Cancer Blog

Sunday, February 29, 2004

give this kid a Ph.D.

Via Julian Sanchez comes this article:
An Oxford engineering student was surprised but undaunted when he was approached to deliver a series of lectures in Beijing on global economics.

Matthew Richardson knew "next to nothing" about the subject but, believing he would be addressing a sixth-form audience, he felt he could "carry it off".

Mr Richardson, 23, borrowed an A-level textbook entitled An Introduction to Global Financial Markets from a library and swotted up on its contents on the flight from London to China. [...]
As Julian says, just read it. I don't want to suggest that there's any hierarchy in academic subject matter or anything, but somehow I doubt that an undergraduate in economics, no matter how clever, would be able to pull off a comparable feat in front of Chinese engineers. Now Chinese social workers, that's another matter...

Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Passion of Bach

I'm not going to weigh in on Mel Gibson's movie. In fact, I probably won't even see Mel Gibson's movie. From what I read, it appears to be a bloodbath; and besides, I already know how it's going to end.

But let me take this opportunity to add my drop of free 'publicity' to the vast media ocean on behalf of a less divisive sort of Jesus product: St. Matthew's Passion, by J.S. Bach. During my most difficult times, stretches last August when I could barely eat or sleep, I would lie in my darkened bedroom and listen to Bach for hours, mostly the Brandenburg Concertos and the Passion. The Passion is not an easily accessible work, and I know that I don't appreciate it the way the deeply religious Johann Sebastian intended; but I don't care. It's beautiful. The words--incomprehensible German--(and thus, to a large extent the story) are, for me, beside the point. For a taste, go here and click on sample track 3 from disc 1.

When it's a question of Jesus' last twelve hours, I'll take Bach's beauty over Mel's vengeance any day of the week.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

my double life as a pin cushion...

...will be ending soon. Today's blood draw required four sticks before the red stuff flowed. These twice-weekly blood tests are hell on the ol' veins, I tell ya. One of my doctors will be hearing from me soon about getting a port put in.

Edit: Twice-weekly, or twice a week, for biweekly.

Monday, February 23, 2004

winner: Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis

The award for best hospital food (Insert clever name for award here; half-hearted suggestion: the Barfy.) goes, in a landslide, to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis. Barnes-Jewish beat out the NIH, in Bethesda, Maryland, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN. Barnes-Jewish's sole entry into the competition, a dinner consisting of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and most spectacularly, carrot cake, was more than enough to secure victory. A special 'Excellence in Dessert' commendation is in order. Barnes-Jewish chefs served up the best carrot cake that this judge has ever had. The other competitors' strongest entry for dessert, orange Jello, didn't have a chance. Congratulations Barnes-Jewish. I certainly know where I want to fall ill.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

stuff that's growing

This past Tuesday night I noticed a rather significant new tumor in the left axilla (armpit). When I first notice a new lesion and that lesion is already pretty big, it's safe to infer that it's fast-growing. This could become problematic in the near future, not as a threat to my health, but as a source of pain. Maybe we'll ablate it as well. Who knows? Also, the small tumor (really tumors--there are several) on the left side of my neck--those opposite from the monster that was ablated this past Tuesday--have also grown.

So clearly I have plenty of disease that is not responding very well to treatment. Fortunately, it seems to be located in non-vital areas. I won't know what's happening on the inside for a few more weeks, but I've been feeling really good: no abdominal pain and my digestive system has been working well.

The next health-related event will be more chemo and the beginning of cycle eight in a week and a half. But I've got some work to do regarding the platelets: yesterday they were at a near-dangerously low 28,000. At least the neutrophils weren't too bad.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Herbert is irrelevant

You know why I hate politics? It's because of stuff like this offshoring flap. Those nasty Indians, with their dark skin, their pagan religion, and their preternatural programming skills are in the process of eviscerating the American middle class. Or so we're told. From the New York Times' Bob Herbert--a columnist whose existence, from now on, I will not dignify with acknowledgement--has found his raison d'ecrire. From today's outrage, "Dark Side of Free Trade":
No one really knows what to do -- not the president, not John Kerry or John Edwards, and most of all not the economists and other advocates who have been so certain about the benefits for American working men and women of unrestrained trade and globalization.
And most of all, not the economists. Yes, in matters of trade, not the economists... No, we don't know what the fuck we're talking about. Anecdotal evidence over data, feelings over analysis, yeah, that's the ticket to good policy. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, progress, let's throw all that shit out the window because some Indians are doing things better and more cheaply than their American counterparts.

Quick, as an antidote, read the Economist: here and here. Meanwhile, I'll go on carefully grading these Econ 101 exams with questions on the benefits of trade, comparative advantage, and the like; my modest service for the "good guys" in the never-ending war on stupidity.

I speak Dixie

It's Friday, the swelling's going down, time to relax with a light internet quiz. This Yankee or Dixie dialect quiz (via Andrew Sullivan) is particularly amusing. I've always been more conscious of language, dialects, accents, etc. than most, and somehow I managed to get through eighteen highly formative years in Nashville, TN without any discernible Southern twang.

Well this quiz pegged me as 84% Southern in dialect. I'm a little surprised, but not overly alarmed. Before you write me off as some backwater hick, I'd like to point out that there are only three questions (out of twenty) that give away my Southern heritage, and that, in all three, the Southern usage is in fact superior to the non-Southern. For example:
How do you pronounce the second syllable in pajamas?
'-ja' as in 'father', of course. Consider the alternative: '-ja' as in 'jam'. Yuck. You almost have to crinkle your nose to make the sound; it's nasally; yuck, yuck, and yuck. Whereas, pajahmas. Ahhhhh, now that's civilized. Moving on...
What's it called when you throw toilet paper over a house?
This, of course, is 'rolling'. To 'roll' a house, what could be more natural?--and cool. When growing up I was aware (through the popular children's literature) of the alternative--and deeply inferior--term: TPing. But this is just pathetic. To 'roll a house' is just the sort of language needed to glamourize petty acts of vandalism. Toilet papering a house? Come on, you can do better than that you sophisticated non-Southerners, you. What's next?
What's that bug that rolls into a ball when you touch it?
Roly poly. End of story. It goes by different names apparently, pillbug, sow bug, etc. No... Roly poly just captures it. I mean just look at the thing, it's a roly poly! In fairness, I should mention one other regionalism that I'm not quite as confident about...
What is that bubbly carbonated drink called?
Okay, so it's a coke. Regardless of whether or not it's actually a Coke, it's a coke. I admit that this particular Southern idiosyncrasy is not at all adequate. To compensate for this, I modified my own behavior so that, when it is a question of non-alcoholic drinks, I almost always purchase a Coke; at least my behavior is consistent with my locution. But, again, consider the alternatives. Pop. No, I can't say pop, I just can't. How about soda? I hear the dreaded nasal coming in... Soft drink? I would use this if I didn't use coke, but no, too proper.

This is about all the regional chauvinism I can muster. My deviations from proper, Oxford English usually occur for either aesthetic reasons or because of my inferior childhood education. Bon weekend.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

that's a first

Hmmm... Door-to-door textbook salesman just dropped by my office. Prentice Hall. Free textbooks!!! All you can read!!! Come and get 'em... I would have preferred a hot dog guy.


The tumor is ablated and the right side of my neck and face is swollen up nice and fat. It looks like the needle entered through only one location, the 'peak' of the tumor, and that they just kind of probed around there as best they could killing everything within reach. I'll take the dressing off tomorrow. There's supposed to be a clear, glue-like substance on the skin itself which will come off naturally in a few days. That's it. I'll follow up with the doctor in a few weeks.

No pain to speak of from the procedure itself. The pain I had been having from the tumor is gone. Success enough if you ask me. How much will it shrink?

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

note to self...

When recovering from general anesthesia, always make sure you have an adequate vomit receptacle within easy reach, ESPECIALLY when being transported by stretcher from the recovery room to your personal hospital room.

Monday, February 16, 2004

A-Day eve
Ablation: a medical term that refers to any procedure performed to destroy diseased or damaged tissue in the body.
Good, I made it. As expected, the chemo last week has kept the pain from the neck tumor more or less under control. Last night was kind of rough, though: I lost several hours of sleep because of the pain. But when I woke up this morning, all was better.

I'll go into Barnes-Jewish at 8:00 tomorrow morning to have this thing radiofrequency ablated once and for all. I should be able to go home in the evening, but I might have to stay overnight. I suppose the site will be bandaged for a few days, and there could be some swelling during the immediate aftermath, but other than that, 'normal' life should resume on Wednesday. Then the tumor should steadily deflate as the body slowly removes the dead tissue. The big question is whether they will treat the relatively new tumor on the other side of my neck; let's just say that it's no longer pea-sized. Is this the first of many ablations for yours truly?

Anyway, tomorrow will be an extraordinarily light blogging day.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

the Acura is dead; long live the Volvo

Not dead exactly, just, well, put out to pasture. I recently completed the purchase of a 1998 Volvo S70, black--far too much car for a scum-of-the-earth grad student like myself. But my approach to car buying is, 'buy something nice so it lasts a long time and never breaks down". The Volvo fits the bill. Plus I got a good deal: my sister (yes, I bought it from my older sister) was going to trade it into a dealer, so I just paid her the trade-in value. So now I have leather interior, seat warmers, cd player, etc., etc. There is, however, an uncomfortable disparity between the quality of my new car and the quality of the neighborhood in which I live (not to mention the quality of the clothes that I wear, etc., etc. again). I never had a second thought about leaving my Acura on the mean streets of UCity, St. Louis: nobody would be stupid enough to steal that piece of crap. But with this Volvo... Oh well, I'll just have to rely on the alarm, my insurance, and the restraint of my neighbors. I'm pleased, though; this is only the third car I've ever owned. Hopefully it will last as long as the '93 Acura did. Hopefully I will last even longer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

cycle seven

Cycle seven went off without a hitch yesterday. The chemo drugs are duking it out with those nasty cancer cells as I type. I received some real good news from my doctor regarding the CT scans. It appears that the liver was not as big of a problem as I had thought. Aside from my neck, everything else seems to be stable or shrinking. In fact, he said that there was 28% tumor shrinkage since the last set of CT scans (not including the neck, of course). As an explanation for why this treatment is working for some tumors and not for others, my doctor hypothesized that perhaps the lymph node areas of the body were more favorable to tumor growth than non-lymph node areas. The tumors in my neck are located in lymph nodes, as is the tumor in my groin, both of which have grown more than everything else in recent months. The disease in my left axilla (armpit), however, has shrunk quite a bit, despite also being located in a lymph node area. I hope he's right though, because the alternative--that the disease in my neck has mutated further and has become resistant to the treatment--is not nearly as attractive.

Full steam ahead with this semester. The twists of fate are amazing. The chemo seems to have calmed down the big tumor in my neck a bit, so I'm fairly confident that things won't get out of hand before A-Day (Ablation Day), now only 6 days away. Once that's out of the way, I'll be in the clear for a while as far as the health stuff goes. Very good.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

seems familiar...

The tumor in my neck has made impressive gains over the past week. The skin is stretched tight, and the shape of the mass most closely resembles a rounded off pyramid, the base of which is planted firmly in my neck, while the point extends somewhere off to my right. The 'point' of this pyramid is not perfectly pointy, Huichilobos be praised, but it is rather hard, and certainly pointy enough to cause occasional non-trivial discomfort, to put it euphemistically. And there is an aesthetic cost: over the last few days, the 'peak' of skin that used to be snowy white--with some mild irritation, of course--has turned an inflamed, angry red. Sorry, I'm reading Rushdie. But the facts are correct: the tumor in my neck won't be ablated until February 17, and this thing is growing like gangbusters. I've begun to lose sleep.

I'm banking on getting chemo next week, preferably on Tuesday. After the last round of chemo, the 'discomfort' in my neck subsided for about ten days. I would expect another blast of Bristol-Meyers Squibb's finest to carry me through to ablation day. My latest predicament is vaguely reminiscent of this past August, but certainly not as serious. In early August I called to make the appointment to start the current program. I wasn't able to get an appointment until August 26, almost three weeks later. During those three weeks, I sat at home cultivating my tumors and wondered, not without interest, whether I would make it to the appointment; and if so, in what sort of sorry shape I would be in. I made it, of course, and by appointment time I was still able to walk about and eat a little. A couple of weeks ago, I made the critical decision of telling my doctor that the neck thing was not an emergency; I erroneously thought that a non-emergent condition would not significantly affect scheduling. Alas, it did. I still wouldn't call this an emergency, but I would call it goddamn rotten luck... Moving the ablation up to next week wouldn't make much sense, because next week's chemo is more important, and the actual day when I will be able to get the chemo is uncertain.

So the key to this particular mini-crisis is, again, my blood. The blood counts from Tuesday were good and bad: platelets? Good! Neutrophils? Bad. Not so bad (900), but we need 1500 by Monday for chemo on Tuesday; or if not by Monday, by Wednesday for chemo on Thursday; or if not by Wednesday, by next Thursday for chemo next Friday; or if not by next Thursday... 1500 by Monday would be nice.


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