Saturday, October 1, 2016

The further adventures of ChemoMan

A week ago Friday, I had the pleasure of being at the med center from 8 in the morning until 7 at night. First on the agenda
was installation of the ``chest-port''. I must say that this was one of the most pleasant medical procedures I have ever experienced. Narcotics are involved, as well as a local anesthetic. The procedure is done by an ``interventional radiologist'' and takes about an
hour. I was feeling very comfortable indeed just lying there, vaguely aware that someone was fooling around with the right side
of my chest. In fact when it was over, and they announced I could go up to the infusion ward, I really didn't want to leave. Hey,
it's so nice here! Can't I just lie here for another hour?

Next up was the usual 8 hour session for the double infusion, in the luxury suite. As always, I came armed with an array of mathematics, novels and audiobooks. It's not bad really; in the luxury suite there's a bed and a sliding door you can close. The one big disappointment was missing Finley's ``kid birthday party'' at Denny Creek Park. We'd already had the ``family birthday party'', which I absolutely would not have missed for anything, and certainly not for chemo. The next day Jessie texted me that she and the kids were dropping by for a ``special delivery'' from Kaia. I've talked to Kaia and Finley about having a funny bladder problem, without using the word cancer, so they know about these hospital stays and why I wasn't at the party. Anyway, Kaia brought me a cupcake from the party, and a big apple. So cute.

But alas, it's always sumthin. For the port procedure they use the common technique of painting around the area with betadyne, if that's the right spelling, and it turns out I'm allergic to it. So that whole side of my chest, up onto the neck and shoulder, looks like a case of poison oak and periodically itches like crazy. So far, nothing has worked to reduce it (at this moment it feels better, but I've been fooled before...).

Yesterday I went in for the week 2 infusion, and further complications ensued. The infusion nurse was reluctant to even use the
port, because of my skin condition. Dammit, I went to all the trouble of getting the stupid thing and you're not going to use it?
The big concern is infection, since it's so close to the heart. Okay, let's just do it peripherally, as they say in the biz. Then my labs
come back and it turns out my neutrophil count was down to 1.2, with 1.5 being the minimum to go ahead with the chemo.
Yeah, but my neutrophils have a family motto: ``Few, but strong''. We've done it before below the minimum, with approval from the onc, with no problems whatsoever. My neutrophils can kick ass! On the other hand, the combination of skin rash + infection risk + low neutrophils led the onc to nix the infusion for the day. Two and a half hours in the ward for nothin'. Meanwhile the NP suggested dexamethosone to treat the rash (wonderful, the hiccup drug), only to be countered by the onc because, for reasons I didn't quite get, the dex can also have an adverse affect on my long-suffering neutrophils. Ultimately it was decided that I should take antibiotics prophylactically for a week, and very small doses of dex but only if ``the rash gets worse''. Otherwise I just wait and time is supposed to cure it. Then I'll do the week 2 cycle next Friday.

Further entertainment was provided by the big Husky-Stanford game. The med center is just across the street from Husky Stadium,
and game time more or less coincided with the end of my session. No way would I ask Wendy to pick me up at the hospital or anywhere near campus; it would be a nightmare. Here you have to understand that on game days, mere professors can't even park on campus; everything is reserved for the convenience of football fans. I would've ridden my bike if I had known there would be no chemo, but oh well. I considered swimming across the lake, but my pack was too heavy. So we had devised a strategy: I would start walking north on the Burke-Gilman trail, while she was driving south, and we'd meet somewhere along Sand Point Way. 
It was a beautiful fall day, like almost every day this September. Near the stadium there was much hooplah as fans were streaming in for the 6 o'clock kickoff. Fundamentalist nut-cases were marching along with them, carrying big signs and ranting mindlessly on megaphones about the wages of sin, Jesus this and Jesus that ad nauseam. Others seemed more concerned about getting tickets to the game, or scalping some, than about the afterlife. After a mile or so the noise died out, and a couple of miles later I met my lovely wife at a very nice, quiet little park: the Burke-Gilman, which oddly I'd never been to.

Meanwhile, the fall quarter has begun. My senior topology class has fifty students with more trying to get in. It's a ridiculous number, due largely to the massive influx of Chinese students the last few years. Of course students of all nationalities are very welcome in my course, as long as they really want to study topology. The problem is that there are many who do not, and I'm doing my best to weed out the non-serious ones as soon as possible. On the plus side, there are already at least half a dozen students who have been very vocal and involved in class, and that's all it takes to make teaching really fun. On the other hand, the sheer size of our bloated program (600+ math majors) brings the Bureaucratic Law of Large Numbers into play: the bigger any organization gets, the more it succumbs to bureaucracatic rules. So I have to battle my own department to enroll highly qualified, motivated students who don't technically meet the requirements. A Turkish exchange student, for example. Or a sophomore who doesn't have the prerequisites and isn't even a math major yet, but was the top student in honors calculus last year. We have amazing, world-class students in the honors program, so this kid is sure to be phenomenal. Why hold him back?
He sits in the front row, asks persistent, interesting questions, and in fact when I came into class yesterday he was at the board
holding forth on some topological problem. Great, a guest lecturer! I can take a seat. ``We have a challenge problem for you,''
he says. His question showed tremendous insight and creativity. I didn't know the answer, and I suspect no one does.
He's the ideal student! How can we not let him in? I'll continue the battle over the weekend.

Wednesday I met my two new ``preliminary advisees''. One of them is Italian! In fact Alessandro and I had already been corresponding for some time, but I hadn't met him yet. We had our entire meeting in Italian, including the mathematical part.
A very nice guy. He was assigned to me based on his interest in algebraic topology, not his language! The other is Jasmine, an African-American young lady who I may have mentioned in some earlier post. She's the granddaughter of a friend of the husband of Wendy's friend Karen (got it?), who I first heard about from the grandma at Karen's 60th birthday party. Since then
I've been encouraging Jasmine to apply to grad school at the UW, and she's been admitted to the Masters program. It is sad but true that African-American math grad students are exceedingly rare, and an African-American woman is unheard of around here.
I'm excited she was accepted and will be rooting for her to succeed. She definitely has the enthusiasm and the initiative required, and obviously her file must have looked good to the admissions committee.

Supposedly I'm cutting back on my total activity during the chemo. For instance, I've again bowed out of committee duties, by
agreement with the chair. But it's hard to resist grad students who want to do reading courses in algebraic topology. It looks like I'll have a reading course with three students (including one of those brilliant undergrads I alluded to), plus possibly Alessandro although he may be too far ahead (he has a Masters already from a top school in Switzerland). The ringleader is a young woman
named Maddie. Talk about a ``take-charge'' kind of person! Before I knew what hit me, she'd already recruited these other students, worked out a time we could all meet and reserved one of our local rooms in Padelford (not easy to do). How could I say no?

Well, enough babbling. It's therapeutic though. Thursday we had the Brown family over for dinner, and opened our bottle
of Casa Aiva wine! Enjoyed by all, although Kaia and Finley much preferred the homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Huskies are on a roll. Jury still out on the Seahawks. And will the Mariners make the playoffs? With that, I shall take my leave.

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