December 31, 2004
December 30, 2004
Hand with Sphere
The Dutch artist Maurits C. Escher (1898-1972) was a draftsman, book illustrator, tapestry designer, and muralist, but his primary work was as a printmaker. Born in Leeuwarden, Holland, the son of a civil engineer, Escher spent most of his childhood in Arnhem. Aspiring to be an architect, Escher enrolled in the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem. While studying there from 1919 to 1922, his emphasis shifted from architecture to drawing and printmaking upon the encouragement of his teacher Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita. In 1924 Escher married Jetta Umiker, and the couple settled in Rome to raise a family. They resided in Italy until 1935, when growing political turmoil forced them to move first to Switzerland, then to Belgium. In 1941, with World War II under way and German troops occupying Brussels, Escher returned to Holland and settled in Baarn, where he lived and worked until shortly before his death.
The main subjects of Escher's early art are Rome and the Italian countryside. While living in Italy from 1922 to 1935, he spent the spring and summer months traveling throughout the country to make drawings. Later, in his studio in Rome, Escher developed these into prints. Whether depicting the winding roads of the Italian countryside, the dense architecture of small hillside towns, or details of massive buildings in Rome, Escher often created enigmatic spatial effects by combining various -- often conflicting -- vantage points, for instance, looking up and down at the same time. He frequently made such effects more dramatic through his treatment of light, using vivid contrasts of black and white.
After Escher left Italy in 1935, his interest shifted from landscape to something he described as "mental imagery," often based on theoretical premises. This was prompted in part by a second visit in 1936 to the fourteenth-century palace of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The lavish tile work adorning the Moorish architecture suggested new directions in the use of color and the flattened patterning of interlocking forms. Replacing the abstract patterns of Moorish tiles with recognizable figures, in the late 1930s Escher developed "the regular division of the plane." The artist also used this concept in creating his Metamorphosis prints. Starting in the 1920s, the idea of "metamorphosis" -- one shape or object turning into something completely different -- became one of Escher's favorite themes. After 1935, Escher also increasingly explored complex architectural mazes involving perspectival games and the representation of impossible spaces.
Since 1964 the National Gallery of Art has formed the preeminent collection of Escher's art outside Holland through the generosity of many donors, including Cornelius Van S. Roosevelt and Lessing J. Rosenwald, both of whom knew Escher. The Gallery's collection includes more than 400 works by Escher: drawings, illustrated books, technical materials, and impressions of 330 of the artist's 450 prints.
Text from The National Gallery of Art.
Popping Cancer update - The Waiting Game
So far I feel just ducky. You never feel bad from cancer, really, until they start to treat you for it.
I am, however, in a word, impatient. I want to fight or scream or be sad or be hopeful, but I don't have enough information yet. I'm like a soldier who doesn't know where, or even if, he's being sent into combat yet. If I were a metaphorical horse, I'd be chomping at the proverbial bit.
Something about my life - the microwave oven that cooks my dinner in a minute and a half, the remote control to the television, the Interweb where everything you could possibly want to know is a simple click or two away, something - has made me cringe at the prospect of waiting at all anymore, for anything.
I not only want it my way, I want it now! I guess at least part of that is human nature and the frenetic pace of life around us in the U.S.
It's worse when what you're waiting for is, literally, life and death news. I won't have any more substantive information until next week. Of course, when next week hits, it'll be a doozy: Dentist Monday, PETscan Tuesday in Cleveland (an hour and a half away, sans snow), surgeon Thursday in Cleveland, oncologist Friday in Cleveland.
By the end of next week, I will know how extensive and pervasive the sarcoma is, as well as what steps (and I hate to say it but: if any) we will take to kill it.
The end of next week never seemed so far away. What am I supposed to do in the meantime? I have to write a sermon for Sunday I guess. I have job duties and chores around the house. Still, I suspect there will be a lot of staring into space and probably a fair amount of expecting the worst, combined with a liberal dose of random, stabbing emotion. All I know is there is something there, it seems to have spread and it isn't friendly.
Even as a kid, waiting was a part of life. I'd send away for something out of the back of a comic book and it might take 2-4 months to arrive in the mailbox. MONTHS. Now, if I can't get it in a day or two, deal's off.
I also remember the afternoons when I was a teenager with cancer. Afternoons were the worst. Thank God Almighty for The Dick Van Dyke Show reruns.
I was severely sick then and wasn't able or allowed to be out in public. There was very little I could do with my afternoons and less still for which I had strength or motivation.
At night, I had the television schedule memorized. In the morning was the daily parade of doctors and nurses and blood tests. But the afternoon was a desert. A long, empty space. An 8-hour blank stare. THAT'S when you're scared: in the afternoon, because you're alone in the hospital room or on your couch at home, and the only company you have is your own thoughts and a body that's trying to kill you.
I'll post some reflections on my first bout with cancer this week. No real news until the middle of next week some time.
Until then, I guess it's back to the afternoons.
And then there's this.
My favorite is the guy in the oven itself.
December 29, 2004
Well, I WAS going to bed.
But this post by Bill was too important.
Got in about an hour ago after about a 9-hour ride home.
Plenty of updates coming tomorrow on what promises to be a scary week of cancer appointments, tests and treatments next week. I have FOUR doctors' appointments scheduled for next week already, and three of them are over an hour away from home.
To tide you over, I've linked a few knick-knacks and semi-cultural bits of information, as well as a preacher joke.
Now, your humble host visits the Land of Nod.
Because you savages need the culture
The recent film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice is finally out.
You know you want to - it has Al Pacino as the Jew who gave meaning to the slur "Shylock."
Not nearly my favorite Shakespearean play - not in the top 10 - but still, in a world that turns to Spongebob for culture and Dr. Phil for good mental health, one takes what one can get.
Worth your time.
I already had the upgraded Ad-Aware, and the free version of Spybot took me 19 seconds to download.
Faster computer. No popups.
It's a good thing.
This one's for mom.
Who didn't know what I meant when I said everything was "five by five."
A older man and his nagging wife have finally gotten a chance to visit the Holy Land.
While there, the wife dies a tragic death and the man is forced to make a choice at the local morgue: he can have her body shipped home for $10,000, or have her buried locally, in the Holiest of Lands, for $150.
Looking out over Jeruselem, the man tells the mortician to send her to America.
"But why would you want to pay $10,000 to ship her home when you can have her buried here for only $150?" the kindly mortician asks.
"Well, 2000 years ago, Jesus was crucified and buried here, then three days later He rose again," the man says. "I just can't take that chance."
A Regis and an Ashley do NOT equal a Dick Clark
Who would you rather see this New Years' Rockin' Eve?
My vote is Chris Isaak, with a side of Dunst.
December 27, 2004
I showed you mine - let's see yours.
Anybody get anything good?
Gift Card Disease - CAUTION: Sarcasm Ahead!
So, let me tell you what I got for Christmas this year: gift cards. LOTS of gift cards.
(GEOGRAPHIC UPDATE: Mrs. Popping Culture and I are visiting relatives in Hampton Roads, Virginia. We should be home Wednesday evening, unless a doctor calls me home before that. No updates until then, I'm afraid.)
I have always been of the opinion that a true friend knows how to give good gifts, as much as that sounds like a cutesy platitude. I am also aware that some folks are harder to shop for than others: What do you buy the man who has everything? What do you get your mother? What about your sister-in-law's fiance, whom you have only met once?
Still, what a gift card says to me is: I give up. I don't know what to get you. Take this hunk of plastic. It feels more like a gift than just handing you cash because it has a store name on it.
Seriously. Just give cash if you give up, ok?
I can see a gift card if it is for a specific, named purpose. For instance, Joe needs a television and none of us can afford to buy him one, so we all buy Best Buy gift cards and viola! The sum is greater than the parts.
However, gift cards are seldom used in such an intentional way. They are a sign of surrender, a sign of gifting fatigue. I don't have the time or desire to think up a real meaningful gift so here, take this and buy your own dang gift!
This year I received (and granted I am the only male in a family gathering with 8 females and also granted that it might be tough to shop for a guy with cancer): cash, checks and gift cards to Olive Garden, Best Buy, Men's Wearhouse, Barnes & Noble (I consider this one the most nearly personal gift all Christmas) and Outback Steak House. Also a candy bar.
Merry Impersonal Christmas! Now, I don't begrudge any gift. All gifts are a sign of care or at least duty, and I appreciate the spirit in which all of my gifts were given. Still... to me, a gift card says, at least in small part, "Here. Do my shopping for me."
My favorite part of the holiday is picking out specific gifts for the people I care about... creatively working out the difficult puzzle that is "What can I get him/her that won't be returned?" There is no better feeling than buying someone a gift that says not only do you care about them, but that you KNOW them as well and seeing their eyes light up, no matter their age. This can be a specific gift that matches a specific person, or a generic gift given in a special way.
For instance, I gave my 15-year old niece a gold heart pendant this year. Pretty ordinary gift for a teenage girl, I guess, but I hid it and waited until after all the gifts were opened. As the frenzy of gift paper ripping wore off, I announced that I had a special gift (given just by me, her grumpy uncle, to her) for my niece because she was special and should be set apart. The necklace was lovely, but more lovely and lasting was the sentiment that she is unique and special to me.
Even a crappy gift that you know will be returned at least says, "Here. Take this. At least I tried."
Next year I anticipate getting certificates to the local grocery stores, accompanied by my relatives' grocery lists.
Here, do my shopping for me.
December 25, 2004
If you're reading this, you probably just needed a break from the family.
I'm in the middle of a 10-hour drive home to visit relatives with the Missus. We're hoping to get there during Christmas daylight.
I've posted a few bonus goodies below, nothing serious, for your Christmas time-wasting pleasure. Enjoy!
If this doesn't warm your heart...
...maybe it will at least warm your feet. Well, maybe one of them, anyway.
Lonelysocks.co.uk is a database for missing socks. It includes a long list of socks who have lost their partners. Importantly, you can click on each sock for a larger image in case you think you've found a match to a sock on the list.
New socks are highlighted with their own place near the top of the list. Everyone knows that there is a critical 48-hour window to recover newly-lost articles of footwear.
On this most joyous of seasons, I salute the work that lonelysocks.co.uk does to makes sure no sock has to be alone this holiday.
Key quotes from the home page:
- ...let's hope for a load of Welsh socks to add to the site very soon!
- HOORAY: Two more socks have been added to the database.
- Maybe Rob from Pontypridd lost a sock with a white stripe around it while Sarah in Cowdenbeath lost exactly the same sock. They both have a lonely sock. These socks should be united with a sock of their own kind. This is what we intend to do on www.lonelysocks.co.uk.
I bet the guy on the ladder is glad the photo is a hoax!
Still, it feels like art.
See? I'm not the only one extending Christmas greetings.
This site posts all holiday greetings.
Nice gift idea for U2, Pretenders
It could be worse.
You could be John Mayer.
December 24, 2004
So I lied: a wee cancer reflection
It's Christmas tomorrow and you have cancer.
That, to me, is permission to feel the way you feel.
So often people expect certain responses. At a funeral you are expected to be sad. At a wedding, happy.
Don't let other people's expectations give them power over you. Let yourself feel the way you feel. When I was originally diagnosed with cancer, way back at age 18, my first response was relief. Yep, relief.
I had been sick for so long, just general malaise, that I got the sense that people thought I was faking it, or wasn't as bad off as I claimed. That cancer diagnosis felt like "Wow. You guys have to shut up now. I KNEW I was sick! I'm not crazy after all!"
Of course, the stark raving terror hit later, but there it is.
So on Christmas you will feel nostalgic and happy and terrified and sad and melancholy. You'll have energy and you'll be exhausted. You'll want to touch and to hug and you'll want to be left alone and touching will make you tense.
People will look down on you for laughing at a funeral or being boisterous on Christmas when cancer patients should be glum. People will expect you to be scared for yourself but maybe you're thinking about your family instead. People will expect you to be weak, or strong. People will EXPECT. Screw them. Yep, I'm a pastor and I said it: screw them.
Feel the way you feel. It's bad enough being sick without also being a prisoner of someone else's expectations.
Life, even life with cancer, is meant to be lived freely. Let yourself feel the way you feel, whatever that is.
Oh, and have a merry Christmas!
No Cancer Updates or Reflections
Until the day after Christmas. All the cancer thoughts are listed in a topic heading in the right sidebar, if you're the type who loves a good cancer read on Christmas day.
Got some nice (and occasionally cultural) goodies for you instead. Enjoy your holiday.
Light, but steady, blogging over the next 3 days.
Say what you want, you KNOW you're gonna tell everybody.
So, these two cows are talking, as they often do when people aren't around.
"Hey, are you worried about that Mad Cow Disease?", asked the first cow.
"Why should I?", the second cow replied, "I'm a chicken!".
In case you get bored on Christmas Day....
Here's The Exorcist, as told by bunnies, in 30 seconds.
The end of an era.
Feeling old, too.
Shake the Snowglobe!
Tracking Santa with NORAD a little too low-impact for you?
Here's something a little more interactive: rock these little snow guys' globey world!
Track Santa with NORAD!
Well, it's about time!
Godzilla, who has served as leading man in dozens of movies and had to work with some of the toughest names in film - Mothra, Mechagodzilla, Rodan - finally gets some props.
Heh, the prop gets some props. I slay me.
Top-selling books of RIGHT NOW!
From the Wall Street Journal. How many have you read?
1. "Five People You Meet in Heaven" by Mitch Albom (Hyperion)
2. "State of Fear" by Michael Crichton (HarperCollins)
3. "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin)
4. "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown (Doubleday)
5. "The Da Vinci Code (illustrated edition)" by Dan Brown (Doubleday)
6. "A Salty Piece of Land" by Jimmy Buffett (news), (Little, Brown)
7. "London Bridges" by James Patterson (Little, Brown)
8. "Night Fall" by Nelson DeMille (Warner Books)
9. "Black Wind" by Clive Cussler (Putnam)
10. "Life Expectancy" by Dean Koontz (Bantam)
11. "I Am Charlotte Simmons" by Tom Wolfe (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
12. "Whiteout" by Ken Follett (Dutton)
13. "The Godfather Returns" by Mark Winegardner (Random House)
14. "The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)
15. "The Christmas Thief" by M.H. Clark, C.H. Clark (Simon & Schuster)
1. "America (The Book)" by the writers of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart (Warner)
2. "He's Just Not That into You" by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (Simon Spotlight Entertainment)
3. "Your Best Life Now" by Joel Osteen (Warner Faith)
4. "Chronicles, Volume One" by Bob Dylan (news) (Simon & Schuster)
5. "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?" by George Carlin (Hyperion)
6. "Faithful" by S. O'Nan, S. King (Scribner)
7. "His Excellency: George Washington" by Joseph J. Ellis (Knopf)
8. "The Purpose-Driven Life" by Rick Warren (Zondervan)
9. "Sharing Good Times" by Jimmy Carter (Simon & Schuster)
10. "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss (Gotham Books)
11. "Family First" by Philip C. McGraw (Free Press)
12. "My Life" by Bill Clinton (news - web sites) (Knopf)
13. "The Games Do Count: America's Best and Brightest on the Power of Sports" by Brian Kilmeade (ReganBooks)
14. "How to Talk to a Liberal" by Ann Coulter (Crown Forum)
15. "Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker" edited by Robert Mankoff (Black Dog & Leventhal)
Only three of thirty? I drip with shame.
I guess this is good news. Sort of.
But how about some cancer research that yields clues about CANCER?
December 23, 2004
Worst. Christmas movie. Ever.
I haven't seen it, but the fact that it came out as a Christmas movie, then was released to video before Christmas THE SAME YEAR says bunches.
Made-for-TV: get ready to get Afflecked!
I could not agree more.
This version of A Christmas Carol is not only the best version of this story ever, but also one of my favorite movies of all time.
Key Quote: Scrooge's cruel response, "let them die and decrease the surplus population," is returned to him as he sees Tiny Tim for the first time, and Scrooge is both rebuked and saddened by it.
Dismiss it as a kid's movie to your own loss.
More comic book adaptations may be in the works.
This time it's The Flash and Wonder Woman.
I'm telling you, the Wonder Twins flick isn't far off.
Popping Cancer Reflection 12-23-4
Cancer may be the scariest disease going.
I mean, some diseases have scary side effects (ever see an Ebola movie? Eesh.) and some have scary final stages (AIDS is a horrific way to die, for instance) but cell-for-cell, my opinion is that cancer has them beaten.
My thoughts on the topic are two:
(1) Cancer is portrayed as hyper-scary and unstoppable in our culture. It is sold to us as a faceless, invisible killer that can strike at any time and is almost always incurable. When movies need that extra Umph! of tragedy, one of the stars can get cancer.
You feel fine and visit with the doctor on a routine basis and then WHAM! the next day you're in a fight for your life. There are very few popular culture treatments of cancer that don't horror-ify the disease. One excellent treatment of cancer is Michael Keaton's simply brilliant My Life, which resonated with me immediately. Keaton did his homework on that one. All the way through, the issues dealt with real, true-to-life struggles and triumphs and failures of cancer patients I have known and been.
Another interesting treatment of cancer is Julia Roberts' Dying Young. The movie as a whole is clearly more concerned with romance and with cashing in on Roberts (her star was rising then), but the nuanced emotions and choices of the cancer patient/love interest (two terms rarely used in concert) played by Campbell Scott are dead on. In a film that uses cancer as a plot device, the real meat is in the actions and reactions of Scott's character, Victor.
(2) Cancer is one of the few, and by far the most well-known, diseases that use your own body to kill you. With AIDS, a foreign virus attacks your body and causes systems to fail. In other diseases, organs are attacked. In car accidents, for instance, body parts are damaged or broken and need to be repaired.
Cancer (and this keeps me up nights) is an expression of your own body trying to kill you. Cancer comes from within, is created by your own body (with help sometimes, but not all the time, by outside factors - mine originally came from nowhere and this recurrence has its origins in the radiation treatments we used to kill the LAST cancer). Cancer takes over cells in your body, kills some and twists others to its own use. Think of it: your own body is trying to kill you.
And not just quietly, but aggressively. Cancer is the equivalent of a bully saying "Here I come. This is what I am. Stop me if you can." It spreads quickly, and inevitably, to important organs. Cancer never spreads to your little toe. It spreads to your lungs or liver or kidneys.
That's why chemotherapy is basically dumping poison into your system and hoping it kills more greedy cancer cells than healthy cells - you have to damage parts of the whole to remove the evil parts. It's literally a civil war.
That said, let's make this general discussion more specific: my meeting yesterday with a radiation oncologist.
Dr. Crownover (from Cleveland Clinic - finally a doctor that inspires my confidence. This guy is sharp as a really sharp tack.) met with me for over an hour.
There is a second growth near the area of the first, huge mass on my back (since removed), but this one is in the chest cavity, near my spine. It is separate, not just a part the surgeon missed when he removed the tumor on my back.
There is a chance it is fluid from surgery, or scar tissue, but since it just appeared (I do CAT scans every 6 months and to have two growths that aren't related both suddenly appear is a bit of a stretch to believe in), the doctor suspects that one of the masses is an original site and the other is the same disease spread to a new location (metastasized).
This leaves two possibilities. One, and most likely, that the huge lump they first took off my back was the source. This requires more surgery, probably, to make sure they got every little bit off my back, and radiation to kill the tumor near my spine (it is actually just behind my aorta - sarcomas like to spread toward the lungs).
If the origin tumor is the one in my chest, surgery is not an option, since it is so deep and my heart is already weakened (r.e. previous posts). So, if the source tumor is the little one in my chest, treatment becomes palliative instead of curative. Turn out the lights, party's over.
Next step? Shortly after Christmas, we set about defining the new, smaller lump in my chest, mostly with a petscan. Also, I meet with a surgery specialist up in Cleveland Clinic, then with my oncologist to put all of our findings together and create a course of treatment.
This meeting was the first one to actually establish that yes, I do still have an active form of cancer despite the most recent surgery and, yes, it has probably spread. For those of you waiting for definitive information before freaking out, now is the time. Get freaky.
My history is that, with a few exceptions, I only freak out when my cancer doesn't respond to treatment, so you'll forgive me if I wait for the formal freak-out until a few more weeks have passed.
For now, I have the ironic task of writing a hope-filled and joyous sermon for our Christmas Eve service at church. What a world.
December 22, 2004
Spent the day in snowy Cleveland.
Nothing but bad, today. Seriously.
Doctor had a "procedure" and was an hour and a half late, letting the snow pile up. He stopped in to talk for an hour (it's always bad when an oncologist talks to one patient for an hour). After delivering the bad news, he left us to head home on snowy Interstate 80, and the typical hour drive was nearly 3.
Just plum tuckered. Sorry for the light blogging. Time to collapse in the bed.
Some fun posts and one really scary depressing recap of the cancer update tomorrow!
Hug someone you love.
December 21, 2004
"And now there is merely silence, silence, silence, saying all we did not know." - William Rose Benet
I have posted this here already once before, but with the dark-but-not-gloomy mood I'm in tonight, it felt appropriate to re-post. It describes a formative event in my birthing as a caregiver. It also marks the beginning of the creation of the tools that help me pastor now, through the darkening days of my own cancer.
As chaplains, those of us who drew the dreaded and loved 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shifts in Richmond's downtown MCV hospital were required to conclude our tours of duty by logging the night's activity in a notebook, to be read by the day staff in case follow-ups were needed.
Normally filled with names, times, conditions and activity reports, this is the report I wrote one particular Thursday afternoon about 7 years ago:
It started with noise, in the way that Wednesday nights are often noisy. The code beeper came to life, demanding attention, signaling to those of us who are chaplains and therefore forced to listen that somewhere in the hospital someone was dying, or dead.
There was noise as I arrived. Nurses and doctors huddled around a newborn, shouting orders, yelling for this or that medication. A mother, asking questions that had no good answers, questions like "What's wrong with him?" and "Will he be alright?" More noise as monitors sounded alarms. More noise as the father's labored breathing gave background to the shuffle of activity around the little one. Then, finally, more noise, as a deep voice cut through the cacophany, "Time of death, 1:32 A.M."
And then silence.
You call yourself a chaplain, Dan, don't you have anything to say? Where are your words of comfort now? Where is your precious faith now?
There was another chaplain with me. He was useless, too.
We quietly steered the couple, the mother and father, to a family room. I opened my mouth to start to say something, anything, to speak to their pain, but what words are there for a time like this? There is only silence. Only silence can communicate what a mother feels when she loses her 9-day old son.
We sat in silence for half an hour, then an hour. One of the other of us would sob out loud occasionally, but even that was cut short, as if in reverence for the silence, for the empty, hollow, quiet place that was now forever part of their lives. Even a hundred healthy children could never fill the empty place that was now in their hearts. Part of them would always keep silence now, even in the happiest of times.
And what was there for me to say? I was powerless in the face of such amazing grief. No words from a textbook or verse from the Bible can make a dent in a pain so big, so sudden.
Finally, I slipped out of the room, to find the nurses. They had wrapped the baby in a blanket, clean and blue. They had combed his hair. It is part of my job to bring the parents their child, to hold for the last time. Numbly, silently, I took the child that would not even see ten days in to them.
There are times when keeping silence communicates more powerfully than a million words or songs or cries. There are times when the only thing you can give to someone is your silent presence, your sharing of their pain. Sometimes silence says that there are emotions too deep for words, too primal, too much a part of who we try to hide to ever be expressed aloud.
And so I was there, with them, silent in that awful, terrible room for as long as they wanted to stay. Where could I go? Where could I run from silence? I had shared with these two souls the most terrible, most defining moment of the rest of their lives. I had been with them to watch their child die.
Later, they left. I finished my shift in silence, waiting for 8 A.M. to arrive. Tears would fall from time to time, and I never moved to dry them. If I spoke, it was only in response to questions, and even then my answers were nothing more than excuses to be silent again. Silence has that kind of power, a power I had never seen before.
Somehow, I drove myself home and got safely into the bed.
It is a terrible thing when it is too quiet to sleep. I lay awake, staring at the pillow where my wife's head would have been if she were home, should have been if there were any justice in the world. I lay awake staring, praying that she would never leave the place she holds in my heart. It is too big a place to be empty, to be silent. Funny how I never seem to tell her that. Funny how silence can teach us the things that are truly important.
Sometimes silence can be a cave to hide in, an excuse to never take risks.
After a while, physical and emotional exhaustion took over, and I fell asleep.
I almost never remember my dreams, but that morning I dreamed of a white room, and a blue blanket, and I was trying to scream or cry or yell, but all I could dream was silence.
And we all go in to them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.
- T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, East Coker, 1940
All I want is a home where I can put my eye out.
The house made famous by A Christmas Story is for sale on eBay.
No word on if the lamp ("electric sex") is included, or if Bumpas' dogs are still on the prowl.
When they're right, they're right.
When Defamer first hit me with the idea, I chuckled. Now I'm not so sure.
If Scotty boy does get the death penalty, and if Affleck does put out one more bomb at the theater, this movie of the week is a done deal.
Just when you think your day can't get any worse.
They cancel your favorite TV show.
Honey? Cancel Showtime!
This really is a loss. The second season was notably less gripping than the hyper-poignant first season, but the storylines available were still rich with possibility.
Ellen Muth was a find and fit her character perfectly, and Mandy Patinkin was pure gold. Mostly I liked the show because it faced death head-on and didn't back away from it or romanticize it like so many clutching-for-your-heartstrings-and-wallets dramas do these days.
Gads, I'll miss Dead Like Me.
Popping Cancer Update
No substantive news from the meeting with my oncologist today.
Looks like tomorrow's meeting with the radiation therapist (again, in Cleveland) will be the proof of the pudding.
For the latest updates, see the topic heading in the right sidebar. Pleasant thoughts appreciated. My hopeful optimism is quickly fading into occasional stabbing bouts of wondering what folks will say at my funeral. Just occasional bouts, but still.
Must be the dark and cold. Sheila's website (see "Freebies" post) helped the spirits.
I'm taking this break from being a pastor to say one word.
THE pop culture news of the day!
I have a(nother) reason to live!
A firm date on the new Harry Potter book has just been announced!
And there was much rejoicing.
Rumors are that Harry has to die at the end of book seven, since he and Lord Voldemort are linked and, of course, Vordemort has to die. If this happens, be warned that I am going to spit. Hard.
Props to the Regulars
Time to toss a little love:
-Ara Rubyan, Popping Culture regular, runs a streamlined and dissention-filled website from the Left. Ara's website is one of the few political blogs where disagreement is tolerated: just make sure you bring substance, since partisan talking points will be run roughshod over. A good read, usually with interesting new perspectives on topics you thought you understood.
-Joel Caris, Popping Culture regular, owns Nightmares for Sale. Billed as "Common Sense Dissent, Retail Horror, and Other Musings", this site is really a glimpse into Joel's life and more specifically into the topics and items that catch his eye. Certainly worth a read, it'll be nice once he gets back to posting more regularly. Joel is also a Left-leaner, but even that can be forgiven.
-Ralph, Popping Culture regular, is the head grease monkey behind Ralph's Garage. I love popping into the Garage because I never know what will be there when I arrive. "Eclectic" is an understatement. Ralph's Garage is like the biggest flea market you ever saw, with only quality items displayed. Go, read.
-Folkbum (Jay Bullock), Popping Culture regular, is a star in the world of rhetoric. Proprietor of Folkbum's Rants and Rambles, Jay puts together arguments more clearly and convincingly than is sometimes comfortable. Jay is on hiatus until the New Year, but is posting at Liberal Street Fight in the interim, which can be reached from his blog. I note that Jay also is a Left-winger, which makes me wonder why my closest blogging buddies are all of the liberal ilk.
-Jheka, Popping Culture regular from The Daily Blitz, more than makes up for all those liberals. Another demi-eclectic site, The Daily Blitz takes in and processes all sorts of tidbits, from artificial tails for dolphins to steroid use to good old political conversation. Another very worthy read.
-Mr. E Poet spends his days protecting my right to blog what I blog. In between, he's one of the most artistic blokes to set eyes and mind in this blog. I just love this guy.
Brain Candy, domestic
Time does not bring relief
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go - so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, 'There is no memory of him here!'
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.
Edna St Vincent Millay
2004: A Fantasy Football Odyssey
My fake team of superstars, "Two Minute Warning", has earned the right, by virtue of an 84-23 drubbing of my first round opposition, to compete in the league's Super Bowl this week.
Fantasy Football players will recognize the importance of Miami's upset win over the Patriots last night. I have Patriot running back Corey Dillon AND the Patriots' team defense both as mainstays of my fantasy team. Had the Patriots won last night, they would be a lock for homefield advantage in the playoffs. With the unexpected loss, they have to beat the Jets this week in order to gain the homefield status.
Translation: the Patriots have something to play for. If they had won last night at the Dolphins, Dillon almost certainly would have sat out this week to avoid injury in a meaningless game before the playoffs and the second-teamers would have gotten more playtime on defense. (Note: I also have Adam Vinatieri, New England's kicker, but he'd be in either way. He's a placekicker, not a football player.)
I have struggled with my hurting Dolphins since the drug-induced retirement of basket case Ricky Williams and the season-ending injury to receiver David Boston the week before the season opened, but they may have just won the Super Bowl for Two Minute Warning.
COMING LATER TODAY: Posts you might actually care about!
December 20, 2004
Here's a mild curiosity.
I'm not really sure why, but there they are. I'm sure they're her favorite songs or somesuch, but I like to roll down the list and get all nostalgic. Reading lists of song titles can be like a random, twitchy jaunt through your own past. Or it can be, you know, just a list.
46. Foghat - Slow Ride
168. Bon Jovi - Bad Medicine
220. Ray Charles - Georgia
239. Bobby Darin - Mack the Knife
385. Prince - Purple Rain
416. Queen - We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions
418. Chris Isaak - Wicked Game
423. South Park - Blame Canada
463. Rick James - Superfreak
Hard to argue with that.
Culture news that shouldn't be that shocking.
A Muslim sex column isn't very well received.
Mid-day Popping Cancer Update
There's a lot of snow in Cleveland right now. High temperature: 17 degrees.
It now appears, from the visit to the specialist, that the CAT scan was not so clear as we had thought. There seems to be a second mass, this one closer to my spine. That sucks.
Either my oncologist missed that little detail on the report or has a very different opinion of the word "clear" than I do. I'd head back to his office and start breaking thumbs if I could just stop coughing.
Of course, that's a joke. He could probably whup me, and it'd look bad on my resume under the title "pastor." Still, another growth near my spine can NOT be a good thing.
**UPDATE to the update: the specialist says he won't do chemotherapy, since it has already weakened my heart so much. He wants me to see a radiation guy and a surgery guy and talk options. Keyword from that discussion: "not many." Ok, that's two words. Geez, you guys are picky. Still, I'm not supposed to do any more radiation and surgery may be the only choice, along with prayerful hopes it doesn't return once removed.**
***UPDATE: The corn chowder at the Au Bon Pain on Interstate 80 south of Cleveland is FANtastic.***
****UPDATE: I have a meeting at about 1 p.m. tomorrow with my local oncologist. We'll see what's what then.****
December 19, 2004
Light blogging on Monday.
I live in Youngstown, and Mrs. Popping Culture and I are driving an hour and a half to Cleveland at 7 a.m. to meet with an oncology specialist at Cleveland Clinic to help set a course of treatment.
I don't want to go, which sort of goes without saying. Whatever you can bring to the table is welcome at this point: prayers, good wishes, good karma, pleasing auras, power crystals, mojo, you name it.
Did I mention that it's snowing in Cleveland now, and they expect 18 inches to two feet by the time it's all done?
December 18, 2004
I feel so... so used.
It's finally official. Oliver Twist's voice was dubbed by a female.
Also, remember Lassie? A GIRL DOG.
Next, they'll be telling us there's no Santa Claus.
Tell the wife I'm gonna be a little late getting home tonight.
Geez. I wanna party in Deltona, Florida!
Just needs a little tar, looks like.
To make up for the comics post, here's a fantastic literature blog, chock full of reading goodies!
Disclaimer: The authors of Litblog use words like "vituperation" the way my standard readership uses the words "neat-o" or "Paris Hilton." So, let's be careful out there.
Caution! Caution! Geek Alert!
Because I can't help it, here is a link to Comic Book Galaxy's best comics of 2004. It may be a sign of stabilizing mental health that this is the first year I haven't read ANY of the winners.
Popping Cancer - Visual
This is a soft tissue sarcoma, just like the one your kindly host has been nurturing for God only knows how long.
Technical jibber-jabber: Increased mitotic activity in a high grade tumor (H&E, 400X). [Slides provided by AG Nascimento, MD. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA]
Well, THAT doesn't look too scary, does it?
**UPDATE: The wife says it looks like one of those old "Magic Eye" puzzles. Do you see the dinosaur in the sarcoma above? How about the huge medical bill?**
Another interesting tidbit from Guardian Unlimited.
"German archaeologists revealed yesterday that they had discovered one of the world's oldest musical instruments, a 35,000-year-old flute carved from the tusk of a now-extinct woolly mammoth. The flute was dug up in a cave in the Swabian mountains in south-western Germany, and pieced back together again from 31 fragments."
Looks like an old flute to me!
America's greatest contribution to art?
Jonathan Jones argues that it's improvisation. This intelligent, well-written article discusses improvisation as a reflection of American ideals and calls in as witnesses actor Marlon Brando, painter Jackson Pollock and alto sax player Charlie Parker.
Read it, you culture-deficient savages!
If they can do this, they can split MLB into "steroids" and "non-steroids"
The results of the first Miss Plastic Surgery pageant are in! As you can see, the winner was a cut above the rest.
Key quote: When the result was announced, it was a buoyant Feng Qian who had doctors to thank for four procedures that added a fold to her eyelids, liposuctioned fat from her belly, reshaped her cheeks, and injected botox to alter facial muscles.
Feng, wearing a flowing gold evening gown and a bright smile on her resculpted face, said she hoped the event would remove some of the stigma associated with plastic surgery.
December 17, 2004
Stolen, returned, sold!
The art world is getting an unexpected boost these days from Adolf Hitler and the boys, no less.
More and more art returned to the proper owners after the WW2 lootings by Nazis (as well as the Red Army) is being sold in public auction.
Since 1996, Sotheby’s and Christie’s alone have sold a combined total of about £140 million ($252 million at today’s exchange rate) of art returned to families from museums and private collections.
I, for one, found this article exceedingly interesting. Read, as they say, the whole thing here.
It's the little details I tend to forget.
Actual conversations I've had with my oncologist this week:
Me: It's just that my throat still hurts and I've felt sick for almost two weeks. I usually get better in a week or so. What's wrong with me?
Dr. Krishnan: Remember when I told you that you have cancer?
Me: Oh, yeah.
Me: What's the appointment for on the 20th?
Dr. Krishnan: Because you have cancer.
You'd think I could remember something like that.
It's more than just speculation if it appeared in an important periodical like Star Magazine.
The only drink they ordered was one Coke -- and they appeared to be sharing it. At the end of the meal, the waiter brought the check.
Or, as another observer put it, "Jen could have started early eating for the holidays, but I think she looks more like she has a baby on the way!"
The Flower Vendor
by Diego Rivera
Throughout his sixty-year career, Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) produced some of the most distinctive and socially powerful works in modern art. Most famous for his murals, his monumental frescos gave life to revolutionary themes, championing the causes of the oppressed. Rivera used portraiture throughout his career to make personal, artistic and political statements, as well as to convey his Communistic beliefs and opinions. In addition to being a painter, Rivera was also a skilled printmaker, sculptor and book illustrator.
Text via Global Gallery.
December 16, 2004
Make it not true.
Please, please, anybody - make it not true.
**UPDATE: Um, maybe it's a ruse to get my attention or something.**
***UPDATE: Hmmm.. nope, no update. Still in denial.***
What I love most about reality television.
The way it brings families together.
Please kill me.
Wait, I've had a moment of clarity. Please kill the producers.
Popping Cancer, prehistory
The first time I had cancer, it was bad. Very bad.
I was 18 and on summer vacation from classes at Old Dominion University (Go Blue!). I had what I thought was a simple sore throat and cold, and since my mother was a teacher changing jobs over the summer, I didn't go see the doctor because we didn't have health insurance until August.
Of course, it was Hodgkin's disease, which progressed until my neck size grew two inches because of the size of my growing lymph nodes. The lymph nodes on my chest got so large that when I tried to sleep on my back, I couldn't breathe. One memorable day, my buddy Scott and I went to play tennis and simply holding up the racquet tired me out, let alone hitting the ball back.
That same night I went, without insurance, to see the doctor. The next morning I was in a hospital bed. There are fun stories about how my family took the news, the way the over-booked hospital accidentally put me in a hospice room at first and the horrifying antics that occurred as a result, my first treatments, the lady from church who suggested I search my life for whatever sin made God give me cancer as a punishment, some practical jokes (the old "dumping apple juice in the urine specimin" joke never got old), a few near-death experiences and some of the people I met along the way (along with some of their funerals), but those can mostly wait for future posts.
I mention my treatment history only to give context to the actual danger that ANY treatment will pose for me in the coming months. From the time I was 18 until I was 25 I did the maximum "safe" amount of radiation allowable, years and years of chemotherapy and followed the whole ordeal up with a bone marrow transplant, which I just barely survived and is worth its own series of posts sometime near Halloween.
If it helps give context to the possibly unprecedented amount of treatment I have received, my doctor showed me a chart once. This doctor, Dr. Yanovich, is one of the leading cancer research doctors on the East Coast and it is partially because I survived so much treatment that he agreed to see me in the first place. The chart came about because I asked him what the standard course of treatment for people in my position was. He said there was no standard course of treatment, because everyone who had ever had as much treatment as I had was dead. Sure enough, I was off the actual chart when he showed it to me. I was somewhere about two inches off the top corner of the page, as a matter of fact.
I should have known there was something a bit unusual about me as a patient because every day on rounds, Dr. Yanovich would have with him 6-10 med students and, occasionally, visiting doctors. They would all examine me and linger over my chart.
Later, another doctor told me I was a study case simply because I was too stubborn to die. That's the only explanation they had for my continued breathing and moving. My current oncologist said they were studying me because I had "the power of faith," which he defined as an unknowable quality that gives some people the strength to live when they should be long dead. Doctors know it exists, and when they find it they want to study it, hence the parade of students.
Looking back, maybe it was faith. As a pastor, I'd love to claim it was faith. Really, it just felt like stubborn-ness. I just woke up every morning, especially in the bone marrow transplant days, and told myself I only had to make it through the one day, or in some cases, the one hour. I knew death was a real option and on more than one occasion during the high-dosage chemotherapy week of the transplant, I knew I could internally relax my fighting and die as a way out. I could have conciously given up and died, in other words.
I didn't really have any particular desire to live, just a daily stubborn-ness. My calling as a critical care chaplain started to rear its head during this time as well, as I began to see other patients around me, but that too is another post for another day. The point today is that you can do a lot of things you'd never think possible if you're just too thick-headed to give up.
The other point is that I'm scared of ANY treatment at this point. Any more radiation is even further off the chart and potentially fatal. I can't imagine they'd do more radiation as anything but a last resort. Chemotherapy might be only slightly less potentially fatal. The drug they would want to use is the one that damaged my heart (*see last cancer post) and my lungs.
Maybe this specialist I'm seeing Monday in Cleveland can come up with something else. The moral for the day, though, is that it's ok to be scared sometimes. We get this crazy idea that we have to "be strong for the family." Why? Why do we have to hide what we all feel anyway? What would happen if our family or our church or our friends saw us as a real human being who was scared to die? Who didn't want to feel pain?
And that bit about "protecting the children" is also bunk. What we're really doing when we say we're trying to protect others is trying to protect ourselves. We're scared to FEEL things, especially uncomfortable things, so we don't tell the kids, we don't share our feelings and, very often, we die in our shells. Kids know; our family knows. Hiding emotions doesn't make them go away. Nothing you hold back from loved ones makes cancer any better.
It's especially horrific when parents don't tell kids when it's the kid himself/herself that is sick. Ugh. KIDS KNOW. They know they're sick. They see the way people act differently around them. Kids are resiliant and strong and adaptable and when you say you're "protecting them," what you're doing is trying to protect yourself. All the secrecy does is add layers of anxiety to a kid's already confused thoughts.
All that is to say that whereever you are in your life, it's okay to feel what you feel. In this case, I have legitimate concerns about any potential treatment, and as I approach a meeting that will help guide our response to this latest threat, I know about myself that parts of me are afraid. This is who I am right now. I'm not a lump of horrified jelly, but parts of me are scared.
Feels better to give myself permission to feel that way.
A Directory of Wonderful Things!
New to Popping Culture's coveted blogroll: Boing Boing, which bills itself as "A Directory of Wonderful Things."
Delivers on that promise, too.
Ok, I believe in God again.
December 15, 2004
Question from the U.S. Department of Education: Is Our Children Learning?
**UPDATE: For the love of all things holy, the title is a joke. I'm aware of the poor grammar already!**
Popping Cancer, 12/15: Bad news still way out in front, good news gets on the board.
I am taking this to be superb news: with the exception of the area we already knew was cancerous, nothing of interest appeared my latest CAT scan.
This most likely means that the cancer itself is contained to the area on my upper left back, near my lung. Since surgery removed most of the offending lump, the issue now becomes treatment.
I did all the radiation you're supposed to do in a lifetime when I was a teenager struggling with Hodgkin's Disease. So radiation, the preferred course of treatment in the case of a soft-tissue sarcoma, is out. I also did years of chemotherapy with a drug that damaged the muscles in my heart. The tradeoff was that I got to live, but now my heart beats out about 35-40 percent of the blood in it with each beat, compared to a typical human heart at about 60-65 percent per beat. So to do more chemotherapy with that drug (the second choice of treatment) also seems like a risky venture.
For this reason, my oncologist has suggested I see another specialist (as a second opinion) to discuss treatment options. On Monday, December 20, I'll be heading to Cleveland for just that purpose. Following that meeting, my oncologist and I will hammer out what promises to be a dangerous course of action.
Until then, it's pretty much back into the holding pattern. The worst parts of cancer have always been the slow times: waiting for test results, long afternoons in the hospitals, etc. Ah, another Christmas with cancer. I'm getting up near double-figures now!
Still, it was a huge deal to have the CAT scan come back clean. If the cancer had spread, baseline survival rates would have been about 10 percent. As it is, since the disease is more localized, the survival baseline is closer to 90 percent.
I had a feeling the CAT scan would come back with good news, but you never know until you KNOW. I was due for some good news after that three-week long streak of nothing but bad.
Also on the positive front, my job approval rating is now up to about 100 percent at the church. My theory of pastoring is that there will be about 2.5 percent of the congregation who think you can do no wrong and will love you no matter what boneheaded pastoral decisions you make. Another 2.5 are against you from day one, for whatever reason, and nothing short of your dismissal will ever make them happy no matter how ideal a pastor you are. The majority, that other 95 percent, tend to drift with circumstance.
With the cancer working, my sermons are certainly better and more real, and any act of compassion I commit comes with the unspoken "He should be in bed himself and look at the good he's doing!" caveat. Even if someone out there wished me dead, they still have to give grudging props to the pastor who keeps pastoring with cancer.
My theory, and I share this with cancer patients everywhere, is take advantage of every opportunity. Take all the chocolate and flowers and sympathy and whatever else while you still can. Sure it seems selfish, but dying a slow, painful death (especially without chocolate) is no bed of roses, either.
You MUST read this blog
It's called "Follow the Cheese" and it details the quest of a Miami Herald reporter to transport a grilled cheese sandwich from Miami to Las Vegas to the folks who purchased it on eBay for $28,000 because the original owner claimed it looked like the Virgin Mary.
We take that back.
This HAS GOT to be the quote of the day:
Quote of the Day
"What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well." —Antoine Saint-Exupery
December 14, 2004
On the naughty list, and just a week before Christmas!
Trading Spaces' Paige Davis.
Frankly, I can't decide between the 4 sarcastic comments I have in mind. I'll let you do the work this time. Key quote: Frankly, I'd rather watch her pretend-strip than watch people's idiot neighbors paste corrogated cardboard on the walls, paint the couch purple, and take down the ceiling fan. Hell, it's not even close.
Even if you aren't the video game freak I am, THIS is pretty scary...
And they thought Microsoft was a monopoly.
Popping Cancer, 12/14
-cancer reports and reflections are now being gathered in the right sidebar under a "topic" heading all their own.
-CAT scan results (the big ones) aren't in yet, as of 9:30 this morning. Doctor said he'd call the lab again.
-A diagnosis of cancer means you automatically win every argument. Example:
Group: We would like to eat at Pizza Hut.
Dan: I would like to eat at Roadhouse, and I have cancer.
Group: We'll get the car.
It really is like the Jedi mind trick.
Wife: The cat box is full.
Wife: Why don't I clean it?
I win! The only possible downside I can see is the whole dying after months of intense pain thing.
December 13, 2004
Michael Crichton has an answer to "The Day After Tomorrow"
And it's called "State of Fear."
Now he's questioning global warming in his new thriller, "State of Fear," about eco-terrorists who plot a series of natural disasters — earthquakes, underwater landslides, a tsunami — to prove that global warming is a threat to humanity. A ragtag band of scientists and lawyers uncovers the scheme.
"State of Fear" sounds like a typical Crichton thriller, but this time he's using the novel as a platform, tacking on a five-page message stating his notion that the theory of global warming is speculative at best, and a 14-page bibliography of works supporting his views.
I don't have any views on the environment, other than that I think it's very nice. I WILL say that Crichton isn't just some pulp fiction novel writer: he used the proceeds from his first big hit, "The Andromeda Strain" to work his way through no less than Harvard Med School. Yowtch!
Crichton also did a little ditty about dinosaurs a while back. You probably missed it.
Sermon to myself
Let’s make sure we get this straight right from the beginning: cancer is your enemy.
Cancer is a dark, evil, malevolent terrorist of a disease and the only thing that will make it happy is your death. Any attempts to rationalize cancer as a self-help program, a series of instructions, God’s will or a test of some sort is the medical equivalent of negotiating with terrorists. Don’t do it.
God didn’t give you cancer. Did you get that?
Let me say it again: God didn’t give you cancer.
You got cancer because sometimes, in this world, people get sick. The world is fallen. It is sick with sin and disease and poverty and anger and hunger and greed. Humans are frail and sometimes, they get sick. Sometimes they even get cancer.
During my first course of chemotherapy I asked a lot of questions that boiled down to “why me?” After all, I had never smoked, I wasn’t a drinker, I didn’t do drugs and I didn’t run around with loose women. In most southern country churches like the one I grew up in, those are the big four. So why would I get cancer? Why me?
On this side of the disease, I don’t ask “why me?” anymore. Instead, I have found that a healthier point of view leads to the question “why not me?” I’m not Superman. Being a Christian doesn’t make me bulletproof or magically immune to disease. I am human and sometimes humans get sick.
One memorable late morning during my second round of chemotherapy, a young lady who was one of my peers from a local church group stopped to visit in my hospital room. During the course of the conversation, she asked “What is Jesus teaching you in all this?”
Do me a favor and don’t ever ask anyone that question.
My reaction was a babbled, stammered answer, followed by guilt. Should I be learning? Was my faith so weak that I couldn’t see that God had given me cancer to teach me something? Apparently, to this young woman, I had been so wrapped up in myself, in being sick and throwing up all day and fearing for my life, that I had taken my eyes off Jesus.
Here’s an important resource to remember: when you have cancer, you’re allowed to be wrapped up in yourself. You’re allowed to act in your own best interests. Sometimes, you’re even allowed to be selfish. When you’re under attack by an uncaring, non-negotiable disease, the cure of which is taking in poison on purpose, I think it’s just fine with God if you don’t start preparing Bible Studies right away.
Don’t get me wrong; I learned a great deal from my experience with cancer. I learned how to love others better. I learned that everyone has pain in their lives that is just as real to them as mine is to me, no matter how “glamorous” cancer sounds. I was compelled into ministry by my time fighting cancer. I learned a new glossary and I learned how to take control of my own treatment and my own life.
But notice that each of those sentences starts with the word “I”.
Cancer is an evil. Cancer is an enemy. It wants you dead and it is using your own body to kill you. Anything good that comes from cancer is something that you produce. All the things I take with me from my experience with cancer, I chose to take. I created the good that came from cancer. On its own, nothing good can come of it. It is evil.
God can help you learn and grow from an experience with disease, but never dare be so petty and misguided as to think that God gave someone cancer to teach them a lesson, or worse, to punish them. That’s not the God I worship and if your God sits in the sky and picks sinners to afflict with cancer while others get off scot-free, then we worship different Gods.
Part of being human is learning to live with unanswered questions. Most folks, however, especially church folks, like to have an answer pre-packaged for everything. They think that since they’re Christians that life, and God, is supposed to be completely understandable.
So well-meaning church folks see someone with cancer and, lacking a better answer, blame God. After all, everything has to have a Biblical purpose doesn’t it? The problem is that, in the process, we leave behind a trail of cancer patients who fight guilt and who come to see God as an invisible force just waiting to punish them with horrific diseases for no real reason.
Shame on the church for its obsessive-compulsive need to have an explanation for everything. Life is mystery. More than that, being a Christian means embracing mystery.
“Ah Horatio, there's more in this heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy," Hamlet said. There is more to God, and more to life, than we will ever understand. We just aren’t wired for it as finite humans.
It is enough, in the course of a chemotherapy treatment, to know that God loves you and wants you to be well. It is enough to know that you got sick because you’re a human and sometimes humans get sick. It is enough to know that cancer is never your friend and nothing good can come out of cancer unless you choose to take it yourself.
You are alive today, and sometimes, that's enough.
*UPDATE: My latest cancer news is two posts down. If you have a friend with cancer, maybe they'd like to read this?*
Paging Mr. Oscar
The Space Between*
*With apologies to Dave Matthews Band.
Today is a seriously odd place to be.
I did a CAT scan today, which, having to choke down the barium contrast aside, went pretty well. Now the waiting begins. The time between. What James Taylor called "time spent out of time."
It comes to this: if the cancer kept to itself and remained localized then the odds of survival are a whopping 90 percent. That's good.
If, however, the cancer has metastasized (spread), then survival rates drop to less than 10 percent. That's not much.
And so what do I do while I wait for results? Post pretty paintings and Hollywood news? Live as though nothing else was going on? Do a few chores around the house? Wait, fretting and pulling hair, by the telephone? Sleep?
And so I don't know what to do with this space between the wondering and the knowing. I have good reason to suspect both results. Funny odd thing, life.
I guess we all have moments spent outside of time: the space between when you ask her to marry you and she answers, the space between when you start tearing into that present and when you know what's inside, the sensation of trying a new food and the space between when you put it in your mouth and when your brain finally registers a taste, the space between when the professor places your test face down on your desk and when you get it turned over and see your grade, the space between when you know you're going to hit the car in front of you and the time the collision actually happens.
Most of the between times are short, over quickly despite seeming to move in slow motion. My space between might be hours, even a day or two.
Isn't that crazy and scary? A 90 percent chance or a 10 percent chance. Life or death, balanced on a paper-thin, unpredictable report that could come through any time.
I don't know what I should be feeling.
I know that in the last week or so, just like the last times I was diagnosed, food tastes better. Hugs feel warmer. It's a hell of a lot easier to tell people I love them.
It feels like I honestly believe that every day is a gift and that you should always treat people like you'll never see them again, but that I usually believe it in a general day-by-day, on-paper-only sense. It feels real now. Shame on all of us for the things we say we believe but don't really live.
So the surgery and the tests and the pain and the worry all come down to one little report. Curious thing, that.
I CAN tell one thing clearly in this space between, though: even if I was sleepwalking my way through life before, I'm awake now. No matter the results, I feel alive. That healthy dose of sarcasm I carry with me is way in a back corner right now. Cynicism is a luxury for those who aren't really living, I think.
I've known people who said they were never really alive until they were given a terminal diagnosis. I'm starting to be reminded of how they felt.
Frustration, boredom, cynicism, sarcasm, laziness, never being satisfied: all come in those times when we're on the periphery, not really living at all.
Now that I'm in that strange, un-temporal space between, the time spent out of time, I sure do love being alive.
I'll post test results when I hear them.
News like this makes me reconsider my belief in a loving God.
December 12, 2004
On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins
The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
Big Grant, Little School
Even in the world of art, it appears that it's not what you do, it's who you know. This start-up school nabbed a quarter of a million dollars, while other, more established programs got zilch.
It appears the right people lobbied the right people at the right time, all behind the scenes.
December 11, 2004
Shooting has finished on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Popping Cancer Update
The lump they removed turned out to be a soft-tissue sarcoma, specifically a "malignant fibrous histiocytoma." Pictures of tumors similar to mine can be seen here, if you're morbidly curious or just really into tumors. Here are some googled facts about this form of cancer from Cancerbacup:
The soft tissue sarcomas are a group of cancers which develop from a number of different supportive tissues in the body including fibrous tissue, muscle, ligaments, tendons and fat.
Soft tissue sarcomas are rare. They make up less than 1% of all cancers, with only about 1200 new cases being diagnosed each year in the United Kingdom. Relatively speaking, they are actually more common in children than adults, making up about 8% of all cancers in those under the age of 15.
The majority of soft tissue sarcomas develop in the limbs and they are three times commoner in the legs than the arms.
Soft tissue sarcomas can spread to other parts of the body by sending tiny clumps of tumour cells into the blood stream. The commonest site of spread for these cancers is to the lungs.
Over the years more than 60 different types, or subtypes, of soft tissue sarcoma have been identified. As the group of tumours as a whole are quite rare this means that some forms of the condition are very very rare indeed. The large number of different types has also lead to problems in classifying the soft tissue sarcomas. Most have names based on the type of normal cell from which the cancer might have started but for some soft tissue sarcomas there does not seem to be any equivalent normal cell and so special names have been given to these tumours.
The MFH is the commonest of all the soft tissue sarcomas and can arise from fibrous supportive tissues anywhere in the body, although it is commonest in the limbs. In the past these tumours were often called fibrosarcomas. They most commonly occur between the ages of 50 to 70.
MFH usually starts as a rapidly growing, painless, swelling in the soft, non-bony, tissues. Generally the tumours cause few other symptoms but occasionally are associated with fever and weight loss.
Like most other soft tissue sarcomas the treatment of MFH is surgery, wherever possible, to remove the growth. If the sarcoma is low grade when looked at under the microscope then this may be all the treatment that is needed, but if it is higher grade than surgery is usually followed by a course of radiotherapy to reduce any chance of the cancer coming back. Occasionally a sarcoma is too large or stuck down to make an operation possible, but the surgeon feels that it might become operable if it could reduced in size. In this situation the doctors may recommend a course of radiotherapy or chemotherapy before the operation in the hope that it may shrink the sarcoma and make it more operable. If the MFH is in a part of the body where surgery is impossible or dangerous then radiotherapy is used and often combined with chemotherapy. With these measures many MFH can be cured.
Here are some additional fun facts from my doctor:
-This type of sarcoma is common in past cancer patients who have undergone radiotherapy. Since I did all the radiation treatment you're supposed to do in a lifetime over the course of 6 months or so when I was 18, I think I qualify.
-My sarcoma is very high-grade. 3/3, whatever that means.
-The CAT scan Monday should help determine if it has spread (metastasized). If it was local and hadn't spread, survival rates are up near 90 percent as a baseline. If it is metastatic, survival rates drop to below 10 percent as a baseline. Spreading bad.
-My doctor says treatment will be "tricky" since I received so much radiation and chemotherapy in the past. Ideally, they shouldn't give me more of either, since I hit the limit of radiation and I did so much chemotherapy that it damaged the muscles of my heart over the 8 years of treatment when I was younger (and the bone marrow transplant). The chemotherapy drug suggested for treatment in this case is the same drug that damaged my heart (I now beat out about 35 percent of the blood in my heart per beat. The average human beats out about 60-65 percent).
Next up is the CAT scan Monday, then a second opinion meeting with a doctor in Cleveland Clinic. This is a second opinion about treatment, since choosing an appropriate response is really picking your poison in my case.
I'm happy to answer any questions you might have. It'll take my mind off Lindsay Lohan's family problems.
December 10, 2004
One at a time, please, ladies...
The Prime Minister is a busy man.
They're Coming to Get You, Barbara.
There are certain joys in life that can only be experienced if you're willing to risk 90-120 minutes of your life at a time. I refer, of course, to the sheer, unmitigated pleasure of stumbling across a truly bad horror movie.
In college, my buddy Keith and I would scavenge video rental stores for their worst horror flicks (I swear we watched From Beyond a dozen times - oh, the stories I could tell about huge, stereotypical black men and pineal glands. Keith OWNED a copy of the Chuck Norris classic Silent Rage. Good times. What were we gonna do, go to class?).
Some were better than others. All of them were good for a laugh. A few gems could be remember by individual scenes (such as being embalmed alive in one memorable, Oscar-worthy moment or any of the half-dozen alien impregnation scenes). What made them so much fun was that we knew what we were getting into with our $2/7 night rental, knew what to expect and honestly enjoyed the occasional jump-out-of-your-socks moment.
I say all that to introduce a HUGE discovery by Popping Culture for fans of the B horror flick: They're Coming to Get You, Barbara. Finally, horror fans, who are just like us, have sorted through literally HUNDREDS of second- and third-rate special effects disasters and provided in-depth reviews for each.
It sounds funny to say, but there are some bad horror films out there that aren't worth viewing. Let They're Coming to Get You, Barbara help! New reviews every Monday.
December 09, 2004
Worst Movies of the Year
One of our friends at Blogcritics has put together a list of the top nine worst flicks of the year. You have a choice for the number 10 spot?
Quote of the Day
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO what a ride!"
December 08, 2004
Popping Culture Public Service Announcement
You know, in case anyone in your church on Sunday cries out "For the love of all that's holy, can't anyone here give an enema to a rat?"
Note: it should be "soothing" to the rat.
The ageless one has a stroke.
Best wishes to Dick Clark for a quick recovery. Who doesn't remember him from their youth?
The new blog in my life.
Check out Words Without Borders, which bills itself as "The Online Magazine for International Literature."
The current cover page has a discussion of various multicultural children's stories and there's also a link on that page to "Iraq Stories," a journalistic piece that gives a rare glimpse into the culture.
Links from the front page include geographic regions (Africa, Americas, Europe, Middle East, Pacific Rim, etc.) and geographic environments (cities, coasts, mountains, deserts, forests, etc.) that help focus your interests.
You should really take a peek and grab some free wisdom, ya bunch of savages.
December 07, 2004
Slow news day in Hollywood?
I'm so sick of everyone saying Ohio lacks culture.
This ought to shut 'em up.
Alba Madonna by Raphael
National Gallery, Washinton
Quote of the Day
Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be. — Thomas a Kempis
December 06, 2004
Speaking of Monty Python
We finally have an scientific discussion on the airspeed velocity of an unladen sparrow.
Thanks for the link, Dean.
Ok, I read the whole story and I still don't understand the headline.
You think they'd be proud of something like that.
Can you name something more potentially disastrous than a Marvel Comics Iron Man movie?
A Marvel Comics Iron Man movie starring - it hurts just to say it - Justin Timberlake as Iron Man.
There are still folks out there looking for the Holy Grail
When even Monty Python gives up, you know the ship has sailed. Still, hope springs eternal, if not stupid.
Honestly, though... they're looking for a JEWELLED chalice? Maybe they read a different version of the Bible than I did.
It's nice to live in a culture where if people choose to spend their lives on a quest for an ancient relic that no longer exists, they can earn enough money to do so. Democracy in action, I say!
Are they really THAT good?
Here is a collection of poor reviews of musicians and groups typically considered great. See if you agree with any of their assessments.
Rocked as "overrated" are Elvis Costello, David Bowie, The Beatles, Elvis, Bob Marley, Prince, Nirvana, James Brown, The Rolling Stones, U2, Neil Young, Jim Morrison and The Clash. Quite an honor roll to be taking on.
Here's a taste:
He's the godfather of soul, which is fine as long as "soul" is defined as funk workouts bereft of tunes. Brown is one of the most pernicious influences on pop for the last 50 years. His canon consists of little more than brass-driven aerobics workouts, over which he barks claims of his own magnificence, and were he to yell "Get up, I feel like a sex machine!" you'd be dialling 999 rather than leaping into bed. Apologists point to his work for the black community, but a former jailbird who has faced arraignments for armed robbery, tax evasion and spousal abuse looks exposed on the moral high ground. So say it loud: he's crap, and he's proud.
U2 are probably the most over-rated band in history. Their debut, Boy, was a classic and still sounds fresh and impassioned. Fatally though, they became a band that believed their own (fawning) press and whose egotism has devoured their talent. The Joshua Tree showed what a good guitar group/stadium rock band U2 could be. Sadly, they had the sort of pretensions that usually afflict mediocre American outfits like the Chili Peppers. On Achtung Baby and Zooropa they started plundering other bands' innovations and moving into "dance music" - though only the whitest, geekiest student could dance to them. Bono's ego meanwhile became so over-inflated he made Robbie Williams look camera-shy. As a political mouthpiece, the effectiveness of what he's spoken out about has always been over-shadowed by the column inches he's received. His insistence on singing the key line in the new version of Band Aid for example hardly seems very... charitable.
Like the poor and Pauline Fowler, Neil Young is always with us, a reminder of the drearier things of life. Venerated by paunchy Mojo-reading types, Young - whose reedy voice is the exact timbre of a continental dial tone - has changed neither his riffs nor his plaid shirt since he left Buffalo Springfield in 1968. Forever droning on about a mythical, moral America, Young has even-handedly bored three generations equally thoroughly, and unleashed some unspeakable musical atrocities. His last record, Greendale, was a concept album apparently scripted by William McGonagall, the anti-communist dirge Rockin' In The Free World remains one of the direst songs ever penned, and so relentlessly maudlin is Young that poor, impressionable Kurt Cobain quoted him in his suicide note. The apologists who boast that Neil Young has "never sold out" forget the main reason things don't sell out: people don't want to buy them.
December 05, 2004
Purging, and I didn't even get to binge
I think that's all of them... thank you for sitting through the spam attack. Total spammed comments: 4156.
Quote of the day
Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. — Napoleon Bonaparte
December 04, 2004
The thing about people is...
Culture note: there will always be someone out there, waiting to be offended.
I guess it was inevitable.
With the recent successes of Batman and Spider-Man movies, it's only natural that the rush-to-copy mentality that launched a thousand reality shows would lead us to a world where EVERY SINGLE comic book ever made gets it's own big screen appearance.
Both at least stand a chance. Sub-Mariner will be directed by Chris Columbus, who hasn't done anything shockingly bad lately and Sin City boasts a cast that includes heavy hitters Jessica Alba ('nuff said), Rosario Dawson, Elijah Wood, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan, Josh Hartnett, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke as Marv, in a role that could re-vitalize his career.
From the Sin City trailer:
Marv: What if I'm wrong? I've got a condition. I get confused sometimes. What if I've imagined all this? What if I've finally turned into what they've always said I would turn into? A maniac. A psycho killer.
I have to admit shock that they haven't revived Archie Comics with new crop of young actors out there.
It's kind of like movie news, and kind of like I just found my new hero...
This long-time film critic is quitting to move on to something bigger and better... nothing!
December 03, 2004
From Popping Culture's "Did That Sign Say What I Thought It Said?" Desk
Attention, Sports Fans!
Two Minute Warning, the fantasy football team to end all fantasy football teams, has clinched a playoff berth!
Stay tuned for more shameless self-promotion.
Where do YOU fit in the world?
Click here, enter your birthdate, and take a peek.
After clicking "movies" at the bottom, I found out I was 9 when Animal House first hit the big screen. That explains a lot: that kind of thing is formative.
Next time someone's running their yapper in the movie theater...
I suggest you call for an usher.
December 02, 2004
Here's the update:
I saw the doctor Thursday afternoon. He removed the drainage tube (Ouch! Hey, ouch!) and bandaged me back up, including the incision itself which comes in at a sleek and painful 8 inches long. I've never caught a fish that big outside of the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, my back looks like the loser in a fight with Wolverine.
The lump itself (which my doctor said was the size of a fist... yay!) is still under investigation. It was supposed to be a harmless lipoma, but reality happened to crash that party. The surgeon said it had characteristics of a benign tumor (clear fluid) and a malignant cancerous sarcoma (blood vessels and spreading cells). According to the surgeon, who looks about 12-years old by the way, there was so much necrosis (dead cells and whatnot) that the more local pathology folks couldn't figure it out with certainty (what they call "concensus").
So it goes up another level and the big boys of the pathology world will report back, although it might take another full week. Yay! More anxious waiting! Nothing fills those boring hours like cold, raving fear of the unknown.
So I get to preach a sermon in the meantime, trying to inspire and lead a congregation that really should be preaching a sermon to me, and pray that nobody is so happy to see me back in church that they slap me on the back.
Depending on the results:
(1) It's nothing and I just take another week to heal up and all is well except for the half dozen seminary papers now past due, or,
(2) It's something and we get to do more surgery, this time on a wider scale ("Wider than an 8-inch incision?" was my actual breathless question. The answer: yep, it would require skin grafts), since I can't do the normal treatment, which is radiation, because at 18 I got all the radiation you're allowed to do for your entire life in a 6-month life-saving span. You can't beat that amount of radiation without becoming a member of the Fantastic Four or something (mmmm... Jessica Alba as Sue Richards... turning her invisible is a crime).
Title: Blue Boy
Artist: Thomas Gainsborough (1727 - 1788)
Thomas Gainsborough was born in Suffolk, with recognizable talent even as a child. At 13, his family sent him to study in London under French artist Hubert Gravelot. In 1745, Gainsborough attempted to make a living selling his landscapes, but his business ventures soon failed and he returned to his birthplace. He then moved to Bath, abandoning his preferred landscape subjects for the more lucrative career of a portrait artist. In 1768, Gainsborough’s reputation earned him a spot as one of the founders of the Royal Academy in London.
Blue Boy is a classic, and the work for which Gainsborough is most known.
December 01, 2004
The Book Thing may be in financial trouble
Which is a shame, because it's such a novel concept.
Quote of the Day
Not all who wander are lost.
– John Ronald Reuel Tolkien