Monday, October 20, 2008

Coming home from the hospital

It has been two months since I have written an entry.  There are a few reasons for this.  I've been sick for the last month.  I have been hospitalized in Hershey Medical Center for the last three weeks.  I'm doing better now.  I am going home tomorrow.  I'm really excited about it.  I will write another entry in a day or two upon returning home.  I hope you continue to read my blog when I begin writing more regularly.  Take care.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I Was a Guest Editor's Pick

I want to thank Jude of My Way  for choosing me as a Guest Editor's Pick in Magic Smoke on August 8.  It was an honor to be chosen among those she selected.  If you haven't checked out her blog, please visit; it's an interesting read. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Happy 5th, JLand

I wanted to write an entry tonight because this is the 5th Anniversary of AOL Blogs. I couldn't let this day go by without saying what JLand means to me.   
I have been writing a JLand blog for less than a year now, about which I have received many thoughtful and concerned comments.  I knew two years earlier, however, that JLand was a caring community where people would take the time and go to the effort to support and encourage others who they had never actually met.  Even before I had gotten my bone marrow transplant, I was receiving a great deal of traditional mail from JLanders literally around the world wishing me well and offering thoughts and prayers that my transplant would go well.  My wife, Krissy, often told me about the outpouring of concern for both of us in the comment section of her blog, and would read aloud comments left there for me by JLanders. 
After my transplant, while I was an inpatient at Hershey Medical Center, Krissy would bring to my patient room each morning a stack of cards and letters from JLanders inquiring about my health and wishing both of us well.  At Hope Lodge, where Krissy lived while I was hospitalized, the staff would keep our abundance of mail at the lodge office and would jokingly ask her if we had a fan club.  The warmth and affection generously offered by JLanders played a large part in keeping my spirits lifted during the long year I spent in the hospital.  All of you have my most sincere gratitude.
I learned that JLanders represented the best that humanity had to offer.  Your interest in others continues today, not just for my wife and me, but also for other JLanders and people in general. 
Happy 5th Anniversary, JLand!  Your mutual interest and support for each other makes JLand a uniquely welcoming place.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My cancer is not back

I haven't been able to write an entry for awhile, but I wanted you to know that my oncology appointment on July 28th went well. 
My cancer is not back.  When my oncologist returned from vacation he told me that the doctors who thought my cancer was back didn't have his experience in treating MDS.  That's why they were mistaken. 
He's quite pleased with my progress both with the transplant and with my kidneys.  The reason my kidneys were not functioning as well as they had been was because of a medication I was taking.  My oncologist is taking me off this medication gradually, and my kidneys have already begun to improve.  I will be off this medication in about a week.  
The only thing my oncologist is concerned about is my iron level.  I have iron overload from the more than 100 blood transfusions I've had since my bone marrow transplant.  My iron level is more than 7 times the normal level what it should be.  In the near future, my oncologist is hoping to put me on a medication which will lower my iron level back to normal. 
I want to thank every one for their concern, comments and prayers.  Your support really means a lot to me.  You made it easier to get through this.  I'll do my best to keep you up to date on my future progress.    

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bad News in My Blood Test Results

For several months recently my blood test results were quite good.  They showed that I was doing well in many ways, and especially that my immune system was stronger than it had been since before my bone marrow transplant.  My oncologist at Hershey Medical Center was so pleased that he reduced my blood test schedule from once a week to once a month.
Then, about three weeks ago, my lab results showed that my neutrophil count had fallen well below the normal range, which meant my immunities were low, and were actually on the edge of being dangerously low.  I waited a week, all the while wondering if my immunities were getting weaker or stronger.  But after a week, I felt that couldn't wait the remainder of a month to see how I was doing.  Hershey's Post Bone Marrow Transplant Coordinator, the person I call when I have a problem, was away on vacation.  Since I couldn't reach her, I turned to my local oncologist's office for help.  One of the nurses there said that I could have labs done twice a month for a while, since my neutrophil count was low. 
I had to wait another week, but I had the labs done.  The results showed that my neutrophil count was very low, much lower than it had been two weeks before.  This means that I will have to stay in our apartment almost all the time, and when I go out I'll have to wear a surgical mask everywhere.  I'll also have to wash my hands frequently and use hand sanitizer often.  I can't have fresh fruit or vegetables, I can have no fast food, and I must avoid crowds of people. 
My wife Krissy called Hershey to see if I could have a Neulasta shot to raise my neutrophil count.  We learned that not only was the Post Bone Marrow Transplant Coordinator still on vacation, but my oncologist was also on vacation and wouldn't be back for two weeks. 
The doctor and nurse who are filling in for them don't know me.  They said that since my neutrophil count is so low two and a half years after my transplant, it could mean that I'm having a relapse of cancer.  If that's true, a Neulasta shot could further damage my bone marrow.  They said I'll have to wait until my oncologist returns and determines what's wrong with me.  I have an appointment to see my oncologist on July 28.
I'm not too worried about the possibility of a relapse.  The substitute doctor and nurse may not fully appreciate how much of the last two and a half years I've spent with a dangerously low neutrophil count.  Even though I'm not a doctor, I'm reasonably sure that the cancer isn't back.  My oncologist has told me many times that neutropenia (a dangerously low neutrophil count) can be caused by something as simple as a mild viral infection which you may not even be aware that you have except for feeling tired.  I have been tired lately. 
I have a feeling that when I see my oncologist on July 28, he'll tell me that my cancer hasn't come back.  I think he'll say that the substitute doctor doesn't have his personal experience with my condition.  If I'm still neutropenic at that time, I may get that Neulasta shot.
Even though I'm not worried about cancer, I have to be cautious about being neutropenic.  I can't afford to get sick.  With such low immunities, any infection could be very dangerous.  The last time I was neutropenic, I got a blood infection that sent my temperature up to 104.4 degrees and kept me in the hospital for a week.  This time I haven't felt sick -- just tired.  I hope it stays that way until my neutrophil count returns to normal. 

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Man Who Hates Blogs

 No matter what you try to do in life, someone will believe that your efforts are worthless.  I had this fact proven to me again recently by a university PhD who paused during a presentation to launch into a five minute attack on blogs and online journals.  Let me explain.
Not too long ago, my wife Krissy heard about a writer's meeting which was to be held at the local public library.  The topic of the meeting was memoir writing, which is an interest of mine, so we attended.
The talk went well for a while as the university instructor and his female co-leader gave helpful advice about writing, with a focus on memoirs.  Then, about 30 minutes into the talk, the man's attitude changed abruptly.  He began speaking about blogs in a hostile, mocking manner, saying that blogs were worthless and boring (I believe the term he used was "mundane"), and he claimed that all blogs were written in "stream of consciousness."  He was convinced that people who write blogs and online journals couldn't be considered real writers, and wrapped up his attack by saying, "Who'd want to read a blog, anyway?"
I wanted very much to stand up and walk out of the room midway through their presentation, but I forced myself to stay and listen to everything else he said, since I was planning to write him a scathing email.  
When the presentation was over, I did walk out, while the audience stayed for refreshments.  I was furious and I knew that if I talked to him that night I would have chewed him out in front of everyone there.  I wanted to avoid that.  Krissy, however, went up front to talk with the man.  She told him that she and I wrote blogs, and that we've been told that we write rather well.  To this he responded, "Not everyone who can use a keyboard is a writer."  She tried to talk about this with him, but he just kept repeating that one sentence.  Eventually he said that he might consider editing our work so that someday we might have some hope of becoming writers.  Krissy refused his offer.  She described him to me as being arrogant.  Personally, I might go to him if I ever want lessons on becoming a pretentious snob.
When I'd calmed down a bit, I realized that this man had used arguments that anyone familiar with public speaking or debate would have recognized as being irrational.  He might have read a blog or two that was not well written and assumed that all blogs were written that way.  I was surprised that a college instructor (probably a professor) could have fallen into an illogical belief like this.  Professors are expected to be clear thinkers.  Also, despite his claim, all blogs aren't written in stream of consciousness, as anyone who has read a fair sampling of blogs would realize.  There are many good blogs, including nationally known and respected blogs which are certainly well written.  Instead of saying that he personally didn't like blogs, he tried to throw all blogs on the trash heap.  I realized that he had not been giving his professional opinion that night.  Instead, he had been expressing a pet peeve. 
I never did write that scathing email.  I saw that it wouldn't have accomplished anything.  I could have given him a piece of my mind, but that wouldn't have changed his view of blogs.  I got over my anger after a few days.  I understood that I had been angry because he had put me down as well as Krissy and the many fine blog writers who don't deserve to be dismissed out of hand.  
Everyone has a right to his own opinion, and if this one professor wants to harbor an unrealistic hatred of blogs and online journals, he's free to do so.  My concern is that he may influence the minds of students and other professors, prejudicing them against blogs.  Hopefully, one teacher can't do much damage to blog writers.
Maybe I'll write him a calm, thoughtful email about his irrational reasoning.  I'll have to think about that.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Snapshot of My Mom's Life

As many of you know, my mother passed away on April 16th, 2008, at the age of 76, following a long battle with advanced Parkinson's Disease.  She was a fighter, but a decade or more of Parkinson's, combined with years of constant pain from severe osteoporosis, had worn down her resolve.  At the end, I think she wanted to die.
I know that everyone's own mother is special to them, partly because she's their  mother, and partly because every mother is unique in different ways, but I think my Mom was one of a kind.  Her name was Kathy, she loved the smell of honeysuckle, and her favorite flowers were yellow roses.  She liked spicy foods, especially foods seasoned with a lot of black pepper and horseradish.  She never drank or smoked, but she loved her coffee.  She liked sad songs and sad movies, and she struggled with depression all of her life. 
She and my Dad adopted me when I was a small baby, and at the age of eight I was absolutely stunned when they told me that I was adopted.  She had never done anything to suggest that I was not her natural child.  My Dad once told me, "Never doubt that your Mother loves you," and I never did. 
My Mom thought she was dumb, but I knew she wasn't.  She may not have had much "book knowledge," but she was very smart with people.  She could win folks over with a smile and a few words.  I watched her talk salesmen into selling her merchandise at half price when the items weren't on sale and the salesmen had no obligation to cut her a deal.  She claimed that she was shy, but if she was she had everyone fooled.
In many ways she had a hard life.  For instance, when she was nine years old, she had to have a tonsillectomy, and her doctor opted to do the surgery in his office.  He blindfolded her before he gave her the anesthetic.  For the rest of her life she was afraid of the dark, afraid of going blind, and afraid of doctors.  I know this was 67 years ago, but doctors back then must have known better than to do things like that.  She would refuse to see a doctor no matter how sick she was, and it was only in the last year of her life that she agreed to see a neurologist and was diagnosed with being in the late stages of Parkinson's Disease.
This entry is necessarily an incomplete description of my Mom's life.  I could write books about her experiences.  I just wanted to give you a snapshot of a part of her life.  In my Mom's memory, Krissy and I planted a yellow rose bush in a giant flower pot on our patio.  The rose bush will remind us that my Mom is still with us, and that we'll all be together again someday.
Goodbye for now, Mom.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Fell in the Shower and Injured My Neck

Six weeks have passed since I've felt well enough to write an entry.  Much has happened to delay my writing, one incident being the death of my mother on April 16.  I received a flood of online comments expressing sympathy and concern for my wife Krissy and me; I want to thank all of you who kept us in your thoughts and prayers.  Mom will be missed.
The latest delay began on Sunday, May 4th.  Krissy and I were getting ready for a two and a half hour drive the following day to see my hematologist/oncologist at Hershey Medical Center.  Late that night I decided to take a shower to get a head start on what we knew would be an early, busy Monday morning.  While in the shower I slipped and fell backwards, smashing the back of my neck on the rim of the bathtub.  The pain of the impact stunned me, and the force of the impact split open a respectable length of skin behind my right ear. From the other end of our apartment,  Krissy heard me fall like a bag of bricks, and she came running to help.
Though we had a lot left to do that night, we were forced to make an unexpected trip to the local Emergency Room.  The pain in my neck and shoulders was severe, and we were afraid that I might have done serious internal damage.  The ER staff took my injury too casually to suit my impatient mood.  After I explained all the important details, the triage nurse handed me a beeper and told us to sit in the waiting room until someone from Registration was ready to see me.  They were having a slow night at the ER, so there was no one ahead of me waiting to be seen.  When I had been there three weeks earlier with what I had thought was bronchitis, they had taken me from triage directly to an exam room even though they had been quite busy that night. 
Upon arriving in an exam room, the ER doctor had blood drawn to make sure my platelet count wasn't too low due to my bone marrow transplant.  The lower your platelet count is, the more likely you are to have internal bleeding.  Thena Radiology technician had me walk to the CAT scan unit.  On previous visits the staff had always insisted on wheeling me over.  I didn't know why this visit was different.  The results came back before too long.  My platelet count was quite low, but not dangerously so, and the ER doctor said the CAT scan images were normal.  The doctor closed the wound on my neck with some kind of super glue.  He told me to go home and resume normal activity.  Krissy and I weren't sure if we believed him or not.  The pain I felt certainly wasn't normal.  We got home at about 2:30 AM.
Later that morning I drove us to Hershey.  The neck pain was bad and my neck muscles were stiff, but I could turn my head and see in all directions well enough to drive safely, if not comfortably.  My doctor's appointment went very well.  My hematologist/oncologist said he believed my two cancers would never come back.  He did order an Aranesp injection, though, to raise my hemoglobin, which was significantly low.   We stayed in Hershey overnight at Hope Lodge, and I drove home on Tuesday.
A week after I fell, my neck hurt as badly, if not worse, than it did the night I fell.  Monday, May 12th, Krissy called my local Primary Care doctor.  Krissy explained my situation and the nurse said if we could get to my doctor's office in half an hour, my doctor would see me.  I don't know how she does it, but Krissy gets things done.  Seeing a doctor on 30 minutes notice is next to impossible. 
We got there on time.  My doctor examined my neck, then sent me downstairs for X-rays.  My doctor said the X-rays showed that a piece of bone had broken off one vertebra in my neck.  He told me to buy and wear a cervical collar, and he referred me to a spinal surgeon.
I saw the spinal surgeon the next day.  He did a series of neurological tests on me, then sent me down the hall for more X-rays, about 15 of them, with my neck in all different positions.  After a while, the surgeon came back and told me that my vertebra was not fractured, and that what had looked like a piece of bone was actually a calcification which had been there for a while.  I wasn't sure exactly what a calcification was, but I have since learned that it is a hardening of soft tissue which is far less serious than a fractured vertebra.  The surgeon told me that I had a sprained neck which would take at least a few weeks to heal.  He scheduled me for physical therapy and gave me other instructions, which I'm following.
The pain is considerably less than it was a week ago, but it's definitely not gone.  The cervical collar seems to be helping a great deal.  I'm writing this entry, so you can be sure that I'm feeling better than I was.  I expect to be fully recovered before another month goes by.
Do yourself a favor:  Be careful when you take a shower.  A sprained neck is very painful, and I could have been hurt much more seriously.  All it takes is one bad step.  Good health to you, your family, and your friends. 

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Life Under Thundering Jet Engines

When my family moved to suburban Chicago in 1969, O'Hare International was the world's busiest airport.  While our house was miles from O'Hare, low altitude airliners as large as Boeing 747s roared over us more often than one plane per minute, all day, every day.  We also lived near a Naval Air Base.  On some days fighter jets rumbled loudly over our house as they maneuvered to land at the Navy base.  At first the unceasing noise of military and commercial jets was deafening, and we thought we would lose our minds.  But after six months we somehow had learned to tune out the majority of the constant roaring.  This may seem hard to believe, but human beings can adjust to almost anything, given time.  If I stopped and deliberately listened for the airplane engines, I could hear them clearly. Even so the noise didn't seem as loud as it had when we first moved in.   
We made many sightseeing trips to O'Hare during the three years we lived in Illinois.  As a boy who hoped to be a professional pilot some day, these trips were a much anticipated joy.  Certain areas of the airport had huge windows where we spent many hours over the years watching airliners take off and land.  The massive jets would accelerate rapidly down the runways before slowly and with great effort becoming airborne.  Once off the ground, the planes soared quickly upward and out of sight.  But I was especially in awe of how pilots could bring a jumbo jet safely down from miles above the ground and place it almost gently on a runway.  The descending planes appeared to land in slow motion even though they were moving quite rapidly.  I also enjoyed watching planes taxi to and from arrival and departure gates.  This allowed me to view these large airliners close up. 
 Sometimes on Saturday afternoons during the summer months, we drove near the ends of departure runways at O'Hare where we could watch planes take off as closely as possible.  At these locations there were hot dogs stands that did a surprisingly good business.  We would have hot dogs and drinks while enormous jets thundered directly overhead, seemingly low enough to reach up and touch.  We not only heard but also felt the almost painful roaring of full throttle engines.  This variety of Saturday supper may not be for everyone, but for those of us who enjoyed the novelty, such an exhilarating meal was a unique experience. 
While I never realized my dream of becoming a pilot, the ambition led me to many fascinating childhood adventures.  Even though I've kept both feet planted firmly on the ground, I will always have my memories of those three years in the shadow of O'Hare Airport.  My childhood was deeply enriched by the presence of those thundering aircraft.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bad News -- I Have Five Cavities

Yesterday I had my first dentist appointment in over two years.  They took x-rays and gave my teeth a cleaning.  The x-rays showed five cavities, which my dentist will drill and fill on May 1, provided my hematologist/oncologist approves of an invasive procedure being done on me.  I'm fairly sure that he'll approve because the consequences of leaving cavities uncorrected could be far more dangerous than doing some drilling.  Besides, my white blood cell count has been doing well lately, so there should be a minimum of risk. 
The cavities have probably been there for at least a year, although they were probably smaller then.  As some of you know, I spent about 10 months of 2006 at Hershey Medical Center recovering from a bone marrow transplant.  During most of that time I was either too tired or too sick to get out of bed to brush my teeth.  I should have tried to brush my teeth anyway, but often I just didn't have the strength to stand at the sink that long.  Taking good care of your teeth after a cavity has set in doesn't help much, so all the brushing and flossing I've done since coming home may have prevented new cavities, but the old decay wasn't reversed by my good dental hygiene. 
I expected my dentist to find at least one cavity, because I've been having rather bad pain in one tooth whenever something cold touches it.  This pain has been occurring for about four months now.  I called my dentist right away when the pain started, but she didn't have any appointments available until yesterday.   I suppose I should have seen my dentist when I started feeling stronger about nine months ago, but drilling cavities back then would have been a much more serious procedure than it will be now.  The chronic neutropenia (dangerously low immunities) I had until this past December would have made drilling cavities a major infection risk without first having a series of Neupogen or Neulasta injections to artificially raise my immunities.  You probably wouldn't believe how much just one of these shots costswhen I was told for the first time I couldn't believe it.  Because of the expense, doctors usually only order them when the risks to your health are severe.  But based on my current lab test results, I think my dentist can now drill safely.
My dentist told me that I won't need to have any root canals or to have any teeth pulled, which I'm sure will be a relief to my hematologist/oncologist.  I'm pretty happy about it myself.  I'm also glad this dental work could wait until my health allowed the work to be done.  I plan to be extra diligent in caring for my teeth from now on, even if I don't feel up to it in the future, because I know I will not enjoy having these five cavities drilled.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Don't Appear to Be Having a Relapse

In my last entry I told you that I was getting tired and short of breath without much cause, and that I was waiting for my monthly lab results to see if I was having a relapse.  This past Tuesday (March 11) I had my monthly lab tests done.  The results were normal for me.  I was relieved to hear this since I had been close to holding my breath for three weeks over my unusual symptoms.  As far as Krissy and I could tell, there was nothing in my blood counts to indicate that there was anything wrong with my marrow, and my blood chemistry showed that my kidneys are chugging along at about 40% of normal function like they have been for months.  *Whew*
Whenever I have labs done, I wait a few hours and then call my local oncologist's (cancer doctor's) office.  A nurse there gives me any lab results that I want over the phone.  After all this time they know me well and don't mind doing this for me.  I like getting the results on the same day the tests are done.  Naturally, Krissy and I can't interpret the results as well as a doctor can, but after spending almost a year at Hershey Medical Center, we can draw general conclusions from my labs. 
Since the lab results didn't show anything obviously wrong, on Wednesday I called my transplant nurse at Hershey and asked her what they thought down there.  She said she had told my transplant oncologist about my symptoms.  He said that he saw no problems in my lab results, and that my symptoms could be caused by something as simple as a mild viral infection.  My transplant nurse told me to relax, that she would call me if anything important turned up.  She hadn't called as of Friday, and after a sleepy weekend I decided not to wait any longer to write this entry. 
I plan to call two other doctors this week about possible causes for my symptoms.  If these two doctors can suggest anything significant, I'll let you know.  But the good news is that I don't appear to be having a relapse. 

Monday, March 10, 2008

Could I be having a relapse?

Lately when I work for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes I get tired and out of breath.  I'm not doing hard labor.  I'm just doing housework or grocery shopping.  It makes me wonder if I'm having some kind of relapse.
I don't know if it's something as simple as my hemoglobin being low again (that would explain why I get tired and out of breath).  Or perhaps it could be more serious like my MDS coming out of remission. 
I'm wondering if the coffee I'm drinking is damaging my donor marrow.  I have not heard that caffeine causes damage, but I'm just wondering.  I've had to drink a lot of coffee lately just to stay awake. 
Perhaps I could be having kidney problems and not MDS.  I've been eating too many foods with too much sodium lately. 
Other times I wonder if it's the Hemalytic Anemia coming back.  I don't ever want to have that again.  There was a time when I had to have seven bags of blood a day just to stay alive. 
What makes this more difficult is that I'm only getting blood tests done once a month now instead of once a week.  I don't know from one week to the next how well I'm doing.  I could have some kind of serious problem and know nothing about it.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) I'll have my monthly lab tests done.  Maybe they'll tell me something I need to know about my condition.  Perhaps there's something wrong.  The tests could just as easily show that nothing's wrong.
I won't be able to relax until I know what my results are.  Worrying like this isn't normal for me.  I'm used to seeing the results every week.  This helped me feel more secure in knowing how I was doing each week.  Not knowing at all is a lot worse than knowing that something is definitely wrong. 
If the test results don't tell me anything conclusive I'll call my transplant nurse in Hershey, and maybe she can give me some idea of what's happening.  As soon as I know what it is going on I'll be sure to let you know. 

My Cool Things -- Battling Tops and Jonny Quest

Here are more of "My Cool Things."  This entry is the last in this series. 

   Take away a nine year old boy's action toys and you'll have a sulking child.  At this age, my favorite store-bought action game was called "Battling Tops," which may not be familiar to you.  This was 37 years ago, after all.  Could they possibly still make this game?  In case they don't, I'll give you a quick description of it.  The game had a round, concave, arena-like playing area with four player stations at equal distances around the perimeter.  The playing pieces were four plastic tops, several inches high.  Each player got one top and a small plastic ring with a length of thread attached to it.  The ring fit over the player's index finger and the thread wrapped tightly around a top quite a few times.  The top was then placed in the player's station, which was designed to hold the top steady until the game began.  All players pulled their rings at the same time, causing the tops to spin furiously in the concave playing area.  From this point on, all the players could do was watch and hope.  The tops would whack repeatedly into each other, making a surprising amount of noise, until all the tops except one either fell over or were flung out of the arena, often at impressive speeds.  The winner was the player who had the last top still spinning.  
I don't think I played this game with the neighborhood boys because they seemed to enjoy breaking store-bought toys as much as playing with them.  I wanted "Battling Tops" to last for a while, so I only played it with my Dad.  I'm not sure if he enjoyed playing the game or if he was just playing for my sake, but either way I had a ball.  The best parts were listening to the whirring, rattling, whacking noises the tops made, and dodging the tops as they flew across the room.  If you're thinking that this sounds like the perfect non-electronic game for a boy, I'd have to agree with you.  Action games that thrill young boys without taking away their innocence are impressively cool. 
   When I was 10 years old, my favorite cartoon was an action-packed thriller called Jonny Quest.  Unlike any other cartoon, the considerable violence on this program was realistic:  not graphic, but definitely far more believable than Bugs Bunny/Road Runner  pseudo-violence.  Bad guys usually met with swift and imaginative deaths.  I wasn't interested in seeing anyone die, but I loved the high level of action.  I also loved the realistic detail of the animation. 
Jonny Quest  was different from other Saturday morning cartoons because it had originally aired as a prime time science fiction/adventure series in the 1964-65 season.  Probably because it was a cartoon, the show got away with levels of action that never would have been permitted on other 1960s prime time programs.   Jonny Quest  was quite popular, but was canceled after one season because every episode went over budget.  The program was just too expensive for a television series of its era. 
The show followed the adventures of Dr. Benton Quest, who was billed as one of the top three scientists on Earth.  He apparently had a PhD in everything, and he traveled the world thwarting the plans of evil scientists and other high-tech villains.  With him he brought Jonny, his 10 or 11 year old son, and Hadji, Dr. Quest's 11 year old adopted Indian son.  Roger "Race" Bannon was the pilot of Dr. Quest's super-high-tech private jet; "Race" was also the boys' tutor and much-needed bodyguard.  Rounding out the regular cast was Bandit, Jonny's white bulldog. 
After being canceled, Jonny Quest  went into very successful syndication until parents' groups against cartoon violence had the program pulled from broadcast in 1972.  The program returned years later, when the level of television violence caught up with the precedent set by this cartoon series.  In the '80s, and again in the '90s, two new Jonny Quest  series were produced for a short time, but I felt they were inferior to the original. 
I haven't seen an original Jonny Quest  episode since the early '80s, and if I found one now I probably wouldn't watch it.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm not a pacifist.  I enjoyed the Star Wars  and Indiana Jones  movies.  But if I had young children I'm sure I'd be concerned about them watching something as violent as Jonny Quest. When I was 10 years old, though, I thought Jonny Quest  was awesomely cool. 

Sunday, March 9, 2008

My Cool Things -- Aircraft and Dinosaurs

Here are more of "My Cool Things."  I'll finish this series in the next entry.

    When I was seven years old, my family moved to a suburb of Chicago.  Our new home was modest, pleasant, and agreeable in every way, except that it was located under a high-traffic, low-altitude approach path to O'Hare Airport. At first we didn't like the constant noise from the jet engines, but surprisingly, we adjusted to it quickly.  Somehow we learned to tune out most of the constant roaring.
Before long I discovered that sitting in our backyard and watching the endless parade of airliners was an entertaining pastime.  I had never flown on a plane, so I found myself wondering how being a passenger on one of those jets would feel.  My daydreams quickly grew into imagining the experience of piloting a plane.  I saw myself sitting in the cockpit, my hands on the controls, maneuvering the powerful aircraft with practiced ease.  My parents had been airline passengers; they spoke about the force of taking off pushing them firmly back in their seats, and the exhilaration of climbing rapidly to a great height.  In my mind I guided planes through many imaginary flights like my parents described, and still more breathtaking flights which I created in my dreams.  I decided that I would be a pilot when I grew up. 
Through junior high and high school I considered several different careers, but becoming a pilot was always close to my heart.  Then one day after I had graduated from high school, my dream was abruptly shattered.  I spoke with a professional pilot who told me that to be a pilot you had to stand at least 5 feet 10 inches tall.  I had stopped growing at 5 feet 7 inches in height.  There was no escaping the cold facts.  I would never pilot jet airplanes.  Eventually I recovered from my disappointment and moved on to other dreams.  But even today I know that piloting aircraft would be adventurously cool.
    Like many eight-year-old boys, I loved dinosaurs.  I didn't have any dinosaurtoys or action figures, which my parents probably would have bought for me if it had ever occurred to me to ask for any.  Instead, I spent hours memorizing every available fact and theory about these ancient reptiles.  My information was provided by many oversized, heavily illustrated books produced for my age group, which my Dad did buy for me. 
When I couldn't corner anyone long enough to share my enthusiasm for the Mesozoic era and its inhabitants, my interest turned to more creative applications of my hobby.  I'd lightly sketch a member of each dinosaur species on construction paper, carefully cut out each image, and fill in the details of an artist's conception of that dinosaur using a 64 piece set of Crayola crayons.  My room would become a child's recreation of the Mesozoic world as I placed each dinosaur in its native construction-paper-and-crayon habitat.  One corner of my room became an ocean or inland sea where marine dinosaurs hunted prehistoric fish.  Nearby was a swamp where Brontosaurus and other giant sauropods waded while eating soft water plants.  A drier landscape could be found by my closet, where Tyrannosaurus Rex and three-horned Triceratops battled, surrounded by a menagerie of other familiar and obscure species.  Flying dinosaurs perched in tall, prehistoric trees. 
Transforming my bedroom into a world of dinosaurs took much time and effort, but the enjoyment it brought me was well worth the work.  I would make the various dinosaurs carry out what I imagined were normal activities for them.  They would interact and go on reptilian adventures until their construction paper forms wore out.  Then I'd continue reading my dinosaur books and searching for another patient listener who I could privilege with the wonders of ancient Earth.  Long before the era of video games and DVDs, being a boy who was passionate about dinosaurs was imaginatively cool.
This is the fourth entry of a five part series.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Cool Things -- Apollo 11, The Starship Enterprise, and Star Trek

Here are three more of "My Cool Things."  I'll finish the last of "My Cool Things" in the next two entries. 

 The Apollo 11 mission gripped the world as one of the most compelling nine days in history.  The mission boasted the first manned Moon landing on July 20, 1969.  That day at 10:56 PM EDT, when Neil Armstrong became the first human to stand on the Moon's surface, my eyes were glued to our television screen.  I was seven years old, but my parents let me stay up late to watch an event which would fascinate me for the rest of my life.  Despite being absorbed in the NASA images of Moon rocks and dust being collected for analysis on Earth, I felt sad for astronaut Michael Collins.  He had to remain orbiting the Moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the lunar surface and got all the glory. 

Scientifically accurate details from the Moon's surface captivated me.  The astronauts appeared to bounce across the surface in one-sixth of Earth's gravity.  Lunar dust which was kicked up fell directly back to the surface, leaving no floating cloud in the moon's airlessness.  And when the astronauts left the Moon, the previously motionless American flag, which had been planted at the landing site, whipped as in a furious wind.  This effect was caused by powerful rocket exhaust as the Lunar Module rose from the lunar surface.  The astronauts' return to Earth on July 24 left me with a profound sense of wonder that the mission had been a complete success.  Knowing that humans have walked on another world is astronomically cool.  

 Star Trek's famous Starship Enterprise  first voyaged to distant,   imaginary worlds on September 8, 1966, nearly three years before Apollo 11.  Science fiction can leap beyond factual science where rockets are the most advanced propulsion system available.  The Enterprise  journeyed between stars at incredible speeds by using warp engines, which physicists rightly reject as pure fantasy.  But that doesn't stop millions of us from thoroughly enjoying the many fictional tales from the Star Trek  universe.  Obviously, none of the five Star Trek  television series or 10 big screen movies ever tried to explain warp drive, but we have been given some tantalizing details. 
The original Starship Enterprise  could have traveled the 25 trillion miles from our Solar System to the next nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, in three days.  By comparison, the Apollo missions took three days to reach the Moon, which is only 238 thousand miles away.  The second Star Trek  series, The Next Generation, introduced us to a new Starship Enterprise  which could have traveled from Earth to Alpha Centauri in just 38 minutes!  This ship was no slouch.  To actually travel at such speeds, a staggering revolution in physics and engineering would be necessary.  The Next Generation  is supposed to take place in the 24th Century.  I don't believe that humanity would have a snowflake's chance in Hades of advancing that far in just 350 years, even assuming that these advancements were scientifically possible.  But Star Trek  isn't about being realistic; it's about traveling to exotic places and having amazing adventures.  Having such adventures by means of the Starship Enterprise  is stellarly cool.
  In high school, the original Star Trek  series fascinated me.  Let me speak from experience:  This television program never would have worked without futuristic technology and adventure, but another aspect of the show kept me focused intently on the series.  Like many viewers, I watched Star Trek  to follow the relationships and experiences of its cast of characters.  In some ways I saw a reflection of myself and others in the members of this starship crew.  For example, I admired Captain Kirk's courage and self-confidence.  I wished that I could be like him in these ways, but his quickness to use force and his smooth success with women made it difficult for me to relate to him.  I was a painfully shy teenager who was socially awkward and was virtually an outcast among my fellow students.  No, Kirk was not a reflection of me.  He reminded me more of the popular, athletic boys at school.  Then there was Dr. McCoy; he genuinely cared about people, but he was prone to being irritable. Also, he was suspicious of science and technology even though he was a physician and a scientist himself.  No, McCoy also was not a reflection of me.  I did care about people, but I didn't want to be socially abrasive like McCoy.  And again unlike him, I saw science as a great hope for the future of humanity.  McCoy reminded me of some adults I had met or heard of. 
Mr. Spock was the one character that I could identify with.  He wasn't shy, but he was an outcast in profound ways.  Spock was half Vulcan and half human.  On Earth he was considered Vulcan, and on Vulcan he was considered too human.  Anywhere else he went he was a complete outsider.  Like me, he didn't fit in well anywhere, except to some degree with his shipmates, a few of whom were his friends.  I envied him for having those friends.  Also, his Vulcan philosophy of logic and emotionlessness made him very different from everyone else on the Enterprise.  He was not allowed to express feelings, or even admit that he had them, which made it difficult for him to interact with the Enterprise  crew, even with his friends.  I was alone in a crowd, too, although for different reasons.  Spock became a role model for me; I saw his great inner strength which carried him through his difficult life, and I wanted to be as strong as he was.  I tried very hard to remain unaffected by the harrassment I received from the other kids for being different than they were.  In some ways I brought Spock's determination with me in my daily life, and I gained strength from his strength.  I don't know if I would have survived my high school shyness and depression without having Star Trek, and especially Spock, to turn to for help.  To me, Star Trek  became almost a philosophy for being a teenager.  Having a philosophy and a role model for surviving a painful period of your life is logically cool.
This is the third entry of a five part series.

Friday, February 1, 2008

My Cool Things -- Krissy, Jethro Tull, and Baroque Music

Here are some more of "My Cool Things."

  What challenges me is to capture in words the unique beauty that my wife brings to my world.  My words won't adequiately describe her, but I'll try anyway.  Krissy loves me; when she first confessed her deep feelings nine years ago, the revelation stunned me.  No other woman had ever loved me, and I had lost hope that any woman ever would.  That her commitment to our relationship hasn't wavered for almost a decade is still a source of wonder to me.  What she sees in me that other women dismissed as insignificant baffles my mind.  But whatever she sees has been compelling enough to keep her with me through two cancers and a bone marrow transplant.  And my first cancer was diagnosed just four months after we met!  That and her willingness to marry me is amazing.  I haven't even mentioned her intelligence, her sense of humor, our mutual interests and values, her imagination and playfulness, her patience, and a long list of other qualities that she has.  I could write volumes about what has made our relationship precious and still not cover all the details of why I  love her.  My wife Krissy is completely cool.

 I've heard Jethro Tull called the original Alternative Rock band.  Musically and lyrically, they are superior to, and far more artistic than, most popular musicians; frequent use of diverse instruments lends their tracks a unique but pleasing sound.  Jethro Tull writes largely about the profound social and political issues of our time.  A fondness for descriptive detail breathes life into their viewpoints, which are thought-provoking and persuasive.  I've enjoyed many of their albums, with the exception of Aqualung, which has a strong atheistic theme.  It saddens me to know that they reject religion, but you don't have to agree with everything artists believe to benefit from their work.  Jethro Tull's tracks are thoroughly enjoyable; artists who both inform and entertain are doubly cool.

 Are you familiar with baroque music?  If all of you were, my job in this paragraph would be unnecessary.  I have to assume, though, that some of you are drawing a blank.  Baroque was a period in European music between 1600 and 1750, marked by an elaborate and ornamental style, which preceded the Classical music era.  Now before your eyes glaze over, let me assure you that this won't become a lecture in music history.  Elaborate and ornamental -- what does that mean, right?  Trying to understand any kind of music by a textbook definition without actually hearing some of it performed is an almost hopeless task.  What I would like to do, if you've never heard baroque played, is urge you to give it a chance.  Maybe you've heard classical music and didn't like it.  You still might find that you like baroque.  Let me give you a popular example to listen to and let you judge for yourself:  Vivaldi's Spring Concerto   If you liked this, I hope you seek out more baroque.  If you didn't, that's all right too.  Liking baroque music or disliking it are both naturally cool.

This is the second entry of a five part series. 


Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Cool Things -- My Transplant, Aussie Hat, and God

In the sidebar of this journal I will be adding several pictures from time to time.  I have chosen things that I think are cool.  I'm calling them "My Cool Things."  I've decided to tell you about them in a few entries. 



Today is a Red Letter Day on my calendar.  This is the second anniversary of the bone marrow transplant that put one, and kept another, of my cancers in remission.  In the last two years I have been through many complications, numerous procedures, countless infections, and endless tests; I almost died a number of times.  But without that transplant I would almost certainly be dead.  Being alive against the odds is definitely cool.
Australian hats have a unique style that brings to mind the Outback, exotic animals, and adventure.  My wife wanted to buy me a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off my face and neck since bone marrow transplant recipients are at high risk for skin cancer.  I picked an Aussie hat that was distinctive and good looking.  We chose a hat over sunscreen because shade is more effective than chemicals, and a fine hat can improve your appearance.  A little help from Australia is welcome, because avoiding a third cancer can only be cool.
God has been my friend since before I was born, even during those years when I spent my time in rebellious pursuits.  He was with me during my treatment for cancer, especially during my many, sometimes life-threatening, complications to my bone marrow transplant.  God kept me alive through those difficult times because He has a plan for my life.  Doctors, medications, and transplants are several ways God heals us of our illnesses.  Supernatural miracles may be the exception rather than the rule; He can  heal us that way, but He often chooses to help us help each other.  This does not diminish God's role in the treatments that lead to our cures.  I am deeplygrateful to God and my doctors for my recovery.  Having a friend like God is eternally cool.
This is the first entry in a five part series of "My Cool Things." 

Thursday, January 24, 2008

it's the 2nd anniversary of my bone marrow transplant

This Sunday is a special day.  It's a second anniversary for me.  On January 27, 2006, I had a bone marrow transplant, which put my bone marrow cancer into remission and prevented me from developing leukemia.  This transplant also made sure that my Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which had been in remission since 1999, would remain in remission indefinitely.  The transplant did what it was supposed to do, but it left me with nearly constant complications for almost a year, and frequent complications for a year after that.
But during the last six weeks, my weekly lab tests have shown a big improvement in some major areas of my health.  My immunities have been in the normal range for a month and a half.  This is a great relief after having very low immunities for most of the last year.  The three most important measurements of my red blood cells also have been normal for the first time in three years.  And my kidneys have improved from 30 percent function to 40 percent.  While my doctors are all pleased with these changes, I'm thrilled.  Maybe now I can have a life that's closer to normal.  I'm looking forward to that.
My home town nephrologist (kidney doctor) was surprised as well as pleased by the improvement in my kidneys.  He's told me several times that damaged kidneys don't repair themselves.  But that's what my kidneys appear to have done, at least partially.  He isn't sure how this can be.
This has happened to me several times.  In the summer of 2006, I had total kidney failure.  The nephrology team at Hershey Medical Center started me on dialysis the next day, but they told my wife Krissy to prepare herself, because they thought I would die.  Obviously, I didn't die; a week later they told Krissy that I would live, but that I would be on dialysis for the rest of my life.  A week after that, my kidneys were working well enough that they took me off of dialysis.
When I got home, my local nephrologist told me that my kidneys were functioning at 25 to 30 percent.  When I asked him if my kidneys might improve more, he said that he doubted it very much.  Now, a year and a half later, my kidneys are functioning at 40 percent.  This time when I asked him if my kidneys might continue to improve, he said, "I doubt it -- but never say never."  Apparently he isn't completely ruling out further improvement. 
I like surprising doctors when it's in a good way.  I've set a goal for myself:  I want to reach 50 percent kidney function.  Maybe it's not realistic, but I'm determined just the same.  I know that I owe a lot of my success to the prayers and support of you and the readers of my wife's blog, Sometimes I Think.  I believe that the Lord has kept me alive for a purpose that He has in mind.  God willing, I'll achieve my goal.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

raising baby rabbits (conclusion)

                     our baby rabbits eating pink clover

Here's the conclusion to the story I began in my last entry.

The rabbits were no longer tiny.  My Mom decided that it was time for them to start eating solid food.  She called the veterinarian again to ask him what to feed them.  He was frankly amazed that the rabbits were still alive under my mother's care.  He recommended pink clover as the best food for the rabbits.  This left us with the problem of finding enough of it to keep the rabbits fed.
My Dad drove my Mom and I around the outskirts of town looking for pink clover.  He clearly found the drive to be an annoyance.  I didn't understand why he had never shared our enthusiasm for raising the rabbits.  He had little patience with the babies, and searching for pink clover was obviously pushing his limits.  My Dad wasn't mean to us about it; he just acted like all the fuss was unnecessary.  The rabbits were so much fun to me that I was confused by his attitude.
Finally, to my Dad's relief, we found a field where pink clover grew in abundance.  We didn't know how much we would need, so we picked a lot.  Back at home, the rabbits nibbled at the clover at first, but quickly began eating large amounts.  One rabbit would start eating at the flower end of a stalk, and another rabbit would start eating at the opposite end.  The two would meet somewhere in the middle.
We discovered that picked clover would only stay fresh for about 24 hours, so we made daily trips across town to get more, much to my Dad's displeasure.  We also learned that even young rabbits are good at leaping.  One day a rabbit jumped out of the box and ran behind the refrigerator.  My Dad had to pull the refrigerator out from the wall to rescue the rabbit.  By the time he had the young one back in the box, my Dad was stewing about the "confounded rabbits."  After that we kept a window screen over the top of the box with books to weigh down the corners.
The rabbits grew rapidly after that.  My Mom said that soon it would be time to set them free.  She hoped they would be able to adapt to living on their own.  The rabbits were still wild:  They wouldn't let us pick them up without a struggle, and petting them was out of the question.  There was an exception to this.  One rabbit was tame.  We could pick him up and hold him; he actually seemed to like it.  Looking back on it now, I'm afraid he may have been too dependent on us to survive on his own.  
One day my Mom decided it was time to set the rabbits free.  We all got into the car; my job was to sit in the back seat with the rabbits and make sure they didn't get out of the box.  We drove across town to the field of pink clover.  I knew that an exciting time in my life was ending.
We walked out into the field where my Dad set the box down and turned it on its side.  Some of the rabbits rocketed instantly from the box and out of sight.  Two others ran a short distance away and stopped, apparently confused by their freedom.  They crouched for a minute, then began exploring their new surroundings.  The tame rabbit remained inside the box, unwilling to leave.  My Dad turned the box over, depositing the rabbit on the ground.  Tears threatened to fill my eyes; I could see that we were betraying the young rabbit.  We had been a foster family to him.  My Mom gave the tame rabbit some words of encouragement, then she and my Dad started walking back towards the car.  After a moment, I followed.  From some distance away, I looked back to see the tame rabbit still sitting there.  I couldn't tell what he was looking at, but I felt certain that he was watching us walk away and was wondering why we were leaving him.  I had a great sense of loss and guilt at abandoning him.  He was my favorite of all the rabbits.  
Leaving the rabbits was hard after caring for them for what seemed like a long time.  All of the rabbits had lived, largely due to the care my mother had given them, despite the veterinarian's dismal prediction.  I should have been pleased that our efforts had helped the rabbits grow up to be healthy, strong, and hopefully ready to live on their own.  But instead our house seemed empty without the rabbits, and a sadnesssettled over me that I hadn't experienced in that way before. 
That night, lying in bed in the dark, I thought about the rabbits in the darkness of that field.  Was each rabbit lonely and afraid, facing the night alone for the first time in its life?  Or had they gathered together as brothers and sisters to share comfort and companionship against a world much larger than any they had ever known?  I drifted off to sleep in the security of my family and friends.  I hope the rabbits did the same.

Friday, January 18, 2008

raising baby rabbits

 The adventure began when I was six years old.  Well, for me it was an adventure; for my Mom it was a challenge, but I'm afraid that for my Dad it was a chore.
At the time we lived in a house on the edge of my elementary school's property.  A large field of tall grass stretched from our backyard to the school itself.  In the middle of the field a mother rabbit had a burrow where she cared for her very young babies.
One day the school custodian mowed the field of tall grass.  Of course the tractor passed right over the rabbit burrow, which scared the mother rabbit.  She ran off, leaving the babies unattended.
I don't remember how my Mom knew that there was a rabbit burrow far off in the field, nor do I remember how she knew that the tractor had scared away the mother rabbit.  I just know that one day I came home from school and was thrilled to find my mother's bedroom slippers filled with sleeping baby rabbits.  For a six year old boy it was an unexpected delight.
My Mom had called a veterinarian about this small crisis.  The vet had told her that the mother rabbit would not return to the burrow after being so badly frightened.  He also told her not to try raising the baby rabbits on her own; he said they would die no matter what she did.  The babies wouldn't suffer.  They would just continue sleeping peacefully until they died.
No one who knew my mother would have been surprised when she ignored the vet's advice.  Her love of animals forced her to take some kind of action.  The rabbit-filled slippers on our kitchen floor were evidence of this.
My Mom didn't know what to feed the babies.  They were clearly too young for solid food, and since stores didn't sell rabbit formula, she used her imagination.  She put some dry oatmeal into a saucepan of milk and cooked it for a while.  Then she strained off the oatmeal and set the liquid aside.  When the liquid was cool enough, she took the rabbits out of the slippers and fed them a little of the milk-oatmeal liquid with a medicine dropper.  Each baby drank only a very small amount.  After a baby was fed she put it back in her slipper.  The baby would crawl as far as it could into the toe of the slipper and return to sleep.  In a short time, all were fed and sleeping soundly again. 
I watched the first feeding with wide-eyed fascination.  The baby rabbits were better than having a puppy in the house.  I wanted to help take care of the rabbits, but my Mom was reluctant; she said the babies had to be handled very gently, and she was afraid I might accidentally hurt them.  She let me hold one for a moment, and promised that as soon as they got older she would let me help with them.
The baby rabbits had to be fed frequently, 24 hours a day.  My Mom didn't complain.  She was determined that the babies would live.  The milk-oatmeal liquid must have been adequate food for the rabbits because after a few days they were not only alive, they were growing.  
Before long the rabbits were too big to all fit in the slippers, so we put them in a cardboard box with a bath towel in the bottom for warmth and softness.  The babies were spending more time awake now, though they still slept a lot.  Since they were active, I wanted to play with them, but my Mom said no, they were wild animals.  If they became too tame they wouldn't be able to survive on their own in the wild.  I realized then that these rabbits would not be a permanent addition to our family.  We were only caring for them until they were old enough to be set free.  I felt sad about this, and I spent as much time as I could with them, mostly watching them.  Even as an observer, having the rabbits there seemed like an adventure.
This story is running too long for one entry.  I'll finish it tomorrow.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

JLand Photo Shoot #124


Here's my entry for JLand Photo Shoot #124.  The subject is 'a close up'.  If you want to be part of this, you can find it in my wife's journal Sometimes I Think.   

This is the first time I've participated in a photo shoot.  I've enjoyed the experience.  I've never taken close ups before; it was challenging and fun.     

Here are some shots of my wife's and my Christmas ornaments.