I will preface this with admitting that I feel a little self-centered writing this with all that is going on in the world right now. This is solely informative for those curious. The world is a heavy place right now, I realize we’re all struggling to cope with how to function and my intention is definitely not to take away from that. That being said, here’s the scoop:
After almost three months of scans, biopsies, appointments, and surgeries; I finally have a diagnosis. I have an infection caused by the common bacteria, staph aureus in my rib cartilage and pleural space. I am not sure if it has been specifically diagnosed as this; but my infectious disease doctor equates it with a condition called empyema necessitans if you want to Google it. I have no idea how this happened. As a cancer patient, I am immunocompromised; so I am more susceptible to any type of infection. Other than that I did have some type of lung infection in early May (I was COVID tested at the time because it seemed very similar to COVID), but I don’t see a strong connection there either.
On the cancer front; the good news is that this is definitely not cancer. In addition to a regular CT-guided/needle biopsy performed in September, additional tissue was collected and analyzed after my recent surgery last week and it was also confirmed to not be cancer. The bad news cancer-wise, is that I do have to withhold one of my cancer medications while I have this infection because that specific medication (like most cancer medications) lowers my white blood cell count and thus my ability to fight infection. While it is always unsettling and frustrating to take a pause in my medication regimen that has been working so well for the past few years; these type of interruptions are fairly common and it’s probably not the end of the world.
On the non-cancer, regular person front; this is terrible. I found out yesterday that I have to be on IV antibiotics for 6 weeks. This will be done through home infusion. I will have a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) and give myself an antibiotic 3 times a day. I have a fairly stoic, aloof personality; so I’m guessing I didn’t come off as the dramatically upset hot mess of a person I felt like on the inside when the infectious disease doctor told me this; but I was definitely emphasizing to him that this is a huge quality of life issue for me. Are you sure we need to do this? Can I work? Can I run? Do you mind if I just start laughing hysterically while you tell me I can only lift 10 pounds for six weeks knowing I have two active boys and am constantly getting groceries, cooking, doing housework, doing laundry, etc (not that any of those activities generally involve lifting more than 10 lbs, but I think we can all agree, the need to lift more than 10 lbs comes up more than we realize). Heck, I regularly lift up to 40 pounds for my job as a pharmacist as weird as that seems.
One thing thing I constantly battle is the giving up control of my life on multiple levels–my time, my finances, my career, my family, my retirement plan, the seemingly endless health issues that seem to come up as a result of cancer. I don’t think this is really unique to me in any aspect. We all go through this. I do believe people in my situation with a permanent or terminal health condition do fall more in the “less control” end of the spectrum though. I also believe from the little I’ve interacted with those in my situation that we become resilient because of it. Figuring out how to: at a minimum, function; and at a maximum, thrive in this constant state of chaos is a badge of honor that I feel anyone who’s been through distress, whether they are sharing it or not, can wear proudly. I hope at the end of this 6 weeks, I will feel better and look back on this and proudly think “I got through that with the help of God”. I hope we will all be thinking that whenever we make our way out of the coronavirus-dominated world we are living in now.