“So let me tell you about this medical scare I’ve been having for the last few days,” was the opening line from my mother during our bi-weekly FaceTime call. Like countless women, she’d gone in for her annual mammogram and was expecting to receive a prompt notice from her doctor’s office telling her all was well and to remember to schedule another mammogram around the same time next year. Instead, she got a letter with the words “found” and “most likely benign” too close together in the same sentence. As my mother would eventually find out after spending days mentally planning her own funeral, the swelling of her lymph nodes was a false flag triggered by having received the second dose of the covid vaccine a few days before her mammogram.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, as more women receive the vaccine, doctors are noticing a sharp rise in their mammograms showing swollen lymph nodes under the arm—which, under different circumstances, can sometimes be indicative of breast cancer. For most recipients of the covid vaccine, doctors say that swollen lymph nodes are a common response by the body. “The whole point of the vaccine is to get your immune system to mount a response to whatever the vaccine agent is,” one doctor explained to the Cleveland Clinic. Lymph nodes which function as filters for trapping viruses in the body often serve as one of the early detection signs for breast cancer. When the lymph nodes swell it’s part of a larger immune system response—and when those nodes are closer to the breasts, they can be indicative of a cancer spread. Because the vaccine is shot into the upper arm, doctors are not surprised that the common immune response of swollen lymph nodes is showing up in the underarm area.
Another side effect that has been popping up for some people is an early or heavier period, which was observed by a research fellow from the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University, according to The Verge. Unsurprisingly, a change in menstruation was not on the list of possible side effects when the vaccine started rolling out. I perused the info sheet that was given to me at my local vaccination site and there is still no mention of a potential change to my period, despite the fact that the menstrual cycle responds to any and everything going on in the body. Luckily, there is now a formal study led by two people who were “surprised by their periods” after vaccination to investigate how the vaccine affects menstruation. Crazy what the wider world of science could accomplish if people whose bodies produce periods were as closely observed as those who do not during clinical testing phases—a gendered oversight with a long, unfortunate history.