Saturday, August 29, 2009

liveblogging the news

ABC World News is about to air a segment all about Ted Kennedy's cancer. Finally. Alas, the segment probably won't be that long; it might be advisable for people to visit to see the segment again and to find out more; news websites sometimes provide reference links. Meanwhile, I'll be curious to find out what gets said about GBM, and what gets glossed over.

UPDATE: The segment had a hopeful tone, noting improvements in brain cancer therapy and specifying new chemical and surgical treatments. I was especially interested in the fiber optic surgery; we'll talk to Dr. Fine about that on September 16. If the technique is minimally invasive, it might be worth considering. If it's overly invasive, however, it probably won't be an option for Mom. She already has one bone flap missing from her skull; she doesn't need more skull taken away. In the meantime, Avastin therapy is looking most plausible.



I fed Mom and Dad some barbecue chicken and the remains of my homemade cole slaw. The chicken turned out better than it did when I first made it for my relatives (the meat was dry on the day I made those chicken sandwiches; today, I used thicker slices of chicken), and Mom ate her whole plate, along with a healthy serving of the fruit salad I'd made yesterday.

Dad had to go out to do some errands. It was a beautiful afternoon, so I took Mom out to Fort Hunt Park. We walked the same course we'd done on Thursday; Mom was able to walk the distance just fine, but her balance was slightly off and her legs were too weak to allow her to get out of the sedan herself. Still, she did as well as could be expected. We then wended our way north along the parkway, hitting a picnic area I'd never been to before, then driving north into Old Town Alexandria. We did little more than peek at the Potomac River before turning around and going home.

What struck me, as we were driving, was how Mom would look left and right whenever I made certain turns in the car: I could see that she was scanning for approaching traffic. Such behavior has a logical basis, but as all drivers know, the moves become second nature. I suppose it's safe to say that, for Mom as for other drivers, certain moves become so ingrained that they happen even without conscious thought.

We arrived home just as the clouds were coming in. Mom's seated at her throne again, watching a show on the Food Network. Dad's not home yet, and I'm contemplating making some sort of shrimp-and-scallop concoction for dinner.

And that, folks, is life at our house.


Saturday: quieter than expected

Mom's still in bed, but is awake now. Lunch is ready whenever she wants it. No one's coming over today, and I don't have any outstanding lawn work to do, so today promises to be a fairly low-key day, barring any sudden emergencies.

1:17PM: A loud, urgent-sounding knock on the door. Not an emergency, as it turned out: instead, it was a delivery of a very large and beautiful bouquet of flowers from the Doughertys-- Mike, Dana, and Carson-- who are friends and fellow congregants. Our thanks-- both to the Doughertys and to the shy teenage girl who handed the bouquet to Dad.

1:30PM: Mom's getting out of bed now.


Friday, August 28, 2009

our thanks to the lovely ladies of NALC

When it's Friday, most people leaving work are thinking about either going home or going out to celebrate the start of the weekend. But four of Mom's coworkers from NALC decided to put off their own weekend plans for a short while, and to pay Mom a happy little visit. They took the subway from the heart of DC down to Huntington Station, which is about 15 minutes by car from our house. There, they met my father, who drove them home in the minivan.

I felt a little guilty that the ladies stepped into our house while I was making a rather pungent Korean soup, but no one complained. Instead, they concentrated on Mom, showering her with love and hugs and kisses.

Mom was returned to her "throne," the corner of the living room couch where she normally sits surrounded by pillows and her TV tray. Modest drinks were served, and conversation ranged all over: the ladies complimented the renovation (all credit to Mom for the design and color coordination), talked about their own lives at home and at work, discussed TV shows (including the HGTV channel), and touched on other matters. Still thinking about the soup's odor, I quietly switched to making an enormous amount of fruit salad, chopping fruit, cooking up a wine/sugar sauce, and hoping that the fragrance might somehow cover up the soup's special tang.

The ladies gave Mom more than their companionship this evening: they also brought an enormous gift basket and a card that had been signed by many NALC members. I looked inside the card and saw many touching messages for Mom; my thanks go out to all the good folks who, in signing the card, contributed time, effort, and heart to making Mom feel cared for. Thanks as well to Lorna Dunn, Laura Whitfield, Seetha Subramanian, and Linda Stewart for making such a kind effort to drop by, to talk with Mom, and to laugh with us. It truly was the sort of medicine Mom needed.



It's been raining cats, dogs, rhinoceroses, and elephants for the past few minutes. The sliding glass door is currently drip-free, which seems to mean that Mr. Go's repair job is holding up fine. We'll see how it lasts through several more intense downpours.

Later today, Mom's got some visitors coming-- coworkers from her old job at NALC. They'll be dropping by to sit and talk with Mom for a while.

Such visits do Mom a world of good, I think. It's a chance for her to do something other than sit quietly and watch TV or listen to classical music. Mom's always been a far more sociable creature than I am; as Keirsey and Bates wrote in their book Please Understand Me, extroverts derive their energy from others. Leaving Mom in isolation would be the absolute worst thing to do to her; it would cut her off from a source of joy and motivation. Over the past few months Mom has also, fortunately, lost much of her self-consciousness about both her condition and her helmet. This helps: while she's always appreciated visits, she's less apprehensive about receiving visitors now because she's no longer as worried about how she looks.

It's conceivable that, at some point down the line, we might relax our "call at least 24 hours before visiting" rule (which has been ignored by quite a few people). We instituted the rule mainly for Mom, because of the stress she was feeling when people came to visit. Visits are still draining for her, but the fact that's she's more open to them indicates that the stress is disappearing. However, the rule wasn't put in place only for Mom's benefit: we two guys, Dad and I, also prefer some advance notice because it gives us time to tidy up the house and maybe even prep something for groups of visitors to eat and drink. Simply popping up unannounced has always felt rude to me, no matter the good intentions behind the faux pas.

So the rule remains in place for now. My heartfelt thanks to all those who have been considerate about informing us before visiting. You make life a lot easier for us.

Whoa-- the rain just stopped.


the "so-so" gesture

I walked into Mom's bedroom a few minutes ago; she was lying quietly in her bed. She heard me come in and, despite facing away from me, waved at me over her shoulder. I asked her how she was feeling, and she made a "so-so" gesture with the same hand. I asked her if she had a headache, and she slowly shook her head no. I then asked her what the problem was, finishing my question with "aside from the cancer" in Korean ("ahm bbae-go"). Mom chuckled weakly, but didn't say what the problem was. I suppose we'll know more when she finally gets out of bed.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

NY Times on Kennedy's GBM

My good friend Dr. Steve sent me a link to a New York Times article (dated August 28 even though it's still the 27th as I write this) about Kennedy's cancer. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but for your benefit, here's the link. I do notice that Dr. Howard Fine, Mom's doctor at the National Cancer Institute, is quoted.

UPDATE, 11:28PM: Interesting article. Most of what it says about GBM has been noted on this blog, stats and all, but the material about Kennedy's treatment was interesting, and the writer's take on the larger health care issue wasn't what I expected.


belch humor

Mom walked at least a quarter of a mile at Fort Hunt Park today; I took her out there while Dad went off to do some errands. Lately, she seems weaker than usual when it comes to getting in and out of cars, but today she was fine with the walking, despite needing some help to get out of the small Honda and onto her feet. As has become my custom, I gave Mom a hug as a reward for getting to her feet. She thinks it's silly, but I do it anyway, and she accepts my gesture with good grace.

The day was beautiful, and the late afternoon also turned out to be the perfect time for our walk, as we were able to cross rather a long distance protected by the shade of the trees that loomed over us.

Before we got back into the car, I asked Mom, "How about we drive up the parkway a bit, get some drinks, and then drive back?" Mom assented, so we drove up the parkway until we reached the exit where the gas station is. I turned onto that road and stopped at the little mini-mart, a humble place currently managed by a friendly Latino gentleman who took the place over from an Asian gentleman. I grabbed some drinks while Mom waited outside in the car. I had left the car idling so that Mom could benefit from the air conditioning; when I handed Mom her drink, I joked, "I'm surprised you didn't drive off without me!" Mom laughed.

With drinks in hand, we turned around and got back onto the parkway, heading south toward Mount Vernon again-- the way home. I guzzled my huge can of Arizona Fruit Punch and let out a mighty belch, then turned to Mom with a startled look on my face and demanded, "Did you do that?"

Mom hadn't been all that verbal throughout the day, but she still shook her head "no" in response.

"So who did that?" I asked imperiously.

"Must have been you," Mom said. Getting Mom to say anything when she's not too verbal is a moral victory.

"Ah," I nodded sagely. "Guess I'm just a burpin' fool!"

Mom chortled. It was the happiest sound I'd heard all day.



I'll be out mowing the front yard today. Meanwhile, Dad's been given instructions on how to deal with lunch for himself and Mom while I'm outside.

Mom's still in bed as I write this, but she's awake. That, by the way, is why we have generally discouraged visits before 2PM: it takes a lot of time to get Mom up and ready, and she normally gets out of bed around 11AM or noonish.

The front yard shouldn't take too long; the weeds there don't grow nearly as fast as the freakish life forms in the back yard.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

handling Ted Kennedy's GBM

Most of what I've seen today on the news about Ted Kennedy has been about his life, not about his tumor. I suppose it's only natural to treat the death of someone important as an occasion to celebrate life, but given the media's emphasis on Kennedy's role as a health care crusader, I would have thought that more than a cursory glance at his final affliction might have been apropos. Perhaps some news agency somewhere talked in depth about Kennedy's cancer today; I didn't see any such analysis.*

And that's what I want to write about: the way Kennedy's cancer has been handled by the media over the past few months. I have no interest in discussing the senator's politics; suffice it to say that I'm neither a liberal nor a conservative, which means I find myself in agreement with Kennedy on some issues, and in disagreement with him on others. I am, however, interested in the way the various media-- especially online and on TV-- have handled Kennedy's sickness.

Even before we learned about Mom's tumor this past April 16, I was aware that Kennedy had some sort of brain tumor. As often happens when a certain type of pain makes one aware of fellow sufferers of the same pain, my interest in Kennedy's case increased once I discovered that Mom's glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) was the same type of tumor as Kennedy's. A bit of online research led to the discovery that Kennedy had presented with seizures in the spring of 2008, and that he was officially diagnosed with GBM in mid- to late May. As we now know, Kennedy survived approximately fifteen months post-diagnosis, placing him only slightly above the median life expectancy for patients who (1) are diagnosed with GBM, and (2) undergo the initial debulking surgery and the ensuing standard therapies. Patients who go untreated last only three or so months, at best.

The retrospectives on the news tonight reminded us that Kennedy spoke at Democrat functions as late as October of last year; even though his tumor was actually closer to one part of the language center than Mom's was, the surgeons must have done a bang-up job of excising as much of the tumor as they could, allowing Kennedy to retain a large measure of functionality.

What wasn't shown, though, was Kennedy's downward progress not long after that. By this summer, Kennedy must not have been capable of much at all, and as I guessed when he was absent from his sister's memorial service, he was in his period of final decline.

It was interesting to hear on the news, even as recently as a month or so ago, that Kennedy was supposedly "back at work." I tend to think this was a polite fabrication, given what I now know about how this tumor functions. Kennedy's cancer had been ravaging him for about a year; it would have migrated, as all GBMs do, from one side of his brain to the other, probably traversing the corpus callosum-- as happened with Mom-- thereby rendering a major portion of the tumor inoperable. The tumor's spread would have begun to affect all manner of brain (and, by extension, bodily) functions, making it difficult for Kennedy to appear in public without significant cost to the man's personal dignity.

I don't begrudge the senator and his family their desire to stay out of the limelight as this deterioration was occurring. Most of us have some sense of honor or shame that motivates us not to appear weak in public. As I noted long ago, we can't all be like Morrie Schwartz of Tuesdays with Morrie fame, a man who so easily let go of his earlier notions of dignity, inviting people to help him even with activities like going to the bathroom. No: Kennedy had a right to his privacy, and his family and friends probably did what they could to preserve his dignity.

But the average TV viewer was left with the impression that Kennedy had been more functional than he actually was over the past few months. Only a few days ago, on August 20, the news reported that Kennedy had "drafted" some sort of request to change Massachusetts succession law to make sure that his senate seat would not be empty upon his death. The news site ran this piece, which was rather misleadingly worded. Note the first two paragraphs:

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, in a poignant acknowledgment of his mortality at a critical time in the national health care debate, has privately asked the governor and legislative leaders to change the succession law to guarantee that Massachusetts will not lack a Senate vote when his seat becomes vacant.

In a personal, sometimes wistful letter sent Tuesday to Governor Deval L. Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Kennedy asks that Patrick be given authority to appoint someone to the seat temporarily before voters choose a new senator in a special election.

The video accompanying the article is equally misleading: it contains plenty of footage of an active and talking Kennedy, but fails to note that this footage comes from months ago, back when Kennedy would have been far more functional. When you look at the chronology and initial location of Kennedy's tumor,** it seems highly unlikely that he would have been competent to draft any letter about Massachusetts succession law even as recently as a month or two ago. GBM doesn't only migrate across the brain-- it is known for aggressive recurrence even after therapy. Killing the tumor cells becomes a game of Whack-a-Mole: you can kill cells in one or several spots, but more will appear elsewhere until the brain is shot through with cancer. So either Kennedy had drafted his request way back when he was still mentally competent to do so, or someone recently drafted it for him, and Kennedy gave it his blessing.

My point here isn't to promote some sort of wild-eyed conspiracy theory about fake documents. I don't really care who drafted Kennedy's request. What's important to me is that the media have, inadvertently or deliberately, done the public a disservice by obscuring the chronology of Kennedy's decline. In other words, an opportunity was missed to have a national discussion about GBM. Kennedy's progress, had it been somewhat more public, would have been informative to a lot of people. GBM cases surface at a rate of about 10,000 per year. It is the most common and most aggressive form of brain tumor out there, and yet most people have never heard of it. True: it might have been too much to ask Kennedy to make his own suffering public, especially given the amount of tragedy and scandal the Kennedy family has endured. But I still can't shake the feeling that the attempts to preserve Kennedy's dignity went too far, and left many people with a false impression about the progress of his tumor. As a result, Kennedy's death doubtless seemed sudden to some. It shouldn't have seemed that way to anyone.

When I learned the statistics related to GBM, had accepted Mom's prognosis, and discovered that Kennedy had been diagnosed with GBM over a year ago, I knew that Kennedy didn't have long. I wrote one relative that I didn't see him surviving beyond 2010. Little did I know, when I wrote that email a few weeks ago, that Kennedy's time was even shorter than I had suspected. Fifteen months.

As I've noted before, there are indeed a select few people who survive beyond the five-year mark: about 4% somehow manage this. But let's be realistic: half of all GBM patients are dead within a year; around 75%-80% are dead within two years. If you try to live life clinging to the hope that you're one of the people holding that lottery ticket, you'll go insane.

Considering what our family is going through now, I think it's safe to say that I have some idea of what the Kennedy family has endured during the senator's decline. I imagine that the old lion's death is both painful and something of a relief. Many caregivers report just such post-mortem ambivalence. For the Kennedys, the past fifteen months were probably made worse by all the media attention, but it would have been nice if the media had stuck to telling the simple truth about Kennedy's disease instead of leaving the public with the impression that the man was sprightly and vigorous to the very end (the video at the above-linked article is truly shameless). Just as I take a dim view of people who use their sense of denial to foist bogus "remedies" on my family, I also take a dim view of journalists who shroud or distort reality in ways not immediately obvious to the public. An opportunity to emphasize the dire nature of GBM was missed here, and that's a shame.

All that's left to say is... rest in peace, Senator Kennedy.

*I did, however, find a May 2008 Washington Post article on Kennedy's GBM.

**The diagnosis was in May of 2008; death was in August of 2009. The tumor's initial location was in the left parietal lobe, which includes Wernicke's area, a region dealing with the receptive aspects of language, i.e., listening and reading (Broca's area, farther forward, deals with the productive aspects, i.e., speaking and writing). I don't know where the tumor spread to, but its initial proximity to a major language center eventually would have made it difficult for Kennedy to communicate: the cancer's repeated return would have seen to that.



Mom's still fairly quiet today, but she did fine during her walk in the park. Dad and I took her to Fort Hunt Park after Mr. Go, the Korean siding specialist from Mr. Jeong's renovation/construction team, had finished his work (in theory, the sliding door problem has been fixed).

Mom managed to walk a few hundred yards with no real problem, though she did seem weaker than usual when getting into and out of the minivan. It was another beautiful day; the park was quiet. Dad mentioned that he liked the park when it was that way, and I agreed: the place is great when it's tranquil. Both of us held Mom's hands as we took her across grass and over asphalt, always following the tree shade to keep Mom cool. We looked around as we walked, enjoying the ambience. Then, without any ceremony, we drove back home.


Lea Lane and her husband

My brother David emailed Dad and me a link to an article by Lea Lane titled "My Husband Fought the Same Cancer as Senator Kennedy." Lane is the wife of Rabbi Chaim Stern, a fellow sufferer of glioblastoma multiforme, like Ted Kennedy, and like my mother. Rabbi Stern lived a mere three months beyond his diagnosis, eventually succumbing to pneumonia. We, too, were told that infection is the most likely cause of death for many patients in Mom's situation. I can only assume that Rabbi Stern underwent the same therapies that Mom received; radiation and chemo would have contributed to a depression of his immune system and would have made him susceptible to something like pneumonia.

Lane's article contains many painful parallels with our own experience. Her initial mistaken assumption that her husband was having a stroke-- followed immediately by his aphasia-- was hard for me to read, because this is exactly what we experienced with Mom. Because the article is so short, it doesn't cover the minutiae of what life is like when caring for a GBM patient, but it is nevertheless a good summary of the overall trajectory of this cancer. I recommend that you read it.

There will probably be a whole slew of articles linking GBM and Ted Kennedy over the next few weeks. I, too, have some thoughts to share about this topic, but will take some time to gather my thoughts before writing that post.

Significantly, Lane writes:

With a grim diagnosis you are at least spared false hope and the ups and downs that distract from the time you have left. Accepting the inevitable, you can focus on the pleasures of the past and the precious moments of the present, carefully avoiding the difficulties of the future. Every day, fully lived, is greeted with appreciation.

My family's burden is in trying to get Mom's circle of care on the same page. Many of her Korean friends still refuse to accept that Mom's diagnosis is a grim one, perhaps holding on to hope that she will somehow, miraculously, get better. For these people, "positive thinking" or a "good attitude" means denying the prospect of death, as if wishful thinking were enough to stave death off. But as I wrote before, that sort of thinking is misguided and unhelpful. If anything, it causes more stress and pain instead of providing comfort where comfort is needed. It has the further effect of making us realists feel more isolated: we should all be on the same page, but we're not, because some among us remain in denial.

Obviously, some level of denial is natural, but as with everything in life, there's a time and a place for its proper expression or indulgence. Wallowing in denial or wrapping oneself in vain fantasies-- this isn't living, and it certainly isn't loving. Jeongshin charyeo! as the Koreans say: Wake up. Snap out of it. You can't live life with your head in the sand. In the above-quoted paragraph, Lane expresses what a proper attitude toward this sort of cancer should be. I fully agree with her. This should, in fact, be our attitude toward life, cancer or no cancer. No one lives forever; you never know when your time will be up, so treasure each moment. Accept that death is the Great Door at the end of the road, and make this life as meaningful as you can.



Senator Ted Kennedy has passed away. GBM waits for no one.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

less verbal

Mom was visited by Pastor Jeri around 2PM today; the minister brought over a nifty "sphere" toy for Mom. It's a light plastic structure that can expand and contract. In its contracted form, it resembles a star or a sea urchin; when you stretch it out, it looks reminiscent of a geodesic dome (see here). Mom wasn't the only person fascinated by the toy; my entire family had a go at it.

Sean dropped by as well. His legs, burned just a few days ago, are starting to peel. He amused us with tales of the weird beads of sweat that form blister-like pouches under the dead skin when he goes running. The sweat forces the old skin away from the new skin, promoting peeling. Overall, Sean's legs look significantly better.

Not long after Pastor Jeri left, Mom went walking at Fort Hunt Park with Dad, Sean, and me. She did her regular distance of several hundred yards, following the tree shade to stay comparatively cool. We walked over to a massive oak in the park; Dad and Sean spotted a newt-- or some sort of newt-like beastie-- on the tree's sturdy trunk. They pointed it out to Mom, who cooed in muted pleasure.

Around 5PM, three of Mom's Korean women's society friends came by: Mrs. Krieger, Mrs. Raho, and Mrs. Parkbarr; they spent an hour or so talking and laughing with Mom, and like so many other visitors, they brought massive amounts of food. Our thanks, ladies, but I'll never lose any weight this way.

Mom's appetite seemed fair today, all in all; she ate her entire lunch and followed that up with plenty of fruit, courtesy of the ladies. Dinner wasn't quite as much of a success; Mom didn't finish her soup or her side dishes. Dessert, on the other hand, went very well: Mom polished off her bowl of sliced fruit and vanilla ice cream with gusto. Sometimes it's hard to tell just what Mom will like or dislike.

Throughout the day, Mom was only minimally verbal, and she exhibited signs of her usual dishwashing and counter-wiping compulsion. For some time now, Mom hadn't been showing any signs of perseveration: when she finished her meal, she'd set her spoon or chopsticks down instead of scraping endlessly at her bowl; in the kitchen, she'd wash some dishes and then willingly leave. But over the past day or so, Mom seems to have been regressing: the old urges are back. What I now try to do, when Mom gets in that groove, is simply redirect her efforts: if she wants to wash dishes, then I make sure she's using the right sponge or scrub pad to do so, allowing her to wash to her heart's content. This seems to work for the moment; I'd tried redirection a few weeks back, but with less positive results. As with her taste in food, Mom's perseveration follows its own mercurial pattern.

I hope Mom's a bit more talkative soon. I hope we're not witnessing a trend. Mom still has almost a week before she goes to Texas; if she's not in any condition to travel on September 1, this is going to be crushing for her sister. I want Mom's time away from radiotherapy to be-- however briefly-- a time of healing and recuperation, not a time of continued deterioration. That's all I want right now. Not too much to ask, I think.


morning notes

A delegate from the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church flower ministry arrived a few minutes ago and dropped off a lovely bouquet. She also brought up Mom's latest issue of the Korea Times from our driveway. Our thanks!

It's our understanding that Pastor Jeri will be dropping by instead of Pastor Henry Kim later today-- around 2:30PM.

The Korean ladies visiting Mom today will be here at 5PM, not 6PM (please don't bring any more food!).

Dad and I spent a few minutes discussing some upcoming renovation-related financial issues. The timing of Mom's cancer couldn't have been better, eh? Poor Mom barely had time to enjoy the fruit of all this labor when the disease struck.

Gotta go mow the back yard. Those weeds need trimming.


Monday, August 24, 2009

beware pseudoscience

Read about the difference between legitimate science and pseudoscience (which is garbage) here.

What follows is a short list of links debunking some of the wacky therapies and theories I've been told to consider (usually by people who are well-intended but gullible) since April 16.

1. GEMM therapy debunked. (NB: I linked to this before.)

2. Aloe vera treatment for glioblastoma-- number of search results for "aloe vera glioblastoma" = zero. Why wouldn't a legitimate medical website have anything to say about this "treatment" for cancer? (Aloe vera scam alert here.)

3. The notion that "all cancer comes from problems with free radicals" is debunked in this fine Guardian UK article. Significant paragraphs:

Alternative medicine proponents have also latched on to the antioxidant fable, this notion that heroic antioxidant supplements fight sinister free radicals out to wreck havoc on the body. This is an oversimplification. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron, making them highly reactive. Yes, they destroy cell walls and lead to disease. And yes, antioxidants neutralise free radicals. Yet free radicals are crucial for the body to make energy, a process that occurs in the cell's mitochondria. Also, free radicals, such as hydrogen peroxide, are a key component to the body's immune system. Too many antioxidants - that is, megadoses of supplements - disturb this natural process.

Indeed, antioxidants such has vitamin C and beta carotene have been shown to fuel cancer growth, and selenium can be toxic. Conversely, there is no evidence that high doses of antioxidants help the body in any way - except (a big maybe here) vitamin E.

What bugs me is that the people who offer these suggestions and insights do so with no knowledge of Mom's particular cancer, and with little or no idea of how to assess the worth of whatever therapy or treatment they're trying to push. For my part, I need to learn to bite my tongue and avoid being sucked into debates about these laughable quack remedies. If people are already so out of touch with rationality that they seriously believe in the power of crystals or whatever, there's little point in attempting to engage them as reasonable people.

Reading assignment: Carl Sagan's The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. True, the only people likely to take me up on this assignment are, in all probability, already reasonable people. But hope springs eternal.


thank you, ladies

My gratitude goes out to the ladies who visited us today from 2:20PM to a little after 5PM: they were three of the new WKWS officers for the upcoming year (roughly, fall 2009 to spring/summer 2010). I'm ashamed to say that I never caught the names of the vice president and the secretary, and didn't bother to ask, but later on, Dad told me that the new president is Mrs. Sawai. My congratulations to Mrs. LaPlant for finishing her 2008-09 term, and best of luck to the new officers.

One of the ladies brought along her adorable granddaughter, Ariana (I hope I'm spelling that right). Five-year-old Ariana and I set ourselves over at the dining room table while the grownups spoke with each other and with Mom in the living room. The ladies had kindly brought along bushels of fruit and other items as well; they invaded the kitchen and prepped some of the fruit, then ate and talked and laughed, taking time to ask me about Mom's condition and to compliment the house's renovation. The atmosphere was one of easy camaraderie; the ladies themselves later noted how happy they were, as new officers, to discover how well they were getting along with each other. I'm sure this augurs well for the coming WKWS year.

Ariana and I, off in our own world, explored the intricacies of the "Mario" universe as it was rendered on Ariana's tiny Nintendo handheld game system. Ariana-- who was extremely shy for all of three minutes before opening up-- showed me how Mario, a beloved video game character dating back at least to the early 1980s if not before, was able to perform a wide variety of tasks: he could collect coins, bounce evil turtles, avoid spiked walls, and leap across the tops of giant, swaying mushrooms. The world of Mario is a bizarre admixture of Hello Kitty-esque cuteness and sudden, Jurassic-style violence. Its was a kid-friendly way of affirming that nature is red in tooth and claw, but as Ariana sagely observed, "Kids' games don't have blood in them."

Along with Nintendo, Ariana and I made blue birthday cakes with Mom's Play-Doh, surfed the Net to look at different pet dogs and talked about color coordination for dresses. "My dress is pink and black!" Ariana declared. So were her shoes, as it turned out; even her Nintendo was pink.

The ladies ended their visit by singing to Mom; I can't say anything more about the song or the singing, because it's meant to serve a special purpose. Mom and I enjoyed the music, and before we knew it, it was time for everyone to leave. Ariana's grandmother noted that Ariana was far more relaxed and open than she normally was among strangers; to me, that's a good thing. I wished the ladies good luck with their new term, and Ariana waved goodbye. The ladies' visit left a warm afterglow; Mom was happy to see them.



In the next few minutes, an assistant for Dr. Royfe is going to drop by to give Mom something personal. We're also supposed to have a visit from the new president of the WKWS (Washington Korean Women's Society-- of which Mom was the president twice) today at 2:30PM. Tomorrow at 6:30PM, two or three more Korean visitors will be coming by. Sometime Wednesday afternoon, a member of the renovation team (though not Mr. Jeong-- the big boss-- himself) will be tooling over to take a look at the leakage problem.

That's all I know about for this week. On the personal front, I'll be mowing the back yard tomorrow morning, and the front yard the following day. The weeds grow fast when there's been a great deal of rain.

Mom's still not up. She's awake, but is in no hurry to leave the bed, perhaps cognizant of the fact that she doesn't have to head over to the hospital today. Here's hoping she'll be ready in time for her visitors... but if she isn't, I know they'll either await her convenience or truncate their stay.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mom's walk

My brother David came over, and after a delay caused by Mom's rapt attention to a Korean soap she had to finish watching, we headed out as a family to a new park for us-- Lake Accotink Park, which was recommended to us by David.

The park was very beautiful despite all the gnats. We lamented not bringing along some sort of bug repellent, but were otherwise impressed that such a park existed in the midst of so much development in the Springfield area.

Mom felt brave enough to tackle a set of concrete stairs that led up from the parking lot to a small ridge or berm along one arc of the lake. It must have been around 30 or 40 steps-- far more steps than Mom has tried to climb since April 16. Somehow, Mom managed the climb, though her legs were somewhat weak afterward. Dad and I had moved away from Mom after she'd made it to the top of the stairs (David had been holding her hand) when Mom suddenly lost her balance and found herself sitting on the ground. David must have cushioned Mom's fall; she was completely unhurt, and Mom was embarrassed. We helped her to her feet; she remained steady the rest of the time, but we let her rest at the first bench we came to along the berm. While we rested, David took off and came back with drinks. Mom refused my lemonade, but accepted some of Dad's Sprite.

As she did at other parks, Mom managed to walk a fairly decent distance totalling several hundred yards. We were proud of her. Our mini-trek took us along the lake's edge to the marina and picnic area (where David had bought the drinks) before we turned around again. We guys noted with amusement that the term "marina" seemed a bit of a misnomer for the tiny strip of lakeside beach at which aquaphiles could rent pedal boats or canoes: the lake itself wasn't that big, and the only watercraft were the tiny, rentable ones-- no powered boats at all, as David noted.

The drive home was a happy one; we ordered Chinese food through David's iPhone and picked it up on the way home. Mom might not have much of an appetite these days, but she's vigorous enough to tackle a tall set of stairs and walk for a good fraction of a mile. That's got to mean something.


Mom in Fort Hunt Park with Dad and Cousin Jihae

Uncle John is also in the picture, barely visible behind Mom.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

change of scene

We'll be hitting a different park today, Fort Ward Park, to celebrate the end of Mom's radio- and chemotherapy. I know Mom enjoys Fort Hunt Park, but we thought a change of scene would be nice.

We've also talked with my aunt in Texas (I'm talking about my Emo, Mom's older sister), and will be taking Mom down to Texas on September 1, barring any sudden emergencies here. We'll be spending three nights out in Conroe, leaving for Virginia on the 4th. My aunt apparently can't make it up to Virginia, which is why we're taking Mom down to see her.

We've asked Mom a couple times whether she wants to make the trip to Texas. Months ago, back when all this began, she was adamantly against it, refusing to consider the possibility of heading to MD Anderson for treatment. Since that time, we've opted to keep Mom in the DC-Metro area, which is why we're switching over to NCI's Dr. Fine (the National Cancer Institute is in Bethesda, Maryland; the drive there is about an hour, plus the time it takes to get through inspection).

So if Mom goes to Texas now, it'll be just to see her sister and her family. But when I asked Mom, a couple days ago, whether she was up for such a trip, she hesitated a long time, then said, "I'll have to think about it." When someone else posed the same question to Mom a day or so later, she simply shook her head "no."

Maybe Mom doesn't feel up to such a trip, or maybe she has other reasons for not wanting to go. I don't know. Maybe not all changes of scene are good. Or maybe she'll be fine with going to Texas once another week has passed. Mom's a bit lethargic right now; we were told that she might be this way at the tail-end of her radiotherapy. Maybe all she needs is a bit of time to recover from the near-daily bombardment of radiation she's received, for 33 sessions, at the hospital.

We'll see. In any event, Dad's getting the tickets.