Saturday, May 23, 2009

chemical sandman

Whatever they put in Mom's IV solution must have done more than kill off infection, because Mom spent the evening in a stuporous doze, despite the arrival of my uncle John, his wife (my aunt Deok-hui), and their daughter (my cousin Jihae). The relatives had very kindly brought along a rib-sticking take-out Chinese meal, but Mom was in no condition to sit with us. We let her sleep on the couch while we ate in the dining room.

I don't know whether Mom realizes how much loving touch she experienced today, after she'd gotten home from the ER. The relatives were all great about rubbing her temples, holding her hand, stroking her cheek, helping her adjust her position on the couch, etc. Mom experienced most of this while her eyes were closed; given her torpor, she might not have been fully aware of what was going on at any given time, though she did have to wake up and step away to the bathroom at one point. Her shuffle down the hallway, accompanied by an honor guard of family members, was both humorous and touching, like a tableau in a castle drama about an ailing monarch.

Mom had initially resisted going to the hospital, and I was sorry that she ended up spending so much time there. I had assumed, at the outset, that Mom would be discharged almost as quickly as she had been brought in, but this was not to be: instead, the hospital did a CT scan and an intravenous procedure; according to Dad, she was at the hospital about six hours. When we first arrived, Mom began shivering, probably as a result of a low-grade fever combined with the ER's air conditioning. I requested a bed sheet from one of the doctors, then draped it around her like a shawl while Dad took care of the paperwork.

Pastor Kim and Pastor Jeri visited Mom while she was in the ER; my thanks to them both. At the time, I had driven my brother David home so that he could pick up his own car and drive off to work in DC, so the clergy saw Mom in the ER while I was away. I briefly saw Pastor Kim when I drove back to the hospital to pick up my parents, but didn't see Pastor Jeri, who sent me a text message. (She's becoming increasingly adept with her BlackBerry.)

Care surrounds Mom, and today was the proof of it. From Sean's insistence on getting Mom to the ER, to Dad's conscientious attention to all the sign-this minutiae of hospital bureaucracy (the French have a great expression for those piles of useless forms that clutter our lives: la paperasse), to the kind visits of our two pastors, to the loving ministrations of our relatives-- Mom's day, while arduous, was also marked by compassion. People showed her the sort of concern that she has shown to others in the past. While I don't really believe in cosmic justice, it's sometimes true that what goes around comes around, as it did today.

Thanks to everyone for their love and support, including the friends of Mom who called during the afternoon and evening.


Mom in hospital with infection

A suspected infection flared into a definite infection along the line of Mom's surgical scar, and she's in the Mount Vernon Hospital ER as I write this. Dad said they were giving her a CT scan to determine whether or how far the infection had penetrated.

It was Sean who, earlier this afternoon, felt the greatest urgency about getting Mom to the ER. For my part, I thought the infection looked worse than it did yesterday, but that Mom might be able to wait until Tuesday to see her personal physician. My reason for feeling this way was that Mom didn't seem feverish, and she had just started a course of antibiotics. This, I felt, meant we could hold off until Tuesday.

But in the end, after seeing Mom's scar up close under the fluorescent lights of the ER, I ended up realizing that Sean had made the better call: the pus had spread under the skin along almost the entire length of the scar, and tiny brown blisters-- as shiny as spider eyes-- had also begun to form. Bringing her in today was the right thing to do, and we have Sean's good sense to thank for that. Along with watching Mom because of her balance issues, we have to increase our vigilance regarding her scalp hygiene. This will mean attending to Mom as she showers, and making sure she cares for her scalp (or that we tend it for her). Considering the intimate nature of such vigilance, the job is going to fall primarily to Dad.

We are arranging for a non-skid bottom to be installed in the upstairs bathtub, and Dad thinks it might be a good idea for Mom to have a shower chair, as she's having difficulty standing up on her own.

We had hoped to have Mom in and out quickly, but her infection constitutes a low priority as far as the ER's triage procedure is concerned, so the ER is taking its time. I'm at home, awaiting Dad's call to drive back to the hospital to pick him and Mom up. Here's hoping he calls soon.

UPDATE: Mom underwent a CT scan, as mentioned above, and was also given an antibiotic IV drip. She was diagnosed with cellulitis, which can become quite nasty if left untreated (a friend of mine had it in college). Again, Sean made a good call; this could have been a lot worse.

Before Mom left the hospital, she was prescribed a set of antibiotic meds to take along with her other meds. Dad will be picking these meds up tonight after our relatives leave. The medication Mom received today has left her groggy and woozy; I'm hoping she drifts off to an early sleep, and have my doubts about whether she'll be in any shape to interact with our visitors, who will be here in a few minutes to eat dinner and say goodbye before that head back to Texas (it's 8:03PM as I write this update).


after the second session

Many thanks to my relatives for being there when Mom had her second radiotherapy session on Friday afternoon. Mom didn't fall down this time, but when she left the session, she acted as if things had been, in some ways, worse than the first time around. Her radiotherapy mask apparently felt too tight, and the pressure of the mask on her scar (which may indeed be infected, as I saw later in the day upon close examination of Mom's scalp) probably caused her some pain. I'm sure it wasn't a pleasant ten minutes under the beams.

More worrisome, though, were Mom's balance problems after the session was over and Mom had gotten home. Although we had been warned that Mom would suffer certain ill effects from the combined regimen of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it was disheartening to see these effects manifest themselves so soon. On a practical level, this means we have to be extra-vigilant around Mom, holding her hand whenever possible, or at least standing close by whenever she needs to walk anywhere.

After we got home, I elected to cook dinner for the family despite a very kind invitation from our relatives either to go out and eat, or to bring dinner to our house and eat together. We persuaded Mom to set about addressing her scabbing and phlegm issues by taking a hot, steamy shower (with ointment to clear her nasal and bronchial passages). We remain concerned about her cough, and I asked Dad to fix an appointment with the parents' physician, Dr. Royfe, to look more closely at her surgical scar, which appears to have some pus built up at one point along its length.

Sean and David both dropped by; Sean arrived at the same time we did, and David swooped in a bit later. Dinner was my chicken and shrimp curry, which Sean couldn't eat because it violated his Atkins regimen in several ways (carrots, potatoes, etc.). David couldn't abide the shrimp in the curry because he doesn't like anything that comes out of the water, and Mom plucked out her potatoes and avoided her rice, perhaps in solidarity with Sean and his no-carb approach to eating. Interestingly, Mom seems to be avoiding most of her favorite sources of carbs these days-- rice in particular. Dad and I were the only ones who ate the dish as it was. Nevertheless, the meal garnered compliments from all who ate it. This would have been reassuring in normal circumstances, but seeing Mom become so weak, so fast, was distressing. It was another item in a merciless litany of discouragement since April 16. I do my best to put a brave face on things, but these days...

These days, I watch my mother totter about like a child, unable to express complex thoughts or to appreciate anything more sophisticated than rudimentary forms of humor, often unable even to know how to react emotionally to what she sees on TV until someone else watching the same thing laughs or gasps. I'm left with the desolate sense that it is now too late to tell her whatever important things I should have told her long ago, because her capacity to appreciate such words has been largely stripped away. Mom still functions, but she is no longer who she was.

It's tempting to step back and think about all of this philosophically, to note that people, like all phenomena, are in process. Existence is transformation, after all, and reality is like water: it escapes your fist the more tightly you squeeze, which is why attachment to things and people is vain. The universe comes with no "pause" button; just as you can't hold on to a cherished moment forever, you can't hold on to people forever, no matter how hard you try.

Yes, such abstract cosmic thoughts have their place, but they wither in the glare of brain cancer's brute, concrete reality. It's not philosophy that fills my heart when I look up from chopping carrots and peeling potatoes to see Mom, this new Mom, on her couch in the living room, staring at me so quietly, so intently. I see her looking my way, perhaps out of childlike curiosity, perhaps out of love, or perhaps out of habit-- the hollow echo of years spent watching her children. Mom no longer has the words to tell me clearly what she's thinking, to express her state of mind. As a result, this new Mom's stare is a poignant, ineffable mystery to me, and that's what hurts the most.


Friday, May 22, 2009

shock: Noh Mu Hyeon dead

In the midst of our own problems, our family was shocked to learn, while watching the Korean news, that former South Korean President Noh Mu Hyeon is dead after having taken a fall (chu-rak is the Sino-Korean term being used to describe what happened to him)-- probably a suicide. If I'm not mistaken, reporters are claiming that he left behind a note, further prompting speculation that the fall was no accident.

The news, barely several hours old, is still unfolding; I can only imagine how it is to be in South Korea at this moment, and I cringe in anticipation of the fallout from this terrible-- and for me, completely unexpected-- event. President Noh was already in some trouble thanks to a bribery scandal; as often happens with Korean media figures, he made a show of public repentance (most notably by no longer dyeing his hair black). If Noh's death is indeed a suicide, as seems likely at this point, such a move would also be consistent with how certain scandal-plagued leaders in recent Korean history have dealt with mounting problems.

My sympathies lie mostly with President Noh's family and friends, who certainly deserve a better outcome than this. I'll admit that I had a low opinion of President Noh during his time in office; like many Koreans, I saw him as a weak-kneed complainer whose erratic attempts at populist, anti-American rhetoric did little to elevate Korea's position in the global scheme of things. Having said that, I'll add that I never wished such a fate on the former president; along with being shocked by this news, I'm saddened by it. And as I mentioned, I dread the fallout: Noh's leftist supporters will accuse the conservatives of having driven the man to despair, and the recriminations will fly once the period of mourning is over. The current president, Lee Myeong Bak, is a conservative currently saddled with his own PR issues, including the perception that he is too heavy-handed and authoritarian. President Noh's death will do little to extricate President Lee from his own troubles.

Suicide never sends a clear message to those left behind, even when the deceased has left a note. How all of this will color President Noh's legacy is beyond my ability to foresee. In the meantime, I can only hope his family and friends will find the strength to endure and overcome this crisis.

UPDATE: Comments at The Marmot's Hole and One Free Korea.

UPDATE 2: AP News article here.

UPDATE 3: Joshua's remarks on how South Korea's "Sunshine Policy"-- which began under President Kim Dae Joong-- was and remains more of a "Sunflower Policy" bear consideration. I agree with Joshua and his older interlocutor.


eat and run

We just finished a nice little picnic at Fort Hunt Park, and are now about to make the drive over to Fairfax Hospital for Day 2 of radiotherapy. Many thanks to Pastor Jeri for stopping by, and to my brother David's friend Shannon and her husband for the lovely meal! Most of it was eaten by four hungry adults (along with the remains of my ThaiKor chicken, plus a couple Korean chamwae melons) at the picnic. Mom appreciated both the pastoral visit and the culinary gesture.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

how it went

Mom's first day of therapy had its ups and downs. We left the house around 2:15PM for Mom's 3:20 appointment. Traffic was bad on 495, but we got to Fairfax Hospital a bit before 3. I dropped Mom and Dad off while Uncle John and I parked. It sounds morbid, but one perk of having a cancer patient in the family is the free parking: it's one less thing to worry about.

The Radiation Oncology Department of Fairfax Hospital is located in the basement level of a complex near the "blue" parking deck (sections in the hospital are color-coded, though I didn't see any "cerulean" or "fuchsia" zones). It's a quiet section of the hospital, proof against cell phone signals. We waited there until at least 3:40 before we were called to the back rooms. By that time, Uncle John's wife and daughter had arrived with some food, which Mom gladly ate: she had skipped lunch, as had the rest of us.

When the nurse called Mom back for her radiotherapy, she and Dad went on ahead, and I stayed back to ask whether my relatives wanted to accompany us. They elected to remain in the waiting area, which is probably a good thing: Dad and I later found ourselves in one of the cramped exam rooms; it would have been awfully crowded with three more people in that tiny space.

While I hung back to speak briefly with my relatives, Mom apparently fell as she was walking down the hallway. According to Dad, her right knee buckled, and she had to be helped to her feet. Why this happened, I don't know, but my initial thought was that it might be related to left-brain issues, since that's where most of the damage is. Needless to say, this was a distressing event. Up to now, Mom has shown small problems with her balance, but to our knowledge she hasn't fallen once since coming home. We all need to become more watchful on her behalf.

The rest of the therapy session went more or less smoothly. For obvious reasons, Dad and I weren't allowed in the room with Mom while the targeted radiation beams were activated, but we had the chance to watch Mom's prep at the beginning, as she had her face mask put on and her head tightly secured in place. She took the whole thing very stoically (no one in our family is claustrophobic), but she told me later that the techs had said there were some computer problems, which caused a bit of a delay. She also told me that she couldn't open her eyes during the procedure because of the way the mask lay across her face. Were I in Mom's situation, I'd probably want to keep my eyes closed. Being unable to open them would have been more of a blessing than a problem! Still, I felt for Mom: it couldn't have been comfortable to be held so firmly in place like that. Ten minutes can pass very slowly in such straits.

Dad and I were placed in a waiting room down the hall; we talked to a nurse about Mom's medication, about her current cold, and about her scar. The nurse gave us a good rundown on what we needed to know, and said that Dr. Tonnesen would speak with us in greater detail. The doctor showed up-- his usual low-key, affable self-- and reviewed what the radiotherapy was about, what to expect, etc. He then left for a bit to handle a call. When we met up with Mom again a few minutes later (therapy was indeed brief, perhaps 10 or so minutes), her cheekbones still bore the gridlike imprints of her mask. With Mom now in the exam room, Dr. Tonnesen returned, and we asked him about Mom's cold and about her surgical scar, which had been hurting her.

Mom's got a deep, rattling cough right now, which makes Dad worry that she might make her usual slide from the cough to bronchitis to pneumonia, conditions from which she's often suffered. Dr. Tonnesen told us, however, to be wary of jumping at shadows: it's important not to overreact every time Mom gets sick. At the same time, the doctor acknowledged that concern can be warranted, especially as Mom's treatment continues and causes her white-cell count to drop, making her more vulnerable to infection.

Dr. Tonnesen examined Mom's surgical scar as delicately as he could, though she still winced at his ministrations. In the end, he didn't seem too concerned about infection, not having found anything noteworthy along the line of the scar except for the expected scabbing. The doctor did, however, suggest that Mom get about the business of gently scrubbing away the last of the scabs.

The friendly presence of relatives made the day easier. Though I'm an introvert and not accustomed to brooding in front of others, I felt fine being moody and somewhat withdrawn in front of my uncle, aunt, and cousin. Mom was happy to have relatives around, too; that was obvious from her demeanor. While she still has trouble with the idea of showing herself to her friends (especially her Korean friends) in her current state, relatives are another matter. With relatives, you can relax. They take you as you are.

Mom goes in for treatment again tomorrow. Monday, she's off because of the holiday (though she won't be off the Temodar), but she'll be at it again on Tuesday. In the meantime, we need to (1) persuade Mom to smear on some Vick's Vapo-Rub, take a steamy shower, and get all that phlegm out of her chest, (2) get Mom walking around more in the hopes of strengthening her legs to avoid more falls, and (3) prod her to clear off the rest of her scabbing to facilitate healing. Per the doctor's advice, Dad will also be calling Drs. Meister (chemotherapy) and Leiphart (neurosurgery) about scheduling periodic or regular appointments for Mom. We also need to give both the National Cancer Institute (Dr. Fine) and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (Dr. Conrad) a heads-up about the fact that treatment has started; furthermore, we need to schedule appointments with their respective offices once the initial six-week phase of treatment is over. Mom will be flying back down to Texas for another day trip, it seems.

So that's where we stand as of today.

Ah, yes-- before I forget: a couple of Mom's friends called this evening; I apologize that Mom didn't answer, but she simply wasn't in the mood to talk (she quietly shook her head "no" when Dad announced who was calling).

My advice to you callers: PLEASE DON'T BE HURT! We, the rest of the family, do want Mom's friends to take her out and about, but Mom first needs to overcome the psychological hurdle of being seen in public as she is. I can understand, to some extent, what Mom is going through; it's a blow to her pride to be in this position. Any adult who had spent most of her life being fully functional and independent would probably feel the same way.

Mom needs reminders that her circle of care extends far beyond her immediate family, and even if she rebuffs attempts by those in the "outer circle" to be with her, I hope those good people will keep trying. One of these days, Mom's going to break down and say "yes" to some friend's offer to go out for a meal, and that moment will be the beginning of the renewal of Mom's social life. We know you're there for her. Deep down, she does, too.


the weekend

I see a significant drop-off in readership, which indicates the start-- for some early birds-- of the big Memorial Day weekend. I therefore want to wish all and sundry a great weekend, whatever "great" might mean for you and yours. Enjoy the weather while it lasts.


off to therapy

As mentioned twice before (see here and here), Mom's therapy begins today (May 21). This puts us exactly one calendar month after Mom's debulking surgery. She's improved so much, cognitively and kinesthetically speaking, since April 21. We've been warned that the rigors of therapy will make her appear to regress somewhat, but that this is normal.

To be honest, I'm not looking forward to this retrogressive aspect of the therapy; it's been a pleasure to watch Mom come slowly back to us. Personally, I couldn't care less about the upcoming hair loss (it gets bad around the third week of therapy, we've been warned); the hair will come back, just as it did for my French exchange family's Maman when she underwent treatment for cancer. But seeing Mom become sluggish or uncoordinated again is going to be hard over the next six weeks.

As always, we're thankful for the support given to us by our relatives and friends-- people from church, former coworkers, members of Mom's Korean women's society, and so on. All of these gestures are very much appreciated. I hope you'll forgive me if I don't always thank everyone by name (and wouldn't it be in extremely poor taste for someone to request or demand specific recognition?); sometimes it's hard to keep up with the flood of good will. If you saw our mantel, filled as it is with cards, you'd see what I mean.

Besides-- as a friend of mine pointed out, there's a prominent strain of Jewish thought that says anonymous giving is the highest form of charity. If you happen to be one of the unnamed, consider yourself fortunate: you're not saddled with the burden of vanity that comes with public recognition! After all, people who seek such credit aren't really pure of motive, are they?

We have a lot to think about as we face the upcoming six weeks. Thank you, thank you all, for holding Mom in your thoughts. Please continue to do so.


Thai chicken: slightly better reviews

Mom, Dad and my uncle John (Mom's younger brother) sat down for some of my Thai/Korean chicken with peanut sauce, and they all seemed to enjoy it, although Mom didn't finish her meal. Dad and Uncle John proclaimed the dish "good," while Mom declared it "all right." I have to agree: because I used Korean guksu pasta (the sort that can be used for jjajang-myeon or udong), the noodles were softer than they should have been. Otherwise, though, the dish seemed to work, which was encouraging. Not quite a save after that lunchtime disaster, but not a complete failure, either. Just know that it'll be a while before you see me on the Food Network.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009


More later.


ddeok-mandu-guk: mixed reviews

If you're making a Korean soup like ddeok-mandu-guk (referenced in the previous post), and you're using store-bought ddeok and mandu, the one thing you've got to do right is the broth, since that's the only homemade element. Alas, today, the broth wasn't that good, and I have only myself to blame.

While Dad gladly ate two bowls of the soup, Mom ate two bowls' worth of solids, and did her best to avoid the broth. At first, her reaction to it was, "It's OK." But later on, in a more honest moment, she made a face that told me everything I needed to know about my broth-making ability. While I think I do OK with Western soups and with budae-jjigae (also referenced in the previous post; this is a soup that, once the ingredients are in the pan, creates a broth with the simple addition of water), I need to get serious about the basics of Korean broth-making.

Live and learn.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009


With yours truly as the new head chef in the house, our family can expect some interesting twists to the normal culinary calendar. I've already had a few successes, as well as a couple crash-and-burns, but I chalk the negatives up to experience. Thus far, my biggest coups have been a quick-and-dirty spaghetti, a chicken-and-couscous dish, some improvised pork-and-beef hamburgers, and a decent cole slaw. Another minor success, eaten only by Mom and me (because Dad doesn't do spicy, and my brother Sean generally avoids carbs), was my ddeokbokgi, an example of Korean "street food" that I adore.

One spectacular failure was, of all things, a grilled cheese sandwich I'd made for Dad-- something you'd think would be hard to mess up. My problem, though, is that I like to keep the flame on high and get things done as quickly as possible; grilled cheese actually works best as something you cook on low to medium heat. Another failure was a carrot salad-- not so much a failure because of the ingredients, as because of timing and luck: I served my father the remains of the salad, which meant he received a portion that had been drenched in my homemade salad dressing. The taste was overpowering for him, and when I sampled his salad, I had to agree. I'm a "live and learn" type of guy, though, so instead of moping over my failures, I've soldiered on.

Some upcoming meals will be:

1. Ddeok-mandu-guk, a soup normally made with Korean dumplings and sliced rice cake. We have a large bag of store-bought mandu and plenty of ddeok, so the important thing is to get the broth and highlights right.

2. Curry chicken (and/or shrimp) over rice.

3. Fusion Thai/Korean ("Thai-rean" sounds kind of gross, like "diarrhea"... so how about "KorThai" or "ThaiKor"?) chicken and pasta with peanut sauce-- using Korean guksu (pasta), chicken, soy sprouts, nuts, green onions, homemade peanut sauce, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

4. Budae-jjigae, a fusion stew that essentially melds a form of kimchi-jjigae with American canned and processed meats (ground beef, hot dogs, spam, etc.). Sounds gross, but it's one of the most popular dishes in modern Korea, and I've enjoyed it since the 1990s. Mom had her first real taste of it only a few months ago, when I made it for her and the Korean renovation crew. She liked it, much to her own surprise.

5. Real spaghetti sauce. The one I made the other day was whipped up at the very last minute, and turned out to be pretty good. My own homemade sauce, modeled after Mom's, is better. I'd try making the pasta, too, but my pasta machine is in a box at a friend's place in Seoul-- one of many of my possessions on the other side of the Pacific.

6. Gyros! I'm good with tzatziki sauce and I love lamb.

7. Pizza! While I can't make homemade crust like my buddy Charles can, I'm good with everything else. Whatever pizza I make, I'll try to keep it nutritious, though I admit I'm tempted to make nothing but white pizzas.

We have so much rice and pasta in storage that it's not even funny. We also have a ton of frozen meat-- probably several cows' and pigs' worth, so I might try my hand at home-ground meat, and maybe even homemade sausage. Dad was a sport and shopped for a mess of vegetables today, so we've got a pretty decent stock for the moment. Thanks to the extra food we've received from various sources (cakes, sandwiches, soups, etc.), I can afford to skip certain aspects of meal prep and simply reheat (or plate directly) whatever's been given to us. This has proved to be quite a time-saver. My thanks to all those who have brought food by the house.

Dad claims he can't cook, but he's the one who grilled our burgers and dogs the other day. He has also prepared some nice desserts for us, especially his signature strawberry shortcake, using real shortcake instead of the stamped "golden hockey puck" variety. Dad is also an expert at making rum cake... ask him about it sometime. He's sold quite a few, and he might be persuaded to sell a fresh cake to you. (Don't tell Mom. She still thinks Dad can't cook.)

So, for the foreseeable future, I'll be cracking open recipe books as well as trying my hand at creative reinterpretations of dishes I know. This culinary adventure promises to be fun. Hell, I might even teach myself-- finally-- how to assemble and roll a decent kimbap. Wish me luck.


reason for optimism?

[NB: Be sure to read the update at the end of this post.]

My brother David just sent me the following link about Ted Kennedy, whose cancer is said to be in remission. Like Mom, Kennedy was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). From what we've learned about this disease, we know that it can never go away, so perhaps remission is the best that anyone can hope for. I view Kennedy's news with cautious optimism.

From the article:

In a stunning turnaround, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s brain cancer has gone into remission, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the Bay State senior senator is expected to go back to work next month.

Reid said he spoke with Kennedy’s wife and was told the liberal lion is preparing to return to the Senate, The Hill is reporting online.

The Hill credits Reid as saying Kennedy, 77, plans to return to work full-time during the first week of June.


The Herald reported Saturday that Kennedy was given only 90 days to live when his brain cancer was diagnosed last year. A year later, he is beating all the odds.

“Never, ever, ever underestimate Ted Kennedy. Ever,” Gov. Deval Patrick said Saturday.

Friends believe the extensive surgery Kennedy underwent at Duke University Medical Center shortly after his diagnosis has helped him prolong his life dramatically.

Statistically speaking, Kennedy still falls within the 1-2-year survival rate for most GBM patients, which means that he's not really out of the woods: GBM tumors tend to recur despite surgery and subsequent therapy. In any event, I hope the senator's remission is permanent. GBM isn't something I'd wish on anyone.

It bears repeating that GBM occurs more often in men than in women, and that the way people first discover the tumor's presence is when the victim experiences seizures. In that sense, Kennedy's tumor was a textbook example of GBM. We're hoping that, in Mom's case, our own aggressive approach to treatment (several docs have already marveled that we took Mom to three different places, including Texas, for full-on consultations) will play in Mom's favor. The center of her tumor lay near the surface of the frontal lobe, making its extraction relatively easy. Mom's quick recovery from surgery is also a point in her favor, and now that we've settled (at least for now) on a treatment path, we're confident that we've placed Mom with good people who are looking out for her well-being.

As Dr. Fine mentioned in his meeting with us, each GBM is genetically unique. What works for one patient might not always work for another-- which is, I suppose, why so many researchers are interested in new first- and second-line therapies for cancer patients. The standard treatment, surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy, seems to be the universally accepted method by which treatment for GBM begins. Beyond that, however, time and the tumor's response to treatment are what determine the next steps. Some patients do well using only the standard treatment, and we're fervently hoping that Mom is in that category. If she isn't, we're lucky to have the National Cancer Institute so close at hand.

UPDATE: I half-expected that I'd be writing this update, given what I know about GBM: it turns out that reports of Senator Kennedy's GBM remission are false.



Many thanks to Ann Mills for her kind visit today, and for the sandwiches!


Monday, May 18, 2009


Many thanks to the ladies who came over to visit Mom today, as well as to the folks at NALC who sent Mom a lovely fruit basket, which arrived today in the early afternoon.


this past Saturday and the upcoming week

On Saturday, a day devoted to housecleaning, Mom suddenly had the urge to go out and about. We were delighted about this, so Dad and I got Mom into the minivan along with Sean's dog Maqz, and we drove to Front Royal, Virginia, to hit Skyline Drive. Dad's got a lifetime pass to the national parks, so entry was free. The drive was alternately sunny and rainy, with a nasty traffic snarl right where 495 and 66 West meet.

Mom had fun watching the dog's behavior inside the van. Maqz had been in the van before, but he spent a lot of his travel time sniffing around, crawling between seats, repeatedly moving from the front to the back. While I was driving, Maqz would sometimes move under my legs, which prompted me to warn him not to impede my ability to brake. Maqz also spent a great deal of time in Dad's or Mom's laps, for such are the advantages of being a tiny animal (Maqz is large for a chihuahua, but still snack-sized in the greater scheme of things).

Before entering Skyline Drive proper, we stopped, as we usually do, at the Apple House, an old-fashioned shop/restaurant that used to be the home of some of the best apple doughnuts I've ever eaten (the doughnuts seem heavier and greasier these days, alas). Dad took Maqz for a bathroom break while Mom and I went inside. Mom spent a few minutes just looking around at the items on display; eventually, we bought some drinks to take on the drive with us, and then we hit the scenic route.

If you know Skyline Drive, you know that the road has a speed limit of 35mph, obliging all sightseers to maintain a stately pace. Our gas was running low, which made us a bit nervous as we crept along, but we managed to reach the Elkwallow gas station with 9 minutes to spare before it closed. We were lucky. Maqz barked at people he saw outside from the safety of the car, but when Mom took him out for another walk, Maqz was meeker than meek. It might have been his first time out in the middle of the woods; I'm sure he caught the scents of animals that we humans, with our limited sensorium, would never have known were there. For a tiny, yappy dog, experiencing such a world might have been humbling. Besides, Maqz is a proven coward: he's always had a tendency to bark at people and animals while safe behind a pane of glass, but he loses all bravado once he's outside and among his fellow creatures.

We drove about 24 miles into the park, then turned around and drove back to Front Royal with the intention of eating dinner in town. Because we didn't want to leave Maqz alone in the car, we grabbed some drive-thru KFC and ate while parked. The rain began again while we were munching, but Maqz was taken out for one last constitutional before the long drive back home to Alexandria. It was a good ride back; Dad very wisely chose to take the Fairfax County Parkway straight off 66 instead of daring the tangle that is 495; even on a Saturday, that 66/495 junction can be a mess.

At the end of this long trip, one that saw Mom driving all the way out to Front Royal and even walking outside among other people, we very deliberately gave Mom a congratulatory hug. I expected her to rebuff this, because she sometimes brushes off solicitous behavior, but after we had thanked Mom for taking the long trip with us, she said something like, "I sure did go on a long trip, didn't I?" She accepted our hugs, and our thanks: we're grateful, always grateful, that she's looking out for her own improvement.

So-- that was Saturday. This week, Mom's got visitors in the form of relatives, and on Thursday, she begins her in-tandem radiotherapy and chemotherapy regimen. Keep your fingers crossed for her. What's coming up won't be easy.



Here are some glimpses of life at our house. The first two pics are from Mom's birthday celebration. Mom was visited by quite a few people that day (May 4); the celebration went on from about 10AM to 11PM. Hover your cursor over a given photo to read its caption. The remaining four pics are from May 16, when I made that chicken-and-couscous dinner.

If you're not a parsley lover, you might not like the above picture. But trust me: the parsley tastes fine when the whole thing is cooked together.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

promised photos

Ever since I started writing exclusively about Mom here, this blog has been lacking in visuals. If I'm not mistaken, about the only visual I've shown you since April 16 has been the radiotherapy mask that Mom will have to wear during her treatments (which will be for about 15 minutes per day, five days a week, for six weeks).

I've promised you photos from Mom's birthday celebration, as well as some foodblogging pics, so I'll be slapping those up sometime later today. Stay tuned. Today, we're grilling dinner. Just burgers and dogs (hot dogs, I mean).

NB: Those looking to see my review of the "Star Trek" film should check the "Notes" section of my Facebook page.