“I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize!” — Comedian Steven Wright

A couple of times in the past I have written here about rhythm and how there is evidence of rhythm in just about everything we do. Whether it is noticing the bulging, oppressive nature of numerous identical huge columns on a federal building in downtown Chicago and just watching repetitive waves of ocean slamming the beach, there is rhythm all around us. I take a great deal of comfort in spotting these rhythms occasionally.

Just recently, I noticed, however minutely, the profound amount of irony that surrounds us, too, and how sometimes, if we’re not paying attention, this irony just plain passes by us.

Today, I was glancing through the online NYTimes, reading an update on the government shutdown and how Congress is going all out to get us through it. For a little extra oomph, the article mentioned all the catastrophic events that will slam the U.S. if the House and Senate do not get something going. The online page looked just like a regular printed page, except the advertisements on the screen were in color, while the normal printed page, they would likely be B&W. So, I am reading about all the gloom and doom, but one ad on one side of the screen talked about the absolute divine fashion of a designer with at least six syllables in his/her first name and two-to-three in his/her last. Hey, I could not tell gender in the name alone. And, I’m sorry that I don’t remember the names of fashion designers.

Also on the page was an ad that was willing to show me the photos of Sandra Bullock‘s new home in New Orleans. Wasn’t that sweet? Years ago, when I worked in newspaper journalism, editors got 8×10 sheets for each page in the paper. The sheet would show the names of the ads, and the space left over for the news.  Editors did not have a clue what the ads said until just shortly before the first edition hit the street.

So, I found it a bit IRONIC that I would be reading a story about the end of the western world (perhaps a slight bit of exaggeration), but I could also leave that page and see the latest fashion designs and intimate pictures of Sandra Bullock’s new home. Maybe the shutdown is just a speed bump and not a cliff after all.

And, here’s another example. Yesterday, Patti and I had to make a grocery run. It had rained earlier in the day, so the store was packed. Carts trying to dodge each other, people staring at products on the shelves and blocking others. Typical grocery run. But what was also slightly noticeable was the music playing over the store’s speakers. Not loud, mind you, but just enough that the sound would capture your attention if you were so inclined and listen a little more intently to recognize the song.

As Patti and I were going through the organic foods and vegetables, a song from the 60s, The Association‘s Along Comes Mary, began to play. And, for a few moments I found it incredibly IRONIC that we were walking through the freshest part of the grocery store, and a song I recognized from my youth about marijuana was wafting through the rows. For a few moments, I stopped and smiled while I listened to the lyrics. The Association was the very first concert I ever attended as a teen living in Houston. I loved Along Comes Mary, Cherish, Never My Love and Windy then, and I love the songs now.

If you are a little younger than me, here is a clip from the Smothers Brothers show in 1967 that shows The Association at their prime:

If I have to explain who the Smothers Brothers are, then go ask your mom or dad.

 

Open Access advocate and 16-year-old Open Scie...

Jack Andraka (Photo credit: Open Science Federation)

Tonight, on 60 Minutes there was a story about a 15-year-old science prodigy who is working on a way to detect early the presence of pancreatic cancer in patients. Most of the time, patients, like myself, discover they have pancreatic cancer after it has already metastasized to another organ in addition to the pancreas.

This young man’s name is Jack Andraka. The story on 60 Minutes focused on how this teenager, who has a long-time love of science, had lost a friend/relative to pancreatic cancer and decided he wanted to develop tools that would help doctors detect pancreatic cancer early before this cancer moved to other organs.

He apparently developed his approach, put it into a proposal and sent it to over 100 cancer research organizations. Only one, MDAnderson in Houston, Texas, decided to give the young man a try.

He has had some remarkable results, which in turn has turned him into a celebrity, of sorts — four times to the White House this year alone. But his approach for early detection is showing some tremendous promise.

If you want to learn more about Jack and how he has proceeded thus far, click on the link below for the story on 60 Minutes Overtime. Congratulations to Jack and his very supportive parents.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57607276-10391709/parenting-a-gifted-child-lessons-from-the-andrakas/

Susan Vento

Susan Vento

Occasionally, I see the stories of other cancer victims and how they are dealing with, or surviving, cancer, and feel they are inspiring for other people. Certainly, other people who are suffering through their cancer, or the cancer of a loved one.

Meet Susan.

In late 2000, her husband, Bruce, a U.S. Congressman, was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a very rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Her memory of her husband is what inspires her to do the work she does today. She is the spokesperson for the Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign (ACVRC), a national campaign dedicated to protecting the rights of cancer victims and their families.

As an activist, Susan works hard to inspire hope among all cancer victims. Please go to Susan’s website,  http://cancervictimsrights.org/memories-that-inspire-my-story-of-hope/. You can read her inspiring story and see more about the hard work she is doing to help cancer victims, regardless of the nature of the disease. There is also more information about ACVRC as well.

As most of you know, this blog, fightingdamien.com, is primarily about my family’s fight against pancreatic cancer. I never capitalize damien’s name, because I don’t want to give that devil any respect. My diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer just passed the three-year mark. I truly feel I am here still enjoying family and friends because of God’s blessings. And, I am thankful to God for the blessing of time he has given us.

Read Susan’s beautiful story. With all the turbulence in the world, we can all use a little bit of inspiration whenever and however it comes.

God bless you all.

 

I have a good friend, Mark, who is perhaps the most prolific reader I have ever known. I estimate he goes through 3-4 books a week. I’m not exaggerating, and I envy his speed. And, he will let me know quickly if he reads more than that.

Not only is Mark a consummate reader, but the diversity of books that he reads is enormous. Mark reads a lot of suspense/thriller books, but he also reads a lot of literary fiction — those books by authors that don’t fit  “popular” fiction tag — Don DeLillo, Anton Checkov, Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro among others. For me, literary fiction, and nonfiction, too, requires “effort,” and the books are not easy to read. I don’t mean to imply that anyone who reads popular fiction is lazy, it’s just that I am lazy with them. My patience wears really thin. I tried reading a Thomas Pynchon novel once and had to give up before the third chapter. Whoa!

Stephen E. Ambrose

Stephen E. Ambrose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for nonfiction, a month ago, I tried to read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose about explorers Lewis and Clark. Like I said, I’m usually a fiction guy, but I tried. As I started reading, all that kept running through my mind was the following: “We walked a little down the river and we saw this … Or, we crossed over this mountain and saw that… Or, we noticed some teepees were up ahead and we approached cautiously …” It was a struggle for me to pull Lewis and Clark together. No spies, no loose nuclear bombs, no car chases, no unbridled sex, no D.C. madness (oh, wait, that was supposed to imply fiction not reality).

Well, you get the picture. I’m a lazy reader, or maybe unchallenged would be a more satisfying term. I tend to gravitate toward the Grishams, Cobens, Connellys, DeMilles, North Pattersons, Burkes — popular fiction. And I know I am not alone. Today, I read an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Turning Point, and the interviewer asked him what kinds of books filled his shelves. “Lots of books with the word ‘spy’ in the titles,” he said.

The closest I can come to literary fiction is Pat Conroy and Dennis Lehane. Both of these authors are not only great writers, but when I read their writing , I feel like I am exercising all my senses in unison.

So, I was a bit taken aback yesterday when I saw an article in the NYTimes about a recent study. The main point of the study is that people who read literary fiction are better enabled through their reading to understand what others are feeling. I read the article and, once complete, had some strong feelings. Sure, I want to be more empathetic, have more social perception and be more emotionally intelligent. The other implication is that you are more “hip” if you read literary fiction over popular fiction. But, hell, the fact that I even read at all is somewhat of an anomaly these days.

Let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t want to be Jay Leno and head out on one of his Jaywalks in Santa Monica and ask anyone whom he meets for the title of the latest book the individual has read. He my not have a Jaywalk segment that evening.

Below is the link to the NYTimes story about the study. Check it out; it is very interesting.

As for me, I might try again with the literary fiction, but for now I’m in the middle of Dan Brown‘s Inferno and Brad Meltzer’s The Fifth Assassin. I’ll work on my empathy skills later …

The New York Times (@nytimes)
A study finds that reading literary fiction makes you better at decoding what other people are feeling nyti.ms/17xRPiG

A week ago, Patti, Casey, JD and I made a trip to Washington state for a wedding. My nephew, Matt, was to marry his fiance, Holly, out in a field in Walla Walla. Along the way, we picked up our sister-in-law, Lisa, at the Seattle airport for the drive across the state.

Earlier, we had flown from Austin to Phoenix to Seattle. Kinda like going to New York by way of Miami. I was a little apprehensive about the trip because I have been undergoing chemo treatments, have not flown anywhere recently and was just a little concerned whether having had a recent chemo treatment would affect flying.

So, I was a little nervous, especially flying to a city and airport that was new to me. As we approached Seattle, the peak of Mt. Ranier rose beautifully and foreboding above the clouds. Seemed like the peak could be a real magnet for an airplane, but we managed to skirt around it. Still, it was beautiful.

Even though I was a little anxious about the flying, we got there safely and uneventfully. When I was working as a consultant, I traveled all the time. During my last 11 years of work, I picked up the habit of buying a snow globe in every new city I visited. So, if I went to Chicago numerous times, I would buy only one snow globe. When I retired after 11 years, I counted my snow globes and had 94 of them. I enjoyed the fun part of travel then, but now it seems so monotonous and tedious. I wanted the flight from Austin to Phoenix and then Seattle to take, oh, maybe 20 minutes or so. Instead, it took the whole day, with a layover and such.

When we took off from Seattle for Walla Walla (Why waste the extra vowels and consonants? Just call it Walla.) we had a beautiful drive over the Cascades, which were grand, imposing, ominous and staggering. Lisa, Patti and I took one car and Casey and JD took another.  Earlier in the morning, when we picked up Lisa at the airport, it was a beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky. The day was warm, slightly breezy, and the sun was strong. We stopped outside Seattle at Issaquah, Washington for lunch at the Flat Iron Cafe. It was so beautiful out on the deck of the restaurant, we decided to really take our time and not worry about the four+ hour drive to Walla Walla. We shared a dessert of “drunken” cherries and ice cream, all in the shadow of Mt Ranier, before we continued east.

Once we got on the road, every turn offered a different view. We saw the craggy mountains, then the ochre-colored vacant plains. Along the river valleys we crossed, we saw more vineyards than I could possibly count. I found these vineyards to be somewhat rhythmic and graceful the way the rows and rows of grapes would follow the contour of the land and reach toward the sun. While we were driving along, I kept thinking of the line from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby when Nick Carraway said, “Life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.” I made the most of my perch in the back seat, listening to Patti and Lisa talk as the miles and phenomenal views flew past us.

We arrived at Walla Walla and caught up with family. This was Thursday and the wedding was Sunday. Of course, planning and execution of various odds ‘n’ ends needed to take place before the vows in a field on Sunday. It was just wonderful getting back in touch with family and seeing all the cousins interract, continuing to do what they were doing the last time they were all together. Casey, JD, TJ, Matt and Ciara caught up on each other’s lives in California, Oregon, Washington and Texas. It is always good to see them together.

After all the final details of the wedding were complete and the rehearsal dinner was behind us, it was time for the wedding on Sunday.  The vows were exchanged between Matt and Holly underneath a giant Russian olive tree.  Everyone was casually dressed, the temps were hotter than I had expected for an area of the country that is so far north.

While watching the vows, we sat in a family row (in the shade thankfully) and I thought of a quote from The Grapes of Wrath: “Up ahead they’s a thousan’ lives we might live, but when it comes it’ll on’y be one.” And I prayed that is what the future holds for Matt and Holly.

At the time, little did I know that there would be more reasons to think of The Grapes of Wrath than just the quote. After the wedding, the reception was on the other side of the Russian olive tree. There were tables, chairs, tents, dance floor that made the reception comfortable and relaxing. However, after an hour into the reception, a dust storm and rain swept the site. While the rain pelted the tents, everyone seemed to find refuge, with a few even taking to the dance floor to whirl amid the raindrops. The picture below shows you the dust storm that rolled in just before the rain. Very ominous.

Looks like Steinbeck's Dust Bowl from The Grapes of Wrath. This was just before the rain fell.

Looks like Steinbeck’s Dust Bowl from The Grapes of Wrath. This was just before the rain fell.

After the wedding, everyone decompressed back at the house. There was some cleaning up that took place, but, for the most part, everyone just relaxed. And, on Monday, we headed back to the airport and, this time, our flight took us from Seattle to Chicago Midway to Austin, Again, New York via Miami. On the flight to Chicago Midway, i thought about how good it was to see family again, to be able to travel, to be able to attend the wedding, and to enjoy the views and, oh those incredible drunken cherries.

 

 

My friend, Paul, sent the link below. Seems very inflammatory to mention that we may be seeing the end of chemo, but that seems the nature of cancer research. What is today’s clinical study is tomorrow’s treatment pattern. When you think about the power of the immune system, cancer treatment moving away from chemo and more toward strengthening the immune system sounds like “personalized” treatment.

If you or someone you love is in the throes of a cancer battle, you may want to read the CNN article below. Also, within the article there are links to TIME Magazine articles with additional information. It is very hopeful.

I’ve talked with my oncologist about this latest move toward building a stronger immune system to fight the cancer and he was very informed and looking forward to turning these clinical studies into practical application with great success rates.

 

CNN.com

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As a former communications consultant, primarily to the health care and retirement practices, whenever I talk to friends, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, seems to come up. It continues to be a mystery to most people. And, when most folks discuss it, it is often in broad, very general terms, which, in itself, can proliferate confusion and anxiety.

Here’s a chance to get something real. In today’s NYTimes, there is a first in a series of articles about the concrete application of the Affordable Care Act on a community — Louisville, Ky. The article focuses on the demographic makeup of the city, which helps explain why the Times chose the city as a location for their stories.

I found this article to do a good job of explaining items in a sensible, straightforward manner. You can get a number of viewpoints, including health clinic management as well as patients. I’m a junkie for stats and concreteness, so this article was a good fit for me.

It’s somewhat lengthy, but I think it helps to clear up persistent confusion. The only question I had after I read the article was whether the author’s name was real or not. Goodnough? Really?

*** ALSO, AFTER YOU COMPLETE THE STORY, READ THE COMMENTS FROM READERS BELOW THEY ARTICLE. THEY COMMENT ON THE CONTENT OF THE ARTICLE AND THERE ARE SOME VERY INTERESTING COMMENTS FROM OUR FELLOW BROTHERS AND SISTERS.

Amanda Peach, left, and Susan Elrod with a patient at a Family Health Centers clinic in the Portland area of Louisville, Ky.

REMAKING MEDICINE

A Louisville Clinic Races to Adapt to the Health Care Overhaul

By ABBY GOODNOUGH

To follow how the health care overhaul is playing out, The Times will look periodically at its impact in Louisville, Ky., a city that embodies the triumphs and the shortcomings of the medical system.

. Interactive  Interactive Feature: Contribute to Our Reporting in Louisville
. Slide Show | Video | Graphic: Comparing Patient Profiles

Over the past few months, when I have discussed my cancer treatment with friends and family, a few have pushed back to ask why I chose to go the chemo route, especially when I had been so against it at the very beginning.

I finally have a good way to answer that. What follows in this posting are two versions of a song called The Water is Wide. There is a James Taylor version and a Karla Bonoff version.

I suggest you listen to them both:

WHICH ONE IS YOUR FAVORITE? (I would really like to know)

Hard to pick one, right? Well, some may say, “I really don’t like the song at all.” Or, “it’s easier to understand the lyrics the way James Taylor sings it, but Karla Bonoff’s version is more emotional for the listener.” Seems a little bit like all the answers are right.

It’s kind of like the chemo, too. Every patient is different. I don’t like the chemo, but it seems to be helping right now. Whenever I go to the infusion center, I never see the same person twice. Everyone is unique and getting their chemo that matches their exact, specific needs. Some are there for hours, some for just a few minutes. Some bury themselves under blankets; others wander around the center. Some will talk their heads off; others are quiet. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone with a sad face, and that is a very real reason I keep going back.

I would just as soon not have any chemo at all but the tumors are shrinking or stable. So, for now, whenever we’re coming into the house late at night after being out, someone needs to be able to glow in the dark and shine a light on the key that gets us in the house. And, I guess that’s me for the time being.

Now, if you want to just plain get up and dance, there just ain’t nothing like the song below to help you do that!!! Isn’t music just about the best thing there can be?

Over this past weekend, my daughter Casey’s boyfriend, Rick Reed, proposed…she accepted.

They were at a winery/restaurant here in the Hill Country and Rick took to the knee.

We are very excited for both of them. While they have not yet set a date, they are very excited at what this next phase of life will be like — together.

Below are Rick and Casey on the day of their engagement. Wow! I get another son and neither Patti nor I had to go through labor. This is going to be fun!

Rick Reed and Casey Aldridge

Rick Reed and Casey Aldridge

Had a meeting with the oncologist today to get the results of the latest CT scan that I had last Friday and to take some chemo.

Turns out that my platelet levels from the blood test they take at every visit indicated that I could not take chemo today.

The CT scan showed defined shrinking of the major tumors in the pancreas, liver and lungs. Other minor tumors are not metastasizing and are stable. Great news.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.