The Cancer Diaries, Part 24

Finish line aheadMy final week of radiation treatment is here. I should have felt elated that I would no longer be required to drive every day for an hour or more each way as I have for the past six weeks. Everyone told me it would go by in a flash, but it seems to have dragged on and on. I felt curiously empty when the new week dawned and the end was in sight.

It’s been a difficult time — almost a year since my PSA test showed something was seriously wrong, and seven months since my surgery. While most of the time, I’m optimistic, some days it’s hard to be upbeat. I guess that’s in part because there are still a lot of unknowables about my condition; I don’t know yet what my future holds. There is still more hormone treatment coming, and a likelihood of further treatment, like chemotherapy. Not looking forward to that.

Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.
Job 5:7

Emotionally, physically, and mentally this treatment process has sometimes been draining. A lot like walking uphill in knee-deep snow: you have to keep pushing yourself forward, one step at a time. Some days I feel fine; others I drag myself out of bed, stumble through my ablutions, and fall into the car to drive for treatment. All without any enthusiasm or optimism.

It’s been modestly expensive for a retiree, too. The cost of drugs, diapers, and pads, coupled with the daily cost of driving and parking have added up. I keep reminding myself that if we lived in the USA and had to pay the full costs of everything rather than have most of it covered by our healthcare system, we would either have become bankrupt, or I would have died without treatment. Probably the latter, since I would not want to put Susan into poverty. The number of Americans who claim bankruptcy because of medical bills is staggering. I am glad to live in Canada.

During the past year, I’ve not engaged in several of the activities I have previously enjoyed, because I was either in a frail, post-operative state, encumbered with a catheter and urine bag, or simply feeling listless and sore. I can’t recall the last time I made bread or pasta, two things I used to love to do. I missed a lot of long walks around town with Susan and our dog, too. I didn’t exercise — the rowing machine in the basement went unused. At least I’ve kept up my reading. Perhaps come spring I will be back to a more ‘normal’ life and recovered enough so that I can do everything as I did in the past.

I can take heart that my fears about bad weather have not materialized this winter. It’s been unseasonably dry and warm these past few weeks. Were I a religious man, I would thank whatever weather god(s) I followed for the lack of snow — Wikipedia lists dozens of weather deities, including Thor, Jupiter, Raijin, K’awiil, Horus, Marduk, and many more, but none listed specifically as a snow (or no-snow) god. However, different searches gave me Chione (Khione), Ullr, Frau Holle, Morana, Skadi, Boreas, Hoder, Iokul Frosti, Morozko, Polivah, and a few others who controlled the snow. Who knew there were so many? I suppose I should just thank them all. Isn’t it usual to sacrifice a politician at an altar for this?

But, I remind myself, as Dr. David Orenstein recently asked in a piece at the Humanist.com, “Doesn’t rational truth sustain us better than magical thinking?” He also asks,

Are we so stymied by the present that we neglect learning about the past? Or are we so consumed by the present that we cannot collectively imagine a positive future? And why, for instance, is science and expertise viewed by many with suspicion or as a threat?

Traditional winter weather will come later in the month, starting a day or two after my treatment is over. I take heart that spring is only seven weeks away (cue the laugh track). The next big, province-wide lockdown also gets put in place this week.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 24”

Musings of a B-Film Junkie

The Gorilla, 1939
I put a DVD of the 1939 film, The Gorilla, into the player and sat back to watch. Bela Lugosi (above, centre) starred beside the Ritz Brothers (trio above), a popular American comedy trio contemporary with the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, and the Marx Brothers. This would be the last year the Ritz Brothers worked for Fox; they stopped making films entirely in 1943. It’s the first full film of theirs I’ve seen, but am not impressed.

Lugosi is best known for his starring role in the 1931 film, Dracula. After which he was typecast as the villain, mostly in horror and monster films. Some of which were great (or at least watchable for those who love the genres), many weren’t. Despite his attempts to get into other genres, most of his roles stayed in that narrow vein, mostly in B-films. His final “A” film was the 1948 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (which I would personally have rated a B-plus-film), but he continued making B- and C-films until 1955, the year before his death. In the mid-1930s, he played the protagonist in the entertaining fantasy, Chandu the Magician, and later its 12-part sequel, The Return of Chandu.

But sometime in the mid-1930s, Lugosi had become addicted to morphine and later methadone, administered for painful sciatica, and only checked into a clinic for help in 1955. By then it was too late: he died in ’56.

The Ritz Brothers, in this film, look like poor mimics of other comedy groups. And where each character in the Marx Brothers or Three Stooges was unique, with highly differentiated styles, dialogue, and acting, the Ritz Brothers seemed interchangeable clones: indistinguishable from one another. Their work here seems derivative and thin.

The Gorilla was shot in black and white, of course, although colour movies were already being made (Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz being the two most famous). It co-starred Lionel Atwill, a polished English actor with a string of credits to his name; this, however, was not his best work. Nor was it Lugosi’s. Although I’ve enjoyed many of his films, in this one he felt wooden; going through the motions without any real effort. 

The GorillaBilled as a “horror-comedy,” I hoped it would be better — much better — than it was, something more along the Chandu lines. While not the worst B-film I’ve ever seen, it’s a long way from the best. And I’ve seen worse gorilla costumes in movies. Not often, however.

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Where is Collingwood’s Pandemic Response?

StumpedI admit I am stumped. I have been looking online to find something that tells me what Collingwood council has done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. I’m looking for real, concrete, measurable steps, things that benefit our community; things that residents and businesses can point to and say “This helped me survive.”

I don’t want to read about promises, nor bloviations, nor self-serving proclamations with all the substance of a bad dream. We get enough vapid, banal content from our shambolic council already. Watching a council meeting is like being trapped in an elevator with a serial farter who won’t stop talking. This, however, is important. They’ve had a year to create plans, to assign money, to reach out, to help residents, and do something positive and meaningful. I’d like something we, as a community, can boast about. But I can’t find anything.

Now, just because I can’t find any indication of anything substantive online doesn’t mean they haven’t done it. Perhaps I missed it. With such threadbare local media content, I might have simply overlooked a story. So I am calling on my readers to fill me in: tell me what positive, concrete solutions council has approved, how that has helped you, what funds they have used to help the community, how much money you have received. Please, if you know them, answer my questions below.

But before I offer some questions, let’s consider some things about Collingwood. We have a higher-than-average number of seniors here, and a large segment of people working in the hospitality and service sectors. We have a lot of people on either fixed incomes or in minimum-wage jobs who are vulnerable to layoffs and lockdowns. We also have a lot of seniors in long-term-care facilities. Surely all of these are the most vulnerable people in our community, most at risk from challenges caused by the pandemic. Surely a compassionate, caring, moral council would have immediately reached out to help these groups first, right?

After all, the town takes your money: surely council can give some of it back in a time of great need to help the community. That would be the ethical and the moral thing to do, right?

So what did they do? And where are the stories about it? Surely our sycophantic local media would be praising our council to the heavens if they actually did something.

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The Cancer Diaries, Part 23

Happy New YearI started the New Year with another welcome three days off, with the final third of my radiation treatment ahead in the next few weeks.

I can’t say I’ve ever been quite as happy to see a year pass as I have with 2020. As if the widening pandemic, lockdowns, Trump’s madness and treason, the nail-biting US elections, the stupid and selfishanti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, the QAnon idiocy spreading among the gullible, Brexit, Jason Kenney and the UCP destroying Canadian unity as well as Alberta, the waste of $9 million locally for the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI), and Erin O’Toole’s election as Conservative leader weren’t enough to drive a person around the bend or at least into despair, I had to get cancer as well. It has been the worst year of my life, but I suspect a lot of people feel that way about it, even without having cancer.

Susan and I had a subdued New Year’s Eve, Thursday, ordering a takeout meal from a local restaurant. In previous years we would have gone out to celebrate the New Year and toast the anniversary since we met. This was our 38th, and we celebrated over dinner at home and a glass of wine from a box (at least it’s Ontario wine). Susan has been the continued light in my dark year.

We capped off the night with a mediocre movie, then a Star Trek: Next Generation episode (we’re re-watching the series for the third time), followed by an hour or so of reading in bed. Exciting, aren’t we? Didn’t even stay up until midnight to see in the start of the new decade. But it’s not like I got a full night’s sleep: my hot “flashes” and full bladder woke me up several times, as they do every night. 

I would like to see my way through the next decade — 2021-2030 — assuming that my various treatments kill off, or at least manage my cancer sufficiently. I’d like to live to at least 80, although both my parents reached their 90s, as did my maternal grandfather and paternal aunt. I figure it’ll take the next decade just to finish reading all the books I’ve bought in the past few years. I have a duty to read them all. The average life expectancy for men in Canada is 79.9 years. I’d like to be at least average in this aspect.

The five-year survival rate for prostate cancer that is restricted to the prostate and immediate area is almost 100%. That’s a cause for hope. But it falls to a low 31% if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. I don’t know where I fit in that, but suspect from comments made by my urologist after surgery, and the need for subsequent, lengthy treatment after it, that it may have spread further. So I may be in the latter group. If in the former, then my chances of reaching the next decade are 98% and 15 years is 96%. I live in hope. But less than one in three if it has spread. It’s a question I’ll have to ask either my urologist or the oncologist at our next meeting.

A recent study in the USA showed that “…people who have survived cancer in adulthood have a greater risk of developing and dying from new cancers than people in the general population.” That’s not encouraging. The article added,

It is well-known that people who have survived cancer typically have a greater risk of being diagnosed with the disease again, even if their first cancer has been successfully treated. In many cases, this is recurrence of the original cancer or metastatic disease related to the original cancer. It is also not uncommon for treatments for the primary cancer to unfortunately cause another cancer, but in many cases this link is hard to definitively prove. The American Cancer Society study looked at new cancers thought to be unrelated to the first cancer diagnosis.

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Point to Point: The Book From the Ground

The Book From the GroundA few years back, during one of our Toronto mini-vacations, I was browsing in the shop of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I came across a small book that had no words, just pictures. No, it wasn’t a book with pictures of artworks or photographs: it was a story, told entirely through common icons, symbols, and emoticons. Pictograms, looking not unlike a modernized version of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

There wasn’t even a book title on the cover. There were no instructions, no guides, no hints, no translations. The reader had to figure out what the story was about by him- or herself. Translating it is not based on any particular culture or language; the “language” in it is globally understandable. On Xu Bing’s own website, it notes:

The book is written in a way that any reader, regardless of his or her cultural or educational background, can understand. As long as one lives within the contemporary society, he or she will be able to interpret the book.

It was Xu Bing’s Point to Point, part of his Book From the Ground project (created between 2003 and 2012; a project that is much more complex than just a book). As you might expect from an avid reader, I bought a copy. I was intrigued by the premise and took it as a challenge to “read” it myself. But I was also awed by both the audacity of the idea, and, as an aficionado of language, by the brilliance of it.

I was also struck by how ubiquitous were these symbols he uses; so much so that ‘translating’ the lines into prose was not particularly difficult; merely time-consuming. And that was mostly because we are used to seeing these symbols and emoticons as single-function graphics; not in verbal form or in the syntax we expect for sentences. The symbols lend themselves to prosaic, even dull reading, not abstract concepts, so the ‘story’ is rather unexciting by modern novel standards. It’s more like a diary: 24 hours in the life of the generic Mr. Black.

Mr. Black is Dilbert, without the cynical/sarcastic banter, without the jokes on cube life, without the cast of wacky characters, yet trapped within the same day-to-day corporate life.

ArtReview wrote of the book:

From Point to Point, part of Xu Bing’s wider project Book from the Ground, is a 112-page novel depicting 24 hours in the life of an ordinary office worker, Mr Black, from seven one morning to seven the next, as he wakes, eats breakfast, goes to work, meets friends, looks for love online and goes out on a date. The book has punctuation marks, but no text; in place of words there are pictograms, logos, illustrative signs and emoticons, all taken from real symbols in use around the world. The artist has collated these over a period of seven years and used them to devise a universal ideographic language, in theory understandable by anyone engaged with modern life.

Page from The Book From the GroundAt the same time I bought the book, I wanted to learn more about the artist who created it, how he accomplished it, and what he was trying to say about language and symbols. So I bought a second book to help me understand: Mathieu Borysevicz’s The Book about Xu Bing’s Book from the Ground. This explained the project and Xu’s processes, his computer work, and explored responses to his work.

In 2015 and 2016, Xu Bing created separate day and night (respectively) pop-up versions of his book, described on his website as “making this universally readable book more playful and amusing.” I have yet to get either, but I’m tempted.

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Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra


We recently watched the Darmok episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, my third time seeing it, and I was struck again at how brilliant and quirky it was. Possibly the best of all the ST:NG’s 178 episodes. And, apparently, a lot of other fans agree with my assessment. Wikipedia describes it:

The alien species introduced in this episode is noted for speaking in metaphors, such as “Temba, his arms wide”, which are indecipherable to the universal translator normally used in the television series to allow communication across different languages. Captain Picard is abducted by these aliens and marooned with one other of them on the surface of a planet, and must try to communicate.


You can read the episode’s transcript here. Here’s a sample:

TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: Kadir beneath Mo Moteh.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: The river Temarc! In winter.
(that wipes the smiles off their faces)
PICARD: Impressions, Number One?
RIKER: It appears they’re trying their best.
PICARD: As are we. For what it’s worth.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Shaka, when the walls fell. (to his officer) Darmok.
TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: (aghast) Darmok? Rai and Jiri at Lungha!
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Shaka. When the walls fell.
TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: Zima at Anzo. Zima and Bakor.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Darmok at Tanagra.
TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: Shaka! Mirab, his sails unfurled.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Darmok.
TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: Mirab.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Temarc! The river Temarc.
(Dathon takes his aides dagger, and his own, and holds them out)
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

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