When I had my Stem Cell Transplant (SCT) in August of 2010, they warned me that my immature immune system would make me susceptible to colds and viruses such as shingles. Over the last fifteen months, I have had more than my share of colds, but managed to dodge the shingles.....until now. Monday night after dinner I asked Linda to look at the left side of my torso as it was feeling very sensitive and she took one quick look, winced and said "You've got shingles". Tuesday morning we traveled to the cancer center for confirmation and without hesitation any other diagnosis, such as an allergic reaction to my latest antibiotic, was put to bed. SHINGLES!
This last year Linda and I have followed the blogs of many fellow myeloma sisters and brothers, many of whom contracted shingles after transplant. My PA today confirmed that they see many cases post SCT in those of us battling myeloma. In many cases, we really did not 'catch' shingles, rather our immature immune systems simply let the dormant varicella-zoster virus, that has been with us since chicken pox in our childhood, to reactivate.
Shingles is no fun. This painful rash can occur anywhere on your body, but it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or right side of your torso, making the nerves ultra sensitive to being touched by anything or anyone. This condition will last two to four weeks as the virus runs it course, and the blisters scab up, the rash goes away and the nerves on the torso skin return to normal. It is very very important to have shingles diagnosed within the first three days after the rash appears. Antiviral drugs such as Valtrex and Famvir are very effective in minimizing the rash and duration if taken within this early period. Failure to quickly diagnose and address this virus can cause permanent nerve damage (postherpetic neuralgia - PHN) and even blindness if it spreads to the eyes.
I remember my grandfather, an old dairy farmer in northwestern Pennsylvania, who refused to go to a doctor when he contracted shingles. The drugs we have today were not available, and without any medical treatment, his shingles caused permanent nerve damage to his torso. For the remainder of his life he could not wear clothing that touched the affected area. He was often shirtless and in constant pain.
For those of you that have never had shingles, keep your immune system healthy. If you find a reddish rash on 1/2 of your torso, see your doctor and get treatment immediately. For those of us that currently have shingles, I pray that your healing time is quick and that you suffer no permanent nerve damage.
I leave you with my new theme song for the holiday season (sung to the tune of Jingle Bells):
Shingle Bells, Shingle Bells, Shingle all the way.
It is no fun to have this rash, I wish it'd go away!