Wednesday, August 24, 2016


We had a free afternoon before my parents left to go on vacation followed by a visit to Mayo to begin preparations for Mom's cancer treatments. So we gathered up some food and met them partway at a small state park along the river that I have spent much time at. I have blogged about this in the past but above is the ford area that the Mormons crossed the river on their way out to Utah. The river is up this year but in most years you could probably walk across this area without difficulty. From here, there is a classic 2 mile hiking trail into town which I'm guessing I've walked a 100 times or more over the years. I have  yet to tire of it.

I watched a cooking show not to long ago and they had a challenge to make bibimbap which I have never heard before. It is a Korean staple of a variety of ingredients served over rice with a soft cooked egg on top. You mix it up after receiving it and the egg yolk kind of acts as the lubricant for the rest of the ingredients. I didn't have any Korean veggies but I did have some more American veggies of onions, peppers and mushrooms so I sauteed those all up with some chunks of grilled ribeye steak and although it didn't look colorful compared to the Korean versions, it was darn tasty. Since this blog post is a mixture of pictures, I thought bibimbap would be a good title.

Not a sharp picture of an insect on a picnic table along the river but pretty good considering I was using a phone camera and the wind was really shaking the little guy around. I wish I would have had my SLR with me and I would have been able to get a better shot.

The riverbanks are lined with old sycamore trees and I just love sitting below them listening to the leaves blow in the breeze and looking up through the green, white, browns into the deep blue sky just makes my mind wonder. Again, I apologize for the quality of the photo since it was taking on my phone.

Cooking blueberry pancakes on morning for breakfast, I found myself pondering pancake patterns. When I lightly spray the pan with an aerosol cooking spray, it produces patterns like above. If I don't spray for the second cake, it just produces and even browning. I was pondering the science of how aerosol cooking sprays produce such patterns and I'm not sure I have an answer.

Finally, we were coming back from the Iowa State Fair one evening and there was a gorgeous sunset going on behind me... unfortunately. However, I was heartened to find that my ten year old was really enjoying it instead of being glued to her Kindle and she asked to borrow my phone. While traveling around 70 mph down the road, my daughter snapped this picture through the side window when we turned south for a short time. I thought she did all right.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Life Continues

As all should when diagnosed with a illness that will most likely take your life, one should get a second opinion and my mom has. I don't know about elsewhere in this country but here in the Midwest, when you say cancer one automatically thinks of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. So after securing an appointment, my parents made the long journey up there. Unfortunately, the diagnosis didn't change nor the prognosis. However, the doctor that might be treating my mom said he has one patient with the same thing who is going on 15 years and another handful pushing 7 to 8 years. All are well beyond the 3 year median statistic.

There is also hope that my mom may qualify for a new experimental radiation therapy. Currently, they create a MRI map of sorts of my mom's brain and a mold of her head to hold it in place. They they radiate the area of her brain where the cancer was and a few cells of it still remain. However, this is like cutting a tomato with a chainsaw. Sure it works but perhaps isn't the most effective way to go about it. The new therapy creates the map using a PET scan which is more more accurate about identifying any stray cancer cells left behind. With this information, they can blast more radiation in smaller areas with the hopes of killing more of the remaining cells without damage to the rest of the brain tissue. This is important because the area affected controls my mom's motor skills for the left side of her body.

My mom now has internet again and has researched all this and now knows the life expectancy for people with anaplastic astrocytomas which I think is a good thing. Hopefully it will allow her to get everything in order and do those things in life that up till now she has been putting off. I'm not sure what all those are but I do know I will do my best to allow them to come true. Overall, Mom's spirits are still high and we are all hoping for the slimmest chance of a miracle yet and enjoying life and each other while waiting.

My dad on the other hand has been taking things hard. I can see in his eyes the lack of sleep and the sadness of perhaps a couple decades of life without his companion of over 35 years. Smiles and humor, both trademarks of interacting with him are much harder to come by these days. I'm hoping all these things will improve as we all grapple with shock we have been dealt and move into the acceptance stages.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Months ago, I was asked to be on a committee for a bicycle vent coming to our city. It is an annual ride across Iowa now in its 44th year and we were hosting a stop over on its way to the Mississippi river. It meant lots of meetings to come up with a game plan for getting food vendors to serve all the people that would temporarily doubly our population for one night and organizing where and how they would get set up.

[Added just now when I discovered I forgot to write the rest of this post.]

The morning of the event, I was up before dawn and manning barricades to let the vendors into the rider area. Despite warnings to our local townfolk that roads were going to be closed and tens of thousands of bicyclists would be around, I was amazed at how many belligerent folks tried to talk their way through the barricades to get on the road the bicyclists were riding on and was completely packed with food and gear vendors.

After six hours of that and still before noon, some others came to relieve me including a police officer which stopped the belligerent folks from starting up, I spent several hours walking along the promenade helping vendors getting in their proper spaces and set up to serve food. Then the rush was on as bicyclists began arriving in the hundreds. I stayed for awhile to ensure there were no last minute problems, had some lunch myself and then crossed the bridge to downtown where I stopped in at the club at which I am a member and saw they were swamped with hungry riders as well. They needed help so I donned an apron and ran the bar for the next six hours serving drinks to very thirsty riders.

By the time I got out of there and walked up to the church where my wife was also working to serve hungry riders, I was beat. I ate some supper there, sat across the street in the park watching riders and pointing stray ones to what ever places they were looking for and then finally went home, well after dark. It was a very tiring but fulfilling day and according to many of the reports that day and the weeks after their stay, we ended up being the favorite overnight stop of the ride this year. I hope that means they come back soon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Farm Crawl

Changing to a happier topic, a few weeks ago my home county held a farm crawl along a stretch of county roads that stretches from one county seat in a neighboring county to the local county seat. It is a blatant attempt to get people out to spend money along a stretch of country where none is typically spent but I didn't mind. The day was sunny and a bit warm but we had a good time. Besides an academy, the first west of Mississippi river, there was an Amish breakfast and a stop at the farm of a local doctor who lets artists set up and sale their wares. There was also this old barn which was just off roads I have traveled my entire life but had never seen before.

Talking with the lady stationed in the barn, I found out why. It had actually been moved here not long ago as a way to save it from rotting to the ground. In fact, she was leading an organization that was trying to save these old barns scattered throughout my home county. The first step was to sell a coffee table book with pictures of these barns to gain awareness and then to raise funds to help preserve them. Although I signed up to buy one of the coffee table books when they become available this fall, I'm not sure I will be donating to the cause of saving the barns despite my desire to save them. My problem is that giving money to private individuals to preserve barns for historical purposes has lots of drawbacks. It creates a dependence on the owner relying on the money and when the money dries up, nothing will have changed except the purchase of some time. I would be investing into a project in which I have no say. The owner could take the money, preserve the barn and then turn it into a strip joint and there would be nothing I could do about it. I actually think the lady telling us about this project was standing in the only real solution, moving the barns to places where they can be protected and preserved.

I can't help but find irony in this situation. Here I am, someone who would love to have one of these old barns behind my house but have none. Around me are those that do but are letting them rot into the ground. Right now I don't have the land to move one if I found one and had the money to do so. Perhaps someday, that will change and I can either build or move a barn that I can someday love... and then have my descendants let rot into the ground. Perhaps photographing and preserving pictures of these old barns is the best solution.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Being Mortal

Having seen a documentary on PBS of the same name as this post title a couple years before, I knew where to turn when I first learned of my mom's diagnosis. I had bought the book of the same name by Atul Gawande for my wife after seeing the documentary but had never read it myself. Unfortunately she had loaned it to a colleague of hers and probably won't get it back anytime soon so I bought another copy and began reading it again. It has really helped me digest what is probably in my family's future.

My dad said it best when he said that it isn't just my mom that has brain cancer but rather our whole family has it. We all are going to have to deal with it in our own different ways. Gawande's book "Being Mortal" deals a lot with how families and their doctors deal with terminal diseases and what questions families should address when living with one. My wife obtained another copy of the book from another colleague and gave it to my parents so right now we are all reading the book like a family book club. We haven't yet had the discussions addressed in the book but we will in due time.

Right now we only know generalized statistics and won't have any life estimates for some time. Looking at graphs of the prognosis of someone with anaplastic astrocytoma are grim but do contain some hope. As I noted in my previous post, only 50% of those diagnosed with it will be alive 2 to 3 years later. At five years, only 25% will still be alive. But at that five year mark the trend line almost flat lines going out to infinity. To me this offers hope that perhaps there is a 1 in 4 chance of treating this cancer to a draw. It may be for five, ten or more years but at least it is a draw that buys one more time. Definitely not great odds but also not without hope.

My mom however is in the "I'm going to beat this" mentality still and who am I to say no. I truly hope and will pray that she does even if everything I've read thus far says she won't. I do believe in the power of positive belief so for right now, I'm content to back her up when she says she will be cured with the upcoming treatments and life will return to normal until old age takes her. But I will be prepared for the day, if and when it arrives, when she realizes that time is getting shorter than she had hoped.

The most immediate side effect of all this is that we are spending a lot more time being together as a family. I've made more trips down to the farm in the last month to help with gardening preserves or just to visit that I normally do in a summer. It gives the kids and me a chance to be with my mom and just enjoy life. Since my mom can't drive for the next five months due to the seizure and my dad has a farm to run still, I have volunteered to do the grocery shopping and errand running for them during that time so I know I will get lots more time to spend on the farm. Another side effect is that before, hugs and I love you's were offered some of the time but not all the time. Now they have become mandatory. That is a side effect I can enjoy!