Looking well

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If you have been following my endless saga through the looking glass and into the medical world you will be pleased to know I have passed through the latest checkpoint with flying colours and been pronounced still ok. My lymph nodes, and relief, are palpable.

If you thought I was looking well, you were quite right it seems.

Next checkpoint another 4 months down the track.

The Good Ship Watermelon sails on, colours streaming from the top of the mast.

On average

9

My reliable (mostly) water pump of 16 years seems to be knackered, and, having timed the knackering to the end of one of our driest ever Octobers, and the start of (probably) a very dry November, I need to go wrestle with it in a little while. Nothing dramatic, the knackering, I don’t think, no Honda equivalent of, say, a fall from a cliff, more like the gradual blocking of a cardiac artery with fatty deposits, or the gradual enlargement of lymph nodes. I’m sure it can be fixed by cleaning out carbon deposits, or unblocking a fuel line, but it will never run as well, or as reliably as it once did, I will never again be able to rely on it starting first time, every time, like clockwork. Mr Pump and I have, it seems, grown older together without noticing, and suddenly woke up one day to discover we are, astonishingly, old.

Which is a long-winded way of introducing my six month Oncology review that took place this morning. [Beware, spoiler follows] I’m ok – blood counts and chemistry as near as damnit returned to normal, no re-enlargement of glands, no nasty testing needed, next review not for another four months. Odd that I had so little reaction to that undeniably good news though, I thought, and considered the matter while driving home.

I guess the nub of my reaction is this. Good news (for me) might be “Hey you’ve won the billion dollar lottery” or “Hey you’ve been selected in the Australian cricket team” or “Hey you’ve won the Nobel Prize for Literature”, that sort of thing. While “Hey your cancer hasn’t returned as quickly as it did last time, yet” is certainly not bad news, it is not good news in that sense. Really all it is saying is that you are still perched on the little plateau of neutrality, not too hot, not too cold, just room temperature. So, no champagne toasts, I think, for still being sort of average, but certainly relief.

Anyway, better go work on the pump. See if I can get it functioning in an average sort of way again.

Cheers.

Denial’s advocate

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The MSM standard practice is to interview by taking the worst most extreme antitheses, and or “talking points”, from deniers (for example), and using them as questions for climate scientists (for example). Similarly in interviewing a Labor minister the questions are obtained from the most recent talking points released by the Liberal Party. This practice has become so ubiquitous as to be accepted as merely “the way things are done”.

I guess if you asked a journalist about this they would, after expressing surprise that you were questioning this approach, express a couple of reasons for it. One would be that it saves time, that journalists in this time of media cost-cutting and job-shedding, simply are unable to research a topic in any meaningful way before doing an interview. Indeed I suspect that the idea of “research” being anything EXCEPT reading something from an opponent is now foreign to journalism in Australia.
…Read more

Toot Toot

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I know you’ve all been avidly watching this space for some new piece of wit and wisdom and have been sadly disappointed of late. Sadly disappointed.

But (a word signalling that alibi follows) I’ve been sampling, in a series of pit stops, the other delights of the medical profession in which one lot of specialists fixes up the damage caused by the other lot. Have also been waiting, somewhat anxiously, for my first oncology check-up, three months since the end of the two years of chemotherapy.

That was yesterday, and, not to keep you in suspenders, it was all fine. So far so good, no recurrence this time so far, check back again in another three months. Phew!

Now I just have to finish the last of the medical tinkering and tuning up. Feel like an old car which is almost as new except that it has had engine, chassis, gear box, doors, roof, windows, seats, and ash trays all replaced.

Almost ready after some last-minute petrol tank filling and bolt tightening (and belt-tightening – uniquely in the universe my cancer and chemo have resulted in a big weight gain, my latest weigh-in yesterday producing the kind of result that you expect to set a bell ringing like one of those test-your-strength machines at carnivals) to roar out of the pits and back into the blog race. So stand-by for smell of petrol fumes and the roar of the crowd as the green and red racer sets off again.

Toot! Toot! Here I come.

Can’t judge a packet by…

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This week came the very welcome news that Ireland is to follow Australia’s lead in forcing cigarettes into plain drab packaging containing only health warnings.

Couple of things struck me. One was that the media report felt obliged to seek the “reaction”, in the interests of balance you understand, of a spokesperson for the biggest tobacco company in the world. Now you, I’m sure, like I, will be amazed to learn that the BAT man was opposed to the Irish government’s move. Shocked I was.
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Look at that big hand

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The last time I watched “High Noon” was 60 years ago. And that’s a sentence that seems odd to write. But a dear friend kept telling me I should watch it again, that it had (unlike some other once popular films we discussed) stood up well to the passing of the years.

Not easy to get hold of, but I suddenly spotted it the other day on one of those cheap remainders tables in the DVD store and so here we are.

And indeed it has stood up well. But I don’t really want to discuss the craft that makes it, or should make it, somewhere up among the all time film classics. When I saw it 60 years ago I would have watched it as I did any other cowboy movie. Thought it a bit slow-moving perhaps, long time to get to the gunfight showdown which was the set piece of any cowboy movie. But then, bang, bang, bang, and bang, and it was the baddies who would be, of course, occupying the newly made coffins.
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Fiery particles

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So here I am again. Blogging, one-handed, in the oncology day treatment ward. For the last time. Ever.

No, mustn’t tempt the fates, waiting with their deadly scissors to punish both optimism and hubris. This is hopefully the last chemo treatment (astonishingly number 19) for quite a while after two years and 4 days since my first one, an age ago.

Side effects a bit rough last time, hope better this time.

This whole process is a bit like burning the forest to get rid of weeds and then seeing the good green shoots appearing again through the blackened landscape. Chemotherapy burns up all the white blood cells, including the bad lymphoma particles, and then the blood ecology comes back.

But just as the forest is damaged by each fire, and the more you burn, the less well the ecology recovers, so the more you “burn” the good cells in the body the more you damage them, and the less your body returns to normal. Moderation in both are needed.

There, managed to combine my fire research with my cancer treatment, not a bad metaphor eh?

So don’t forget to vote for me as Best Blog at http://www.writerscentre.com.au/bloggingcomp/peopleschoice.html – page 5 under THE Watermelon Blog.

Tilting at markets

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Once upon a time I thought that Steve Jobs was an IT saint, put down on Earth for a little while to enrich the lives of ordinary mortals, and Bill Gates, well, wasn’t. Recent years have tended to almost, though not quite, reverse those judgements, though you would still have to pry my iPad and MacPro from my cold dead hands, and I have never bought a computer that uses Windows.

Still, Bill, and Melinda, Gates, having gained wealth beyond the dreams of anyone except Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, and Australian mining magnates, have been heaven bent (unlike Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, and Australian mining magnates) on putting their riches to good use. And good for them.

And good for Bill, on the basis of what he has learnt in his post-capitalist life, getting stuck into capitalism, “ripping it a new one”, as I would say if I was one of them trendy bloggers.

He pointed out:
“The malaria vaccine in humanist terms is the biggest need, but it gets virtually no funding. If you are working on male baldness or other things you get an order of magnitude more research funding because of the voice in the marketplace than something like malaria.”

While this example relates to a particular interest of Bill Gates, it obviously applies more generally. That is, you can’t rely on “capitalism” to provide any kind of services to a community because it will always focus on the profitable bits and ignore the unprofitable ones. Poor people, and poor regions, will always miss out, an observation that in itself makes nonsense of the libertarian free market neoconservative think tank demands to privatise everything up to the air we breathe.

But Bill’s observations, while absolutely correct and damning, are at the same time just a tad ironic.

One of the demands of conservatives of course is that we get rid of all social services, public support mechanisms, because the super rich, getting ever richer under neoconservative governments, will let a little largesse trickle down from the high table to the poor. Just as, once upon a time, king and nobles might allow the poor to fight over food scraps from their table, or over a handful of pennies scattered on the ground, or allow, graciously, hems of robes to be touched in a free medical service.

The irony is that even a benevolent billionaire like Gates, offering not robe touching but malaria treatments to the poor, is still working to the capitalist model. Not “The Market” but Bill’s own interests and inclinations decide what he will support and fund. Absolutely fair enough, it’s his money that we (well, not me, but you see what I mean) gave him, and he can spend it as he pleases.

But what pleases him is no more serving the whole community in the most effective way than the drug companies who put their mouths where the money is. What we need you see, is a system where the people of a country would elect some of their number to represent their interests. And that number would investigate the needs of the country, its people, and set priorities accordingly. Then there could be a mechanism whereby each citizen, and corporation, according to their ability, contributed a proportion of their wealth to a fund which would be used to pay for those priorities.

If only we were smart enough to invent something we could call, oh, I don’t know, “democracy”. Then we could get things like Malaria funded properly, and not at the whim of capitalists and capitalism, and capitalism could pretend to deal with hair loss.

Like a circle in a spiral

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Just to get you up to date with progress. My last chemo cycle was before Xmas. Should have had the next one about two weeks ago, but the oncologist couldn’t decide whether another condition I developed about a year ago was related to the Lymphoma and or would be exacerbated by the chemotherapy. So she trotted me off last week for more tests and the excitement of yet another different medical waiting room (this one with walls covered in cricket memorabilia and photos). The new specialist (not much older, it seemed, than someone who could be my grandson) decided that while my very advanced years were indeed contributing to whatever had triggered this problem last year, neither the lymphoma nor the chemotherapy were. However, unless it dramatically worsened, he didn’t want to treat the condition with a minor operation until my chemotherapy course was complete later in the year.

So, good news bad news, no additional medical mucking around, but on the other hand fit for chemotherapy. Felt like a young British or Commonwealth man in 1914 assessed as being fit and healthy enough to go off to the trenches in France and be shot at. The cycles resume early Monday morning, back to the three weekly cycles for some indeterminate period (although given that the first two seem to have been effective to at least some extent, as well as turning me into a totally bald person and some other nasty side effects, I’m hoping it won’t be more than about 5 months).

And there you have it, back to where it all began nearly 2 years ago. As if I have been cycling away, beating Lance Armstrong, only to discover I was on an exercise cycle and had gone precisely nowhere. As does Lance I suppose.

Time to grin and bear it, bit of a laugh ha ha ha, One day at a time, not thinking about the triumphant ride up the Champs Elysees in July, nor the triumphant wave to the oncology nurses in June.

Come along for the ride with me, once again.

A, B, C, D… E, F, G…

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Anyway, that’s another round of chemotherapy almost completed. Neither I nor my Oncologist sure whether the first round achieved much (but had left my Neutrophils worryingly low for the start of a new cycle, so I have to have a new injection this afternoon to deal with that), but we will review again in three weeks. Some unpleasant, and mysterious, body problems this week reminded me yet again that from the moment of first being diagnosed with cancer your mindset changes. You go from being comfortable in your own skin, to being uncomfortable. And you go from happily assuming that any health problems you have are readily explainable, treatable, and short-lived, to being able to assume nothing. Your body goes from being a Known Known to one full of Unknown Unknowns. Simple views about your personal health universe rapidly give way to complex ones.

You are caught, as I said to the Oncologist this week, in the world of the Three S’s. Anything you experience could be a Symptom (of the cancer itself), a Side Effect (of the cancer treatment), or Something Else (totally unrelated to either). Life, they say, wasn’t meant to be easy. Nor, in the case of cancer treatment, is there such a thing as a free lunch, everything comes at a cost.

Anyway, all this reminded me, eating my free lunch of soggy sandwiches in the Oncology chair, machine beeping and dripping (slowly, slowly) on my right, of the debate about education this week in Australia.

The country, in some survey, had apparently ranked way down the list, 25th in this, 26th in that, 27th in the other. Our children were apparently as poorly educated as those of poorly educated countries – couldn’t be misunderestimated, we were misundereducated.

Within moments of the survey appearing on the airwaves and interwebs, as if the barriers had been opened in the Melbourne Cup, those same airwaves and interweb tubes were full of answers from experts and anyone with an opinion (to the extent that they can be considered separate categories). It was the Labor government’s fault, teacher’s fault, a funding problem, lack of attention to the three R’s, not enough rote learning, the result of education not being the same as when the opinionator was educated, school autonomy, phonics, testing programs, private schooling, and so on.

Trouble was, every Opinionperson thought the right answer was THEIR answer. That if there was a problem in education then it was the result of a single cause and had a single solution. Sadly this is the kind of simplemindedness that has resulted in many educational dead ends. When we ask the rarely asked question “is our children learning?”, just like the question “why is my stomach sore?”, we need to be aware that there are no simple answers.

Let’s start at the beginning this time with the actual survey. It was conducted in 2010, a fact that escaped media attention, so that the answer “it’s all the Labor government’s fault” didn’t really ring true. There was no consideration of how the comparisons were made, nor whether they allowed for cultural and socio-economic differences (in just the way you need to with “IQ tests”) between different countries. Nor was any thought given to desirability of high rankings. If a country was doing well because (say) of rote learning of the Three R’s, and rigid discipline in class rooms, is this really the way you want Australia to go?

But even taking the rankings at face value, concentrating on one particular aspect of what goes on in the classroom is begging for a misdiagnosis. As well as the Three R’s we also need to know whether a particular child, or group of children, falling behind in something is the result of a symptom, a side effect, or something else entirely.

Much has changed in Australia since I was a child (to start at a very remote time indeed), all affecting education in some way.

To name just a few relevant factors: The structure of suburbs and travel, play, and social opportunities for children are different; children are exposed to television and radio for hours each day as a primary source of entertainment, knowledge, and values; the values expressed in reality tv and quiz shows, for example, are much changed from my values; children are using computers in various forms for communication, games, learning; diets are much inferior to what they were; right-wing populist politicians and religious leaders have launched an attack on science and education in recent years; and on teachers themselves; and on curricula, with demands for including nonsense like creationism; money has been moved from public schools into private and fundamentalist religious schools; underfunding of preschool and kindergarten and loss of trained staff reduces the early educational possibilities; both parents working reduces the opportunities for learning at home; few homes these days seem to have books or encourage reading; peer pressure tends to put more value on the lowest common denominator of intellectual achievement; teacher are faced with larger class sizes, while at the same time having more bureaucracy to deal with, and demands that they teach more and more topics (driving cars for example, or coping with social media) that someone thinks is important; older teachers are retiring while younger ones have come through much the same social and cultural and educational milieu as their students; “National testing” has put emphasis on “learning for the test”, because schools that don’t do well in it will lose funding and students; some educator will come up with some mad-brained scheme like “phonics” and have some politician impose it on schools …

Enough, you get the idea, and I’m sure you could all add many more. And remember, before you can compare results for different countries, and come up with solutions, you would somehow, have to allow for all those variables being different between the countries.

Look, there is no doubt that Australian education would be a lot better if it followed the model of Finland, always top of these kinds of surveys, rather than America. Put more money into public education (and preschools), value teachers and education, try to get more education support in the home, and so on. But really, to make any improvements in educational performance we also have to seek changes to the way families and society are performing, to look at our media, and our social, cultural, political values, not just the Three R’s.

Easy, eh? Now, if you could just tell me why I have this ache in my shoulder, Doc…