Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Art of Recycling Tires

TGire Art

Mountains of discarded tires are growing outside every city in North America. Worn out from years of valiant service, unsafe to continue in use, they rest one upon the other and dream of their days on the road.

They remember when their tread was young and they had a grip on reality, when the highways of the nation rolled by beneath them, when distant horizons sped inexorably toward them.

They remember the rain and the sleet and the snow and the moment their youthful grip saved the lives of their passengers.

Now discarded by the millions they wait, their days of youthful service behind them.

But where some see worn out garbage, others see the stuff of Art. A new artistic medium is being born across the Nation. On city streets and in city parks, the art of recycled tires is growing.

Slowly the ugly mounds of discarded tires are becoming things of beauty.

Tire Art is coming into its own with fantastic images.

Can the tires of the nation, that have given us so much heroic service look forward to a new future?

More Tire Art

On a more personal note.

Last Wednesday my wife Linda's 90 year old mother was rushed to Emergency at Centennial Hospital with acute kidney failure. Linda and I spent three days with her amide the organized chaos and pain that is a big city hospital's Emergency department. Two days before they could get a Nephrologist to examine her. Three days before we learned there was little that could be done except make her comfortable and give her meds for her pain.

She has been returned to her nursing home where it is far more peaceful and she is in her own bed among her own things. Where family can visit with her and be with her for a while.

Linda has written a touching tribute at her mother's life at her blog.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Brigadier's Law

image copyright Anne de Haas

Dan Sandor, recent candidate in Scarborough Centre, is fighting to protect police enforcement animals here in Canada with a new law Sandor calls "Brigadier's Law".

Brigadier was an 8-year-old prize-winning Belgian cross, who worked in the Mounted Unit of Toronto Police until he was killed by an erratic driver at Lawrence and Kingston Road, about a kilometer from my home. Being 16 hands high, "Brig", the "Gentle Giant", weighed 1500 lbs but was no match for a speeding van.

According to police, Brigadier and his rider, PC Kevin Bradfield, were on Community Patrol in the West Hill area, when their attention was drawn to a driver of a van stopped at the former drive-through ATM machine at TD Canada Trust.

The driver was reportedly yelling and screaming at the driver in front of him. The enraged driver sped away when approached by the mounted unit, but then made a screeching u-turn and came roaring back down Lawrence, ramming full force into Brigadier. Leaving the horse and his rider crumpled in the roadway. Brigadier had been struck so hard, the full imprint of his head was in the roof of the van

The officer's neck, back and rib were damaged, and he was rushed to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. But Brigadier had taken the full brunt of the collision and his massive injuries were untreatable.

He was put down where he lay on the street next to MacDonalds Restaurant, by officers from the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force.

Unlike many other countries and several US states, there are no additional charges available under the Criminal Code of Canada for deliberately killing a law enforcement animal. This is despite the critical roll Police Service Animals perform in a whole range of duties such as Search and Rescue, Community Oriented Policing, Public Safety and building a bridge between the community and the police.

Duties that often place their lives at special risk for the community good.

Now Dan Sandor has proposed creating an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada to better protect Law Enforcement Animals.

Letters have been written to the Canadian Federal Government, including the Prime Ministers office, regarding this proposal giving Police Service Animals the much needed protection they require, under the law.

The proposed amendment was nicknamed "BRIGADIERS LAW". For a copy of the open letter to Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, written by Dan Sandor, visit Brigadier's Law or you can now join us in furthering this cause on Facebook at Brigadier's Law. For more on the Toronto Police Taskforce visit Storyward.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday My Town Photo Shoot Out--Water

Patty and Reggie Girl have organized the Friday Photo Shoot Out asking us to post photos of our local community every Friday. From a handful of participants it has grown into a world wide phenomenon. This week's theme, chosen by Hensly, is WATER.

There are links to many of the Friday Shoot Out participants from literally around the world at the bottom of my left panel. Maybe you'd like to join us as well and post photos of your community? Click here for everything you need to know to join the Friday Shootout Gang. Next weeks theme, chosen by Robyn, is "Random", it's a free for all folks!

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.

The underlying attraction of the movement of water and sand is biological.
If we look more deeply we can see it as the basis of an abstract idea
linking ourselves with the limitless mechanics of the universe.
- Sir Geoffrey

There could not have been a more apt theme for West Hill this week. A beautiful and nourishing Spring transformed our world.

Water poured from our eves troughs with an abandon that would scandalize my cousin Roger who lives in Elizabeth, a small town outside Adelaide Australia where a drought has led him to install water tanks to catch every precious drop.

It ran down our drains to the Great Lake that lies within easy walking distance from my home

Puddles formed everywhere and Lindsay had great fun splashing her way through them.

My boots made squishing sounds in the wet grass.

It inspired me to attempt an Reya Mellicker effect, capturing the reflection of things, not the objects themselves. That I wasn't able to duplicate Reya's effect was likely due to her not using mud puddles as her medium, or that I lack Reya's skill as a photographer. Or both.

It made the benches too wet to sit on.

Water, the Hub of Life.
Water is its mater and matrix, mother and medium.
Water is the most extraordinary substance!
Practically all its properties are anomolous, which enabled life to use it as building
material for its machinery.
Life is water dancing to the tune of solids.
- Albert Szent-Gyorgyi>

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lindsay and the Very Bad Day

I didn't have a good day yesterday and neither did Lindsay

Lindsay began to suspect the day was not going to go well when she saw us rushing about getting dressed at an unusually early hour in the morning. Kettles were boiling, porridge was cooking, showers were running, teeth were getting cleaned, bags were getting packed.

And no one was paying attention to Lindsay. Not good signs.

The words "hospital" and "chemotherapy" were being used frequently, but they meant nothing to her. She went for her morning run in the backyard and when I called her in early she came with hopes it meant her longer run along the bluffs, but that was not to be.

No sooner was she in than we left. Lindsay watched through the front window as the car pulled down the driveway and started up the street out of sight. Lindsay scratched a nest for herself in the carpet and laid down with a sigh. This was not going to be a good day.

Nor were things going well for us either. Late in leaving, we hit all three of the traffic lights that separate us from the Guildwood GO station where we were to catch the train to downtown Toronto and Princess Margaret Hospital where I was beginning a cycle of chemotherapy. Because we hit all the lights, we arrived at the station just in time to see the train pulling out without us.

I looked on the missed train as bad luck. I should have realized it was a sign. This was not going to be a good day.

The second train got us to Toronto's Union Station just in time to keep our 8:30 appointment with the Medical Oncologist prior to starting chemo. But it seemed she wasn't having a good day either.

"You are a dilemma for us Barry," she told me. "We really haven't seen anything quite like you. You're quite unique."

"Tell me about it," said Linda with a sigh.

The doctor smiled. But sadly. "Your MRI showed a hot spot of cellular activity on the back of your right hip that puzzled us. The PET scan failed to find that hot spot but did show unusual activity in your bone marrow. That also concerned us and puzzled us. So we ordered that complete body X-ray and that additional blood work last week and the x-ray showed nothing nor did most of the blood tests. However, there was that one additional blood test we did that should have showed nothing (when all the other tests were negative) but it did test positive for the kind of protein that suggests a problem with your bone marrow.

"So we keep finding suggestions of further problems, then running tests that rule them, out only to find further suggestions of a problem, of some kind, somewhere in your right hip."

"Are you thinking some kind of lymphoma?" I asked. "With that one swollen lymph gland and concerns about bone marrow, that's something I wondered about."

The doctor conceded lymphoma was one possibility. I could have two primary cancers. It would be unusual, but certainly possible. If it was lymphoma, it was a very low grade and would be curable, but it would alter the protocol for my treatment. However there were other bone marrow disorders or it could be nothing. Just that my bone marrow was unusually active and nothing to worry about. But it could also be that the esophageal cancer had spread to my hip bone and that would be very bad news indeed.

My cancer would then still be treatable, but not curable. And that would also alter the treatment protocol. However, it would be extraordinary for the cancer in my esophagus to bypass my lungs, my liver and my kidney to travel all the way down to my hip. Almost unprecedented. But cancer is highly unpredictable, so it was theoretically possible.

So she was going to have to order still one more test to definitively determine what was going on with me. And that would mean canceling today's chemotherapy.

"I know how anxious you are to get started with treatment," the doctor said. "But we have to get the treatment right. We work as a multidisciplinary team, and we conferenced your case on Monday and it was the consensus of the team that the test result are likely nothing to be concerned about. But that we couldn't proceed on a hunch, especially with something like the involvement of the bone marrow which is an area of the body that chemo targets.

"So instead of chemo, I've arranged a bone marrow aspiration for you for ten o'clock this morning."

I said something unbecoming that indicated my degree of discomfort with the thought of needles being rammed through my bone and into my marrow. And the doctor did what she could to persuade me that the horror stories that were out there about the pain involved in the procedure were exaggerated.

Then with no chemo and an hour to kill, Linda and I did the only thing left open to us. We went to Tim's for a coffee.

At home Lindsay woke up from her doze with an uncomfortable feeling. She went to the front window and looked out at the street, alert for any problem. But ours is a quiet street and nothing was moving, not even a squirrel. Still she sat and looked. And waited. Concerned.

At the hospital the doctor assigned to do the biopsy on my bone marrow was not having a good day either. She had given my hip a local anesthetic ("You will feel a sharp pain as I insert the needle," she told me, "But once I inject the anesthetic that will go away.") and then ratcheted a needle into the bone at the rear top of my hip. Exactly where the hot spot had shown up in the MRI scan. But my bones were thick and strong and the needle wouldn't reach through to the marrow.

"You've been a good boy and drunk all your milk," she told me. "You have very strong and thick bones."

To reach my marrow she would need to redo the procedure with a longer needle. But even the longer needle wouldn't reach. So she needed to target a slightly different location where the bone might be thinner and the needle could reach. I was laying on my side with my pants pulled down slightly below my hip, feeling the second needle being driven into my bone. Hoping this time she would strike oil. She was getting frustrated but keeping a distractingly happy conversation going with the nurse.

"Aha!" she said. "Third time lucky. I think we're there. Yes we are. Now I just have to use a slightly larger needle to take a small plug of your bone and we're done."

Back at home Lindsay gave up on the street outside and ran to the french doors at the back to look out at the yard. The temperature had dropped dramatically and a wind was kicking up. The trees were bending and the swing in the yard was rocking threateningly. But no creature stirred although Lindsay kept up a vigilant watch.

"That took a long time," said Linda as I emerged from surgery an hour later. "I thought it was only supposed to take 20 minutes?"

So I explained the problem caused by a life time of drinking milk and the four new holes I now had in my backside.

Then having time on our hands, we decided to visit my step brother Norm who lives downtown. We called and arranged to meet for lunch. He had put on weight and looked tired but was interested in our experience on this not so very good day.

"You look tired?" Linda said to him.

His lip quivered, "I've been having some trouble myself," he confessed reluctantly. "It's my liver. The doctor thinks I may have something seriously wrong with my liver. I'm going for tests tomorrow. I'm really not in very good shape."

At home Lindsay finally slept. Sometimes there is just nothing more you can do.

And after a time, we returned from the hospital. And Lindsay danced around us, eyes agleam and tail wagging with joy.

Linda was tearing open the mail. There was a problem with Linda's 90 year old mother's account at Extendacare.

But we would have to sort that out tomorrow.

Today was just too bad a day.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Tomorrow I begin Chemotherapy and that will change a number of things; some I can predict and some I can't. Some I can control and some I can't. Some I think, at this point, I can control; but will discover I can't.

Just like all other significant changes in life.

So all I can do is make plans based on the best information I have available and then remain flexible.


The drugs used in chemotherapy are targeted drugs. Because almost the defining characteristic of cancer is its rapid growth rate, the drugs used in chemotherapy target rapidly growing cells in the body. And poison them.

The problem is, its not just cancer cells that grow rapidly. So does my hair. So do my nails. So does my bone marrow. So does the lining of my digestive system.

I could go bald, my nails could turn yellow, my bone marrow could stop producing blood cells compromising my immune system. I could get nausea and diarrhea. The onslaught on my body could leave me fatigued.

Or the impact on me could be negligible. Some people sail through chemo with minimal side effects. It is totally idiosyncratic and totally unpredictable.

But I'd be wise to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

And one of those plans involves blogging. I need to reduce the time I spend online without sacrificing the aspects of blogging that I love the best. Because blogging brings me great pleasure and I have no desire to give it up.

So I'm going to make one change to blogging as I currently practice it. I'm going to stop responding to your comments. I welcome and thrive on comments and will continue to read every one, but I love visiting your blogs and reading them more. And I want to use the time and energy I have available to maximize my pleasure, in all things. Blogging included.

So I will read the blogs of everyone who stops by and leaves me a comment and will leave any comments I have on your blog, not mine.

If someone has left a particularly fascinating question and you wonder how I'll respond to it, well you'll just have visit their blog to find out. Maybe this will prove a win-win situation all round.

I'll let you know how tomorrow goes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lindsay and the Thunderstorm (part2)

This post was written three weeks ago as a follow up to my post on Lindsay and the Thunderstorm. Unfortunately some quirky results from a series of hospital tests bumped it from its duly appointed spot in the rotation. But I've just reread it and liked it and it stands up well on its own, so here it is, better late than never.

The sky ignites and thunder rattles the house. After my experiences on the weekend, I won't be taking Lindsay for her run this morning. The storm snuck up on me then, it won't get a second chance today.

There is another deafening crack of thunder and rain comes crashing against the front window in torrents.

storm tunder lightning

Shivering at my feet, Lindsay is also in no mood to experience the great outdoors. We had a little too much nature in the raw this week to satisfy us both. I pet her and her shivering quiets; she lays down, her head resting on my foot.

Helping her has helped me. I don't jump at the next crack of thunder, instead I settle down to enjoy the show.

The relationship between dogs and man goes back a long way. While we take credit for becoming the dominant specie on the planet, we've had a lot of help from our dogs. And our cats and our horses. They have helped us hunt, warned us of danger, rid our homes of rodents and given us the power to travel vast distances at a rapid pace.

But they have also given us affection. They calm us. Perhaps they even humanize us. When dogs and cats are part of our life, we have less stress and live longer. To a lesser extent, the same holds true for the plants that fill our homes and gardens, the fish that swim in our aquariums and the birds that sing from their cages in our living rooms.

I'm reading a review of Richard Louv's book "The Last child In The Woods" in the London Times:

"Our new word for this week is “biophilia”: the innate need and sensitivity that human beings have for other living things. Put simply, we have been hugging trees for millennia, so it is dumb to stop now. We have a biological need, created by centuries of proximity, for nature. And denying our biophilia makes us behave very oddly indeed. I refer in particular to children – the small, slightly irascible, bug-eyed creatures you find lurking indoors in small groups around the television, computer, fridge or X-box. Pale and biophobic, these children are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder, an epidemic recently identified in America. Long ago, children roamed in grubby, half-clad packs across the landscape, hitting one another with sticks, making mud pies and hiding in bushes. Now, in the Dark Ages, most of these activities are illegal, or considered downright dangerous. Last month, the online magazine Salon lamented 'the decline in kids’ contact with nature and the rising obesity epidemic; the criminalisation of old-fashioned play; and the loss of the simple pleasure of having dirty hands and wet feet.'"

Of course we live in an urban landscape and our kids need to learn to be street smart. It's a more dangerous world out there than the one I grew up in. As even Louv acknowledges, we can't "...bring back the free-range childhood of the 1950s". We were kicked out of Eden long ago and there is no way back.

Still,we are an amazingly adaptive specie. Our kids have learned to get a lot of their need for adventure inwardly, electronically. I remember when Alvin Tofflier wrote that book "Future Shock", claiming we would all be paralyzed by the pace of change. That was back in the 60's and here we still are, the pace of change faster than ever. Human resilience and adaptability is an amazing thing.

Still, Louv has accumulated some serious evidence that our kids are paying a high price for getting their adventures electronically instead of naturally.

Outside the storm is letting up and Lindsay will get a run after all; only it will be on her leash and around our block, not along the top of the bluffs today. We compromise and go on.

Thunderstorm photo courtesy of Photobucket.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Quiet Place

Sometimes it's just nice to get away from everything.

When I can't afford the time or the price of a plane flight to Florida, I head for a quite spot in the Rouge Valley, about a fifteen minute drive from my home.

Come join me and maybe you'll feel its peace and comfort too.

Yes, this is the same place I wrote about back on April 11th in the post In Praise Of Silence.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Shoot Out--Red

Patty and Reggie Girl have organized the Friday Photo Shoot Out asking us to post photos of our local community every Friday. From a handful of participants it has grown into a world wide phenomenon. This week's theme, chosen by Gordon, is to post photos of things that are RED.

There are links to all the Friday Shoot Out participants from literally around the world at the bottom of my left panel. Maybe you'd like to join us as well and post photos of your community? Click here for everything you need to know to join the Friday Shootout Gang. Then let me know so I can add your names to the list. Next weeks theme is "Water".

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.

Just some random shots of objects coloured red in my neighbourhood--

So we'll start with my local drug store.

A neighbour's car.

Where snail mail goes.

A sign to obey.

A tree on my next door neighbour's front lawn.

Japanese Red Maple at the front of my house.

Tulips a little past their prime but still vibrant in my garden.

And, of course, you can't have a theme about the colour red without including a couple of Canadian icons (I mean the flag not Linda)--

I cheated on the Mounty. I doubt Mounties in dress uniform have ever been in West Hill. In plain clothes conducting drug raids yes. In ceremonial dress no. This was shot on a recent visit to Ottawa.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Courting of Lindsay

But before we begin, a brief word from our sponsor:

I was down to Princess Margaret Hospital on Tuesday for a complete body x-ray, each section of my body filmed individually and from different angles. X-rayed standing up, x-rayed laying down. Technician scurrying behind the screen during each exposure.

And then I was down in Blood Collection to donate five more vials of blood, beyond the four I gave on Friday.

Then the long train ride home to wait.

But the answer came quickly this time. By three PM I had a call from the oncologist to let me know the x-rays had shown nothing unusual with my bone marrow. Four of the blood tests were back already and also showed nothing unusual. A fifth and more exotic test was still being run and its results wouldn't be back until Thursday. However that test would only have deepened their understanding of a disorder if a disorder was present. Since all the other tests showed no disorder, it would be impossible for that test to produce any positive results.

So the doctor was confirming my starting treatment for my cancer on Tuesday at 8:30 am.

Little did I know there would come a time in my life when I was thrilled to know I would be entering a course of chemotherapy treatments. But I am.

And after upper endoscopes, ultrasound scopes, CT scans, PET Scans, MRI Scans, complete body x-rays and just about every blood test known to science, I am relieved to know I am in perfect health.

Well, except for that cancer thing.

Now on to Lindsay...

There comes a time in all our lives when romance comes our way. When even little black dogs with waggy tails discover they have a suitor who has fallen madly, passionately in love with them.

"Fallen" being the operative word in that sentence.

Linda and I were doing some work on the garden and Lindsay was roaming about luxuriating in the warmth of the day, a gentle breeze ruffling her hair. I have to say she was looking stunning, an unassuming yet beautiful child of nature.

When a squirrel fell out of the Norway Maple right on top of her.

Her beauty must have been too much for the poor guy. He must have been nearly fatally distracted by the healthy sheen of her coat, the sparkle in her eye, her wet black nose.

Lindsay yelped and jumped a foot. Squirrel and dog stood looking at each other in stunned silence. Linda and I held our breath.

Then squirrel and dog were off racing around the yard, Lindsay's jaws mere inches from the handsome black tail of the squirrel.

But love favors the bold and the squirrel made it to the safety of the Northern Pine tree and was soon high up among its branches. His little heart going pitter-pat, and looking down at his beloved who was dancing about the bottom of the tree barking loudly, jaws gnashing.

Amused by the distraction, Linda and I went back to our gardening. Little did we know the depth of passion we had just seen awakening.

Early the next morning, we were sitting on the deck having coffee. Lindsay was laying on a carpet at the top of the deck stairs looking out at the garden, half asleep.

Suddenly Linda was tugging at my sleeve, her finger to her lips to let me know to be silent. She pointed excitedly down the length of the yard. I looked. And looked again.

The squirrel was jumping cautiously toward us, a tulip in its mouth.

I almost spilled my coffee.

The squirrel took one cautious, yet noble bound forward, the red tulip dangling between its lips.

Lindsay appearing half asleep, disdaining to notice this curious, yet boldly romantic performance.

Another bound closer to the deck. And another. And then the squirrel was at the very bottom of the stairs. The object of his devotion, high above him, pretending not to notice.

He raised one little foot and placed it on the first step. Then a second, and slowly climbed the stairs toward her. Until dog and squirrel were almost nose to nose.

Then a thought penetrated the dazed brain of the sleep bemused Lindsay.

There is a freaking squirrel two inches from your nose, you idiot! The thought said.

Suddenly awake, Lindsay leaped to her feel, the squirrel sprang to the pathway below and ran for the safety of the Norway Maple once again, dog nipping at his tail.

And sadly that's how it ended, the little squirrel scampering high into the upper most branches of the tree. One forlorn tulip left at the top of the stairs on our deck, a potent symbol of unrequited love.

We never saw the squirrel again, but we often wonder if Lindsay ever dreams of the day he came courting.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lost Companion

On Tuesday I will be seated in the comfort of a GO Commuter train, rushing from the far suburbs into the very core of the City of Toronto. It will be my first trip to Princess Margaret Hospital without my constant companion, a spunky little girl desperately trying to make sense of a world filled with adults wounded beyond even her powerful imagination.

Her name is Virgina Kate Carey and she lives in the pages of a novel written by Kathryn Magendie, a frequent commenter on this blog.

I will not be starting chemotherapy on Tuesday as I'd hoped. A phone call from my oncologist at ten o'clock last night brought news that a recent MRI has shown no sign of cancer in my right hip. News that was an almost staggering relief.

However it did raise an additional concern and an additional worry.

This is beginning to be the start of a familiar pattern. An endoscopic examination suggests a problem with my lymph nodes. A PET scan shows this not to be the case but raises the possibility of my cancer having spread to my hip. An MRI reveals no sign of cancer in my hip, but now suggests a problem with my bone marrow.

Yet on the train rides into the city, my mind hasn't been on my medical examinations and the frightening problems they suggest. I've been living in the world of Virgina Kate in the beautiful mountains of West Virgina, admiring her strength and imagination, engaged by her brothers' joy of living despite all odds, appalled and confused as she is by the adults in her life. Haunted, as she is.

On Tuesday, instead of chemotherapy, I will be going for further blood tests and X-rays. The oncologist has never seen anything like the image of my bone marrow revealed by the MRI and doesn't know what to make of it. She consulted a specialist who is also confused. Red blood cells are manufactured by bone marrow and any damage should compromised my red blood cell count. But mine is normal. It's a puzzle.

Tender Graces is a complex novel of powerful characters in exotic settings wrestling with life's relentless and all too puzzling demands. It is by turns horrifying and exhilarating, hilarious and all too real. It has one of the most unlikely heroes in modern fiction. I know you've heard that before, but this hero isn't a ghost or a man from Mars, it is a woman who emerged from her own troubled past and became through her own efforts a normal human being. Normal in a clinical, not a statistical sense. A woman whose very normalcy transforms, and challenges, all the other characters in the novel. And maybe the reader as well.

But Tender Graces is finished now. Read from cover to cover. I will no longer have to put up with the smirking glances of other passengers looking at the sprawling six foot man reading the book with the pink cover and photo of the woman in pretty dress holding the hand of the little girl. Despite its appearance, Tender Graces is not a woman's book, at least not exclusively. It is a very adult book in which very real characters wrestle with life's complexities and come to their own conclusions.

It informs us about the human condition with, at times, breathtaking honesty and with a language that is startlingly poetic.

There have been times recently when I wish I would hop on the back of Virginia Kate's imaginary horse Fionadala and just ride up into the mountains higher and higher until the world and its troubles is barely visible far below.

But there are no mountains in Toronto and I will ride the GO with lesser companions to read.

And Linda, of course, who brings her own normalcy to my life.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Linda Come To Visit

My wife Linda is taking her first fledgling steps into the blogging world.

Why not pay her a visit and welcome her to blogger.

You'll find her Living In The Eastern Woodlands

Meanwhile I'm still waiting for the oncologist to call with the results of my recent MRI. Somehow I think she's off enjoying the first long weekend of the summer season and I may not hear from her until Tuesday.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Adventures With The MRI Machine

When last weeks PET scan showed an anomalous reading in the bones of my right hip, I was referred to the Toronto Western Hospital for an MRI scan. My appointment was for noon Friday but Linda and I were told to be there a half hour ahead of time.

And we were. And that was the last time anything went right for the remainder of the day.

The receptionist in the Medical Imaging Department was unusually picky. Not only did she need my medical insurance card and my hospital card, she also needed me to verbally verify my date of birth, the spelling of my last name, my street address and telephone number. I had no problem with providing the information, but when I've gone for other tests, those receptionists had been comfortable with double checking only one of those pieces of information. Still, I couldn't fault her for being thorough.

I was handed a two page medical history form to complete while I was waiting. Then the receptionist went for lunch. The waiting room was for outpatients requiring any of five different imaging tests and people were periodically called in for their appointments. When an hour had gone by without my name being called, I asked the new receptionist at the desk to make certain nothing had gone wrong with my appointment. And was assured nothing had. I just had to be a patient patient.

I was. For another half hour. Then I went back to check again. This time the woman at the desk checked with the MRI department and came out to apologize. The initial picky receptionist had failed to checkoff that I had showed up for the appointment. No one in MRI knew I was there. Had been there for nearly two hours by then.

They promised to take me next, but the scans take half an hour and someone else was already just beginning their scan.

I would just have to be patient. And I was. Kind of. But I was also annoyed.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines are serious business. If you have speck of metal in your eye or a pacemaker in your chest, the powerful magnets in the machine will simply tear them right out of you. Warning signs are everywhere. People with pacemakers or body piercings are running from the department in terror.

When I finally got in for my turn, I was asked to lay down on a table in front of an opening only just large enough to accommodate my body. Then my feet were taped together and a device was placed over my chest and two belts strapped it, and me, to the table. I was given ear plugs and a panic button to hold in case I got claustrophobic. I was told to relax. Then I was slid deep into the machine, my nose only a couple of inches away from its surface, my elbows needing to be protected by pads from scraping along the walls of the unit.

A cool breeze blew down the narrow tunnel in the machine playing at the edges of the hospital gown I was wearing. The powerful magnets, when turned on, could actually be felt as a gentle prickling sensation.

The machine literally roared to life with repeated blarings of a klaxon. And I was off for my first one minute exposure. Then another for five minutes, then six, then a couple more 5 minute exposures, all played out against rhythmic horn like blarings and grumblings played at the decibel level of an industrial site.

My arms began to ache, crossed as they were on my chest. I felt like an Egyptian Pharaoh encased in his sarcophagus, unable to move.

But eventually it ended and I was free to leave--for my next appointment to have blood drawn for further tests. Where I had to wait another 20 minutes for my turn.

Eventually we made it back to Union station for the GO train ride home, two minutes late for the train.

We had an hour to wait for the next one.

Then our train's departure was delayed a further ten minutes.

We arrived home at 5:15 to find a package waiting for us at the side door.

"Oh good," Linda said. "Its the books I ordered from Amazon. At least one thing's gone right today."

But the day still held one more trick up its sleeve for me. A voice phone message from my oncologist to say she had the results of the MRI and telling me I might want to give her a call, if I was home before 5 pm.

It was twenty after 5 by then and I desperately phoned but of course, given the way the day had gone, she had already left for the long weekend.

In her message she promised to phone me again later in the evening, or sometime over the weekend. I just have to wait for the call. For news that will send my life in one of two very different directions.

"Wait a minute," Linda said. "This package isn't for me, its for you."

"Me? I didn't order anything from Amazon."

I took the package and read the return address. It was from Reggie Girl, one of the two organizers of the Friday Photo Shoot Out, a woman who has recently been in her own battle with cancer.

I tore the package open to find a book by David Servan-Schreiber entitled "Anti Cancer, A New Way Of Life", and a t-shirt identifying me as a Friday Shootout Gang Member.

In her dedication in the book, Reggie Girl writes that she hopes I find the information in the book as informative and influential as she had: "Isn't it funny how we found each others blog. God works in mysterious ways my friend..."

He does indeed, Reggie Girl.

And I realize her kindness has magically wiped out the frustrations of the day. However, the way the day had gone, I might just prefer to hear my oncologist's news tomorrow.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Photo Shoot Out--Getting Around

I've accepted a challenge from Patty and Reggie Girl to post photos of our local community every Friday. This week's theme, chosen by Science Girl, is to post photos of how we get around our town other than by car.

There are links to all the Friday Shoot Out participants from literally around the world at the bottom of my left panel. Maybe you'd like to join us as well and post photos of your community? If you do, let me know so I can add your names to the list.

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.

The truth is, being a suburb of a large city, we mostly drive. We haven't designed our suburbs well for getting around by any other means. Although there are other ways--

We can still ride horseback.

And get to fires on time.

Sometimes, it feels like we spend more time waiting than actually getting around.

Although, eventually the bus does get there.

If we want to get somewhere fast, both the local communiter GO trains and the trans Canada VIA train stop at our local Train Station

We make sure our kids get to school on time, even if we have to call a cab.

Of course, we could always take the boat.

Or just ride a bike; although that can get tiring.

Walking is fun too.

Although maybe our ancestors still had the best idea. West Hill has many murals on the sides of buildings depicting life in less frantic times.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lindsay Helps Out

Spring has come to West Hill and Lake Ontario basks in the the unusual warmth of the day. Sail boats and yachts have begun to make their appearance on the vast quiet waters. Seagulls, Canada Geese, ducks and loons swim in peaceful company with each other, while sandpipers run noisily along the beach and swallows perform a delicate ballet in the skies above.

Barry and Lindsay both stand on the top of the tall bluffs marveling at the sight, their bodies warmed by the early morning sun. Behind them in the meadow red winged black birds sing to each other as they fly from tree to tree. An incredible harmony has come to the world and Barry is reluctant to move on.

But Lindsay has less patience and much more energy to spend. She turns back to the trail and runs off along the path, soon lost behind bushes now thick with leaf and flower.

And Barry reluctantly turns away from the view of the Lake and follows her up the rise, the gathering heat of the day making him regret his earlier decision to wear a jacket.

He has a lot to think about these days and is soon lost in thought, the rhythm of his steps like a crude form of walking meditation. It isn't until he reaches a fork in the path that he realizes he has not seen Lindsay since his pause to take in the view of the Lake ten minutes before.

Suddenly he is alarmed. While Lindsay loves the freedom of being off leash, and loves to explore the infinite variety of scents the meadow offers, she is never far away and is always checking in every minute or so.

She had headed off along the trail before him but he doesn't remember catching up to her. Of course she could have been off the trail in the bushes as he passed by. But if she had continued to go ahead, which fork in the trail had she followed?

He decided to wait and let her come to him. With the rising of the sun, a slight breeze had begun to pick up and the leaves of the bushes were now in gentle motion. Swallows rode the breeze high into the sky in search of insects. A huge V formation of Canada Geese soared by overhead, the squeak of their muscled wings clearly audible.

But still no Lindsay.

Barry was just about to backtrack to see if he could find her, when he heard the jingling of her collar and a bright eyed, tail wagging, black springer spaniel came plunging along the path toward him.

But no matter how fast she ran, the reek of whatever rotted mass she had been rolling in reached him first.

And nearly knocked him over.

"Arrugh! Lins, what have you done!" He was appalled.

Lindsay excitedly danced around his feet, wanting to share the joy of her new perfume.

"Ah, Lins. Okay. That's it for us today, we're going to have to get you home for a bath!" And he set off back down the trail to the parked car, nightmares of the interior of his car filling with the stench of rotted corpse, lighting up his brain.

At the parking lot the car had been baking in the warmth of the day for nearly an hour. He rolled down all four windows half way and got Lindsay into the back seat. Visions of air fresheners that look like pine trees and dangle from the front mirror of pickup trucks, danced seductively in his brain.

He pictured Linda's joy as he opened the door and Lindsay ran in to share her new scent with a fellow female. Lindsay anxious to just be girls and share beauty secrets.

Slowly he pulled out of the parking lot and headed over the railway tracks and turned the car toward home. He drove north on Beechgrove and turned west on Coronation Drive until a loud "Whoop! Whoop!" sound drew his attention to the rear mirror and the police car behind him, lights flashing!

What the... He checked the speedometer and found he was only slightly over the posted limit. Not enough to get him pulled over on a normal day. Today, however, was rapidly loosing its normalcy.

He pulled over and the officer lumbered toward his car. Barry rolled down the side window even further.

"Morning," said the officer, "Can you tell me the date of your birth?"

What was this, a quiz? Did the police now randomly check drivers for Alzheimers?

"April 3rd," he told the officer.

"And what month is this?" the officer asked and Barry suddenly knew why he had been pulled over. With the cancer scare, emergency surgery and numerous hospital tests, he had forgotten to renew the annual sticker on his car license.

Barry started to explain about his situation when the officer withdrew his head from the window in horror!

"Arrugh," he gasped, "What's that stench! Have you got something rotting in the trunk?"

Suddenly afraid, and picturing the policeman imagining dead bodies hiding in his trunk, Barry tried to explain. "No, no its my dog!"

"Your what?" The cop stuck his head back in the window.

And Lindsay took the opportunity to stick her head between the head rest of his seat and the car frame to lick the nice officer on his large nose.

The officer, not expecting the head of a dog to appear so close to his own or a warm, wet tongue on his nose, screamed and plunged back out of the window, hitting his head on the car frame and knocking his hat off.

The officer then said some unpleasant things.

And gave Barry a ticket for $86.

And Barry still had Lindsay to take home to Linda.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Conversations--One Good, One Very Bad

I had two conversations yesterday. I'll start with the bad one since it came first. And changed my life.

Linda and I were discussing a new American study on the salt content of restaurant food when the telephone rang. I reached for it.


"Hello Barry? I don't know if you remember meeting me, it's Dr. Horgan calling from Princess Margaret Hospital."

I laughed. "Trust me doctor, I certainly remember meeting you. That was one of the more memorable meetings of my life."

Dr. Horgan remained serious. "Barry I wanted to review the findings of the PET scan we conducted last week."

"Good I was wondering how that went?"

"I'm afraid the scan revealed something that puzzles us in your right hip."

"In my hip?"

"Yes. We're not certain what it is so we need to conduct more tests before we begin treatment. So we're having to cancel your chemo tomorrow. I know you were anxious to get started, but the PET scan revealed the carcinoma in your esophagus is still the same size, 3 cm, as it was on the initial CT scan, so I don't think we are putting you at risk by delaying treatment for a week while we redo the PET scan And maybe consider an MRI as well."

"So the PET scan confirmed the cancer has spread to my lymph node? The one the scope showed had increased in size?"

"Actually, no, I don't believe it did. Let me check. No the report showed no unusual activity in any of your lymph glands at all."

"But it did show unusual cellular activity in my hip? In the bone of my hip? And that's bad news."

"Well we don't know what it is at this point."

"But it's worrying enough for you to cancel the chemo until you've had a chance to run more tests?"

A pause while Dr. Horgan considered her response. "We want to get the treatment right."


And now the good conversation, between my wife Linda and my sister-in-Law Lynda, who is also an orthopedic nurse. This took place 25 minutes after the previous conversation.

"Lynda? Hi, it's Linda calling."

"Oh, and how are you? Or should I say, how is Barry doing?"

"Well not very good. We're feeling a little depressed at the moment. We've had some very bad news. Barry just had a phone call from Princess Margaret that they found something on the PET scan in his right hip and they're canceling his chemo while they run more tests."

"Did they say what they found?"

"They said they found some unusual cellular activity in the bone of his right hip. That means the cancer has spread to his bones, right?"

"Oh well, I wouldn't worry too much about that. Bone is so dense, we're always having to send people back to have tests redone because we get all kinds of strange readings. We get them all the time."

"Really! Because they were able to rule out the cancer being spread to his lymph gland and we couldn't figure out how it would get to his hip if it didn't get into his lymphatic system. And they said the cancer is still the same size it was on the initial CT scan a month ago."

"Did they say how big it was?"

"3 centimeters."

"Three centimeters and no involvement of his lymph gland? You know this may just have been some excellent news. Now it still could be something to worry about, they might even have picked up a trace of arthritis, for example. Or it could be cancer. But if the tumor is still the same size, if the lymph glands aren't involved (and I think chances are good the bone reading was an anomaly) then that is great news. This could make for a wonderful prognosis!"

"You think?"

"I do."

"Oh what a relief! I can't tell you how glad I am that I called you!"

And they went on to talk about Lynda's new puppy, leaving me to piece together clues from the one side of the conversation I had heard.

I thought the news might have been good. Then again, anything other than how I was feeling after the first conversation, would be good. It wouldn't take much.

When I was a kid I used to like roller coasters. But I can tell you this, the adult version really sucks.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's Taken A While To Get Here


It's taken a while to get here.

I first noticed difficulty swallowing early this year, after getting a piece of chicken caught in my throat, but it was a condition that came and went. Once I was forced to accept it was a situation that was persistent, and serious, I contacted my family doctor in late February. I was sent for an immediate gastroscope and samples were taken for biopsy.

Two weeks later I was called in to receive the news that I had cancer. A rare and very aggressive form of cancer at that. Then I was referred to a thoracic surgeon and an Upper GI series and a CT scan were ordered. Another two weeks went by.

When the those tests were finally completed, I was referred to an Oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital. The number of Oncologists rapidly grew to six, I received three more CT scans, a PET scan, another gastroscope, an ultrasound scope, gave enough blood to end Canada's national blood shortage, joined two research trials and consulted with a nutritionist. I learned to meditate. I received emergency dilatation to reopen my nearly closed esophagus. I had titanium markers pierced into my throat and got four tattoos inked onto my chest to help align the radiation treatment. I suggested biohazard symbol tattoos but ended up with unimaginative, and nearly microscopic, dots, not worth photographing for you to see (either the tattoos or my chest).

I started contemplating adopting a goth wardrobe.

I read enough about esophageal cancer and its treatment, and alternate treatments, to confuse and terrify me.

Finally, tomorrow at 10:15 in the morning, I begin treatment, 5 hours of chemo delivered intravenously. That will lead off a full month of weekly chemotherapy injections followed by 5 weeks of daily radiation and then another set of chemo.

And then comes the surgery.

I've downloaded some guided meditation tapes from the University of Michigan's Cancer center and I've brought some good books to read, including one by Pemo Chodron.

Now I'm ready for the chemo. Anxious for the chemo. Ready for the healing to begin.

For those interested in what chemotherapy is all about, here is a brief video of one of the two drugs I will be taking:

And here is the other--

Medical Oncologist, Dr. Horgan: "Did Dr. Darling review the results of the ultrasound scope with you?"

Barry: "No, I haven't seen her since the scope. I'm anxious to hear the results though?"

Dr. Horgan: "Well, I'm afraid she found an enlargement of one of the lymph nodes beside your esophagus."

Barry: "Oh, Damn!"

Dr. Horgan: "We can't be certain the cancer has spread, but that could be one cause for the node to be enlarged."

Barry: "So my cancer would be Stage 3 then, not Stage 2..."

Where's House when you need him?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day In A Senior's Home

For Mother's Day, Linda and I spent Saturday afternoon at her 90 year old mother's Extendacare Residence. My daughter Kathy and her family (including her new baby Haley) joined us. The picture above is of the four generations of women in our family who were there that day.

The Home had special entertainment for the afternoon. A folk singer led the residents in a Tribute to Mothers and then launched into the standard music we have come to expect from so many visits to Homes for the Aged recently, the greatest hits from World War II.

We were joking afterward that there will soon have to be a revolution in the care for the aged as we boomers come on stream. We will demand rock groups, not old guys with pianos. Images of KISS tribute bands playing before an ocean of balding heads and shrunken bodies, flicker through our troubled minds.

They will have to get wireless technology installed cause we will all be on computers. According to a new book, ibrain, by Dr. Garry Small, the very structure of our brains has been changed by the technology we are using. Right now I doubt there is even one resident with a computer in her Mother's building. The Homes will have to get ready for gamers instead of bingo.

Ah yes things will have to change we thought.

Then we got on the elevator to leave and I saw a notice for wii bowling classes that were starting in the summer.

Wii technology has come to seniors homes already!

I guess by the time it's our turn, they will be ready for us.

I hope all the Mothers out there have a great day today and your "significant others" do all the dishes.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Adell Davis


I'm in a small room down a side alley far from the sounds of hospital activity, resting on a recliner and thinking of food. The room is virtually empty: just the recliner, a table, a mega-cup of watery liquid, a digital clock and me.

I brought a book with me to read but its back in the waiting room with Linda. I brought my ipod but its back in the waiting room with Linda. I've just had a consultation with the medical oncologist, a pretty Irish woman with a charming accent and now I'm waiting for a PET scan and another CT scan.

And thinking of food.

I haven't eaten all day and my appetite has returned this week, along with a greater ability to eat solid foods. Of course the foods can't be spicy, can't be rich, can't be fried, can't be in the same volume as I once ate. And Linda is pouring through exotic cook books extolling the benefits of healthy eating, health in general. My health in particular.

Perhaps due to my virtual sensory isolation, or because I was hungry, a name floated up to me from the distant past. A name I hadn't thought of in 30 years, Adelle Davis.

As the Beatles were to music, as Timothy Leary was to psychedelics,
as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was to meditation, so Adelle Davis was to food in the 60's and 70's. There wasn't a hippie worth the name who didn't possess at least one of Davis many books.

She was an American pioneer in the fledgling field of nutrition in the mid-20th century. She advocated whole unprocessed foods, criticized food additives, and claimed that dietary supplements and other nutrients play a dominant role maintaining health, preventing disease, and restoring health after the onset of disease:

"Research shows that diseases of almost every variety can be produced by an under-supply of various combinations of nutrients... [and] can be corrected when all nutrients are supplied, provided irreparable damage has not been done; and, still better, that these diseases can be prevented."

Davis is best known as the author of a series of books published in the United States between 1947 and 1965. She was also well known for her scathing criticism of the food industry in the United States. In the early 1970s, she addressed the ninth annual convention of the "International Association of Cancer Victims and Friends" at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. After citing U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics about tens of millions of people in the United States suffering from afflictions such as arthritis, allergies, heart disease, and cancer, she stated, "This is what's happening to us, to America, because there is a $125 billion food industry who cares nothing about health".

To hippies, and to those like Linda and I who danced around the fringes, she was a superstar. Unfortunately she was also one of the first of the hippie's superstars to die. Her death sent shock waves through the movement and started the first cracks in its foundation.

Members of the scientific and medical communities widened those cracks through criticisms and discrediting her published works both during and after her lifetime. Dr. Edward H. Rynearson, professor emeritus of the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine of the University of Minnesota conducted a careful study of her books, and claims to have found hundreds of errors of fact and interpretation. He states "Any physician or dietitian will find the book larded with inaccuracies, misquotation and unsubstantiated statements."

However, in 1990, an article in Natural Food and Farming magazine examined Adelle Davis's teachings in the light of more recent medical research. The article concluded that "Today's scientific findings both substantiate and expand upon a number of her teachings", and that "Today's research shows that she was indeed ahead of her time... and largely right as well".

Her name brings back many happy memories of a time when the world was changing and peace and love and good health were just within grasp.

A time when, with Adelle's tragic death from bone cancer, it all stated to slip away.

"Barry", a pretty nurse, poked her head around the curtain. "I hope the wait wasn't too boring for you. Its time for your PET Scan."

I slurped the last of my drink and holding the gap in my hospital gown closed, followed her down the hall into a room marked "Danger Radiation No Admittance".

--much of the information in this post that wasn't already in my head, came from Wikipedia

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Gardens

I've accepted a challenge from Patty and Reggie Girl to post photos of our local community every Friday. This week's theme challenge is to post photos of local Gardens in my town.

There are links to all the Friday Shoot Out participants from around the world at the bottom of my left panel. Maybe you'd like to join us as well and post photos of your community? If you do, let me know so I can add your names to the list.

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.

Until recently I was the President of our local Community Association. As a group we did what we could to promote West Hill and to encourage residents to get out more and use their local public parks and gardens. In 2006 the Toronto Parks Trees and Recreation Foundation donated thousands of daffodil bulbs to local groups for use in public places.

On the day of the planting the forecast was for rain and cold temperatures with wind gusts up to 90 km per hour, but the weather turned out to be very pleasant with blue skies and moderate temperatures attracting hundreds of local residents. The planting at Eastview Park was done by dozens of volunteers from organizations like our own and the Scarborough Boys and Girls Club, East Scarborough Storefront and, because it was an election year, a smattering of politicians who wanted to be seen getting their hands dirty in a good cause.

And the next year Parks throughout West Hill were alive with daffodils. To celebrate we hosted a community picnic.

The booths on display allowed children to get balloons, have their faces painted, get their hands hennaed, learn about the environment, dance and even get their hair styled. Adults could visit the CCA, Residents Rising and the Ecology booths.

Mayoralty candidate Jane Pitfield also came out to enjoy the day and to talk about the Community with CCA President, myself, looking frighteningly like a demented stalker in my white hat, white coat and the white gloves I wore to cook hot dogs. Having been photographed with me, it was no wonder she lost the election. Other politicians and candidates for the next election who attended included David Soknacki, Paul Ainslie (who was out at 9:30 am with his son to help plant bulbs), Ron Moeser and Abdul Patel.

Members of the Police and Fire Departments also came out to help the community celebrate. Although they don't look like their having fun, these guys are actually having a ball on the inside.

It was hard to know whether the children enjoyed the hot dogs or the tug of war the most. But one thing is certain the daffodil bulbs provided by Toronto Parks and Trees will add beauty to Eastview Park for years to come.

Special guests at the event were gardening expert Mark Cullen and Deputy Mayor Joe Panalone. Mark broadcast his radio show live from the event.