Monday, December 31, 2012

Movies: "A Late Quartet" and "Les Misérables"

Happy New Year!

I've been home for a couple of days but I've been so tired that I've mostly just been dozing while pretending to surf the net while watching Ian play video games. I had a wonderful, if exhausting, time in Edmonton seeing my friends and family. I wasn't able to have a long visit with everyone but my visits were definitely quality time.

While I was in Edmonton, I saw two movies: A Late Quartet and Les Misérables.

A Late Quartet stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Walken as two members of a string quartet; when Christopher Walken's character discovers that he must retire due to health issues, the entire quartet is thrown into chaos. Long-buried hopes, ideas, dreams, and lusts come to light, fracturing the relationships in the quartet. Watching the relationships unfold and change makes for an engrossing, interesting film.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful movie and I imagine that if you know a lot about music you'd get so much more out of it than I did. What I especially loved about this movie is that it really captured how life-changing an illness is for someone and how changes in one person's life affect the lives of the people around that person. I highly recommend this film.

Les Misérables is the movie adaptation of the stage musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's epic book of the same name. It follows Jean Valjean as he is released from prison, forges a new identity, and tries to escape his past. At the same time, he is raising Cosette, Fantine's daughter whom he promised to raise, and Cosette and a revolutionary fall in love. If it sounds complicated, it is, kind of; there are several stories going on at once and the work covers about 15 years. Underlying these storylines is a question of redemption by asking whether a person can ever redeem bad behaviour and, if they can, whether the behaviour is redeemed through the law or religion.

To be completely honest, I didn't like this movie. My friend loved it, as did many other people who saw it, but I didn't think it was very good. I've been trying to figure out why I didn't like it and it seems that there are a number of things I didn't like.

I've never seen the stage musical and if I had, I suspect I'd have enjoyed this movie so much more. Many of the things I disliked - the lyrics that were simplistic, the tuneless singing that replaces dialogue since the musical is sung-through, and the lack of variety in the music - apparently came straight from the musical. If I'd seen and liked the musical, I most likely would have reacted to them differently while watching the movie.

There were elements unique to the movie that I didn't like, such as the close-up of the actor's face during each and every song. This technique would have been interesting had it been used a few times instead of during every single song. To be fair, the closeness of the close-up varied: sometimes only the actor's face was visible while other times the audience could see the actor's shoulders or their arms. The over-use of the close-up technique quickly becomes terribly monotonous. Oddly, on the other hand, most of the backgrounds were obviously computer-generated without much depth or detail and I found that this detracted from the movie as much as the extreme closeups. If I can count every nose hairs of every singer, why can't I see a realistic, believable background?

I also found that the singing voices of the two main characters - Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert, the policeman who pursues him - were not very strong. I know that Hugh Jackman has a very strong singing voice but in this movie his voice is thin and nasally and lacks depth or feeling. Russell Crowe's voice was not up to the task of singing his part and his voice came across as weak and shallow. This movie was shot with the actors actually singing  their songs instead of lip-syncing them and I wonder if this technique, along with the extreme close-ups, prevented them from using their full voices because they were trying to act and sing at the same time?

The movie wasn't all bad and there were a few bright spots primarily among the supporting cast. Anne Hathaway's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" as Fantine was moving even in its extreme close-up. I expect that she'll be nominated for an Oscar for that performance. Samantha Barks as Éponine performed very well in her debut film performance, injecting passion into both her voice and mannerisms. Russel Crowe and Hugh Jackman could have used some of this passion themselves!

People who love the musical Les Misérables will love this movie no matter what I or anyone else says about it. If you're not a fan of the musical or you haven't seen it (or listened to one or another recording), I'd recommend that you want for the DVD to come out before seeing this movie, if only because the closeups will be that much smaller on your personal tv.

Monday, December 17, 2012

On my way to Edmonton tomorrow

I'm heading out to Edmonton tomorrow morning for Christmas for the first time in quite a few years. It's going to be strange, not being with Ian's family after spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with them for so many years but we'll exchange presents when I get back next week.

I'm going for Christmas so that the bulk of my visit will overlap with my sister's visit in Edmonton. She moved to England a few months ago and this will be her first visit back since she moved. Having moved far away from Edmonton (although not as far as she's moved) myself, I know how stressful it can be to be away and come back. I hope that I can help make her time in Edmonton less stressful.

I get to see my friends in Edmonton this time around, too, and I'm very excited about that. I haven't seen some of them in a long time and I'm looking forward to catching up with them. I'm being careful not to overdo it each day while I'm there so that I don't end up exhausted while I'm there.

I would have stayed in Edmonton even longer but I end up missing Gozer too much. Of course I miss Ian, too, but I can email him and call him on the phone. Gozer doesn't understand how to work phones and she's not so good with the email because she can't type. I spend so much of my time with her that it's weird to not have her nearby and I imagine she feels much the same way. I am leaving things that smell like me so she'll be able to sleep on my scent.

I won't be posting much while I'm away (not that I post much these days anyways) so don't be alarmed if you don't see a Merry Christmas post. I'll be back before the new year, however.

I know I should have posted this before but we did put a little costume on Gozer on Halloween and I wanted to share the pictures with you. Enjoy!

Really? Do I have to do this?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Scan results

Ian came with me to see my oncologist this morning. Normally I go alone because the appointments are routine for me but whenever I'm getting test results I like to have him there. He's better at processing information when stressed - or when I'm stressed, at least - and he's more stable emotionally than I am, which is comforting.

Fortunately, his information-processing and comforting skills were not required today because my bone and CT scans came back clear. In fact, the lesions on my sternum have healed even more than they had the last time. Yay!!!

My oncologist and I figure that the pain in my sternum came from wearing a cross-body carry-on bag when I travelled to Chicago. She told me today that cross-body bags are no longer allowed for me. While this is a small price to pay for not having pain, not carrying these types of bags will require some adjustment. I used to see myself as one of those travellers who could dash through airports carrying their own bags (I may have added a touch of glamour to that vision so feel free to add that in there).

The reality is that I very rarely dash anywhere, let alone in airports, and it's not like I can't buy or use bags with wheels on them. I'm now one of those people who stroll through airports with my case(s) in tow. This isn't so bad. Besides, accepting one's changing body and the limitations those changes bring is part of the aging process. Adjusting my inner picture (aka fantasy) of who I am is part of how I accept my changing self.

I'm so lucky that my cancer is still stable six(!!!) years after the mets were confirmed in my sternum. If I was allowed to have the saturated fat, I'd celebrate with ice cream or cake. Or both. With some cookies on the side. Since that delicious eating feast isn't possible, I think I'll celebrate my continued stable status with a little shopping for practical but stylish, rolling carry-on bags.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Call from my oncologist

My oncologist called me today to tell me that the ultrasound and mammogram I had recently showed something in one of my surgery scars. It appears to be a cyst that's filled with fluid and they want me to come in for a follow-up ultrasound in about six months. Then she said that she hadn't looked at the results from the bone or CT scans and would see me Friday.

So.... is it just me, or does it seem weird for her to have called me about this result and not the others? Clearly the mammogram results were flagged somehow and if the bone and CT scans showed something, I'd expect them to be flagged, too. So I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, the bone and CT scan results were unremarkable.

One way or another, we'll find out on Friday. I just thought it was weird that she would call to give me some results and not others.

It is possible that the thing found in the scar isn't a cyst but the cancer returning there - if that's what's going on, then we'd just do a mastectomy and get rid of my ever-flattening mini-boob. As an aside, the difference between it and my fully-growed boob appears to be at least two cup sizes now. I need to get out and get a prosthetic so that I can make my boobs match. If it turns out that I do get a mastectomy, the difference between what I've got now and what I'd have then won't be so much that I'd think I'd need a much bigger prosthetic. At least, that's my theory.

Anyways, we'll see what happens on Friday.

In other news, Gozer has found a new bed: our laundry basket full of clean laundry. Silly girl!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Thinking about my mom

My mom killed herself two years ago yesterday. She took the pills that killed her on December 1, her's and my dad's wedding anniversary, and then died on December 2 in the early morning. She was found later that morning or early that afternoon by someone who'd come to check on her.

Last year, I missed my mother so much on this date... I wished she hadn't killed herself and I was very sad that she was dead. This year was different: I found myself thinking about what that last day must have been like for her and how she must have felt before deciding to die. I know that I can never really know what was going through her head but for the first time I felt myself looking at things through her eyes and imagining what it was like. I talked this through with my psychologist today and this helped find the words to express these thoughts.

My mom must have been so sad and so lonely. She'd been mentally ill for years and years but had been stable when my dad died in 2008. She spent almost two years after that in the place where they'd lived but she was having trouble living on her own. She dissociated a couple of times and "came to" not knowing what had happened, which is very scary (if you've ever been in a drug- or alcohol-induced blackout, you'll understand how scary that can be). Then she came down with some kind of respiratory infection and became very, very sick; she had COPD already, and she was so sick that she couldn't think to call an ambulance to take her to the hospital.

After that episode, she knew she couldn't be completely on her own any more, so she moved into a light assisted living bachelor apartment in the other tower of her complex. She took two meals a day with other residents and someone would look in on her each day. She never really loved it there; it was different, and she didn't like the people with whom she ate her two meals. She was never much of a conformist and she didn't much like being around people so this was no surprise, but I think it left her feeling alone and lonely. And maybe even a bit angry at being left out, as odd as that sounds. Her daughters weren't reaching out to her and she didn't reach out to them because all those years of mental illness had scarred us all.

In the fall of that year, mom got a new psychiatrist. She'd been with her previous psychiatrist for years and didn't like the new one at all. He wanted to change her treatment, which she didn't like, and she also didn't like him personally. Most specifically, she din't like his shoes, which were very trendy. At the time, I didn't understand how she felt but I think now she felt he was young, that he was railroading her, and that he didn't respect her as a patient or as a person.

So she was sad, alone, and lonely, and angry, and resentful, and she felt like she didn't belong, and she had no support network. I think she'd experienced these emotions for years without killing herself but on the anniversary of her marriage, I think she'd finally had enough and decided that it was time to go. I think she couldn't bear the pain of living any more - and that for her, suicide wasn't a permanent solution to a temporary problem, as some describe suicide, but permanent solution to a problem that she'd endured for years.

I think that she'd probably spent much of her last day crying and missing her husband. I think she may have cried while she was taking the pills but once they were in her, I suspect she felt some relief that she was really going to die this time. I hope she found some peace before she died and that her death was painless.

As I say, I don't know if my thoughts about how she felt that day or in the days leading up to it are true but they feel true to me. I still miss her terribly, but I feel like I have a better understanding of what things were like for her and why she chose to kill herself. Thinking about how she got to the point of killing herself gives me much more empathy for her.

I still miss my mom terribly and I still wish she hadn't got to a point where she needed to kill herself... but I understand and I forgive her.

I love you, mom.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Various appointments

Last Friday was my bone scan. The injection went smoothly and so did the scan even though I was an hour late for the scan. I have no idea how that happened; for whatever reason, even though I knew exactly what time the second appointment was supposed to happen, my brain added an hour to that time. And even though I showed up exactly an hour late, it was another twenty-five minutes before they came and got me. I didn't know that they were looking for me so I was just waiting for the nurse. Fortunately, the scan is still valid. 

Today was mammogram day, which also went smoothly. Because the morphea has deformed the left breast so much, the technician couldn't get a good view of the scars on the mammogram. Breast cancer often comes back in previous scar tissue so it's important to get a good view of my old scars. So they did an ultrasound of the scars, which was apparently quite difficult as the first scar is big and meanders a bit.

My CT scan is scheduled for next Friday and I get the results from all these scans on December 14.

We also had our physical exams with our family doctor on Tuesday. Both our cholesterol numbers are down to more acceptable levels so our diet (and Ian's pills) are working. Yay! My family doctor also asked how I was doing. I'm doing fine - well, better - and I told him that my psychologist and I had thought that volunteer work would be good for me and that I was thinking of looking for some volunteer work in the new year (depending on my test results, of course). My family doctor doesn't like the idea at all because he doesn't want me to get too stressed. I told him that understood that but that I was looking for meaning in my life.

His reply to that was that I should get meaning out of my relationship with Ian, that giving to other people is good but my relationships are the most important things I have. That's true, I guess, but afterwards I felt like I had traveled back in time to the 1950s and was being told to support my husband in his career. 

I know that I need to be careful with doing volunteer work; I tend to have an all-or-nothing approach to things that can be overwhelming. And I know that while the cancer is one reason why I haven't been working these last six years, another reason - perhaps the main reason - I haven't been working is my struggle with depression. I guess you could say that I'm mentally ill. I know that I will never again be the person I was when I was working (and that's a good thing in many ways), but I'd like to think that I can aspire to more than making Ian happy and focusing on our relationship. It's frustrating to be told otherwise.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tumour marker results

Today was visit the oncologist day. My CA 15-3 tumour marker has crept up to 39.9 from - what was it? about 33? The marker has been at 40 before so we wouldn't worry about it at all, normally. However, it is a bit of a jump up... and my sternum (where my mets are) has been hurting a LOT for the last five weeks, since I got back from Chicago. Also, I've lost about ten pounds in the last 10 weeks or so. And my face broke out and took longer than usual to heal.

Now, all of these things have perfectly rational explanations. For example, my sternum started hurting right after I got back from Chicago. While I traveled, I wore my carry-on bag across my body over my sternum and it's very possible that I damaged the bone somehow. After all, the bone is fragile. As far as the weight goes, we have been on a low saturated fat diet since Labour Day. Not having any cheese at dinner or ice cream or anything could definitely make me lose weight. I didn't expect to lose as much as I did but it's possible that my body was poised to lose the weight. The weight I'm at is where I've been most of my adult life so it's natural that my body would want to be there, given the opportunity. Regarding the breakouts, I'd tried a new cream on my face which probably caused me to break out. And if I didn't pick at the breakouts (and Gozer didn't lick my face) they'd heal faster.

It is also possible that my lucky six-year run of cancer stability is over and that I have progression for the first time since I was diagnosed with mets. Therefore we need to do some scans and check things out. They'll be scheduling a bone scan and CT scan and I expect to get the results the week of December 10th. My oncologist will be at a conference during the first week of December or else I'd get my results then.

I'm not looking forward to having to wait for results over the next few weeks but the time will pass one way or another. While I need to be aware that I might be facing progression of my mets, it's too soon to panic and I don't want to spend my time worrying unnecessarily.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sewing room getting done

A couple of weeks ago we went to IKEA to look at furniture for my sewing room. The idea was that I would figure out the floorplan and then order the furniture to arrive this week, when Ian will be on vacation for a curling tournament.

Unfortunately, I didn't get my floorplan figured out until this weekend and I didn't put the order in until late this morning. For some reason I thought that IKEA could deliver the next day, but I think that's only true if we were to go to the store, pick our entire order, and then ask them to deliver it. As it is, the delivery is tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday. So much for being able to put the furniture together while Ian was on vacation.

We did tape out the furniture locations in the room so we did figure out how we're going to light the room and we'll be able to get that done this week. That's something, at least. I'll also be able to spend some time going through my fabric as I think I might not want it all. I also know that I don't want to keep all of my vintage patterns.

I'm not quite sure what to do with the fabric and patterns that I don't want. Apparently Value Village will take both fabric and patterns for a per pound rate. I'm not sure that I want to give them any of the really good-quality fabric because I'm not sure that's where they'll get the best use. At the same time, I don't want to be the hoarder who hangs on to things because no one else can give them as good of a home. If anyone has suggestions about what I can do with the fabric - some vintage cottons and many, many nicer fabrics - let me know.

As for the patterns, I could sell them on etsy or I could contact one of the vintage pattern stores and offer the  m the patterns for a flat rate. I'm kind of leaning towards the latter option because I think that would be the best way for my estate to dispose of my patterns when it comes time for that and it would be better if there was already a relationship with a seller. I figure it would just be easier for whoever has to deal with my estate to know who to go to and what to expect. I do have some valuable patterns in my collection, after all.

I figure I'll have my sewing room functional before the end of the year and I'm quite excited about that. I've been wanting to do some sewing for a while but my current setup just isn't comfortable; I can hardly wait to be in my new and improved, comfortable sewing room.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Hello again

Wow, I've really let things go here, haven't I? I don't have a good reason for not posting, I'm afraid. I'd been feeling sort of depressed over the last little while but I'm starting to feel better.

Interestingly, when I last saw my psychologist she suggested that I might be slightly bipolar. If I am, that would explain how I can have so much energy and need less sleep sometimes and no energy at all and need hours and hours more sleep other times. Thinking back, I have noticed that when I'm more energetic, I want to create more things and I also see things as brighter and more colourful. When I'm less energetic, things look dimmer. I think the way I process sound differently as well.

I haven't tracked any of these changes so I don't know if I actually exhibit any bipolar-type symptoms or if I'm just fitting these observations into this framework. It would be a good idea to keep track of how I'm feeling, how much sleep I get, how things look, whether my ears hurt from sounds, and so forth to see if there's a pattern.

If you live in North America and aren't living under a rock you'll know that today is the US election. US election nights remind me of the night I found out that my primary breast cancer had spread into three of seven dissected lymph nodes and that I needed more surgery because the margins weren't clear. That night in 2000 I remember sitting numbly watching the election results come in while trying to process the news. Even though I knew that things were bad - I'd seen the mass on the mammogram - I had hoped that the cancer would be confined to the breast.

The US election night is a strange anniversary to remember, in a way, especially since now I have mets. But for me, that was the day that everything really changed because I finally knew what was going on. Had the election not been so close and had it been resolved that night, I might not feel the same association with it as I do. Things changed for the US that night, too, although no one knew then what would be coming.

In today's election, I hope that Obama is re-elected. I don't trust Mitt Romney because he doesn't seem to have a single point of view on things; he seems to say whatever others want to hear. I'm also concerned at the power the far right has in the Republican party and what their influence would mean for women's rights, immigration, and the working class. Hopefully the election will be resolved tonight in Obama's favour.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gozer's diet

We received Gozer's weight-loss information sheet earlier this week. It says that we're going to turn Gozer into a supermodel :) Her last weight at the vet was 11.8kg and the vet wants her down at 10kg. Gozer is to lose the weight over at least nine weeks; losing it more quickly would be bad.

I know 1.8kg doesn't sound like much weight but it is 15% of her body weight and that's a significant amount. Imagine if you had to lose 15% of your body weight - it would take a while! It's also important that the weight come off slowly so that she stays healthy.

To lose the weight, Gozer is allowed 440 calories per day of which at most 10% of the calories can come from food. Therefore, Gozer is now allowed only 3/4 cup of her food twice daily. That's down from about a cup of food twice daily and I think we were actually feeding her even more than that. When packed tightly, her food used to completely cover the bottom of her food dish and now it doesn't cover the bottom at all. Packing her food tightly leaves about one-third to one-half of the dish exposed.

The goal we've been given is to give Gozer only 30 calories in treats each day. Currently we give her a small amount of peanut butter in the mornings which we figured to be about eight calories. I know I've given her up to a full teaspoon of the peanut butter but at 33 calories per teaspoon, that can't happen any more. We also give Gozer a treat when she goes into her kennel in the mornings and evenings. We checked and each one of those treats has 22 calories (or 29 for the other flavour). Therefore, Gozer doesn't get a full cookie any more when she goes into her kennel.

Because Gozer's current food doesn't have any flexibility for things like getting a bath (when she would normally get about two liver bits at eight calories each), we need to re-work what treats we're feeding her. We have room to cut down on her kibble when she gets more treats so we can always do that. We're also going to do some investigation into other treats with fewer calories (including things like carrots and apples; the vet also suggested cat treats) so that we have more flexibility in what we give her.

I'd also like to be able to give her more volume of treats for the same calories, if possible. Gozer has been on her diet for a couple of days now and I think she thinks she's starving. When she sleeps on the chair in front of the tv she almost always has one of her squeaky toys in her mouth. When she's not up on the chair with me, she's looking for insects to eat. Poor girl. I know how she feels, being hungry all the time. I figure if we can give her treats that are more filling and have fewer calories, she'll be happier.

I am looking forward to seeing our little fluffybutt becoming leaner. Already she seems to have more energy on her walks and when playing so I think that she'll like being leaner, too.

Monday, October 15, 2012

MBCN Chicago conference

I had the best time ever at this weekend's conference in Chicago. The conference itself was hit and miss as some sessions were extremely informative while others offered nothing new or relevant. Of course I didn't go to the conference for the information; I went to connect with my friends on our online board. I haven't seen them in a year and I've missed them. Seeing people online is no substitute for meeting and hanging out with them in person.

I really connected with people this weekend in a way that I haven't done in a long time. There have been times that I've come away from these things feeling a bit like I don't fit in. Somehow, this time I felt like I really belonged. Maybe it's because I made a couple of real friends - not just people that I know and talk to, but people that I feel like I could (and will) stay in touch with outside of the board and facebook statuses, if that makes sense. I already knew one person and this weekend we got to know each other much better. Another person and I just clicked, and another couple of people and I got along super-well (if we'd talked on our own, we'd have clicked, I think).

Another reason I felt like I belonged is that people came up to me and told me that they really wanted to meet me. I want to meet everyone but I haven't always felt like other people want to meet me, you know? I've also struggled with feeling like I haven't got much to contribute on the board because my cancer is so stable and I was so happy when people told me that they wanted to know how I was doing, that they followed my updates, and that they did want to hear from me.

The only down side to the trip (aside from the fact that I had no time to go shopping) was that my sternum has been aching since yesterday and I've been in agony. My painkiller patches are up to date and working well so I don't know what's going on. I suspect it has something to do with flying and the pressurized aircraft but I don't actually know. I'm taking supplemental painkillers and taking it easy.

Sternal pain aside, I can't help but notice that the last two trips I've taken have been the best ever and that I've come back feeling happy and connected to people. I think that the work I've been doing with my psychologist over the last year has been making a huge difference in the way I'm approaching and thinking about these trips. I love love love this change.

I'm so happy that I had such a great time on this trip. I'm can barely wait for the next one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It's been a while

It's been a while since I've written anything, hasn't it? My sister has moved to to the UK; she arrived safe and sound and has been exploring her surroundings.

We spent some time with Ian's parent's for Thanksgiving. I enjoyed visiting with Ian's parents especially because I haven't seen them for any length of time in quite a while. We ate delicious pumpkin pie after a very satisfying and also delicious meal. We decided to allow ourselves to eat what we wanted in moderation because we figured that easing up on our new diet restrictions would be ok for one day. We're on a low saturated fat diet while also trying to minimize the amount of fat in our diet. I have no idea what our cholesterol levels are like but we've both lost weight.

On Friday I'm headed to Chicago for a conference on metastatic breast cancer. Mostly I'm going to see my friends. Hanging out with them is what makes going to the conference worthwhile for me. I guess the information presented at the conference might be useful but because my mets are so stable, the information isn't as relevant to me.

All that doesn't really explain why I haven't been writing anything lately... and I guess I don't have much of an explanation. I've been tired, and I've been having what might be described as panic attacks. I have no idea why that's been happening; I don't think I'm all that stressed, but maybe I am. I have been feeling a bit more depressed (and bored?) than usual, too.

One of the things that's come up in therapy is that I have a lot of anger and rage issues. I'm not quite sure where they're coming from so I'm trying to identify how I feel right before the rage. I wonder if shining a light on that rage is bringing up some of these other feelings. Or maybe I'm feeling the way I do because I haven't been doing much of anything lately - sitting in front of the tv surfing the internet doesn't count as an activity.

I am looking forward to going to Chicago although I'm nowhere near finished getting everything ready! It's going to be a fun trip.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Edmonton family events

My youngest sister is moving to England tomorrow. She's been planning this move for a long, long time and the day has finally come. I'm very excited for her because moving to England has been a dream of hers for years and years and I'm thrilled that she's realizing this dream. Of course I'm sad, too, because this is such a big change and I don't think I like big changes.

Selfishly, I'm sad because it's a big change and I don't like changes so I'd love for her to stay in Canada, but I want her to be the happiest she can be so my selfish wants have to take a backseat here. Besides, I know that she'll come back to visit - in fact, I think we're going to co-ordinate a Christmas visit - and I'll be able to go and visit her.

Because I wanted to see my sister before she left, I was in Edmonton last weekend. I didn't tell anyone other than my family that I was going there because I wanted to focus on spending time with my sisters. To my friends: we'll get together next time I'm in Edmonton.

I was there for four days and saw both my sisters as much as possible on each of those days. I had the best time I've ever had with my sisters over those four days and my sisters said they had the best time ever, too. We really connected and didn't fight and had the biggest giggles ever :)

One of the things we did was look over old photos that each sister had scanned or developed from slides and negatives. We saw parts of our childhood that we hadn't seen before as well as parts of our parent's and grandparent's lives that were eye-opening to us. It was fun to look back and ourselves and see how beautiful we really were and how great those pictures were... and the silly things that some of us may have done to our hair.

I love my sisters so much and I love that we had such a great time and were so comfortable together. I'm sending good thoughts to my youngest sister that she'll have safe travels and that she'll love it there more than she thinks she will. Have a great time, seester! I love you.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gozer's visit to the doctor

Gozer has gained quite a bit of weight quite quickly: over the last four months she's gone from 9.3kg (20.5lbs) to 11.8kg (26.0lb), an increase of more than 25%. When anyone - human or dog - adds 25% to their weight in only a four months, it's cause for some concern. Gozer's walk time has decreased by a third to half of the pre-summer levels due to the hot weather so it's likely that her weight gain is related to her decreased activity. The vet also thinks that Gozer might be a bit older than we had thought - closer to four years old rather than two - because that's when dogs naturally gain weight

The vet thinks that Gozer is a bit chubby but isn't obese and says that Gozer does need to lose weight - but not too quickly. She's going to draw up a chart showing how many calories Gozer needs each day and from there we'll figure out how much to feed her and how much exercise to give her.

While I was there I inadvertently became part of an issue they're having. Way back when, Gozer was given flea medication that we'll need to start giving to her again in December (she's on Trifexis for the summer to protect against other parasites). Unfortunately, the medication expired in August of this year and there's no way that I'll give her expired medication in December. When I took Gozer in for her grooming a couple of weeks ago, I brought the package to the office. They checked and all of this medication was expired; since they had to order more, I took my package home.

After Gozer and I left the groomers, one of the groomers came running out with a new package of medication. When I got home I noticed that the medication was for larger dogs. Gozer is chubby but she's not that big! I brought both packages in with me today and explained what had happened. The vet was very upset because whoever set up the box just reprinted the label and didn't get the vet's signature, meaning the vet didn't know that this had happened - a major violation of protocol. This didn't cause any problems for me or for Gozer but if the staff is doing this kind of thing at other times, some pet could get hurt and that's not good.

We'll get Gozer's ideal calorie intake next week and then we'll be going back to the vet in a couple of months to see how much weight Gozer loses. We'll also need to pick up her flea medication - one that the vet has signed off on!

Monday, September 17, 2012

My skin thing has a name

The changes to the skin on my left breast are definitely morphea, a type of scleroderma. The biopsy sample was good: it was 0.5cm by 0.4cm and went down into the fatty tissue below the derma, or skin layer. There were areas of sclerosis in the derma that went all the way down into the fat so the changes are quite extensive.

No one really knows what causes morphea. It's thought to be an autoimmune disease and it shows up as a long-term side effect of radiation. The cases I've seen have shown up much sooner than 11 years after radiation like mine did. I can imagine a scenario where my immune system was wonky because of the cancer and sarcoidosis and the denosumab just added enough strain to my already-weird system for the morphea to take hold.

There aren't really any treatments for morphea; pretty much everything is done off-label on an experimental basis because nothing really works. The best treatment is a systemic one - I think it's cyclophosphamide, a type of chemotherapy, and it works by suppressing the immune system - but my system is fragile enough that we don't want to introduce a new systemic treatment until or unless we have to do it.

There's another topical treatment I could do but I'd need to see him every two weeks and there's no guarantee it will work. I don't think he thinks it's worth trying, partly because I'd have to travel so far. If I lived in Oakville, things would be different. Before I make a decision one way or another on whether to try this treatment, he wants me to talk to my oncologist and family doctor to get their thoughts. So we'll see. I'm not convinced that it's worth trying to get rid of it, especially since it's not life-threatening or anything. Besides, if chemotherapy clears this thing up, it'll get cleared up when I'm the "lucky" recipient of chemotherapy for the cancer - whenever that happens (which hopefully won't be for quite some time yet).

Oh, and the dermatologist thinks that the incision is healing up quite well. He told me that sometimes infection will take hold and be tough to get rid of so if there are any signs that the infection is returning, I need to get to the ER right away. I'll definitely do that: I don't want to wind up in the hospital with IV antibiotics.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Healing but tired

I think the anitbiotic is working. There's still some fluid draining from the holes where the stitches were but it's lessening and looking less infectiony. The redness is also fading and the swelling is going down so the area doesn't look quite as angry and swollen as before. I'm happy that it's getting better and that I don't need to go back to the hospital for IV antibiotics.

I am finding that I'm extremely tired since I started the antibiotics. I feel like I'm so tired all the time and the slightest activity leaves me exhausted. I assume that the antibiotic is forcing my body to heal and that's what is making me so, so, so tired.

Tomorrow afternoon I see my dermatologist and hopefully he'll agree that the biopsy site is healing well. I also hope that he'll have meaningful pathology results so that we know what's going on with my skin. I'm not looking forward to the drive tomorrow but I'll sleep in, load up on caffeine, and take it easy so that I'm not too tired. I don't know what we'll do about supper, exactly, but I'll deal with that tomorrow.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Adventures in (non)healing

For the last few days my left arm, underarm, and breast have all felt heavy, achy, and sore and I was having a hard time lifting my hand up high because it hurt in my underarm. I figured that the biopsy and my previous surgery taking out lymph nodes caused a buildup of lymph fluid in those areas so I massaged them. I'd been taught how to do the use massage to move the lymph fluid and get it flowing better way back when I had the lymphedema in my arm. I'd noticed that the area around the stitches was a bit warm and a bit red but I figured that this was related to the swelling and buildup of lymph fluid.

Imagine my surprise when I was having a bath and I noticed that the area around the stitches was bright red and there was that particular yellow crust around the stitches that signifies infection. My dermatologist had told me to call if anything looked strange and so I called right away. He would have liked it if I could have gone to see him this afternoon but he was leaving in an hour and it would have taken at least an hour and a half to get there because Ian had the car.

He told me that in this case, I should go to the emergency room and have them look at it since he couldn't prescribe something over the phone. I asked if I could go to a walk-in clinic and he reluctantly said yes but preferred the emergency room.

I called Ian right away, told him what was going on, and he came home to take me to the emergency room. I was worried that I'd end up there for at least six hours... and I almost did. The main treatment area was not moving at all and was really backed up. They were able to get me into the minor treatment area where I was seen by a nurse practitioner. She took out the stitches, gave me a prescription for Keflex, and we were on our way in just over two hours.

If the Keflex doesn't work I need to go back to the ER and they'll put me on IV antibiotics. That's one outcome I'd like to avoid but if it does come to that, it's actually a good thing that I went to this ER - the one associated with the cancer center. As much as I'd wanted to go to a walk-in clinic, going to this ER meant that they had more information about me and my cancer treatment. Ian was right to make me go to the ER even though I was whining about having to be there for six hours.

I see the dermatologist on Monday. He expects that the infection will be cleared up and I hope he's right.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Streams and rivers and frogs, oh my!

The person who cleans our house had to bring her kids with her today. They're 10 and 7 and both boys and I offered to take them and Gozer for a walk. We ended up out there for about two hours.

Mostly the walk went well: we went through the woods and down by the river... and by a stream and through the stream and beside the stream. The boys decided that they wanted to look for frogs so that's what we did. Unfortunately, all of us got our feet wet... including Gozer. She was doing ok walking through the streams - it was when she stepped into much up to her chest that things were bad for her. She became a little panicky after that because she wanted out of that area right that second.

When Ian found out that Gozer smelled like fish and was absolutely filthy, he gave me a choice: keep her outside until he got home, or give her a bath myself. It turns out that I can bathe her all by myself. I thought I did a good job but I detected the faintest scent of fish when she came in from her short evening walk so I think I'll have to bathe her again tomorrow.

I don't think my cleaner was too, too upset that both her boys came back with filthy, wet socks and shoes (and two frogs). If there's a next time for this, we're not going for nearly as long and we're going to go frog-hunting closer to home. Preferably without actually stepping into a stream.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A whole lot of work

With my cholesterol higher than it should be I know that I need to make some changes. Diet-wise, we're looking more carefully at what we're eating and making healthier choices that involve more fruits and vegetables. However, changing my diet isn't enough: I need to exercise more.

With it being so hot this summer I haven't been walking Gozer during the day and I haven't been getting much other exercise. Weeding is some exercise but it isn't cardiovascular exercise so it isn't helping my heart at all. Somehow it does seem to be increasing my flexibility, however: for the first time ever I can bend at my hips, keep my legs straight, and put my hands flat on the ground. I used to have to strain to touch my fingertips to the ground.

Today I got more exercise than I'd bargained for because we decided to seed some of the bare patches on our front lawn and the top of the back lawn and overseed the rest of those lawns. We - by which I mean I - de-thatched these areas first which was a LOT of work. Using the rake doesn't just involve my arms but my upper- and mid- back, core, shoulders, and legs. Fortunately, by using my core and upper back, my lower back didn't hurt while I was working and it's still feeling good..

I haven't done that much work since I was paddling! Unfortunately, because I haven't done much exercise lately, I wasn't able to quite finish de-thatching everything and Ian had to finish. Even though he only worked for an extra 20 minutes or so after I stopped, I knew that if I hadn't stopped I would have crossed the line into overdoing it and I would have paid for it for the next week. I'm proud of what I accomplished today. Afterwards I had a lovely long, hot bath to soak my muscles.

It's going to be nice this week so I plan to take Gozer out for an afternoon walk. It'll be good for her chubby bum as well as mine. And maybe next weekend I'll be able to do some physical work in the yard again - after fully recovering from this weekend, I expect (ok, I hope) to have more stamina.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Everyone gets a new diet in our house

For the last couple of months we've known that Gozer had gained weight. We were feeding her the recommended amount and she still gets two walks per day but for some reason her weight has been increasing.

How much has it increased? She went from just under 20 pounds in the spring to 25.8(!) today. In other words, she's increased her body weight by over 25% in just a few months. That's a huge weight gain for a person, let alone a dog. I knew she was bigger but I didn't know that she was that much bigger. I don't think she's obese because I can see her waist from the side although I can't see it from above and I can't feel her ribs without pressing hard into her sidess.

Gozer is going to be groomed on Friday and because she's over 25 pounds I think she'll be considered a medium instead of a small dog as 25 pounds is the cutoff. Of course it costs more to groom a medium-sized dog because they require more handling.

Tomorrow I'm also going to call and make an appointment for Gozer to see the vet. Clearly she's going to need to reduce her weight and I need to get some hints for that. I also need to be sure that she doesn't have some condition that's causing her to gain weight. She's gained the weight so fast for no real reason that I can see that I'm a bit concerned.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Doctor's appointments

Today we got to visit some doctors.

Both Ian and I were called in to see our family doctor about our cholesterol results. Fortunately, the rest of both our bloodwork was fine but he has issues with the cholesterol levels. My HDL (good cholesterol) was 1.92, my LDL (bad cholesterol) was 4.81, and the ratio of my total cholesterol over HDL is 3.7. Because my dad had a heart attack at 39 and died after surgery to correct serious vascular issues in his legs I'm considered to be at high risk for heart problems and a ratio of 3.7 is getting to be too high. I think that the ratio should be under 4.0 - which mine is - but it's gone up since the last time I had the cholesterol tested.

Ian has different numbers and other factors and his cholesterol has to come down, too. Our family doctor gave Ian some new medication but he doesn't want to give me yet another medication. Therefore, we have to make some dietary changes: more fruits and vegetables, no more ice cream (including Blizzards and McFlurries), no more high-fat foods, no more fries and chicken fingers for dinner.

We'll be getting our cholesterol checked again in about six weeks to see if the steps we're taking are having an effect. I hope that the change in diet works that quickly.

After seeing our family doctor I had a biopsy done on the the skin on my breast. A new spot has actually shown up at the end of my collarbone on the left side; he looked at it but he decided to focus on the breast skin. As he was looking at the area to figure out where to do the biopsy, he asked if I had any kind of implant. Ummm, no - if I did, I'd have made that breast bigger to be more like the other one instead of walking around with one normal boob and one mini-boob. Apparently the changes to the skin have somehow made the breast feel like I've got implants.

The doctor was really good especially when it came to dealing with me. I'd been nervous all day and when I laid on the thingy I started to get a very woogly back and had trouble staying still. Mostly it was the thought of feeling him do the biopsy and put in the stitches that was making my back all woogly so I tried to do some breathing and focusing on other senses. It mostly worked and I was able to stay more still. I did not think about beetles crawling on my skin, as Ian suggested afterwards, because that's kind of what the woogly feeling is like.

The doctor put in two stitches which will come out in two weeks when I go back for the pathology results. If the results are inconclusive then he'll do another biopsy. I don't exactly know what kind of biopsy he did but he was worried about puncturing an implant (hence the question about implants above) so I think he took a fairly large sample.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Great news.. and sad news

On Tuesday I saw my oncologist and got some great news: my tumour markers are steady at 33. Yay for low tumour markers! My blood counts are all normal although my calcium was a little bit low (but still within normal). She cautioned me to always, always take calcium because two people have died while taking it. One person had low kidney function and the other had never taken calcium at all. I have a good supply of calcium pills and I'm taking them in the mornings.

I wanted to write about my oncologist's appointment but when I got home I discovered that four of my friends had died since last Wednesday and I was alternately in shock and grieving. I knew that two of the women were close to their end because they were in hospice but I was terribly shocked and saddened to know that the other two had died.

I'm still not finished processing these deaths. I slept until 3pm yesterday - I was tired before this terrible news but I didn't think I was "sleep all day" tired - out of the shock and grief. Today I had metalsmithing class but when I was getting ready to leave I just started sobbing ... at which point I knew that I couldn't go out and see people. I needed to stay home and cuddle my dog.

How can I still be alive when so many have died? It's so unfair.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dermatologist appointment

You might remember that I had a biopsy of the thickened skin on my left breast a while back and the pathologist thought that I had grannular annulare of the interstitial type, maybe. Well, I saw the dermatologist today and he thinks that I have morphea, a type of scleroderma, instead. This condition, which is also thought to be an autoimmune condition, is quite rare and can be caused by radiation therapy. Who knew?

I'm sure there are differences between the two conditions but I'm not sure what those differences might be. The dermatologist wants to do another biopsy to confirm his theory that I have this morphea thing. That's scheduled for September 4 in his office.

He warned me that whatever is causing my ugly breast syndrome, it's unlikely that it can be treated so I'll be stuck with it until or unless it resolves or fades on its own. I'm a little upset about that because I'm very self-conscious about how ugly that breast is. The thickening has also changed the shape and position of the breast it looks more like a bolt-on (or breast with an implant) and it's quite rigid. The rigidity means that I'm not able to pad it out in a bra anymore, which is frustrating. The breast also hurts and the skin itches like crazy.

If the breast issue turns out to be a form of scleroderma, there's a research group in Hamilton for people with scleroderma. That's something.

What are the odds of someone having cancer and two separate autoimmune diseases? I wonder if there's something connecting all of these conditions. Where's Dr. House when I need him?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Another Olympics over

The Olympics is over again. I've spent the last two weeks watching various sports instead of working on this or that. Now I'll have no excuse for not getting something done!

I liked the coverage of the various events at the beginning of the Olympics but towards the end it seemed like they showed more and more commercials. For example, we could only see about two-thirds of the dives in the Men's 10m Diving Final because TSN aired commercials during the other third. I found this to be very frustrating. I was able to watch almost all of the Men's 10m Diving Preliminaries so why couldn't I see almost all the dives in the final? I know that the Final was on Saturday so presumably viewership was higher but I would have been happier if fewer commercials were shown. I might have even been a bit more tolerant of the coverage if they'd broadcast new commercials but they showed the same old ones that had been showing during the entire Games.

This Olympics was broadcast by CTV and its partners TSN, SportsNet, OLN, and other non-English station. CBC has the rights to broadcast the next Olympics and while I hope that they'll have as many partners broadcasting coverage, I also hope they show fewer commercials. I know they have to make money and all but there must be a better way to balance prime-time coverage with commercials.

The Closing Ceremonies, like much of the Opening Ceremonies, focused on music. There were quite a few live performances, including a surprising one by Eric Idle! He sang Always Look on the Bright Side of Life which was very well-received by the crowd: even Kate Middleton was swaying back and forth and whistling the whistling bits!

Rio, who will be hosting the 2016 Games, did a small segment to show the world what's coming in four years. As I recall, the London segment during the Beijing games was kind of lame. The Rio segment this year wasn't so much lame as it was kind of incomprehensible because it was so much like the rest of the ceremony except in another language. I'm sure their Opening Ceremony will be compelling in its own way.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Our long weekend

This past long weekend was very fun and productive for all of us. I met up with a friend and a couple of her friends for a delicious lunch at Yorkdale on Friday. When I'd said that Friday was better for me, it didn't occur to me that it was the Friday of a long weekend and that traffic might be bad with people heading up to the cottage for the long weekend. I've definitely driven through worse traffic but this was as bad as anything I've had to drive in for a long time. Normally the drive to Yorkdale takes about an hour and ten minutes or so and it took closer to an hour and three quarters each way.

Fortunately the trip was worth it. Lunch was delicious and I had a great time with my friend and her friends. I hit it off really well with one of them and we were in stitches laughing almost the whole time. It was great :) 

I also finally picked out a paint colour for my sewing room and we got the room painted this weekend! I chose Benjamin Moore's CSP-370 (Picket Fence). It's a light taupe colour, I guess. One thing I like about it is that it's a full-spectrum paint, meaning that it contains pigments from each colour in the spectrum and contains no black. Full spectrum paints read more like daylight colours and interact with the surrounding light and colours much more than regular paints do. As well, the shades are more luminous with subtle tones because all of the pigment colours are mixed in the final colour. 

We painted the ceiling and put two coats on the wall over the weekend. I love it! The ceiling has one of those california finishes with plaster scraped on and I think it looks so much better once it's painted. The shadows are softer. The wall colour looks fantastic even with the yellow subfloor and I know that once the floor is in it'll look just the way I wanted: welcoming and calming with some colour (but not so much that the colour would overwhelm the fabric).

Even Gozer had a productive weekend. We found her trying to eat a small rodent of some kind that had been dead for a while on Sunday. Then on Monday we found her with blood all over her face with a freshly dead mouse in front of her. I'm familiar with cats that kill and eat mice and birds but it never occurred to me that our cute little dog would kill them - especially since it seemed like she couldn't catch them. Apparently she has hunting skills we didn't know about.

In and around all of these adventures we watched the Olympics. I do love watching the different sports although I prefer watching gymnastics and diving. The timed sports like swimming and running are interesting but I like the sports that require some artistry. I'll watch just about anything, however.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Zucchini plant problems... again

Because we love zucchini, we planted another zucchini plant this year. It had three main stems and was producing lots of huge zucchini on each one. Then last week we noticed orange frass: the telltale signs of the Squash Vine Borer. (insert dramatic music here)

Yes, that damn SVB is back. We tried to poke holes in the affected stems and kill the larvae but the plant started wilting and we saw more frass. This sucks. Because the damage from the SVB was so near the root of the plant, the whole plant was about to go down. We ended up cutting off each of the three stems and sticking them into the ground. We did that last year and the plant grew; unfortunately, it was too late in the year to get an zucchini from it. We hope that at least one of the three former stems will bear zucchini before the summer is over.

We planted the zucchini in around the same place as we'd planted last year's zucchini so we're wondering if the SVB somehow overwintered in the soil and infested this year's plant. We're going to have to do some research on controlling and eradicating the SVB. I like zucchini and I want to grow it in our garden; the SVB, I can do without.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

2012 Olympics

The summer Olympics have begun! Last night's opening ceremony was the vision of Artistic Director Danny Boyle with the theme "Isles of Wonder" and it was lovely. It included a bit of English history: from tranquil, pastoral English countryside to the Industrial Revolution to celebrating English literature to English music through the 20th century.

My favourite part was Emeli Sandésinging "Abide with me" to only a heartbeat-like beat. I'm an atheist but the hymn sung only to the drumbeat brought tears to my eyes. During the song, dancers performed a moving tribute to the 7/7 victims. Apparently NBC cut that particular segment in favour of an interview with Michael Phelps. Why they did that I don't know - one would think that broadcasting the entire opening ceremony would be preferable to cutting out a segment in favour of an interview. Interviews can be broadcast anytime; a live opening ceremony cannot.

The parade of nations, which was only supposed to take an hour, took about two hours - and this was a surprise to no one who'd seen one of these parades before. Our Canadian athletes were horsing around a bit with some women riding on men's shoulders. It looked like they were having a great time.

I also loved that instead of having a celebrity light the Olympic cauldron, six young athletes lit six sections of a multi-piece Olympic cauldron. That cauldron was beautiful: each nation carried a piece of it during the parade of nations so it was like each country was a part of it.

I'm looking forward to watching the Olympics. I don't normally follow any of these sports but I enjoy seeing the competition.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The beginnings of the Penn State aftermath

I've still kept my eye on the Penn State sex abuse scandal over the last few weeks. I was so outraged about the whole situation that I wanted to follow its aftermath. Things are at a point now where lots has happened and it's going to be quite a while before lots more happens.

Penn State has removed the statue of Joe Paterno that was erected in 2001 after much debate. Interestingly, the day before Penn State removed the statue, sources from the board of trustees said that the statue would stay up, at least for a while. If that doesn't show how disconnected the university is from its board who is supposed to oversee it, I don't know what does. Clearly there are still some issues to work out there.

Penn State has received sanctions from the NCAA, basing their decision on the Freeh report instead of their own investigation: five years' probation, setting up new administrative oversight, a four-year bowl ban, a $60 million fine to go to an external charity for victims of child sexual abuse, vacating the results of the 1998-2011 seasons (making Joe Paterno no longer the coach with the most wins, aka the "winningest" coach), reduction of scholarships over four years, and allowing any player the ability to transfer to another institution and play right away. Apparently it was either these sanctions or a "death sentence" - no football at all - for up to four years. Clearly the university decided that a few years of reduced football was better for the community than no football at all.

The NCAA sanctions aren't the only punishment the university is facing. The Big Ten Conference has also sanctioned Penn State: Penn State will not be allowed to play in any post-season games and its share of the Big Ten bowl games will go to charity. Nike, Penn State's most visible and (some say) lucrative sponsor, took Paterno's name off of the child care center. State Farm is pulling their sponsorship from Penn State. The university's insurance company is trying to deny or limit coverage for anything related to this scandal because they were not kept informed of the liabilities that the university was facing in Sandusky; when the civil lawsuits start rolling in, the university will be on the hook for the entire amount. 

While the university is accepting the NCAA and Big Ten sanctions, not everyone is happy about them. Some feel that the Freeh report was written by the man who covered up the TWA 800 disaster. I say that if he did cover that up, he is the best person to recognize a cover-up when he sees one. Some others say that the Freeh report doesn't have enough proof that Paterno was involved, since only two "vague" emails were presented in the report as "proof". These people are conveniently ignoring the fact that the Freeh report also includes a thorough description of the culture that Paterno created: Paterno knew or was privy to everything that happened in that department. If you believe that this is true (and I think most do), you have to believe that he knew about the 1998 investigation of Sandusky. If you don't believe he knew about that, then he couldn't have known about everything that happened in his department. 

The Paterno family deserves a special mention of people who are struggling with the aftermath of the report. The Freeh report is inaccurate, they say, in part because the investigation didn't interview the family who knew Paterno best: their own family. They're determined to conduct their own investigation, which is fine. If they stopped there, I'd have no issue with the family. However, every time something happens, they issue a statement saying something about the Paterno legacy being defamed. There's only a token phrase in each statement about the victims; it's all about the family being victimized by the actions of everyone who believed that Paterno had done wrong. The more they portray themselves as victims, the more ridiculous they seem.

I do understand how hard it is for people to accept that their beloved grandfather-figure, Joe Paterno, and other university officials could have covered-up Sandusky's crimes. It must have been shocking for the people involved to realize that their friend was molesting boys, just as it is shocking for others to realize just how far people at the university went to cover up Sandusky's behaviour. It's almost too much for people to take in so instead they focus on small things and argue about them. Hopefully over time people will come to accept what happened.

If only it was so easy for Sandusky's victims to accept what happened and to heal. Everything that Penn State has to pay, all the hardships the fans and players will experience - that's nothing to what those boys have had to live with. I hope that some of the money being taken from Penn State ends up helping them.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

James Franco movie weekend

Can a person ever get enough of the actor James Franco? Well, yes. I didn't think he was that great of an actor after watching his dismal performance during the 2011 Academy Award ceremonies. Fortunately, we managed to not overload our delicate James Franco sensibilities by watching one of his movies yesterday and again today.

Yesterday we watched the Academy-award nominated 127 Hours about Aron Ralston, a canyoneer whose arm was pinned by a boulder after falling in a slot canyon. He stayed in the canyon for 127 hours before freeing himself, hence the title of the movie. Apparently except for the bit with the two hikers, which didn't happen as shown in the movie, everything was very realistic and happened as shown. 

James Franco took up the screen for most of the movie as his struggle and experience trapped in the canyon was shown, and he was able to carry the movie and make it very compelling to watch. He was able to accurately show the range of emotions that Aron Ralston experienced during those five days: his despair, loneliness, anguish, and the realization that he would almost certainly die there alone. James Franco definitely deserved that Best Actor Academy Award nomination; had he not been up against Colin Firth in The King's Speech, he could have won it.

I wasn't expecting the cinematography and music styles used during the movie but they worked perfectly with the subject, helping to convey the stark beauty and isolation of the canyon country and the emotions Aron Ralston was feeling. The music and cinematography are perfectly balanced throughout the movie, working with and not against the script.

While some might think that watching one man trapped in a canyon for an hour and a half is a form of torture, this movie is interesting and compelling enough to make the time pass quickly. It's well worth watching.

I didn't expect as much from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This movie restarted the Planet of the Apes franchise by providing a new origin story and although it had a huge budget, I figured it would be lacking in plot and believability. I was (mostly) mistaken.

Sure, there are some flaws. When shots are flying everywhere, I expect all the cars to be hit by bullets, and I thought all windshield glass was tempered safety glass. Those are small details compared to the success of the rest of the movie.

The most obvious plot hole was the lack of proper ethics at the pharmaceutical firm .... but really, how unrealistic is that? Aside from that, the sequence of events seemed to be believable. James Franco plays a researcher who is trying to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. His research on chimps makes them smarter and looks promising but things go awry and he doesn't get the funding he expected. He raises a baby chimp who got the "cure" and resultant smarts from his mother but when the chimp attacks someone he's forced to put it in an ape care facility. From there, the apes begin to rise.

The movie is well-paced and beautifully shot. The real star of this movie is the computer generated imagery. The lead chimp was generated by motion-capturing Andy Serkis (who played Gollum) as he acted out the part and then applying the chimp characteristics. This CGI was flawless: the chimp looked real (with some extra facial expressions) and was fully integrated into the surrounding imagery. I actually thought that the filmmakers had used a chimp in the movie, and I knew better than that before I started watching.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn't an inspiring movie, or a classic movie, but it is worth a couple of hours if you've got it. Personally, I find the re-imagination of the origin of this franchise much more interesting than the original movies and I'm interested to see where things go next. 

So there you have it - two good James Franco movies. Who'd have thought?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Penn State scandal

Have you been following the Penn State scandal? In short, Football Defense Gerald (Jerry) Sandusky was tried and convicted on 45 of 48 counts related to molesting young boys from 1998 onwards. He recruited these boys at The Second Mile charity he set up in 1977 for young, underprivileged children. Sadly, it seems that child molesters are practically a dime a dozen, but what makes this case compelling is that several Penn State officials knew that he was molesting boys on Penn State property and didn't report it to the authorities or the Second Mile charity.

The Penn state-commissioned Freeh report showed that Joe Paterno, beloved head coach for the football team; athletic director Tim CurleyGary Schultz,university vice president responsible for overseeing the university police, among other duties; and university president Graham Spanier knew about two molestation incidents and did nothing to punish Sandusky or prevent future crimes from occurring. Worse, during the grand jury investigation of Sandusky, Schultz and Curley lied about what they knew and are now under investigation for perjury.

I remember when Paterno was fired in November 2011 after Sandusky was formally charged and the students rioted. How could their football leader, the one who made the university what it was, have anything to do with Sandusky's crimes? Now we know: he had a lot to do with them. By all accounts, he was the most powerful person at that university because he ran football and football brought in the money. Therefore, he could call the shots when it came to his players and his team.

He clashed with Vicky Triponey, former head of student affairs, over how football players were disciplined. He didn't want the public to know about football player's crimes (does that sound familiar?) and he wanted football players to receive gentler punishment than everyone else. And who supported him? Why, Curley and Spanier, of course. Winning at football was more important than ethics and honesty. Football was more important than anything else, and it forced Triponey out of the school after she was threatened and shunned.

Paterno died in January, 2012, of complications related to lung cancer. Before he died, he wrote a letter that said that the Sandusky situation was not football-related. In another university, that might be true, but not at Penn State where football ran the school. If football wasn't so important to the university, Sandusky's crimes would never have been covered up and that makes this situation very much related to football.

Clearly there's a problem with Penn State's culture and it's going to take a long time to fix that culture. The "Penn State way" is wrong. Some are speculating that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a member organization that creates rules and policies for a number of university sports, and who could punish Penn State for organizational failures - the ones that covered up Sandusky's crimes and then lied about it. Those punishments could include the "death penalty" or preventing the team from playing in the league for a full season or more. It's also possible that the NCAA could ban post-season play or levy any one of a number of other punishments.

I'm outraged by the entire situation. How could football - a sport - be more important than ethics? How could keeping players on the field be more important that those players completing their punishments? How could fans maintain that Paterno had done nothing wrong when it's clear that did? I know, I know, football brings in money and everyone loves money. At Penn State, they also loved Paterno who had been there for 61 years. Bringing in a ton of money in no way justifies the kind of insular, "football is most important" views that Paterno and others shared.

The priorities at Penn State are a mess and will stay that way unless the university takes gigantic steps to fix them. The culture is just too deeply entrenched in the minds of people connected to Penn State for real change to occur easily. I don't think that the university should wait for the NCAA to dole out punishments; I think that Penn State should prevent the football team from playing for a year. Anything less than that will say that football is still the most important thing at Penn State, that it's more important than ethics or morals.

At the same time, Penn State needs to bring in new people from outside the community who have experience  guiding change in a large organization. Penn State needs to finally step up and do right by its students and its communities.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Heat wave

Our little dog was groomed today and she looks so much littler! Apparently she screamed during the drying process again so we really do need to work on desenstizing her to the the sound. I hope she'll be more comfortable with shorter hair in this terrible heat. It's supposed to stay above 30C for the next few days and even though the nights will be cool, those daytime temperatures make life pretty unbearable for her.

The only things that seem to love the heat are those lupine aphids. They've found their way to the other plant and they're starting to really take over. Every leaf cluster has a set of baby aphids on it and every single leaf on some clusters has a set of baby aphids. I killed as many as I could but I know that the population is about to explode. It's heartbreaking because that plant was doing so well and had a number of flower buds on it and now the leaves are crinkled and misshapen, all of the flower buds have died, and the plant appears to be dying due to the aphids. I wish there was a way to get rid of them.

The heat had sent most of the grass into dormancy so it's yellow everywhere. The weeds really show up against the dormant grass but the soil is so dry that it's hard to pull them out. Not that I'm spending a lot of time outside. Hanging out with the dog in the basement is more fun.

Well, hanging out in the basement is mostly fun. I've been feeling a bit restless lately because I want to be doing more than just sitting around. But then when I try to think of what I could do, nothing comes to mind. Do you ever have that happen? Where you know you want to do something and then when you have a chance to do it, nothing comes to mind? Maybe I'm just getting old. Maybe the heat is reducing my ability to think.

I'll be happy to see the end of this heat wave so that I can start feeling more productive. Gozer will be at least as happy as I will because then she can spend more time chasing chipmunks, birds, and squirrels, and getting to watch the outside world.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Adventures in weeding

It's been so crazy hot this past week that Gozer and I have spent most of our days holed up in the basement. While I love having no responsibilities or plans or anything, after a couple of days I started feeling really restless because I wanted to be outside doing things but it was just too hot.

Today the weather was slightly cooler - below 30C, at least - and so I went outside and spent about three hours weeding. I wasn't weeding in that relaxed way I usually weed; no, I was finally able to get outside and weed and I was going to make the most of the time I had. I was in some kind of weeding frenzy and I weeded with wild, reckless abandon.

I'm paying for being those hours. I felt so young and alive, being out there under the sun and working in the dirt and now I feel positively decrepit. My lower back is throbbing with pain no matter how I sit or lie down or stand, my legs are sore, and I'm bone-tired. I'm not sure that this back pain is worth those hours of happiness weeding under the sun - it's a higher price than I wanted to for those hours, even though I know that I overdid it.

Wishing that my body didn't betray me doesn't seem to be getting me anywhere, unfortunately. It would be better if I could remember that I can't do four days worth of work in three hours because then I wouldn't overdo it (and pay for it) like I did today.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Home from Edmonton

I arrived home from Edmonton on Sunday after a happy but exhausting trip. I'd gone to see my niece and nephew graduate from high school and to celebrate the occasion with my sisters and their families. Although I'd planned to call some friends while I was there, I ended up seeing only one friend and spending the rest of my time with my family.

I felt honoured to celebrate the graduations with my sisters. Watching both my niece and nephew walk across the stage to receive their (fake) diplomas, I felt so proud of each of them: they made it! I also realized that finishing high school was a rite of passage not just for my niece and nephew but for the adults in their lives, too, who'd watched them grow into adults. It seems like just yesterday that they started kindergarten and now here they were, finished their public schooling. They're basically adults, now, and they get to choose whether and where they pursue further education.

While I was there we had a family gathering to celebrate my niece and nephew's graduation, which is something we haven't done for quite some time. It was a ton of fun and I really enjoyed myself. It felt relaxed and casual and it seemed like everyone had a good time. One of my sisters hosted it and I got to see her beautiful garden in the summer for the first time in I don't know how long. She has a number of sweet-smelling, very healthy roses and lilacs and has planted gorgeous sweet peas lining her fence, as well as some other ground cover and a healthy ash tree (side note: I didn't know that ash trees grew in Edmonton. There are oak trees now, too, and I didn't think they grew there either).

The trip wasn't all good, unfortunately: my cell phone battery refused to charge so I wasn't able to use it to send or receive texts about halfway through the week. My Kindle was also starting to misbehave with the buttons not working properly and now only every other line is displayed. 

I wasn't able to rent a car at all, either. I tried to, I really did. My plane was late arriving into Edmonton so I changed my booking for an office near my hotel. To my surprise, I discovered that that particular Avis doesn't take Sears cards. I thought about going with my backup plan but then I decided that I didn't need a car... I just wanted one. so I did without and it worked out just fine.

Also, while my hotel was lovely - and it was; in fact, I highly recommend staying there if you're in Edmonton - the only alarm in the room was a radio and I don't easily wake up to a radio because the voices end up being incorporated into my dreams. Usually I use my cellphone as an alarm but since it was in paperweight mode, I had to rely on the radio alarm in the room. Yes, I could have called for a wake-up call but I needed to wake up from naps, too, and multiple wake-up calls in a day seems a little silly. Therefore, I ended up not sleeping so well for the latter half of the trip because I was so worried about waking up on time.

Even with these technical issues, I really enjoyed myself in Edmonton and I was sad to have to leave. Edmonton is beautiful at this time of year: the weather is warm but the light wind makes it bearable, everything is blooming, and the air smells so clean and fresh. Every time I walked outside I'd just stand there, breathing in the air. I'll be going back to Edmonton in a couple of months as one of my sisters is moving to the UK this fall and I want to see her in Edmonton before she moves away.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Car rental update

I'm still a bit upset about having my identity stolen but I'm feeling better than I did yesterday about it. Happily, Expedia canceled the car from my bill with no problems. I explained my situation and how the car rental companies' policy prevented me from picking up the car and after double-checking the policy, they canceled the car rental and are refunding my money for that part of the trip. I'd been prepared to eat the cost of the rental car and I'm happy that I don't have to do that.

I've also booked a new car rental reservation for my arrival tomorrow. I checked and it seems that Avis takes Sears credit cards. I think Budget used to be the company that accepted this card, but both Avis and Sears websites say that it's Avis that accepts it now. I didn't prepay this reservation so if it doesn't work out I haven't lost any money. If the rental doesn't work out, one of my sisters has generously offered me a backup plan. I'm touched and very grateful for her offer of help. 

I used to carry both a Visa and a MasterCard but dropped the Visa a few years ago. There's definitely an advantage to having more than one major credit card... but at the same time, having more than one could possibly open me up to being defrauded on the second card. Having had this second set of fraudulent charges on my card and having had my identity stolen, I'm feeling paranoid that it could happen again.

I'm looking forward to going to Edmonton tomorrow and seeing my sisters and their families and my friends. Hopefully everything will go smoothly while I'm there.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My identity is not my own

Yesterday I was looking at my Mastercard statements online and I was shocked to see that my balance was in the neighbourhood of $13K(!).  I was expecting a much lower balance because I pay it off every month or so and I know I haven't run up that much in charges considering I haven't used the card much.

I might not have used the card, but someone did. They purchased over $10K in camera equipment from a Toronto camera shop. I was a little upset because I'd had to change my card number within the last year because someone was booking flights on Vietnam Air. I filed things to dispute the charges and let it go. After all, I'm going to Edmonton on Sunday and I wanted to think about what I needed to do to get ready.

The BMO fraud department called this afternoon and I was surprised that they were contacting me so quickly. After the person identified herself I made some comment that she must have been calling about the charges and she said that she would get to that.

She would get to that? Why else would she be calling?

She would be calling to tell me that someone went and changed my address to someplace in North York (part of Toronto) and that I'm the victim of identity fraud.

While trying to reassure me that this happens all the time, she instructed me to cut up my card (which I did) because it's already been cancelled and they've put new security measures in place for the account. I also had to call Equifax and TransUnion (the credit reporting agencies) to report the identity theft and to take steps to prevent my identity from being stolen again or other people from getting credit from being issued in my name.

The person from the fraud department also instructed me to run virus scanners on our computers because whoever took my information (including information that would allow me to change the address for my credit card) could have done it through a virus on my computer.

This has all freaked me out quite a bit and I'm feel violated. What else does this person know? What else could they do?

This situation has also complicated my trip to Edmonton a bit. I've prepaid for everything - flight, hotel, car - so I hoped that not having the physical card anymore wouldn't be a problem. It isn't a problem for the hotel but it's a huge problem for the car company. It's such a huge problem that I will not be able to pick up the car at all. Not having a car isn't the end of the world, but it's annoying and frustrating that I won't be able to use something for which I've already paid. Tomorrow I'll try to contact Expedia (where I booked the trip) and see if I can get a refund for the car without messing up the rest of the trip but I'm not holding my breath.

Identity theft sucks. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sewing room progress

This past weekend, Ian finished laying the subfloor for my sewing room. Yay! It was a ton of work but he managed to finish it in one day. I'm very pleased with the way it looks and feels underfoot. It'll make the floor so much more comfortable than if the floor were laid directly over the concrete. Having the subfloor in place will also mean that we won't need to worry so much about leaks damaging the flooring as there are channels incorporated into the subfloor allowing water to move.

The top of the subfloor panels have some kind of wood composite on top that is yellowish so the light in the room looks very yellow. This will make it more difficult to choose a paint colour for the room so I think we'll have to lay the floor first. We'd planned to paint first so that we didn't need to protect the floor but I just don't think that I'll get a good read on the paint colour without the floor in place.

So now I need to go floor shopping. As much as I'd like to get it done before I leave for Edmonton, I don't think it'll happen. I'm already feeling a bit stressed about my available time and I don't want to add to that stress at all. I'll do that shopping when I get back

The idea that my sewing room is almost ready is very exciting... at this rate, I might have a sewing room before the end of the year. Oh, how I'd love that!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Catching up

I've been really, really busy this past week. Even though the aprons are done I'm still working on the gifts for my niece and nephew. Of course they're taking longer than I thought they would because that's how these things go, right? :) I'm very pleased with my designs and how they're coming together.

On Wednesday I saw a friend of mine that I haven't seen in ages. She and her husband made a beautiful purple knitted sweater with hand-made buttons for Gozer. I was touched by their generosity in making something for our little furchild. The sweater fits her perfectly and is a welcome addition to her fall and spring wardrobe.

I had a wonderful time visiting with my friend. We spent some time looking around the garden and then did some catching up over lunch and while walking Gozer. I'm so proud of my friend; she's been through a lot and has come out a stronger, happier person than before. She's in school in the process of starting over with a new career and is doing very, very, very well. Clearly she's found her calling and it makes me happy to see her happy and doing so well.

Yesterday I was finally able to spend some time in the garden. I wanted to get out there but I've been much too busy on other stuff so I decided that no matter what I was going to work out there yesterday. I did some puttering around and then got down to doing some serious work. Over where the birch trees were taken out things had been going a bit wild. There was Virginia creeper everywhere, a small sumac tree, three small ash or prickly ash trees, and a huge assortment of weeds. I got the trees and vines out along with anything that looked like it might possibly grow into a tree or bush. My muscles are all stiff now so I know that I worked hard.

This weekend I hope to get some work done on the gifts and maybe do more work in the garden. It's going to be really hot over the next few days so it might not be fun to be working outside. We'll see what happens.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Biopsy results

When I got to my surgeon's office the biopsy pathology results hadn't yet arrived. The receptionist called and was able to have the hospital fax the results over before I saw my surgeon. The results were both great and strange.

The great news is that the sample contained no malignancies, so the changes in my breast are not caused by any kind of cancer. Even though I figured that this was the case, it's nice to have confirmation that I don't have more or another cancer.

The strange news is that there was no sarcoidosis in the biopsy sample. Huh? The pathologist said that the changes are more like granular annulare of the interstitial type (whatever that means - could it be interstitial granulomatous dermatitis? I couldn't really find that part), which is apparently just a group of white blood cells that form and rise to the skin. This condition usually causes raised red rings to form on the skin, which is definitely what my thing looks like although it doesn't look the same as the pictures on the interwebs.

The report says that it's also possible that the breast changes are due to an interstitial granulomatous drug reaction. From what I can gather, this means that I`m having a rather unusual reaction to one or another of the drugs that I take. The most recent addition was the denosumab so of course I wonder if it's the one causing the problem.

How crazy would it be for me to have two distinct conditions characterized by granuloma formation: sarcoidosis and this other thing going on in the breast? Pretty darn crazy, I'd say. I'm fairly certain that I do have the sarcoidosis because it was confirmed by biopsy in my mediastinal lymph nodes and my elbow scar. Of course apparently sarcoidosis can look like these other conditions but apparently the pathology is usually different for each of them.

My surgeon is referring me to a dermatologist in Oakville because we need to figure out what`s going on with that one breast. The biopsy raised more questions than it answered, which seems to be par for the course. Hoepfully I'll be able to get some answers and maybe even some treatment.