Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sepia Saturday--An Introduction

They pose in rigid silence,
What character left to them found
In clothing worn only to Church
Or to the photographer.

Their faces tell no stories,
Of life past or a future to be found
Just within grasp
When lives would be changed forever.

And so they wait in stiff foreboding,
Captured at a moment in time
Before everything changed,
When none of them would look the same.

When nothing would be the same.

Save for Mary Ann,
Poor Mary Ann,
Who gave them her life
As eldest daughters did in those days.

In large families.

Life stopped moving forward for her,
But the world went on turning,
Her siblings lived,
And she became old.

This family portrait was taken in the 1890's and features my Great Grandparents, my great uncles and aunts and my grandfather. In the Saturdays to come we will have a chance to look at each of them in turn for they each went on to live the most amazing lives as monks and poets and priests, nuns and playwrights and artists, architects and carpenters and builders, Missionaries to China and Mexico and Japan.

Let me introduce them to you by name beginning in the back row with William, Theresa, Alexander and Johanna.

In the front row William Sr., John, Mary Ann, Isobella, my grandfather Charles and Johanna.

Sepia Saturday is ordinarily coordinated by, Alan Burnett of the News From Nowhere blog. As he is on a well-deserved cruise-vacation with his lady-wife. Poetikat is assisting him by posting all participants of this feature for the next few weeks. Please advise her in a comment (by CLICKING HERE) if you wish to be included. She would love to have you join us, or just pop over to see the other participants in Sepia Saturday.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Bell

High on the wall next to the exit from the Chemo Day Care Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital is a bell.

And a sign.

The sign invites those who have completed their last cycle of chemotherapy to ring the bell as they're leaving. Periodically throughout the day, yesterday, as I lay in my bed being pumped full of Taxol, I could hear the distant ringing of that bell. And whenever it rang the nurses and volunteers and other chemo patients paused for a moment and applauded.

During the summer when I completed my first round of chemotherapy, I was too ill to even notice the bell and, besides, I still had a week of radiation therapy to make up before I was through. So no bell for me at that time.

In three weeks time, I will be completing my last scheduled cycle of this latest round of chemotherapy.

It may not be my last, that will depend on getting a negative result from the CT Scan that will follow (negative being a good thing). So, in a way I shouldn't presume that will be the last I'll see of Taxol.

But as I lay in bed, my kindle hot in my hand, listening to that bell peel and the following applause, I knew one thing above all others.

When I finish my next injection of chemo, I'm ringing that damn bell!

Bell photo courtesy of Photobucket.

To see the Friday Shootout for this week CLICK HERE

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Good News Keeps On Rolling

Enter the front doors of Princess Margaret Hospital, Canada's largest cancer treatment centre and the fifth highest ranking cancer facility in the world, and the first thing you see is a booth selling Tim Horton's coffee (and bagels and donuts).

Well, that's not strictly true, the first thing you actually see is a bank of hand sanitizers. But immediately after that, it is Tims and the long line up that characterizes every Tims outlet.

Go through the next bank of doors, holding tightly to the pleasing warmth of your Tim Horton's coffee, and you are in a long corridor streaming with patients and doctors and nurses.

Follow that to the end and turn left and you are into the blood clinic. Hand over your health card and your PMH patient card to the woman at the desk and she assigns you a number (47) which you can check against the electronic sign (34) to see how close you are to being called for your blood test.

You then look for a seat in the waiting room, sip your Tims, open your kindle and hope Steven King starts pulling monsters out of his hat, because you are getting very tired of the cardboard characters in his new novel, the Dome. The Kindle won't tell you what page you're on but does tell you what percentage of the 1000 plus pages you have read (47%)

And you check your call number (47) and the percentage number (47) and pause to contemplate the odds of that happening. And at just that moment, your number gets called and in you go for your blood test. The blood extraction is done at one of 20 chairs and you are assigned chair 7 (and start to wonder if you are the 4th person today to sit in that chair). Two vials of blood are taken and will be analyzed within the hour.

In the meantime, you can go for breakfast before seeing the Oncologist to discuss the results of the test.

Two hours later you are actually in the treatment room actually talking to the oncologist.

"Well," she says, "you know how pleased we were with your last CT scan and your blood work has been excellent."

You smile to encourage the further flow of positive words.

"You have two more chemo treatments planned and another CT scan in seven weeks time. If they all go well and the scan shows no change or even some healing, I think we will take a break in your treatment. Give you a few months off and not plan any further chemo until further scans show signs of the disease advancing again."

You smile some more.

She becomes serious, "You do know it's "until" not "unless". The disease will keep progressing, but we seem to have made good progress in knocking it back and giving you more time and a better quality of life."

Well, you guess she did have to go and say that. Couldn't have left it at just the good news part. Still, it is good news. You realize you should get half of February and all of March and April off chemo. And maybe a few months after than as well.

Maybe 47 is your lucky number.

And you go home to tell Linda the good news.

And maybe find a way to stop thinking and writing in the second person singular.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Grand Opening of Kwel Beans

Skip Simpson and the Silver Fox are hosting the grand opening of their newest venture today. Everyone is invited to attend. Just CLICK HERE for a day of frivolity and fine dining.

And of course, Gretchen.

If you haven't met Gretchen, well, lets just say your life is incomplete.

Kewl Beanz! is more than just a coffeehouse for progressive free thinkers! It's also a venue for international performers of all types, with two fully-stocked bars (on two separate levels) that'll make any drink in the world that you want, a large wine cellar, and the only Six-Star-Rated restaurant in Alabama... or the world, for that matter!

See you there.

If I make it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My First Baby Shower

It is two o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. I am stretched out on the couch, innocently reading a book, when a phone call disturbs my tranquility. I frown, having no Karmic debt to repay, that I know of.

My first instinct is to ignore the phone. I am reading White Shell Woman by James D Doss, set on the Ute reservation in Colorado and Daisy Perika, the irritable and cantankerous old shaman has just hatched another wild plot that her long suffering nephew Charlie Moon will not find out about until it's too late. I would rather stay in Colorado, but I pick up the phone in Toronto.

Big mistake.

My wife is at a baby shower for the afternoon so the last person I expect to hear from is her. But it is Linda's voice. She is explaining that the shower is a Jack n' Jill and I was expected to come as well.

Back in the days before my retirement, a very wise and pregnant lady at my work had offered her opinion on Jack n Jill baby showers. No way she wanted one, she said, because it meant twice the number of people and half the presents. Maybe I could get her to explain the folly of this plan to Irene, the hostess. Perhaps Irene would then ask all the men to go home?

Alas, my wife was deep into a list of the men who were present and anxious for me to be there. It sounded suspicious, but they were guys I like and haven't seen in a while. And after all, how bad could a baby shower be?

I reluctantly put Doss' book aside and head out. It is a beautiful afternoon. Warm and sunny. The snow has now melted from all but the deepest shadowy places and I make good time driving, hitting nearly all green lights as if the very fates themselves are anxious to get me to the shower.

The room is decorated in delicate blues and pinks. A chair in the corner has been turned into a kind of throne, surrounded by pink and blue streamers. A pregnant woman I have never met before is awaiting my arrival before beginning to open presents. She embraces me awkwardly, her large and apparently active protuberance coming between us.

Apparently my arrival has stirred her enormous belly to a life of its own. She is delighted and insists I feel the movement. I sense a room full of women watching me as I reach out to touch the belly of this woman I have never met before. My hand extends, there is an intake of breath as if everyone in the room had decided at that moment to suck every molecule of oxygen out of the place.

The woman grabs my hand and places on the desired spot. And I feel the sudden kicking and thrashing of new life. It is amazing. And then everyone is suddenly talking at once and I am moved out of the way by a dozen or so women anxious to have their turn.

I have passed the hand on the belly test.

Sadly, it turns out, I have missed the poopy diaper game but there is wine to drink.

"You should have been here for the poopy diaper game," Charlie says.

"Geez, you missed the highlight of the whole afternoon." Brian tells me.

I drink more wine and suddenly discover that I am saying funny things. Witty observations are rolling off my tongue, especially as we get to the gift opening portion of the afternoon.

I am learning about Carter and how most of the women would die for a chance to go to the States to the Carter store. It seems rather extreme to me, so I say a witty thing and people laugh.

Almost all of the gifts have a Lambs & Ivy jungle animal theme so I make another witty observation about naming the child to be Tarzan or Jane and people laugh. And I am suddenly the centre of attention. I drink more wine.

And my wife steers me over to meet Uncle Bob, who sits in a distant corner and he begins telling me about his multiple operations and explains the difference between medicine in Canada and the States. I try saying a few witting things to him, but he lacks a sense of humour and nothing I do or say can stem the tide of the medical nightmares he has survived.

Somehow, the remaining gifts get opened without me. People are starting to put on their coats. Coffee is served in delicate china tea cups, each one unique and none with a handle large enough to get a finger through. A small group are talking about holding another family reunion, like the one we hosted nine years ago. 2010 will be the tenth anniversary, perfect timing for another reunion.

The pregnant lady and her husband are thanking me for my gift and I suddenly realize I have no idea what that gift was. But I modestly accept their thanks anyway. They tell me they are delighted I came and I sense this is true. But I also sense my wife steered me toward Uncle Bob just in the nick of time.

I have survived my first shower.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Communicating With Humans

Different dogs find different ways to communicate with their humans.

Before Lindsay we had Jenny, a dog of uncertain parental background, nicknamed "Jenny Beagles" because beagle was one of the few breeds not likely to have been in her genetic makeup.

When Jenny's water dish was empty and we hadn't noticed, Jenny would bring this to our attention by scratching the bottom of the dish as if digging her way down to the mystical underground spring that she evidently believed fed the dish.

It was a simple straight forward form of non-verbal inter-specie communication.

Lindsay has a much more elaborate method of communicating the same message. First she barks at the back door to go out. Once we've let her out she immediately turns around and barks to be allowed back in.

This is annoying.

But, being patient and kindly owners, we let her back in.

Then, having captured our attention, she runs straight to her water dish and looks into the empty dish with evident disdain, before turning and looking back at us with blatant disapproval.

Where upon, feeling guilty, we fill her dish with water.

And long for the days of Jenny Beagles.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday My Town Shootout--Sounds

Celebrate What's Right With The World

Dewitt Jones | MySpace Video

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Shootouts on Friday. And that's where you'll have to go to find our post on SOUNDS this week.

Our joint contribution will continue at least until I'm through this new round of chemotherapy (which was to end at Christmas but now is extended until the end of February) and perhaps until Linda retires in June.

But before you head over to see our contribution for this week, take a few minutes to watch and listen (this week is all about sound) to the remarkable video above by world famous National Geographic Photographer Dewitt Jones, whose lessons on photography and uplifting philosophy of life are just extraordinary.

Finished with Dewitt's video? Then come on over to see our contribution by CLICKING HERE

We'll see you over there!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's T'ai Chi Sweetheart!

"Your wrists aren't limp enough, sweetheart," she said.

I looked at my hands dangling off the ends of my arms and wondered what she was talking about. Was there a double-entendre going on here?

"And they need to be palm down when they're descending," she went on.

I was at my second week of Tai Chi and the class was just getting started. I had missed the first week due to an oncologist appointment and would be missing every third class for the same reason. I had thought I could catch up, but the moves are proving to be complicated with many elements that had to be performed precisely so that they flowed into the next move.

I turned my hands around and my wrists then became satisfactorily limp. I looked across the room at the only other two men in the class and was reassured.

"Now into Left Grasp Bird's Tail," the instructor went on.

The class pivoted and stretched and turned, held an imaginary ball, felt their pulse, turned, stepped, reached out their right arm and made a birds head with their hand.

"No no sweetheart, look at your feet. You're going to injure yourself that way."

I looked down at my feet and looked at the feet of the woman next to me. To me they seemed to be in the same position.

Then I realized that "sweetheart", this time, meant someone else on the other side of the room. I felt betrayed. So, I wasn't her only "sweetheart"!

Despite all of the above, the class was actually going better for me this week. The previous week I was still in the midst of chemo side effects: the bottoms of my feet were numb, my joints were aching, my legs were weak to the point of trembling, the tips of my fingers felt like someone was shoving them into a pin cushion and I generally felt unsettled and agitated. I was also a week behind everyone else and was stumbling along hoping to catch up.

Linda had suggested Tai Chi as something I could do to get out of the house while she was back at work and it seemed like the level of exercise I could manage. It was also being presented at the Scarborough Village Community Centre which is a five minute drive from my home. And it was directly across the road from Tim Hortons, for when I was done.

I turned and pivoted and stepped and realized once again that I am clumsy and lack any natural grace. As numerous women on the dance floor had reminded me over the years. Before limping back to their tables.

Tai Chi is a martial art but it has a lot in common with dance. In many ways it has more in common with dance than with fighting.

I turned and reached and spread my arms.

"So You Know You Can't Dance" would be the only TV show that would have me as contestant.

We paused.

"All right," said the instructor, who has never introduced herself since the first week which I missed (perhaps I should call her "sweetheart"?). "Let's look at the new moves for this week."

She began to demonstrate, but facing us her left was my right which made it confusing for a naturally clumsy person. Then when she turned her back to repeat the demonstration, I could follow her footwork but her body hid her arm motion.

I sighed.

Next week I am back at the oncologist again and will miss the class, but fortunately Linda's cousin Alan has sent me a "Beginners Guide to T'ai Chi", with descriptions of the moves and numerous photographs.

Maybe with the book's help I can figure this out.

Or maybe not.

"No no sweetheart, that's not the way!"


Photo courtesy of Photobucket.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Snowless In The Eye Of Winter

My cousin Irene in Aberdeen Scotland sent me the above picture of her street that has been covered in snow for weeks. I look at it in amazement and read stories of Europe struggling to cope with a Canadian winter.

I also read of winter's grip extending down to Texas and Florida. A friend in Wyoming writes of her struggling to cope with 53" of snow. "Forget Global Warming," she writes, "I think were experiencing a new Ice Age."

Here in Toronto we've had a bit of snow as the photo of Lindsay (below) shows; but that was taken a couple of weeks ago and almost all of that snow is gone now. At its deepest it wasn't even enough to cover Lindsay's feet. In fact we are in the midst of one of our mildest winters on record. The prediction for this weekend is for temperatures of 5C above freezing and rain.

In the middle of January! In Toronto!

People are wearing jackets here instead of winter coats. Shoes instead of boots.

For reasons known only to the gods of Meteorology, our small region of North America has escaped one of the worst winters in decades. While all around us people struggle with one of the harshest winters in memory.

Toronto has more snow plows and salters than the entire Province of New Brunswick. They sit idly, row on row.


Waiting for the winter than never was.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Something I hadn't Considered Before

How odd.

I was watching an interview with Dr. Dean Radin the other day when he mentioned something about science I had never considered before.

Dean Radin, PhD, is Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Psychology at Sonoma State University (Rohnert Park, CA). His early career as a concert violinist shifted into science after earning a masters degree in electrical engineering and a PhD in psychology from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

He studies really unusual stuff, usually in the area of parapsychology. Stuff that would make fellow scientists either quake in their shoes at the thought of their name being associated with such twaddle, or giggle uproariously. But not Radin.

Anyway, he was talking about The Secret, the idea that we can mentally interact with the Universe in order to manifest our desires. Radin was making the point that while the thrust of The Secret's argument may have had some truth to it, in reality the phenomena just really wasn't very robust. The Secret's effect is actually very weak.

If you want to be wealthy you will get there a lot faster by putting your money in the bank and learning how to invest it than sitting at home imagining large cheques arriving in the mail.

But here's the thing, in order to stand a chance of being published, scientists look for robust experimental outcomes that are both reliable and valid. If Radin were to research the effects of the Secret, he might well find them to be valid, but weak and not very reliable. And he would never get his research published.

Sort of like the lottery. I don't play the lottery because the odds are I will never win, but the lottery is real and someone wins every week. Just don't expect that winner to be you.

The point I had never considered before is this, a valid outcome means an experimental hypothesis can be true, is real, even though it may not be either robust or reliable, and unlikely ever to be accepted for publication in a peer reviewed scientific journal. The Secret can be true, just not the best way to find wealth, or love, or good health.

But, in being true, even just a little bit true, it makes our Universe a much stranger place than I had ever considered.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


What is the meaning of Life?

The helicopter flies low over the streets of Haiti, its video camera busy recording. Everywhere the lens focuses, buildings have fallen into rubble. Mile on endless mile of devastation. An entire city crushed.

The scene shifts to Toronto International Airport where refugees from Haiti's massive 7.3 earthquake are greeted by camera crews from the various news stations.

An elderly black man begins to cry, tears stream down his craggy cheeks. The camera closes on his agony. "Haiti. My Haiti. Why do so many bad things keep happening to you?"

The scene shifts again, to the anchor desk at the local TV Station. The News Anchor shakes his head, his voice deep and somber, "The scene earlier this afternoon at Toronto's Pearson Airport," he explains. "As refugees from that earthquake ravished city struggle to make sense of the devastation."

On the large screen behind him, the video from the earlier helicopter report continues to roll, now showing the streets littered with hundreds of bodies. The dead piled on top of the dead.


In Detroit, a young lawyer snaps awake filled with an unusual idea. He wants to make a movie about how, despite our differences, we are all One.

He wakes his wife and tells her of his idea. "You don't know anything about making a movie," she reminds him, but then she gets caught up in his sense of adventure.

He calls two of his friends and finds his enthusiasm is infectious. They decide to join him in making the film. None of them have any film making experience. They send away for a professional movie camera which arrives by mail several weeks later.

In the meantime they put together a list of 20 questions that they plan to ask people on the street and as many spiritual leaders from as many diverse backgrounds as they can persuade to talk with them.

The first famous person who agrees to be filmed is Professor Robert Thurman, personal friend of the Dali Lama, father of Uma Thurman, who greets them at his home in the mountains of New Hampshire. He sits on the top of a picnic table in his backyard. The camera rolls and the first question is asked: "What is the meaning of life?"

Thurman pauses for a minute in surprise, collects his thoughts and then begins to answer.

Soon other people will follow him, taking their turn at answering the questions: Deepak Chopra, author Barbara Marx Hubbard, Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Rabbi Arnie Sleutlberg, Father Thomas Keeting, spiritual icon Ram Dass, Buddhist monk and poet Thich Knat Hanh and dozens more. Each with their views and opinions.


I turn off the TV as the credits roll at the end of the ONE video and I sit in the quiet for a while.

Lindsay looks up at me from the floor and yawns.

I'm not thinking about what I've seen, not thinking about what has been said. But somehow images and feelings are roaming about through my head and finding their way to a convergence.

As I sit in the quiet of my comfortable home.

Far from Haiti.

"Haiti! My Haiti. Why do so many bad things keep happening to you?"

On the oceans and in the air the nations of the world are rushing to Haiti's assistance. The United States, Canada and Brazil are leading the relief effort on behalf of this Hemisphere. Food and water, clothing and tents, police and soldiers, heavy equipment and millions of dollars in aid.

Haiti, we have not forgotten you. An entire planet has been mobilized.

Although it all seems so little against the backdrop of such immense devastation.

But for now we put aside our differences and our mistrusts, our angers and our fears and look at Haiti appalled.

And for a moment, little Haiti, devastated Haiti, we are one.


To help with the quake relief in Haiti CLICK HERE

For more on the ONE Project CLICK HERE

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday My Town Shoot Outs--Birds (real or otherwise)

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Shootouts on Friday. And that's where you'll have to go to find our post on BIRDS this week.

Our joint contribution will continue at least until I'm through this new round of chemotherapy (which was to end at Christmas but now is extended until the end of February).

To see our contribution please CLICK HERE

We'll see you over there!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tai Chi Said Linda

Time stretched before me
And I wondered
What I should do.

To what purpose
Should I put this time
That I have

The clock ticked
The sun moved across
The Heavens

And Linda said
"Tai Chi"
And I said

And Linda said
"No, silly,
The exercise program
You should study Tai Chi"

And I said
And thought about it.

The clock ticked
The sun moved across
The Heavens

And yesterday
I joined
Scarborough Taoist Tai Chi

And became confused.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Power of the Blog!

So you write your little blog and you send it out into the world not knowing the lives it may touch, or the power it may have. The lives it may change.

Back in September of last year I read a book and was moved to write a post about the experience. The book was "Don't Give Up On Us, A Rwandan Experience" by Ashmead Ali, a self published author here in Toronto.

Somehow, Mr. Ali stumbled on the blog and wrote to me asking permission to include my post as part of a submission to the Toronto Public Library System to have the book included in the various branches of the Library. Library rules call for authors who are applying to have their works considered to submit three independent reviews from credible sources.

He only had two, both from local papers. And now my blog, although he wasn't certain if the Library would consider my blog a "credible source". Still I was all he had.

I was flattered and agreed and he proceeded with the submission.

Time passed. Actually a lot of time passed and my life became a little more eventful than I would have wished, and I forgot all about the incident.

Then, yesterday I received the following email from Mr. Ali:

I wish to thank you for allowing me to use your comments in
your blog for my presentation to the TPL to get them to accept
the book that I wrote for their shelves. They have accepted the
book and bought copies.

Thank you.


My little blog had gone out into the world and had done some good.

Here is the original review of his book from September of last year.


Several people have asked where copies of this book may be found. Mr. Ali has kindly permitted me to pass along his e-mail address: where he would be more than happy to sell you a copy.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In The Chemo Day Care Center

"I've been insulted," said the pretty blond woman in the lazyboy next to me.

We were both in the Chemotherapy Day Care Center getting our respective chemo intravenous treatments and she was busy reading her medical chart. They were out of beds so I was temporarily in the section assigned to those who were in for brief treatments until a bed became available for me.

"I had breast cancer," she went on, "And they removed my right breast. Now listen to what the chart says about my left tit: 'Patient's left breast is unremarkable.' Unremarkable? I'll have you know my left breast is magnificent."

"I'm sure it is," I said, not knowing what else to say.

"I'd give you a flash, but in your obviously delicate condition the sight of its magnificence would probably kill you."

"I'm pretty resistant to death, but maybe its better we don't take the risk."

"I just got back from Florida," she said, suddenly changing the subject, or so I thought. "I took my son and his friend down to see the Dolphins game. I thought they could see the game and I'd get some serious relaxation time at the beach. But it was so cold I was at risk of freezing my other tit off. I was glad to come back to Toronto to warm up."

"Yes. I heard the entire orange crop is at risk down there."

Just then, my first pretreatment intravenous bag ran out and the pump beside my chair began to ring. My nurse hurried over.

"Your timing is perfect," she said. "We just got a bed for you."

I would be in for treatment for best part of the day. My brother John had driven us down and Linda's brother Steve was there to keep me company. Not that I'd needed any company so far, the woman in the next chair had been entertaining enough. I said goodbye to her and headed off to the newly available bed. She went back to looking for further insults in her chart.

"Thanks for being polite with her," the nurse said. "Loosing a breast is a very traumatic experience and she needs to vent. Sometimes trying to be shocking helps. Especially if it doesn't shock anyone."

"I enjoyed the conversation. Breasts are among my favorite subjects."

"'Breasts' plural." The nurse gave me a hard look. Then she relaxed and waved away any annoyance she might be feeling. "I know what she's going through. I've had the same surgery myself."

I was wondering what to say to that when Steve arrived with a Tim Horton's coffee for me. The nurse was hooking up a bag of Benadryl to the pump beside the bed. After it ran dry would come three hours of Taxol. The Benadryl was to help moderate the various allergic side effects of the Taxol.

"Let's see which is more potent," I said to the nurse. "The stimulating effects of the caffeine in Tim's or the sedative effects of the Benadryl."

The nurse continued plugging the code into the pump. "I put my money on the Benadryl."

Steve smiled.

I took a deep sip of hot coffee and put the cup back down on the table beside the bed.

The nurse finished punching in the code and the Benadryl began to drip into my veins.

And I promptly went to sleep.

And dreamed of Amazons with bows and arrows and only one breast.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday My Town Shoot Outs--FENCES

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Shootouts on Friday. And that's where you'll have to go to find our post on FENCES this week.

Our joint contribution will continue at least until I'm through this new round of chemotherapy (which was to end at Christmas but now is extended until the end of February).

To see our contribution please CLICK HERE

Dress warmly and we'll you over there!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


It is all too familiar by now, the stark yellow walled consultation room in the Medical Oncology department of Princess Margaret Hospital.

Linda and I sit on the room's two patient's chairs and wait for the knock on the door that will alert us that the oncologist is about to enter. And deliver her verdict on my most recent CT Scan. I use the term "recent" loosely. The scan was actually completed on December 17th, but with the winter break I am only now getting feedback.

"What do you bet," I ask Linda. "Staff, Fellow or Resident?"

There are four medical oncologists on Staff at PMH, each with their own team of doctors and nurses. It is impossible to know which member of the team will come today with the results of the scan and the revised plan for my future.

"Staff," said Linda.

"Okay, then I'll choose the Fellow."

We waited. Finally a knock came on the door and a Resident entered.

Linda and I both looked at each other and smiled. We were both wrong.

The Resident introduced herself. She was young and had just spent the past half hour immersing herself in the detail of my case. Then, being merely a Resident, had run her conclusion past the Staff doctor, the head of the team.

"I have, possibly, some good news for you," She began.

I smiled. Good news would be a novel experience.

"The CT Scan show no substantial change in your cancer. So it appears the chemo is holding the spread of your disease at bay."

Let me translate that for you. With esophageal cancer at this stage doctors are not permitted to use words like "cure" or "remission" because this cancer never stops growing. And seldom dies. Think of a hungry pacman who just goes on eating forever. What chemo tries to do is knock the cancer back to a lower level where it has to start growing all over again. Hence the Resident's use of the term "holding your disease at bay."

"That's possibly good news," I agreed.

And let me translate that for you. The CT Scan can only detect 3 of the 7 cancerous hot spot in my bones. To see the 4 other smaller and deeper cancers would require another round of radiation scanning and that is just too dangerous. So when the resident talks about no substantial change she is talking about less that half the cancers she knows I have. What is happening with the other 4 is anybody's guess.

Well, that is not quite right, it is the Resident's guess, supported by the Staff doctor, that if the chemo is halting the spread of the cancers we can see, it is likely doing the same to the cancers we can't see.

"So your reward for that success, is that we have scheduled three more cycles of chemo," the resident went on. "One this Thursday, the next at the end of January and a final one late in February. Then we will do another CT and decide about further treatments at that time."

It was the best news we could have expected and we drove home pleased with the way 2010 was shaping up.

Unfortunately, when we got home we discovered Linda's car wouldn't start. I tried boosting it with a couple of jumper cables but still couldn't get it to turn over.

"Must be your battery", I said, stating the obvious.

And called a tow truck. He arrived half an hour later and with his more powerful cables was able to get the car started. I took it up to the dealer who confirmed she needed a new battery. The car was also over due for winterization. So we had them do both.

Then they charged us $275 and the tow truck driver charged an additional $50.

Just can't have a day of unalloyed pleasure, not even in 2010.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Griffin Versus The Sugar Plum Fairy (Part 3)

The first act went well. Not a creature was stirring in the audience, not even Griffin. The minute his attention would begin to wander, a large rat would run across the stage, or a snow ball fight would break out, or a horse would start to dance.

And then another rat would run across the stage.

As for Natasha, who had never seen a ballet before, she was just held spell bound by the entire production. Out in the lobby during the intermission, she danced and twirled; while Griffin went off to the washroom.

"Grandpa, grandpa!" Natasha suddenly called in a loud stage whisper.

I turned to find her standing directly behind one of the few members of the audience who had actually dressed up for the occasion. Natasha waved me over urgently and then pointed my gaze down at the woman's shoes.

"Have you ever seen high heels so big!" Natasha's eyes lit up.

The young woman was wearing a little black dress and stiletto heels and was standing in earnest conversation with a small group of people.

All around us other people were surreptitiously glancing down at the shoes in question. The young woman was doing a good job of pretending she neither heard Natasha's booming whisper nor the attention she was gathering from others. The only outward sign she was aware of the commotion at all was a slight reddening around the back of her neck.

She and I were saved by the bell and the arrival of Griffin back from the washroom ("Griffin, Griffin come and see!" "NO Natasha, those bells mean its time we went in for the second act.")and back we went.

Unfortunately the second act is largely comprised of exquisite dancing which held Natasha entranced, but its beauty began to wear on Griffin after a while. He began to wriggle and then crawled up on his mother's knee.

The Sugar Plum Fairy appeared out of a huge Faberge Egg and leaped and twirled and bowed and danced gracefully across the stage. Griffin twitched and shrugged and shifted.

"Mom," he said in a whisper.

"Yes Griffin."

"I'm bored."

"It's not long now until its over buddy," Heather reassured him.

"But its just the same music played over and over." Griffin complained.

Heather laughed. I laughed. The people around us snickered.

"Too bad someone didn't mention that to Tchaikovsky when he wrote this, then maybe he'd have had something." Heather told him.

"Ya," Griffin agreed.

And I was left wondering just how big a hit Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky would have been if only he'd had Griffin around to advise him.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Griffin Versus The Sugar Plum Fairy (Part 2)

"Ten" said Natasha.

"Ten" Laughed Griffin. "That's silly Grandpa."

"Ten," I said in mock astonishment. "Why would I need ten berets? I don't have any hair left any more?"

We were on the upper deck of the GO train on our way to downtown Toronto to see the Nutcracker at the Four Seasons Centre, leaving Lindsay at home to complete her cleansing rituals in privacy. My nine year old granddaughter Natasha had been telling me about all the berets she had received from friends at Christmas and I had told her jokingly that I hadn't been given one beret for my newly bald head.

Natasha was insisting I didn't need one beret, I needed ten.

She took off my hat and put her finger on my hair line. Or what used to be my hair line.

"If you put one beret here," she said. "And another next to it. And another. And another. They would cover your whole head and no one would know you were bald."

Griffin and I laughed. Six year old Griffin actually thought it was a hilarious idea.

The woman in the seat across the isle was struggling to keep a straight face and pretend she wasn't listening.

And the GO train glided deeper and deeper into the city.

"There's the CN Tower," yelled Griffin.

"Alright, then we're almost there," I told them. "Better get your coats back on. We'll be getting off soon."

I was riding with the two children on the upper deck of the train while Linda and their mother had a visit on the lower level. Now we needed to get us all together again before anyone got lost in the rush of passengers leaving the train. So we made our way down the stairs to where the two women were sitting.

The train had slowed to a crawl and rolled into the darkness of Union Station. Passengers all around us began getting up and filling the isles. The women each took a child by hand and we joined the crowd, exiting the train, walking along the ancient cement platform to the stair well and down into the concourse.

Natasha and Griffin live in the small City of Guelph and don't make it to downtown Toronto all that frequently, so the city is still an overwhelming experience for them. Everything bigger and more crowded and faster than their daily experience.

"Now on to the ballet," Linda told them.

"Hooray!" said Natasha, giving a twirl.

"Are we going to be there long?" asked Griffin.

"Not too long buddy," Heather told him. "Maybe a couple of hours."

"Hours?" Griffin moaned.

"Don't worry, you'll like it." his mother said.

Griffin looked doubtful.

And so did I.

Watch out Sugar Plum Fairy, here comes Griffin!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Griffin Versus The Sugar Plum Fairy (Part 1)

"Why is Lindsay licking her paws," Griffin asked his mother.

Heather thought for a minute. Griffin had seen Lindsay many times on his visits with us, but this time, for some reason, his six year old brain was fascinated by everything Lindsay did, or didn't do.

"She's just cleaning her paws, the way you would do if you got chocolate on your fingers," Heather, his mother replied. "Remember yesterday when that chocolate melted on your hands?"

But before he could answer, his 9 year old sister suddenly squealed. "Eewwww! What's she licking now?"

Lindsay, being a fastidious little dog, had moved on to other body parts deserving of attention.

"She's licking her tail," laughed Griffin. For a moment, we all thought his innocent explanation might satisfy his older sister.

But, budding scientist that she is, Natasha looked a little closer only to recoil in horror. "No she's not! Look Griffin, she's licking her bum!"

Griffin looked closer and laughed harder. "Mom why is Lindsay licking her bum?"

Heather hesitated.

While Lindsay went on licking. It being important to her to do a very thorough job.

Griffin, Natasha and Heather were over visiting with us for Linda's birthday prior to our going downtown to see the Nutcracker at the new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. One of Linda's fondest memories was of our taking our daughters Kathy and Heather to see the Nutcracker when they were our grandchildren's age and she has long dreamed of repeating the experience with Natasha.

Of course she hoped Griffin would enjoy the ballet too, but she would be content if he just managed to keep his normal inquisitive nature at rest through the performance.

After taking a good look at what Lindsay was indeed licking, Griffin scrambled back up into his chair and buried his head in a cushion in embarrassment. "I can't look," he explained. "That's disgusting."

Lindsay, with a strongly defined inquisitive nature of her own, noticed Griffin's little bum now stuck up in the air, ceased her personal ablations and decided to see if Griffin needed her attention. Her cold wet nose twitched cautiously as she approached the little 6 year old with his head safely buried in the pillow and the part of most interest to dogs tantalizingly within reach.

Anticipating what was about to happen, Natasha screamed.

Lindsay arrived.

Griffin leaped.

"No, Lindsay! No!" Heather, Linda and I yelled in unison. Too late.

And in the resulting chaos, Heather adroitly managed to get out of answering Griffin's earlier question.

And I began to suspect our trip to the ballet might prove to be even more fun than I had ever hoped.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Friday "My Town" Shoot Out--Under Construction


And welcome to our first Shootout for 2010.

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Shootouts on Friday. And that's where you'll have to go to find out what's UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

Our joint contribution will continue at least until I'm through this new round of chemotherapy (which was to end at Christmas but now is extended until February).

To see our contribution this week please CLICK HERE

Dress warmly and we'll you over there!