Sunday, December 31, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0403 - Goodbye 2006

I am happy to bid adieu to 2006. Not ecstatically happy, just pleasantly ready to turn the page on a very difficult year, one in which I received more hospital and cancer-centre care than I ever thought possible earlier in my life.

Today, after going to the cinema with my wife and two sons to watch Rocky Balboa, I thought about one of the sequences in the movie in which Rocky is fighting the far younger world's champion and thinking, "Like I told the kid, it's not how hard you can hit, but how hard you get hit and yet still get up to take another."

That's sort of how I feel today as 2006 comes to a close. I feel beat up. I feel like I've been through a boxing match with a foe who has defeated far too many before me and many far better persons than I could ever hope to be. But I am still here. I am still fighting and ready to battle again should the need arise. Yet, also like Rocky, some of the rage and passion to enter the ring is gone. This is a good thing, as it was for Rocky. The catharsis worked, some of which I got by sitting at a keyboard and describing my experiences on this blog and hearing from so many in email, on the phone, in personal visits, and in comments on my blog. Thank you to all of you for being in my corner with me.

But it's not just about me. I am grateful that as we enter 2007, I can turn to my family with a greater sense of being able to contribute to their wellbeing, of having more energy and better health to make a difference in the lives of those I serve through my vocation and through community service, of having more to contribute to the welfare of others than a personal perspective on the battle against cancer.


"Something that seems as though it might be conclusive or might concur with something else, but never quite does so." -

Here's an artifact that has sprung up recently in my brain's archives - asymptote.

In mathematics, an asymptote is usually illustrated with a straight line and a curved line. The curved line spirals down in amplitude around a centrally located straight line until the curvature is virtually impossible to detect with the naked eye, although clearly the mathematical expression of the curvature goes outwards to infinity with the two lines never becoming precisely the same.

The beauty of the human brain is that it can detect the pattern and see the similarities even though each instance of the lines in the illustration are never the same.

Yesterday I wrote about Life's Little Mysteries, the clear implication of which was that science and technology gradually and inevitably supplant the sensation of mystery with natural explanations. Karl Rahner, the late Catholic theologian, would probably disagree. For Rahner, God can only be approached asymptotically, in other words through what he called "absolute mystery". Humanity has, in his view, an inescapable orientation to mystery in which rationality must be supplemented by divine revelation. To simplify even further, we can get close, but that's it.

A fellow blogger has a wonderfully named blog called Asymptotic Life. He writes that the name for the blog represents a journey of coming ever closer to God but not reaching that destination until infinity (interesting that he doesn't choose the word eternity). I'm not sure whether or not I agree with him or with Rahner about mystery and the journey towards divinity, but I certainly do appreciate the "hard wiring" of the human brain that recognizes patterns in apparently dissimilar systems. If it were not for asymptotic reasoning, humanity would be doomed to a quest for certainty. Instead, we have evolved to a point where we recognize that patterns and universal behaviour may be understood without perfect causal-mechanistic explanations.

If Karl Rahner and DJ (the AsymptoticLife blogger) are simply saying that the best we can hope for in relation to explaining the divine is to "point to the moon" without mistaking the finger for the moon, then I have to agree wholeheartedly with them both. If, however, they are suggesting that there is a category of knowledge called divine revelation, I will have to humbly, yet forcefully, disagree. There is simply no evidence for that assertion, explained asymptotically or otherwise.

But having said all that, I am certain that the different trajectories or journeys we travel are converging over time and would welcome further dialog about such journeys, unwanted or asymptotic.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Life's Little Mysteries

Mysteries usually aren't that mysterious. The history of science and technology proves that every marvel of nature we examine has a natural explanation. From why we experience alternating days and nights (obviously at this time of year, the lack of sunlight is an important part of living in the north country, as is seasonal affective disorder) to why some people experience debilitating bouts of depression, we find that application of ingenuity, study, and engineering know-how usually results in better understanding of phenomena that originally appear to be totally mysterious.

At the dawn of human civilization, night and day became more than just part of our existence. They became targets of applied reasoning. Unlike most animals (as far as we know), the human brain is structured and has evolved so that the most mundane aspects of experience eventually elicit a question of "how does that work?" Why is daytime followed by nighttime? The question is usually then followed by a sense of awe. "This really is amazing. Something which we take for granted is actually totally mysterious!"

But eventually that sense of awe prompts a more investigative frame of mind. "I wonder how that really works?" Then the hypotheses and guesses start accumulating wildly. Maybe the sun and daylight are actually a great god riding a chariot.

Then, slightly more naturalistic explanations start creeping in, although gods and goddesses usually linger in the imagination as evidence of the human need for mystery and awe. Perhaps the sun is just a ball of fire created in the firmament and rotates around the earth (the assumption of most biblical accounts). Eventually, as the impulse to understand continues and human observation is enhanced by mathematics and technology, the need to refer to divine intervention disappears. Daylight is merely exposure to the sun which occurs because the earth rotates every twenty-four hours. The seasons are merely aspects of the earth's orbit around the sun and the tilt of the earth's axis. No need to bring god into the equation.

One thing that has struck me recently, though, is that the lingering of the mysterious doesn't always involve gods and goddesses. It is sometimes found merely by invoking the human mind. Depression, for instance, is often still considered a problem of fortitude and incorrect thinking - in other words, a failure on the part of an individual to think right thoughts. The implicit judgement is often that if one would just adjust one's thinking, the depression would disappear.

The assumption appears to be that if a great god is not needed for a satisfactory explanation, perhaps all we need to do is assert the activity of the little god - ourselves. We are responsible for our moods and feelings, for creating them ex nihilo, and should therefore merely be admonished when overwhelmed by feelings of depression. After all, as little deities, we merely have to change our minds and the symptoms will vanish.

But then science and technology appear again and beat back life's little mysteries and the little gods who are responsible for them. Seasonal affective disorder indicates that sunlight can have a direct causal relationship with our moods. Or deep brain stimulation indicates that some forms of depression are caused by some kind of electrical misfiring of neurons in the brain.

Does this mean I have no use for mysteries or for human responsibility? Not at all. Merely that a sense of awe, no matter how valuable the emotional experience, is just one step in the process of human reasoning. So, too, it appears that facile attributions of human responsibility should not interfere with exploration for more natural causes in the physical world.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"I Like George Bailey."

"I wish I had a million dollars."

Yeah, It's a Wonderful Life - still one of my favourite Christmas videos. And George Bailey is one of my favourite movie characters. I guess I'm just a sentimental fool. Like George, I am still wishing for a million dollars and wondering when I'll get to explore the world. Like George, my life has not been entirely of my own design. But when I have angelic help, the big picture of my life isn't too bad at all.

I hope each of us has a Clarence hanging around us this Christmas...just when we need him.

I need more storage so that...

...the artifacts of my life have a home.

My working life began with museum artifacts - studying them, documenting them, interpreting them, and finally displaying them so that the general public could share some of the information I had discovered. The term artifacts - in the context of museums, archives, and galleries - refers to elements of the collections preserved according to the mission statement of the institution. Those elements include objects, images, and manuscripts.

It wasn't long after beginning my museum career that I was asked to assume responsibilities for an IBM personal computer at The Seagram Museum which was networked with 9 other museums, galleries, and archives in Waterloo region and Wellington county who had agreed to store the information about the artifacts in their collections in a central repository, a database management system at the University of Waterloo called SPIRES (Stanford Physics Information REtrieval System). The Waterloo-Wellington Museum Computer Network was initiated by the Museum and Archive of Games, located at the University of Waterloo, to coordinate the activities of registrars, librarians, and collections managers from the participating institutions. SPIRES was used to create, administer, and share our collections management records.

As my computer-related responsibilities grew, I quickly came to understand how the terms objects and artifacts had meaning within the world of software developers. In that context, the terms referred to software elements with properties and methods comparable to their real-world counterparts. The two worlds of computers and museums were colliding and providing new opportunities to expand my horizons.

Some colleagues in the Ontario Museum Association and I created an ad hoc business entity simply called Artifax in order to begin to address some of the opportunities for using personal computers and networks in the museum field. We designed software for both Apple- and IBM-based systems to provide information paralleling traditional publications like the Museum and Archives Supplies Handbook. Later on, I took over sole proprietorship of Artifax and eventually ran a full-time business designing custom software applications for clients primarily located in the Waterloo region and Wellington county.

Storage was always a problem, not just for museums, archives, and galleries, but for other companies and for me as an individual. There was never enough storage for the massive amounts of information that could be stored about museum artifacts or about one's own life. Music, photographs, video, text, structured or unstructured - there never was a problem of having too much storage capacity.

Today, I work as an IT Manager and have helped establish another regional interest group for IT Pros called WWITPRO, a user group for IT professsionals using Microsoft software. Storage of documents related to business and to the user group is always a matter of setting priorities and deleting or archiving older documents.

At home, every member of the family has a personal computer, an iPod, and a cell phone (two of us also have digital cameras). Still, not enough storage. The situation is better than ever before, I have to admit that much. All the music and photographs stored on my notebook computer are also to be found on my 60GB iPod. Even my Pocket PC has a 2GB mini SD card intended to carry copies of all my mind maps and other personal and business information critical to daily functioning. Mind maps especially make organizing my life easier, but they too demand more and more storage.

But, oh would a 750GB hard drive make life easier! Backup of the entire family's music files, all our digital and scanned photographs, all the family videos generated over 3 generations, geneological data and other family-related documents, not to mention copies of essays, blogs, portfolios and video game data.

One thing I would really like to delve into during 2007 is podcasting and video blogging, something which is not possible given the storage limitations of my current hardware. Personally, apart from the iPod, the Pocket PC, and the digital camera, I have 2 notebook computers and one desktop computer available to me at home. Each of my sons has more hard drive capacity on their desktop computers, but I don't feel right in asking them to share that disk space with me. But audio and video data storage and editing software consumes massive amounts of storage. A 750GB hard drive would certainly make entry into that world a genuine probability.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0395 - One-Word Prognosis

My surgical oncologist's receptionist called to tell me that a form that required some comments from the surgeon was ready for me to pick up. I did so and then read the comments later in the day. For a week in which there was hardly enough time to relax, reading those few words from the surgeon lifted a load from my shoulders, especially the one-word prognosis - "Good".

My cancer diagnosis was advanced stage III, T3N1M0. The latter is a code used to designate the stage (1-4), whether nodes are affected or not (either 0 for no, 1 for yes), and whether or not any distant organs are involved in metastasis of the cancer (0 for no, 1 for yes). One year later, after a surveillance colonoscopy, another biopsy, an ambiguous CT scan, and a pathologist's report, it was truly reassuring to read that single word on the form - "Good".

Today is the first of ten days I have off work and the first day of our family time together to celebrate Christmas, the winter solstice, and the coming new year. It will be a time of relaxation, reading, spending time together over special meals, perhaps traveling to visit family, watching movies and sports events on television, and reflecting on the year past. Unlike this time last year, in which nothing seemed certain other than a very aggressive treatment plan to rid my body of cancer, this year is marked by hope and, again, that one word - "Good".

And so it seems an appropriate time for me to revisit the theme of my personal blog. My unwanted journey is not over. No oncologist will tell me that I am cured, nor even that I shouldn't be concerned about recurrence. But I am definitely entering a period of recovery. I have no idea what the future holds in store for me, especially in regards to battling cancer. Still, there is reason for hope and for turning to other topics in my online writing. I hope you agree with me, doing so is very, very "Good".

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0388 - I'm glad we have you

Weekends are especially enjoyable right now. My wife and I are spending more quality time together on the weekends, doing simple yet enjoyable things together - things like shopping and other errands, getting up early on Sunday mornings and going to Starbucks for a latte and to listen to Tony Bennett's Duets, driving into the country or around the city to see the Christmas lights in the evening. Last weekend, I purchased an FM transmitter for my iPod. Now, with a Christmas holiday playlist of about 10 of our seasonal albums downloaded to the 60GB iPod, she and I can simply be in the car listening to an eclectic blend of the old and the new, the jazzy and the sublime, the sacred and the secular.

It's just pleasant, and very fulfilling, spending time doing these things together. I know it sounds sentimental, but last weekend I mentioned to her how much I enjoyed our time together. This weekend, she spoke simply, and yet directly, "I'm glad we have you with us this year."

Yes, despite the roller coaster ride, despite the emotional uncertainty, despite the continuing side effects of chemotherapy, I am here and with the ones I love.

It's almost Christmas. This year, it won't be a cancer Christmas. It will be a cancer-free Christmas, a time of hope, a measure of peace. I'm glad we have the stories of Christmas. I'm glad we have each other and I'm glad we have more time together.

As we drove today and talked about the changes we've been through, I asked if she thought cancer would recur. Of course, she doesn't know, any more than I do, but given the test results I've had recently, it really wouldn't be that surprising if someday, somehow, we have to face that kind of news directly. But not yet, not now.

Friday, December 15, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0387 - Bit of a scare

Wednesday evening I received a call from my medical oncologist wondering if I had any swelling in my left arm. Evidently, the CT scan indicated that there might be a blood clot in my arm. So started a conversation that left me wondering just what kind of condition I was really in after all.

The oncologist then went on to say that the radiologist's report indicated that there was strand-like tissue in the rectum that was possibly indicative of a recurrence of cancer. I mentioned that I had already been through a surveillance colonoscopy and a biopsy, the results of which were negative. He was unaware of those results, but decided that we needed to do an MRI anyway. A few moments later he called back again to ask qualifying questions about the MRI which might make the procedure dangerous, such as a metal sliver in the eye.

I guess I don't need to explain how a call like that in the evening from a medical oncologist can really spoil one's day. He has never called me at home like this before so I assumed there was something in the CT scan that had concerned him enough to prompt the call.

I really do appreciate how my medical team has been so thorough in testing my condition during this past year. But recently, the roller-coaster-like series of tests, results, concerns, and good news has left me wondering whether I should be extremely pleased or worried. Then, when you add on the continuing problems I experience in the evenings with bowel discomfort and fatigue, a bit of a scare seems like an understatement.

Recovery really is just another stage in this unwanted journey. Too much uncertainty.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Visiting a Toastmasters Club

As I mentioned in a recent An Unwanted Journey blog entry, Toastmasters is an excellent organization with a superb track record for enabling individuals to become better public speakers and leaders. As with any organizations, there are aspects that one might wish to change, but overall my estimation of the structure and value of Toastmasters International is unabated.

This morning, I had the pleasure of being a guest at the Black Walnut Toastmasters club which meets in the Sun Life/Clarica building in Kitchener-Waterloo. This club meets on Wednesday mornings from 7:30 am until 8:50 am. Because Wednesday is my day off work and because the meeting is first thing in the morning, there are few reasons not to seriously consider involvement. I still have to be aware that I am in recovery, but if my energy allows, it seems like a good idea.

This particular club is extremely well organized. Each meeting has a theme and each person participating in the meeting is invited prior to the meeting to provide the chair with some thoughts on the theme. Then, when the chair introduces the participant, he/she uses those previously provided comments to make the introduction. In addition, there was a folder provided for each guest with membership information, typical meeting formats, evaluation forms, tent cards for names, and sample Toastmasters magazines. At the front of the meeting room a white board was prepared with the names of guest, the theme for the meeting, and announcements.

Table topics, in which each person not delivering a speech or evaluation is given an opportunity to address a theme extemporaneously, was a fun way to begin. That was followed by a grammarian delivering the word of the day and challenging speakers to use the word appropriately throughout the course of the meeting. There were three speeches given by members to complete objectives in various training manuals prepared by Toastmasters International, such as speeches to inform, to roast a friend, and to provide technical information. Each speech was then evaluated, as was the participation of everyone in the meeting by a general evaluator. Guests were invited to comment on the meeting and then we were dismissed exactly on time.

Another well run Toastmasters meeting. Joining this group may be something that I do in the new year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0384 - Neruda, Co-Conspirator

Cancer leads one to odd connections.

In the news recently, we have been hearing about the reaction of Chileans either mourning or celebrating the death of General Augusto Pinochet who led a junta to depose the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, in 1973. One of the greatest poets of the 20th century, Pablo Neruda, a close collaborator of Allende, lay in a hospital bed at the time of the junta dying of prostate cancer. He died within 12 days of the coup d'etat.

Shortly before he died, Neruda's house at Isla Negra was searched by the Chilean armed forces, during which he was quoted as saying:

"Look around - there's only one thing of danger for you here - poetry."

I cannot honestly say that poetry has ever been a passion for me. Nor can I say that it has been a dangerous, subversive element in my life. But my experience with cancer has changed and continues to change me. Even now, I feel more open to possibilities and dimensions of life that never occurred to me before, one of which is the possibility of poetry.

Tonight, as I reflected on a topic for today's blog entry, I turned to those who write about cancer on their own blogs. One of those is Dr Craig Hildreth who today paid tribute to Neruda. The poem he chose is not the one which moves me this evening. Instead, I chose a section from Neruda's The Separate Rose, a book of poems inspired by his 1971 trip to Easter Island.

Today is that day, the day that carrie
da desperate light that since has died.
Don’t let the squatters know:
let’s keep it all between us,
day, between your bell
and my secret.

Today is dead winter in the forgotten land
that comes to visit me, with a cross on the map
and a volcano in the snow, to return to me,
to return again the water
fallen on the roof of my childhood.
Today when the sun began with its shafts
to tell the story, so clear, so old,
the slanting rain fell like a sword,
the rain my hard heart welcomes.

You, my love, still asleep in August,
my queen, my woman, my vastness, my geography
kiss of mud, the carbon-coated zither,
you, vestment of my persistent song,
today you are reborn again and with the sky’s
black water confuse me and compel me:
I must renew my bones in your kingdom,
I must still uncloud my earthly duties.

"I must renew my bones in your kingdom. I must still uncloud my earthly duties."

Those words reach me exactly where I am today, wondering about the future, wandering among thoughts of the present, and remembering the not-too-distant past. I am confused and compelled. From August to today, there has been a rebirth of sorts, and my hard heart does welcome the rain of December. Something is happening to me and I believe my co-conspirator in cancer has more to tell me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0383 - Exercise and Rectal Cancer

This is the first time I've read anything about exercise and the risks for rectal cancer.

A survey of 413,000 Europeans indicated that vigorous exercise or housework reduced the chance of having colon cancer...but it did nothing to reduce the likelihood of developing rectal cancer.

In a country like China, where exercise and nutrition are generally of a higher order than many western countries, only 25% of those diagnosed will survive 5 years, whereas in the western countries that percentage is 68%. And among the most prominent cancer killers in China is rectal cancer.

I guess what I learn from this is that sometimes second-guessing one's lifestyle and history for evidence of things one might have changed to avoid cancer is a waste of time. In my own case, my nutrition and exercise routines were pretty good, even though I have to admit that I was definitely overweight.

Now that my first "surveillance" colonoscopy has shown me free of any local recurrence of cancer, I am beginning to think about nutrition, exercise, hobbies and volunteer work, and occasionally obsessing about my vocation and the workplace environment. There are so many choices available to me again. But it seems that evaluating my cancer experience will be helpful in some decisions, not so helpful in others.

What is very clear is that I now have to take the phrase "cancer free" and begin applying it to my life in recovery. It will be a slow process, I think, but one every bit as complex as my life with cancer.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0382 - Evaluating my cancer experience

One of the best hobbies I ever had was participating in a local Toastmasters club. In fact, the only reason I left the club was to sing in a church choir which met on the same week night. This last year, I have neither attended Toastmasters nor sang in the choir. Most of the time in the evenings, I slept.

One of the things Toastmasters does especially well is speech evaluation. In each club, members are expected to learn how to provide evaluations for one another. There is no such thing as a "boss" in Toastmasters who pretends to know all things about making speeches. We are all there to learn and provide support for one another. Evaluating another person's speech is perhaps the single most important skill learned by anyone attending Toastmaster meetings, and, once learned properly, it is a skill with tremendous carry-over value for everyday life.

Now that I've finally had some good news, I have been thinking about an overall evaluation of my experience of diagnosis and treatment. It occurred to me that the principles I learned at Toastmasters might be applicable to an evaluation of my experiences with cancer. At the very least, it certainly couldn't hurt.

One of the first principles with applicability to cancer experience is to listen carefully. This might appear obvious, but when we are in the thralls of cancer treatment, listening to our bodies, to our moods, and to those around us can take extra effort and concentration. But it is energy well spent. Sometimes imagining that your body, your emotions, and your illness all belong to another person helps one to concentrate.

A second objective is to preserve the "other person's" self-esteem. This is difficult with cancer because we usually think of cancer as foreign invaders, something alien and other, something to be killed in battle. But when evaluating our experience, it is important to remember that, no matter how difficult and debilitating, cancer has provided us with useful life lessons. As long as we live, we are worthy of esteem and respect, no matter how much has been taken away. Sometimes other people imply we are damaged goods, worth less than before cancer, less able to assume responsibility or to manage. Untrue! Instead, we are worth more, better able to deal with life and death and the viscissitudes of our cancer experience and recovery.

If it is useful to provide criticism, do so gently, diplomatically, and always in the context of praise for one's accomplishments. In other words, criticize constructively. We are often far too tough on ourselves. Cancer can bring out that tendency even further. But if we sandwich suggestions for improvements with actual praise, our ego will be preserved.

In that context, growth is likely, probably even inevitable, but it is not instant. When we move into recovery, we are still travellers moving towards a destination. We are not instantly transported to that destination.

Friday, December 08, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0380 - Time to catch a breath?

Not a chance. Medically, there are still appointments to keep and doctors who want their piece of the pie. Today was the urologist. I like this guy. He helped me a lot when I was suffering post-surgical complications in the hospital in April of this year. And he prescribed Flomax to help me ensure I had urinary function for most of the time since I was discharged from hospital. But today, the appointment was just about a quick Q&A, giving me a prescription for more Flomax for another year (if necessary), and booking a follow-up appointment for a urinary ultrasound in March. It hardly seemed worth the time away from work.

And then there was work. Not a good day. You might think that the day after receiving such good news about my health there would be some carry-over. Nope. No respite. Just "so now that you're all better, here's what we want you to do next." Well, OK, that's the nature of things, I guess. I was just hoping for something better. But if there's one thing I've learned throughout this ordeal, no matter how much you might hope for the best, you need to steel yourself for the worst. I guess I need to apply that life lesson to the world of work too.

On the home front, things are busy, but good busy. My son is taking exams at university. My other son is trying to decide whether he can sleep in his bedroom downstairs tonight after last night's flooding from a leak in the water conditioner and the battery of high-speed fans we have set up to dry out the carpets. My wife and I are taking turns driving and picking up both the great young men in our lives. She's my partner and a better partner I couldn't hope for. We'll help each other catch our breath and put the business and uncertainties of life into perspective, one day at a time.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0379 - Respite From Worry

After slightly more than a year of diagnoses and medical tests which always seemed to bring me the worst news, today I had some very good news. My surgeon told me that the pathology report from the colonoscopy last week revealed no evidence of cancer at all. He also indicated that at the time of the colonoscopy, when he performed an "aggressive" biopsy, he was confident that he had discovered recurrent cancer in the tissue surrounding the anastomosis. He was so sure that in fact he called the pathologist to confirm that the tissue was clear. The pathologist was totally sure.

Evidently, there is a large growth of "granulation" tissue around the anastomosis, something euphemistically called "proud flesh"; in other words, an unusual amount of scar tissue. So, I'm clear of cancer, but the granulation tissue is something we'll have to watch over the next few months. In three months my surgeon will perform a flexible sigmoidoscopy to re-examine the entire circumference of the anastomosis. Until then, I can expect that the tissue will remain sensitive, occasionally producing some rectal bleeding. But it should gradually start wearing away.

This is such good news. I am so relieved. The surgeon confirmed that, had the biopsy proven to be malignant, I would be looking at further surgery, including the inevitability of a colostomy. Instead, I can look forward to continued recovery and, hopefully, a very long break from concern and worry.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0378 - Ready for a new day

Yesterday, as the title for today's entry implies, I was at the Microsoft launch for Vista, Office System 2007, and Exchange Server 2007 at the Toronto Congress Centre. It was a great event, very informative, well managed, well attended (over 3,000 of us geeks) and lengthy. But I managed the trip there in the car, the six sessions I attended, lunch, and even a few minutes of the social event following the launch.

Today, was another matter entirely. It started with fasting before the CT scan and then waiting from 8:30 until 11:00 am for the actual procedure. The afternoon was then one of the very worst I've experienced this entire calendar year, possibly because of the barium solution I had to drink before the CT scan.

As a young boy, Santa always put an orange in the bottom of our Christmas stockings. Because oranges were hard to get this time of year, the taste of orange was always associated for me with Christmas. But the barium solution today, even though it was definitely flavoured with orange, did nothing to bring pleasant associations with Christmas. The only association was, as might be expected, with a very specific Christmas - last year's Christmas with cancer.

But I'm ready, ready for a new day, ready for a new year, ready for a new life cancer-free. Tomorrow, I'll find out whether that is a realistic hope. My surgeon should have the pathology report and perhaps even the results of today's CT scan to review with me and my wife.

But even while I wish for better times, better health, and maybe a better attitude, I have to remember that others are engaged in even worse memories of the season. One friend, for example, is recalling the death of her father a year ago today. Cousins are recalling the death of their father. And another friend is remembering the death of his father from colon cancer. Father Christmas has an entirely different meeting for them than it does for the majority of those celebrating this time of year. Those folks are also ready for a new day.

Monday, December 04, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0376 - Same Time Next Year

A year ago, I was in the middle of a series of medical tests, first to confirm the original diagnosis of a malignant tumour by my gastroenterologist, then to stage the cancer so as to determine the best treatment protocol. This year, I am engaged in another series of medical tests but with the goal of declaring me cancer free. Unfortunately, the first test, a colonoscopy on the 30th of November, revealed some strange tissue near the anastomosis of my low anterior resection, something which prompted my surgeon to take a biopsy as he had done about this time last year when he performed a sigmoidoscopy. That second biopsy last year confirmed that the tumour was definitely malignant. This year, I have an appointment on Thursday to see what the pathologist says about the biopsy taken a few days ago.

On Wednesday, I have a full chest, pelvic, and abdominal CT scan, again another test similar to what I had this time last year. There is no MRI scheduled this year. Instead, I have consultations with a urologist, an allergist, and my family physician who will be performing the first of my post-treatment complete physical examinations, something which will be done quarterly for the first couple of years. What this all means is that it will be very close to Christmas when most of the results of this round of medical tests are delivered to me. It's almost a mirror image of last year.

Is it any wonder, then, that my thoughts keep returning to events of a year ago, to the prospect of more bad news. Yes, I realize that there may be nothing but good news to come my way in the next few weeks. And I understand that there is little to be gained emotionally from speculating about a diagnosis of recurrent cancer. But realizing and understanding such matters and feeling them viscerally are two different things entirely. My reptilian brain stem is responding to fear, an emotion so basic and so primitive that the higher level functioning of the cerebral cortex waits its turn for my attention.

But blogging should be more about sober second thought, about reflection and not reaction, about thinking things through, not venting. But I think I'll wait for that...maybe Thursday would be a good time to think and write with greater clarity and perspicuity.

Friday, December 01, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0373 - Tributes

One of the books I've been reading recently is entitled Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. The basic premise of the book by Daniel Goleman is that "we are wired to connect".

Today, with all its discomfort and disappointment, reminded me of how important our connections really are to our sense of identity and general wellbeing. Although I never name names on this blog, owing to respect for personal privacy (the exception being those who are already public by virtue of publication), I truly wish today that I could break that guideline. Why? Friends and acquaintances have written or called to express their solidarity with me and my family about my health concerns. I wish I could pay tribute to them individually, but that would break the rules. So, those of you who wrote or called, you know who you are and I pay tribute to you for proving Goleman's contention that we are wired to connect.

I've written previously about cancer and optimism in this blog, but today I am reminded that optimism is not a purely internal psychological phenomenon. It is dependent to some extent on significant others in our life. Because we are biologically predisposed to connecting with others, it should come as no surprise that others affect our moods greatly. In times of disappointment, a simple call saying "I'm pulling for you" or an e-mail saying "We think of you everyday" or a simple stop in my wife's office to say "I heard about what you are going through and just wanted to let you know I care" - those are ways in which we connect with and strengthen one another. Something psychological happens, to be sure. But something biological happens as well. Our spirits lift and we see things differently. Optimism increases and life seems better than it did even a few hours previously. I'm sure that if we were wired up to some machine measuring hormonal activity, we would see improvements in those hormones which influence good moods.

In addition to expressions of care and concern, there is also the wisdom of good advice. "So the doctor didn't say there was anything to worry about, did he? Well, worrying is probably a waste of time and energy, don't you think? If you can, maybe you should just wait one week and see what he says then." Yeah. The logic is inescapable.

So, for those who know who you are, thanks from the bottom of my heart.