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15 October 2014 / erikduval

Pills, Thrills And Bellyaches

My Great Sister chemo buddy was so nice to break the news:

I will state it for my brother: his white blood cells were good so he is in for another battle together with his ” chemo-buddies”.

So, I guess that breaks the Good News Curse and I can safely tell you that my next DHAP round has started. I’ve been in hospital since last Monday. First two days typically go fine – actually got some Good Work done, including a proposal for a workshop on Visual Approaches to Learning Analytics for LAK15 – which could be one of my come-back events if things go well…

Since yesterday evening, I’m on Valium and Temesta: both work against feelings of anxiety, which is not why I get them (I think). They make you sleepy, which is a nice side effect in this case. And they work against nausea, which is why I take them. I’m also on Ement, which should also help with nausea. And will soon get something else for hiccups. And allopurinol and Zantac. I’ve had more medication in the last six months than in the previous 48,5 years of my life ;-) Just mentioning, because many of you send me advice on what to take to get rid of nausea.

For now, I’m feeling fine, though a bit drowsy (no wonder, with the Valium and Temesta). And a bit curious about what the next days will bring. Made me think of “Pills, Thrills And Bellyaches” – a record I used to like a lot at the time. It’s about somewhat different pills and thrills, but rather similar bellyaches ;-) Enjoy!

10 October 2014 / erikduval

Victim of the Good News Curse…

Maybe there is a certain curse in public writing about your health: I’ve read somewhere before (sorry, my chemo brain can’t find the exact post, but whatever you read on David’s blog is worth your time) that whenever you post a positive story, something bad will happen next.

I guess my previous post was a bit too optimistic ;-)

Yesterday, I went to the hospital to start my last round of ‘regular’ DHAP chemo. My expectation was to feel Really Sick from Saturday until mid of the week. The good news: I am back from the hospital, at home, feeling fine. The bad news: the reason is that the level of white blood cells in my blood is too low. (I shouldn’t have called that post ‘Good Blood Snowflake’. Maybe ‘Reasonably OK Blood’ would have been fine…) If I get chemo now, it will take too long to get back on my feet. That’s a bit of a disappointment, as I really want to keep making progress with my treatment…

Anyway, the current plan is that I go back into hospital next Monday. If my blood is OK then, I will have my last round of ‘regular’ chemo next week and we will just have a few days delay. Three weeks after, I will have another PET scan and then I will probably start my autologous stem cell transplant.

For now, I’m enjoying doing a bit of work and look forward to a nice Family Weekend.

I hope that doesn’t sound too optimistic, so that I do not invoke the Good News Curse again…

2 October 2014 / erikduval

Good Blood Snowflake

Today was a Good Day. I had my blood checked at the hospital, as my current chemo is a bit more demanding on my body. Turns out I have Good Blood. Which means no need for transfusions, and a full week clear of medical stuff until I go back in for my next and final round of this type of chemo. Yey!

One thing you obsess a bit over during treatment is how your chances evolve. At the start, I had a 70% chance that my type of cancer (T-cell, Not Otherwise Specified) would react to chemo. If it did, I had a 70% chance of becoming fully healthy again. That made a 70*70=49% chance overall. Elementary statistics. (Well, not really, because I guess that, occasionally, some people with non-chemo-responsive T-cell actually do get cured. But that’s a detail. Not for them, I’m sure. But for what I’m trying to explain here…)

So, of course, as my treatment evolves, I try to re-assess probabilities all the time. My lymphomas did react to chemo. Good, chances go up. I wasn’t in complete remission after 4, 6 or 8 sessions of CHOP. Oops, my chances go down. I now do two sessions of DHAP and will have another PET scan in about three weeks from now. If that PET scan is clear, i.e. I’m in remission, my chances go up again. But how much exactly? If there is less activity visible than before, have my chances gone up because of the DHAP? If so, how much?

Trying to work out these probabilities, I sometimes had the feeling that doctors weren’t always ready to give clear answers. Maybe they worried I wouldn’t understand. Hey, I’m a professor of computer science. I can do basic math! Or that I couldn’t cope with it. Hey, I’m an adult. I know we probably all will die. I’d like to know a bit more if a bit more can be known. It’s my life, it’s data about me. I want to live in truth, not in ignorance.

But today, I think I realise what the real issue may be: it’s like my Great Friend Wayne and I used to say… We’re all snowflakes, we’re all different, we’re all of us unique. Turns out that very few people have my type of lymphoma, and my type of treatment. Like really very few. Like so few that statistics doesn’t really apply. As one of my doctors said, it becomes more a matter of “feeling and experience” than hard science.

I always valued being unique. I still do. But unique and statistics don’t go well together. Oh, well.

Let’s just say that I’m confident (most of the time) that I will make it. Confident. Not certain. But I can definitely work with confident.


Thinking about the title for this post, I remembered a movie that really impressed me when it came out: “Mauvais Sang“. It impressed me for all the reasons that mostly French movies seem to be able to impress me: it was “difficult”, a bit depressing, very poetic, and I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. Maybe you should put it on your “to see” list… Or you can watch the clip below…

28 September 2014 / erikduval

I like it. I like it. It’s good.

I don’t quite feel like a clean nicely folded towel just yet… (I did learn that there are many more possibilities to towel art though – thanks, Andrew!)

But I am making progress: I can do short walks outside. Maybe not a giant leap for mankind, but more than a small step for this man… The sun and the wind on the skin of my face – I so missed that.

And for reasons I can’t quite understand, yesterday turned into Canadian Music Day. There was Leonard Cohen on the radio during breakfast. Nice. His voice made me think of Robbie Robertson’s Somewhere Down The Crazy River.

Those lines:

Wait, did you hear that
Oh this is sure stirring up some ghosts for me
She said "There's one thing you've got to learn
Is not to be afraid of it."
I said "No, I like it, I like it, it's good."
She said "You like it now
But you'll learn to love it later."

Somehow when I go on this kind of music trip, I often end up at Joni Mitchell’s.

There’s much worse places to end up…

25 September 2014 / erikduval

Bit like a wrung towel…

I have a Great Sister. (And a Great Brother. And a Great Family and Great Friends, but that’s a different topic…)

One of the nice things she regularly does is to send me cards that should make me feel goed, like “Bald is the new sexy”. Not sure the messages are always true, but most of the time, the cards work well.

When I entered the hospital last Thursday, she sent me one saying

Kicking cancer’s ass, one day at a time.

Maybe that was a mistake.

The thing is: cancer decided to kick back. So, I’ve been on temesta, valium, licitan and a few other wonders of modern medicine since the weekend, and, until yesterday, I felt like this towel:

3515601037_6ce014cee1_z

Over the past days, I lost some kilos (there’s a huge commercial opportunity for weight loss through chemo!), but I’m back home now and getting stronger. Hey, I can even do the stairs all by myself! I’m beginning to feel more like a clean nicely folded towel:

8189583857_fac3e1ff2b_z

I guess that, by tomorrow, I can start kicking cancer’s ass again…

20 September 2014 / erikduval

We may need you! (no worries, not cancer related…)

One of my many blessings (too many religious connotations), privileges (seems to imply that if I have it, some of you can’t), … I don’t-know-what-to-call-it-but-it-certainly-is-a-good-thing’s is that I get a lot of energy and joy from my work. That is why I decided to not go on sick leave, but continue working. And, though I maybe work a few hours less every week, as I can use my cancer card to avoid some of the less nice parts of the job, I think I’m actually more productive than ever!

And my job is about to get even better: I’m very happy that, after working in Eindhoven and Brussels, Katrien is joining our group again as a professor!

And we have two open positions in our group, so you may be able to join in the fun! The official announcement:

The HCI research group at KU Leuven in Belgium is looking for new members to join our team!

We have two fully funded open PhD positions:

Position 1: The focus of the research for the first open position is on the design, development and evaluation of second screen applications that enhance the television user experience. The main research interest is to investigate how value can be added to that experience and how user interaction can be designed in such a way that it enriches rather than detracts from the television content. This research will be carried out in the context of a project on personalised advertisements that involves several research groups, as well as content providers and ad agencies.

Position 2: The focus of the research for the position is on user interfaces for recommender systems that suggest items to match user preferences. The overall objective is to research the use of information visualization techniques to give end-users insight into the rationale of recommender systems to increase trust in recommendations. In addition, we are researching how we can use visualization techniques to enable end-users to help steer the recommendation process by providing feedback and additional input.

Funding is available immediately. The research will be carried out at the Department of Computer Science of KU Leuven.

We expect from applicants:
– an excellent Master’s degree in Computer Science or related discipline
– a very good background and interest in human computer interaction research
– strong programming skills and the ability to do independent research
– strong commitment and the ability to work in a team
– a high level of proficiency in English, both spoken and written.

More information about the financial compensation can be found online at http://www.kuleuven.be/personeel/jobsite/en/phd-info#salary

The deadline for submitting applications is 15 Oct. 2014. Applicants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible as positions will remain open until filled by suitable candidates.

Interested applicants should send their CV and letter of application, indicating the PhD position (1/2) that the candidate wishes to apply for, as well as an electronic version of a recent research project (e.g. master thesis, scientific publication) to Erik Duval (erik.duval@cs.kuleuven.be) and Katrien Verbert (katrien.verbert@cs.kuleuven.be).

Inquiries about the positions can be sent to the same addresses.

Do feel free to circulate the news ;-)

19 September 2014 / erikduval

Hidden chemo…

I like the way my 24 hour chemo intravenous drip is hidden in a bag.

I imagine there’s a bottle of Chateau Margaux in that bag, and I will be close-to-but-not-really drunk for the next 24 hours.

That could explain the head ache I may have tomorrow as a side effect…

IMG_2046

(I asked: UV rays from the sun could actually interfere with the chemo. That’s why. Life can be so prosaic sometimes.)

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