Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Follow-Up, Part II

A couple more issues from the last few weeks that I need to comment on.

First, for those of you who think Wii injuries are something to be laughed at, I must ask that you cease your snickering. Video evidence shows the seriousness of the problem, aside from the repetitive motion injuries. First, a young man comes up with the brilliant idea of attaching his Wii stick to a baseball bat and using it to play Wii Baseball. First of all, there's a reason they strongly encourage the use of the wrist strap, and this is it. Second, how can the Mom taking the video be so darn calm?

Another Wii Baseball problem: a broken hand. Again, read the directions -- they warn you 100 times to make sure the area around you is clear.

If you don't know what all of that Wii stuff is all about, you're probably better off anyway.

Enough of that foolishness. On to more serious issues.

In my recent post about good and bad Christmas songs, I mentioned my father's admiration for Eartha Kitt, whom he told me he had first heard on "New Faces of 1952," which I identified as a TV show. Dad tried to write a comment on the blog, and then tried to e-mail me, and technology failed him both times. So when I saw him over Christmas, he gave me a copy of the e-mail he had sent:

Just got around to reading your blog of Wednesday, 12/10/08. I'm happy to learn that you were listeningwhen we talked about Eartha Kitt. I just want to set the record straight. New Faces of 1952 was a Broadway production, not a TV show. It introduced new talent to the world. The song she sang was "Under the Bridges of Paris." I remember the words as if it were yesterday.

My darling why I sing this song is easy to explain.
It tells what happens all along the bridges of the Seine.
The vagabonds go there at night to sing all their troubles away.
And when the moon is shining bright my heart wants to sing it this way.
How woud you like to be
Down by the Seine with me
Oh what I'd give for a moment or two
Under the brisges of Paris with you.
Darling, I'd hold you tight
Far from the eyes of night,
I'd make ytour dreams come true.

She continued with a chorus or two in French and then back to English. All with a very sultry French accent. Remember, I was a freshman in high school at the time.

Oh, the memories.

First of all, let me just say, I always listen when I'm spoken to. I don't necessarily do what I'm asked to do, but I listen.

Dad gave me the e-mail, and the background story (he played the song over and over on a record; he didn't see the show), on the morning of the day after Christmas. About 20 minutes later, I read in the paper that Eartha Kitt had died the day before-- Christmas day. What a strange coincidence.

"New Faces of 1952" was made into a movie; I can't find a clip, but here's a tribute to her, with the song. I still like Eartha as Catwoman, but that's just me....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Follow-Up, Part I

My goodness -- it's been almost a week since I posted. The holidays will do that. We've been busy traveling, cleaning up the wrapping paper mess, and catching up on sleep. But mostly I'm trying to get over a bad case of "Wii Arm" brought on by repetitive motions that I'm frankly not used to. Sad but true.
(And yes, while most Wii-related injuries involve being hit with a controller, there really are orthapaedists who discuss Wii-related sports injuries out there online.)

I have a few follow-ups from some recent Christmas-related postings to share.

First off all, if you enjoyed reflecting on all of the Christmas songs I wrote about, you might enjoy this quiz from the Chicago Tribune, "So You Think You Know Carols?" Twenty-five questions about song lyrics from Christmas carols. For the record, I scored a 23 out of 25, for a 92%. (I have a special talent for remembering song lyrics, as I've mentioned before. It's a sickness more than a talent, really.)

While you're at the Tribune web site, check out their gallery of photos of children crying because they're afraid of Santa. Apparently, readers send in the photos, and they've already filled three galleries. Here's a sample:

Of course, you know my theory -- the kids probably all just finished watching Rudolph.

And speaking of pictures, here's one of my brother and me from Christmas night:

A couple of fine-looking Scottish lads, aren't we?

And lest you think we might be betraying our MacDonald of Clan Ranald ancestors, the kilts we wear are not actually representative of any particular clan. I know -- I've done extensive research. What's important is how awesome we look. Amazingly, neither of us is holding a beer.

And a follow-up to Joe's comment from the last posting -- I didn't type all 35 steps. It's a total cut-and-paste job from another site. I'll be honest.

Another Christmas follow-up in a day or two.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas

....and Happy Hannukah, Happy Festivus, and/or a Joyous Season to you all.

Only a couple more days until Christmas. We're looking forward to seeing family and friends.

The kids have a half-day of school today, so I'm home alome wrapping some presents and watching The Grinch, which is the bestest of all the Christmas specials. (Boris Karloff narrating, Chuck Jones directing, and that guy who does Tony Tiger's voice (They're Grrrrreat!") singing the Grinch song. How can it not be the bestest?)

Strudel has been helping me wrap presents, which has reminded me of something I saw once online called "How to Wrap Presents with a Dog," a variation of which I give you here to describe how my gift-wrapping went:

1. Gather presents, boxes, paper, etc. in middle of living room floor.
2. Get tape back from Strudel.
3. Remove scissors from Strudel's mouth.
4. Open box.
5. Take Strudel out of box.
6. Remove tape from Strudel's mouth.
7. Take scissors away from Strudel.
8. Put present in box.
9. Remove present from Strudel's mouth.
10. Put back in box after removing Strudel from box.
11. Take scissors from Strudel & sit on them.
12. Remove Strudel from box & put on lid.
13. Take tape away from Strudel.
14. Unroll paper.
15. Take Strudel OFF box.
16. Cut paper being careful not to cut Strudel's foot or nose that is getting in the way as she "helps".
17. Let Strudel tear paper remaining to be cut.
18. Take Strudel off box.
19. Wrap paper around box.
20. Remove Strudel from box & take wrapping paper from her mouth.
21. Tell Strudel to hold tape so she will stop stealing it.
22. Take scissors away from Strudel.
23. Take tape Strudel is guarding.
24. Quickly tape one spot before taking scissors from Strudel & sitting on them again.
25. Fend off Strudel trying to steal tape & tape another spot.
26. Take bow from Strudel.
27. Go get roll of wrapping paper Strudel ran off with.
28. Take scissors from Strudel, who grabbed them when you got up to chase her and get the paper.
29. Give pen to Strudel to hold so she stops licking your face.
30. Remove Strudel from present & hurriedly slap tape on to hold the paper on.
31. Take now soggy bow from Strudel & tape it on since the sticky stuff on the bow no longer sticks.
32. Take pen Strudel has been guarding, address tag & affix while Strudel tries to eat paper.
33. Grab present before Strudel tears it open & put away.
34. Clean up mess Strudel made playing tug-of-war with roll of wrapping paper.
35. Put away rest of wrapping supplies & tell Strduel what a good helper she is.

Actually, Strudel wasn't that bad today. She only made it to about step 7, and then she got tired of me yelling at her, so she took a couple of sips from the cup of coffee I had set down on the floor, and then jumped up on the couch to take a nap.

Things are settled down now; we're done with grading, pretty much done with shopping, and we can relax for a few days. After the new year starts, the kids are back in school, and we have some plans before our classes start up again: we promised Catherine we'd paint her room (in two shades of pink, but without the mural she has asked for); we have to get our Spring classes planned and materials posted online; we have a few professional development workshops to attend; and, if we're lucky, we'll have a little time to catch up on some reading.

I'm also taking some time to reflect. My one-year diagnosis anniversary is coming up. (Can you belive it's been a whole year?) Some things have changed in a year. I'll write more about that soon enough.

But for now, everyone have a safe and happy Christmas/Hannukah/Festivus.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let it Snow

We've been busy getting ready for Christmas, and had all of that hard work interrupted by our first big snowstorm of the year.

I can't find an official snowfall total, but I'm guessing it was 7 or 8 inches. Nice and fluffy, not too bad to shovel. The kids didn't have school yesterday, even though the snow didn't start until about 12:30 in the afternoon. But when it did start, it came down hard, an inch or two per hour.

We had planned on finishing up some Christmas shopping yesterday, but we stayed in instead, leaving the shoveling for this morning. We made some Christmas cookies and watched Elf. As immature as it is, this is my favorite scene from the movie. Naturally, the kids like it, too.
So our day wasn't what we had planned, but it was pretty good anyway. And the snow looks beautiful.

This is snow on the New Haven Green (sorry for the small size of the picture):

And here's the sculpture outside Engleman Hall, the building where the English Department is located:
We're expecting more snow tomorrow. Or maybe frozen rain. They still haven't figured it out. But it will be a mess, whatever it is.
So nothing much new to report, but I waned everyone to know we're doing OK, and I'm feeling fine.
Oh, and those two pictures were taken last December, not yesterday. I found them online. I'm too tired from shoveling to actually go downtown and take picures.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lots of Great NHL Research

I hate to ruin all of the Christmas and birthday frivolity with more of that "cancer talk," but....

.....but at least it's good cancer talk.

A couple of weeks ago, the ASH Conference took place. ASH stands for the American Society for Hematology. Hematology is the study of blood disorders. I figured you'd want to know, since I didn't know what it was until I was diagnosed with a blood cancer.

Hematology covers a pretty wide range of blood disorders, but there were a whole bunch of lymphoma-related research reports that came out of the conference. Lots of good, promising research, in various stages. I'll give you some brief summaries.

One research report discussed the results of an early trial for a drug called Blinatumomab, which is classified as a BiTE antibody. I wrote about BiTE antibodies before: the antibody attaches to cancerous B cells with one end of the molecule, while the other end attracts and attaches to a T cell, the kind of cell that can kill a B cell. Rituxin works well, but doesn't seem to always get all of the B cells it's looking for. Researchers think this might be a way to improve it. This was a small, phase I study, meant to figure out which dosage level of the drug would work best. Looks like they figured it out. They're moving on to a larger study, but it looks very promising.

Another panel of researchers discussed results of Rituxin Maintenance. It's a European study, so they use the European name MabThera instead of Rituxin. (I won't get into what Rituxin is -- if you've been reading the blog for a while, you know by now.) Basically, Rituxin Maintenance is the practice of giving Rituxin to a patient after he or she has received chemotherapy. It's been found that R-Maintanence prolongs the effects of chemo by continuing to fight off the lymphoma cells that were weakened by the chemo. This presentation showed that the R-Maintenance was pretty successful. It's a fairly common practice now, but this is more proof to continue it.

Another study looked at substituting one particular drug for another during a common chemotherapy regimen; the new combo has fewer side effects. The study took out Fludarabine from the regimen and replaced it with a drug called Pentostatin. Both drugs do the same job -- disrupting the lymphoma cells' ability to reproduce themselves. However, Fludarabine can sometimes lead to a condition called Myelosuppression, which means the body makes fewer blood cells. This can lead to all kinds of problems, as you can imagine, depending on which type of blood cell is being suppressed. The Pentostatin seems to be as effective as the Fludarabine, but without the Myelosuppression problems. Another very promising study, and relevent for me, because the Fludarabine combo was one of the chemotherapies that my oncologist and I have discussed for down the road.

Another study (sorry -- the link has expired now) looked at my old pal Zevalin. It was a follow-up on a presentation from last year's ASH conference. It showed, once again, some excellent news concerning Zevalin, a drug which seeks out individual lymphoma cells in the blood and zaps them with radiation. In this study, Zevalin was given after a standard chemotherapy treatment, and was found to extend the effectiveness of the chemo by over 5 years in a large percentage of patients. The authors point out that many study participants have moved beyond 5 years, so they still need to follow up with a revised number to show its continued effectiveness. In other words, next year they may tell us it's been six years of remission. Excellent news.

One more report without a link. This study looked at Treanda, the trade name for a chemo drug called bendamustine, which I've also written about before. Treanda was given to 462 patients. While it was a "single arm" trial, which means it wasn't explicitly comparing two treatments to one another within the same study, the Treanda study did seem to be as effective as CHOP, a common chemotherapy for follicular NHL. More importantly, it delivered the results with much less toxicity: about 91% of CHOP patients lose their hair, but none of the Treanda patients did. The hair loss in and of itself isn't really the issue -- that's what they're using as the measure of how toxic the chemo is on the body. As always, more long-term follow-up will be necessary, but this too looks very promising.

There are several more research reports coming out of ASH that deal with fNHL, and tons more that deal with other types of NHL, but I think this is plenty. You get the point -- there are more and better treatments for fNHL being developed all the time. Even if none proves curative, they give me more options, which is fantastic news to an fNHL patient.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Merry Christmas, Brother

My brother is recovering from a wee bit of leg surgery (a little outpatient stuff), and he requested a couple of Christmas-related videos to help him recover. They're a couple of all-time favorites.


First, the classic piece, "Santa Claus and His Old Lady," from Cheech and Chong. An all-time favorite.
Whatever happened to all that good drug-themed humor that we used to love? Oh, yeah -- it's still around. There was that Pineapple Express movie....

Then there's Bob and Doug McKenzie's 12 Days of Christmas. Beer-related Canadian humor. Almost as good as the marijuana-themed stuff.

So there -- I've fulfilled my brother's request. Now, on to me.

I had planned to run a 5k on Sunday, but couldn't make it. (To make up for it, I ran 4 miles on my own on Saturday. Just thought some of you might like to know I'm still running.) Some friends from work were running the Sunday race, and I really wanted to do it, but we had too many commitments, and I just couldn't squeeze it in.

And speaking of squeezing it in -- here's one race I WILL NOT be running anytime soon. It's called the Santa Speedo Run, and it takes place in Boston in December. As the name implies, you're required to wear a Speedo, and little else. Here's the offical race site, with a link to the official rules -- note the "No Thongs" stipulation. It's 1.25 very chilly miles, with lots of drinking before (to get everyone nice and brave) and after (to get everyone nice and warm).

Here's a picture from the race, courtesy of the Boston Globe:

You just know if I ever did a race like this, I'd end up on the front page of the Globe, and probably a hundred other online news feed sites. I don't need that kind of publicity.

There's a Seinfeld-referenced joke to be made, but it won't be made by me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Very Special Day

It is a very special day indeed. Our little girl's birthday.

I mean Strudel, of course. Here she is in her birthday hat.

That's a big smile, not a snarl. Still, she would like us to take it off her.

And below, a birthday tribute to our girl. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Songs

When we put up our Christmas tree this weekend, we also broke out all of our Christmas music. I've been easing myself into the music thing, trying to avoid the All-Christmas Music stations on the radio. (Although I'm thankful that we did find one during the 2 hours we waited to get from the Garden State Parkway to the Tappen Zee Bridge on the way home from Maryland, which actually helped pass the time.) But I'm already getting sick of them again, so when I drove Catherine to her dance class last week, I sang "Sleigh Ride" to her in my Popeye voice, which she did enjoy ("I ain't driving no one horsk open sliegh, Oleeve.")

I came across a nice post a few days ago called "10 Christmas Songs I'm Already Sick of (and 10 Geeky Alternatives)" from a Wired Magazine blogger named Z. I know how much certain readers like to comment on my musical tastes, so I thought I would comment on some of the selections from this particular blogger.

Z doesn't like Gene Autry's "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." I'll agree that I'm a little tired of that version, too, which is why I recommend the version by Dean Martin. I'm pretty sure he was drunk when he recorded it. But I love that he throws in lyrics like "Rudy the Red Beaked Reindeer" just to mix things up.

I have to disagree with his choice of "Santa Baby" by Eartha Kitt. I've always thought this song was just OK, but then my father told me about Eartha Kitt appearing on a TV show called New Faces of of 1952, and how hot she was, and I went back to seeing her as Catwoman on Batman, and then I came to fully appreciate her version. I can't say the same for Madonna's horrible Betty Boop-inspired version. Horrendous. I refuse to even provide a link. Catherine made me turn it off when it came on the car radio.

I also disagree with Alvin and the Chipmunk's "The Chipmunk Song," which still cracks me up. I know -- way, way back, almost a year ago, when someone suggested on the blog that I go to see the Chipmunks movie to take my mind off the diagnosis, I said I was pretty sure that Alvin's voice might actually kill cancer cells. But, really -- don't you laugh every time Alvin says he wants a hoola hoop?

I'm with Z on "Jingle Bell Rock." Same goes for "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Snoozers.

But I love Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Z says it is "now merely viewed as another poorly executed relic from the 1980s, and yet we’re still forced to endure it each holiday season." Oh, how I disagree. The clothes are relics, sure. But you can't say the people are, not when they are still making news. Sting and Phil Collins are still famous. Bono got nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Boy George....well....Boy George was in the news within the last couple of weeks. You'll have to Google that one yourself. Let's just say he was unkind to a paid consultant and just leave it at that.

I also love "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano. In fact, I ask Isabel every year if we can get "Feliz Navidad" printed on our Christmas cards. I like the way it rolls off the tongue. Plus, I like the way John makes up lyrics for it while he belts it out.

Finally, I also disagree with "Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney. One of my favorite cheesy Christmas songs, right up there with "Last Christmas" by Wham! (When "Last Christmas" came on the radio when we were driving home from Maryland, Peter, my dropkick Murphy-loving son, finally screamed and asked me why I liked this song. I answered, "Who says knowing all the words to a song means you like it?")

Anyway, John Lennon writes deep songs like "Imagine" and "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" and Paul writes lyrics like "The word is out/About the town/To lift a glass/Ohh, don't look down." Brilliant. Right up there with his stirring "Someone's knocking at the door/Somebody's ringing the bell/Do me a favor, open the door/And let 'em in." But he's still my favorite Beatle, cause he's so cute.

I have some other favorites (including a version of Marlene Dietrich singing "Little Drummer Boy" in German), but I won't subject you to them. Except this one. Note that you can have this both ways -- if you like this sort of thing, you get to watch it; if you don't like it, you get the satisfaction of knowing it was nominated for worst video of the year.

And one final plug: If you haven't seen the Stephen Colbert Christmas special on Comedy Central, I highly recommend it. Some excellent songs. (But not for the kiddies.)

Sunday, December 7, 2008


We had a really nice day Saturday -- we're fully in the Christmas spirit now. We took Strudel to our favorite dog store so she could have her picture taken with Santa. I'll be sure to post it in a few days. The only hitch was, someone brought in a dog she had rescued from the streets of Guatamala. The dog was very nervous, and someone suggested maybe having Strudel go over to the dog would help him calm down. That was probably a mistake. We'll just leave it at that.

We also put up our Christmas tree and other decorations in the afternoon (while we had a nice fire going in the fireplace), and then after dinner, we watched some Christmas specials -- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town (which is the one with the Bergermeister Meisterberger. No family-approporiate videos available for that one. Sorry.). It was a very nice day.

I guess the only downside was watching Rudolph. It's still one of our family favorites, but as the kids get older (and as I get older), there are certain elements of the show that are...of questionable value.

First of all, everyone in the whole show is an S.O.B. Even his girlfriend Clarice is a jerk during their first meeting. "What's wrong with your nose?" she says. "You talk funny." Sweet girl. She redeems herself with the whole "You're cute" thing, but it seems like a power trip to me, always keeping him emotionally off balance. He should stay away from her.

Rudolph's father Donner is, of course, an ogre. You can tell this was made in the middle 1960's, with the way they treat someone who's a little different, physically.

But Santa is the absoluate worst of them all, which is what disturbs me most. He completely dismisses the head elf's attempt at a song that was written to please him, saying "Still needs work. I gotta go," and he takes off. Total diss. The worst, though -- when Rudolph's fake nose pops off during the reindeer games, and everyone makes fun of him, Santa's reaction to Rudolph's father is, "Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself."

Is it any wonder kids cry when they get put on Santa's lap? Who would want to hang out with this guy? Kids aren't afraid of the beard, or the loud "Ho ho ho," they're afraid Santa's going to look at their parents and say, "Gee Mom, Timmy's ears are a little big. You should be ashamed of yourself." Or maybe, "Gosh, Dad, looks like Sally got your weird looking eyebrows. How can you live with yourself?"

The best moments of our viewing, though, came from Peter. After Rudolph runs away, his father Donner vows to find him. When his mother says she wants to come, too, Donner says, "No -- this is man's work." When he heard that, Peter half-whispered "That's kind of sexist, isn't it?" And then after Yukon Cornelius pushes the snowman off the cliff, the narrator says, "While they were all very sad at the loss of their friend, they agreed it was best to get the womenfolk back to Christmastown as soon as possible." When it was over, Peter said, "That was the most sexist Christmas special I've ever seen."

It's sure a different world, isn't it? Not exactly a Mr. Rogers approved Christmas special.

Sorry if Rudolph is one of your favorites, and I ruined it for you. Come back in a couple of days when I ruin some of your favorite Christmas songs for you, too.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Watching and Waiting

As you know from the last entry, things are looking stable -- which is good -- so it looks like I'll keep watching and waiting for another three months.

Which is hard.

I had hoped for a CT scan sometime sooner than February, but Dr R and I talked, and it makes sense to hold off. Things are growing very slowly (if they're growing at all), so the scan would mean a probably unncessary expense and unncessary dose of radiation that won't tell us much of anything new. Maybe in three months, there will be enough of a change. Or maybe not, which will also be nice. But for now, everything is the same as it has been, including the way I've been feeling. Which is good.

This is, of course, what watching and waiting is all about. "Watching and waiting" is the term the doctors use; we patients sometimes call it "watching and worrying." It's come up recently in the support group, as it does every few months: watch and waiters are doing fine, but need to unload. Someone in the group just celebrated her third year anniversary of watching and waiting, which is awesome. And I've been e-mailing back and forth with a woman from Jersey. She's watching and waiting, about 37 years old, two kids. I know where she's at. Sometimes it's just a matter of wanting to know someone else understands and is going through the same things. We've traded some stories.

Probably two months ago, I felt a bump on the back of my head. It didn't go away for a few weeks. I know that lymphomas sometimes present themselves on the skin. If it was just more follicular lymphoma, then no big deal. I knew it wasn't anything aggressive -- I wasn't feeling any B symptoms. But that's how it goes with watching and waiting -- you just need to know. I knew my annual physical was coming up, so I waited and asked the GP to look at it. She said it looked benign. I called Dr. R, and he said it didn't sound like lymphoma -- he wasn't even worried enough to ask me to come in. But he suggested I see a dermatologist, just to ease my mind. Which I did. It was nothing.

But that's how it goes with watching and waiting. I used to think there would be times when I'd be feeling overconfident about how I was feeling. Overconfidence isn't good.

(That's for my brother -- I know how much he loves inspirational posters.)

But overconfidence isn't a problem. My confidence is just fine. I feel good about myself, my health, my doctors, my situation (see all those things I said I was thankful for last week -- I'm in pretty good shape).
I'm doing well. Just watching and waiting.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dr. R

Well, I'm afraid I have nothing interesting to report from my visit with Dr. R today.

My bloodwork was great -- no big changes with anything. The physical exam was fine; nothing new popping up anywhere, and the one large cluster near my hip bone doesn't seem to have changed at all. And I'm still not seeing any B symptoms (night sweats, fevers, unexplained weight loss, etc.). It was kind of a boring visit. About the most exciting thing was that he's in a new office now -- the old one was less than a mile from home, and now he's a couple of towns away. So I got to meet the new office staff. Plus, it's right next to a Christmas Tree Shop, so I popped in afterwards to look for something interesting, but left after 5 minutes because it was packed with people, even at 1:30 on a Tuesday. Insanity.

We talked about my next CT scan. He wants to increase the length of time between office visits from 2 months to 3 months, since this slow-growing cancer is growing really slowly at this point. So he wants to do the next scan just before my next visit, which will be in late February. In some ways, I'm anxious for another scan, just to see what's going on. But he says there's likely going to be no change if we do it earlier (and of course, no guarantee there will be any change in 3 months when it's scheduled).

Makes sense. I'll wait until then.

All of that is good news, of course. He's not overly worried, so I won't be, either.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Back Home

Well, we're back home after a nearly 10 hour car trip from Maryland. Holiday traffic, compounded by a bad accident that shut down the New Jersey Turnpike for 3 hours.

Other than that, we had a great Thanksgiving. The kids loved playing with their baby cousin, and with the new Sugar Gliders that arrived in the pockets of their Ohio cousins. I manged to go on a nice 4 or 5 mile run with Mary and Lee (my running partners for the DC road race in July) between our big brunch and our bigger dinner on Thursday. On Friday, we all went downtown to see the World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Korean War Veterens Memorial. Very cool stuff.

Thanks to all who helped make Thanksgiving so nice. (And that includes those of you who commented about or on my last blog entry.)

I see Dr. R on Tuesday for a two month checkup. I don't anticipate any major changes. I'll post something about the visit late Tuesday or some time Wednesday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

As tempting as it is do a Thanksgiving post that's a bunch of links to my favorite Thanksgiving sites (Snoopy wrestling with a lawn chair!), I'm going to resist. I'm feeling sentimental. As much as the last year has been, well, not very fun, there's still lots to be thankful for. I have a friend who sends a "What I'm Thankful For This Year" e-mail every year about this time, and my support group is starting to discuss what we're all thankful for, so I'm going to share with you.

I thankful for my doctors. I counted the business cards in my wallet: I've seen 11 different doctors in the last year. I'm thankful for all of them. I've been lucky to have excellent medical care, doctors that I like and trust. And that doesn't count the dozens of nurses, medical office workers, physicians assistants, radiological techs and phlebotomists that I've seen. There are darn few that I would say I'll never go to again.

I'm thankful for the researchers doing such great work in figuring out what NHL and cancer are all about, and how to make them go away. I'm thankful for groups like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that raise funds to keep them going.

I'm thankful I have such a great job. Not only is it something I enjoy nearly every day, but more importantly, I have something close to lifetime job security, with a great medical insurance plan. I hear stories in the support group about people losing their jobs and their benefits, and I realize how lucky I am that I don't need to worry (too much) about that kind of thing.

I'm thankful for music. I've always loved to listen to it, and now I'm happy to be able to play it myself, which has been a lot of fun. I love to listen to my kids playing. Isabel and I always said we wanted a house filled with music, and when the kids were smaller, we'd play music after dinner every night. Now the kids are doing it for us. It's a nice thing.

I'm thankful for my support group. A lot of what I know about NHL has come from the people in the group. I've stopped doing a lot of research about NHL on my own, because someone in the group beats me to it and posts a link for everyone to read. They've been a wonderful source of information and inspiration for me. I've had a few bad days, and had some of them help pick me up. I've tried to do the same for them, and it's very satisyfing to have them say thank you for a few kind words I've passed along to them.

I'm thankful for readers of the blog that are complete strangers. Every now and then I'll get a comment or an e-mail thanking me for something I wrote, and it's from someone I don't know, usually another lymphoma patient, but not always. Cancer can bring on such a sense of helplessness sometimes. It's not as bad for me most days because I'm still asymptomatic, but the reality of watch and wait is that we know what it is we're waiting for. The blog began as a way to keep family and friends informed, but if you look again at my very first entry, I said maybe there was a chance that someone I didn't know would get something out of reading it. That has happened. Hearing from someone that the blog gas helped has been very empowering at a time when it's easy to feel powerless.

I'm thankful for readers of the blog that I do know -- friends, co-workers, nieces and nephews, cousins, in-laws. I love getting your comments on-line. I never know for sure who's still reading (I should have gone with a WordPress.com blog, which lets you track that sort of thing), so it's a delight to get an on-line comment and know there's still someone out there reading. It's great to get an off-line comment, too, a reference to something I wrote about, maybe from a co-worker passing me in the hall. I'm sure every blogger loves to get comments. For a writing teacher, knowing that readers are out there is even better. I thank you all for your support.

I'm thankful for my parents. They always said I never really gave them much to worry about (at least until they figured out that I was just really good at hiding all the worrisome things from them). Now I've made up for it all, and given them plenty to worry about. I'm so thankful for everything they've done for me, and even more for how strong they've been in the last 10 months or so.

I'm thankful for my brother. Last year, the day after Thanksgiving, he and I spent about 8 hours together, browsing for fishing and boating gear, eating horrible bar food, drinking cheap beer, and playing pool. It was the most time we'd spent together in years, and it was great. Since the diagnosis, we've become even closer. I'm thankful for all of his comments on the blog, even the inappropriate comments, for his phone calls when I go a few too many days between postings, and his e-mails when I seem down. (OK, I'm especially thankful for the inappropriate comments.)

I'm thankful for my kids. They bring me great joy. They drive me nuts sometimes, but that's part of the deal, I know. I love doing special things with each of them -- bike rides and watching sports with Peter, cooking and exploring nature with John, watching Disney movies and dancing with Catherine. They're a blast. I'm proud of how well they've been handling all of this.

And I'm mostly thankful for Isabel. She had no idea what she was getting into when she promised that whole "sickness and health" thing -- no one ever does. She 's been so strong, so positive, so supportive through all of this. I heard someone say once that in a good marriage, you take turns being crazy. We've managed to do that, balancing each other out, being positive when the other is feeling bad, energetic when the other is tired, sane when the other is crazy. It's a great comfort to know when I'm down, she'll be up. Love you.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Battle

I've been battling a nasty cold for a few days, and it's been wiping me out. No running -- I'm conserving my energy for grading papers and eating dinner on Thanksgiving, so I don't have much to say.

Instead, I'm just going to pass on a link. It's from one of my favorite writers, Bill Simmons, who does a column for ESPN.com called The Sports Guy. Simmons is just about my age, and grew up in Massachusetts (huge Sox, Pats, Celts, and Bruins fan), so a lot of what he writes really hits home for me.

A couple of days ago, he wrote about a treasured memory from the 70's -- a nasty episode of Battle of the Network Stars. Those of you who are of a certain age will remember the show, and maybe even the episode. Click here if you need a reminder of what BotNS was all about. Then take a look at his column -- first watch the clip, and then read his column.

It's great -- politically incorrect commentary, "athletes" puffing on cigarrettes, and an ABC team that features both Lynda Carter and Farrah Fawcett. Holy moly.

More next week, when I feel better.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mr McFeely

I need to send out a great big Thank You to Kelly and Josh. A few days ago, I got a package from them with a copy of Mr. Rogers' book, You Are Special: Words of Wisdom for All Ages from a Beloved Neighbor. But the best part was, it was autographed to me by Mr. McFeely, the delivery man from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and also included an autographed picture from Mr. McFeely, reproduced here:

I wrote to Kelly to thank her, and to find out how she obtained such treasures. Kelly told me that there was an event at a local museum and Mr. McFeely was there. Since Mr. Rogers had come up on the blog recently, she thought I'd appreciate the gifts. I sure do!

(Kelly and Josh -- I never thanked you on the blog for your first gift, a nice knit hat that includes, shall we say, a message to cancer conveying both my feelings toward cancer and my attitude about it. It's a four letter thing. Can't really put it online. Or wear it anywhere. But thanks again for it.)

I assume everyone remembers Mr. McFeely. Here's a clip to remind you -- Mr. McFeely is trying figure out who in the Neighborhood of Make Believe ordered a bunch of sand. "McFeely" is actually Mr. Rogers real middle name, in case you were wondering where the name came from.

The actor who plays Mr. McFeely is David Newell. He travels the country now, promoting Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, trying to keep the legacy alive. A documentary of his travels came out this year; it's called Speedy Delivery. It was on PBS earlier this year, and is out on DVD now. You can see the trailer at the film's official website.

The book that Kelly and Josh sent is very nice. It's a series of short quotes from Mr. Rogers on all kinds of subjects. He was a very positive person, but a very realistic one, too. A sample:

"There is no normal life that is free of pain. It's the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth."



Now, a message for my brother:

I appreciate your holding back and not saying anything about Barry Manilow. I tried really hard to find some connection between Mr. Rogers and Barry Manilow for you, but there was virtually nothing. You'd think that the two of them, as songwriters, would be featured somewhere together.

Here's the best I could find: an eBay ad for a People Magazine from 1978. Shaun Cassidy is the cover, but there are separate articles inside on both Mr. Rogers and Barry Manilow. As far as I can tell, that's the closest they ever came to meeting.

(Looks like a fabulous issue. There are also articles on Chuck Mangione, Bob Marley, Dennis Kucinich, Richard Nixon, Dolly Parton, and Madeline Kahn. How's that for a dinner party invitation list?)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A few follow-ups

Follow-up comments on some things I've written about lately.
Long-time readers may remember a brief discussion in a Comments section concerning my (ahem) admiration for Barry Manilow. I'm not alone. Apparently, basketball star LeBron James is also a fan. His Olympics teammate Carmelo Anthoy, too, is a fan of The Man (as we call him).
Bron-Bron has only a few Manilow songs on his iPod, but one of them is Copacabana, and if you're going to have just one of his songs on your iPod, I'd say that's the one to have. But I'm open to other suggestions.
Try Googling "LeBron Manilow," and you'll see just how many news outlets have links to this story. I have no idea why this is news. Post-election boredom, I guess.

I mentioned in June that I went to a Phillies game this summer, and they went on to win the World Series. (That's two years in a row that a team I saw won the series that year. If any other teams' fans want to pay for a trip next summer, I'll listen.) The first baseball team I ever played on -- sponsored by a dentist -- was known as the Doc Gallagher Phillies, so I have a soft spot in my heart for them. Mike Schmidt, Greg Luziniski, Steve Carlton, Bob Boone, Larry Bowa -- my favorite non-Red Sox players when I was a kid were on the Phillies.
They had a World Series victory parade a few weeks ago, of course, so this link harkens back to my drunk-Phillies-fan-with-plumber's-crack link and my laughing baby link from a few weks ago. It's a short video of a toddler (he can't be more than about 15 months old) at the Phillies parade. While they were waiitng for the Phillies, the fans entertained themselves by watching him and cheering him on whenever he raised his arms. It's very darn cute. The video description says that people were cheering for him as far up and down the street as they could see.
Reminds me of those "I'm the center of the universe" days that my kids are (mostly) done with now.

An update on my annual physical (the one from the General Practitioner, not one of my visits to Dr. R). My blood test results are back.

My total cholesterol is 179; below 200 is the goal. My HDL (good cholesterol) is 47; above 40 is the goal. My LDL (bad cholesterol) is 120; below 130 is the goal. My Triglycerides are 61; below 150 is the goal.

Blood chemistries and blood count are normal (these are the things that Dr. R checks too, so I assume my visit with him in a few weeks will be fine). No problems with thyroid or PSA.

So, once again, proof that I'm the healthiest gosh darn cancer patient around.

One thing I though was pretty intersting, though: my cholesterol numbers are very close to last year's. This year, When the doctor mailed me the results, he written comment on the form was "Good." Last year, she wrote "Perfect!" Similar numbers, so why less enthusiasm? Probably doesn't want me to get too cocky, with the cancer thing and all, but I don't think it's fair that I lose points that way. I'd be mad if I didn't think it was amusing.

Finally: a happy birthday to my brother. How does it feel to be 50?
(I know you're not 50 yet, but I figured you'd probably know how it feels.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Too Bad.....

Well, for every clinical trial for a wonder drug like Rituxin or an improvement like Zevalin, there are probably 100 attempts at something else to treat or cure cancer that don't work out. I came across another one this week, and it really bummed me out that it probably isn't going to work.

A guy named Dr. Bill Cham has a new book out called The Eggplant Cancer Cure; his website is EggplantCancerCure.com. According to the web site, "Dr. Cham has found substances which can penetrate and kill skin cancer cells but can’t penetrate normal skin cells, so normal skin cells are untouched and unhurt while the skin cancer cells die!" He claims to have conducted extensive studies on a cream he made (called Curaderm), which contains substances derived from eggplant. The cream is rubbed on skin cancer tumors (including late stage melanoma), and in a period of months, reduces the tumors and cures the cancer. He claims it has cured 70,000 skin cancer patients in Australia, and he's working on a way to make it work on internal tunors as well.

By the way, he isn't an M.D, he has a "Ph.D. in Medicine." And we all know how useful a Ph.D. is....

It all sounds great, but there are some problems. He claims that the cream has been through Stage I, Stage II, stage III, and Stage IV clinical trials, but apparently, there isn't any published record of them. His website lists a bunch of publications supporting Curaderm, but some have titles like The Skin Cancer Cure So Effective, It's Being Kept Secret. There's a nice critique of Cham and Curaderm from a blog called Respectful Insolence, which looks at a lot of cancer cure claims like this.

I'm a little skeptical of any cancer cure that's being kept a secret.

There are two important lessons to be drawn from all of this:

1) There are a ton of cancer cure claims online. I know someone who's pushing some kind of juice on me that costs $40 a quart. But there's no real evidence that it actually wortks, apart from some personal testimonials. I can't afford $40 juice, and I can't emotionally afford "cures" that may or may not work. I have no problem with alternative medicine and natural cures, and I avoid drugs of all kinds unless I absolutely need them. An apple a day really does help keep the doctor away. I'm an antioxidant freak. But part of the problem with follicular NHL, in terms of alternative and natural cures, is that it's so slow growing, and it waxes and wanes, that it's nearly impossible to isolate something and say it's the cause of the improvement. Very frustrating. But I still eat a lot of fruit anyway.

2) I really wish eggplant was a cure for cancer. As my brother can attest, our Mom makes the best eggplant parm in the world. It's come up on the blog more than once. In fact, if eggplant provided a topical treatment for skin cancer, my brother and I would rub eggplant parm all over ourselves. And frankly, it wouldn't be the first time someone has done it.

The author of the Respectful Insolence blog does not completely discount the idea that compounds in eggplant can help skin cancers, he just wishes Dr. Cham would submit the treatment to more rigorous testing than Cham has been willing to do. As you know from reading the blog, I'm very willing to be part of a clinical trial. So I hearby volunteer to consume my mother's eggplant parm every chance I get, in the hopes that it can help provide data for researchers working for a cure.

Just doin' my part.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Buddy Z

....By which I mean Zevalin, the RIT (RadioImmunoTherapy) treatment that I've written about several times before. More good news about its effectiveness.

To review: "Liquid" cancers like NHL are hard to treat with radiation because the cancer cells don't hold still -- there's nothing to aim the radiation at. The development of Rituxin, an antibody that recognizes B cells (including the cancerous ones) and attaches to them, was a huge advance for lots of reasons (and even more reasons are popping up). Zevalin (and its cousin Bexxar) are basically radioactive Rituxin -- Zevalin attaches itself to the B cells and delivers a dose of radiation to them. It's a pain to administer (you need to assemble a team of nurses, radiologists, and nuclear medicine specialists to do it), but in theory, it's a great therapy, combining a couple of different types of treatment. But studies are trickling in to show that it's meeting that great theoretical promise.

The October issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology includes an editorial from Oliver W. Press, a researcher from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington in Seattle. (He's a big name from a big research center).

In a nutshell, Press reviews a couple of recent clinical studies of Zevalin, and while he points out some problems with the ways the studies were conducted, he's very hopeful about the results, and thinks they signal a huge advance in treating indolent lymphomas like Follicular NHL.

As Press points out, Zevalin has been used up top this point as a "down the line" treatment -- when chemo stops working, you turn to RIT. It's been fairly successful when used this way.

However, a major new study looked at Zevalin as a first-line treatment. In other words, the study looked at people who were given Zevalin before they received any chemo or other treatments. The results were impressive: patients given either Zevalin by itself, or Zevalin combined with chemo, showed 90-100% response to the therapy, with up to 90% showing complete response (the lymphoma was wiped out, at least temporarily).

A second study that Press describes looked at using higher-than-normal doses of Zevalin after a shortened course of chemo (three doses instead of the usual six), and also came with encouraging results. The chemo wiped out a lot of the cancer cells, and the Zevalin took care of the rest. Combining the treatments means attacking in different ways, and increasing the chances that you'll hit more of the cancer.

This morning, I read about a third, similar study that looked at a patients with advanced follicular NHL (they were in the "bulky" stage, meaning their nodes were more than 10 centimeters, or about three inches), who were given a shortened course of chemo, followed by Zevalin, then followed by Rituxin. Similarly good results -- nearly 90% of patients were still in remission after two years. The study is ongoing.

It's all very encouraging, not just for the results themselves, but because they should inspire more people to try Zevalin (or Bexxar) and encourage researchers to keep tinkering with dosages, sequences, and follow-ups. I'm convinced RadioImmunoTherapy is going to play a bigger role in treatments soon, and we (the NHL community) are all going to be happy we gave it a chance.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Few Pictures

You know you haven't posted any pictures in a while when you go to post some, and realize you've forgotten how to do it....

Now that I've figured it out, here are a few pictures.


Peter dressed as a biker. He went to his middle school Halloween dance, and was a finalist for Best Homemade Costume, probably because it's a complete 180 from what his teachers know of him.

Catherine was Hannah Montana, which is no surprise, because the Connecticut governor issued an Executive Order this year that every girl in the state between 5 and 8 had to dress as Hannah Montana. (By the way, Catherine still has superstar amibitions, and still plans to call herself Morgan Oregan when it happens.)

John went as a Jedi Master. The tunic is store-bought, but Isabel made the brown Jedi robe, to John's specifications (that it be easy to throw off, should a light saber battle break out. Which has happened more than once since she finished the robe).

I think Peter is worth looking at one more time.

By the way -- I chaperoned the middle school dance. I went as Joe the Plumber. (Nobody got it, despite the name tage that says "Hello, my name is Joe." "Are you Bob the Builder?" No, I'm not. Go read a newspaper.)

Finally: Strudel dressed for Halloween, too. She was a medieval princess.

I love this picture. She was about as miserable as she looks....

Friday, November 7, 2008


I've had a few things I've wanted to write about -- praising old poeple for their athletic accomplishments; posting some new pictures; giving some very exciting updates about Zevalin, the RadioImmunoTherapy treatment. But I can't work up the energy.

Which isn't to say I'm feeling fatigue (one of those "B symptoms" I'm supposed to watch out for). I'm feeling just fine, physically. I think we're getting to that point in the semester when everyone is just spent. Midterms are over, Thanskgiving break is a few long weeks away, and everyone is just kind of feeling mentally fatigued. Unfortunately, students feeling this way drag teachers down with them.

I have an afternoon full of meetings, including one where the university President and the Finance VP will tell us how bad the school's budget is right now. That will be an uplifter, I'm sure.

The good news is, I'm still the healthiest darn cancer patient around (go for my cholesterol etc. blood test tomorrow morning), I have a job that I like, and I'm not the chair any more, so I'm not the one that has to worry about the budget.

I'll feel beeter next week, I'm sure.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Election Day

I try to stay out of politics with the blog, and today is no exception. Just two links, with comments:

First, I thought John McCain's Saturday Night Live/QVC performance was wonderful. He's very good at laughing at himself (and SNL was very good about giving him some good lines). Can't get the link from NBC to work, but check it out yourself (here's the lkink to the main NBC page).

Here's a link that will work. It's called "John McCain gets BarackRoll'd." It's a take on an internet prank called "RickRolling": someone sets up a link that promises something good (like a scandelous photo of a celebrity), but when the link is clicked, you get a video of the song Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley. (Here's the original.) This prank is itself a take on a similar prank, but the link took you to a photo of a toy duck on wheels (so you'd be "duck rolle'd"). Very clever editing. I like it when people take time to do their satire right.

Most of all, I like seeing Obama dancing. I'd love to find a video of McCain dancing, but they're all fakes. Having both candidates dance would justify one my favorite quotes, from James Brown, my icon and my avatar:

"The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing."

Now go vote.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A First -- A Third!

Yesterday was a running milestone for me. I came in third in my age group in a race, and won a prize, for the first time ever.

The race was the Bob Corda Memorial 5K, which is part of Homecoming Weekend at Southern. I've run in it twice before. It's usually a pretty small field of faculty, staff, students, and alumni. This year, with it starting at 8:00am on the morning after Halloween, and with the temperature a chilly 43 degrees at the start, there were almost no students running. But there seemed to be about the same number of "Masters Runners," as we over-40 folks are called.

I know a lot of the people who run in this race, and I use that as inspiration. Last year, I finished just behind a certain faculty member from the Computer Science department, and I really wanted to beat him this year. I started the race kind of easy, and about a mile into it, I found myself next to this guy. I stayed with him for a couple of minutes, and then turned it up just a little bit and pulled ahead of him.

Next on my radar was the race organizer, a staff member who works closely with Student Government. Since students were helping with the race, telling us where to turn on the course, they all cheered for her whenever they saw her. Since I was just behind her for a while, I thought they were cheering for me, until they said her name. But I took that as some inspiration and passed her, too.

At about 2 miles, I was passed by a man about my age. I kept him in my sight, hoping I'd be able to pass him near the end, if I kept something in reserve. Passing him was important -- I wasn't sure if he was in my age group, but I thought he might be, and since I placed 4th last year, I figured if I could pass one person, I'd have a shot at a prize this year. With about a half mile left, slowed down, rubbing his calf. I asked him if he was OK as I passed him. (He said he was fine.)

(A cheap victory, coming in third because of an injury to an opponent? Heck no. The race isn't just about what happens on the course that day. It's about everything you do leading up to that point, too. My superior training and preparation paid off for me. I earned it.)

I finished in 28:38 (about 9:14 per mile), one second slower than the race I ran in Massachusetts in late September. I was hoping for a little faster time, but I'll take it. It earned me third place in the Male 40-49 year old division, and my prize was a $5.00 gift card to Dunkin Donuts. After the race, I used it to buy coffees for Isabel and me, and then I met her at John's soccer game.

(But the DD people let me keep the card. I'm going to frame it.)

The official Homecoming photographer was at the race, so I'll have a link in a few days with a picture or two of me on the Southern website.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Well, based on his comments from a few days ago, apparently my brother doesn't like it when I write about cancer in this blog that I started to inform and educate people about my cancer. But that's OK. I love him, so I'll give him what he wants.

And apparently, he wants posts about old TV shows. So, fine. Here's the special Halloween Spook-Tacular edition of Lympho Bob, beginning with TV-related Halloween links.


Here are some clips from The Muppet Show when Alice Cooper was the guest host. Cooper plays a black magic/devil's messenger character, in line with his stage persona. Clearly from the 1970's, pre-Ronald Reagan, when jokes about devil worship and selling one's soul were not discouraged from childrens' television for some reason.

My brother was disturbed by this next show, but I loved Pee Wee's Playhouse. While PW did a Christmas special, there was no Halloween special. But there was a recurring trick-or-treat-like gag in which Pee Wee was annoyed by salesmen at his door, so that's close enough. But one of my favorite episodes was "Let's Play Office!", because I always imagined my brother's work life must be just like that (but with more yelling).


World Series time shouldn't be scary, but sometimes it is, and not just because it's so close to Halloween.

First, there are scary version of the national anthem, performed poorly, as it was before game 1 in Tampa Bay. It was performed by 80% of the Backstreet Boys, with one of them smart enough to stay away. I love the BBs -- they're the official boy band of Lympho Bob, and not just because of those two Chinese guys lip synching "I Want it That Way." It's because I think of Amy whenever I hear them.

Also scary: this Phillies fan, going all Joe the Plumber on us. Having been to a Phillies game this season, I can say that when you make the Philly Phanatic mascot guy some close to puking, you have a problem.

Scary stuff.


Here's a list that's worth some debate: The 10 Scariest Movies of All Time. I agree with a few, though some seem pretty obscure to me (not only didn't see them, but never heard of them). I'm not a huge fan of scary movies. But I have to agree with the #1 pick. I saw it featured on some other film show recently, and I turned the channel. I don't want to see any of it, even if it's just a key scene without all the buildup that makes it even scarier.


This clip is irresistable: A scary Michael MacDonald (from the Doobie Brothers), a Thriller reference (see a post from earlier this year), and Halloween, all rolled into one. Awesome.


Finally, a clip from It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I'm sure my own brother sees me in both Charlie Brown, and the "blockheaded" Linus. But is it such a bad thing to think you have the most sincere pumpkin patch in all the world? I say No. It's almost Mr. Rogers-like in its simple beauty.

May you have no trouble with your scissors, and may you get no rocks in your Halloween bags tonight.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I had my annual physical this morning. Everything looks good (EKG, blood pressure, eyes, ears, etc. etc.). I'll go to a local lab for bloodwork in the next few days for blood tests to check cholesterol, liver and kidney function and all that (some of which I get checked with Dr. R, anyway), but it seems like I'm a pretty healthy guy. You know, for someone with cancer.

So I've got that going for me....which is nice.....

I'll assume my cholesterol will be its usual brag-worthy 170 or 180. I'll be sure to let you all know when I get the numbers.

Watch tomorrow for the Lympho Bob Halloween Spook-Tacular.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Other Side of Stem Cells

OK, enough on Mr. Rogers. Who would have thought he would cause such animosity?

Back to research reports. I know some of you find this interesting, but frankly, it's as much for me as it is for you. I need to read about it and understand it before I can pass it on to you in a simpler form, and that helps me understand what kinds of treatments are out there. We teachers know that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.


Really interesting article in a recent edition of The Economist, called "Cancer Stem Cells: The Root of All Evil?" Lots of great cancer research looks at developing new treatments, or refining currently-used treatments, or comparing treatments. But the Holy Grail of cancer research is finding out what causes cancer in the first place. We know, basically, what cancer is: unchecked growth of cells that won't die off the way normal cells do, causing tumors that take resources from the rest of the body. But what causes the unchecked growth of a tumor in the first place?

According to this article, it has to do with cancer stem cells.

In general, stem cells are immature cells that have not grown into specific types of cells. We all have millions of stem cells, waiting to mature into specialized cells that will replace those cells that die off naturally (or are killed off). For example, a stem cell transplant works by killing off tumors and a problematic immune system and replacing it with immature stem cells that will grow quickly and replace the killed-off cells, creating a new immune system. Go stem cells!

As the article describes, this is all just a theory, but it's being tested, and it works like this: Just like all of the healthy cells in the body, cancer cells are born from stem cells. But there's a difference between the stem cells and mature cells.

Mature cells grow by dividing into two equal cells the original cell and a copy of itself. So a skin cell creates two identical skin cells, the old one and a new copy. The cells can only divide a limited number of times, and then they die off. So they need to be rpelaced by new cells, which can then divide a few times themselves. That's where stem cells come in.

Stem cells are different from mature cells: when a stem cell divides into two, one of the two stays a stem cell, while the other grows into a new, specialized cell. So a skin stem cell will create one new skin cell, but the other will remain a stem cell. This is how we have a constant supply of new cells -- the stem cells are always there, waiting to create one new, specialized cell. The body has a limited number of stem cells.

According to the theory described in the article, cencer stem cells are the problem: when we treat cancer, we treat the mature cancer cells (the mature cells that have grown from the cancer stem cell), but we never get to the stem cells that are still sitting there. Read the article to get more on the fascinating research that has gone into showing that stem cells are different from their mature cells, and how it has effected cancer research.

If the cancer stem cell theory proves to be correct (and it may not be -- the article gets into the controversy surrounding it), then researchers might have a better chance of developing new, targeted treatments that will get at the root cause of the cancer, not just the tumors that develop.

Very intersting stuff.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I have to comment on this story.

Apparently, some students from the Tulane University Law School had a party at a children's museum in New Orleans. One exhibit at the museum is dedicated to Mr. Rogers, and featured a pair of the famous sneakers that he tied at the beginning of every show. Someone from the law school attending the party smashed the plexiglass case and stole one of the sneakers. After an appeal from the dean of the school, the sneaker was returned; it was found tied to a pipe under a sink in the women's room.

Who would do something like that to Mr. Rogers?

This kind of thing happened once before, when Mr. Rogers was still alive. He drove an old Chevy Impala for years, and one day, it was stolen from its spot on the street near the TV station where he was filming. The story of the theft got out, and was all over the news. Two days later, the car was parked in the exact spot where it was stolen, with a note: "If we'd known it was yours, we never would have taken it."

That's more like it.

I have to admit, I was never a Mr. Rogers fan when I was a kid. I don't know why -- I just never connected with him. But then, after Isabel and I were married but before we had kids, we heard an interview with him on the radio. He was discussing a book of letters that people had written to him. (He was a great letter writer, and kept up corresponence with some people for years, even if he'd never met them.) One story he told during the interview just killed me: it was from the mother of a small girl who was being treated for cancer. The girl needed frequent scans to check on her progress, and hated being trapped in the scanning tube, where she needed to keep still. (I know now just was she was going through.) For a little kid, even just two minutes of keeping still seemed like an eternity. But her mom figured out that it took two minutes to sing the theme song to Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and so mom would get on the microphone that the technician uses to give instructions to the patient, and she and her daughter would sing the song together. When it was done, the little girl's scan was done.

And then, of course, I had my own kids, and I became a bigger fan. Peter was a Mr. Rogers fan. He liked that Mr. Rogers talked to him.

And then I'd watch more, and I'd see him do stuff like this. He's just so cool.

And those sweaters he wore? His own mother knitted every one of them.

How could you not love this guy?

I'm kind of sorry I waited so long to enjoy him. He's really easy to make fun of, but we need more people like him.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

L and M

As I said in my last post, the Lymphoma and Myeloma Conference took place last weekend, and some of the information about the research that was presented at the conference is starting to trickle out. As I promised, I'll share it when I get it, so today I'm sharing. I'm mostly getting the information from people who were there and took notes, so there aren't really any links to the conference or to research reports just yet. I'm sure they'll be coming out eventually. But in the meantime, you'll have to trust me, just as I'm trusting my sources.

One presentation from the conference looked at levels of mortality in European NHL patients. The incidents of mortality are declining in the countries that were surveyed. They had steadily risen until about 1999, and they've been falling (slowly) ever since. While a cause isn't mentioned, I'm guessing it's because of the widespread use of Rituxin that began at roughly that time. Whatever the reason, that's good news -- treatments are working.

(I should probably remind you about statistics -- they're helpful in comparing treatments, but don't mean much in the big picture. Follicular NHL effects older people, so mortality rates don't necessarily mean that they died of lymphoma. Seearch for my earlier post on this topic if you want more.)

Another presentation (more relevent for me) had to do with when to begin treatment, asking if watching and waiting was still appropriate, given advances in immunochemotherapy (Rituxin + chemo) and RIT (Zevalin and Bexxar -- Rituxin laced with radiation, basically). The expert who led the discussion said that watch and wait still makes sense since some patients never need treatment, their lymphoma waxing and waning, but never causing enough problems to require other treatment. In addition, watching allows the doctor to keep track of the clinical behavior of the lymphoma (is it becoming more aggressive?) which will change the treatment that's required. So this is basically an endorsement of watching and waiting as an acceptable approach.

Another presenter looked at the National Lymphocare study, which surveyed 2,728 lymphoma patients. An interesting little nugget: Watching and waiting is most commonly used in the northeast, less so in other parts of the country. Looking at other data, it seems that there's some correlation between the use of watch and wait in the northeast and the fact that there are so many more cancer centers around here, so patients can more easily get second opinions.

Another bit from the Lymphocare study: the most common first treatment choice for follicular lymphoma is R-CHOP, a fairly aggressive chemotherapy. I didn't get much more on that fact, but it makes me wonder about my doctor (who is recommending a much less aggressive plan for treatment -- R-CHOP would be maybe the third or fourth choice down the road). I'm not disagreeing with what he's recommending; I'm just wondering if his less-aggressive approach is related to the northeastern preference for watching and waiting.

R-CHOP (a combination of Rituxin and four chemotherapy drugs) has also been shown to lessen the chances of transformation (about 30% of follicular NHL patients will have their lymphoma transform to something more aggressive), so there's that consideration. On the other hand, Dr. R's plan is to hold off R-CHOP so that it's available in case there is some transformation, so the benefits will be there anyway.

That's the tough part of staying informed: so darn many choices, and none of them have definitive answers. Still, I'd rather go into a conversation with my doctor with a sense of what he's talking about than just going in blindly and trusting his choices. I still need to trust his choices, but at least I can know enough to ask the questions that will get him to justify those choices.

In the meantime, I'm still feeling OK, and that's what matters.

. This point made by Dr. Leonard. Also based on the National Lymphocare Study, n = 2,728: * Initial observation (w&w / expectant management) is most commonly used in the NorthEast US, less so in other regions of the country. * W&W is more commonly recommended in areas of the country where multiple centers exist - where the patient can more readily get second expert opinions. (hypothesis)* Also, from this study the current trend is to use CHOP-R as first therapy for FL when treatment is indicated.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Conference and Trials

At last -- my laptop is fixed. Wireless is working OK, printer drivers are downloaded and functional. Amazing what a week of limited technology will do for you. (What it might do is make you appreciate living a non-technological life, understanding how bad it is for you to be so reliant on computers for your work, communication, and entertainment. Unfvortunately, it didn't work that way for me, and I have little appreciation for that non-tech life. I'm glad to have my computer back. So glad I'm going to spend the next half hour on YouTube watching videos of babies laughing. Just because I can.)


OK, I'm back. I love laughing baby videos. Like this one.


This past weekend, the Lymphoma and Myeloma Conference took place in New York City. It was attended by one of the support group members named Karl, whose wife has follicular NHL, and who works as a medical writer, so he's an excellent source of information for us. (He founded and runs a site called Lymphomation.org; if you're ever looking for a great beginning source of information about lymphoma, that's is the place to start.)

Karl gave us a quick overview this morning of the conference. Apparently, there were presentations from researchers on a number of very promising lymphoma treatments, but they are still in the early stages of clinical trials. According to Karl, the number of lymphoma patients willing to be a part of clinical trials is very small, which has always been part of what has held back lymphoma research. The FDA needs evidence that tretaments are both effective and safe, and a small trial of 10 or 20 patients usually isn't enough for them to give an OK.

I've talked to Dr. R about my willingness to participate in a trial, and he's fine with that. There's a great, fairly new website sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society called TrialCheck that makes it much easier to search for available trials; you used to need to go to a government site and sift through the trials one by one. You enter information about yourself, your disease, and where you live, and it gives you a list of current trials, with the travel distance for each one.

My joining a clinical trial is kind of restricted by a couple of things. First, while Yale (10 minutes away) has researchers that study Lymphoma, they specialize in stem cell transplants, which isn't something I'll likely need to deal with for a long time. So participating in a trial that's so convenient will probably not happen. There's Dana-Farber in Boston, and Sloan-Kettering in NYC, but at the moment there's really nothing promising there.

And that's the other problem: there are very few trials for people with fNHL who have not yet been treated. I think it's because the expectation is that the first treatment will be followed up with at least one more, so the focus is on making the second and third treatments really count.

If you're thinking that a clinical trial is a bad thing -- it's not. I know I always get the impression that a treatment in trial is something "experimental," and that always has for me the implication that things are desperate -- that conventional treatments arenb't working. But it's not really like that. Any trials I would be in would be phase III, with a reasonable chance of safety and success.

Clinical trials are conducted in three phases. A phase I trial is meant only to measure side effects and safety. (If you've ever seen ads in the back of alternative newspapers promising $500 for participating in research, it's probably a phase I trial -- the participants don't have to have lymphoma, they just have to be willing to "explore the unknown" and risk whatever side effects are possible.) Phase II trials are very small, and the participants have lymphoma. Phase II trials give researchers a sense of whether or not the treatment will work. Phase III are the biggies, with lots of participants -- enough to show that the treatment, and not something random, is the cause of the improvement.

Phase III trials are usually conducted as dual-arm studies, which means they are comparing the new treatment to one that is already known. So they'll take, say, 100 patients and give 50 the new treatment, and the other 50 something like Rituxin, and then they'll compare the success of the two groups. So the second group isn't going untreated or given a placebo -- that would be unethical.

Anyway, I look at TrialCheck every now and then to see if there's something interesting close by. I'm mostly happy to watch and wait, but every now and then I get antsy, and I think I'd rather do something than nothing. I feel a very strong connection to the lymphoma community, and if participating in a trial would help some of the thousands of people with lymphoma, that's just a bonus.

I'm sure that there will be some publicity in the next few weeks about some of the presentations at the Lymphoma and Myeloma Conference. I'll pass along those that seem interesting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

9 Months

Yesterday was my Nine Month Anniversary -- I was diagnosed on January 15.

It's been an interesting nine months. Some days it feels like it's been forever. Other days like it was just yesterday that I got the call from the doctor.

Which is strange. A colleague asked me yesterday how everything was going (it's still kind of rare for people to ask me how I'm feeling), and I gave him the update: Still stable. He said he couldn't imagine having to go through it, or something like that. I told him that it's gotten easier.

Which is true. I'm not as active with the support group these days. I still check in every day, sometimes two or three times. But there seems less urgency now. I know so much more, so I'm not following people in the group who are, say, going through a particular treatment, because I have a pretty good idea already of how it's likely to go. People post about new research, which I read, but I'm less apt to spend a couple of hours googling it on my own after that. There's just less of a sense of desperation, I guess.

Which is good. But the flip side of that, as I've worried about before, is complacency. I don't want to slip out of my vigilance. I don't want anyone else to, either. I'm mostly afraid it will be too much of a shock if (when) things do get more aggressive.

Anyway -- happy anniversary to me. And many more.


I have a new laptop, but the wireless is messed up, which makes it kind of useless. I'm anticipating continued difficulties finding the time to post. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Still around

Sorry I haven't written -- my laptop was infected with a virus on Monday, and I'm just now getting it taken care of. It was my work computer, and sometimes the Info Tech people here get overwhelmed with things, but they actually took care of me very quickly, which I appreciated. Most of the data was savable, and I'm very good about backing things up. But it threw my world into complete turmoil. I rely far too much on my computer. So I'll update with something interesting soon.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Music Update

A couple of days ago, someone asked me how the kids were doing with their music. Thought I'd provide you all with an update.


Peter is currently in rehearsals for Regional Band. As you may have read last spring, he had made All State Symphonic Band last year on alto sax, something unusual for a 5th grader. In the fall, there are 4 Regional Band concerts in the state, leading up to All State in the spring. So Peter participates in the Southern region. He did very well with the audition: he has the second chair out of 10 alto saxes; the first chair (that is, the one who had the best audition) is a friend from his school, an 8th grader. The fall concert is in a couple of weeks.

He really likes sax, and took to it very quickly. He's still playing piano, too, but sax seems to be winning his heart.


John started clarinet this year. He's enjoying it a lot. He gets frustrated at times, but there really haven't been too many ear-splitting moments when he practices. (If you've ever heard a beginner play, say, "Jingle Bells" on the clarinet and have it not go well, you know what I mean. If you don't know, watch and listen. By the way, those aren't any kids that I know.)

John's dream, though, is to play oboe, and the band director told him the clarinet would be the best way to get there -- similar fingering, apparently. John is also still playing piano, and enjoying it.


Catherine is also playing piano, and improving every week. She and I have our music lessons with the same teacher on Monday afternoons; she'll do her half hour on piano, then I'll have my half hour on guitar. I like it when Catherine goes first, so I can sneak in one more practice session before my lesson.

Catherine is also dancing. All the time. She has her class on Thursdays (ballet and tap), but we get nightly dance shows in the living room, often to a Miley Cyrus/Jonas Brothers/Cheetah Girls accompaniment. Yes, our house has become Disneyfied. If you don't know who those performers are, find your own darn videos. But do so at your own risk. You've been warned.


And yes, I'm still playing guitar. And improving, I think. It's feeling more natural now, and I'm quite proud of myself for finally learning how to read music after 41 years. More importantly, I'm getting better at picking out notes without taking my eyes off of the sheet music. The chords are killing me, though. I love playing them -- they sound so cool -- but switching fingers in mid-song is really hard. I'm working on G, D7, C, G7, and the dreaded F, which requires unnatural finger positioning. But the best part is that Strudel likes to howl along with me when I play them.

(She also howls at the high notes on the sax and clarinet, plus the harmonica, should anyone play it in her presence. She's such a German -- not a peep when the kids are playing piano.)


Finally, the kids' school announced on Friday that their annual play in the spring will be The Wizard of Oz. As a middle schooler (yikes! my child is a middle schooler!), Peter is eligible to audition. We watched the movie last night, and we asked Peter which part he thought he'd like to play. He said he'd go for the Tin Man, which I think would be fitting. The Tin Man has a tenderness about him (despite the lack of a heart) that Peter could pull off. But he'll be happy to play, saying, a tree that comes alive and throws apples at the Scarecrow.

It made me think of a job interview question that the VP at work was asked during his interview with what would eventually become his office staff: If you could be any character from the Wizard of Oz, which would you be? Frankly, I think it's a better personality test than the "Who is your Favorite Beatle?" stand-by.

So I asked the other two kids who they would want to be in the play (they're not eligible to be in it, but I thought I'd ask).

Miss Diva Catherine would want to be Dorothy, of course.

Animal Boy John? No, not the Cowardly Lion. John made fun of him through the whole movie. No, John chose something way more appropriate, and if you know him, you believe it.

John would be a Flying Monkey.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Get Your Lymphoma Freak On

I thought the item below was great: Science majors ("Science Freaks") at the University of Texas at Arlington are auctioning themselves off to raise money for blood cancer research.

The best part is their rather low expectations: bidding for a date starts at $5, with a $2 cover to get into the auction, in hopes that they'll raise $500. No word on how cute the Freaks are, but you'd think there would be someone out there who would want to spend a little more than $5 for a couple of hours with someone who could help them pass Chem 101.


Dates with science students auctioned for cancer research

Written by Bryan Bastible

Wednesday, 08 October 2008

Several organizations will get their “freak” on to battle Leukemia and Lymphoma.

For a $2 admission fee, anyone can help raise research money by bidding on a date with a “science freak.” The Science Constituency Council, the Medical Dental Preparatory Association, the Student National Medical Association and the Pre-Pharmacy Student Association joined to host the “Date a Science Freak” auction at 6 p.m. Friday at 108 University Hall. The money will go toward their $500 goal for the Light the Night walk for Leukemia and Lymphoma research at 5 p.m. Sunday.

This week, the organizations held fundraisers such as a car wash, a planetarium show and an information booth with hot dogs. Council president Marjana Sarker said they wanted to spread awareness about the walk, since acute myeloid leukemia is the No. 1 cause of infant deaths in the U.S. Leukemia, a broad term covering a spectrum of diseases, is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow. Lymphoma is a type of neoplasm, an abnormal build-up of cells, that originates in lymphocytes.

Sarker said people shouldn’t see science students as nerds.“Being a [science] freak is not a bad thing,” she said. “The name always makes people curious or laugh.” The event consists of a silent auction and a live auction; the minimum bid for each is $5. Twenty people have signed up to be auctioned off so far. Council vice president Darius Bonds said the live auction will be like an old dating show where audience members ask their potential date questions. “There’s no way to tell until people start bidding,” he said. “The more money we raise, the better.”

MDPA president Namrata Kohli signed up for the auction. “I just want to go out there, have fun and help raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society,” Kohli said. A mixer will be held for the “science freak” and their date after the auction. The council has not participated in Light the Night before, but the MDPA is no stranger to the event. “We wanted to start it again with a larger and broader crowd — inviting students from all colleges and departments,” Sarker said.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Some Follow-Ups

A few things that I've written about recently need some following up.


First of all, I am thoroughly enjoying not being department chair anymore. It's nice to be able to focus on teaching, and since I'm teaching two sections of a brand new class, I have no choice but to focus on teaching. I'm not exactly making it up as I go along -- I've had a plan for the course, which Isabel and I developed over the summer (she's teaching two sections of the course as well). But I am revising that plan pretty much every day.

Which isn't a bad thing. What I've always liked about teaching is the ongoing attempt to figure out my students and what they need, and then starting all over again the next semester. I may have a bad class one day, but I'll set to work trying to figuring out some other way to explain what I want them to know, and get excited about trying that new thing, and then more excited when it actually works. That's really the big difference for me between being chair and being a teacher: I could work all day on a chair project and not be successful, and be exhausted and depressed by the time I went to bed. But I could have a bad day as teacher, talk to some colleagues, figure out a plan, and by the end of the day feel energized. Being a teacher energizes me (usually), and it's that energy that I've really missed.

Of course, all of that figuring has taken up a whole bunch of my time lately (that, and the kids' activities being back in full swing), so I've had less to time to do the research and writing that goes into the blog. I'm trying to do my three blog entries per week, but it gets difficult some days to come up with something interesting and relevent.

So here are some sort of interesting, sort of relevent follow-ups for you.


A little while ago, I posted a link for the "Seven Hamburgers of the Apocolypse." I rationalized that it was about encouraging good eating habits in my readers, but really, it was because I like looking at pictures of hamburgers.

Here's another one: the Hamburger Fatty Melt, a thick burger with two grilled cheese sandwiches acting as the bun. I love that the recipe calls for a grilling machine that will let you cook the sandwhiches and the burger at the same time. God love George Foreman.

I recommend clicking the link just above the picture, which gives "the backstory for the Fatty Melt." Read the comments section, where people debate whether or not to put bacon on it, and then whether it should go directly on the burger or in the cheese sandwiches.

(How come all of you don't have good debates like that in my comments section?)


My guy Jon Lester continues to amaze. He pitched another 7 innings as the Sox clinched. The deabte now is whether or not he's the staff ace, and when to have him pitch in the next playoff series to best help the team. No mention of cancer, either.

Which brings up this issue: Yesterday, Isabel and I had lunch with a colleague who is a Sox fan, and we discussed current staff ace Josh Beckett's recent problems with injuries. My brilliant solution: Beckett needs lymphoma. Worked wonders for Lester. So if the Sox won't let me pitch for them, I can volunteer to donate blood to Beckett and see if that helps.

(I know, I know, it's a joke. I don't wish cancer on anybody....unless it would really help them somehow....or something.....)


I was going to do one more follow-up on some lymphoma treatment news, but that will have to wait. Too much else going on, and it requires some reading on my part to understand it enough to explain it all. I could give you a raw link, but it wouldn't mean much.

I'll get to more of that good, hopeful cancer news soon. When things slow down. Like, in January...