The Cancer Diaries, Part 22

Three days off over Xmas from the daily drive felt like a longer holiday, although it wasn’t enough time for my bowels to heal properly. So far an irritable bowel, reduced urine stream, and my hot “flashes” (or surges) are the only side effects I’ve noticed. They are, however, enough to make me less than comfortable at times.

I was warned I might feel fatigued, too; not just the normal state of being tired from too little sleep (what with pets and hot “flashes”), but deep fatigue. Not yet, but I still have three weeks of treatment to go, so perhaps it will come in the future.

For anyone wishing a “white Christmas” this year, we certainly got it. Starting Friday, Dec. 25, it snowed continually for three days and I shovelled or blew snow from the front walk and driveway numerous times. The snow and cold curtailled our dogwalking somewhat since Bella is a small, shorthaired dog and gets cold feet easily. Most walks were a mere circle around two or three blocks (800-1,300 m). We did manage one nice, long walk through Harbourview Park on Sunday, the only real outing we had. But it was a pretty weekend: I spent my time indoors: blogging, and playing World of Tanks and some other computer games when not reading. Outside, I shovelled.

And while it’s not cancer-related, as my Xmas present to myself, I ordered an ASUS gaming monitor (on sale) for my laptop, in large part to be able to both play games and to watch movies (the former on my laptop, the later through a Blu-ray/DVD player). I like the B-films from my large collection of scifi and monster B-films. Susan doesn’t care to watch, so I have to see them by myself. The gaming monitor has a headphone jack that will let me watch them without disturbing her with the sounds of some rubber-suited monster stomping on papier mâché cities.

What worries me is the weather forecast for the coming week: snow, wind, and cold. That doesn’t bode well for traffic conditions. But perhaps the weather will be mild enough it doesn’t stay around for very long.

Radiation treatment, 21st session

Warmer temperatures brought rain that has begun to wash away the snow. The ski hills at Blue Mountain would be weeping over the warm weather, if it weren’t for the fact they are closed for the COVID lockdown. The drive to Barrie was quick, dry,  and painless. The treatment was quick, and painless, too.

The hospital coffee shops, gift shops, and a lot of the medical and social services were shut down for Boxing Day. The cancer care treatment centre remained open. No big lineup was at the entrance waiting to get in, today, and almost everyone ahead of me was headed for the cancer centre, as I was. The atrium was eerily empty of people.

Today, it seemed the waiting rooms held mostly people in poor condition, suffering, and perhaps in pain. It felt more like a place where people wait to die rather than come to get treatment. Compared to most of the people I saw in my short time there, I am very much alive. Still, it is somewhat depressing to again be reminded that everyone in this room is here for one reason: we all have cancer.

I didn’t have too long to wait for my treatment, but I did manage to get a few pages further into Edward Humes’ Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. it’s a fascinating book that gives me a whole new insight into shipping, consumer goods, transportation, cargo containers, and all things related. Got my schedule for next week, and spoke to the nurse to briefly review my treatment, as we usually do every Monday.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 22”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 18

Radiation treatment, 2nd session

radiation machinery or linear accelerator (LINAC)Same process as the first one, albeit a little shorter time to get ready since I already knew what was expected of me, and what items to disrobe. No hiccups or delays. I lie down, get positioned by the therapists, then the bed moves back towards the machinery (the linear accelerator, or LINAC).
Like some hulking scifi machinery, the arms swivel, the X-ray panels extend, and they slowly rotate over my abdomen. their work done, these panels retract and the radiation machinery is positioned. It, too, rotates around me. And then it’s done, and the bed extends back into the room so I can dismount and get dressed. Took perhaps 15 minutes total. Stopped in the hospital atrium for a cup of coffee before driving home. Am on disc 10 of the 35-CD Don Quixote audiobook. Traffic was moderate, weather fair both ways.

No treatments over the weekend; next one on Monday. I can relax a bit, read, play computer games, watch movies, cook meals, and walk the dog with Susan. I’ll need to fill up the car sometime this weekend, but nothing else is pressing.

Radiation treatment, 3rd session

Easy drive in and out. Got my schedule for next week when I registered; same times as this week. Same process as before: the brief X-ray followed by the “rapid arc” zap, overview on Mondays after the session.

The hospital was running late, and didn’t get to see me until around 20-30 minutes later than scheduled. Which, with a full bladder, can be a long, fidgety time. However, I chatted for a short time with one of the ladies in the waiting room, and who also came from Collingwood.
After my treatment, I was shuffled into another waiting room to sit and read for 30 or so more minutes before a nurse came to get me. As usual, I brought books to keep me occupied. Three others in the waiting room, including two men my age or older, spent their time staring at their phones. Which simply looks sad and lonely. At least reading a book feels like I’m doing something positive and engaging with my mind.
The nurse took me down the hall to a separate exam room to discuss my treatment so far, although at this point I had little to say about any effects, so it was a short discussion. She mentioned what I might expect in future, but every patient is different, so I may not feel the same effects as some others.

We spoke about a few odds and ends like getting my bone scan results, possible side effects from the hormones later in the treatment, and making sure my diet had enough calcium because radiation can cause bone loss. Eschewed the coffee this time and drove straight back home. Am on disc 12 of the audiobook.

Dec 1: A considerable snowfall overnight and continuing with high winds through Tuesday made me worry about the drive under those conditions. Local streets were not cleared when I was ready, and I wasn’t sure about the highway or the more dangerous areas. I chose to postpone this treatment session and not risk the potentially challenging or dangerous drive. Winter driving here will present a challenge for me. Took my final Bicalutamide table today. No more hormones until the next Lupron shot, in 2021.

The oncologist called me today while I was shovelling snow. I wasn’t able to talk much, but she did tell me my scans all came back fine. I was relieved the cancer had not spread to my bones. I had a glass of wine later to celebrate. Okay, I had two, but only from the box. I am saving the best bottle for when I have finally finished my treatments. I finished reading John Le Carre’s Agent Running in the Field today.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 18”

Mazatlan, 2016

Mazatlan
Hotel Playa Mazatlan, front

We hadn’t been back to Mexico for at least six years and we missed it. We missed the climate, the culture, the food, the people, the music… Mexico has a dear place in our hearts from more than three decades of visiting it.

For more than a decade we had been going to Zihuatanejo every February, staying in a house that was only a 10-15 minute walk from the downtown. Over the years, we met a lot of people, made friends with locals, with three generations of family that owned the house, and got to know the city pretty well. But after our long absence, we decided to try some place new: Mazatlan, a city much further north along the west coast, roughly on the same latitude as Cabo San Lucas in Baja.

Mazatlan
Downtown (el centro)

Mazatlan is much bigger than Zihua: about 500,000, and is a bustling, active municipality, not just a resort. Yet it didn’t seem overly crowded or busy. The usual traffic mayhem was on the main roads, but the core area was quiet and relaxed.

Although the area was known to the Spanish as early as 1531, it wasn’t colonized until the early 19th century when it was opened as a small port. It was never very large, and mostly remained an industrial city, until the 1940s, when tourism gave it a boost. Over the past 50 years, the population grew substantially.

It’s also known for the fishing. Mazatlan is the shrimp capital of the world, and you can get shrimp in so many varieties, sizes and dishes, I couldn’t begin to cover them all here. And the main Pacifico brewery is there, so you know the beer is always fresh. Well the Pacifico is.

Mazatlan
Near the Plazuela Machado

There is a large and attractive heritage zone in the core, of mainly 18th century buildings, punctuated by tiny plazas and parks, with narrow streets.

There is a core group of Canadian volunteers who help tourists find their way around, and provide free maps. You can find them in the plazas. Nice folk.

The majority of the downtown buildings are extremely well kept and attractive. They still function as businesses, residences and government facilities. Surprisingly, a lot of the restored buildings are apparently owned by Canadians, who also seem to make up the majority of the tourists to the city. That surprised us.

The core area is clean and attractive. Lots of small shops, galleries, bookstores and services.

Mazatlan
Hotel Melville

One place we wanted to see in particular was the Melville Hotel, a small boutique hotel that boasts a plaque saying Herman Melville stayed in Mazatlan in 1844 (although the hotel was built in the 1870s). It reflects the traditional Spanish style – high ceilings, tall doors, central courtyard – and has rooms named after famous artists, writers and photographers like Jack Kerouac, Pablo Neruda and Anais Nin. Whether they all stayed in Mazatlan or even the hotel, I wasn’t able to learn (although I knew before that Kerouac stayed in the city briefly in the 1950s). Some day, we hope to stay there, too.

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The Travelling Life

pool_01The thing I don’t like about travelling is, well, travelling. Being somewhere else is fine. A wonderful, expansive experience. I love waking up to the sounds of the ocean, wandering the streets of a foreign town, eating foods in their restaurants, shopping in their markets, listening to their music and moving to the rhythms of their city.

Getting there is, however, overrated. More than that: it’s  dreary. Stressful. Boring. The antithesis of the romantic.

Most of the time travel isn’t anything of the sort. It’s waiting. Hurry up and wait.

You rush from one location to another, one platform, one room, one counter to another, to spend many long minutes, even long hours waiting for something to happen. The shuttle to arrive. The plane to board. The plane to take off. The baggage to arrive. The customs official to wearily stamp your passport.

Lines, waiting rooms, cramped seats, endless paperwork, and being served lukewarm stuff that masquerades – poorly – as food typify the start and end of any vacation.

A week-long vacation ends up as a mere five days: the days at each end being consumed by the slog of travelling forth and then back. The waiting. And the lines. Always the lines.

But then there’s the delicious bit in the middle. That cream filling in the cookie, the jelly in the doughnut. The actual vacation. Now that’s usually worth the crappy stuff at either end. Usually.

One of the problems of modern vacationing, however, is that the best places are filled with other folks, often the same sort of people we’re trying to get away from. People just like you.

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Random grumblings for a Sunday afternoon

Star WarsWhy can’t I buy Yorkshire Gold tea in town? I can buy Barry’s tea, from Ireland, and Morse’s tea packaged in Nova Scotia locally. As well as other brands. Surely someone can bring in Yorkshire Gold… and yes, I’ve gone to every grocery store in town and asked for it. Even Sobeys – where I had been told it was available – the staff there had no idea what it was. Never heard of it, I was told.

Barry’s tea is nice: a bit on the robust side, which we like, but the tea bags could use a tiny bit more to give it that oomph. Available at Metro.

Tetley has two new teas on the shelf: Bold and Pure Ceylon.The Bold doesn’t taste to me any different from their regular tea. But I like the Ceylon, albeit it’s not as full-bodied as I would prefer. Still, it has a nice flavour and may replace my regular Tetley. Available at Freshco.

What happened to Tazo Tea? I used to really like their full-leaf Awake tea, an English breakfast tea, and often ordered it at Starbucks. But the last two times I’ve bought a box for home consumption (one bought at a grocery store, the other from Starbucks), I’ve been greatly disappointed. The first time because the tea turned out not to be full-leaf (the box label was unclear…). The second because the full-leaf bags contained only a small portion of what they used to contain. The result in both cases is a weak, watery, insipid tea. No more Tazo for me, in future.

I prefer whole-leaf teas and tea bags because they seem fuller and richer than the broken leaf and leaf dust you get in the standard grocery-store tea bag. But they’re not the common product: most brands don’t offer full leaf. Most are called  “orange pekoe”  but are really broken orange pekoe – a low-level grading.

Lately we’ve taken to drinking Typhoo Tea. Even the decaf is pretty good. PG Tips, another Brit tea, is fair, not really much different from Tetley. Have to ask Susan to bring back some other teas from England when she goes across the pond this summer.

I bought a box of Choice organic English breakfast tea at Costco last week. Ho hum. Like the Tazo Awake, the bags or their contents are too damned small to make a decent, strong cuppa. Takes to bags for my large cup. Another one to avoid in future.

Costco (at least the Barrie store) has a limited and rather unexciting choice of teas (not to mention it seems to have dropped the green cerignola olives – the best olives they’ve ever stocked – and their superb vidalia onion salad dressing in favour of mediocre product . Which means we are on the verge of giving up on Costco entirely (well, maybe if they keep those large bottles of marinated artichokes, we’ll hang on, albeit grimly…).

Too many products we get to know and love that get dropped. Happens at local grocery stores, too.

Used to really like Costco, and made a trip there every three or four months. Now my respect has plummeted and the few times we do go there, we buy very little compared to the past. Even their selection of DVDs is flaccid, and their selection of books is sheer crap. But they do have good shirts and clothes. Still… why can’t they keep a single brand of olives in stock?

A few weeks ago, we were down in Brampton and visited an Asian food market. Great place, full of wonderful produce, fish, sauces… I ended up buying a bag full of green teas (and a hot sauce). One of those boxes was a Korean green tea, which I have not yet tried, but I have never sampled Korean tea, so I’m looking forward to it. As soon as I finish my current supply of Lung Ching (Dragonwell) green tea, I’ll open it.

Dragonwell is my current favourite Chinese green tea. The current box is from Golden Sail, but it’s only fair quality. There seems to be a faux market in Dragonwell teas, with some low-quality products being passed off as the real thing. I can’t tell which is authentic, but I can tell which tea tastes good; which has a full, rich body. Frankly, that’s all that really matters to me.

I enjoy some Japanese green teas, but not a steady diet of them. Sencha is my favourite, and matcha when it can be had, but I’m iffy about the roasted brown rice and barley in some other varieties.

In my experience, most of the green teas in the Asian markets are only fair quality; some are actually mediocre. It’s a guessing game, but because the prices are usually modest, it’s not a big investment. I buy several and hope for the best. Regardless, I usually use them all. The boxes don’t really give you a lot more than vague promises of quality, but now and then you get a treasure.

We used to buy a lot of tea and sauces at Soon Lee’s, in Scarborough (along with many great hot sauces), but since they moved, we don’t have a good substitute Asian market (although we did find a good one on Kingston Road last year). In Brampton, we went with a Chinese woman who translated the labels so i could pick products by description, rather than just guessing (which is why I ended up with a bottle of Uncle Chen’s “chilliciously hot” extra hot sauce when I would have otherwise overlooked it).

You can get a nice, organic green tea called Uncle Lee’s, from both Metro and WalMart. It’s almost as robust as Ten Ren green tea, but not quite. Ten Ren you’ll have to get out of town – we buy ours in Chinatown at a tea shop on Dundas Street West. To my palate, Ten Ten makes the very best green tea. I have tried a few of their black and herbal teas, too.

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What if you’re wrong?

[youtube=www.youtube.com/watch?v=beYYZRN1sEs]

Great visualization of the now-famous response from evolutionary biologist, author, and well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins, when asked in 2006 about his argument that there is no god, “What if you’re wrong?”

Flying Spaghetti Monster pin“Anybody could be wrong, ” he replies. “We could all be wrong about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Pink Unicorn and the Flying Teapot.”

All of these refer to various arguments used to illustrate the weakness in faith-based statements and arguments.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (aka Pastafarianism) was, according to Wikipedia, created as a satire against creationists (a group notoriously shy of a sense of humour…):

The “Flying Spaghetti Monster” was first described in a satirical open letter written by Bobby Henderson in 2005 to protest the Kansas State Board of Education decision to permit teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. In that letter, Henderson satirized creationist ideas by professing his belief that whenever a scientist carbon dates an object, a supernatural creator that closely resembles spaghetti and meatballs is there “changing the results with His Noodly Appendage”. Henderson argued that his beliefs and intelligent design were equally valid, and called for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism to be allotted equal time in science classrooms alongside intelligent design and evolution. After Henderson published the letter on his website, the Flying Spaghetti Monster rapidly became an Internet phenomenon and a symbol used against teaching intelligent design in public schools.

The FSM has its own website and a huge following. You can buy FSM pins, T-shirts and other accessories from Evolvefish.com. You could even become an ordained FSM minister for a few dollars. Continue reading “What if you’re wrong?”