Friday, September 30, 2016

Signs of the Times

I've been feeling something missing in my life for many weeks and couldn't put the finger on it until my wife figured it out this weekend on our way to church. We saw only one political sign in a yard the entire way when at this time of year, I would expect to see hundreds of them on the same route.

My first thought was that since we have selected the two most unpopular candidates in history, according to some polls, it is no wonder people have not put out signs. However, after a little more pondering of the subject, I wonder if it isn't a sign of the times. Have old fashioned signs in yards been deemed unhelpful in persuading people? Had Tweets, Instagram and Facebook political opinion posts made signs obsolete? I suspect that both play a part and maybe the latter plays the larger part. Any thoughts from my readers?

Along those lines, I have pretty much made up my mind on who I am going to vote for in a handful of weeks and got online to see if I could find a Johnson/Weld sign from the Libertarian party that I could stick in my yard. I've never had a sign in my yard before because for the most part I've voted the lesser of two evils or for the Constitution party which barely makes the polling boards. This time however, I don't feel I will be voting for the lesser of evils, though I don't completely agree with the Libertarian platform, and the Libertarian party has been steadily increasing in the polls to where they might play a significant part in this election.

I figured there would be some official site where I could request one for free and someone from a local office would drop it by. However, all I could find is some on the official site that I had to buy in packs and pay for the cost of the signs plus shipping. I suppose because they are considered a fringe party, they don't get much cash support to do things like that and I only wanted one sign and not a pack. Other sites had single signs but they didn't appear to give any of the money towards Johnson and Weld. So I guess I will be like everyone else this political season and just abstain from a sign in my yard. Maybe I need to figure out how to Tweet or Instagram like everybody else.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


I spent a day with my mom, whom at the time was going through her sixth of thirty-four days of radiation not too long ago. It's about a two mile walk one way from Hope Lodge to this facility above where she gets her radiation and she has set herself the goal of walking under her own steam those four miles every single day. Having done quite a bit of reading on others who have had similar radiation treatments, I wasn't too optimistic because it always seemed as if radiation beat them down by the end. However, as we were talking with Mom's oncologist on this particular day, he thought that as healthy as Mom is and since she has felt absolutely no effects of the radiation or chemotherapy now six days into her treatment, there is a good chance that should continue through the remaining twenty-eight days. It certainly made my mom (and me) happy to hear that.

My mom doesn't stop at just the four miles of walking though. She also walks to lunch some days using the extensive trail system in the college town and probably average six miles a day total. Since her treatments take about fifteen minutes of her time a day, she has the luxury of plenty of time and it was a real treat to spend it with my mom walking around town. With my backpack of some water and a book to read when she was seeing doctors, I felt like I was in college again.

Hope Lodge has a 28 patient capacity and they are almost always full. Still, it is rare to see the other cancer patients during the day except for around meal times. They all seem beat down and just go back to their rooms after eating, which isn't allowed in their rooms. So my mom ends up spending much of her times with various care takers of cancer patients who are more likely to be seen in the common areas. At first this worried me thinking my mom might end up like them four or five weeks from now. However, she is a superwoman, very fit and now the doctors have said she probably won't feel any effects. For now, my mom only goes to her room to sleep at night and has been keeping busy during the day. I hope the remaining weeks will go as fast as the first one did.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The South Still Lives In the North

Saw this sign on the way to a birthday party we were attending. I see stuff like that and I immediately wonder the story behind it. For someone to go to the effort of painting those words on the side of a small shack along the gravel back road we were on, it must have been something really important to them. It makes me want to sit down with whomever and interview them. Perhaps I should have been a reporter of some kind.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Small Town Life

I grew up in a small town, actually five miles south of a small town and since I graduated from school, I really haven't ever gone back through town except on the rare occasion. When I graduated, both sides of Main street was lined with two story brick business type buildings as well as the block behind me. These days, only one in the slightly left of center in this picture, remain on this block and none in the block behind me. The main highway actually goes south of town and has since before I was born. So after graduation, there was really no pressing reason to go through town other than for a driving look see now and then.

With my parents under stress, we felt it would do them good to get off the farm for awhile on the weekend and enjoy small town life. My home town was having its annual fall festival and so we drove into town to enjoy it. It started off with a parade down the entire two blocks of Main street where they turned around and went back up the other side of Main street all two blocks. It took about 15 minutes total to complete.

I was reflecting upon that when I got to think of how great small town parades are. My daughters got more candy in those 15 minutes than they do in the 3 hour long parade that my current hometown holds here in a month. Less competition and since it is much, much shorter, more generous people throwing the candy. In the larger parade, one must get there early to find a good position and there is much jockeying going on to mark out your space. As you can tell above at the small town parade, there was plenty of space for all 100 locals to spread out along the two blocks of the parade route.

After the parade was done everyone in the parade and those that watched gathered in the park nearby for a lunch under the shade trees and to talk. I was amazed at all the people who looked vaguely familiar from my youth with whom I was having to pull names for from the foggy depths of my memory banks. My parents who still live five miles south of town get there more often so they had an advantage over me on this aspect. There were some other events later in the afternoon but we had a birthday party for a friend to attend so after dropping off my now well relaxed parents back off the farm, we had to head towards home again without seeing them. Next year I think I would like to go back for the whole day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Treatments

In case somebody stumbles across these posts about my mom and her anaplastic astrocytoma brain cancer, I thought I would include a post about her actual treatments. As I said earlier, she is getting both radiation and chemotherapy at the same time to maximize their effectiveness on her brain cancer.

To back up a bit, her anaplastic astrocytoma brain cancer is of a diffuse nature which means like water, it can leech into healthy tissues of the brain and not have a defined wall like other types of cancer. As a result, even though then did a complete resection as they like to call it, they couldn't get it all without scooping out important parts of gray matter that control necessary functions like walking and talking. This makes getting what cancer cells remain very important to increase life expectancy before the cancer, a highly aggressive cancer returns. Due to the radiation dosing, Mom can't get more of it once her initial treatment is complete for another six months so if the cancer returns in that time, it is essentially game over. If she can go six months, then when (we hope that when is actually if) the cancer returns, we can go through another resection and treatment to push the ball, in this case Mom's life, down the road a bit further.

For the radiation part of it, Mom had to get a mold made of her head while in position on their machine. This mold actually bolts down to the machine holding my Mom's head so firmly in place, she can't even blink. Once in place, they took a high resolution MRI scan of the area where the tumor had been removed so that they can get very precise coordinates to target with radiation. This minimizes the damage to surrounding healthy tissue that can affect her in less than desirable ways. To take it to the next notch, she has to put a mouth piece in connected with some long wires connected to some balls suspended above her head. If she wiggles even a little by just swallowing, the balls wiggle cutting off the radiation treatment immediately so not to do collateral damage. The entire process take her about fifteen minutes to get bolted down to the machine with the mouth piece in and the machine programmed and about two minutes for the actual application of the radiation. Another few minutes to get her unstrapped and she is done for her treatment for the day. She gets treated five days a week with weekends off to recuperate and she has 34 treatments scheduled which will run until the last week of October.

The chemotherapy portion which runs concurrently with the radiation portion is an oral pill. It's actually several pills exactly dosed to a particular weight. So for example, there is a pill for 100 pounds of weight, another for 20 pounds, another for five pounds and another for one pound. Depending on your weight at that time, they get the pills that add up to that correct weight and you swallow the whole works the night before your treatment the following morning. The make you very nauseated which is no surprise since you end up with a belly full of chemicals foreign to your body, so my mom also has to take anti nausea pills along with others that help reduce swelling in her brain from the radiation. While on radiation treatment, the chemo dose is fairly low and when she finishes radiation 7 weeks from now, they will up the chemo to a much higher dose for a period of time yet to be determined. Eventually, she may be taken off chemo or put on a "maintenance" dose for the rest of her life.

As stated before, none of this is a cure for anaplastic astrocytoma and studies have shown that it only provides limited additional symptom free life beyond those that don't get treatment.  But cancer is a very fast changing field and if there ever is a cure, days and weeks may be critical. Also, though few, there are those that defy the odds and continue to live fifteen years after doctors told them they were supposed to die. These people got complete resections followed by chemo and radiation therapies, exactly what my mom is getting. The hope is that she can add her name to that list of people that doctors will be telling future patients have defied the odds. That is why Mom has decided to fight this disease even after being told it is unwinnable. One just never knows.