A Very Long, Strange Trip

I’ve lived through some…interesting episodes since about Halloween 2004. That’s when my dog stopped eating. After two months (and several thousand dollars) of tests, the vet told us he had pancreatic or perhaps liver cancer. We put him to sleep the day after Christmas.

Why? Well, my mother also had pancreatic cancer and I just couldn’t cope with watching them both die at the same time. She collapsed two days after we euthanized the dog, rallied for a week or two, and then went into the decline that ended with her death on February 18, 2005. My father ended his 12-year battle with ALS (yes, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and yes, 12 years — he and Stephen Hawking are curve blowers) on September 29, 2005.

Two weeks later, I developed a blurry spot in my right eye. I went to the eye doctor, who told me I had optic neuritis (inflammation of the nerve) and sent me for a brain MRI “to rule out MS.” It didn’t rule it out.

By Christmas, I couldn’t see out of my right eye, my feet and lower legs were numb to my knees with tingling to mid thigh, my fingertips were starting to tingle, and I couldn’t close my eyes without losing my balance.

I had a 40-minute drive to and from work with no binocular vision, and I was told I couldn’t telecommute.

In mid-January some bloodwork came back that indicated I have celiac disease, which runs in my mother’s family. My neurologist shrugged and said a gluten-free diet is good for multiple sclerosis, so I began eliminating gluten from my diet.

At the same time I went on MS medication (immunosuppressants) and a steroid pulse (1000mg of Solu-Medrol, a Prednisone equivalent for two days a month). Slowly, sensation came back and my right eye’s vision came back.

On May 2, 2006, I was fired from my job for “poor quality of work,” which is actually a paraphrase of a much longer statement. But it was okay, because I could feel my legs again. And I won a writing contest with the manuscript that would become Blade’s Edge.

Fast-forward to 2009. My medical condition had stabilized; no new brain lesions since 2006, off the steroid pulse and slowly losing the extra weight (look ma, cheekbones!). I contracted my novel with Samhain Publishing. Life was good.

Then I got this funny wart on the tip of my nose, which was very annoying. I went to a dermatologist, who said, “No, that looks like a skin cancer” and took a biopsy.

While I was running the check-in table at the Murder in the Grove Master Class Weekend with Bob Mayer and Margie Lawson, the dermatologist called with the pathology results: squamous cell carcinoma. Not the worst skin cancer to have (that would be melanoma), but not the best, either (that would be basal cell carcinoma).

Because of the location, I was going to need Mohs surgery, which requires less “margin” — healthy tissue lopped off in cancer surgery just in case.
There are two dermatologic surgeons qualified to perform Mohs surgery in the state of Idaho (which is about the size of Great Britain). Luckily, they both practice in Boise.

So I had the surgery on June 24, 2009. That’s right, this is the second anniversary of my skin cancer surgery.

Blade’s Edge came out on September 8, 2009. I was now a published author. There was some drama with my editor leaving Samhain three weeks before my pub date, then her new job vanishing the day after my pub date, but that turned out okay, because Harlequin snatched her up to run Carina Press.

In October, since I’m a woman of a certain age (over 40), I had a mammogram. Then I had to go back for an “extra view” several weeks later. Two days before Thanksgiving, I had breast biopsy. Yes, it was positive, but it wasn’t that serious — ductile carcinoma in situ, considered pre-cancerous or stage 0 cancer.

The lumpectomy was on December 22, 2009. Yes, the year my first book was published I became a cancer double-survivor. Freaky-weird. But it gets even better.

While I was going through radiation therapy (for which I had to stop taking my MS medication, because it makes radiation more toxic), an article came out in the British Medical Journal “The Lancet — Neurology” that basically said, “If you are trying to diagnose for multiple sclerosis you need to eliminate celiac first.”

Apparently, they’ve discovered that celiac has neurological implications, can create lesions that look like MS to an MRI, and has even been linked to dementia (my mother’s father died of Accelerated Senility in a state hospital in 1962; hmmm). In my case, celiac cannot be ruled out.

I didn’t start taking my MS medication again when I finished the radiation treatments, but I remained on a gluten-free diet.

It’s 15 months later.

I’m officially cancer free, I have no MS-like symptoms, I’m working at the best job I’ve had in 15 years. And I finished a manuscript this week, my second complete manuscript since my parents died, and the first one that I actually plotted (the other was a direct treatment of Sleeping Beauty as science fiction; I might fix it sometime, but I might not).

Today on Twitter, I actually stuck my head up and shyly recommended my book to someone who was looking for science-fiction romance. The extraordinary and fabulous Angela James (who was the editor for my first book) tweeted back that she wishes I would write another.

I’m working on it, Ms. James. I’m working on it. I just had to get back from this long, strange trip.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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