I met with my oncologist Dr. Kennecke today, and it looks like I will start more chemotherapy in a little over a month. Oddly, I'm looking forward to that.
My dad has been an amateur astronomer most of his life; many of my childhood memories are of telescopes and dark skies and conventions of stargazers like him. This morning he woke up dreadfully early to take some photos of the lunar eclipse.
They turned out wonderfully. I'm especially fond of the mysterious limb that emerges from the darkness as the moon comes back into the light, and shows our satellite as the three-dimensional sphere it is. What an amazing universe we live in.
Back in the 1990s, you could occasionally spot Robert Plant wearing a Dread Zeppelin T-shirt. With good reason. I saw them play a concert here in town once, and it was one of the best shows I've ever been to.
If you want to find out why, listen to Tortelvis's caterwauling lead vocal on the most recent edition of the Coverville podcast, performing "Whole Lotta Love." They were even better in person. Uh-huh. Tortelvis even played the drum solo on "Moby Dick"—very well.
It turns out that the other antibiotic I'm taking, metronidazole, has fatigue as a side effect—just what I need. Yesterday I woke up, got the kids breakfast, and flaked around for awhile. Then we went to Ikea for a couple of hours. When we got home, I slept for another three hours before dinner. At 7:30 I slept again, all night, until almost 10:00 this morning.
I think I could sleep all the time given the opportunity. Most of the time, when I think "what was I doing 12 hours ago?", the answer is "sleeping." It's insane. Fortunately I'm only taking these pills for ten days, then perhaps I'll perk up again.
It would probably be fine if I weren't so tired to start with, but compounding the fatigue I already have is more than I'd prefer to deal with. Maybe a bunch of coffee would help.
Yesterday turned out not so well after all. Turning corners is sometimes tricky. Around 4 in the afternoon I started getting diabetic hypoglycemia—low blood sugar—which does happen from time to time. I've been diabetic for 16 years, and my usual treatment is a simple can of Coke, which usually takes care of it quickly.
Not this time. I was unable to stabilize my blood sugars with Coke, with snacks, with juice, with brown sugar, with pudding, or with anything else. My wife became worried about me, as did I, because unchecked hypoglycemia can make me pass out.
Eventually we called an ambulance, which took me to Burnaby Hospital's Emergency ward, where they stabilized me and gave me some food. A few hours later the doctor discharged me and I went home.
After I had a bath and calmed down some, I read through the customer information for the couple of new antibiotics I started taking, which were the only new things that had happened yesterday.
Sure enough, one of the two drugs "may affect your blood sugar." No kidding. I had specifically asked my prescribing surgeon whether everything was okay for diabetes, and had mentioned it to the ambulance crew, and the nurses, and the doctors at the hospital, but no one knew about that. Just a reminder to be vigilant about your medications—the professionals don't know about every possible interaction.
And I'm fine now, just tired again.
Speaking of crazy crazy cameras, Nikon has released its first full 35-mm sized sensor in a new digital SLR: in its new D3 model. There is also a D300 with a smaller sensor but otherwise very similar specs.
Price? About $5000 USD for the D3, with 12 megapixels, or $1800 for the D300, also with 12 megapixels but the smaller sensor. Both compete strongly against comparable models from Canon, and are otherwise quite different, with unusual choices in their operation and design.
So the competition between Canon and Nikon has heated up again, but megapixels again may be meaningless depending on what you want. I never thought Nikon would go full-frame so soon, however. And there's no way I need anything like either of those cameras—my 6 MP D50 is just fine, thanks. Definitely nice for the spec-heads, though, and useful for professional and semi-pro photographers who prefer Nikon lenses and have many thousands of dollars to spend.
I wonder if NASA wants to change the order it made yesterday for 76 Nikon D2X cameras?
It's been more than six weeks since my major cancer surgery, and only now do I feel like I've turned a corner in my recovery. Not that I'm "all better," but I'm improving, and at a better pace.
For instance, I was able to walk with my daughter and our friends' dog a full four blocks from our house and back, without using my cane or a wheelchair. I was tired when we returned, but I made it. Some of my pain and other symptoms are gradually going away. I may even be ready to start my next round of chemotherapy soon, which is something I am looking forward to—an odd thing to say. I've gained some 15 pounds from my record low in the 145-pound range, so that's a relief, even though I'm still a long way from my 200-pound average of the past several years.
But the fatigue, huge and oppressive, is my main remaining side effect, and it isn't changing much. Yesterday I drove the car, had a doctor's appointment, and went out for dinner. After that I had to sleep for four hours to recover. Today I took the kids for breakfast at McDonald's, and had to lie down for an hour afterwards too.
So it's a shallow corner, but I'm turning it. I think I'll be able to walk my daughters to school in a couple of weeks. That was my goal.
The other night I had a dream that someone asked me to come up with the most "Spike TV" scenario I could think of. Spike is a cable network aimed at young men, and "now airs a combination of original programming and reruns of network programming, including series from the CSI and Star Trek franchises, MXC, Game Head, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, and Ultimate Fighting Championship programming." They also show a lot of kung fu movies, as well as commercials for razors, motor oil, and fast cars.
In my dream, I didn't even have to think much about it. I could probably pitch this as a Spike TV commercial without much resistance. The scenario is:
Driving a flaming truck off a bridge into an icy river, but parachuting to safety on the back deck of a waiting speedboat populated by supermodels wearing only fur coats and preparing all-beef hot dogs on a built-in gas barbecue.
I haven't watched all that much Spike TV, but I guess I've seen enough. I must have been watching something (probably CSI) on Spike before I feel asleep that night.
But I'm sure that you, my readers, can come up with something even more macho, right?
Unrelated, but this guy is still driving the first car he ever bought, a 1929 Ford Model A he purchased in 1938 for $10. Nifty.
When my wife and I decided to get married back in 1994, we were still paying off student loans and car debts and the general detritus of university and early working life. We couldn't afford a traditional diamond solitaire engagement ring, so instead we bought a much less expensive set of matching blue-and-white sapphire rings (you can see mine on my right hand in this photo).
Also, I was a bit cynical about diamonds, with the whole De Beers cartel advertising campaigns, conflict diamonds, and so on. Conflict-free Canadian diamonds were not yet a force in the market as they are today (with a bit of their own controversy).
We have a bit more money now. Like a convertible sports car, a nice piece of art, or yet another guitar, a diamond ring is not a rational purchase, nor should it be. Yesterday the kids and my wife and I went to the mall and visited several jewelers, and she found a ring she loved, with a certified Canadian diamond. So we bought it. It was a good choice.
That's right. If you have a camera with a sensor that captures more than 4 to 6 megapixels, you probably don't need them all, and would almost certainly benefit from spending the money on better optics or electronics. My Nikon D50 is a 6-megapixel DSLR, and I don't even always use it at maximum resolution.
Then again, there are people for whom spending $8000 USD on the new crazy crazy 21-megapixel (!) Canon EOS 1-Ds Mark III will be worthwhile. I just don't know any of them.
LATER UPDATE: Hell has frozen over and Nikon has released a full frame DSLR, the new D3. It's smart enough to scale down its sensor resolution if you attach a DX-format non-full-frame lens, which is an interesting compromise. At full frame it only has a little over half the pixels of the Canon 1-Ds Mark III, but it also costs $5000 USD, a little over half the price. So does it reinforce my point? Hard to say. I didn't think I'd see Nikon do this, though.
Within a couple of hours the sun was shining through, and I was standing nervously in a tuxedo at the Hart House restaurant in Burnaby. Outside were chairs and a red carpet, and a dais beneath a large tree by the lake. Guests arrived.
Not much later, so did my girlfriend, in her dress, and Van Morrison's "Crazy Love" played on a boom box as she walked down the aisle and we were married. We ate with our relatives and friends, and then drove back to my parents' house, not far away, for a reception.
We've been through a lot of shit together in this past decade and a bit. It has been a great time. I love her more than ever, and hope to continue for a long time to come.
As I've mentioned, even six weeks after my surgery I continue to have some pain for which I'm taking codeine. This past Monday I had another CT scan, ordered by my oncologist Dr. Kennecke, to see if there was anything wrong.
Today I found out that there is something wrong, but in the scheme of things it is very minor and nothing to worry about, which is a great relief both to me and to my family. As Dr. Kennecke wrote in an email...
...there is a fluid collection beside the anastomosis and a fistula (a connection between the bowel and the fluid collection beside the bowel). Unless there evidence of infection, It does not look like this needs to be drained, as it seems to be draining itself.
So, depending on what his consultations with my surgeons reveal, it may or may not be useful to drain the buildup. But it's not a tumour—not more cancer, which of course was a worry. If all I need is a nasty needle to drain some fluid, I can handle that.
Funny how chemo and radiation and surgery and complications can make a potential fluid-draining needle seem like a small thing now. Last year a procedure like that would have seemed like a big deal.
I'm also pleased that my piped-in video appearance at Gnomedex went over so well with so many people, including Scott Rosenberg, someone whose work online I have admired for a long time. Organizer Chris Pirillo has some great things to say about his event overall:
Gnomedex is just about as close to a un-virtual blogosphere as I’ve ever seen it. [...] How does one attract the blogosphere’s thought leaders without hammering through the topics that are (quite frankly) already yesterday’s news—or completely irrelevant to people who don’t live and die by whatever is on TechMeme or its vertical equivalent? How does one equally attract those who are striving to become thought leaders, or those who love following those thought leaders?
One thing that makes Gnomedex worthwhile is that Chris, even just a couple of days afterwards, when he could just be sleeping it all off, is working hard to figure out how to make it better next time.
Via John Gruber, here's a neat article about Clearview, a font designed specifically to make highway signage more readable, and now being put to use in many jurisdictions, including here in British Columbia, as old road signs are replaced.
I was a bit surprised to see that if you want to get the font yourself, you need to spend at least $175 USD. If Clearview really is that much more legible and useful than its predecessors such as Highway Gothic, and therefore leads to safer driving, it would seem reasonable for the U.S. federal government or some other agency to pay the designers (who worked on the font for a long time) a decent fee to make it freely licensable to anyone. Then anyone could use it for any kind of signage anywhere, presumably even saving some lives in the process.
Given how many billions of dollars it costs to build roads, the tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars it would take to set up such a free licensing arrangement would seem like money well spent.
Via Tod, I find out that you can now pay a yearly fee to buy more online storage for your Gmail account (and other Google services)—up to 250 GB. My free storage is currently at 2.8 GB, and is only about half full, so I'm fine, but it's good to have the option.
I love attending the annual Gnomedex geek conference in Seattle, but this year I just wasn't in shape to do it. So we did the next best thing: organizers Chris and Ponzi Pirillo asked me to give a little talk and answer some questions via live video chat yesterday, and I think it worked rather well.
Even among the digital leading edge who attend Gnomedex, being as wide open about cancer diagnosis and treatment online, as I have been, is still a bit unusual, but I hope that my appearance there encourages people not only to use the Internet as a way to get information and support, but also to get themselves checked out for the various diseases they might be at risk for, so that they can maybe get treated early and not have to go through all the crap I have.
One of the audience members who said hi (I think her name was Dawn) also reminded me not to get consumed by all this, not to let my condition become my life, and I think that was good advice. As I've said before, I'm trying to come back to life, to see movies and have fun with my family and friends, and to blog about something other than cancer from time to time—and more often as I get better.
Today I cooked some bacon and eggs and made coffee, which is the first time I've had enough energy for that. But yesterday I spent almost the whole day (including my video chat session) in bed. Maybe later today I'll get out for a walk, or go to the mall or a restaurant. I just have to see how I feel.
Thank you to all the Gnomedexers who attended my session yesterday. Once again, your support and good vibes humble me.
Went to see The Bourne Ultimatum this afternoon with my wife. It was my first movie out since my surgery, and well worth it. (I watched the previous two films, which I hadn't seen, on DVD last week.)
I do have one complaint: director Paul Greengrass does a great job choreographing the fight and chase scenes so that you understand what's going on despite the chaos. But the handheld camerawork is sometimes so kinetic, bouncing and shaking and twisting, that in my current somewhat discombobulated state I actually had to close my eyes a few times to keep from getting dizzy or disoriented. A static camera is not always a bad thing.
The Bourne films are also pretty bleak, almost nihilistic. Still, I recommend seeing them if you haven't.
By the way, I'm still weak enough that after sitting in a chair watching a movie for two hours, I had to come home and lie down for two hours.
We've done a lot in the past couple of days—or a lot for me, anyway. Yesterday I not only visited the Pain Clinic at the B.C. Cancer Agency (where I got a prescription for some longer-acting codeine so I don't have to take Tylenol 3s so often), but then went for dinner with my family at the mall and got myself a haircut. We were out of the house for more than five hours, which is my longest outing since the beginning of July.
I paid for it later with some pain in the middle of the night, but it was worth it. Similarly, today we visited the Agency again, where I talked to a social worker and generally got some stuff off my chest. But a couple of hours away was enough today, and I had to come home and lie down once more.
But I'm gaining weight steadily, despite the fatigue, close to ten pounds already. The steps are small, but they are steps. It's like coming back to life, bit by bit.
As of today, it has been one month since my colon cancer surgery. It seems like much longer. In that time I have been in the hospital for a week, out for a few days, back in for another ten days, and now home again for a little over a week.
A community health nurse visited again today. He examined my bedsore, which is healing fine, and generally checked me out. He reminded me that healing and recovery will be very slow—that with my ileostomy, I am absorbing food less efficiently than before, and after my spring radiation and chemotherapy treatments, tissues take extra time to mend as well.
So it feels very slow to me, and I feel guilty sleeping much of the day, but the medical professionals think it is all normal. My body has been through a lot, and I am gaining weight gradually. Each day I try to walk a bit, and to eat heartily, so I will get better very gradually. I still do not feel or look like myself, but I will come back. I know it's hard on my family too, but it is reassuring to know that nothing is seriously wrong.
And like Heromachine, Alistair pointed me to it.
Last night my wife and I went out for dinner for the first time in about a month, since before my major colon surgery on July 6. It was both a success and a failure. Or, more accurately, it was a good test.
We hired a babysitter for a few hours and chose our nearby Cactus Club Cafe, where I had some delicious cheese toast, grilled salmon, and mashed potatoes. (I had to skip the rice pilaf because during my recovery I need to avoid high-fibre foods like brown rice and nuts of all sorts, which can create blockages.)
I also drank a pomegranate cosmopolitan martini and a mojito. Everything was delicious, and I had a great time, even though I still have to bring a pillow to sit on.
However, earlier in the day my surgeon, Dr. Phang, had prescribed me some Tylenol 3 pills with codeine to help alleviate some of the pain I'm still having. As I half-expected, just as we were paying for the meal, the combination of the two drinks and the T3s kicked in, and I felt extremely light-headed sitting at the table.
My fantastic wife knew what to do, of course. She told me to put my head down to my knees, which I did, and I immediately felt better. Then she went to the car and retrieved the wheelchair we borrowed from my parents yesterday, and wheeled me out of the restaurant. I lay down in the back seat of our car and we drove the three minutes home, skipping our planned trip to the mall. Instead I went to bed and watched TV. Later we watched The Bourne Identity and I made some plans to give a remote video talk to the upcoming Gnomedex conference next week.
I didn't find what happened at the restaurant at all embarrassing, by the way. I'm way past embarrassment at any of this stuff. It was an experiment, in a way—what are my limits right now? I know I can eat a good meal in relative comfort. I know the Tylenol 3 works. And I know it does not interact well with booze (though I was pleased not to feel nauseated). So I should lay off the drink for now, at least if I plan to stay upright.
It was a damn good martini, by the way.
Last week, when I had a nasogastric tube on my face to drain my stomach, the clip that held the plastic hose accidentally injured my nose. I was still on morphine at the time, so while it felt like I'd been punched in the face, I didn't really care.
A couple of days later, when we removed the bandage, the nurse who'd put it on was a bit horrified (and quite apologetic) at what had happened. Today the last of the scab fell off, and now I have a couple of nice craters in my nose:
So now I look like I've been punched in the face too. Battle scars!
I'm just lying here on the couch, reading my RSS feeds and listening to The Who's 1971 "Who's Next" album for the first time in a long time. Holy crap, I'd forgotten what a great piece of work that is.
As Dave Wilson wrote in Salon a few years ago, somehow even infinite replays on classic rock radio have failed to dilute these tracks. Pete Townshend magically turns out not only to have created some of the greatest, most muscular guitar sounds in the history of rock 'n' roll, but also to be a genius with the primitive analog synthesizers of the era, which no one would have expected. Roger Daltrey makes his case to be among the best rock singers—powerful without being shrieky, cheesy, or slick. John Entwistle uses his bass both to anchor the rhythm and to fill in the melodies behind Townshend's power chords in marvelously creative ways.
And Keith Moon, well, what can you say? I've written about him before, how he's always been impossible to emulate because his drumming reflected the same unhinged personality that led to his early death. He was, it seems, incapable of playing quietly or subtly. So on "Who's Next," even the softest ballads seem on the verge of a complete train wreck, which is just the sort of tension rock music needs.
And then, of course, there is The Scream, 7 minutes and 45 seconds into "Won't Get Fooled Again." It should have become self parody after appearing in car commercials and following David Caruso's witticisms at the beginning of every episode of CSI: Miami. Yet still, when I listen to it in context, after the long, burbling synth interlude and Moon's edge-of-chaos drum intro, Daltrey's "Yeeeeaaaaaaah!" still gives me goosebumps every time (he sang it so loud that the microphone actually crackles with distortion), and the guitar that follows it is my own Platonic ideal of what overdriven chords should sound like.
Anyway, if you like The Who, or any band that owes them a debt, from AC/DC to Green Day to every emo-pop-punk group of today, go listen to "Who's Next" again and give it its due.
The biggest bothers of recovering here at home are that fatigue, which is quite unbelievable (walking a block and a half is like running a marathon), and some persistent pain I'm having in my butt, part of which is due to a minor bedsore I developed during my last hospital stay. I went to the Cancer Agency today to talk about that, among other things, as well as to talk to a counsellor for the first time in my life. I'm maybe half-way through my treatment now, and it is a grinding slog, so it will help to have a professional to consult about it.
Tomorrow I'll also talk to Dr. Phang, my surgeon, about the pain and what I should do about it. It's all about the doctors and hospitals and clinics right now. And eating. I'm eating a lot to try to gain some weight, though I'm not sure if that's working yet.
Have a good long weekend. I'm hoping mine's a bit of an improvement. Don't forget that my dad is also blogging about how I'm doing, sometimes in more detail.