By Adriana Ermter
In our monthly column, senior writer and editor Adriana Ermter shares her personal experiences with breast cancer.
I have ringworm. Again.
The first time I discovered an apricot-sized white ring with a flesh-pink centre on my skin—located about an inch below and to the side of my left breast—was during a three-week work assignment in Rwanda. I was there on behalf of a Non-Governmental Organization I wrote articles for, interviewing children about the lack of gender equality within their communities and the importance for both girls and boys to have access to a quality education. The combination of travelling to remote villages each day and then, working 12 hours outside under the sweltering sun and inside stiflingly humid classrooms culminated in a head-to-toe body sweat that soaked both me and my clothing.
Trapped beneath my bra, cotton t-shirt and cropped pants, pools of sweat mingled with dust and grime before being absorbed into my clothes and skin. Despite the cold showers I soaped up under twice daily, one before heading out into the wee hours of the morning and another again in the dark of night before crawling under a thin sheet to sleep, the dirty damage was done. A skin fungus had formed. I had ringworm.
Upon returning to Toronto, I booked an appointment with my general practitioner who prescribed a medicated cream which I applied rigorously and after a few weeks the ring disappeared, and I forgot all about it. That is, until I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Like many women, post breast cancer surgery and treatment, who are handed a five-year Tamoxifen prescription, I was warned that I may experience some of the chemo-laced drug’s side effects such as, joint pain, vaginal dryness and ongoing nausea, yet no one breathed a word about the potential for ringworm. And believe me when I say that I was too preoccupied with the many hormone-blocking drug’s adverse reactions that I was experiencing—the most debilitating were the hot flashes and night sweats—to even consider there could be additional, secret side effects.
Known side effects, like the heat waves that coursed through my body hourly, making me feel like I’d been doused in gasoline and set on fire were bad enough. When they’d stop, I was left shuddering, depleted and drenched in sweat. Not the I’ve just-completed-an-hour-of-spin-class kind of sweat either. That would have been too easy. My Tamoxifen sweats, whether they were the daytime or nightly versions, were the equivalent of stepping out of a steamy shower without toweling off. And because I could not, since my breast cancer surgery, imagine getting through the day or going to bed at night without wearing a soft, thick and unattractive bra—my boobs feel too vulnerable, too exposed without one—the rivers of body sweat pouring out of me collected beneath it in slushy layers for hours at a time. So, you can only guess what that manifested on my skin.
Ringworm. I had it again.
This time however, the ringworm (which is not, by the way, an actual worm and is just a circle of skin fungus), was smaller and positioned a tiny bit higher on my left side. I didn’t notice it at first, nestled as it was directly beneath the wide band of the bra that wrapped around my ribs and fastened in the back. I know now, thanks to my Rwandan experience, along with my perpetual and oscillating state of being damp and/or thoroughly soaking wet, that sweat was the culprit. As much as I changed my clothing and bedsheets, and showered and cleansed with soap, Tamoxifen had made me prone to developing this skin condition again…as if all the other breast cancer ick-factors weren’t enough.
Oddly though, the ringworm’s omnipresence reminded me of who I was pre-cancer status: fearless and focused, wandering the world capturing other people’s stories to share. It’s also making wonder if maybe, just maybe, having the small unwanted circle appear on my skin again could be a good thing. Could I use the worm as a way to not only help me remember who I was but to also accept who I now am: a survivor with a new perspective?
Clearly, I’m trying to find a silver lining here. Of course, I can’t wait for this round of ringworm to fade away, and I certainly wish one of my doctors would have told me that this side effect could indeed happen, but I also know it won’t last forever. What could last though, if I choose it, is to use the worm’s ring as a reminder of my ability to continue to be vulnerable and transparent about having breast cancer. To lend my insight to others, sharing my real-deal personal stories. Because at the end of the day, that’s what I wish someone would have done for me. This is something I keep thinking about as I massage medicated cream in a circular pattern across my skin.
Adriana Ermter is a multi award-winning writer and editor. Her work can be read in Figure Skater Fitness, Living Luxe and IN Magazine, as well as online at 29Secrets.com, RethinkBreastCancer.ca, Popsugar.com and AmongMen.com. The former Beauty Director for FASHION and Editor-in-Chief for Salon and Childview magazines lives in Toronto with her two very spoiled rescue cats, Murphy and Olive. You can follow Adriana on Instagram @AdrianaErmter