’t that but that I should call my oncology surgeon because it could be some delayed injuries from surgery or something. I had already received a letter in the mail reminding me to schedule my followup so I thought I’d just wait for that.
Like an hour later, the pain started getting much worse and was spreading down my arm. Pretty soon after that, my whole arm was very sore and very achy. I could barely raise it and by mid afternoon I couldn’t raise it much past my shoulder without feeling like I was pulling something. Then all of a sudden this weird rash appeared. I called my oncologist back. I usually start with them because, like I said in prior posts, every time anything medical pops up now, I want to immediately rule out any possibilities that the cancer is back no matter how randomly related (or unrelated) the symptoms. They said it didn’t sound oncology related but suggested I go to the ER. I decided to wait a few hours to see if it got better. I don’t like being over dramatic and rushing to the ER for everything, even though it was a very strange presentation of symptoms.
It was still the same by the time I got home so I called my family phyisician to see what they thought. Since it wasn’t oncology related, I thought my family physician would know best if I should be concerned. I talked to the on-call doctor after hours and they suggested the ER too. They were concerned it might be a blood clot.
So off to the ER I went Monday night around 8pm. I was there until about 12am. They thought it might a blood clot too so they ordered a full neck/arm sonogram. They also ordered a CBC (complete blood count) for the rash. The sonogram took forever because they were looking at all the large veins all the way up and down. It ended up coming back normal. The blood test came back and showed my white blood cells were slightly elevated so they said it was probably cellulitis (a generalized medical term for tissue infection). They gave me a perscription and told me to follow up with my family physician if it got worse. The concern was that I didn’t have any lymph nodes to fight off the infection so taking the medicine was very important.
The rash got worse over the next two days (even while taking the medicine they gave me) so I scheduled a followup with my family physician. He was puzzled and said the rash was concerning but that it didn’t compare with the distribution for other common rashes. They drew some blood too, reran my CBC, and did a couple other tests to rule out some other rash symptom type things. He said he “hoped” it was shingles because if not it might be some sort of tick borne infectious disease like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Good grief was all I thought at that point and felt like I should be on an episode of House. They gave me two new meds and told me to stop taking the other one.
So this morning, they called and asked me to come back in. They said the shingles test came back normal so it wasn’t shingles. That would have been concerning if the rash was still getting worse, but it wasn’t. He actually said he was very pleased with how everything looks today (almost back to normal), and basically, the conclusion of the story is that the doctors are completely stumped (my doctor had even called in another doctor for a second opinion) and they just plain don’t know what it is/was. I talked to another breast cancer survivor though who mentioned that this was common when you have no lymph nodes. Every time you get a cut or something on that arm, there’s no telling how your arm will respond. Well, that’s that I guess. 😉
So that was at 11:30 this morning. After that, I grabbed lunch and then was off to my next 6 month mammogram – yippee! I waited for a while because I was early and then finally got called back. The technician stepped out and said she’d be right back. Of course, I freaked inside. She came back in and said the doctor wanted to take a few more pictures. What the hell does that mean?! She said not to worry, it didn’t mean anything, he just wanted to get a few more (of course I didn’t believe her). After that, they walked me down to a private waiting room with a couch and asked me to wait there for the Radiologist. They don’t normally do that so of course I was freaking again. Then the Radiologist came in. They never come in unless it’s bad news – at least that’s been my experience. He sat down and said “well, everything looks great, we’ll see you back in 6 months!” And that’s the end of that story.
So basically, after all that, I’m fine. Mom needs a vacation and a big fat drink but I’m fine. 🙂