For anyone wondering what’s up with me and my health, here’s a brief update.
Touch wood, things are going well. After my first chemo infusion on Dec. 28, I was slammed — could scarcely get out of Mark’s recliner (the one he inherited from his grandpa, a sturdy late-mid-century thing built like a Humvee) for 2-1/2 days. I’ve always wondered what chemo side effects were like. Of course, they vary greatly — different drugs, different metabolisms. For me, those first two days following the infusion had me feeling as though I was trapped in a steel cage too small for my body and mind, with abdominal pain and mild nausea, a headache (possibly due in part to caffeine withdrawal, as I went cold turkey after years of 4 to 5 cups a day) and unrelenting hot flashes alternating with chills. Miserable.
Pharmacist Cindy Burns says the temperature modulation problem was likely due to overstimulation of my parasympathetic nervous system. Of course there are other side effects, the most concerning of which is peripheral neuropathy caused by oxaliplatin, which makes typing or working in the shop a real challenge unless you are one of those people who enjoy the sensation that everything you touch is covered in sharp pins. (I will spare you description of the effects on my GI tract.)
The good news is that neither of the next two infusions has left me with severe side effects. These last two times I’ve felt alert and energetic. We’ve reduced the oxaliplatin by 20%, which helps a lot. Cindy says the difference in side effects may be due to the particular regimen I’m on, Folfirinox, which causes massive cell die-off in the first cycle. Yuck. I hope she’s right; it’s a blessing to feel so good.
I don’t want to jinx anything but will say I’m feeling better than I’ve felt in a couple of years — startling, given that I have pancreatic cancer and, thanks to chemo, my white blood cell counts, along with hemoglobin levels, are in the danger zone. In view of my immuno-suppressed condition amid the still-raging pandemic, my oncologist, Dr. Karuna Koneru, has told me in no uncertain terms to avoid going into any buildings other than for medical treatment. This means no more mailing of books ordered through my website, where I have posted a note directing people to order “Making Things Work” through Lost Art Press.
Thanks in large part to the success of “Kitchen Think,” I am busy with kitchen design jobs, the perfect type of work for those times when a simple cut in the shop could become infected and cause serious problems, including death, due to my compromised immune system. If my counts are in the Serious Danger Zone when I return for my next infusion, the chemo will be delayed a week and the insurance company will cover the cost of Neulasta, which stimulates production of white blood cells in the bone marrow. (Our insurance does not cover this life-saving drug unless the patient’s life is genuinely and imminently at risk, which strikes me as unfortunate, to put it mildly.)
I’m also making good progress on “Shop Tails,” the book about animals, life, and work that I’m writing for Lost Art Press, and keeping up with regular blog posts. This Sunday morning, thanks to a recommendation by Peter Follansbee, you’ll find a profile of Arts & Crafts chairmaker Lawrence Neal at Lost Art Press, and my next post for the Pro’s Corner at Fine Woodworking will share some of what I have learned about choosing healthcare coverage when you’re a self-employed craftsperson or artist, a topic in which I have now had a crash course.