Shingles?! Okay, cool, cool.

alternative title, when a bump in the road becomes bumps on your skin.

Last Tuesday, while chatting with my mom on the phone, I touched my right side and discovered some red bumps that were definitely not supposed to be there. I ended my conversation with my mom and went to inspect my skin in the mirror. I started to feel panic. I felt my throat get itchy. My breathing get a little quick.

And I felt myself transported back in time to the chemo chair at Mount Sinai when I experienced the beginnings of anaphylactic shock during chemo. Katie was with me for that session and I remember telling her that my butt was itchy and then saying I needed the nurse. I was given a ton of Benadryl, steroids, and oxygen, and I recovered. The following week, the same thing happened although not as severely. Not being able to control how your body is reacting to something, especially when it is the thing that is supposed to be curing you, is truly terrifying.

When I saw the rash on my skin, even though it looked nothing like the hives I had in the past, even though until that moment of its discovery, I was breathing absolutely fine, I found myself scrambling to take Benadryl and then I ended up calling 911 for the first time in my life. EMS came and went in an uneventful visit — they looked at the rash, deemed it a rash not worthy of a trip to the hospital and while one of the techs was absolutely insufferable, the kindness of one will be remembered fondly.

The next day, I went to MSK and was ultimately diagnosed with shingles by my eagle-eyed nurse practitioner. I’m lucky she realized what it was as my oncologist was about to send me home with hydrocortisone for bug bites. I started a course of anti-viral meds and things seem to be clearing up. I confessed to my oncologist that I had called 911 and was rather embarrassed about it. I realized that my past experiences in the chemo chair was a source of trauma and I think that’s something I don’t talk about enough. The trauma of my diagnosis, yes, but also the littler traumas that haunt me and color my understanding of every little thing my body does. Gone are the days of writing off an errant ache or pain, dismissing a few red bumps around my eye, ignoring signs that my body might be sending that something is amiss. When the EMS guy told me “look, it’s just a rash,” I felt like I had been slapped in the face. Nothing is ‘just’ anything when you have MBC. Well, maybe it is but honestly unless you’re my oncologist, I don’t have time for your ‘just’ theories. And it’s funny that hearing it was ‘just shingles’ from my oncologist caused immediate relief, loosening some tension in my shoulders. My fear had been that my new medications had caused the rash/reaction and that I would not be able to tolerate it, therefore forcing us to skip this line of treatment without a real shot at seeing if it worked for me. But that does not seem to be the issue, which is something to be grateful for. I wish that meant I could take my alert status down, that I could relax for a bit. In this MBC life, we take the victories where we can find them.

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Michelle T

Sometimes funny lawyer-writer person battling breast cancer in NYC