Saturday, August 30, 2008

Campaign

I'm not going to get political in this blog -- not since Fred Thompson, the only candidate with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, was forced to drop out, after admitting that he was running for president only because his wife made him.

(Well, OK -- I did happen to say a few weeks ago that I thought Joe Biden was losing his mind, which is why I had him on my Fantasy Congress team. But that was before he was named to the ticket, and I only said it because I thought he had no shot at VP. I'll withhold further comment about whether Biden or McCain will be the first one to say something truly offensive, now that the campaign has officially begun.)

So in the spirit of non-partisanship, here's JibJab's new campaign video, in case you haven't seen it yet. Enjoy the fall.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Transition

Today was the kids' first day of school. They were excited, I think, though only Catherine would actually admit it. It will be a big year for each of them -- sixth, fourth, and second grades all have their own special events and qualities.

Isabel and I don't start teaching until next week, so we dropped the kids off at school and then went to IHOP for breakfast, enjoying our first uninterrupted conversation in months. Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity for everyone!

In honor of the first day of school, here is a clip from Family Affair -- Buffy and Jody's first day of school. Pay attention to their leaving the apartment -- coolest door knobs on television, ever.

You have to love Mr. French. Sebastian Cabot is the best. If you didn't like him before, you'll love him after you hear his dramatic reading of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." Funny if you listen, sad if you watch.

Keep your pencils sharpened, everyone.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Olympic Follow-Up

We thoroughly enjoyed the Olympics in our house. All three kids watched as much as they could. Peter renewed his love of synchronized platform diving. John loved anything involving athletes from Kenya and Brazil (homes of many of his favorite animals). Catherine was fascinated by rowing. Go figure. Peter was actually fascinated by all of it -- he watched every even that was on when we were home.)

A few thoughts, now that the Olympics are over, for what they're worth.
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First, as great as a certain American swimmer was (I refuse to name him because I want to be the only web site on the Internet that doesn't actually name him), for me, Usain Bolt was the most impressive athlete of the games. Swimmer Guy is obviously the best swimmer ever, but at least one of his races was really close. Bolt, on the other hand, went up against the best of the world in his events, and absolutely blew them away. Maybe it's because I'm a runner and not a swimmer, but I was stunned.

I mean, check out this video. Unbelievable.

Seriously, this guy earned whatever bragging and showboating he does.

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What's the deal with Olympians biting their medals? I've seen a bunch of pictures of them doing this:

I actually looked it up online, to see if this was some kind of tradition. I found a few possible answers: there's the old tradition of biting a gold coin to see if it's real gold (seems a little disrespectful to the Olympic organizers); there's a symbolic "tasting victory" kind of thing going on; I also read that the European photographers kept shouting at the athletes "Kiss it! Bite it!" (I wish I was making that up.) Given the photos of Rafa Nadal biting his Wimbeldon trophy earlier this summer, I think the weird European photographer theory might hold.








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Finally, among the most important stories of the games that you might have missed:

Maarten van der Weijden of the Netherlands won the gold medal for the 10K (that's 6.2 miles) open water swim. He was treated for Leukemia 8 years ago.

Dick Fosbury, inventor of the "Fosbury Flop" method of getting over the bar in the high jump, was diagnosed with Lymphoma is March. He's doing well, and was in Beijing for the 40th anniversary of The Flop.

Eric Shanteau, an American swimmer, delayed treatment for testicular cancer until after the Olympics. He competed in the 200M breaststroke. He didn't medal, but he did finish in a personal best time.
Those are the best stories, aren't they?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Smiling, Not Crying

"Don't cry because it's over --
Smile because it happened."
-- Dr. Seuss




I like that quote from Dr. Seuss. It applies to all kinds of things in life.

But I'm applying it to what's happening today -- it's my last day as Chairperson of the English Department.

I've been thinking all week of what I want to say about this day, and about the last three years, and I'm still not really sure what it should be.

I've had a funny career at Southern. It hasn't been anywhere close to what I had planned on it being. (But then, I'm the king of "things haven't worked out exactly as I've planned them," aren't I?)

Eleven years ago, I chose to come here for two main reasons. First, because it's a teaching-intensive school. Some schools reward you for writing books, with teaching being kind of secondary. Others are the opposite. Once I caught the teaching bug, I knew I'd want to be someplace that rewards teaching, like Southern. Second, I came to start up a professional writing program. And for two years, I did those two things -- teach (a lot) and recruit students into the professional writing program.

Then things changed. The university started up a new writing program, and I was asked to be the director. I did that for four tough years -- tough because the program was controversial, with people being required to do things they hadn't been required to do before (but should have been). I liked a lot of that job, especially getting to run workshops for faculty from all over the university. I got to meet and get to know a whole lot of great people. But the controversial aspects, and the fights they caused, really wore me out. After four years, I was a little burnt out, and wanted to go back to teaching (the reason I came to Southern), so I resigned....

....And was promptly offered a position as Coordinator of the university's Faculty Development Office. I said yes, despite the burnout. Faculty Development involved doing a lot of the the stuff I loved in the job I'd just quit, plus I'd still teach half a normal schedule, along with the administrative work. I liked this new job well enough, but there were difficulties there, too. Every job has its difficulties, obviously, but I missed teaching. It seemed like the administrative work took away from the time I could devote to students. So after two years, I resigned. I really wanted to just get back to the classroom. I love working with students. Even when things don't go well, teaching energizes me, because I like trying to figure out ways to make things work better.

About two weeks after my Faculty Development replacement was named, our department chair resigned abruptly. The reason involves a long story, not worth going into, but as the summer wore on, the department didn't have a chair, and decisions needed to be made soon. I was asked by a bunch of colleagues if I'd take the position. I refused -- I knew this would mean even less teaching than I'd already been doing for six years. But after a few weeks, I was asked by colleagues who represented enough different interests in the department that I knew I'd have broad support. (We have the largest department on campus by far -- close to 100 full- and part-time instructors, with about 3000 students taking English courses every semester. Our department is actually bigger, by those measures, than 10 or 12 institutions of higher education in the state.) The department wasn't in great shape in a lot of ways. Fighting, mistrust, general selfishness. I thought maybe I could do some good. (Plus, truth be told, I get restless easily, and I love the promise that a good challenge brings.)

I think I did make things better over three years. People have told me so, and I work someplace where people don't necessarily give compliments unless they mean it. I had lots of help, of course, from people I worked with closely, and from the department as a whole.

I have to say, of the three administrative positions I've held at Southern, I enjoyed being chair the most. Maybe it was because I got to be "the boss," and make decisions about a lot of things. That wasn't necessarily the case with the other positions, despite the titles I had. Maybe it was because, by the time I became chair, I had been here for 8 years, and I knew everyone, and more importantly, I knew myself, and was a whole lot more confident in what I could do. I also didn't try to control too much, didn't force my opinions and perspectives on everyone else. And having a lot of support from colleagues helped, too.

I knew I wasn't going to do this for more than the three year term I signed up for. I wanted to get back to teaching -- I had wanted to for years. When my third year started up last fall, people started asking if I'd do it again, and I told them No. It was never in my career plans to be chair. In December, I got the official letter saying the department needed to start the process of naming a chair for the next three years.

And then, of course, came January, and the NHL diagnosis.

Convenienty enough, the NHL gave me an excuse to let the department know just why I wouldn't be serving a seond term as chair.

The timing is good. I'm ready to go. Cancer has changed me in small ways, but one of them is an increasing lack of patience for pettiness. And unfortunately, a lot of what I dislike about being chair involves dealing with others' pettiness. I'm also, in very small ways, finding it harder to hod my tongue when I frustrated. A big part of my success as chair has been my patience and my tongue-holding. So...it's a good time to be done.

I'm looking forward to going back to teaching, although, I must admit, I'm still not burning to return just yet. I have a couple of weeks to get enthused. I'll get there.

Even having written this entry, I'm still not sure what to say about it all. It was certainly an important three years for me as a member of the department. I don't have any regrets.


I guess it kind of forces me to think of the next phase of my life now. I've been lucky to be on watch and wait -- I didn't have to give up being chair or being a teacher to go through some treatment. No disruptions to my professional life, anyway. So now I go back to being just a regular professor. (Peter told me last night that he was glad in some ways that I was done as chair, since he knew it stressed me at times, but a little bummed because it diminished his bragging rights. I'm sure his friends have been very impressed my being chair of the English department.....)

It isn't scary, exactly, to think that something new is going to happen, medically speaking, as something is ending, professionally speaking. But it does kind of make me stop and think a little more deliberately about what happens from here. One door is closing, and now I'm waiting for another to open.


Not necessarily looking forward to it, but I know it's something I can handle. Whatever it is.




Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lymphoma Treatments in the News

I like to stay up on new cancer treatments, especially those related to lymphoma. And I like all of you to be just as informed. So, a couple of positive items for you.

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First, a press release from Cell Therapeutics, Inc., announcing their quarterly earnings. Not to go all Wall Street Journal on you, but it's important that their revenues for the second quarter of 2008 were $2.9 million, compared to $20,000 from the previous year's 2Q. Why? Because they make a radioimmunotherapy called Zevalin. I've mentioned this therapy before: it takes a Rituxin-like antibody that can recognize the CD20 protein that is unique to a malignant lymphoma cell (and isn't present on healthy cells), and adds a tiny dose of radiation to it, zapping the malignant cells. Most lymphoma treatments become less and less effective each time they are used, so they're only used once. But there is evidence that treatments like Zevalin (and a similar drug called Bexxar) actually work better with each application. (Though that needs wider testing.)


Zevalin is the treatment most often given to people who have had a failed stem cell/bone marrow transplant. It's a very important treatment for people who seem to be running out of hope. It's come very close to being pulled from the market -- not because it doesn't work, but because it's a pain in the butt to administer (it requires a large team of specialists -- oncologists, radiologists, nuclear med specialists), and insurance companies have been reluctant to pay for it. The Medicare bill that was recently passed by Congress includes payments for treatments like Zevalin; had it failed, this treatment would have probably been pulled from the market.


But Cell Therapeutics made some money in the spring, so it looks like Zevalin will be here to stay. Which is a very good thing.


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The second bit of treatment news has to do with something called a BiTE therapy. Here's a nice link to explain how BiTE therapies work. Some background: The body fights off viruses, bacterial infections, and any other foreign invaders through two types of white blood cells: T cells and B cells. When they stop working normally (by, say, not turning themselves off after they've done their job, you get Lymphoma. There are T cell lymphomas (which is what Mr. T had), and B cell lymphomas, like follicular NHL.

BiTE therapies basically involve T cells. In general, cancer happens when T cells don't work as they should, and the malignancy grows without interference. BiTE therapies redirect the T cells to attack the malignancies that might otherwise escape their grasp. They work kind of like Rituxin, in that they target specific B cell proteins. The particular drug that has been in the news recently is called Blinatumomab. ) It binds a B cell to one side of itself and a T cell to the other side, ensuring that the T cell will do its job. The downside, as they are learning as they test the therapy, is that healthy B cells are also targeted. Since healthy B cells fight off infection, the patient's immune system is lowered. (This is common to many lymphoma therapies.)

For now, the Blinatumomab is still in clinical trials, but it does look very promising, doing an excellent job on 38 NHL patients who had already had several treatments that failed.

Confusing? Basically, it all means that a therapy is being developed that will allow the body's own defenses to work better in fighting off lymphoma. (I'd give you the link to the article in the August 15 issue of Science, but I can't get it to work.)

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So now you're up to speed.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Another race

I ran another race yesterday, the 5k Roche Run. Did pretty well -- 28:54 (that's 9:19 per mile), good enough for 48th out of 72 runners. I came in 4th in my age group. Here are the official results.

(Yeah, yeah, yeah -- it was 4th out of 5 runners. It was still 4th.)

The Roche Run takes place in Hamden's Brooksvale Park, a place we've visited many times. They have some great trails, plus a few farm animals (goats, sheep, a horse, some chickens, and a few very loud peacocks), plus a pond with frequent duck and geese visitations. We like to go there in the spring to try to catch tadpoles. (Even more to do there -- check out the "activities" link on the Brooksvale site above.)

The Roche Run is named for two brothers from Hamden who died tragically young. One had a freak accident while helping a friend move, and the other died in his sleep -- both were under 25 when they died. The race benefits the older brother's toddler daughter, with entry fees going to her college fund.

The race was supposed to have been run on the dirt trails in the park. Unfortunately, it rained the night before, so they used an alternate route, avoiding the slippery mud. We ran along the Farmington Canal Trail, which is where Peter and I ride our bikes on Saturday mornings in the summer.

To the left: Catherine helping me stretch out before the race.
To the right: Me returning the favor.





The race field is small (72 people) and serious (lots of runners from local high school and college track and cross-country teams). I started out fast -- maybe a little too fast. A couple of people passed me early on, but I held steady, keeping them about 200 feet or so in front of me for the rest of the race. I did manage to pass a couple of people, but mostly we all stayed where we were after a half mile or so.

I could see the clock as I came off the Canal Trail and re-entered the park; it was just passing 28 minutes, so I knew I had a shot to break 29:00. As I came around the final turn into the chute, the clock was at 28:44, so I did as close to a "sprint" as I could at that point, and came in just under 29. I was pleased, especially with that final kick, which is usually not my strength. The photo to the right is me just before the finish, with the kids looking on.




I did a better job than the with Bastille Day 4 miler in DC. Credit the time of day (10:00am, not 7:00pm) and the temperature (low 70's, not low 80's).
I also saw someone wearing the signature purple shirt of Team in Training -- the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's running fundraising team. I had to introduce myself as a lymphoma patient and thank her for her work. She appreciated being recognized.
Fall is racing season -- cooler temperatures make for happy runners. I have about 6 races I'd like to run in the next few months, but if I can sneak in 2 or 3, I'll be happy.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Joke

We're back from a few days in Mass. with the family. Thanks to everyone up there for showing us a good time. We can't wait to see you again soon.
Not much going on, so here's a joke for you. (Not cancer-related, exactly, but it hit home.)
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A woman brought a very limp duck into a veterinarian. As she laid her pet on the table, the vet pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird's chest. After a moment or two, the vet shook his head sadly and said, "I'm so sorry, Cuddles has passed away." The distressed owner wailed, "Are you sure? "Yes, I am sure. The duck is dead," he replied.

"How can you be so sure," she protested. "I mean, you haven't done any testing on him or anything. He might just be in a coma or something."
The vet rolled his eyes, turned around and left the room, and returned a few moments later with a black Labrador Retriever. As the duck's owner looked on in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the examination table and sniffed the duck from top to bottom. He then looked at the vet with sad eyes and shook his head.
The vet patted the dog and took it out, and returned a few moments later with a beautiful kitten. The cat jumped up on the table and also sniffed delicately at the bird.The cat sat back on its haunches, shook its head, meowed softly and strolled out of the room.
The vet looked at the woman and said, "I'm sorry, but as I said, this is most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck." Then the vet turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys and produced a bill which he handed to the woman.
The duck's owner, still in shock, took the bill. "$500!", she cried. "$500 just to tell me my duck is dead?!!"

The vet shrugged. "I'm sorry. If you'd taken my word for it, the bill would have been $20, but what with the Lab Report and the Cat Scan .............."
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It's good to be back.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Olympics Special

We're off for a few days, so I probably won't be posting anything for a while.


In the meantime, you might enjoy some Olympics-related links to get you all warmed up for Beijing. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing Ryan Hall in the men's marathon.


In our house, we love the Olympics. We've loved them ever since Peter was 2 years old. During the 2000 Olympics, Peter loved watching the diving competition, which, for some reason, we had recorded for him. He watched the tape of the diving medal rounds until it was just about worn out. He was especially captivated by the Chinese divers. Sociable little guy that he was, he would walk up to strangers and tell them "My favorite divers are Jia Hu and Tian Liang. Who are yours?"


Better than watching Barney over and over, I guess.


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First up, a blast from the Olympics past. I think this might be my favorite Olympics moment ever: Kerri Strug sticking the team-gold-winning vault on one foot.


And my saying that really means something, given what some people have called my "obsession" with Mary Lou Retton. It's hardly an obsession. I met her in a mall in Kentucky in the mid 90's, after she'd done a chicken cooking demonstration, sponsored by Tyson. It was awesome -- they had set up a kitchen in the middle of the mall, and Isabel and I sat in the audience of about 80 (which was, coincidentally, also the average age of the people in the audience). On the back wall of the kitchen, a screen showed MRL's Olympic highlights. The last scene of the film was of her getting a perfect 10 and raising her arms. At that moment, the real Mary Lou came out from under the screen, raising her arms up. She cooked some chicken for us, and then we got to meet her. She and I chatted for a few minutes, and she signed a picture for me (I still have it -- along with the chicken cookbook from Tyson). I told her I was happy that she always seemed happy, and that she still seemed happy, because so many young gymnasts seem miserable and stressed out. She's a lovely young lady.


And that's all I'll say about my Mary Lous Retton "obsession."


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Next up: A video from Barats and Bareta, who did the Mother's Day video that I had to remove. This one is called Olympian, and it reminds me a little of some parents I know.


But not of us, of course.

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This next video involves an Olympic Curling match (match? game? bout? no idea). Curling involves sliding a stone along ice, while three teammates using brooms to slow down or speed up the stone as it heads toward a target. It's big in Canada, which explains a lot. Watch the first 15 seconds of the video for a demonstration.

And then at about 0:16, the cemera shot changes to an overhead view. Watch the lefthand side of the screen, and you'll see a streaker run along the side of the court/rink/whatever. For the rest of the video, the announcers try to not mention the streaker, since they don't want to encourage other streakers. Because of the view, you can't really see anything offensive. But listen carefully for someone asking "Is he Scottish?"

I include this only to ask, What kind of a cry for help must it be to streak during a curling match? I mean, World Cup Soccer, sure. But curling?


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This year's Olympics Mascots inspired this top ten list of all-time best Olympic Mascots.


Strudel is very fond of #6 -- "A fine German bredd, though debased for international marketing purposes" was her comment before going back to her nap." She's been complaining again lately because she hasn't been allowed to post. I'm guessing I'll need to give in soon.


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This story is a couple of months old. It's about a sumo wrestler who beat his apprentice with a soup ladel. The reason? "I asked him to do something, which I don't remember exactly, but he couldn't do it."


Sumo wrestling isn't an Olympic sport, but the link reminded me of a story. When I was about two, I got tired of my brother's teasing, and I hit him in the head with a soup ladel. If I'm remembering this story correctly, he didn't need stitches. But the next day was the day they checked everyone for lice in school, and my brother had to explain the nasty cut on his head to the school nurse.


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Enjoy the Olympics. Get inspired or something.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Healthy Eating

So here I am, trying to be good, visiting the farmer's market in town every Tuesday, upping my fruits and veggies intake, and I come across this:

It's a post called "The 7 Hamburgers of the Apocolypse," from DietBlog: Eat Right, Get Healthy. It lists (and criticizes) seven hamburgers from restaurant menus across the country that will "clog your arteries just by looking at them."

I love a good burger, something I think I inherited from my mom. Which isn't to say we need a huge, artery-clogging burger. But the right combination of soft bun, juicy meat, and melted cheese just makes us happy. What can we say?

My favorite on this list is, of course, the the #1: the Quadruple Bypass Burger from the Heart Attack Grill in Arizona. Four patties, and it comes with side orders of Jolt Cola, french fries cooked in lard, and a pack of unfiltered Luckies. Be sure to click on the link for the Heart Attack Grill, which looks like a perverse Hooters, with waitresses dressed as nurses. (And click on the link at the bottom of the Grill's page that says the federal government has required the restaurant to make it clear that the waitresses aren't real nurses.)

Close second is #7, the Luther Burger, names for Luther Vandross -- a bacon cheeseburger, with two glazed donuts serving as the bun.

They're all great, though. I'm sad that a Louisville burger didn't make the list. I can't even remember the name of the restaurant or the burger, but it's similar to #2 on the list, a huge burger served with a side of Frickles (deep fried battered pickles).

Summer gets me thinking about burgers. And about just how much lettuce and tomato I need to add to make the "healthy" rationalization seem just a little bit less ridiculous.

(This is what happens when I get a good scan report. All that fresh zucchini gets thrown out the window.)