Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Couldn't Make This Stuff Up If I Tried

On the last day of our trip to Minnesota last week, the pain I was having from the UTI, which never actually tested positive for a UTI, was finally starting to disappear. I still had some soreness when I'd pee, but nothing I couldn't handle. We flew home on Saturday and I was ready to relax and have a Merry Christmas after my clear scan and awesome Baby A check-up.

But the peace of mind only lasted one day.

On Sunday I was experiencing numbness all over my left butt cheek, left thigh, lower back and both hips. On top of that, I was also having a lot of pain in my left thigh, which was odd since I hadn't been to the gym in over a week. I shrugged it off as long-term side effects from radiation, which are known to appear years after completing treatment. Before I went to sleep on Sunday night I told Jimmi, based on the way I was feeling, I'd be surprised if I could even walk when I woke up on Monday morning.

But I was wrong.

Walking wasn't a problem, it was going down the stairs that was difficult. The numbness was still radiating all around but now, what was once a horrible pain in my thigh, only bothered me when I'd descend each step. And it was still only the left thigh.

Oh well. I didn't have time to stop and feel sorry for myself that day. I had to get the boys ready to head to the Make-a-Wish Foundation of New Jersey's Wishing Place so Dylan could donate his birthday money to help a little boy with cancer take a trip to Disney World. Watching my 13 year-old hand over that check made sitting in two hours of traffic worth every minute. But driving back was another story. The pain in my thigh was becoming increasingly awful and I finally called my mom and asked her to call the GP and try to get me an appointment with his wife, a radiologist, to check my leg for a blood clot. Blood clots are common in people who've had a hysterectomy and lymph node removal, though they usually happen fairly soon after the surgery, not two and a half years later. But I was in so much pain that my paranoia kicked in and the hypochondria was on overdrive. Instead of driving home I made a b-line for my mom's house in case I needed to drop the boys and head to the hospital. But when I was just about there, she texted me that she could only get me an MRI for the next morning.

I could be dead by then!

I pulled up to my parents' house, still sporting a happy face for the boys, and pulled my mom aside while they barged into the family room with their iPads. "It hurts, Mommy!" I whined. "I can't wait until tomorrow and I don't want an MRI. If any doctor other than the ones at the cancer center give me an MRI, they'll see the radiation damage and assume it's more cancer and scare the shit out of me again! They can just do a quick ultrasound of my legs to check for clots. I know because they did it after my hysterectomy!" I knew there was nothing more that my mom could do for me, other than what she'd already done, so I decided to just call my favorite nurse at the cancer center. Of course, being the day before Christmas Eve, she wasn't in the office. The nurse on call returned my frantic message, "Hi Suzanne, what's going on?" I explained in the best way I could, "I've been having pain in my left leg. My thigh, really. It's also numb all around my left thigh and butt and both hips. Is it possible I have a blood clot?" I know I sounded like a crazy person and I'm sure the nurses were so sick of my calls, but what else could I do? I was legitimately in pain. I knew something was definitely wrong. I needed someone to help me! She replied, "It doesn't sound like a blood clot. That would be more like a pinpoint pain, not all over your thigh. And it would probably be more in your calf, though anything is possible. Is your leg swollen?" I knew where she was going with that question. "No, not really," I replied, wondering if my pants had been feeling tighter because of all the Christmas cookies or actually from something more serious. "I'm wondering if you're starting to show signs of lymphedema," she suggested. The dreaded word cut through me like a sword as I imagined my left leg swelling up to twice the size of my right one; a common side effect of surgical lymph node removal, which I'd managed to dodge for the last two and a half years. The conversation ended with the nurse promising to send me a prescription for a lymphedema evaluation and me agreeing to call back if I noticed any swelling.

But I still didn't have a real answer as to what was causing my pain or how to stop it.

I gave my mom a rundown of my conversation with the nurse and started to chill out a little bit because she didn't suspect a blood clot at all. When I finally calmed down enough I realized I had to pee pretty badly. I hurried to the bathroom, dropped my pants, sat down and immediately noticed a small bump on my left outer snoochie lip. I realize "snoochie lip" is not the medical term for the area I'm describing; just go with it! Anyway, my first thought was an ingrown hair. My second thought was that it must be a tumor under the skin and the cancer is back and I'm gonna die. I attempted to squeeze it, ever so gently, hoping to remove the hair that was stuck, but nothing came out at all. It just felt like a hard bump.

Yup. I'm gonna die.

I didn't mention the bump to my mom because I didn't want to scare her, but I did borrow some Neosporin and a Band-Aid to stop whatever it was from getting infected.

The next day was Christmas Eve. I woke up and immediately noticed that my leg was definitely not as sore as it had been and the numbness had subsided considerably. I went into the bathroom to check on my newest concern, which was still present, but hadn't gotten any worse. I undressed to get into the shower and caught a glimpse of my butt in the mirror. "What the HELL is THAT!?" I screeched out loud, referring to the small, round cluster of red bumps. I turned my head around as much as I could to look down at my backside but it wasn't working. I grabbed my makeup mirror from my vanity and shoved it right in front of my backside. Ok, clearly I'm now dealing with some kind of rash and not cancer. I wonder if I caught something from the dirty hotel in Minnesota? Maybe something bit me! Maybe I'm having an allergic reaction to the antibiotic I was taking for the UTI? I couldn't guess anymore. I just finished getting dressed and went downstairs to bake an apple pie with Justin.

A few hours went by and it was finally time to get ready for my parents' Christmas Eve party. Back upstairs I went to change my clothes and freshen my makeup. The bathroom was calling again so I made my way to the porcelain seat. And that's when I saw the bumps next to the original left snoochie lip intruder and another new cluster of bumps that had moved in right next door.

"You've gotta be kidding me!"

I ran my finger over the bumps and noticed that my skin felt thick and strange all around them. I got up and went to the mirror to check out the ass rash again. It hadn't changed. I touched that one as well and the feeling was very similar to the others. Ok, at least I think I'm only dealing with one issue that's spreading and not two different things.

But what is it?

I slathered the areas with cortisone cream and finished getting ready. When we arrived at my parents' house I was glad to catch my mom alone in the kitchen. "I have a weird rash on my ass and snoochie area," I said bluntly. My mom stared at me with her hands full of the potato pancakes she was frying up for the 45 people who would be bursting through her door at any minute. "Maybe you have a spider bite? They're nasty and they just keep biting. That could also be the reason for your leg pain." It made perfect sense! A stupid spider must've bitten me while I was sleeping! Ok, good. I'll keep putting cortisone on those puppies and they'll be gone in a few days.

The familiar sound of excited kids wasn't the first thing to wake me up on Christmas Morning. Instead, it was a nagging itch coming from my left cheek. No, not the one on my face. I got up to look in the mirror and check on the butt rash and was really annoyed to see another cluster moving into the neighborhood, about three inches north of the first one. That made four clusters in all, with two in the front and two in the back. Well, at least it's a nice, equal opportunity rash. Though, it was all on the left side of my body. I heard the kids waking up so Jimmi and I went downstairs to do the present thing with them then I headed back up to get showered and dressed and move on to visit my parents and then Jimmi's.

The shower didn't bother the rash but I was careful not to scrub it. I dried off and put on my jeans, which were a bit uncomfortable on top of the raw skin. Oh well, I had to deal with it unless I wanted to wear sweats to Christmas Dinner. I stuck out the early part of the day without too much of an issue, but as it got later and later the pain was becoming worse and worse. Every time I'd move or bend my jeans would rub against my skin and I'd see stars. I was having trouble sitting because of the pain and walking wasn't too much fun either, which I attributed to the brand new bumps that appeared in the crease of my butt cheek and my leg at some point during the day. I didn't want to be rude, but I finally couldn't stand it any longer and I quietly said to Jimmi, "I need to go home. Now." All I wanted to do was take off my pants and feel some relief. The two-hour drive back was like a slow torture and I had to hold back the tears each time we hit a bump. I e-mailed my mom for the phone number of her new dermatologist so I would be ready to call first thing in the morning.

When we pulled into the garage I couldn't get out of the car quickly enough. I apologized to Jimmi for not helping him take the bags of gifts into the house but I just couldn't. I needed to get my clothes off immediately. I flew up the stairs, stripping along the way. My first stop was the bathroom mirror and what greeted my eyes horrified me. The rash was spreading all over the left side of my butt and down my left thigh. I wasn't sure if I should just head to the hospital, but the thought of seeing the Christmas Day skeleton crew in a germ-infested hospital was much worse than a few billion red bumps all over my ass.

My alarm clock woke me at 8:00 AM, which is the time the dermatologist's website listed as opening time on Thursdays. I immediately dialed the number without even attempting to clear the morning voice away. A recording answered my call, "Hello, we are closed for the Christmas Holiday and will return on Monday, December thirtieth."


I hung up the phone, panicked for a minute and called back. Maybe there's an emergency number. I'm pretty sure my booty now qualified. The recording continued, "…If you are having a true dermatology emergency and you are already a patient of this office, please call the doctor at…" Hmmm…Should I call? I'm not a patient yet. Should I have my mom call? There's gotta be another doctor. As if on cue, my friend, Jacquie, texted me. Her cousin is a dermatologist! I quickly asked for the number and dialed it on the other line. "Sorry, she's not in today and she's all booked up tomorrow."


I called my mom again, "I need to go to a doctor TODAY and I don't know where to go!" I would've called my GP but he's off on Thursdays. Then there's the dermatologist who gave me Botox a few months ago, but I really didn't like her. I tried the doctor who treated my teenage breakouts 100 years ago, but the number was disconnected. Finally, I just turned to Google. On my first try I was able to get an appointment with a physician's assistant in a dermatology office. That was the best I could do and it was better than nothing.

12:45 PM couldn't come quickly enough!

I gently pulled up my soft, cotton underwear and loose-fitting sweats before feeding the boys and getting myself ready to go. I called my mom to update her on the situation and she voiced a thought that had crossed my mind the day before but didn't stick because I'm not over 60 years old. "I think you might have shingles," she said. "I was thinking the same thing," I agreed and then it hit me, "I just remembered one of the side effects of chemo is shingles. A few of the women on my support page have had it." My mom replied, "It fits all your symptoms. The leg pain, the numbness, the headaches…" I nodded, "I've been having chills too." The voila moment continued, "I'm thinking you really didn't have a UTI last week and it was all a part of the same thing." Then she threw a curveball, "Unless it's herpes." I can't say that diagnosis wasn't on my mind as well. "If it's herpes I'm gonna have to kill Jimmi."

As I was leaving the house I mentioned the latest possibility to my husband, "If I have herpes you're in SO much trouble!" He looked right back at me and said, "Oh yeah? Well, if you have herpes YOU'RE in so much trouble!" The fact that each of us knew the other hadn't touched another person in years made us both giggle at our fake threats and I gave him a quick kiss goodbye and headed out to learn my fate.

I sat uncomfortably in the chair as I filled out the paperwork for the doctor's office. I actually got angry when I was reading the narrow-minded surgical history options:

Circle One
Ovaries removed: Endometriosis
Ovaries removed: Ovarian cancer
I circled "Ovaries removed" then crossed out "Ovarian cancer" and wrote in, "Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the Cervix."

Circle One
Hysterectomy: Uterine cancer
Hysterectomy: Fibroids
I circled "Hysterectomy" then crossed out "Uterine cancer" and wrote in, "Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the Cervix."

"Suzanne?" called the nurse and I painfully stood up and handed her my paperwork. "So you have a rash on your backside?" she asked. "Yes, and a little on the front." She took a few notes and left the room. A young, attractive Indian woman appeared a few minutes later and introduced herself as the physician's assistant. I explained my symptoms to her and then dropped my drawers so she could have a look. She examined both sides of me and pushed on the bumps a bit, which felt oh, so good. "Looks like shingles," she announced to confirm what my mom and I already knew. "But it's very rare to see this on someone so young," she added. "I think it's from the chemo," I suggested. She looked at my chart and asked how long ago I finished treatments. "Two and a half years," I told her. "Hmmm," she was a little bit confused, "Usually people get shingles while they're on chemo because it kills their immune system and they're much more susceptible to illness." I just shrugged because I know from my blood tests that my white cell count has never fully returned to what it once was. "Can you just wait here?" The PA asked. "I want to show the other PA how you look right now in case you come back and I'm not here. I need her to be able to gage if it's gotten better or worse." I nodded and thought maybe she should just bring the janitor in to check out my goods, too.

The second PA arrived and she poked and prodded the bumps as well. "Ooohh, that's a REALLY sensitive area to have shingles," she told me as if I didn't already know how much it sucked. "Ok, got it," she said and left the original PA with me again. "I just want to take a culture, if I can. That's a really dirty area so I need to make sure you don't also have a bacterial infection growing in there."

Hey, lady! Who are you calling dirty? My girly parts are as fresh as daisies!

"Ok," I submitted. She took a stick out of a sterile bag and popped a couple of my lovely blisters, which felt like someone was stabbing me with needles right in the vag, then bagged it back up to ship to the lab. "I don't expect the test to show anything, but I just want to make sure. As I said, it's a really dirty area." Ok, I get it. Snatches are dirty. Enough. Then she gave me my instructions, "You'll take an antiviral pill three times a day for seven days. I'm also gonna give you an oral steroid to help with inflammation. Part of what happens with shingles is once the rash goes away in about a week, you might have lasting, severe pain. The steroid should help that. It might not take it away completely, but it should help. The last thing I'm giving you is a topical antibiotic to try to keep the area from getting infected. I know I've mentioned that area is very dirty." I started to wonder about the condition of her lady bits, at that point, because I've really never had any complaints about mine.

"I want to see you again on Monday, but if this gets any worse, come back tomorrow." I nodded. "Oh, and no sex." I had to laugh out loud, "Yeah, my husband wouldn't come near me looking like this. I'm just glad it's not herpes!" She didn't say anything. My tone changed, "You're sure it's not herpes, right?" She smiled, "It's one-hundred percent shingles and one-hundred percent not herpes." My smile came back, "Ok, then I won't have to get divorced."

And there you have it! I keep trying to write a simple blog about having a baby through the miracle of gestational surrogacy, but my damn body wants to keep things interesting with micro fractures and random pains and diseases of the elderly! Enough already! For a week I've been planning that my after Christmas post would be the one to spill the beans on Baby A's name.

I guess you'll have to wait for the next one!


  1. Ugh, so sorry you're dealing with another bump in the read (read: cooch). But if it makes you feel any better, I had shingles once, and it didn't leave me with any lasting pain. Hang in there... xoxo!

  2. You make it so real. I feel it. ALL. And I hate that you have that ugly possibility sitting like a cat at a mouse's house...waiting with bated breath. May 2014 ease the pains of agony that go with the 'what if's' for ever and ever. Have another life without the scares. xo kr