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Post-Cancer Woes: What Is This?


Ed's weakened immune system continues to haunt him.

Two months after the surgical removal of the squamous cell carcinoma from his right ear, Ed was deer hunting with friends. On the way home, he felt a stinging soreness in the left mid portion of his back. It had been a warm day for the first week of December, and Ed had removed his hunting coat because he thought he had scratched himself on the tree trunk he leaned against as he sat on his hunting stool. When he returned home, he looked in the mirror with his hunting shirt off, sure enough there was what looked like a four inch by one-inch scratch.

The next day was a regular follow up visit with Dr. Kathryn Grinnen, his primary care physician. The scratch was a little more painful than the night before so he asked her to examine it. As Dr. Grinnen looked at the scratch, he felt her stiffen and gasp, “That is not a scratch, and you have shingles.”

Dr. Grinnen prescribed Zovirax (acyclovir), an oral antiviral medication designed to reduce the onset of typical shingles symptoms.

“How can that happen?” asked Ed. “I had the vaccine 15 months back.”

Dr. Grinnen explained that the vaccine is not always effective when you have a weakened immune system, as Ed still had.

“It is going to become very painful, and a pain reliever will be needed. Horizant (gabapentin enacarbil) may be of some help. It is a nerve channel blocker,” Grinnen said. “The virus always follows a channel of nerves. Typically, it begins at the spine and follows the nerve channel half way around your body. You can take two per day simultaneously, or separated by a few hours. You can also take Advil, but be cautious not to overdo it.”

Ed’s pain became excruciating. He was convinced he had a perforating ulcer as the virus moved around his body and the rash spread to the size of a tennis racket. Advil worked the longest, and each nerve channel blocker only lasted two and a half hours.

This would continue for 30 days. Ed could not sleep, except from exhaustion. His skimpy appetite became worse. It was not a very happy Christmas, but Ed knew he was blessed. He had come through a lot this year already, and his immune system was looking much better. Pattie was his constant caregiver during all of this. After the first of the year, the pain began to subside and the rash began to dissipate.

Ed then had his first dental exam since he completed chemo. The X-rays finally revealed the cause of the toothaches. The root canal still had some bacterial matter that was now growing, although Ed did not have any toothache. As Ed’s immune system was being destroyed during the chemo sessions, the tiny abscess was creating a lot of pressure. When a chemo cycle passed, Ed’s white cells began to come back and subdue the bacteria. Ed needed microsurgery from an endodontist to remove the root canal and clean out the infection before the root canal could be restored. After a few visits to the practice of Dr. Aloe and Dr. Carr in Lewes, Delaware, Ed was completely repaired and grateful-- not to mention a mystery had been solved.

Ed’s immune system was not perfect, and maybe it never will be. His white cell count was improving, along with the neutrophils and hemoglobin. His immune system, though still marginal, was more positive than it had been for over a year.

There may be more to come, but during all of these things, Ed knew he was very blessed because he positively had remission. Hope had not been wasted on him and never will be. God’s grace is sufficient.

The light at the end of the tunnel is very close. Ed and Pattie were looking forward to a very good year.

“All good things come from God”


“I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.”

1 Corinthians 7:7

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