Saturday, June 30, 2007

20, 40, 50, 70, 140, 150

I'm not a numerologist, but I do recognize synchronicity. Here's an interesting matrix of numbers for this summer:


  • 20: my eldest son's birthday
  • 40: my brother in B.C.'s birthday
  • 50: the University of Waterloo's anniversary
  • 70: my aunt in Florida's birthday
  • 140: Canada's birthday tomorrow
  • 150: the City of Waterloo's anniversary

A Family Milestone

My youngest son finished his last examination at high school this week. Next week, he begins his post-secondary life. This also means that my wife and I no longer have any children in primary or secondary schools. We have seen them through K-6, middle-level, and high school.

No big deal, you say? I guess not, but it is a milestone for our family. We decided, just a few months before our eldest son was about to begin kindergarten, that we wanted to have one parent at home for a few years. The primary school they both attended is just around the corner from our home, but we still thought the sacrifice of money and career for one of us was worthwhile. So we decided that I would be the stay-at-home parent. This would also mean that I could pursue a dream I had of starting up my own business.

That was in 1992. During the summer, I did a few odd jobs for my previous employer designing database applications and letting contacts know I was beginning a new part-time custom application development business. Soon, I was modifying a custom application for a local manufacturing company in Kitchener and within another few months I was beginning serious work with the newly released Microsoft Access. Since 1993, I developed custom database applications using Access for my clients while staying at home. The idea was that as soon as both boys were in safely through kindergarten, I could look for full-time employment once again.

But my business was going well. And we both liked the idea that I could manage my time to attend events with our boys, whether it was sports, class trips, or even helping out in the classroom with enrichment studies for children improving their reading skills.

Yes, having my own business took time to develop to a point where the remuneration was comparable to what I had given up. But we were all quite happy with the arrangement and I did get to spend a lot of quality time with our boys over the years as they moved through schools.

Now, although I am picking up some of my custom application development business again after my bout with cancer last year, I have full-time work as an IT Manager. Our boys are young men now, either in university or earning money to pay their way for post-secondary education. There is no doubt that we would have been better off financially if we had simply gone with a day-care arrangement and after-school care when they were in primary school. But we did alright. We have a strong relationship with our boys. We are both immensely proud of them and we both still have careers that bring in a reasonable amount of income.

We all make choices, of course. But as I reflect on this milestone in the Spencer family, I'm feeling pretty good about the choice we made, about the family we have, and about the future prospects for both my wife and me and our two handsome sons.

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0583 - CEA Normal

I met with my medical oncologist on Monday of this week. The official reason for the follow-up visit was to review my CEA test results from blood work done on 29-May-2007. Carcinoembryonic antigen tests are often used as a marker by oncologists to determine whether there is recurrent cancer. My results were in the normal range, although afterwards, when I checked them against other test results, they seemed higher than they have been for over a year.

We then talked about how things were going. I talked about the continuing neuropathy in my feet, about how I noticed a slight change now in the "buzz" I experience 24 hours a day in my feet, and how my hopes were that this slight change indicated a healing process. My oncologist confirmed that it takes a very long time for this healing to occur. We talked about diet and how difficult I find it is to see a pattern in my diet related to bowel movement frequency.

We also talked about fecal incontinence and urgency. Evidently I am doing everything that can be done without further surgery, including continuing with my daily use of Imodium. The only other surgical approach would be a diverting colostomy, but unless things get very bad, I certainly wouldn't even consider that.

Finally, after the requisite digital rectal examination, he told me that we would do another CT scan in about three months. If that scan is like the last one, then my follow-up routine will mean a move from appointments with the oncology staff at the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre to my family physician.

All of this is good news.

But maybe I'm just in a doom and gloom mood. While I recognize that there is absolutely no medical reason for me to be suspicious, the shadow of doubt is always there. The discomfort and lack of physical freedom of movement is always there too reminding me of what I have been through. And then there are the evenings and nights, like last night, when I seem to spend more time in the washroom then I do sleeping.

But I am still here and I'm finding footing again in my career, making contributions and plans and thinking about the future milestones for our family. These simple things remind me that although life is tough, so am I.


See the recently introduced News From Surgical Oncology newsletter from the GRRCC.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Disappointment with the Anglican Church of Canada

Sunday evening, the Anglican Church of Canada voted to say no to the blessing of same-sex unions.

There was never any question about whether or not the church would perform marriages for same-sex partners. But blessings? Well, considering the church has no problem blessing candles, pets, plots of land, etc., you might think church members committed to monogamous, long-term relationships with one another - especially those who contribute to the life of the church in so many ways - would be eligible for a little hands-on blessing. I guess not, even with the Episcopal elephant to the south having already said yes.

It was the bishops who vetoed the idea, even though they confusingly accepted that same-sex unions have a legitimate theological basis.

Is it any wonder that parishioners wonder what the ACC stands for?

From my vantage point on the far left of the so-called debate, it is a simple question of social justice and a willingness to jettison biblical authority when it conflicts with human rights issues. I can understand those on the right with a different view of biblical authority - we will simply end up in disagreement, but we certainly understand each other. But this confusing decision by the bishops leaves no one satisfied and allows the chasm to widen even further.

I am deeply disappointed. But at least the decision has reinforced my personal belief that the ACC is alienating just about everyone. Far better, in my view, to split with the worldwide communion and even with those on the right opposed to same-sex unions, than to say yes to the theological justification and no to implementation. That's just, well, idiotic.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

K-W Multicultural Festival - Sharpest Guy There

This year's K-W Multicultural Festival in Victoria Park in Kitchener, Ontario was marked by perfect weather, a greatly increased number of vendors, tents, booths, and a huge number of visitors.

You can see the entire slide show here.

Respect, Trust and Multiculturalism

Today and tomorrow, the region is celebrating a Multicultural Festival at Victoria Park in Kitchener. My wife and sons and I always try to attend, mainly because we love the food, the mingling of people of differing national and ethnic backgrounds, and because it's a celebration of tolerance and respect for one another. It doesn't hurt, of course, that it's almost always held on the first weekend after the start of summer when the weather is usually perfect.

Last year, I had just started chemotherapy and was still very sore from my hospitalization for surgery and post-surgical complications. But we still all had fun and I was able to find shaded areas under the massive trees in the park when I needed to be off my feet.

This year, I am feeling far stronger and I am very much looking forward again to the good food, the drinks, the flags of different countries blowing in the wind, the opportunities for some great photographs to upload to my Flickr account, and a chance to glimpse how the cultural melange of K-W appears in 2007.

I am fortunate, as well, to work with a company where there is a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds represented.

Most days, I can honestly say that everyone demonstrates mutual respect for our differences, engendered mainly by trust in one another. Trust in the workplace is about belief in another person's character and their competence to do the job for which they receive compensation. Trust in all relationships is about character and competence too.

Respect, however, is one of those fuzzier concepts that often reflects differences between religions, cultures and ethnic backgrounds. At one time, respect for elders was sacramental in nature for some cultures and religions - Confucianism comes to find as but one example.

Today, in a more secular and multicultural environment, I think it's fair to say that respect doesn't mean the same to us as what it did to white, Anglo-Saxon protestants of the 1950s, 1960s era. There are still some who would say that disagreement with one's parents or elders, for example, is unacceptable because it is disrespectful. There is a hierarchy in a family, the rationale goes, and if you know your place, open disagreement shows a profound lack of respect for your superiors in that hierarchy.

I disagree. Respect, I would argue, is about two things: courtesy to those with whom you interact regularly, whether they are family members or not; and trust among those who relationships are more intimate, again, whether they be family members or not. In other words, the familial relationship doesn't confer any special privileges or responsibilities in regards to the concept of respect.

In a multicultural, multiethnic society, we are sometimes told to respect one another. If this means that we act with courtesy towards one another, then I'm in total agreement. If this is meant to imply that we trust one another, then I have to say, "Not unless you can demonstrate the integrity of character and competence required to engender trust." Similarly in family situations. If respect is about courtesy, I'm all for it. If it's about children never disagreeing with their parents or grandparents or other elders, I think that concept is outmoded and needs to be put in the trash bin of history.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0567 - Cuban's Colonoscopy

If you need a "celebrity" to tell you to get a colonoscopy, link over to Mark Cuban's recent blog post. Cuban didn't have to get his colonoscopy this early in life, but, like he said, he's heard far too many stories of people who should have had one earlier than they did - put me in that long line up.

I've got a whack of siblings either past 40 years old or getting ready to join the fold - here's hoping they will learn from my experience and the recommendations of oncologists and people like Mark Cuban. Despite the misgivings and apprehension, it's a relative breeze.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0563 - Leroy and Me

Leroy Sievers has had some bad news this week. His cancer is back and with a vengeance. He battled colorectal cancer about 5 years ago and was then apparently disease free for about 4 1/2 years until they discovered a tumor in his brain. Then, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and something called radioablation therapy, he recently appeared to be completely disease free. In fact, last week I read about him entertaining the same kinds of thoughts I have considered; namely, am I really still a cancer patient, even when I have no evidence of disease? Now, tumors are back on his spine and on his ribs.

I feel sad for Leroy. But the truth is also much more selfish. I am afraid for myself too. Leroy has been a kind of bell weather for me, a touchstone about how to courageously deal with this disease and the possibility of recurrence and, yes, death from the chronic attacks of cancer on a body which eventually has fewer and fewer resources left with which to fight back.

Leroy seemed to be home free. But even as he wrote last week about the "identity" issue, I could sense the undertones of not quite believing it was true that he was cancer free. Now, that undertone has been replaced with the certainty of recurrence. And, I can't help but wonder - if this is what happened to Leroy, what about me?

Maybe it will be different. After all, I have had no evidence of metastasis to anywhere in the body except the lymph nodes of the mesorectum. That organ is gone now with the amputation of almost all of my rectum. I have had no scans showing metastatis to the liver, the lungs, or, in Leroy's case, to the brain or the bones. That makes Leroy and me very different from one another as far as medical prognosis is concerned.

But I can't help but wonder. And, as soon as I do, I begin to feel a little guilty, not only because I'm thinking about myself again, but because I am "surviving" this disease while he is still on the front battling for his very life.

Yes, my life has changed dramatically. I still battle neuropathy. I fear fecal incontinence. I worry about travel and if I'll ever be able to take long walks again. I am anxious about the apparent loss of my libido and how much of a husband and father I truly am these days. I rest on the recliner in our living room far more than I ever thought possible before cancer. I need my pills and a lot of sleep. I must watch my diet carefully.

But the bottom line is that I'm still here. I'm no longer on chemotherapy, undergoing radiation, or contemplating surgery. I still have most of my bodily functions working in a somewhat normal fashion. I can go out each morning and do a good day's work. I can make a contribution at my place of employment and with my professional associations. I have no evidence of disease. So, maybe I should just feel sorry and sad about Leroy's situation, and simply get on with it, trying to make every day worthwhile and contribute what I can when I can.  

Friday, June 08, 2007

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0561 - If only I had over"D"ed

This morning I couldn't believe that the front page of the Globe & Mail was talking about a vitamin supplement. Then, throughout the day, my Google Alerts kept arriving in my InBox with more "news" about the recommendation from the Canadian Cancer Society to take 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily to reduce cancer risk by 60 percent.

Of course, being the skeptic that I am, the first thing I did after driving one son to school and the other to work, even before getting my morning coffee, was to stop by Shopper's Drug Mart to pick up two bottles of vitamin D. I then popped one in the car, and then purchased my mug refill of William's black coffee. Just last month, of course, the Google Alerts were talking about how useful coffee might be for helping prevent colorectal cancer.

Just think, if I had merely had more coffee and taken a regular dose of vitamin D for the past, oh, thirty years or so, I probably wouldn't have had to deal with rectal cancer. Maybe.

But such a simple and inexpensive preventative is compelling.

Researchers have discovered that there are at least 200 cell receptors in the body that work with vitamin D, especially for functions dealing with boosting immune function and repairing damaged cells. The specific study that resulted in this admittedly dramatic recommendation from the Canadian Cancer Society was a large-scale, placebo-controlled experiment involving women who took supplemental vitamin D daily for four years. Breast, colon, and lung cancer incidence were all dramatically lower among the women taking the vitamin supplement. Other cancers linked to lower incidence include rectal cancer, breast, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, and multiple myeloma cancers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Walking with Dinosaurs

The irony started with the front page of the Globe & Mail this morning.

A man who earns his living in the oil and gas fields of Alberta extracting the end product of biomass millions of years old (starting around 418-355 million years ago in the Devonian Period) has just opened what he calls a "Creation Science" museum, dedicated to the proposition that the earth is only a little over 6,000 years old, that Noah's flood actually occurred, and that mankind walked the earth with dinosaurs.

What's the rationale? Faith - specifically faith in a literalist interpretation (as well as some spectacularly creative leaps of faith) of Genesis. So, what about science and evolution? Well ...

Evolution, he claims, is a faith, just like creationism.

Sorry to burst the literalist bubble, but evolution is both a fact and a theory. Evolution is certainly not faith-based in the way that religious speculation about origins is faith-based. In the case of Creation Science, the entire edifice of so-called creationism and intelligent design is based on the presupposition that the biblical accounts are authoritative literally.

The museum in Big Valley, Alberta is small is comparison with another recent creation science museum that opened in Kentucky (the slogan says it all - "Prepare to believe."). The point of that multi-million dollar, 60,000 square-foot museum is to bring "the pages of the Bible to life." I mean, after all, who needs science when you can read the Bible?

If you go to either the Canadian or American museum, you will discover that man once walked with dinosaurs - no, I don't mean the obvious, that scientists walk around with creationists - that T. Rex was once a vegetarian who walked about the Garden of Eden. Or, that velociraptors were once friendly creatures; who knows, they might even have been domestic pets for Adam and Eve.

But the irony doesn't end there. Later in the day, as I was reading about the Toronto Raptors on Mike Ulmer's blog - yes, those friendly, albeit gigantic athletes who earn millions of dollars per year - I discovered an ad on their homepage for, you guessed it, Walking with Dinosaurs, an exhibit soon to arrive at the Air Canada Centre.

So, take your pick - go out to Big Valley and take in a little religious fantasy before heading on to the Royal Tyrrell Museum nearby in Drumheller, or wait until August and visit the ACC. In either case, you'll be walking with dinosaurs.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0556 - CAVEman and Cancer

I'm more than a little late on this entry.

CAVEman was announced at the University of Calgary about 10 days ago and featured on a variety of television morning shows. It is a story of Canadian research and development and technological innovation that may well help cancer patients in the not-too-distant future.

The concept is simple. CAVEman is a 4D (yes, the 4th dimension is time, meaning that the images can be animated to illustrate processes such as surgical treatment or the development of tumor growth) human body atlas in which a virtual reality simulation of human anatomy is presented inside the CAVE, a cube-shaped room some have called the "research Holodeck", thereby ensuring all Star Trek fans' ears will perk up immediately. The model appears to float in space with various systems being made visible at the touch of a simple hand-held control.

CAVEman is only one product/service coming from the University of Calgary's Sun Center or Excellence for Visual Genomics. The link with SUN Microsystems Inc. has been rewarding for the Center and indicative of the Java-centric nature of the products and services they are using to map the human genome and to outline human anatomy. If you're interested, you can even download some Java-based 3D demonstrations of human molecules, the human heart, and the human skeletal structure which you manipulate directly on your own desktop.

The link with cancer treatment and knowledge is genetics. CAVEman should link genetics-based treatment with an immersive 3D experience of both cancer disease processes and treatment modalities such as various drug therapies.