A couple of months ago, my regular CT scan showed the first-ever shrinkage of cancer tumours in my three-year history with the disease, but I warned that, "I still have cancer, a lot of it all over the inside of my chest, but just a little less of it than I did a couple of months ago." One scan was not yet a trend.
But two could be, and my latest scan showed further shrinkage, with the biggest malignant blob in my left lung going from 3.1 cm down to 2.9 cm in diameter, which means it is smaller than it was in this scan from September:
Some of the others have also shrunk, while other smaller tumours have simply not gotten bigger. The aggressive and sometimes horrific chemotherapy I take every two weeks is doing something. I feel pretty good about that.
I'll remind you that this is not remission, not a cure, not me being "all better." I'm not sure if those things will ever come, and I've already beat the odds on this disease by staying alive as long as I have. What it does mean is that I'm likely to live a while longer yet (whatever "a while" is), which is the most realistic thing I can keep hoping for.
Oh, and happy Earth Day, everyone.
I've tried to figure out why the escalating sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is making me so angry. I mean, there's the obvious stuff: some priests and other Church officials have been getting away with the rape and beating of children for decades. And much of the Church hierarchy and bureaucracy, including the man who is now Pope, has been working hard to cover it all up, often with the tacit assistance of governments and other civil authorities.
A few of my friends and acquaintances are Catholics, but as far as I know none of them have been victims of these monsters—which is a relief. And I'm not only not Catholic, I'm not Christian or religious at all, but a happy atheist. However, I'm not gloating about the Catholic scandals, in some sort of twisted "I told you so" way. I'm sad and viscerally infuriated, in a way I hope many Catholics are, and quite a few do seem to be. Occasionally, learning new details makes me want to vomit. (Then again, that's not hard to do in general these days.)
I think my fury is it's because it's been going on for so bloody long: not just the physical and sexual abuse, but public knowledge of it and Church inaction about it. More than 20 years ago, following the Mt. Cashel Orphanage sex-abuse scandal in Newfoundland, a friend of mine and his girlfriend (who weren't afraid of being a bit tasteless) came to a Halloween party dressed as a priest and an altar boy, respectively. Even in the 1980s, the concept of a molesting priest was so widespread that everyone at the party got the reference.
It's also been 12 years since the Canadian federal government began attempts to apologize for sexual and physical abuse of native students at residential schools run by the Anglican, United, and Roman Catholic churches across the country until the 1960s, and to compensate the victims financially. And that's just here in Canada.
There are, unfortunately, small proportions of sexual predators and sadists in positions of authority inside some institutions that care for children, including schools, hospitals, foster homes, summer camps, and so on—and also including churches and religious organizations outside Catholicism. And sometimes there are coverups. But once exposed, those coverups can, should, and usually do result in shame, dismissals, apologies, and criminal charges. Even decades after the events.
Many groups and individuals within the Roman Catholic Church have had integrity, trying to get the molesters fired, charged, and punished. Yet men of authority within the institution, throughout its hierarchy—from priests and bishops to archbishops, cardinals, and apparently right up to the Pope—have used its power, influence, and worldwide reach to deny, deflect, hide, obfuscate, and in many cases abet those of its members who abuse children.
Their priority seems to have been to protect their Church, and the pedophiles within it, at the expense of their victims, the most vulnerable and innocent of its billion members. When pressed by incontrovertible evidence and public pressure, those same authorities have released half-hearted and defensive apologies. The situation is abominable, and the scandal deserves to be global front-page news, as it has become in recent months.
The Catholic Church claims to be the highest possible moral authority on Earth. Of course, personally, I think that's ridiculous. The horrifying enormity of child abuse and coverup within the Church over decades—more likely centuries, if we're honest with ourselves—only reinforces my conviction.
Indeed, it's hard to think of crimes more vile. If the beating and rape of children—as well as covering up those acts and enabling them to continue—are not sins worthy of excommunication, and presumably hellfire in the afterlife, I don't understand what could be. So if Catholics intend to continue taking claims of moral authority seriously, they must demand some large-scale changes in their Church, and the Pope and his underlings must listen to and act on those demands.
Given the glacial pace of change in Rome, and the stupefying weight of dogma and doctrine and history, I'm not optimistic. But I also genuinely hope that I am wrong.
Today I heard something I've never heard before: "your tumours have shrunk." Through all the many different varieties of chemotherapy and radiation and immunotherapy and experimental Phase 1 drug trials I've put myself under during the past three years, only surgery has ever knocked my cancer back. Everything else, at best, kept it at bay.
Until now. Of course this is good news—but that's all relative. The tumours I showed you back in September are still pretty big, but they are measurably smaller than they were in November. And that includes the new ones that had just appeared in the fall. So I still have cancer, a lot of it all over the inside of my chest, but just a little less of it than I did a couple of months ago. As I wrote to some friends, I'm not out of the woods, but at least I'm no longer sinking slowly into quicksand either.
Thus, this afternoon on the way out of the cancer clinic, my wife Air and I smiled a little, held hands, and bought some flowers to put in the house in celebration. Later on we had takeout sushi with the kids. And tomorrow I go back in for more chemotherapy, which I hope will continue to beat the shit out of those metastatic growths.
So I'll be a sleepy, nauseated lump of crap for the next three or four days. A bit of good news doesn't suddenly make things go easily, you see.
Today, as part of Blog Action Day, I've agreed to write about the environment and climate change. I've done that here many times before, generally in a positive way, or at least a frustrated one. But not today.
Maybe I'm just in a pessimistic mood, but honestly, I'm starting to think we're screwed. There are honest moves afoot, especially in Europe, to change patterns of human energy consumption and reduce carbon emissions. But here in North America, where we use more energy per person than all but a few very small countries, we're doing essentially nothing.
I first became aware of increasing human effects on the Earth's climate around Earth Day in 1990, almost 20 years ago, which was a pretty high-profile event. For awhile after that, there were lots of recycled products in the grocery stores, and talk of converting away from oil, gas, and coal to heat our houses, generate our electricity, and power our vehicles.
And then things slid back roughly to where they were before. Paper towels and toilet paper went from recycled brown to bleached white again. As the economy boomed, people who never went off-road or hauled lumber bought huge Hummers and pickup trucks. Politicians, businesspeople, activists, and others expended a lot of words about the problem of climate change. Yet here in Canada, while we've improved the efficiency of what we do, our overall emissions keep going up, despite our promises.
In the United States and Canada, we're distracted by economic crises and healthcare reform and celebrity scandals and cable reality shows. The developing world is growing too fast not to increase their own emissions. Europe and other countries making efforts aren't enough. By the time sea levels start rising in earnest and the social and political disruptions start, we probably won't be able to keep climates from changing all around the world.
So in all likelihood, we'll wait too long, and we'll have to adapt as our environment alters wildly around us. That will be expensive, disruptive, and probably bloody in all sorts of ways.
I'm not saying we should give up and do nothing, but right now it seems that, collectively, we (and I'm fully including myself here) are very nearly doing nothing by default. Since I have cancer, I don't know if I'll be around to see what happens in a few decades. But my kids will. They will most probably, as the curse goes, live in interesting times.
We had a bit of a lightning storm in Vancouver tonight, which is unusual around here.
My photo was featured on the website for The Province newspaper this evening too. Thanks to my wife Air for suggesting I send it to them.
UPDATE JULY 26: While my photo above was one of the first posted on Flickr (and on a newspaper website), many other more spectacular shots appeared once people got home from the Celebration of Light fireworks and so on, especially with pictures taken as sunset cast the sky a Martian red. Check out some of the lightning images I found from happygilmore_s_d, drlube, gordzilla68, danfairchildphotography, weaktight, andy6white, another from andy6white, shiftybatter, one more from shiftybatter, cisley, and an extra from cisley, bobbybobbydigi, An Eagle in Your Mind, c-a, lenlangevin, n8brophy, Fleeting Light, uncle_buddha, melodiedawn, treygeiger, cazasco, chrissyshome, mystify, vitrain, kingtoast, and realaworld.
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Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids sounds like a fascinating book (she has an accompanying blog too). Her argument, essentially, is that the crime rate today is equal to what it was back in 1970, and kids should go outside alone, as they always did in human history. "If you try to prevent every possible danger or difficulty in your child's everyday life," she says, "that child never gets a chance to grow up."
Our daughters have been walking to school by themselves for awhile now, but they're not wandering the neighbourhood all day as I used to 30 years ago. They probably should, but I don't think the idea has even occurred to them. That despite the likelihood that today's environment has probably made our kids safer than any kids have ever been, particularly when you take disease prevention into account.
In Vancouver, though, we can blame this new parental paranoia on Clifford Olson, and it has spread across much of the Western world. I think Skenazy's instinct to let her nine-year-old son explore New York City alone last April—with a transit pass and some quarters for a pay phone if he needed them (he didn't)—is a good one. He wanted to try, and he was ready.
"We become so bent out of shape over something as simple as letting your children out of sight on the playground that it starts seeming on par with letting them play on the railroad tracks at night. In the rain. In dark non-reflective coats," writes Skenazy. "The problem with this everything-is-dangerous outlook is that over-protectiveness is a danger in and of itself. A child who thinks he can't do anything on his own eventually can't."
Our experience bears this out, in an odd way. The only injuries my daughters have ever suffered that required hospital visits happened, (a) stepping out of our bathtub, (b) bouncing on a bed, (c) being rear-ended in a crash in our car, and (d) scraping a chin at a swimming pool. In all cases, we were right there, and we didn't make them any safer. There are dangers in all of our lives, but they're not generally the ones we fear.
Buzz Bishop has a good point: if you measure the effectiveness of terrorism by the fear it generates and the behaviours it changes—the goals of terrorist organizations, after all—then the biggest terrorists are the news media. We humans, as usual, suck at evaluating risks, so TV, paper, and radio news often take advantage of us because of that.
It's been all over the web this week, but Clay Shirky's article on the death of newspapers is still a worthwhile read:
When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are [...] ignored en masse.
It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves—the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public—has stopped being a problem.
That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. [...] When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they [...] are demanding to be lied to.
The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart [through its advertising dollars] was willing to subsidize [a newspaper's] Baghdad bureau. [But] they’d never really signed up to fund the Baghdad bureau anyway.
So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs? I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500 [when the printing press was introduced], when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it.
When I was in university, I helped found a couple of student newspapers, and I imagined myself working for a big newspaper one day. I never did, though I did get jobs at a couple of magazines over the years. If I were graduating today, a couple of decades later, I'd still want to write, but I don't think I'd have those ambitions anymore.
I'm still doped up on Tylenol 3's and pretty tired post-surgery, so am not up for much thinking or original posts. I'm also contemplating email bankrupcy again, mere months after my last one, as my inbox creeps up to 800 once more. Sigh. Anyway, here's some interesting stuff:
When I was a kid, financial news was perhaps the most boring thing in the whole world, except maybe the TV farm report that frustratingly preceded early-morning cartoons. (That farm news seems to have disappeared here in Vancouver. Even the telephone weather line I used to check, pre-web, before bicycling to university each day, no longer reports hay drying conditions in the summer.)
I can't say that my opinion of money and business news has changed much in the intervening decades. It's usually a snore-fest of inscrutable numbers, impenetrable market analysis, and a parade of old guys in dark suits and ties. (Yeah, I hire an accountant to sort out my taxes after my perfunctory sorting of income and expenses each year.) Despite the impacts of global markets on everyone's ability to get a job, buy things, use credit, and so on, it always seemed so disconnected from my daily life that I just couldn't get interested.
Well, these past few weeks have certainly removed world financial news from the "boring" category, but I still can't pretend to understand what's going on very well. If you're like me, I strongly recommend This American Life's recent audio episode "Another Frightening Show About the Economy." Before you listen to that, however, I suggest you check out its predecessor from May 2008, "The Giant Pool of Money," which dissects the American sub-prime mortgage disaster that preceded the current credit crisis.
Both shows do an amazing job of explaining terminology such as "commercial paper," "credit default swaps," "leverage," "financial instruments," and other stuff I never bothered to learn about, and of putting together the chain of insanity that led to today's bizarro state of affairs, where supposedly laissez-faire conservative governments around the world are desperately spending hundreds of billions of dollars to nationalize banks and insurance companies. Even if you work in the finance industry, are a savvy investor, or otherwise have a handle on this stuff, check out the two shows. You'll likely learn something anyway.
Did you know that Dr. Seuss apparently invented the word nerd in 1950, and that it was popularized by The Fonz on Happy Days in the 1970s? David Brooks revealed that in his New York Times column last week, which is otherwise an entertaining but largely fact-free celebration of the ascendency of the geek.
What Brooks wrote—that nerds and geeks have some cachet of cool now that a lot of them make lots of money—is nothing new, but he did summarize his point in a couple of interesting phrases relating nerdism to U.S. politics, which have caught on around the blogosphere:
George Bush plays an interesting role in the tale of nerd ascent. With his professed disdain for intellectual things, he’s energized and alienated the entire geek cohort...
On the other hand:
Barack Obama has become the Prince Caspian of the iPhone hordes.
I have no idea what the second one even means.
Whoa, as Keanu would say. I never knew the Spanish term for thunderstorm before, but it's pretty nifty: tormenta eléctrica.
One week before I turned 16 years old in 1985, a bomb set here in Vancouver by terrorists earlier that day killed two baggage handlers at Tokyo Airport. Less than an hour later, its twin exploded in the cargo hold of an Air India Boeing 747 flying near Ireland. That bomb destroyed the plane and killed everyone on board, more than 300 people, most of them Canadians.
Those events have stained Canada, and British Columbia, and Vancouver, ever since. They have been a shadow over our beautiful city my entire adult life. Now, after 22 years of botched investigations, erased evidence, the deaths of prime suspects, one plea bargain, and a momentously expensive yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt to convict two other men in the case, a new Commission of Inquiry is making it clear that the bombers could have been stopped.
The early 1980s were the peak years for Sikh separatism in India, and high-profile killings and violence around the issue were in the news, not only in India, where Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's own Sikh bodyguards assassinated her in 1984, but also here in Vancouver, where we were the hotbed of Sikh extremism outside the Punjab. We have a huge Indian community here, much of it Sikh, and there were great divisions at the time about the idea of Khalistan. The divisions were far from peaceful.
Violence predated the bombing, and followed long after it, even as the Sikh independence movement in India lost steam. For instance, a man with a lead pipe tried to kill prominent anti-violence Sikh lawyer Ujjal Dosanjh in a parking lot (Dosanjh would later become premier of our province and federal cabinet minister). Other thugs first shot and permanently disabled, and then a decade later killed Tara Singh Hayer, a newspaper publisher who also spoke out against violence in the name of Sikhism.
Back in 1984 and 1985, there were marches and meetings and protests throughout the Vancouver area on both sides of the debate. Some rallies included clear incitements to kill Hindus, to avenge the sacking of the Golden Temple, to undertake terrorist acts. Canadian security and police services had several men under surveillance, and yet, as the Air India Inquiry is now showing, both they and the various levels of security at Canadian airports and from Air India itself missed numerous chances to catch the criminals and stop the bombing plot, or find the explosives before they hurt anyone.
Why? I think we, as a country, a province, and a city, were naive. In 1985, Vancouver remained a bit of a sleepy backwater. Expo 86 was still a year away, the glass city of condo towers and movie shoots a decade off. We were at the tail end of our first hundred years as a somewhat British outpost on the edge of the continent. Today in 2007—when you ride a bus or walk a street in our polyglot city, when you're just as likely to hear Bhangra or Cantopop blasting from a passing car as heavy metal or hip-hop, when everyone's lunchtime takeout is sushi or butter chicken—that's hard to remember.
To be honest, governments and police and the general public treated the conflict between Canadian Sikhs in the '80s as a foreign problem, and Indian problem. It was not. It was a Canadian problem. And I don't think that very many people believed in our hearts that we Canadians could germinate terrorists capable of such mass murder. But we did, and worse yet, we didn't stop them.
It has always been a puzzle that after the bombing, the Canadian Prime Minister's first message of condolence was to India. It should have gone the other way—most of those who died were of Indian ancestry, yes, and were on their way to India, but they were Canadian citizens. The loss was ours, yet our own government didn't even see it.
I hope we've learned and grown since then. I think we've had to, because this city continues to mix it up, so that we can't let either the joys or the problems seem to be foreign ones, when they are really ours.