Monday, March 31, 2008

Treatments in the News

First, a musical update:
On Saturday, Peter played alto sax at the FMI All-State Band concert. This involved over 300 kids from Catholic schools around the state. Four bands played; Peter had auditioned and was placed in Symphonic Band, second highest of the four. He did a great job. It's rare for a fifth grader to make that band, so we're very proud of him.

The kids got their scores from the Connecticut Young Musicians Festival, where they all played piano. All three of them scored a 4 out of 5, so all of us are pleased. Catherine has been playing less than a year, so that score was great. And John and Peter both played some challenging pieces, so their scores were great, too.

Such talented children. I can't even read music, so I can take no credit for all of this.


I listened to a really interesting webcast on follicular NHL yesterday, with a doctor from Rochester, NY who is a specialist in this lymphoma. [I can't get the link to work, so I can't let you listen to it.]

He talks about some of the promising treatments for follicular NHL. Thought I'd share some of what he said:

The standard treatment for a long time was a chemotherapy called CHOP, which stands for four different drugs. In the last 10 years, it has been CHOP-R, which is CHOP plus Rituxin, a monoclonal antibody which works by seeking out a specific protein (CD20) that is present on the B-cells that are affected by certain lymphomas. Rituxin is also used on its own with some effectiveness. One of the great things about Rituxin is that is has almost none of the side effects that chemo has. This drug alone has almost doubled the survival rates for fNHL patients.

Rituxin has been used for about 10 years, and in that time, researchers have built on this technology in other ways. Two other drugs called Bexxar and Zevalin also target CD20 proteins. But the twist is that they have a tiny dose of radiation, so they zap the B-cells when they find them. This is a huge advance. Traditional radiation treatment targets individual tumors. Lymphomas are harder to use radiation on because the "tumors" are cells that travel through the blood -- nearly impossible to pin down. Bexxar and Zevalin allow the radiation to get to where they need to go. The treatmnent takes only a week (versus months for chemo). The downside is that, because it's radioactive, a special team needs to be assembled to administer it. No going to the office and letting an onc nurse do it. So they've been underutilized so far. Yale, however, has offered the treatment in the past.

Another drug being tested now is called Revlimid. It has been approved for use on patients with Multiple Myeloma, another blood cancer, a "first cousin" of follicular NHL. This one works in a different way than the monoclonal antibodies. There is some research that suggsts that certain abnormalities of the blood vessels may support cancer, a possible reason Multiple Myeloma (and perhaps indolent lymphomas like follicular) are so hard to wipe out. Revlimid targets the blood vessels, creating changes in them that may wipe out whatever property is getting in the way of killing off cancers.

Another Myeloma drug being tested on fNHL patients is Velcade. This takes yet another approach to the disease. It is a Proteozome inhibitor. As the webcast describes it, every cell has a "wastebasket" that collects waste products that occur when a cell takes in nourishment; the wastebasket is then emptied into the blood, where it gets expelled. Velcade shuts off the "emptying" feature of the wastebasket. All of the waste builds up in the cancer cell, and it eventually kills itself. It's kind of a poison that is already present in the cell.

Yet another group of drugs in development is called BCL2 inhibitors. BCL2 is a protein that keeps a cell from dying. When the cell runs out of the protein, it dies -- this is a normal thing. All cells die. In lymphoma cells, particularly in indolent lymphomas like follicular, there's too much BCL2, so the cell takes a long, long time to die (and it's really hard to kill off). The BCL2 inhibitor would tell the lymphoma cells to stop producing so much of the stuff, so they would either die a "normal" death, or be easier to kill off with Rituxin or some other agent. These drugs are in early trials, so probably 4 or 5 years away from approval. But this is most promising, if it all holds up as well as it has so far in early tests. The really cool part of this? It's a daily pill -- no chemo, no injections.

That's kind of the theme in lots of these potential treatments: unlike chemo and radiation, there are fewer, less harsh side effects. And more importantly, more options. Follicular NHL, as I've written once before, is the "Tarzan" cancer -- there are always more vines to grab on to, more treatments to try. Some treatments work for some people; other people won't stay in remission and need to try something else. But it usually grows so slowly, there's time to try other things.

The researcher being interviewed was very excited about it all, and I'm excited about it all, too. It's bringing out that inner scientist in me. Makes me wish I stayed pre-med for more than one semster....

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Some Pictures

A few people have asked me for pictures, mostly to pass on to others to show thatI'm still in good shape and not looking sick or anything (they need the proof, I guess -- oh they of little faith). I knew I'd posted some already, but then I realized they were race pictures, so I looked really tired, or awesomely athletic, and always had a hat on (these winter races are chilly). So here are a few, courtesy of my brother and his wife, from Easter.

That's me with the bunny cake. Yes, I decorated it. I'm good at that sort of thing. I like to think I inherited my grandfather's cooking skills, and my brother got his bicycling skills.

(That's kind of a family inside joke.)

An inspirational poster created by my brother, just like the kind you can buy from SkyMall Magazine on airplanes.

If you can't read the caption, it says, "Brothers: Because neither of us wants to be the only one drinking on a holiday."
A Connecticut friend enjoys my brother's posts to the comments, and wanted to meet him. I hope the picture satisfies you.

Another inspirational poster from my brother, this one from the post-dinner wiffleball game. I'm pitching, so this is probably just before I struck him out. He'll probably say it was just before the line drive that he hit off our neighbor's house, denting their aluminum siding. His wife took the picture, and I'm guessing she's just going to stay out of it.

Then again, he's the one who came up with the caption, "Wiffleball: When you stink so bad that you can't even find an adult softball league that will let you play." So maybe she doesn't have to say anything....

Peter is playing sax in an all-state symphonic band concert this afternoon at Central Connecticut State University. More on that later.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nodes of Gold #2

First of all, let me just point out to all that the new movie Run, Fat Boy, Run is not about me.

(I just wanted to make that joke before my brother did.)


Today, we will enjoy the second bio in our series, Nodes of Gold, which profiles famous people who have been treated for some form of lymphoma.

Today's celebrity lymphomaniac: comedian Arte Johnson.

Johnson is probably best known for being a cast member on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, which appeared on NBC from 1968 to 1971. Among his better known characters were "Wolfgang," a German soldier who would comment on other sketches by saying "Verrrrry interesting....," and Tyrone Horneigh (pronounced Horn-eye), a lecherous old man who would hit on Ruth Buzzi's character Gladys Ormphby, usually with disasterous results.

Johnson reprised the Wolfgang role for several epidodes of Sesame Street in 1970. In one segment, he discussed the imprtance of the letters Q and U. In another, he explains the difference between short and tall. Naturally, he found all of it "verrrry interesting." Sesame Street's producers received a number of complaints about the character, such as one froma German woman who objected to the stereotyping of people from her country. According to Patricia Tornburgh of the Children's Television Workshop Information Department, by January 1971, the Wolfgang character "has yet to attract any favorable comments." The character was let go soon thereafter. (How cool is that? Fired by Sesame Street!)

Johnson has appeared in a number of other TV shows, including The Love Boat (6 times) and Fantasy Island (4 times), Fame and The Dukes of Hazzard. He was a frequent guest judge on The Gong Show. He also has done voice work on numerous cartoons, including Scooby Doo, the Smurfs, and Misterjaw, in which he played the lead, a weird German-accented shark who didn't eat anyone, but preferred to sneak up on people and scare them by screaming "Ha-Gotcha!" He also hosted the game show Knockout in the 1970's.

In 1997, Johnson was diagnosed with a form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was treated successfully.

And for those of who like to play "Six Degrees of Lymphoma Separation": Johnson appeared in an episode of The A-Team in 1985, playing a character named "Uncle Buckle-Up."

So here's to you, Arte Johnson. You have Nodes of Gold!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Another Good Dr. Visit

Things are still looking good.

I had my monthly follow-up with Dr. R this afternoon. Nothing's really changed. These monthly visits consist of blood work, a physical exam, and my self-reporting of symptoms. Everything looks great.

My blood work is "perfect" and "rock solid" -- no changes from last month. No anemia, no high or low white cell counts. Some other tests that look at liver output will come back in a couple of days, but given the good blood counts, it's unlikely that I'll have any problems there.

No nodes are swollen (except the one near my hip bone that first "presented"), and no organs appear swollen (like the spleen, which can often be felt externally).

I'm not feeling any B symptoms (weight loss [I've actually gained a couple of pounds, thanks to those Dove Dark Chocolate Easter Eggs], chills, night sweats, etc.). My various aches and pains probably aren't related to the NHL, given where they are located.

He was pleased. I didn't really have any questions for him. "Yeah," he said, "it gets kind of boring aftera while." So I guess that means my slow-growing, low-grade lymphoma is doing what it's supposed to do, which is grow very slowly.

We scheduled another CT and PET scan for April 16, which would make it about 3 months from the last one. That's a little on the quick side, but he'd like to get a sense of how quickly things are progressing, if at all. He asked the radiologist to compare the scan with the January one, so we can see if anything has grown or shrunk. We'll aslo re-stage, if necessary. Then I'll see him again about a week later to discuss the results. He doesn't expect anything to have changed drastically since January. If things look good on the scans, we can make the now-monthly appointments every two months, or even three months, until something changes.

So overall, no news is good news. As much as it sucks to be in limbo this way, I'd rather wait around for a long time than be really sick.

Thanks for all your positive thoughts and prayers.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Good Weekend

Just a quickie.
Mom and dad came down Saturday, and my brother and his wife and two daughters came down Sunday, and we all spent Easter together. It was really great to have everyone there, especially since I hadn't seen my sister-in-law Karen and my nieces Nicole and Emily since the diagnosis. Family is good.
This came on the heels of my mother-in-law visiting from Wednesday to Saturday. The kids won't know what to do with themselves without all that grandparenty love so close.
Plus, Strudel misses all of you.
So thanks for all the visits. Come back any time.

More tomorrow, after I see Dr. R.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

More on Tuesday

A happy Easter to all who celebrate it, and a happy spring to all.

I have an appointment on Tuesday with Dr. R, the oncologist. I'll try to give an update Tuesday afternoon or evening. I think it will be fine, but who knows. I'll tell him about my little aches and pains and see where it goes.

I may post Monday, but I'm expecting a busy day at work -- first day back from spring break, and the last day to withdraw from classes. So I make no promises.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

We are the World

I came across this link yesterday -- a Japanese parody of, or maybe tribute to, the "We Are The World" video. It looks like it came from a game show or something, but honestly, I have no idea why they're doing it. Still, I love it. I can't decide who I like most -- the guy doing Springsteen or the guy doing Stevie Wonder.

The original is running down in the lower left corner, but if you want to see the full version, all on its own, click here. It brings back so many memories, so many questions. In the group shot, why does Lionel Richie hold his headphones against his ear and not put them on his head? Did he think it would mess up his hair? Who thought it was a good idea to give Willie Nelson, of all people, the part that required turning the page? And did Dionne Warwick resent being the one who had to do it? Did she do something to make Quincy Jones angry? Hall earned his line on his own -- but did he agree to sing only if Oates got to sing, too? Why was Dan Akroyd asked? Did you even remember that half of those people were involved?

I remember being on bus soon after it came out (March 1985), and overhearing two kids talking about how great the song and video were. "But did you hear that new guy, Bob Dylan?" said one. "Yeah," said his buddy, "His voice sucks."


My friend Nicole (known to you all as Cocovertigogo) sent me an e-mail yesterday with her thoughts on complacency, being in a kind of in-between place, and her own experiences with the feeling. It was a private e-mail, not a public comment, so I won't get into the details, but she did say that she thought kids (and my kids, whom she knows, in particular) probably have a better sense of that essential balance than we think they do.

Last night at dinner, John was panicked about one of his fish, a female sword tale. It's been acting a little strange lately -- hiding in the plants, not moving much -- usually not a good sign. But I've noticed she gets active once it's feeding time, so I haven't been too worried. Just likes to hide in the plants, I guess.

But John was very worried about it all. He thought she had some white scales near her eyes that he hadn't seen before. He noticed a red barb chasing her some, and worried about the stress that might cause. I offered a reasonable explanation for each of his concerns, and we decided that, rather than take her to the vet (!), we'd add a tablet that would clean the water and help improve her protective stress coat. "OK," John agreed. "I guess we'll just watch and wait."

I stand corrected. He is paying attention.


My mother-in-law is arriving this afternoon for a visit for the next few days. The kids are really looking forward to seeing her. Then mom and dad come Saturday, and my brother and his family on Sunday. I'll try to sneak in one more blog entry before Sunday.

Strudel and I continue to negotiate the topic of her next blog entry. American Idol? Her Final Four Picks? Some weird diatribe on the superiority of certain European breeds and their contributions to art and culture? I don't know if this is a good idea....

Monday, March 17, 2008

An update of sorts

Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

Here's a St. Patrick's video for you. Hope you enjoy.

And a bit of St. Patrick's day trivia for you: St. Patrick wasn't Irish. He was born in Scotland, and his mother was from a well-known Roman family. So his father was Scottish and his mother was Italian. Sound familiar? (It's true. I looked it up in the Catholic Encyclopedia.)
The leprechauns visited our house this morning, as they usually do on March 17, playing their usual tricks -- the toilet water had turned green, and the kids' breakfast juice and milk had turned green, too. And once again, I couldn't catch the leprechauns in the act. (We had a little scare when we heard Strudel crunching on something during breakfast. Thank goodness it was only one of her nyla-bones. We were afraid she's caught a leprechaun.) Corned beef and cabbage tonight.

I'm hoping for a little luck of the Irish soon. I think Lady Luck owes me, especially after the Foxwoods Casino losses a couple of weeks ago.

Plus, you know, that whole cancer thing.


I have a doctor's appointment next week, so I'll give you a physical update then. But I thought I'd give you a mental update now.

Watching and waiting continues to be a strange experience. I have my monthly follow up with the oncologist next Tuesday. I don't expect him to tell me there's any big change. I don't really feel any changes. No "B" symptoms. I have occasional discomfort in my chest and sides. Not pain, by any means. Aches, maybe? I'm trying to lift weights once a week, and it feels like the kind of "day-after" aches that I usually feel, but they last for more than a day. Is it lymph nodes swelling? Who knows. If it is, and the doctor feels them, does that matter? Is it enough for say, "We need to start treatment?" Again, I don't know. It sure doesn't feel like I need to.

News about my condition is still spreading, slowly. I brought Catherine to a birthday party on Saturday, and one of the moms (who also has a son in Peter's class) told me she had heard from her older son, and asked how I was doing. Most people don't say anything about it to me, which is fine. I don't expect people to know what to say, so silence is probably better. For those that do say something, their reactions are very mixed. Some seem devastated (which seems to go away when they see that I'm doing OK). Some have the opposite reaction. One of the moms at school told Isabel that she'd heard a rumor about me, and Isabel explained what was going on -- indolent, slow-growing lymphoma, no treatment yet, etc. The mom was relieved. "Oh -- so he's fine." Well, no, not exactly "fine." I've got cancer.

That's my biggest fear, especially with the kids. I don't want them to become complacent, and think everything is fine. They have no reason to think otherwise, given that we've had to make so very few changes to our lives and to our daily routine. What happens when the inevitable progression comes? Will it be more of a shock to them then, seem more sudden to them, throw them off all over again? Of course, progression of the disease isn't completely inevitable. Some people with follicular NHL never need treatment. Some experience autoremission, where their body somehow figures out how to fight off the cancer on its own. But they're a very small percentage.

I try not to get complacent myself. There are days when I need to remind myself to forget that I have cancer, and move on with what I want to do. Then, on some days, when I'm busy and distracted and I get ahead of myself, I need to remind myself that I have cancer. It's a very strange state of mind to be in. I make long term plans, but I don't let myself get too detailed about them just yet.

The good news is, I've gotten good at being in that strange place. I have bad moments, but not bad days or weeks. I see the watching and waiting period as a time to kind of build up strength and gear up for what will come. I'm not in a stare-down with the cancer; it's more like we're at opposite sides of a crowded room, aware of each other, but agreeing to leave well enough alone. For now. But I know he'll block the door if I try to leave, so we'll need to have a little chat at some point, whether I like it or not.

But mostly, I'm living life as I have been up to this point, but with a couple of exceptions. First, I have fewer doctors appointments now than I've had over the last six months, since I know what's going on. And second, I'm eating more blueberries, since they're really high in antioxidents.

Other than that, it's pretty much the same.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Some Stuff to Read

Sorry I haven't posted in a couple of days. Just got a call from my brother, who wanted to know where the day's entry was, apparently looking for a reason to slack off on a Friday afternoon (missing those "happy hour Friday afternoons" from before the Internet bubble burst so long ago?). I don't want to appear ungrateful to my readers, so I'll give you a few things to look at. Truth is, it's been a busy day; Spring Break is next week, so I'm trying to clear off my desk before I leave.


My brother-in-law Joe mentioned in the comments to my last post that National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" ran an interview with the comedian Robert Schimmel, an NHL survivor who wrote a book recently called Cancer on $5 a Day: How Humor Got Me Through the Toughest Journey of My Life. The interview is about 40 minutes long. Interesting stuff -- funny at times, very sad at times. Make sure you're in a happy place when you listen. He talks, for example, about the pain of chemo being so bad that he contemplated suicide. So, it's not all laughs. He's had a pretty painful life in many ways: his parents were both Holocaust survivors; he lost a son to leukemia; he married and divorced the same woman three times....Jeez, I hope the book's funnier than the interview.

If you want funny, you can look at some of his material on YouTube. He's R-rated at best (maybe even X-rated), so be warned. Apparently, he had a pilot for a sitcom ready to go when he was diagnosed with NHL, so it never happened. The opening scene of the pilot, even before the opening credits roll, is a graphic depiction of him getting a colonoscopy. But in a sit-com kind of way. So here it is, if you dare. Don't watch it at work, or if your kids are around.


Something else for you, also slightly depressing, but with a great ending: an essay called "My Year Running Through Cancer" by Jennifer Goellnitz. She writes about being diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease when she was in her 20's. She's a runner, and the essay focuses on her attempts to run even as she was going through some nasty chemo. She's in remission now.

She gives her e-mail address at the end of the essay, so I e-mailed her a couple of weeks ago to tell her how much I liked the essay, and we've been e-mailing back and forth a little. Her dad is an NHL survivor, 2.5 years in remission, and she writes a column for Running Times online. She's very nice, very encouraging. The NHL support group messge board recently had a posting about her -- to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, she recently ran 214 miles in a week -- more than a marathon a day. You go, girl.

And remember, with both Schimmel and Jenny, their chemo is different from what mine will be/would be, so don't panic about what you read.


One last link: A funny video called The 10 Funniest Treadmill Falls Ever. I like to think of it as a compilation of some of the themes of the blog so far: treadmills and running (no dogs involved, thank goodness), and a few people who are obviously smoking pot. If you don't like America's Funniest Home Videos, you won't like this.

Nicole M, pay careful attention to #4: DO NOT GET ON A TREADMILL IN UGGS.


I've heard I have some fairly new readers who aren't familiar with the "blogosphere," as the kids say. (Or Larry King says -- I forget which.)

Blogs aren't just online diaries; they're interactive web experiences. If you newbies keep reading about "comments" and don't know how to access them, it's very easy: right below the end of the post, on the right, it will say "0 comments," or "2 comments" or whatever, in small print. Click on that and read what others have to say. Add your own by typing in the box to the right of the comments. Don't forget to sign your name.

Thanks for reading. Next week: Strudel is begging me for another chance at blogging.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Non-Hodgkins in the News

A hopeful story in the news Monday about Non-Hodgkins.

Survival rates for NHL patients have increased fairly dramatically over the last ten years, with 5- and 10-year survival rates on the rise. The numbers are especially good for patients under 45 years old.

The rise is being credited mainly to a drug called Rituxin, which was the first one developed that uses antibodies to attack tumors directly. It is sometimes used by itself as an early treatment, though most often used with chemotherapy (for fNHL, the standard chemo mix is called CHOP-R, each letter representing a different chemo drug; the "R" is "Rituxin), often with "R-Main," Rituxin Maintenance -- infusions every four to six months after chemo is finished.

Rituxin works because it finds and attaches itself to specfic "markers" on the surface of cells. The marker os called CD20. Rituxin knows to target only "B cells," the types that gets infected in certain NHLs, including mine. It won't attack plasma cells or stem cells. Once it attaches, it triggers mechanisms that target this same B cell in other places.

Rituxin hasn't been around long enough to say it's the absolute cure for fNHL, but it's showing some great results. The news story has an image of Rituxin attacking a B cell:

Beautiful, isn't it?

Of course, I have to give the usual "Don't get too excited" warnings: first, the study looks at all NHLs, not just Follicular; and second, if it was an absolute miracle cure, we'd all have been given it by now.

Still, to end on a happy note: Follicular survival numbers are even better than the averages numbers presented in the article, which include more aggressive NHLs, in part due to its receptivity to Rituxin.

Rituxin is likely to be a part of my future.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Special Letter

First of all, I can't believe none of you know Mr. T's real name. Where were you all for the 80's? Engaging in behaviors that Mr. T would disapprove of, no doubt. I pity the fool who wastes his time breakdancing and experimenting with mind altering substances!


Peter, John, and Catherine got a very special letter on Saturday. It came from Terry Francona, the manager of the Red Sox. It's not a form letter, that's for sure (unless the Sox now have some kind of weird "sorry your dad has cancer" form letter that they use a lot), and the signature is real.

Here's the letter:

Sorry for the small print; this was the best I could do with the scanner.

We don't know who contacted the Sox, but we're pretty sure it was Ken Casey from Dropkick Murphys, since they're the "house band" of the Red Sox. I asked cousin Christine if she could confirm that, and thank Ken for us, but they're on tour right now, so she can't get in touch with him.

Everyone out there has been incredibly generous. We appreciate your time, your good wishes, and the gifts -- small and very large -- that you've given us. They mean a lot, and I've been trying to thank everyone privately and publicly (on the blog), so if I've missed a thank you, I'm sorry. But know that we're aware of how blessed we are to have such great support. It makes us feel good knowing that you've been there for us when things haven't really been too rough yet. We know you'll be there when things do get difficult, when the Lymphoma progresses and the treatment starts up (whenever that will be).

Thanks again to everyone.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New Feature

Today, I am debuting a new feature for the blog, "Nodes of Gold: Famous People with Lymphoma." For the feature, I will profile a famous person who has or had Lymphoma, so as to educate you all about how widespread the disease is. I'm going with Lymphoma in general, including all types, and not just NHL, as a goodwill gesture toward those who have Hodgkins Lymphoma, and who generally think they're better than those of us with Non-Hodgkins, since they came first and define who we are by what we don't have. (They call us "Leftovers.)

So, first in the series: Mr. T.


Nodes of Gold #1: Mr. T

Mr. T is an actor, two-time winner of the America's Toughest Bouncer competition, and one-time professional wrestler.

He is best known for playing Clubber Lang in Rocky III (that's two Rocky III references in a matter of days!), and B. A. (Bad Attitude) Baracus on The A Team. Born in Chicago in 1952, he is the 11th of 12 children. His brothers encouraged him to "get big" as a way of surviving his tough neighborhood, and he eventually became a bodyguard for Muhammed Ali, Steve McQueen, and Diana Ross, among others.

His big- and small-screen success led to his becoming a national phenomenon, and he eventually had his own comic book, TV cartoon, and cereal, as well as as his own Shrinky Dink set, which is perhaps his greatest accomplishment.

His tag line, "I pity the fool!," struck fear into the hearts of millions, terrified that they had done something pitiable to Mr. T. He was an outspoken opponent of drug use (sorry, you medical marijuana fans), alcohol (sorry, most of you on both sides of the family, and most of my friends), and just plain being a fool.

In 1995, Mr. T was diagnosed with T-cell Lymphoma. Naturally, he's Mr. T, so it was T-cell and not B-cell, and he pities the fool who has B-cell, which means me. Actually, T-cell is much more aggressive than B-cell, but with treatment appropriately aggressive for Mr. T, he beat the disease in 2001, and is now in complete remission.

After Hurricane Katrina, Mr. T gave up his trademark gold chains. He recently appeared in a Snickers commercial in Great Britain.

Also, he's good to his Mom, and thinks you should be good to yours, too.

Congratulations, Mr. T! You've got Nodes of Gold!

(Be sure to click those links, especially the last two, which are just incredible.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More Cancer Humor....

....though I'm kind of tip-toeing with this, because my "Irish Guy With Cancer" joke didn't get much response.

Visiting a Lymphoma site, I came across a link for cancer humor, and that led me to a bunch of other sites, so I thought I'd share. I know cancer humor isn't everyone's cup of tea (or everyone's bag of chemo treatment), so I'm only posting the less-offensive stuff; you can click on the links and dig around a little to see the other stuff. (Hint: it's the kind of stuff that, say, 12-year old boys would find funny if they found colorectal cancer to be funny.)


Here is a Washington Post article from 2006, "Humor, Rhymes with Tumor". It focuses primarily on one cartoonist (see below), but it does talk about cancer and humor in general.

That cartoonist is Miriam Engleburg, whose comic strips are called Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person. Here's a sample. She has a bunch of non-cancer-related strips, too, mostly dealing with parenthood. One is about marijuana, which you all seem to enjoy talking about, so here's the link to a sample called Toddler or Stoner?.


Another nice site is (the name plays on the whole "Got Milk?" thing). Their motto is "Your online source for unique cancer shirts, hats and more!"

This is where you'll find a great selection of colorectal and testicular cancer t-shirts with amusing puns. Of the non-rude shirts (click the link to see the rude ones for yourself), I like:

"Think Positive, Be Negative (It's a Cancer Thing)" and

"My Oncologist is Better than Your Oncologist."

But this one is my favorite. What NHL guy could think otherwise?


A quick, clean joke:

Q. How many cancer patients does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. Just one, but it takes a support group to cheer him on.


Finally, you might enjoy Buck Cash's Cancer Island. Among other things, he has a series of cancer-related comics called "Toomers" (click on the "toons" link). Some are fairly intense chemo-related topics. Here are two that are OK to post -- only mildly offensive, especially compared to the Irish Cancer joke:

I really want to do this with my oncologist.

(Kind of self-explanatory.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

88 keys and a 5k

First off, a couple of thank-you's:

1) To Mike, Karen, Nicole, and Emily: Thanks for the article about Jon Lester. He's the Red Sox pitcher who had a type of NHL (different that mine), was treated, and came back a year later to win game 4 of the World Series last fall. The Boston Globe still has it archived in case you'd like to read it.

2) To Cindy, my colleague at Southern, for her icon suggestion. She sent a photo of James Brown and suggested that I could use that for those "I feel good" days. Since I anticipate feeling good (and using that same icon) for a while, I'm using it as my official profile photo. Look to the right and you'll see it. Click on the link to view the profile, and then on the audio clip option, and you'll hear Mr. Brown singing the song with that lyric ("I Got You").

This buys me some time to come up with other great soul songs to describe how I'm feeling. "Ain't No Way" when I'm feeling down? "Kung Fu Fighting" when I'm gearing up for a treatment? I'm sure my brother will offer some selections from his personal collection.

Thanks again Cindy. You won the contest.


Back to our busy weekend. Saturday afternoon, the kids performed in the Connecticut Young Musicians Festival, a two weekend event held at Fairfield University. There are actually a bunch of festival events for different instruments all over the state, but piano is held at Fairfield.

The Festival is a judged, non-competitive event. Students are placed by their piano teachers at a certain level of achievement, and then play one required price and one optional piece. They are given scores from 1-5 by two judges. Each kid is in a group of roughly ten kids, so they're playing in a room with the two judges, plus the other kids in their group and all their families -- an audience of 25-30 people. It's non-competitive because they aren't given scores in relation to one another, only on their own performance (so everyone in the room could earn a 5).

It's a great thing. There's a little less pressure, given that they are only competing against themsleves, but it still gives them a chance to be in front of an audience and have that valuable experience. (Not that our kids are exactly shy, as most of you know.)

Catherine was scheduled to play from 2-3, and the boys were both in the same group (though at different levels) from 3:15-4:15. Unfortunately, we had some snow the night before, and while we along the coast were fine, the northern part of the state got hit harder. Apparently, not all of the judges were able to make it yet when they started at 9:00am, so they moved everything back an hour. Nobody knew that until we arrived, so we had an hour and a half to kill before Catherine started, having arrived at about 1:20.

The kids performed in one of Fairfield's classroom buildings, so we went up to the third floor and found an empty classroom and let the kids draw on the chalk board for an hour. (Leave it to the teachers to know that kids love chalkboards -- I think there's something "forbidden" in writing on the board, and that makes it more exciting.) This is some of their artwork:

Peter's picture of me as a Jedi Knight. (I'm saying "Duh.")

John's picture of me as a Sith Lord. Note the double-sided light saber. I'm also saying "Duh" in this one.
Catherine's picture of Princess Leia. It isn't of me, and I'm not saying "Duh," so I'm kind of happy about that.

Anyway, they eventually performed their pieces. They did well. This was Caterine's first time, and she didn't seem terribly nervous. John was performing for the second year, and he also did well. Peter's was his third performance, and he had by far the most challenging pieces to play in his group. He's a perfectionist, and he let a little early stumble throw him, but after watching himself on video, he realized he did a lot better than he thought. I agree.
We're working on getting some video up online for everyone (new camera, so we're learning how to do all of that). In the meantime, here are some pictures of the kids performing. Sorry, I haven't had a chance to edit them, so they're a little dark, and there's some punk's hat in the way of Catherine's picture:

Video soon, I promise.


On Sunday morning, I ran the WPLR ShamRock and Roll 5k in downtown New Haven. This is a large race, about 1000 people every year. I met up with Andrew (you remember him from the East Rock 5k last month) and Ilene, another friend from work. Ilene and I knew Andrew was going to take off fast and beat us badly, so we didn't even bother to line up with him. Instead, Ilene and I agreed to run a fairly easy race -- we were shooting for about 10 minute miles. We knew with that having so many people at the start meant we'd be crowded in for the first five minutes and not be able to pass anyone anyway. Plus, we knew the course had some hills, and with the nice temperatures the day before, there would be some icy patches in the 25 degree chill of the morning.

I ended up finishing in 30 minutes, 31 seconds, a 9:50 per mile pace, just about what Ilene and I had agreed to run. Not my best, but I wasn't setting out for a PR, either, not like in East Rock. (For that race a month ago, my diagnosis was still pretty fresh, and I was running with pentcostal fire. Now I'm stable and on watch and wait, so this one was running with zen buddhism. Or something like that.)

I finished 586 out of 909 overall, 118 out of 136 in my age group (40-49). I'll take it. Here are the official results if you care to see them.

Mom and Dad were here for the weekend to see the kids perform, so it was nice that they got to see me race for the first time. The family all parked themselves on a hill about halfway into the race, so they saw me pass by twice. Here's a picture, as I went to the side of the road to get high fives from all of my fans:

I'm wearing my red "Relentless" shirt. Told you I looked darn good, didn't I?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Dropkick Murphys

Where to begin with describing this busy weekend?
I guess we'll start with Friday night -- that's when we got the pakage from Ken Casey, lead singer for Dropkick Murphys, one of Peter's favorite bands. If you aren't familiar with them, they're Punk Irish band from Boston. Think guitar and drums, plus bagpipes and penny whistle. They're probably now best known for having their songs in The Departed, which won the Oscar for Best Picture last year. If you haven't seen it, it's all about Boston Irish cops and Boston Irish mobsters. One of the songs from the film is "Shipping Up to Boston," one of Peter's favorites (and mine, I'll admit. Good running song.)
They also have a big connection to the Red Sox. They sing a song called "Tessie," which is a very old tune about a woman who loves the Sox. They rode in the Sox Workd Series victory parade this year, with Jon Papelbon, the Sox closer, jigging along with the band. Personally, I like "Wicked Sensitive Crew," which features the lyrics "In Pittsburgh they called us closed minded/but we know that's simply not true./Yeah, we're touchy, feely, sensitive guys/I ain't ashamed I cried when Mickey died in Rocky 2!" (Yes, it was Rocky 3, but that doesn't rhyme.) Plus, I like some other songs with titles I can't print in the blog.
So that's the band.
We knew we were going to this Irish party on Saturday, so ISabel and I looked for fun t-shirts for the kids. I saw a Dropkick t-shirt at a Bob's Store that I wanted to get for Peter (it says BOSTON IRISH on the front), but they didn't have his size. I called my Mom to see if they might have one at the store near her. She called back to tell me that my dear cuginita (little cousin) Christine was friends with the lead singer. Mom remembered his last name was Casey. "Kenny Casey?" I said. "I used to play baseball with him." He grew up in Milton, and he was a neighborhood kid, so we'd play pick-up baseball, or football, or basketball sometimes. I'd hardly call him a close friend, but I certainly remembered him. (He has the same face 30 years later.)

After I talked to Mom, I told Peter that I knew Ken Casey, and he about fainted. (He gets a little star-struck at times.) In the meantime, Mom told me that she had contacted Christine and hold Christione that Peter was such a big fan, so Christine called Ken Casey. Apparently, they knew each other well as teenagers, and have kept in touch. (Still not sure about the details of their relationship. Christine -- could you explain?)

Ken sent a package to out to us immediately: an autographed picture, two shirts, and a bunch of stickers. Here are Peter and John wearing the shirts at the St. Patrick's party Saturday:

Yesterday, we wrote to Christine to thank her, and asked if it would be OK to e-mail Ken Casey directly to thank him. She asked Ken if it was OK, and he agreed ("Anything for you," is what I think Christine said that Ken told her. Seriously, Christine, can you explain this relationship?). So Peter e-mailed him last night to say thanks. He wrote about two sentences, and I asked if that was all he wanted to say. "I don't know what else to say!" Peter told me, all nervous. "I've never written to someone who's world-famous before!" (Peter knows Dropkick is off to tour Europe in a few weeks -- thus, "world famous.")

So, thank you my dear cousin. You made Peter's week -- maybe his month. He'll be bragging about this at school for the rest of the year.


We had a good time at the St. Patrick's Day party (two weeks early, but that's what you need to do if you want to book an Irish DJ, apparently). Catherine especially enjoyed herself. She didn't stop moving the whole night. When slow songs came on, she danced ballet. When fast songs came on, she dragged someone out to the dance floor (usually me) or just ran around in circles. Here are some pictures:

John getting down, doing the Macarena:

Catherine dancing with some friends:

Peter doing the Chicken Dance. Instead of the clapping part, he makes armpit noises:

And yes, he really did write a piece called "Concerto for Saxophone and Armpit." But every time he tried to play what he'd composed so far (with himself on sax and his brother on armpit), John would laugh too hard to make it work, so he abandoned the project.

Discussing music makes as good a transition as any. Next entry: the kids perform at the Connectocut Young Musicians Festival, and Dad runs a 5k.

Busy Weekend

Not even halfway through the day, and we're exhausted. It's been a busy weekend, with Mom and Dad visiting and participating in lots of fun events.

Saturday afternoon, all three kids performed in the Connecticut Young Musicians Festival.

Saturday night, we all went to a St. Patrick's Day party at St. Rita's. Peter and John wore their new Dropkick Murphy's shirts, sent to them by band's the lead singer, Ken Casey, at the request of Cousin Christine, an old friend of Ken's.

This morning, I ran another race, the WPLR ShamRock and Roll 5k.

Peter's going to be on the computer all afternoon finishing a school project, so I'll post pictures and details of all of the events later today, or tomorrow sometime.

I'm still relentless, and I still look darn good in running clothes.