After Weighing the Pros and Cons of Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine, I Decided to Get One

HealHeal Spring 2021

A cancer survivor reflects on her decision to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it was made available to her.

There may be many things to think about or consider regarding COVID-19.

As I wrote and pondered in December, one choice for myself was following up with the opportunity to get vaccinated. I faced some negative feedback from some individuals and outside parties, but overall, I was given support to make an educated decision about receiving the vaccine.

READ MORE: Weighing The Pros and Cons of Receiving a COVID-19 Vaccine

To prepare, I met with three specialists from my medical care team and all three agreed the COVID-19 vaccine was a good fit for me. One even stated, “Get whatever version is first available to you.” I am at higher risk of COVID-19 complications not due to breast cancer, but due to asthma and by working as a first responder.

Following receipt of the vaccine, I am someone who will likely be required to go back to working unrestricted with individuals with a known or unknown COVID-19 status.

To further clarify, I was also cleared by all three of my specialists despite having allergies, which require monthly immunotherapy treatments. My immunologist stated I could receive any of the currently available vaccines. The rule of thumb — and his research suggested — is that if I have not had a negative reaction to any prior vaccinations such as the pneumonia or shingles vaccine, then I would not be expected to have an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. But I do encourage individuals with allergies to speak to their immunologist before getting vaccinated as a precaution.

The next step was finding access to the vaccine. I believed I would receive the vaccine as a first responder, but by mid-January nothing was being provided to myself or my coworkers. I was fortunate to begin receiving the vaccine at the Miami Cancer Institute. The staff were great, and they had everyone wait for up to 30 minutes after the injection to assess any potential concerns or a rare reaction.

I did not experience any reaction with either injection and I did not experience any muscular pain. In fact, it was the most pleasant of any vaccine I have ever been given. I would even say my allergy shots probably hurt more than the COVID-19 vaccine did.

During my second injection, the nurse explained the key to administration is to give the shot three fingers down from your shoulder into the deltoid to help avoid unnecessary soreness and difficulty moving your arm following the injection. They also did not squeeze my arm during the injection but only held the sides of my arm to prevent movement.

As a precaution, however, I asked to receive the shot in the arm I have not had lymph nodes removed from. I have since heard from at least one fellow survivor that she received one version of a vaccine in her non-dominate arm (where she had lymph nodes removed) as advised due to any potential soreness, but felt it was a mistake as it may have triggered her previous experiences with lymphedema.

I now share her experience only as something for other individuals to ask their oncologist about to avoid any potential lymphedema flare-up as maybe soreness in a dominant arm is better than triggering symptoms of a breast cancer treatment-related side effect.

I am aware of some peers who have had their second injection and who have experienced flu-like symptoms. I feel it’s just a sign the vaccine is working and would expect needing no more than a day off from work to rest and manage symptoms.

For me, my symptoms following the second Pfizer injection included mild fatigue, some mild body aches, a feeling of swelling in my armpit on the side the shot was given, and a bit of an upset stomach on the final day which was fairly short lived. My symptoms began approximately 24 hours after the second injection and ended after approximately one day.

The choice to get vaccinated is a personal one. I appreciate individuals who don’t care to receive the vaccine due to their own beliefs or concerns, but I hope such individuals respect the choice of those who do receive the vaccine. While Veklury (remdesivir) and convalescent plasma are now game changers for those who develop a severe complication due to a COVID-19 infection — and was available to one of my family members — I hope not to end up in the situation of needing such treatment or risking damage to my lungs.

I am presently NED (no evidence of disease), but for myself, I would be making the same choice to get vaccinated if undergoing treatment unless contraindicated for some reason. I am grateful to the staff of MCI, my oncologist, and my primary care physician for the opportunity to get vaccinated and their having me on a list to receive the vaccine.

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