A small setback: Shingles and Woogie

TJ looking like Woogie from the 1998 comedy, There’s Something About Mary.

As we approach the one year mark of my diagnosis, the annual “bonus” I got was an all-expense paid stay in fabulous Holy Cross Hospital for shingles.

It reminds me of a “The Price is Right” prize package: “On this luxurious journey to the heart of tropical north Fort Lauderdale, you will be staying in your own private room at the beautiful isolation wing of Holy Cross. During your weeklong trip, enjoy complimentary meals and beverages, free Internet access, and your very own adjustable bed! But that’s not all. This package comes with a 24/7 nursing concierge service, who cater to your every medical whim. You also receive unannounced check-ups from the ophthalmologist, infectious disease, and oncology doctors, daily scalp massages of antibacterial ointments, and a shuttered right eye. All of this can be yours for the low price of participating in a potentially life-saving clinical trial!”  Kind of glad I didn’t guess within $100 and find out what was in the other guy’s prize package.

At first it was like, “OK, this will be a quick easy pit stop for some IV medication.” Then you remember those little things that make a hospital stay so unique from your other summer vacations. The tugging of a small tube in your vein when you stretch out the IV arm a little too far. The fun of being woken up at 4:45 a.m. for a blood test - I mean really, who DOESN’T want to be poked by a small needle around the time farmers in Carlisle are hitting the snooze button? Meal selections which are repetitive, at best. A view that never changes. Constant “hospital sounds” that remind you’re never really alone. Stays that start stretching from “a couple” days to “a few” days to “several” days. Where do I sign up?

Really, it’s not that bad. Shingles does kinda suck, but in a “Why the HELL do I have to deal with THIS now?” kind of way. We’re a week away from my second scan, and this is the first real serious side effect I have had in six doses. I probably should have called the doctor 36 hours before I did, so it’s partially my own fault. Besides, like a semi-sleep-deprived Jen said Friday night, “I wouldn’t mind a few days alone in a hospital room.” She was (mostly) kidding, although I don’t blame her. Between Jen's solo parenting responsibility, coming back and forth to see me, and having to look at this stuff on my head (often while eating), seeing out of one eye for the week suddenly doesn't seems that bad, even if I look like a nerve gas casualty.  At one point, my brother in law told me I looked like Woogie from There’s Something About Mary.

As for the shingles themselves… they are annoying, like a fly constantly buzzing around your head, and uncomfortable, like the back of a Volkswagen.  Part of me just wanted to sleep this week away, and get to it next week. I spent most of it sitting in bed and catching up on emails, which is probably a little too much inertia. I have been getting IV anti-viral medication thrice daily, plus a topical antibacterial to keep away staph infections when these bubbly blisters inevitably end up popping. (Warning for the next person with shingles on their face – that blistering puss BURNS when it seeps into your eye.) There’s also a gel for the eyelid and a medicated eye drop that keeps the infection from spreading into my actual eye, where it can cause all kinds of havoc, including blindness. So while this may seem like a minor deal compared to some of my other hospital stays, there is some real danger of complication here; luckily we seem to be emerging from it unscathed.

So I got stuck in a bed, checking emails and watching some occasional TV.  Of course, that all goes against my “live your life” mantra that I preach to anyone fighting cancer, but once again, God and my body are reminding me about that whole balance thing I occasionally have trouble finding. The last month has been a significant uptick in activity level, and while it has been a huge mental and emotional boost to feel like a normal person again, maybe my body wasn’t quite ready for all this excitement. Besides, the blog needed some good medical material; you guys can only read so many “we were so happy from the first scans…” posts.

After my five-night stay at Chez Sainte-Croix, I am home, albeit looking a bit like a wounded soldier from the trenches. Friday we have scan #2, allowing me the week to get back on my feet and look good for the CT machine. My body is looking better from the inside than it is on the outside with this shingles thing.  Let’s hope that holds true for this melanoma thing as well.

Note: check out the Immune  Checkpoint Blockers Show Promise article on Philly.com today; it’s partially about the PD-1 antibody drug I am taking, Lambrolizumab.

T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »