Saturday, April 18, 2009


Last night, Mom was moved out of the Neuroscience ICU to the floor above, a non-intensive ward. She now has a roommate, separated by a curtain. Visiting hours in this new ward are restricted: 10AM to 8PM. In the ICU, only two and a half hours per day were verboten (7:00-8:30AM, and 7-8PM), as that was when the doctors did patient rounds. The new ward doesn't restrict cell phone use.

Mom was moved to this ward because she had been given steroids that reduced the swelling and resultant pressure of both the tumor and the edema. Her cognitive faculties had noticeably returned yesterday; I was with her for most of the day. She's not 100%; I wouldn't expect her to be.

The neuroscience team has yet to see Mom and evaluate her, but she's had the full-body scan, which was negative for any other masses, thank goodness. Surgery to extract Mom's brain tumor, while not explicitly scheduled at this point, is an almost definite prospect. Mom was informed that the staff would have to "do her hair," as she put it, for surgical purposes. She didn't look too thrilled about that.

Guess what I plan to do as a gesture of solidarity. Life is going to be so much simpler without hair. And, hell, I've spent years looking for an excuse to do this.

UPDATE: The neuro team came to see Mom earlier this morning, before patient visiting hours, and told her that surgery was most likely scheduled for Tuesday. She will remain on the steroid drip until Tuesday and beyond, as brain surgery is essentially another form of trauma to the brain, causing it to swell. As you might imagine, I didn't get this info from Mom, but from the doc who's watching over the ward Mom's currently in.


Friday, April 17, 2009


Many thanks to everyone for all the expressions of support. I don't want to go into back story, but the upshot is this:

Mom has a small mass on one of the frontal lobes of her brain. The mass is what is called a "primary tumor," i.e., it isn't the child of a tumor that originated elsewhere in her body. The docs appear to have caught this early, and its position on or near the surface of the brain makes it "very operable," to use the phrase Dad borrowed from the docs.

Mom initially underwent a CAT scan at Mount Vernon Hospital, which is how the mass was first discovered. A subsequent MRI led the docs to diagnose the mass as a tumor. After several hours, Mom was moved from Mount Vernon Hospital to Fairfax Hospital, a much larger and better-equipped facility. A neurological team has been assembled and prepped; the most likely plan of attack is surgery to extract the mass. As of tonight, Mom has been given steroids to reduce the pressure in her brain; when we three brothers saw her this evening, she was slightly more herself than she had been at 9AM on Thursday.

Tomorrow, Mom is likely to undergo a biopsy procedure; what happens after that will be determined by the biopsy. Surgery to extract the mass is probable.

What this means for readers of Kevin's Walk is that I won't be heading out Saturday. I'm putting the walk on hold indefinitely. After all, what sort of person could possibly leave at a time like this? There's little use blathering on and on about religion if you can't even practice proper virtues with your own family-- things like love, attentiveness, dedication, and just being present and available.

I've decided not to deactivate the blog, though; I still have many promises to keep in terms of dialogue transcription, and that activity will give me something to do over the coming weeks. I need a distraction.

I might post further Mom-related updates to the blog. If I don't, feel free to email or contact me via Facebook. Meanwhile, do me a favor: if your parents are still around, go find them, talk to them, hug them. If they're no longer with you, take some time to think about all they've done for you. Don't let sadness and regret dominate your thinking; be filled instead with gratitude-- nothing but gratitude. And if that gratitude moves you to do something nice for someone you love, all the better.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mom in hospital

As you can see by this post's title, all is not well at my house. Mom's been taken to the hospital after displaying some alarming cognitive symptoms. She's being looked over as I write this; hopefully, we'll know more in a few hours.

To be honest, I'm not sure how much information I'm willing to divulge on the blog. Friends are, of course, free to email me. The important thing for Kevin's Walk is that, depending on what we find out today, I may or may not be heading out west. There's even a chance that the walk might be canceled as personal matters take precedence. Life gives you only one mom, after all.

UPDATE, October 31, 2009: As is obvious to those who have followed this blog since April 16, I've had little trouble writing about our family's journey as we deal with Mom's ever-worsening brain cancer. If you're a newcomer, welcome to this humble chronicle of Mom's life. I'm her eldest son Kevin; I have two younger brothers, David and Sean, who do what they can for Mom during their free time and who are often cited on the blog. My father, also a David but known to the world as "Ned," is retired; he and I stay at home and provide Mom with 24/7 care.

If you're wondering how to read these blog entries in proper chronological order, here's how: scroll to the bottom of this blog post, find the link that says "newer post," and click it. The next blog entry in the series will come up. It's a long slog, trying to catch up on everything that's happened since April 16, but if you're one of Mom's close friends, I trust you'll care enough to want the details.

The story that follows isn't a happy one, and based on what we know about Mom's cancer (it's the same brain cancer that Ted Kennedy had), we know that there's no happy ending in store for us. All we can hope is that Mom will live as long as technology (and our care) makes possible, and that her remaining time with us will be both happy and pain-free.

PS: Impatient folks can read a brief summary of events from April to early November here. This will be updated periodically.


more mug designs!

New mug designs now available at the Kevin's Walk section of my CafePress shop. One is my "Ten Religious Questions" (see link on sidebar, under my photo); the others are "teaching" mugs, if you will, each explaining a particular religious attitude. I've covered four: exclusivism, inclusivism, convergent pluralism, and divergent pluralism. Each mug shows a little graphic that will, I hope, aid the consumer's understanding of that worldview.

Collect all five!

Here are the designs, unwarped by CafePress graphics rendering software:

If I have time, I'll be turning these into tee shirt designs as well. I debated over whether to add the Kevin's Walk URL to the "teaching" mugs, and ultimately decided against doing so, because this blog will most likely go inactive or be deleted once the walk is finished. Meanwhile, the information on those mugs will remain fresh. The "10 questions" mug, however, is tied specifically to my personal mission on the walk. I will probably alter or delete that particular design once the walk is over.

I should note a few things: the typology you see on the mugs is not something I invented. The original 3-fold typology of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism comes from religious scholars Alan Race and John Hick. Whether the typology actually works as an analytical tool for sorting religious attitudes is a matter of debate, but from what I've seen of scholarship over the past three decades, the basic template still seems to function. Thinkers like Paul Knitter have riffed off the typology; when you look at Knitter's work, you see he's providing variations on a basic theme.

My division of pluralism into the two large categories of "divergent" and "convergent" comes from the scholarship of Kate McCarthy, specifically from her chapter titled "Reckoning with Religious Difference" from the book Explorations in Global Ethics, a collection of scholarly papers on comparative religious ethics. McCarthy's chapter is one I highly recommend to anyone interested in a quick and dirty overview of the fact-- and problematic-- of religious diversity.

If I thought I'd had the space to do it, I would have provided the above explanation on each mug.


two views on the "tea parties"

A liberal view over at the Peking Duck:

Back in the motherland, I’ve been watching in amusement and amazement as the “tea party” nonsense titillates the right into paroxysms of ecstasy. All I’ll say is this: The tea parties are code. They have nothing to do with taxes. They are all about anti-Obama rage, racism, fundamentalism and the Limbaugh-Rove-Malkin axis-of-sleazels’ wet dream of imitating the Nuremberg rallies in America. The astroturfed, Fox-news-sponsored orgies of faux outrage are simply a continuation of the 2008 campaign’s insistence that Obama was a socialist Muslim terrorist born in Kenya and out to plunder the US treasury and turn the US of A into a Caliphate.

And as quoted on Instapundit:

“Democrats and other skeptics are desperate to dismiss the tea parties that popped up across the country today. . . . This eagerness to explain away this movement is telling, suggesting the skeptics see these gatherings as a real threat. Certainly the tea parties have an anti-Obama slant, but what we’re seeing is something outside the normal dynamics of Democrat-Republican tension. . . . It isn’t clear yet what the tea party movement is all about, but it can’t be dismissed as something that simply arose from shadowy GOP organizers.”

I'm not a fan of protests in general, no matter who's behind them. The loss of individuality and the reduction of calm, sophisticated debate to a small cluster of frothing, 10-word talking points are too much for me to take. While I concede the value such activities have in raising consciousness about issues, the activities themselves completely turn me off.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

back from 15 miles

Yes, Virginia: I am still capable of 15-milers. No problem, aerobically speaking: as I suspected, there's a good bit of muscle memory involved. I do, however, have a throbbing left knee, which I'm managing with Vico-- uh, no... Naproxyn. (I'm not House, dammit, I'm not!)

My friends in Irrigon tell me they might just pick we up at the Portland airport instead of letting me walk along I-84 during the night and fetching me from the roadside the following day (that's the plan I'd suggested to them). Great people, Chuck and Lori. Whenever I write my book, they're going to be lavished with praise.

I don't think I'll be walking much with the backpack on my back this time around, except perhaps when I'm in a town or city. One of my upcoming purchases-- either here or when I'm out west-- is going to be a super-simple rig to tow my stuff behind me. I'm hoping to get something light enough to strap onto the backpack itself, if need be. We'll see what the sporting goods stores have on offer. I can't afford to get anything too bulky or heavy, but whatever I buy has to be durable, with fairly large, sturdy wheels.

The above might seem like a digression, but my point is that I'll be able to go farther and faster with the pack rolling behind me than with it on my shoulders. My first walk out from Walla Walla takes me back south into Oregon, to the city of Milton-Freewater. The next walk is a doozy, though: about 30 miles to the city of Pendleton. The walk to Emigrant Spring State Park, the following day, looks to be around 25 miles. Considering the distances I plan to cover, having the pack off my back seems like the way to go, at least until I've lost enough weight to think about shouldering the load for longer periods.


10 miles into a 15-miler this morning

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Kevin becomes House?

While I'm about 200 pounds heavier than Fox's Dr. Gregory House (that's only a slight exaggeration), House and I will have something in common for the remainder of my walk: pill-popping to manage pain in the lower extremities. In my case, the pain is a generalized ache in both knees. I get the pain even during short walks of 6-10 miles, so I assume this is simply part of my reality, now. Rest assured: the pain isn't debilitating, and it's worst at the beginning, when I start moving after having sat still for a while. It's not a big issue; this pain is nothing like the agony my right knee was in last year.

I'm assuming that the ibuprofen and Naproxyn tablets that I used last August were not addictive; I managed to wean myself off them rather easily while in Walla Walla. I'm hoping the same will be true after another 3000 miles of walking; we'll see. I don't want to end up in the painkiller-addicts' wing of whatever clinic hosted Michael Jackson.

And now, Dear Reader, I'm staring down at my gut and ruing the fact that I've regained about 20 of the 40 pounds I had lost last year. I don't blame anyone but myself for this, and I know that honesty doesn't ennoble me, but I also know that a few weeks back on the road will start me losing again. Think positive.

Meantime, I'm impatient to get restarted. A dark corner of my brain has been screaming since last year that I've been home way too long, but you'll recall the circumstances that led me back here: the need for a place to stay while I healed; the fact that winter would have been an issue, given the equipment I had with me; and the lack of funds, which disappeared at an alarming rate thanks to my decision to "stay legal" and not act like a vagrant while in towns and between them. ( isn't much help when you're passing through small towns-- a fact I've been rediscovering as I plan stops from Walla Walla to Salt Lake City.)

But this time is going to have to be different. I haven't made that much money, so it's imperative that I conserve what little I have. I'm not even budgeting for food; I'll rely on what charity comes my way. Because I have $500 per month in bills (all scholastic debt-- none of it with credit cards), my parents have agreed to help me for the next several months. For their sake, I need to finish the walk sooner rather than later. The folks are doing this despite having taken heavy hits in the pocketbook thanks to all the renovation since last September. I've promised to pay them back once I'm in Korea and... heh... probably working three jobs to make up for lost time. If I write a book and it ends up making some money, I'm sure that all the initial proceeds will go to my folks.

I'll be in Walla Walla for a few days, interviewing some of the interesting people I met last year (plus a few I've promised to meet), stretching my legs, basking in the high desert climes. I start ambulating in earnest on April 23, striking out for Milton-Freewater, where I hope to have a place to stay (the route to Salt Lake City is here). Unlike the first 600 miles, when I only rarely camped illegally, I see myself imposing a lot more on the largesse of both the federal government and private property owners. I might have to pull a Steve Vaught, camping in someone's woods when needed. That's what you do when you don't have $150,000 and a huge staff to act as your caddy so that you can walk virtually unencumbered.

Despite not having filled in all the blanks for my first 40-60 days of walking, I do have a route plotted out, which is a major difference from last time. I've given up on the "self-planning" idea; it's disappointing to have to let that notion go, but the basic problem has been the insularity (and general unresponsiveness) of many of these religious communities. I've heard excuses from some of them-- they're staffed with only a skeleton crew of volunteers, etc. That's fine, but simple courtesy demands that one respond fairly quickly when addressed directly, and the sad fact is that, on many occasions, this hasn't happened. Just ask my friend Nathan, who sent out a blizzard of mailings on my behalf many months before I even arrived in America. Not a single response after all that effort. Maybe I'm just not famous enough. Heh.

The week is winding down. There's still some shopping and some packing to do, then I'm off to Portland on Saturday. Am looking forward to being back on the road; I feel as if I've been dead weight here in Virginia. I'm deeply thankful to my folks for having hosted me this long and for helping to fund the next several months of the walk, but it's definitely time to move on. I've put my life on hold to do this, but I can't stay on hold forever, not with bills to pay.

If you readers want to help my folks out with this $500 a month burden, go peruse my CafePress shop and buy some items. Every little bit helps.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

it grows within you

[UPDATE: If you've read the comments to this post, you've seen that this is likely a hoax. I'm beginning to incline toward that view myself.]

One of the greatest glories of the human condition is pregnancy. Granted, it doesn't feel all that glorious if you're a woman, what with all the bloat and vomiting and weird dietary urges. But gestation is still a marvel: a little life is growing within you, and the moment of birth is, as every parent I know attests, like stepping into a whole new realm of existence.

Perhaps as a result of our evolutionary wiring, we have a completely different view of anything other than a human being growing inside us. Whether it's a tapeworm, or a cancer, or hookworms, or an invasion of ascaris (picture not for the easily grossed-out, but this was an internet classic years ago, so you've probably seen it), we are wired to view such things as a horrifying violation.

The horror begins early. Many children worry about what might happen after they've eaten watermelon seeds: "Will I start growing a watermelon plant inside me?" Most parents respond with a laugh and a "No, of course not, dear." But this isn't to say that you can't grow plants inside your body, as my brother David demonstrated when he sent me a link that led to the following picture:

What you're looking at is a tiny fir tree extracted from a Russian man's lung. Here's what the article says:

A Russian man who had been feeling chest pain and coughing up blood got some stunning news from his doctors -- his symptoms were caused by a tiny fir tree growing in his lungs, reports.

Doctors spotted a tumor on an X-ray and had expected to find a cancerous tumor when they conducted a biopsy on Artyom Sidorkin, 28, earlier this month. Instead, they found green needles embedded in the tissue.

"I blinked three times, and thought I was seeing things. Then I called the assistant to have a look," said Vladimir Kamashev, a doctor at the Udmurtian Cancer Center in Izhevsk in central Russia.

A 2-inch fir was removed from Sidorkin's lung.

"... I never felt like I had an alien object inside of me," the patient said. Doctors suggested he inhaled a small seed, and it started growing.

As Alan Grant says in the movie version of "Jurassic Park," "Life will find a way." Now that we all live in a post-"Alien" world, I imagine many of us, upon seeing the above photo, are having the same thoughts about chest-bursting aliens. Luckily for us, fir trees grow slowly. Luckily for Mr. Sidorkin, he lives in the era of modern medicine. Imagine if this had occurred two hundred years ago.


new CafePress items!

Work with BK has officially ended for me, so I now have no income stream. In my ongoing quest to fund my walk (and possibly make a little more money to address my mountain of scholastic debt), I've created more CafePress items for your perusal. Hit the links to see them up close.

1. The "Kevin signed this" tee shirt. Buy the tees, meet me along the road with a waterproof marker, and I'll sign those puppies as I walk across the country.

2. The Dalma Daesa white tee. My best-selling CafePress item is an ash-gray Dalma Daesa tee shirt; I have no idea why I neglected to put up a normal white shirt, but here's hoping that white will sell as well as (or better than!) gray. (Value tee also available.)

3. A slew of black Kevin's Walk tee shirts with the revised logo. Yes, I finally changed "Kevin's Wank" to "Kevin's Walk." Visit the Kevin's Walk section of the shop to see the whole gamut.

4. "A Pup and a Way!" tees. The pun comes from one of my poems. See the tee shirt section of my CafePress shop for the full gamut of available shirts.

5. The "Tiger and Rabbit Raisins" tee. I'm rather proud of this one, which uses the tiger/rabbit imagery I'd shown off before to portray one moment in the bizarre friendship between Tiger and Rabbit, a friendship rooted in Korean folklore, where many stories begin "A long time ago, when tigers smoked pipes..." Many a shop in Insa-dong, one of the most famous art districts of Seoul, will feature scrollwork images of tigers and rabbits placidly smoking together, puffing away on long pipes. My tee doesn't show any smoking, but it does show Tiger scaring the bejesus out of Rabbit as he roars, "Teach me how to make those awesome chocolate raisins!" I'll leave you to dissect the queasy implications of what Tiger is saying.

There are more designs on the way, so stay tuned. If you see something that interests you, I'm not gonna stop you from buying it.


Monday, April 13, 2009

my last "24" update from home

Well, my easy prediction came true: ol' Larry Moss is officially dead. But who killed him? Not the person I expected: it was Tony Almeida! So we're now left with the impression that Tony is still one of the bad guys, since he helped the other bad guy spirit the remaining bit of the bioweapon away from the bombed-out portion of the Starkwood compound.

I suppose there's a chance that Almeida's still on our side, that what we saw lacked context and will make sense in subsequent episodes (Agent Moss might have been dirty, for example), but that's not looking likely. Here's my "middle knowledge" prediction: if Tony Almeida is indeed one of the baddies, then he will be dead by the end of the day, probably thanks to Jack Bauer. Tony allowed his co-conspirator to kill two federal agents, so the probability that he's a villain is high, which in turn means that the probability of his death is high.

I figured Moss was going to die this episode when he suddenly started doing the right thing. Up to now, Moss has been portrayed as pretty dense, and thus fairly unlikable. On "24," the route to likability is to do whatever Jack says is best, which is why Jack, not the US president, is the actual leader of the free world. Many characters who have gone against Jack's wishes often end up seeing the light, then dying. Moss is no exception. Once he was on the Bauer bandwagon, his fate was sealed. Think back to Lynn McGill's fate in Season 5.

We also see the return of Kim Bauer, who might be offering her dad some stem cells that will work their magic against the pathogen that's currently killing Jack. I'm assuming that Jack has to survive until the end of the day; if he expires, it'll be in the final hour... unless the writers pull a "To Live and Die in L.A." on us and kill off the main character two-thirds of the way through the plot. Don't see that happening. The show rides entirely on Jack.

Based on the preview for next week's episode, things don't look good on the romantic front for Bauer and Agent Walker. She's going to be grieving over the loss of Agent Moss, so viewers can expect her to be rather snarly. There might be some comic potential in having Jack put the moves on her, though: "Hey, babe. I'm dying from a pathogen that's gonna turn me into a drooling, spastic moron in an hour. What say we head over to my place?"

While watching the episode, Dad and I joked about what a crossover "House"/"24" episode would look like ("House" also shows on Fox; in fact, it comes on right before "24"). I wondered aloud who would be torturing whom. Both shows feature their own forms of political incorrectness; mixing the two-- Bauer's brutality and House's inability to hide what he's thinking-- would be volatile.

But such a crossover episode is about as likely as Jack undergoing sexual reassignment surgery, so I'll stop the fanciful speculation here. Given the recent turn of events, with Tony Almeida seeming once again to be an enemy of the state and Starkwood CEO Jonas Hodges raving that he's only a small cog in a very large machine (typical mid- to late-season revelation on "24"), I'm going to bring back my old prediction that Janis Gold (Janeane Garofalo's character) is a mole. She still fits the profile for moles on "24": fairly mousy, whip-smart, and at the center of things. Given the twists we've experienced thus far, I think this is not a bad prediction. It's not as easy or obvious a prediction as "Tony Almeida's gonna die," but I think there's something to it. We'll see.

ADDENDUM: This is sorta cute.


sae ong ji ma haiku

poor old man, lost horse
horse returns and kicks his son
son stays home from war

Well... that's the condensed version, anyway. Sae ong ji ma means "poor old man's horse." The Chinese story from which the image comes tells of a poor old man who undergoes many reversals of fortune, but who has the wisdom to know that reversals are just the way of things: no need to rejoice when times are good, because things can go bad. No need to weep when times are bad, because they can improve.

I've mentioned this proverb before (see here). It's a good one to remember in times of economic trouble, and a call for caution and prudence when times are good.


with thanks to Rico

One of my mentors during my southward walk along Washington's I-5, Rico Simpkins, has just posted an embedded YouTube video about what open-mindedness really means. I enjoyed it and want to pass the word along.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

I walked into one of my grad school classes back in 2001 or thereabouts; it was just after Easter. Inside the class were a few classmates who'd arrived earlier than I had, mostly Catholic and ranging in age from late 20s to mid-50s. The other Protestant in the class, a young minister in the American Baptist Church, interrupted the quiet pre-class conversation by saying in a cheerful voice, "He is risen!" Everyone looked at each other, nonplussed; I was, apparently, the only one ready with the response: "He is risen, indeed!"

I know that that ritual exchange, or something close to it, is part of the Catholic liturgy, so I assumed the general lack of response had more to do with the out-of-context nature of my classmate's utterance. It threw people off guard. Anyway, it was an amusing Easter memory.

The Easter event is considered by most Christians to be the focal point on the liturgical calendar: Easter is what Christianity is all about. According to this point of view, Christ's resurrection, which signals his defeat of death and his opening of the way of salvation to all, is essential to Christian belief. If you fail to believe in the historicity of the resurrection, you aren't a Christian.

As my friends know, I'm not a scriptural literalist, nor will anyone ever mistake me for any sort of traditionalist. Politically, I think I'm fairly centrist, but religiously speaking, I recognize that I'm a flaming liberal. I don't take the resurrection to be a literal, historical event. The scriptural accounts of what happened aren't consistent, and what data the scriptures do provide can be interpreted in a variety of contradictory ways.

But this isn't to say that the Easter story doesn't resonate in me. I grew up hearing it, so of course it's a part of my history and psychology, part of who I am. The story of Jesus' self-sacrifice, his death on the cross, presents me with a model that I routinely fail to emulate in my daily life. And the resurrection, historical or not, conveys an ancient message about the nature of endings, which is this: even endings end. Each ending represents a new beginning. And there's hope in that way of thinking.

Whatever your view of Easter may be-- whether Easter represents the risen Christ or a rabbit that has the ability to lay eggs-- may it be a Happy Easter for you. Let the day be a reminder that every moment is a new beginning, and that we should, to borrow a biblical injunction, "rejoice and be glad in it."