Cancer and a Positive Spirit

Cancer and a Positive Spirit

My neighbor and friend, Pete, with his radiology team at the University of Minnesota. He’s giving a thumbs-up which reflects his positive spirit.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been privileged to accompany my friend Pete, a couple of times, to his radiation treatments.

It brought back memories of when I took Becky to her radiation treatments and the many emotions that I thought I’d packed away. But this was different. I knew what was going on and, most importantly, it wasn’t Becky. While I was concerned for Pete’s welfare, I was an observer.

Every cancer is different and every patient is too. The story that unfolds is unique and yet all too common.

I was walking down the alley after a light snowfall when I met Pete. He was shoveling his driveway. I stopped and we chatted  about the weather, reminiscent of the movie Fargo, and life in general. As I was about to go on my way, Pete quietly told me that he had cancer and that he was about to start radiation and chemo therapies.

I couldn’t believe it. Pete is one of the healthiest and active people I know and, yet, he had the Big C. Pete’s attitude, then and now, is very positive. He understands that the journey he is on has unknowns and that nothing is certain. Perhaps because of those uncertainties, Pete consciously decided that he would face it head-on cheerfully. He told me that being positive can manifest itself as an improved immune response and help the body fight the disease. A positive attitude also helps those that love and care for him.

Soon after talking with Pete I started getting occasional email progress reports that he sent to family and friends. They provided brief insights into his life as the treatments continued.

I offered to accompany Pete to treatment. Remembering Becky’s hard time with her radiation and chemo treatments and how despondent she could become, I anticipated that Pete would at some point begin to feel the effects of his treatments. To my surprise, Pete’s side effects were mild, although I suspect Pete would not agree since he had to give up coffee, wine and spicy food. He was able to drive himself to the hospital usually with his wife Kathi.

When I suggested taking pictures, Pete was immediately for it. So was the staff at UMN. Pete told me that all the staff that he interacted with were very caring. That was my impression too.

Radiation Treatment

In Pete’s case, treatment consisted of External Beam Radiation, radiation that, depending on the type of machine, can be either a stream of highly energetic particles or beams of X or gamma rays. The beam is focused directly at the tumor. All these types of radiation are dangerous to all living cells and that is why treatment requires extreme precision.

To insure that the treatment is on target it is necessary that the machine be aligned precisely and that the tumor does not move. To begin with, small calibration marks, crosses or dots, are tattooed on the body. They are used to align the machine. In the picture above there is a faint line of green light crossing Pete’s head and across his pillow. The reason the light is there is because he has not been positioned in the machine yet.

Next it is necessary to make certain that Pete will not move during his exposure to the beam. Depending on where the tumor is in the body, there are different molded forms that the person lies in. In the picture there is a form under Pete’s legs. Pete is also holding a red rubber ring which he will hold onto with both of his hands when in the machine. This will help stabilize his arms and upper torso.

Pete said of his treatments, “I’ve been getting a 10 minute cat-nap every day …”

Completing Treatment

Ringing_Bell_IMG_6685-2_LesPhillips

Pete and his wife Kathi, daughter Gretchen, and son Nick.

There is a ceremony when a patient completes their treatment. They ring the bell that is in the waiting area three times.

About a week ago, Pete rang the bell. Patients and staff applauded and cheered.  Pete told me that the following day he collapsed, “Like you do after studying for an exam, where you’ve worked hard for weeks and your exhausted.”

As always, Pete is optimistic and already thinking of drinking coffee and eating spicy food.

References

National Cancer Institute, Fact Sheet, Radiation Therapy for Cancer.

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Bragging Rights

Bragging Rights

Lake Harriet Kite Festival 01/18/2014

In recent years Minnesotans have been feeling a little under appreciated. Climate change has moderated Minnesota winters during the last 10 years. Yes, we have an ongoing drought but we share that distinction with about one-third of the nation, with California by far the worst. No distinction there.

However, 2014 has started off a little better.

According to homeowner insurance studies Minnesota is the state with greatest amount of weather related damage. This implies that our weather is highly changeable with extremes of temperature and temperament. But it isn’t the kind of thing that makes the nation sit up and pay attention.

And there was the report that said that the Twin Cities is the healthiest place in the country. No thanks to me. That’s nice too but who pays attention to that kind of news?

Enter the winter of 2013/14. Periodically during the last two months Minnesota has been front and center on the national weather report. There we are the darkest blue of all states. (Oh yeah, North Dakota often gets the weather we do but nobody lives in North Dakota permanently so it doesn’t count.)

Every time Al Roker or whomever mentions Minnesota or Minneapolis and the arctic weather I get a warm feeling of pride under my four layers of clothes. Currently in Minneapolis the temperature is -10 F with a windchill of -28 F. We’re colder than:

  • Anchorage, Ak. 32 F
  • Barrow, Ak. 4 F with windchill -16 F
  • Valdez, Ak. 36 F with windchill 32 F
  • Qaanaaq, Greenland, 0 F with windchill -18 F.
  • Reykjavik, Iceland, 37 F with windchill 28 F
  • Bouvet Island, Antarctica, 33 F
  • Casey Station,Antarctica,  29 F
  • Fossil Bluff Station, Antarctica, 20 F

You see what I mean: Bragging rights.

On my favorite HBO series, Game of Thrones, they warn, “Winter Is Coming!”

Hell, Winter Is Here!

The picture is of a kite flyer at this year’s Lake Harriet Kite Festival. She was getting the hang of her new kite before bringing her grandchildren to the lake to fly it.

 

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Modern: What’s In A Word

Modern: What's In A Word

Modern Times Cafe, Minneapolis, MN   12/12/2013

Built in 1909, the Modern has had an interesting past. Most recently as a restaurant in an ethnic neighborhood. But before there was the Modern Times Cafe there had been:

  • Meat Market
  • Dry Cleaners
  • CFC Restaurant and Cafeteria
  • El Plebe Restaurant
  • La Isla del Kora
  • Mogadishu Restaurant

The sign is in the manner of Art Deco or Style Moderne that was popular after World War I. It was installed by the Modern Dry Cleaners. At some point, the dry cleaner left, the sign was removed and stored in basement. By some miracle, it wasn’t destroyed and eventually the folks of the current Modern Times Cafe returned it to its rightful place.

What’s in a Word

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word Modern refers to something that is of the present or near past, contemporary, up-to-date or new. Thus we in the United States live in the modern world.

Yet some crave a post modern world. Postmodern, again defined by M-W, relates to a movement or theory in reaction to modernity. This takes the form of returning to more traditional practices and beliefs.  Most importantly, M-W says that post modern is, “… relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language <postmodern feminism>. ”

Today, our society is in a wirrwarr (1). There are two political philosophies engaged in a tug-of-war. One is the postmodern Tea Party which wants to return to a time of harsh religious certitude, racial and economic oppression that was the Dickensian dog-eat-dog society of the Victorians. The postmodern Tea Party draws its strength from unchanging 19th century religious dogma and early 20th century economics.

On the other hand, the modernist Liberal-Progressive movement looks to the past and present for ideas and values to build a better future. These modernists are identified by a continued  growing social awareness that led in the past to the development of the labor movement, women’s suffrage, civil rights, environmental awareness and more. Today they are involved in protecting these gains from encroachment by the postmoderns.

The Tea Party is ultimately doomed to fail because it represents an inflexible world view that strictly relies on limited moral and social model. They will fail because they are trying to take away hard-won liberties and freedoms gained over a hundred years of struggle. For the post modernists, change is only good when reverting to a previous, idolized age.

On the other hand, the Liberal-Progressive movement embraces the need for society to change into something new and better. They are building on the foundations of the past but are also willing to evaluate and incorporate the latest sound ideas.  History is on the side of the Liberal-Progressives. Its arch bends towards growing social justice and expanding personal opportunity.

With the immense crisis facing the modern world, it will take modern thinking to pull our bacon from the fire. We must evaluate the successes and failures of earlier movements and develop a knowledgeable approach to solving our problems.

The modern dilemma is how to stop our headlong rush towards environmental and social destruction while protecting individual liberties, overhauling capitalism so that we keep its positive aspects, such as incentives, yet eliminate the excesses, i.e. the sequestration of wealth and power amongst a few.

Caveat

In the short-term, no outcome is assured. What happens in a week, month or a year depends on which group, post modern or modern, is able to better express their view of the future and engage their cohort most effectively.

(1) Wirrwarr, pronounced virvar, and meaning, “A state of confusion or disorder; (also) a confused mass, a jumble.”  Derived from 15th century German, it first appears in English usage about 1876 with a treatise by J. Grote, Moral Ideals, (1876) on page 392,   “The wirrwarr of the Newtonian or true view of the material universe.”

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Edgar Allen Poe and the Snow Angle

Edgar Allen Poe and the Snow Angle

Clean Water Action activist braving -10F windchill to spread the word about toxic chemicals in children’s products.

Last night, as the winter darkness froze into place and an arctic wind chilled the air to -10F, I settled down in front of the TV to watch the PBS News Hour.

Then …

Once upon a winter night dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious story of national impor’,

suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Who could be out on this bleak December eve?

I stood repeating
`’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door; –

I peered into the darkness expecting – my lost Lenore.
Instead, an Angle – in her Minnesota splendor – stood smiling at my door.
“Tell me Winter Spirit”, said I, “how may I help you with your chore?”
“I come asking for money,” the vision said, “to help protect children and much more.”
She enthralled me with her stories of Clean Water Action,
And as she talked my giving heart gathered traction.

I scribbled my a donation – fearful that in my distraction
that I might not look again on the angelic face framed by bears ears and trade jacket.
The apparition smiled serenely as I asked if I might try to capture her allure.
Then she was gone back into December’s night,
And I – returning to the TV racket – was warmed by the Angel’s altruism, simple and pure.

My apologies to Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven, all the poets of the world, and the young woman activist who braved an arctic night.

Clean Water Action is involved in a variety of campaigns including: removing toxic chemicals from of children’s products, water purity (as the name states), fracking, removing 100 hazardous chemicals from common adult products, power plant pollution, climate change, and much more.

For more information concerning activities in your state go to Clean Water Action.

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Winter and Memories of Sete, France

Winter and Memories of Sete, France

These doorways in Sete are quintessential southern France and an example of Mediterranean color theory.

With less than a month until the shortest day of the year I’ve been craving color. Forecasters are predicting snow for tomorrow. This may be the snow that is the tipping point and forms the base for the rest of the season.

In the north, Winter’s palette is austere. Even the clear blue skies seem drained of vitality by the cold.

To add to my sense of a Great Plains winter, I’ve been reading novels by Willa Cather (see Apology to Willa Cather … ).  Her stories of the plains at the turn of the 20th century give a glimpse into an America before the world wars, economic depressions, atomic weapons and climate crisis. Yet even in these books I can see the sowing of the seeds of destruction that would lead to the Dust Bowl.

Right now it is her portrayal of winter on the plains that strikes a chord with me. Cather understood that winter is much more than weather. Winter is a living thing that like the ducks and geese, migrates along ancient routes. It descends from the arctic ice above frozen Siberia, flows through the dark forests of Canada and eventual roosts in the plains where it builds its snow drift nests.

Winter means hunger. Fat squirrels and deer will grow thin while winter remains.

Winter also means a hunger for color. This has led me to dig through my photos for colorful memories that will replenish me for the next 5 months.

The photo above was taken in September of 2002, in the seaside town of Sete.  At one time Sete had been a major fishing and ship building port. Now, its maritime industries are diminished and supplemented by tourism. It still has a lively harbor and great seafood.

So as winter freezes the color from the world outside, I’ll be indoors feasting on the colors of the past.

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Invisible People, Invisible Work

Invisible People, Invisible Work

Kevin and Jay Collecting Yard Refuse

A couple of days ago I was taking my trash out when the garbage truck pulled up. It’s getting towards the end of the lawn cleaning period, before winter settles in, and they were picking up lawn refuse. I grabbed my camera and walked with them as they went down the alley. This is what I learned.

Kevin, Jay and a third man who was driving the truck had been on the route since 6 a.m. and now it was mid morning. The truck was almost full, meaning that it was carrying about 9 tons of waste. Because they were picking up bagged lawn debris they couldn’t use the hydraulic lifts on the truck and had to manually lift and throw them into truck’s maw.

The bags have a 30 gallon capacity and their weight can vary dramatically due to what is stuffed into them.

Kevin and Jay hustled all the way. Moving at a brisk walk they formed a two-man swarm that efficiently attacked each pile of bags. The lighter bags they threw and the heavier ones they dragged over to the truck and heaved them in. It was strenuous work. They would continue until about 6 p.m.

Kevin proudly told me that he was a partial owner in the truck and collection license.

They’ll be back in a week for regular service and perhaps I’ll be able to pick up our conversation then.

We see these folks every day, driving their humpbacked trucks and picking up our trash. We include them into our busy routines without thinking about it. We separate recyclable from the trash and make certain that everything is ready for pick up on scheduled days.  During the spring, summer and fall we bundle our lawn waste in proscribed ways so that it can be removed. On certain days, we put our old furniture and appliances out so that they can be hauled away.

Yet, what do we really know about these invisible people who are the muscle and blood of modern life?  It turns out, very little.

When I Was a Kid

At Christmas time, my mother would prepare a series of envelopes with a card and some money. These were for the invisible people who made our world better: newspaper boy, mailman, and the garbage man. My mother knew each of them by name and would talk to them when they came by. They were working people and they were respected in our house.

My folks believed that there was nobility in work. It didn’t matter what you did, so long as you tried your best, your work was important and deserved respect. If mother caught me slacking off or complaining about chores she would remind me of the garbage men and how their work required heavy lifting, working in all kinds of weather, and dealing with other folks waste. It was their job and they excelled at it without complaining.

My folks taught me that, inherent in the idea of respecting work, was the idea of equality. If I worked I was the equal to any other man regardless of their job, wealth or importance. I believe that still.

Today 

Today, the idea of egalitarianism born of work is derided and ridiculed. We live in a country that glorifies wealth and derides work. The people who hold our society together, the garbage men, mailmen, police, firemen, teachers, municipal workers and the vast numbers in the services industries are poorly paid and abused by the rest of society.

We have become a country of moneyed elites whose main goal appears to be to denigrate the rest of society while amassing vast wealth and power. Since when is the life of a hedge fund manager or banker more perilous than that of a fireman or highway worker or teacher or a garbage man?

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All Hallow’s Eve

All Hallow's Eve

The picture above is from a couple of days ago when it was still sunny and not cold. Today is overcast, wet and damp: perfect weather for the March of the Sugar Crazed Zombies.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It appeals to my heathen Celtic roots when they got naked, painted themselves blue and white, and frightened the be-jeezus out of the Romans.  It became a time-honored tradition right up until now, although we’ve put away our broadswords and taken up candy bags.

Don’t be fooled. There is still a crazed, blue and white, Celt child lurking just beneath the $6.00 plastic Iron Man mask.

A Few Fun Facts About the Dead

Do you know why a dead body is taken from the house feet first? 
Because it orients the corpse’s eyes away from where it is coming from and towards where it is going. In that way, the ghost won’t be able to find its way back home.  And you thought it might have something to do with dropping the body on its head.

Did you know that there were special roads for carrying corpses to the church and graveyard?
These ancient paths, called lich or spirit roads, ran all over medieval Europe. People were very careful to build their structures away from the lich roads for fear that roaming spirits might enter their homes. These roads led up to churches and through special lich gates into the graveyard, at one time called lich fields, and to a special door into the church. How did the departed get to the church? They were carried feet first of course.

What’s A Dead Ringer?
One of the greatest fears was that you might be buried alive, which wasn’t as silly as it might sound. Because graveyards were often used and reused, it wasn’t unheard of for the gravedigger to unearth older burials while digging a new one. Thus they discovered evidence of folks buried alive.  To prevent this, people began attaching a string to the hand of the deceased and ran it to a bell above ground. For a few nights after a burial, a lamp would be lit by the bell and grave and it was responsibility of the graveyard caretaker to stay up all night and listen for any bells. If he heard a bell, it was a Dead Ringer.

When Did People Start Burying The Dead?
The number varies but it is safe to say that the first intentional burial, implying a belief in an afterlife, occurred about 100,000 years ago. It was performed by our cousins the Neanderthals. They included tools and artifacts with the dead who was buried in a fetal position. There is a chance that it actually began 350,000 years ago with Homo heidelbergensis, the progenitor of Humans and Neanderthals.  Flowers were first included in burials about 13,000 years ago. Thus there is evidence that we and our ancestors have believed in some form of afterlife for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years.

Time to Party
Many cultures and faiths believe that there is a specific time when the veil between the living and dead becomes very thin and it is possible to temporarily crossover. For Christians that is this evening and the following couple of nights.  For many this is a time of celebration and reconnecting with those that have passed over.

BOOOOO

 

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The Most Colorful Time of the Year

The Most Colorful Time of the Year

A Late Autumn Afternoon On My Street

Autumn is my favorite season. The weather fronts that had been blowing north from the south or southwest bringing heat and humidity have been replaced with air flowing in from the northwest and north. Winds wring the moisture from the air in the form of cold rain or sleet or snow flurries.

Fall is the most colorful time of year with its blazing trees, autumnal flowers, and dramatic skies. On a clear day, the sky is an infinite blue, its hue unique to this time of year. The colors are made more vibrant by the angle of the sun as it rapidly heads southward, stealing hours from the day.

I even enjoy the shortening days with their late sunrises and premature dusk. Twilight comes and goes in an instant replaced by a chilly darkness. Street lamps seem to glow warmer as the temperature drops.

It is a melancholy time too. The freedom of summer and its long days of light rapidly transitions into the cold and darkness with its promise of months of sterile white and black. In the air, rich with the smell of damp fallen leaves, there is a soft whisper of passing.  The annuals are dead and the rest of the world is preparing for a deep sleep. Song birds make fleeting appearances at my bird feeders as they migrate from Canada southward to the Gulf of Mexico or Central America. They seldom stay longer than a couple of days before they too are gone and silence settles in for the next five months.

Autumn is like the final fireworks salute at the end of a July 4th night. A flamboyant display of over the top colors and lights that even after they are done leaves visual memories on the backs of your eyes. Long after the leaves have fallen I will continue to see their ghosts shimmering in the cold wet darkness.

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Fall Motorcycling In the Driftless

Fall Motorcycling In the Driftless

Virgil and Peter Taking A Break.

Recently, my buddy Virgil and I rode our bikes to Winona to see the exhibits at the Minnesota Maritime Art Museum.  We made the trip a two-day ride so that we could take time to go through the portion of the Driftless Region that lies in Wisconsin.

The Driftless Region spans portions of four states, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The Driftless, unlike much of the land in these states that was bulldozed flat by glaciers,  it is an area of rolling hills, forested river valleys, and bluffs. The Mississippi River cuts through the Driftless with imposing bluffs and cliffs on both sides of the river. In addition, because the countryside is so rolling, farming is difficult and the number of people using the roads is low.  It is a beautiful, quiet place to ride a bicycle or motorcycle.

We met my brother-in-law Peter in the small town of Nelson that overlooks the Mississippi. Nelson is one of a string of small river towns that follow the river all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Peter lives in the area and rides in the valleys frequently. If anyone can give us a guided tour, its him.

I had planned on taking loads of pictures but the ride was so lovely that I gave up the idea and just enjoyed the seeping curves and views. Sometimes being in the moment is what’s needed, no agendas, tasks, etc.

I have to trust that I’ll return again for the photography.

 

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Orchid and Flame and the Anthropocene

Orchid and Flame and the Anthropocene

Last year was drought and this Spring has been wet, overcast, and cool: for now the drought is a distant memory.

Anthropocene

I’ve been thinking about the new epoch we are living in, the Anthropocene. It is the first historical period in which man completely dominates the biosphere. Like most major shifts in geological history it didn’t happen overnight, unlike the die-offs caused by asteroids hitting the planet.

And like most things human there is disagreement.

Many geologists argue that we are in the Holocene, meaning “entirely recent” and have been for 11,700 years. (1) The reasoning being that each period has a clearly defined geological layer, the last of which was about 12,000 years ago with the ending of our most recent ice age.

Environmentalists and a growing number of scientists have begun to use the term Anthropocene, meaning “age of humans”  because they believe that there are enough human caused changes in the biosphere to require a new and more accurate name for the time we live in. These folks point to the massive wave of extinctions that are occurring now, the melting of ice caps and glaciers all over the world, the accelerating rise in sea levels, and the changing of the composition of the atmosphere.  Similar events occurred during earlier geological transitions. Instead of the geologists, it is the anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians that are providing the evidence.

The Anthropocene was a long time in coming and is the result of the accumulative actions of we humans. The tipping point was about 3,000 years ago (2) when human society began developing the institutions we are familiar with today, farming, domesticated animals, population centers like towns and cities, technologies like metallurgy and ceramics, and a rapidly expanding population. It is then that we begin to see our ancestors intentionally alerting the landscape to fit their needs. Even then they diverted rivers, clear cut forests, hunted animals to extinction, and genetically modified animals and plants through cross-breeding.

Proof that we live in the Anthropocene is elegantly simple. Compare the world of 12,000 years ago to now against the human population then and now.  There are over 7.1 billion human beings on the planet now (3).

Orchid and Flame

Despite its fragile beauty, the orchid is a hardy plant. It has to be if it is to survive in my house.  They are found around the world and have been admired and used since antiquity.  An example is Tlilxochitl, a vine orchid, which was grown by Aztecs for its perfume and use in food. (4)  Today we call it vanilla.

Orchid and Flame started as a straightforward portrait of an orchid growing in my kitchen window and then it wasn’t.

Make of it what you will.

 

(1)  What is the Anthropocene and Are We in It?  Joseph Stromberg, Smithsonian
       Magazine, 01/2013.

(2)  The Long Anthropocene: Three Millenia of Humans Shaping the Earth, The
       Breakthrough Institute, Erle Ellis, 05/01/2013

(3)  Current World Population, worldometers: Real Time World Statistics,
       www.worldometers.info/world-population/

(4)  Early History of Orchids, Orchid Run,
       www.orchidrun.net/index.php?lay=show&ac=article&Id=538760802

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