Saturday, May 11, 2002

The Canadian Peso : A Canadian who robbed a US bank is arguing that because of the exchange rate his police record is only worth 62% of an American's and thus his sentence should be reduced.

You've gotta give him points for creativity, not that it'll do him a whole lot of good.
Ehhh... What's up, Doc? : The latest and greatest in frankenfoods, carrots that contain a Hepatitis B vaccine. They still need testing, but it looks pretty promising. Imagine a future where just eating a salad protects you against half a dozen diseases.

The question, of course, will be whether these sorts of things will ever see the light of day. Last I heard - and this may have changed - the Vitamin A enhanced rice was still sitting on a shelf somewhere despite the incredible amount of good it could do for millions of people. That's not just sad, that's downright criminal.

I'll certainly grant that a lot of care needs to be taken with genetic modification, cloning, and some of the other biotechnologies that we are now on the brink of being able to truly take advantage of. These are not things to be taken lightly, nor will all of it or all of how it's going to be used be good. There's an awful lot we have to work out on both the technical and ethical levels, starting with a recognition of just how much we really don't understand about what we're doing. Frankly I get just as annoyed at the go-go biotech boosters, with their tendency to label anyone with any reservations a Luddite, as I do with the true Luddites who would shut down every biolab on the planet tomorrow if they could. But, both extremist ends aside, we will work these things out, likely with some spectacular successes and more than a few mistakes along the way.

A carrot that protected people against Hep B, that would be a pretty spectacular success.
Silly rabbit, tricks are for prostitutes : A new top level domain, '.pro' for "professional", has been approved. There's only one hitch, you can only get an address in the ',pro' domain if you're a certified member of the legal, medical, or accounting professions and indeed they claim they will check out your bona fides and recheck them on a yearly basis. The idea is supposedly people who go to a site in the .pro domain will know that they're talking to a "real" professional.

Where to begin? Why only lawyers, doctors, or CPAs? Isn't an engineer a "professional"? A teacher/professor, a system analyst, or an HR beancounter? For that matter, isn't prostitution referred to as the world's oldest profession? And why exactly am I supposed to find anyone with a '.pro' address any more reliable just because some company says they're "certified"? Contrary to what many of them seem to think, just because someone is a doctor, lawyer, or CPA doesn't make them right - anyone want to take advice from Arthur Andersen these days?

In the end, though, I'm not sure this isn't a great idea. If they'd just add politicians to the list then you'd have a safely ignorable domain name ghetto.

Friday, May 10, 2002

We're from the government and we're here to help you : I'm forever thankful to whatever powers that be that HitlarityCare was stillborn. Why? Let me count the ways -

The [UK] government said in spite of the situation at Bath the number of patients waiting more than 15 months for in-patient treatment was now the lowest on record. It said the number of patients waiting more than 12 months for in-patient treatment was at its lowest level since 1996.


According to the Department of Health figures, the number of people waiting over 12 months fell by 4,400 during March to 21,400. This compares with a total of 41,500 last year.


The total number of people waiting for hospital treatment dropped slightly over the same period - down 15,700 to 1,034,700.


Mr Hutton said: "The isolated problems of one hospital must not cloud what is a considerable achievement for NHS hospitals and staff throughout England.


Making it so people only have to wait fifteen months for treatment is an improvement for the NHS. And, lest you think waits are only for silly things like hangnail surgery -

Doctors advise that women with breast cancer should be treated within four weeks of surgery.


But the BBC investigation found one patient in Hertfordshire had to wait 17 weeks.


In west London some women can wait up to 16 weeks.


[...]


Anne Johnstone, who has a brain tumour, says she is angry at being forced to wait.


She should have had radiotherapy treatment within four weeks, but nine weeks later she is still waiting.


I bitch endlessly about our medical system, and not without reason. But if Ms. Johnstone was going to the same hospital SWVCTM is she would have started radiation therapy within days at absolute most. That's not speculation on my part, it is a fact, and in some instances - there's no way to know which ones beforehand - that could mean the difference between life and death.
Driving Miss Berry (Mad) : The Bushies finally won one against Her Royal Majesty, Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Our story so far - On December 6, 2001 Bush appointed Peter Kirsanow to the commission. This most displeased Her Royal Majesty, who refused to allow him a place on the commission. Her majesty claimed that there was no opening - so sorry - because that seat was already filled by Victoria Wilson. Ms. Wilson was appointed on January 13, 2000 by President William Jefferson "CrotchShot" Clinton to fill the unexpired term of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, which was set to expire on November 29, 2001. Now normally when you're appointed to fill an unexpired term you do so until the term would normally have... err... Expired. But Her Majesty had other ideas. Her Royal Highness was of the opinion that when a new person is appointed the clock "reset" and they automatically got a six year term. This makes little sense, but then Her Majesty is not known for her prowess in logic.

Bizarrely enough, a lower court agreed with Her Majesty, perhaps they were dazzled by her mere presence. Unfortunately for the Royal, yesterday The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit basically said "What are you, nuts?". Her Royal Highness still has the option, and almost certainly will, of requesting an en blanc hearing from the court and possibly an appeal to SCOTUS.

White House spokeswoman Anne Womack said yesterday that "the court has made it very clear that Peter Kirsanow is a rightful member of the commission, and we fully expect that he will be recognized as such."


Anne, hun, if you really expect that than you must be about the only one. The commission is Her Royal Majesty's fiefdom and has never in recent memory bothered itself with little things like logic, fairness, following its own rules, or matters of law.
A million here, a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money : A Oregon judge recently reduced a judgement against Phillip Morris.

A judge reduced a landmark $150 million punitive award against Philip Morris to $100 million Thursday, saying the original amount was “grossly excessive.”


So now it's just, what, obscenely excessive?
57 channels and there's nothin' on : Cable TV continues it's slow suicide. They spent lots of money on changing their systems over to digital, but few people are actually signing up. Their solution? To make premium channels only available on digital.

Here’s why cable may be willing to make the digital gamble. Nationwide, just over 72 million people get cable, including 70 million who have access to digital cable because of the recent infrastructure upgrades.


But only 15 million have actually signed up, and there’s a high monthly turnover rate — what the experts refer to as the “churn rate.”


“It’s a smart move for cable because they have a lot of digital churn,” said Scott Cleland, a telecommunications analyst at The Precursor Group. “So the first thing they’re trying to do is prevent people from churning out of it, to make it more stable. And the next thing is it will add to the bottom line, it will increase average revenue per consumer.”


Now I'm just a dumb housewife and not a "telecommunications analyst", but it seems to me that maybe someone ought to try and figure out why they have a high churn rate? I mean, isn't that pretty basic? Or is it that they already know it's because digital cable costs too much, doesn't offer anything additional most customers want, cable service sucks and cable companies treat their customers like crap, and people now have other options like DirectTV?
Oops! ...I'm the second horseman of the apocalypse! : A Britney Spears video game has been released for the PS2.

More proof that TEOTWAWKI is on nigh...

I suppose it's better than the latest AARP sponsored tour... If only barely. At least Mick can act.
Only his hairdresser knows for sure : Remember those sixteen Hamas members Arafat arrested to show he was serious? Then again, maybe not.

The White House is also cautious about Arafat's ability to demonstrate his authority by maintaining 16 Hamas members reportedly in custody.


Hamas officials say the arrest never happened and dared the Palestinian Authority to try to arrest them, saying that it would lose its credibility with the Palestinian people if it dared.


Hamas leaders were continuing to go about their business in the Gaza Strip — Hamas' headquarters — with Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin preparing for his daughter's wedding, his son Mohammad said.


The White House is concerned that the Palestinian Authority does not have any militants in custody, particularly since the PA has a history of making arrests under pressure, then quickly releasing the militants.


Hmmm... Dared the PA to arrest them? Makes ya' wonder about those reports of Arafat losing street cred among the Islamakazi set. If true, that would seem to put Arafat between Iraq... I mean, a rock and a hard place.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Unsafe and insane : This is just mind boggling -

Accused mailbox bomber Lucas Helder told authorities he was planting pipe bombs in a pattern to show a happy face during his five-state weekend spree.


I know that "Don't worry, be happy" song was enough to drive anyone bonkers, but this is ridiculous.
The ultimate patriarchal plot : Having sons may be hazardous to a mother's health?

Coming soon : Warning labels required on 'Y' sperm.
Is he strong? Listen, bub, he's got radioactive blood :

**Warning, Possible Spidey Spoilers!!**

Went to see SpiderMan today. I'm probably going to get crucified for this, but... I don't get it.

Oh I get the whole SpiderMan thing well enough and I "got" the movie, I just don't get the hype. From everything I'd read I'd expected this to be either the greatest movie ever made or to blow chunks. It was neither, it was just an entertaining enough movie that I'm glad I saw but won't particularly be tempted to spend the money to see again.

I should mention that I'm more than a tad familiar with the SpiderMan comics and that probably shades my view of this movie more than a little. When we were kids someone gave my brother subscriptions to a couple of SpiderMan comics and I used to read them when he was done with them - before he was done with them, if I could figure out where he'd hidden them (and I usually could). In my late teens and through my early twenties I read pretty much everything Marvel put out, eventually I lost interest (and they got to be too damn expensive) but I have fond memories of them.

Any Marvel show or movie is a dicey proposition for anyone who's been a fan of the comic books. Marvel has this inexplicable habit of changing their own mythos wildly from what they've created in their comic books to what they show on screen. Sometimes it makes sense to do so - having Uncle Ben die via carjacking, for instance, makes much more sense than the original version. Sometimes maybe there's a reason but it's not clear why they felt they had to do it that way - Rogue being a teenager, for instance, and lacking her (inadvertently permanent) stolen abilities. Sometimes it's just stupid - David "Bruce" Banner, anyone? Other times there just doesn't seem to be any reason for it at all - Bobby Drake/Iceman being a teenager when he only has a couple of minutes of screen time and there are any number of other characters that could have been used (any of the New Mutants or perhaps Kitty). Slavish devotion to one's source material isn't necessarily a good idea, of course - though it didn't seem to do much harm to Lord of the Rings - but Marvel so often just makes odd changes with no apparent reason and that are near guaranteed to annoy their built-in audience that you have to wonder why. It isn't just that Marvel fans want to hate their movies because they couldn't ever live up to the fan's expectations, Marvel really has given them more than a few reasons to expect to.

While there were any number of changes to the Spidey mythos in this movie, most were either minor or made sense. The one that seems to have ticked off a lot of fans was the switch from Peter Parker invented web slingers to organic. To a certain extent I "get" why this annoys some fans. Peter was supposed to be a genius, his inventiveness was often used as part of the various stories. One of the first introductions to this was his invention of the web slingers and those too were used as part of various stories - often they ran out at points inconvenient for SpiderMan but convenient for the story (of course at other points they had movie machinegun-like infinite supplies). In the movie the only indication you've got that Peter has any brights is that everyone keeps saying so and he has a periodic table on the wall of his room.

Still, I think all the bitching about that particular change is more than a bit overblown. As Marvel mythos shuffling goes, it's extremely minor to the overall story. The movie followed the mythos closely enough to at least be recognizable. Tobey Maguire was decent enough as Peter Parker, though not really the image of Peter I always had in my head. He did seem a bit uneven, at some points quite engaging and at others off his game. Willem Dafoe was great as the schizoid Osborne/Goblin, the scene of him talking to his other personality in the mirror was wonderfully handled. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson was absolutely perfect, I wouldn't have imagined anyone could have pulled off that character - both the appearance and manner - that well. Most of the rest of the cast was anywhere from good to serviceable - with one exception.

Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane "Fang Bangs" Watson absolutely suck-diddly-ucked. Even though she's only twenty she looked more like she was thirty-five and way too old for the role. In one particular scene she's talking to Peter across the fence between their back yards and I thought "My god, she looks like a heroin addict!" - every other scene she was in I couldn't help by look for track marks. There was no chemistry between her and Maguire. Not that that's necessarily her fault. Every time they had a scene shifting to the love interest between them the movie came to a screeching halt - slammed into a narrative brick wall is more like it. Good lord, who in the world wrote that dialogue? It was embarrassingly bad, I felt sorry for Dunst and Maguire as it must have been downright painful to try and pass that drek off as anything any real human being would say (maybe that explains the heroin?). It's not like the love interest angle can't be handled well in a superhero movie - the first Batman movie did it, as did The X-Men - but here... The dialogue was like something out of a fifth rate soap opera.

Of course I'd guess that isn't what most people go to this kind of movie for, they're more interested in the effects and the battles. Rather a mixed bag, in my opinion, though mostly good. Some of it was absolutely spectacular - the ending sequence was especially stunning and worth the price of admission all by itself. Some of it just didn't look quite right, wire work that the eye catches easily as violating the laws of gravity - granting that Spidey is a superhero and all, but the laws of physics work the same for him as everyone else. The battles were mostly well handled, though the final battle between Spidey and the Goblin got close to, if not quite crossed, gratuitousness. The battle downtown and on the bridge - though the latter's have your cake and eat it too violated the mythos (although it also wasn't MJ in the original), but the scenes of the people on the bridge throwing everything they could at the Goblin was oddly endearing - were both pretty impressive to watch. Oddly enough, the fight between Peter and Flash (Joe Manganiello) was perhaps more visually interesting than any of those between Spidey and the Goblin.

One perhaps odd bitch of mine was the Goblin's mask. Every time Dafoe (or whoever was stuck in the suit) talked you could see it through the screen over the open mouth of the mask, for some reason I found that very distracting. I also thought the obvious sequel set-up was both unnecessary and silly.

Anyway, overall it was a pretty good movie. Good, and well worth the price of admission, but not great.
There's nothing like a free and open election (and this'll be nothing like one) : Saddam Hussein has called for a referendum to decide if he should remain in power.

Iraq is to hold a referendum later this year to decide whether President Saddam Hussein should remain in office, according to state radio.


The vice-chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council of Iraq, Ezzat Ibrahim - the country's second-in-command - is said to be chairing a committee to ensure a "successful result" in the ballot.


Ensure a successful result?!?

Sample ballot -

Should our glorious and omnipotent leader, Saddam Hessein, continue to lead us in victory?

1) Yes.
2) Hell Yes.
3) Absolutely Yes.
4) I'm suicidal, so No.

The president, 65, also holds the posts of prime minister, army commander-in-chief, chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council and secretary-general of the ruling Baath party.


They forgot to mention "Numero uno target on the axis of evil top ten hit parade".
I'm shocked, shocked I tell you! : The feds are going after the makers of those exercise belts.

Those widely advertised electronic exercise belts don't work as promised, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday in announcing suits against the marketers of three devices.


What? You mean... You mean they don't actually work? Well knock me over with a feather.

Who actually buys this kind of junk, anyway? It boggles my mind to think that there are people out there that see these infomercials and hurriedly dial 1-800-SUCKERS with credit card in hand. Doesn't it ever occur to them that those models with the ripped abs probably got that way via... Well, maybe, could it be... EXERCISE? That perhaps these models with the ripped abs hadn't even heard of this product until about three minutes after getting to the set?

A fool and their money are soon parted, so they say, apparently there's a lot more fools out there than many of us would like to think.
Of course you know, this means war : An environmental group is suing chocolate manufacturers.

An environmental group sued chocolate manufacturers Wednesday, contending chocolate contains potentially hazardous levels of lead and cadmium and should carry warning labels.


[...]


A state investigation last year discounted the lawsuit's claims, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration researchers have found children younger than 6 who eat lots of chocolate take in 6 percent or less of the total daily amount of lead allowable by law.


Go after twinkies, deny us our rightfully delicious artery clogging movie popcorn, put farmers out of business to preserve the rare spotted microbe, try and take away our SUVs... But if you go after chocolate, we will get you.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Hoist, meet petard : Consumer reports sent out 15,000 glove compartment organizers as an incentive to new subscribers. Only it seems there's a problem and now they've had to recall them.

The kits contain a flashlight that can overheat and melt the case and a tire-pressure gauge that gives inaccurate readings, which could lead people to improperly inflate their tires.


I hate it when that happens...
Religion of pieces : Another Islamakazi went kaboom in Israel, fortunately there were no other casualties -

The bomber was walking along Megiddo Junction when the blast went off, possibly prematurely. A group of soldiers were standing at a nearby bus stop and might have been the intended target, Israel Army Radio said.


In response to yesterday's bombing Israel might expel Arafat -

"It could be that in the end there will be no choice and we will have to expel Arafat," she [Israeli Minister of Education Limor Livnat] told Israel Army Radio.


She said she had no indication that Sharon had already made such a decision.


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon put things in a slightly different light -

"He who rises up to kill us, we will preempt it and kill him first," he said.


[...]


Referring obliquely to Arafat, Sharon said: "Those who call for millions of martyrs are guilty. Those who constantly incite are guilty. Those who fund terrorism are guilty. Those who launch terrorism are guilty. Guilty," he said, pounding his fist on the podium.


If Hamas, who has claimed responsibility for the Rishon bombing, intended to derail any possible peace initiatives - and given the timing that intention seems to be clearly written in Israeli blood - it would seem they have almost certainly succeeded.

Another bomb went off in Karachi, Pakistan, killing ten French citizens and two Pakistanis.

It is not yet clear who is behind this attack.


But police said they would investigate possible links between the bombers and the al-Qaeda network as well as Pakistan's regional rival, India.


"We cannot rule out the involvement of al-Qaeda, but our suspicions are across the border. I am pointing towards India," the Reuters news agency quoted Sindh province police chief, Kamal Shah, as saying.


To state the depressingly obvious - the war on terrorism has a very, very long ways to go.

Update : The Megiddo suicide bomber survived the blast and is currently undergoing surgery. Two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded.
It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is : Words to live by -

Poor Cardinal Law. As the 71-year-old archbishop does the perp walk for the very first time this morning, he has learned a very important life lesson:


It's one thing to mess around with altar boys, or allow your pervert priests to, but never, ever screw around with an ambulance chaser.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Here we go again : Let me see if I get this right. Just as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is talking to President Bush, who everyone expects to try and get concessions for peace out of Israel, someone decides to blow up a billiard hall in Rishon Lezion and kills at least fifteen people? Does anyone think the timing was random? Anyone?

According to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television news network, Hamas has claimed reponsibility for the Rishon Lezion bombing. However, a conflicting report indicates Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction has claimed responsibility for the attack.


Update : At least 16 killed, 57 wounded.

Middle East analysts said it appeared that the timing was not coincidental and was aimed at disrupting any attempts to broker a cease-fire and possible resumption of peace talks.


[...]


The observers noted that any setback on the Middle East front would frustrate Bush's reported plans for military action against Iraq for which he has been trying to build support in the Arab world.


Sharon cuts US visit short and heads for home.
Airport screeners wanted, sadistic impulses a plus : Congress wants to raise the security fee you pay as part of your airline ticket (exactly how many invisible taxes are tacked onto those things, anyway?) from US$2.50 to US$5.00 per leg of your trip.

MassPort officials, all of whom would only speak under conditions of anonymity, were thrilled by this potential improvement. "We're already working on a new advertising campaign to restore public confidence," said one, showing reporters a draft poster intended for busses and subways which said "Logan airport, now with twice as much humiliation!". "With the extra money generated by this fee change we'll be able to randomly strip-search two to three times as many seventy year old grandmothers from Des Moines," said another, "and still have the resources left over to force parents to remove diapers from infants in case anyone decides to hide explosives there. This should go a long ways towards restoring public confidence in the air transportation system in general and Logan International specifically.".

Okay, so I made the quotes up... I bet it's what they're thinking, though.

Update: It looks like this one is all but dead.
You're such a pill : I've always been more than a tad suspicious of chemical psychiatry. Fact is I'm suspicious of psychology/psychiatry in general. Far too much of it is based on little more than opinions that can vary wildly from one shrinkological school of thought to another, too often what qualifies as a mental disorder boils down to little more than enforcing some societal norm or other (sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not), and shrinkology has a horrifying history and a lousy track record when it comes to being predictive or accomplishing results when the chips are down.

Chemical psychiatry in particular suffers from some fairly major problems. First, we really have no idea how the brain works. Second, we really have no idea how most of the drugs used work. Lastly, it's often a too easy answer, an attempt to treat a symptom without doing the work of dealing with the underlying problem, with a lot of questionable incentives involved.

So what's my answer to all of this? Sugar pills!

After thousands of studies, hundreds of millions of prescriptions and tens of billions of dollars in sales, two things are certain about pills that treat depression: Antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft work. And so do sugar pills.


A new analysis has found that in the majority of trials conducted by drug companies in recent decades, sugar pills have done as well as -- or better than -- antidepressants. Companies have had to conduct numerous trials to get two that show a positive result, which is the Food and Drug Administration's minimum for approval.


What's more, the sugar pills, or placebos, cause profound changes in the same areas of the brain affected by the medicines, according to research published last week. One researcher has ruefully concluded that a higher percentage of depressed patients get better on placebos today than 20 years ago.


[...]


The new research may shed light on findings such as those from a trial last month that compared the herbal remedy St. John's wort against Zoloft. St. John's wort fully cured 24 percent of the depressed people who received it, and Zoloft cured 25 percent -- but the placebo fully cured 32 percent.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Flavor and Savor: Food, Glorious Food

All my life I have been in love with the flavors of food – mild, piquant, rich, spicy, hot, sweet, salt, sour food. From the profound mellowness of a good piece of Brie to the complex over and undertones of a majestic curry, from the perfect simplicity of a ripe strawberry to the riotous delight of a rich and comlicated trifle, the kaleidoscope of taste and tang has been one of the most reliable and constant sensual pleasures of my life.

Until now.

Last Thursday I had the first session of my second chemotherapy course. One of the possible side effects is the loss of the ability to taste things. This didn’t happen with the chemo I had a year and a half ago so I wasn’t thinking about the possibility this time – only praying that I wouldn’t get nauseous again. And, as it happens, I didn’t get sick – for which I am profoundly grateful.

Friday morning after my radiation treatment (arm) we went to do a little shopping and then repaired to a nearby fast food restaurant for lunch before returning to the hospital for a discussion about starting radiation treatment on the spinal mets. I know fast food isn’t the healthiest choice in the world, but I was hungry, needed something quickly and was seriously jonesing for a fat, salty hamburger loaded with everything and a bucket of fries I could dive into and eat my way out of.

The only thing I could taste was the pickle on the hamburger.

Nothing else had any flavor at all. Well, my coffee tasted fine, but the food could have been so much shaped, moist cardboard. It was very strange. It all felt right – the burger had the right burger-texture, the lettuce crunched, the fries were crisp on the outside and tender/mealy on the inside. But there was no flavor!

After we got home I experimented a little. It seemed to be specifically salt that my tongue was missing. Sweet, sour and bitter still responded. Talk about bizarre! A piece of hard candy yielded a wonderfully intense sweet respberry taste, but a piece of Genoa salami was totally unidentifiable and anonymous. Pickles announced themselves well, but a cheese cracker delivered neither tang nor taste – only crunch.

In the following days, other aspects of my ability to taste things have faded in and out like reception on an old radio. As of Saturday morning, I couldn’t taste sweet things any more either – nor was my coffee anything but warm liquid. We made pizza Saturday night and I choked a piece down because I was hungry and needed to eat – but it might as well have been a bowl full of green beans (one of the few foods I really don’t care for) for all the appeal it had.

This morning, I had some toast and coffee. The coffee taste buds were somewhat back on line but the toast buds were still languishing somewhere. However, this afternoon, a piece of the leftover pizza and a muffin both tasted pretty good!

I don’t know how this is going to work, going forward, and I don’t know how long it will last. It would be easier if it were consistent – either I could taste things, or I couldn’t. You know what I mean? If I knew the buds were working, I could opt for the roast chicken, couscous and asparagus but if they were still hanging out on the islands with their little umbrella drinks and no intentions of returning to work any time soon – bring on the green beans! Why waste good food when you can’t taste it anyway?

I got to wondering. What if other senses besides taste were affected? What if you woke up one morning and could no longer see the color red or, say, any of the colors in the warm part of the spectrum? Or what if depth perception took a hike? Or peripheral vision? What if you could suddenly no longer hear in a certain range? Lost the ability to comprehend music or language? Couldn’t make sense of the printed word? What if velvet suddenly felt like concrete or water like fire? Any of these things would be devastating rather than merely inconvenient.

Perception is a strange and wonderful thing and, for the most part, we take it utterly for granted. Even through my grumpiness, I recognize that a certain point has been made and, perhaps a small lesson learned.

This is more strange than upsetting. I miss flavors, but they will be back eventually and in the meantime, I can cope. Being unable to taste my food doesn’t impair my day-to-day effectiveness. All the same, I’m looking forward to being able again to revel in an Oreo cookie and to determine that I don’t like green beans by actually tasting them!
HTML is the work of the devil : Thanks to a small coding error, naught but a forgotten quote mark, a small chunk of last night's SWVCTM post ended up disappearing into the ether and last night I was too half asleep to realize it. Most annoying as the absence rather messed with the chrono-swapping flow I was using. Anyway, it has now been restored.

You also might notice there's been another minor change to the site. Personally I like the most amount of text in the least amount of space possible. I'm one of these people who reads the bottommost line of an eye chart from fifty feet away just because I can, small text doesn't bother me in the least. Unfortunately a lot of people apparently don't feel as I do - those foolish mortals - so I've upped the text size a little.

Lastly, the link to Moira Breen's Inappropriate Response has been fixed. The previous link was taking people to her old site.
Nuclear Medicine : Ah yes, I see that it's time for another entry in the (hopefully long) ongoing saga of SWVCTM and those nasty little rebellious breast cancer cells.

First, a question - Why am I writing these? Answer? Damned if I know. Certainly when I started this 'blog keeping a record of SWVCTM's trials and tribulations on the medical front was not exactly my intent. When I started writing that first post I had no idea how bad things were. At the outset it was intended as a semi-humorous rant about how bloody annoying dealing with the medical community can be, but before it was finished it was discovered that her problems went well beyond the annoying and into the terminal.

I imagine that many of those who read my writings, whether here or elsewhere, draw the understandable conclusion that I'm a rather loud-mouthed over-opinionated ill-informed bitch. To a certain extent, that's true, but outside of my writing few people would ever know it. I'm an extremely soft spoken person and, outside of a very small list of those people I know extremely well, in general I'm not overly apt to express any strong opinions. Or, indeed, to say much of anything at all. I kid you not when I say that there have been instances where someone I saw peripherally on a regular basis was shocked to discover that I could talk, apparently having come to the conclusion that I'm mute.

There are a variety of reasons for this, most boiling down to two things. The first, as my sister has hinted in the comments section, being that our parents were abusive lunatics - frankly that's far to mild and kind a term for them. I refuse to have anything to do with anyone in my family save my sister for exactly this reason. Growing up in such an environment I learned early that expressing an opinion could be rather hazardous to one's health. The second thing is that I have hyper-sensitive hearing, this is something I get from my mother. Like my mother, I can pick out a conversation being carried on at the other side of a house behind closed doors with ease. It was never wise to assume my mother was out of earshot, and the same is pretty much true with me - perhaps even more so. As a result of the combination of sensitive hearing and abusive upbringing, I have a very quiet voice. In any kind of public setting, which tend by their nature to be noisy, few people can hear me even if I were to speak so there generally seems little point to my saying anything even if I was inclined to do so.

As a result of all of this my close friends and loved ones know me to be sometimes rather talkative, rather like I often am in my writing. But beyond that small circle most people have rarely heard me say more than a word or two. This is not something I'm overly thrilled about in myself, but it's also not something I've had more than minor success at changing. So instead I turn to writing where I can rant and rave to my heart's content. I've no idea why it works that way for me, it just does and pretty much always has. Though I wish I was more expressive in my day-to-day life, I do enjoy writing. Through years spent writing fiction I've even developed a tiny modicum of talent for it.

While it didn't really start out this way, these entries have in part become my way of venting some of what I'm feeling about what SWVCTM is going through in a way I wouldn't otherwise feel comfortable doing - railing at the heavens is just not my style. I suppose they're also documenting some of it, a kind of tribute to her, though to whom or why I couldn't say.

So if these entries bore the livin' crap out of you, well I can certainly understand that and I'd certainly understand if you skipped them. But I intend to continue them for my own good, if nothing else.




One thing I suspect a lot of people aren't aware of, maybe don't want to be aware of, is how fast things can change, how quickly your life can be turned upside down. How you can go from one day thinking you're perfectly healthy with a long life in front of you to discovering the next day that you're dangerously ill.

SWVCTM's cancer was discovered, as often happens, through a matter of pure happenstance. One day she was uncomfortable in the bra she was wearing so I offered her one of mine. We're basically the same size, but the bra I'd always found quite comfortable bothered her and she couldn't figure out why. The underwire was biting into something in her left breast and she discovered that something was a lump. If it hadn't been for that little bit of bra swapping god only knows how much longer it would have taken before the lump was discovered and there's no way to know how long it'd been there - presumably a while.

Discovering a lump in your breast (or, I suppose, anywhere else) is never a happy experience. But given her age and all it wasn't the thunder of doom either. Benign breast cysts are quite common in a woman her age and are harmless. In fact one of the sources of the heavy debate over mammography and breast self-exam is that they lead to a lot of benign cysts being discovered and a lot of unnecessary worry and biopsies (with the attendant, if minor, risks) without there being much in the way of strong evidence that they contribute to overall survival.

Knowing all of this, I tried to reassure her and by the time she went to the GP we were both convinced that it was nothing. The GP concurred that it probably was nothing to worry about, but of course wanted a mammogram anyway. So she went to have the mammogram and went home still believing that everything was fine. It wasn't, there was a call on the answering machine from the doctor's office, and there was only one reason the doctor's office would be calling.

The next stop was the surgeon's office with a copy of the mammogram. The surgeon made no bones about it, he believed it was cancer. Worse, he couldn't be sure without a biopsy but he believed there was probably lymph involvement.

The severity of a breast cancer is referred to as its "Stage". Combined with the age (younger is worse) of the patient, the particular type of breast cancer, and the degree, or lack thereof, of receptor positivity, what "Stage" you are tells you a lot about what your chances are. For breast cancer the scale is Stage 0 through Stage IV. Stage 0 basically means there are pre-cancerous cells that if left will cause problems. Stage I through III are defined by the size of the tumor. Stage IV is either a very large tumor or any size tumor where there are signs of lymph involvement. Your chances of long term survival for Stage 0 - I breast cancers are extremely good - in many instances better than 99%. Stage II cancers are roughly 80%. It drops rapidly from there. Once there is lymph involvement, Stage IV, it means that the cancer has moved and can metastasize to just about anywhere in the body.

What the surgeon was telling her was that from what little data he had he believed that it was indeed cancer and that it was likely very bad. At that point he didn't really have enough to go on for anything more than an educated guess, part of the problem is that our imaging technology isn't all that good (though new technologies are improving that) and the only way to know what's going on is to go in and look. I later came to the conclusion that what he was basically doing was trying to prep her for the worst possible news. If it turned out that there was no lymph involvement, well it would be good news. It it didn't, well she was already expecting about the worst news possible.

Whatever his reasons for putting things as he did, the surgeon's opinion was devastating. In the span of just a couple of days she went from being a perfectly healthy forty-something with more than half her life ahead of her and, aside from the lump, not a hint of illness, to basically being told there was only a 35% (if even that) chance she'd be alive in five years. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. The thought "Oh my god, she's going to die!" ran through my head on a continuous loop, my mind just refused to assimilate it. I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like for her.

The first thing they had to do was make sure that it was indeed cancer, though at that point there was little doubt in anyone's mind. Because of the size of the tumor - around 2cm - the way they did this was what is called Needle Locator Biopsy, that was scheduled for a couple of days after she first saw the surgeon. As I said, when it's serious and they know it's serious things can move extraordinarily quickly.

We got to the hospital early in the morning, being late fall it was rainy and dreary - not the best of omens. The day surgery area is one large long room. About a third of it is a waiting area with chairs and the ubiquitous waiting room TV. The rest is set up with a series of beds, each having a curtain that can be pulled around them. When you get there a nurse has you fill out a ton of paperwork and then asks you pretty much all of the questions which you just answered on said paperwork before explaining to you their method of describing any pain - a zero through ten scale with ten being "Please kill me now". From there they have you change into the standard dignity-shredding hospital gown and you sit and wait until they're ready for you.

Eventually they came and got her and took her to a room for placement of the needle - really more of a wire. After giving her a local they had her lay on a table that has holes in it for your breasts to go through. Using a high resolution display of realtime x-rays they place a very thin needle/wire into the breast, down to where the tumor is. The wire will then act as a guide for the surgeon so he knows exactly where and how deep to go to find the tumor.

Once the needle was placed they returned her to the day surgery area, this time to lay in one of the beds. The surgeon came by and talked to her for a moment before an anesthesiologist showed up to pump her full of antibiotics and get her started on her way to la-la-land. She was wheeled into surgery and the surgeon followed the wire down to the tumor, taking a small biopsy of it for analysis.

It was, of course, ductal invasive breast cancer.




Every day at ten in the morning I take SWVCTM to the cancer center for radiation treatment. Her appointment isn't until 10:45, but it's about a twenty-five minute drive to the hospital and it takes her a few minutes to prep before the treatment. The way they run this machine you don't want to be late if you can help it.

This daily trip adds an odd bit of regimentation to my life. As I've mentioned before, I've been a housewife for the last three and a half - almost four, now - years. One of the advantages to being a housewife (and, trust me, there are disadvantages as well), at least if you don't have kids, is that your time management is fairly fluid. Aside from the occasional appointment, I haven't had a particular place to be or thing to do at a given time in quite a while. Oddly enough, I find these trips comforting. I suppose on some level they represent my contribution to her well being or some such psychobabble nonsense.

The most interesting part of the trip - now that I've actually started getting used to driving after better than a decade of having been naught but a passenger - is finding parking. Why is it that big honkin' hospitals only ever have enough non-reserved parking spaces for a few dozen people? One becomes very adept at sharking for parking spots very, very quickly.

Radiation Oncology is in what they call the ground floor of the Cancer Center. Since the hospital is built on the side of a hill and the main entrance is on top of the hill it seems to me that the ground floor would more logically be called the basement, but no one ever seems to consult me about these things - more's the pity. As far as I'm concerned, when you go into the main entrance and have to take an elevator down well, you've gone to the basement haven't you? Then again, what do I know?

Anyway, when we get to Radiation Oncology I'm relegated to the waiting room. Given that for the most part the same people are having radiation every day at the same times, the others in the waiting room are mostly people I've seen there before. For the most part no one looks at, let alone talks to, much of anyone else - an arraignment that in general suits me just fine. I do get some odd looks, almost certainly because of my age. When I say that I'm usually the youngest one in these various cancer waiting rooms, I mean by a rather large number of years. I've not bothered to ask, but I presume most of them think I'm there with my mother.

That's something that took a little getting used to, people thinking she was my mother - especially given how I feel about my mother. In actuality SWVCTM is only nine years older than I but apparently in appearance it's a larger difference. Part of that is simply that I look younger than I am, I'm often surprised by just how young people think I am. And the cancer treatments have aged SWVCTM more than a little, pretty much inevitable under the circumstances and about the least of her worries - she's rather pragmatic about such things, more so than I would be in her shoes. The odd thing, though, is that it actually started before the cancer treatments.




After the biopsy was analyzed the surgeon presented her with a choice. There were two ways he could handle things, lumpectomy or mastectomy, and the studies said that they have essentially the same statistical outcome. In a lumpectomy they just take the tumor itself and some of the surrounding tissue, leaving the breast at least partially intact. In a mastectomy they take everything. Either way she went she would need chemotherapy but a lumpectomy would also require an extended series of radiation treatments. SWVCTM felt that a mastectomy would give her a better chance and that's what she decided on. His lecture about statistical outcomes aside, it was clear that the surgeon was relieved. Given his own experience and SWVCTM's bust size (she is quite busty, though why he felt that a factor was never entirely clear to me) he clearly believed that she'd made the right choice.

Before doing the surgery he wanted a series of tests done, the most important of which was a bone scan and a MUGA scan. The bone scan was to check for possible mets, if there had been any then likely they wouldn't have bothered with the mastectomy. The MUGA scan was to check her heart function because there was a risk the drugs they were going to be using could effect the heart and they wanted to be sure it wasn't already damaged. Those two, plus the various blood tests and such, came out fine. The only anomaly was that the bone scan showed what they thought were likely the very early stages of arthritis - we now know that likely those were instead the very early stages of bone cancer.

It was again dreary and drizzling the day of the mastectomy. I got up quite early that morning, as is generally my wont, and got dressed in my Sunday best. Rather odd, but it seemed like good luck somehow. After all, if you look your best bad things can't happen, right? In retrospect I wonder if some part of me wasn't being morbid. Black dress, dark hose, black shoes, black satin bow in my hair - the only hint of colour besides my jewelry was the white cardigan I wore because the dress was a tad too light for the cool weather. It just seems odd to me now, looking back, that I would have picked a virtually all-black outfit, my warped mind moves in mysterious ways, and I have to wonder if it registered with the doctor that I was practically dressed for a funeral. At the time I never even gave it a thought.

You see the results of this surgery were going to be very important. It wasn't just that any surgery, especially any surgery involving a general anesthetic, carries risk, it was the nodes. It wasn't just the breast they were going to take from her, but also lymph nodes and what those lymph nodes had to say would be critical.

When breast cancer "moves" to another part of the body it does so through the lymphatic system, this is typical of a lot of cancers. One of the problems with looking at a cancer in a non-primary organ is you don't know for sure if it has moved or not so what they try and do is look for something called a sentinel node. The sentinel node is the primary lymph node that services the area where the breast cancer is. In the old days when they did something like a mastectomy for breast cancer they simply took all of the nodes in the area but this led to problems like lymphedema in the arm. Now they just take the sentinel node and some of the nodes surrounding it, this reduces, though doesn't eliminate, the chances of later problems.

The nodes that are removed are examined carefully. If they find any signs of cancer cells in them it means that likely the cancer has metastasized. If they don't find any, chances are it hasn't. Which it turned out to be was going to determine whether her chances of being around in five years was 80% or 35%.

Her father took us to the hospital, but he didn't stay. It's probably just as well, he was wound up like a spring and I think sitting in that waiting room would have driven him bonkers.

After they'd prepped her and she was wheeled away to surgery I sat in the waiting area, fidgeting. A woman sitting a couple of chairs over from me turned and said "Don't worry, dear, I'm sure your mother will be fine.". I looked at her for a moment, confused. To the best of my knowledge - and, given that I hadn't talked to her in a good eight years or so I could have been wrong - my mother was in Arkansas. It took me a moment to realize that this woman meant SWVCTM, I just tried to smile and nodded. There seemed little point to correcting her error and it's happened any number of times since then, to the point where now I just assume that's likely what people who don't know her or I are thinking when they see us together.




Every day while I'm sitting in the Radiation Oncology waiting room SWVCTM goes back and changes into a hospital smock. She and the others waiting to be nuked sit in a small alcove waiting to be called. SWVCTM tells me that unlike the waiting room, where people tend to be introspective and mostly silent, those waiting to be nuked are quite chatty. They see each other every day, if only for a short time, and they're all going through variations on the same thing so there's a real bond there.

Once called, SWVCTM is led into a room and laid on a metal table. They adjust her position just so and then, using lasers, align the machine with the tattoos they've put on her arm. A linear accelerator is used to generate a tightly focused extremely high energy beam of x-rays designed to target the cancer in the bone. The machine then moves and aligns to another angle, and they hit her again. Everything from the size of the beam to the angles to the amount of energy has been precisely calculated beforehand. Periodically they take regular x-ray images, another function of the machine, to check how things are going.

The idea is that normal cells have a mechanism to repair themselves when hit with radiation. Cancer cells don't, they can't survive being nuked the way normal cells can. This kind of treatment can't stop the cancer she has, but it can slow it down some and hopefully cause it to retreat so that the crack in the bone can heal. What is hoped for is that the radiation will reduce or eliminate the extreme pain that is being caused by the cancer as it eats away at her bones.

The radiation treatment itself takes a surprisingly short amount of time. Once it's done, periodic visits with the Radiation Oncologist aside, she comes out and I take her home.




The mastectomy - more accurately, left modified radical mastectomy - was supposed to take around four hours. I sat in the day surgery waiting room, twiddled my thumbs, and worried. I couldn't concentrate enough to really read my book, I kept going over the same pages again and again without really absorbing anything of what the words were saying, so I alternated between staring off into space and playing an endless number of games of solitaire on my Palm. About a half hour past the four hour mark the surgeon came out and spoke with me briefly. Things had gone well, he told me, and she was out of surgery. She was coming out of the anesthesia more slowly than they'd expected, though, and they didn't have a room ready for her yet so it'd be a little bit before I could see her. He said someone would come and get me when she was out of recovery in a half hour or so, and then he left.

I waited another forty or so minutes before I started wondering why they hadn't brought her out. Periodically asking one of the nurses got me nowhere. They didn't know where SWVCTM was either, and apparently it would be too much bother to try and find out.

I'm generally a very patient person, perhaps too much so. When I was a kid my mother was fond of saying that I had the patience of Job, and that was my problem. Then again, my mother was full of lots of such bits of wisdom, like her periodic musings about how it was too bad you couldn't just throw away the eldest child because that's the one you make all the mistakes with.

Of course, I'm the eldest child.

Anyway, nearly eight hours had passed since they'd wheeled her off to surgery before someone came to tell me that she was out of recovery. By that time even my near infinite store of patience was well and truly exhausted. When we finally got her up to the room she'd be staying in for the night her father was already there, waiting by the door. Unfortunately the room still wasn't ready, they had to arrange things to accommodate the equipment - heart rate/BP monitor, on-demand morphine pump, and auto-inflating leg cuffs - they had her hooked up to.

"If they ever did anything straightforward around here I'd need a hospital room," I told him as we waited for three nurses to stop scurrying around.

"Why?" He asked.

"Because I'd have a heart attack from the shock."

The breast tissue and lymph nodes that had been removed were sent for analysis, the nodes came back clear. This was unexpectedly good news, it started to look like she might just pull through this relatively unscathed after all. The only bad news from the tissue biopsy was that the cancer was estrogen negative and only slightly progesterone positive. This was bad news because there are adjuvant therapies (SERMs, anti-Aromatase, ovarian ablation, and such) that can help with estrogen positive cancers and those that are negative tend to be a bit harder to treat and somewhat more aggressive.

Her recovery from the mastectomy went fairly well, considering. SWVCTM has very impressive recuperative powers along with a tolerance for pain that helps but can sometimes gets her in trouble. There was, however, one post-surgical issue that was a massive pain in the figurative rectal orifice - drainage.

As I said, in doing a modified radical mastectomy they take everything - essentially they slice off the breast, nipple and all, take a few lymph nodes just for good measure, then pull the skin from top to bottom to sew over where the breast used to be. This causes rather a large amount of trauma to the area and in response the lymphatic system keeps sending fluid that way, the fluid builds up under the pocket left where the breast used to be. Lots of fluid, in her case lots 'n lots of fluid. This usually goes on for a week or two and then the pocket starts to heal and the fluid build-up goes away.

In her case, it didn't. Lots of fluid would build up, as much as a liter a day, and that had to be drained. This would require a trip to the surgeon's office where he'd use a big honkin' needle and swapped off 60ml syringes to remove the fluid. This went on for three months, well past the usual amount of time, requiring every-other-day (occasionally every day) visits to the surgeon's office. Finally, just when the surgeon was considering more drastic measures, it slowed down and then stopped. For a while there, though, we were wondering if it ever was going to.




Last Thursday was the start of her new chemo regimen. She's been through chemo once before, of course, so both of us already know the basic drill. In a sense it's very comforting to have some idea what's coming.

It was another rainy and dreary day Thursday, which is what got me thinking about the whole rainy and dreary thing and realizing how many significant days we've been to that hospital where it has been rainy and dreary. It wasn't drizzling though, at points it was raining cats 'n dogs, which made the drive to the hospital loads of fun. Under the best of circumstances drivers around here practise offensive driving, any bad weather and the highways (I still have to stop myself from calling them "freeways", a byproduct of my California childhood) turn into something just this side of a seventy mile per hour demolition derby.

Myself, and driving aside, I tend to like rainy and dreary some. Thanks to my own rather minor experience with cancer of the skin, I'm something of a vampire - I avoid the sun like the plague since it is a serious risk factor. At best I'd rather not go through another eight hour surgery and at worst I might not be nearly so lucky next time. So rainy and dreary is just fine by me. An online friend of mine who I've known for years but never had the pleasure of meeting once joked that from my pictures, specifically my skin tone (I am, I sometimes joke, the whitest Native American on the planet), she assumed it must always be overcast here. Well, no, I live in New England not Old England (yeah, I know, I'll get rightfully outraged notes from my UK readers, if I have any, for that crack, all I can say is I mean it in a good way), I just seriously go out of my way to avoid any sun exposure. SWVCTM is about my opposite in that, at times I wonder if she isn't solar powered or something. Rainy and dreary doesn't tend to effect my mood at all, but it is a serious downer for her.

We got to the hospital about 10:20 but there wasn't a parking spot in the regular parking lot to be found and since it was getting close to time for her to be nuked I didn't have time to shark. So I dropped her off and headed off to an "axillary" parking lot they've just put in out in BFE. And I do mean BFE, to get from there to the main entrance normally requires a fully stocked backpack, tent, sleeping bag, GPS receiver, and a two day hike. Fortunately I'm a fast walker with a great sense of direction as I didn't have any of those things nor nearly that much time.

By the time I got to Radiation Oncology she was just about through being nuked so we headed upstairs, checked in, and sat in the waiting room.




The first time I went with SWVCTM to the Cancer Center was for the consult with the Oncologist. Neither of us had ever been there, in fact I hadn't even known there was a cancer center there - though I later found out my sister had trained there when she was in nursing school.

The first person we met there was the head oncology nurse, a tall and rather gregarious woman. Though I tend to be habitually distrustful of medical personnel, this woman put me immediately at ease. It wasn't just her easy-to-like manner, it was that she actually seemed to know what she was talking about. I have an automatic, and to me wholly reasonable, expectation that medical personnel working with patients should know more than I do. Fact is, I don't know all that much but then I don't treat sick people for a living either. Unfortunately my experience has been that almost universally the nurses and various technicians - and they do the vast bulk of the actual treatments - have known quite a lot less than I do. Perhaps it shouldn't, but that worries the hell out of me. I have many times now listened to a nurse talk about some aspect of cancer or its treatment and known that he or she was not only wrong but wasn't even in the right ballpark. But this woman seemed to know her stuff. I've since heard her make one silly mistake - referring to the humerus as the femur - but my high opinion of her stands.

The Oncologist himself was likewise fairly impressive. Unlike a lot of doctors - her surgeon had at times been one of them - he wasn't in the habit of treating his patient like a slightly retarded adolescent. He laid out what he thought the best course of treatment for her particular cancer would be, what the results would be, what her chances were, and presented her with a couple of options. He was more than willing to take as much time as she needed answering questions and such, we both got the sense that this guy really cared about her comfort level and her best health.

Unfortunately, with the exception of one of the secretaries who seems to basically single-handedly run the place, the rest of the oncology staff (presumably with the exception of the other Oncologists, none of whom we've dealt with) turned out to be a tad less than impressive. That hyper-competent and imminently nice secretary aside, the rest of the office staff doesn't seem to know how to tie their shoes without assistance. If the hyper-competent secretary isn't around for whatever reason the only way to get even something as simple as an appointment properly scheduled is to go to the head nurse - we learned early that if we needed or wanted to ask anything of importance find the hyper-competent secretary, the head nurse, or the doctor - as dealing with any of the rest of the office staff can be an excruciatingly frustrating experience.

The rest of the Oncology nursing staff ranges from the competent but surly to the ditzy but nice to... The Wicked Witch of the Chemo Ward. Competent but surly is a middle aged male nurse who is apparently the best at putting in IVs there is. He seems nice enough, if, well, a tad surly, it's almost as though he's mildly annoyed that all of these patients keep showing up in his cancer ward and he wishes they'd just go away and leave him the hell alone. The ditz is a tall blonde woman, extremely nice and very personable, who seems to have this almost preternatural talent for answering any question with the exact opposite of the right answer. Pretty much anything she says, you can figure the exact opposite is the case. And then there's The Wicked Witch of the Chemo Ward...

I'm extremely unfair to The Wicked Witch of the Chemo Ward, and I know it. I have no idea what it is about her, but from the first moment I saw her - long before she treated SWVCTM or I'd even heard her say a word at all - she set off every flag I've got. On rare occasion that happens with me, for no reason I can ever point to someone will set off my subconscious warning flags and I'll take an instant dislike to them. She's a short woman, late middle aged, thin as a rail, long kinky salt-n-pepper hair, and she has a penchant for new-agey style jewelry. I really have only one concrete reason to dislike her, but that didn't occur until quite a while later and otherwise she's always been nothing but pleasant to SWVCTM and understandably a bit confused by my habitual avoidance of her.

The one reason occurred the day after Christmas during the last of SWVCTM's first set of chemo treatments. One of the drugs they were giving SWVCTM is called Adriamycin and it's extremely nasty stuff. The dose they were giving her came in two 60ml syringes to be given via IV push over a period of fifteen minutes each. The stuff even looks nasty, it is an almost neon-red colour that seems to almost glow as if in warning. Despite all of the anti-nausea drugs they gave SWVCTM, when they started that IV push you could see it her hard, you could literally watch the nausea wash over her as this stuff entered her system. The Wicked Witch of the Chemo Ward was the one giving her this stuff for her last treatment and it was clear she was in a hurry. When she started the IV push the rate she was going at was going to finish both syringes in about five minutes rather than the prescribed half hour. It was way too fast and it was obviously making SWVCTM even sicker than this stuff normally did. Both SWVCTM and I asked her to slow down some, but instead she actually sped up the push, babbling something about how it was better to get it over with quickly. She was done before I could decide if throttling her on the spot would do any good.




After SWVCTM's nuking and checking in we sat in the main waiting room for an hour. That's pretty good, actually, the first time SWVCTM went for chemo we waited for four hours. I don't know if they overbook or are just not very good at estimating how much time they need for each treatment - probably a bit of both - but it's usually the case that they have more chemo patients than slots to put them so you have to wait for one to open up.

The actual chemo ward is a large rectangular room about twice as long as it is wide. Around the edge are set a dozen or so Lazyboy recliners - presumably special-made as they're on wheels and have frames that go out well behind the recliner so it would be virtually impossible to push one over. Next to each of these is a small freestanding cabinet, a biohazard waste holder, and an IV infusion stand. In the center of the room are two televisions, one facing each long end of the room.

SWVCTM picked a recliner and I pulled up a hard backed chair and sat next to her. After a few minutes The Wicked Witch of the Chemo Ward came over to put in the IV and get things started. She had a hard time finding a suitable vein, probably because SWVCTM was understandably a little tense. It'd been more than a year since we'd last been in the Chemo Ward and it's not exactly a place with a lot of happy memories attached.

The IV has to be fairly precisely placed and in her case it can only go in her right arm because the mastectomy was on the left side and, on top of that, the left arm is fractured. If it isn't placed just so, or if the vein is punctured, the rather nasty chemotherapy drugs will get out of the vein and into the tissue where they can cause quite a lot of damage - for obvious reasons, this is something to be avoided. Given the problems finding a vein and that chemotherapy is something that SWVCTM is going to be on for the foreseeable future, The Wicked Witch of the Chemo Ward suggested that SWVCTM might want to consider a port-a-cath. A port-a-cath is a device they install to make it easy to both take blood and do IVs. What they do is make an incision just below the collarbone and thread a tube down into the superior vena cava - the main vein that returns blood to the heart from your upper body (the rest of your body returning via the inferior vena cava). Once this is done there is a small metal "port" just below your collar bone that they can basically "plug into" whenever they need to take blood or give you an IV.

While The Wicked Witch of the Chemo Ward was quite right that, given the circumstances, this was probably a good idea, the thought didn't make SWVCTM very happy.




SWVCTM's mother suffered from a congenital neuro-degenerative disorder called Dystonia. In treating this they gave her a number of drugs, including one that was known to possibly cause cancer - the risk of cancer being deemed worth taking if it could slow down the effects of the degeneration. Eventually they did find cancer in her lungs, it was metastatic and her father says they were never entirely sure what the original source was - by that point it didn't much matter.

Her mother went through many of the same sorts of treatments that SWVCTM herself is going through now. Eventually, about thirteen years ago, the cancer killed her. For obvious reasons this makes things difficult for both SWVCTM and her father. One of the many steps they went through with SWVCTM's mother was the insertion of a port-a-cath and because it was done pretty much around the beginning of the end it has a particular significance for both SWVCTM and her father. For hopefully obvious reasons, SWVCTM is not too thrilled with the idea of getting one herself, though she acknowledges that it is probably something it would be best to do, and she worries about how her father is going to take it.




Once the IV is installed they set up a saline drip. The IV tube is rather a complicated affair with several ports on it both for other drips and for an IV push. It also has a device on it that when inserted into the infusion machine allows it to act as a kind of very accurate pump. They set the amount of something that they want to go into her and the rate they want it to go into her and the machine handles the rest. When it's done the machine beeps loudly and annoyingly - imagine your alarm clock, cubed - and as often as not several of these things attached to various patients around the room decide to go off at once.

Once they'd run the saline into her for a few minutes to make sure the lines were clear and that everything was working right, the first drug they set up was the anti-nausea agent. With her prior, much more intense, chemotherapy this entire arraignment had been much more complicated. This longer term and milder treatment was much simpler. Previously they'd had her take an oral anti-nausea agent for three days before and three days after, as well as an IV "booster" of the same drug. This time there was no before or after pill, just the IV. That was a twenty or thirty minute affair followed by a steriodal anti-inflammatory for another half hour or so and then more saline.

Next came the actual chemo drug, for this instance they're only using one drug instead of the previous one-two punch. It was a 500ml bag chock full of stuff nasty to your body but even nastier to cancer cells. That was going to take an hour and she was drifting off, trying to get a nap. I was feeling hungry - they'd given her lunch when she first sat down but I hadn't eaten much of anything all day and it was getting to be mid-afternoon.




On my way out, there's a small corridor off to one side that most of the patients don't know about but which connects the Cancer Center to the main hospital, I passed The Wicked Witch of the Chemo Ward.

"You're still here?" She asked.

She was joking, of course, she knew I'd be there pretty much the whole day. Several potential sarcastically biting responses flitted through my mind before I just mentally shook my head. What in the hell would be the point of trying to alienate her further? My subconscious flags and that one incident aside, I really had no reason to dislike this woman and, like it or not, I was going to be seeing a lot more of her in the coming months and, hopefully, years.

"Yeah," I responded with a smile, "if I'm here much more y'all will have to start charging me rent."

She smiled in response, truce signed and ratified.




I brought some pretzels and a fresh baked muffin back to SWVCTM, though I was only gone a few minutes she was awake by the time I got back. We chatted some but it was clear that she couldn't quite get comfortable. The problem was her back, it had started hurting her a few days before and was apparently starting to get to be a real problem. When we got a chance we talked to the head Oncology nurse about it and she suggested that SWVCTM see the Oncologist about it the next day.

After the chemo drug was done they ran the saline for a few minutes and then started with the anti-bone-dissolving drug. The chemo is going to be every three weeks for a while (six treatments, after which they'll let her body recover for a little bit, run more tests, and then start the whole thing over again), but the anti-bone-dissolving drug is every six weeks so she won't have to go through that one until the chemo treatment after the next one. It's a 1000ml bag and it takes two hours.

We'd gotten to the hospital at around twenty after ten in the morning, it was around six in the evening before they finished the final saline flush, disconnected the IV, and we could leave. Chemo makes for a very long day and a surprisingly stressful one considering that most of the time all you do is sit there.

I took her down to the hospital on Friday to get nuked as usual. Her back was quite a lot better, almost certainly because of the anti-inflammatory they'd given her, but she still needed to see the Oncologist about it. He wasn't going to be in until 2pm, so after she was nuked I took her to a bookstore a few miles from the hospital - SWVCTM has a voracious reading appetite - and then to lunch before heading back to the hospital.

Given that she has two mets in her spine the back pain wasn't any grand shock to the Oncologist, though it seemed clear he hadn't expected it to start this early. He called the Radiation Oncologist, but he'd apparently stepped out for a few minutes so they wanted us to go downstairs and wait. The long and short of it is that Monday she'll get her arm nuked as usual and on Tuesday they'll do the simulation and tattoos for the spinal mets so they can start nuking those as well.

And that's where things stand now - more nuking and chemo and pain pills, oh my! She's doing better, though, the chemo seemed to help the back quite a lot and the various treatments have helped her regain at least a little use of the arm. Hopefully with more radiation treatments and the chemo that will improve even more. Emotionally she's up and down, pretty much to be expected and for the most part there's more up than down. I'm forever amazed at how well she handles this, I think if it was me I'd be a total disaster area.

For those who've made it this far and haven't seen the other SWVCTM entries it occurred to me that I should include a list of them -

1) From the department of rants
2) The rest of the story (or, at least, part of it)
3) Everything is relative