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.