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What a difference a year makes

So, a year ago today I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Yesterday I saw my surgical oncologist after my first post-treatment mammogram and it was a dull, routine meeting. Nothing at all to report, the mammogram (which took twice as long as they used to pre-cancer, but I’m not complaining) showed nothing.

Sometimes dull is very, very good.

And Charlie and I are back to our routines, such as they are. I’m in Princeton at an AP Meeting, he’s in Maine at the TUG, Last year at this time (or soon thereafter) we were doing much gnashing of teeth about whether or not we could attend these meetings. He ended up attending a few days of his (worrying the whole time that he should be home, I think) and I called in to mine.

Sometimes routine is very, very good.

Of course, it doesn’t leave much to blog about, but…


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It wasn’t too hard

So, surgery is over, I’m home, and while I won’t call it easy, it wasn’t that hard.

THe folks at the Medical Center were great, as usual. I’m feeling a little pain around the middle (belly button) incision and that one doesn’t even have a bandage.

And I’m very tired, so this’ll be short, but wanted to let whoever is reading this that all is well. And I’m getting to drink wanter again!

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Today’s Surgery

Charlie here. Laurie’s been in the OR about 30 minutes now, but the surgery hasn’t yet started. I’ll post updates as the status changes.

Well, she’s out of the OR! I just talked to the surgeon, who said it went very well, and she’s just got three little holes covered with band-aids to deal with. She should be essentially ready for normal physical activity by the end of the week, or perhaps the beginning of next week. Laparoscopic surgery is a lot easier to recover from than the other options. I should be seeing her in 30-60 minutes, and we should be going home about an hour after that. Unless something changes, my next update won’t be until after we get home.

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Seems I have this blog…


So I haven’t posted much lately. But then again, I haven’t had cancer lately either, so what’s there to post?

I did start creating entries off-line about our last vacation and life in general and such, but we were in Europe and it costs a lot to access the Internet from a cruise ship there (all together now “Ah, poor baby stuck on a cruise ship in Europe’), and so it didn’t get posted. And now, posting stuff backdated over a month ago seems silly.

But, I’ve done silly things before and just might do them again.

Now, the “Blog Comment Spammers” have been out in full force, so if you’re a real person trying to post a comment or a trackback to this blog, it might not get up immediately, since I’m approving postings.

So, they reminded me I have this blog and I am going back into surgery tomorrow, so I figured I’d get an update out before whining about a lousy trip to Capri. (Yes, there can be bad trips to Capri. It was hard, but Vastours found a way to do it…so don’t use Vastours. More later, or earlier if you go by the posting date.)

Surgery tomorrow. Not directly cancer related. But, becuase I had cancer at a young age and my mother did too, I had genetic testing. The testing found I have a greatly increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Breast cancer can be detected fairly easily (and yes, I do have my next mammogram scheduled…do you?) but ovarian cancer is typically detected at the point at which it’s terminal. Terminal sounds bad, so I’m having my ovaries removed tomorrow, which will greatly decrease (but surprisingly will not eliminate) my chances of getting ovarian cancer.

The surgery is being done laparoscopically, so I wasn’t too concerned ’til preop last week, when they told me I’d have general anesthesia. (Now, there’s a good thing to come from having cancer…I can spell “laparoscopic” and “anesthesia.”) I don’t like general anesthesia and it doesn’t like me. But…

All shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.

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Alleluia! Amen.


So, cancer treatment can seem like a never-ending process. But, if this treatment is to ever end, today marks its ending. I had my final radiation treatment today. That’s the end of the planned treatment for my cancer.

Yeah, okay, so I need to do all sorts of monitoring (every 3 months is the current plan). I need to have my ovaries removed (August 8). But that’s all to prevent/detect the next cancer. This last one, well, it’s over and done with.

I don’t even have a doctor’s appointment for over a month. Sure, last summer, that would have been no big deal, but there have been weeks where I’ve spent more time in doctors offices than in mine. I’ve had weeks with 10 different appointments. To go for over a month. Simply amazing.

And very, very welcome.

Charlie and I went out to celebrate this evening. It was good to have him here for this…after all, he’s been here through all the treatments (and didn’t get the good drugs afterwards like I did). We went to our current favorite local restaurant, the Grits Cafe. (And, for my friends up north, yes, they do do grits a dozen wonderful ways. The Grits Cocktail is especially nice.) We had a wonderful bottle of wine and great food.

It’s very good to have this phase done.


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Give me an ‘N’, give me an ‘E’

Now really, do you think I have enough energy to do the whole “Neurontin” cheer?

If so, you haven’t had shingles and radiation therapy. Thankfully, the semester was over last week and I got paperwork out for the CCSC:SE conference this morning. So I can continue with life as I’ve gotten used to it. I get up around 6:45, take a Neurontin, and go back to bed to read for a few minutes (I’m rereading Little Women after reading March). I wake up 2 hours later and start my day.

But, the great news is the Neurontin seems to be working. I haven’t had a PHN attack since Sunday night.

Rah! Rah! Rah!

My doctor increased my dosage from 1200 mg to 1800 mg. The initial 1200 mg dosage was prescribed as a prophylactic measure. I used to dislike taking prescription drugs, but I could learn to love prophylactic drugs.

I got lots of anti-nausea drugs prophylactically during chemo. And it really did make more sense to take drugs rather than wait to get nauseous. I was given Neurontin just in case I might get PHN. It takes a week for it to work, so it made sense to start it and see if I needed it, rather than wait ’til I needed it and then have to wait a week for it to help. It did take a while for the increased dosage to stop the attacks and I won’t be devastated if I get another, but the increased dosage does seem to help.

Now, I still got all sorts of strange pains and itching and quirks all over the affected areas, but, eh, I can live with that.

Other than not getting sick, not much is happening. Charlie is getting ready to come home from Poland and should be here within 24 hours.

Ike is getting too durned smart. He was chasing the dog Linus around the den. Linus started circling the sofa there. Ike stopped running, turned around, and crouched to get the dog. Sure enough, the dog ran right into the attack.

I’d love to get a picture of them wrestling. But they’re just a little too fast for my camera. And fights stop with no notice…it’s sweet. Somehow they can communicate to each other that it’s time for the fight to end and it does. You’d think one of them would run away to stop the fight, but it can stop with htem standing next to each other. There’s some sort of strange territorial marking going on. Ike will not get on the bed when we go to bed; I think because Linus has laid claim to it. But if I get up in the middle of the night, Ike will come back to bed with me.

Of course, neither of the animals sticks around when I start screaming. It’ll be good to have Charlie home!

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I’m number one?

So, we went to see my “regular” doctor today to follow up on the shingles. (I did routine follow-ups with my surgeon and oncologist yesterday and chatted with the radiologist Wednesday…nothing noteworthy so far.)

He reviewed the notes of his colleague who had first seen me and said “Well, you had the worst shingles rash he’s ever seen.”

Oh boy, that’s a distinction I want.

But I was a little concerned. I mean, everyone’s had shingles, it seems. But I’ve been a real wuss about this compared to them. But maybe it was a little worse than usual. As my doctor looked at it, he, a professor of medicine at Mercer, said “Wow, is that all from one nerve group? I’ll have to look at an anatomy book.”

It looks like the daily screaming pain attacks are part of the post shingles pain. Even worse, it may go on forever. Fortunately, I can stay on Neurontin as long as it helps and there’s another possbile drug out there if it doesn’t. We even increased my Neurotin dosage to try and get the pain under control.

And I am lucky to have such short term pain. Within 5 minutes of my latest attack (at 5 tonight), I was out walking the dog.

Oh, and the radiation I was so afraid of? It’s still going on. I’m even more than halfway through. On my 15th day of treatment (of 30), I asked Charlie what he was going to do to celebrate me being halfway done–special dinner? cake? Well, I got a strange look if nothing else.

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Looking for patterns

Okay, so I have a lot of math background to go with my CS, so I want to find patterns. I’ve had an attack (from what I’m calling postherpetic neuralgia or PHN; we’ll find out tomorrow if the doctors agree) every day since Saturday. It is not at all pleasant, but at least, so far, it’s been short. The pain ranges from 9 to 10 on the good old “Tell us how bad your pain is on a 1 to 10 scale” but is mostly gone in 5 minutes and is just a memory in 10.

So, what causes it? When will I get it? Looking back at the last 3 days, I’ve had attacks:

  • Monday at 11 PM in bed.
  • Tuesday at 9 AM in the recliner in the den
  • Wednesday at 2 PM in my car on I-75

So, what time and where do these attacks happen? So far, the pattern I see is no pattern. But, I do only get one attack a day. Which means today will be a great day, since I was awaken at 6:30 with an attack. I won’t get another, right? (It reminds me of a poster from my youth: Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen all day. Of course, PHN is worse than eating a live frog, I do believe.)

The attack Wednesday was particularly fun. I try not to yell too much during attacks at home since it can bother the animals and Charlie. But after I pulled off the interstate safely onto the shoulder, I could scream at the top of my lungs. And I did and was almost quiet compared to the semis rushing past.

So, why do I think I have PHN? From the WWW site

Postherpetic neuralgia (post-her-PET-tick noo-RAL-juh) or PHN is pain that continues after the rash from shingles heals. It is caused by nerve damage from shingles.

If you have had shingles and now have pain, you may have PHN.

Anyone who had shingles can get PHN. In the United States, about 10% to 15% of people who have had shingles get PHN. It is more common in people 60 years of age or older. But you can also get PHN if you

  • Had a very bad rash when you had shingles
  • Had a lot of pain from shingles
  • Felt pain before your shingles rash started
  • Have trouble fighting infections (such as from cancer or an organ transplant)

Bad rash? Yes.

Lot of pain from shingles? Yes?

Felt pain before the rash? Yes?

Cancer? Oh yeah.

At least I’m not over 60.

It’s a good thing I don’t believe in a deity who appears and gives you choices like “Cancer or shingles?” I’d have an awfully hard time selecting shingles now.

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More surprises


So I was ready for the problems of chemotherapy and wasn’t too set back by surgery. Radiation has been okay so far. But, my, has shingles been a surprise!

Now, the drugs worked well and I’m getting used to the sheer exhaustion. Fortunately, last week was finals. I really thought if I worked hard, I could still get stuff done. Turns out, I was wrong. It took me 4 days to grade a final that normally would have been done the same day I gave it. It took almost forever to write my second final and on proofreading it at home before giving it, I discovered major problems. The only way it got given at the right time was that Penny, the departmental secretary, printed and handed it out for me. (Thank you so much again Penny!)

But I was just sitting and not grading tonight and, all of a sudden, the rash (which had been clearing up nicely, I thought) started to tingle. It started at the front of my right thigh and in seconds had begun to burn. Then, maybe within 15 seconds from the onset, sharp pain set in and it followed the rash line around my hip to my back. I’m not really sure what happened next because I was screaming. Charlie tried to get me to stand, but I was too busy being in agony. Maybe this is what it feels like to pour acid on your leg and have it drip around to the back, but I’m not going to pour acid on my leg to find out.

Charlie ran to get pain pills and helped me stand up and it seemed to disappear. Not quite as quick as it came, but awfully fast. I think I may be learning what postherpetic neuralgia is. (Hey, I can even pronounce it!)

So, cancer treatment isn’t that bad. At least not when compared to shingles. Almost makes you wonder if my team of doctors somehow decided to infect me with shingles so I’d appreciate what a good job they were doing.

But, ya know, I knew what a good job they were doing. So, that’s probably not it.

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Pink skin!

So, each day, Charlie looks at my rash and claims, hopefully, “Well, I think it looks a little better.” But I look at it and it still looks red and purple and blistered and just as bad.

But this morning, the ninth of the rash, it does look a little better. I’ve got some bright pink skin without blisters where the rash began. If I hadn’t had the last 10 days, it would really bother me to see such skin, but right now, it looks durn good.

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