Friday, February 16, 2007

Cancer Gossip

My support group is pretty cool, like an exclusive club. Well, it’s actually an ‘exclusive club’ because to participate you have to either have the specific PMP form of cancer, something a lot like it, or be the caregiver [usually family] of a PMP patient. But it’s a great group, for a number of reasons, which – to my surprise – now includes some scoops of gossip. I say ‘gossip’ because it’s the kind of information that I cannot certify but find interesting all the same. I don’t mean it in the mean story-telling way that gossip so often entails.

We are, as a group, a bit disappointed in the interest drop by a certain celebrity, who seemed interested in spreading the word getting people informed on PMP, but which interest died out suddenly. More pleasant was the reaction of His Royal Highness Prince Charles, of the House of Windsor and Heir to the Throne of the United Kingdom. One of our members had the good fortune to meet the Prince and his wife the Lady Camilla over in England this month, and His Highness showed a gracious and sincere interest in learning about PMP and its treatment. As we are something of a ‘poor step-child’ in terms of people knowing what PMP is and what one has to do to fight it, attention and support from a luminary of Charles’ magnitude is greatly appreciated, and welcome news indeed.

For those interested, I will be having more tests done on March 9. The whole set, in fact, in order to track the growth and movement of my tumors – like a creepy set of pets, saying it like that. Blood tests for cancer markers, several x-rays, then two CT Scans, all of which is likely to annoy my insurance company. This will be done on the premises of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (or MDA), and the next business day I will have a consultation with Dr. Lambert about my specific condition and the course of treatment. I know the general situation, but the date of my surgery, and just how much cutting needs to be done will be determined by then. As a precaution, before then I will have to make sure all my paperwork is in order – taxes, my will, medical power-of-attorney, et cetera – because as sure as I forget something it will be important.

I am not sure yet how that will affect my blogging. After the surgery I will be in MDA for some time, then after they release me I will need to recuperate at home. That will be a difficult time, as I am never comfortable just sitting around doing ‘dead mime’ impressions. So I figure while I will have to sit around at home, I will still be as busy as I can make myself, which means you poor readers might very well get more blogging, but of a variety of topics and quality. I shall do my best, but if I get too far from the sure anchor of Reason I would be obliged if you point that out to me. Ranting about Liberals, however, will in no way indicate a mental deficiency, so far as I am concerned.

Thanks again to everyone for their continued good wishes and as always, thanks for reading and for your comments.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Harry Potter and the List of Survivors

SPOILER WARNING – this article contains speculation about future events in the final novel of the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. Do not continue reading if you are not interested in such speculation.

Rowling, after a fashion, has not only told us who will live, but also told us how Harry can "vanquish" Voldemort without becoming a murderer.

The following characters from the stories have been wished "Happy Birthday" on JKR's site (alphabetcial order):

Dudley Dursley
Filius Flitwick
Hermione Granger
Rubeus Hagrid
Neville Longbottom
Remus Lupin
Draco Malfoy
Minerva McGonagall
Harry Potter
Tom Riddle
Severus Snape
Pomona Sprout
Arthur Weasley
Bill Weasley
Charlie Weasley
Fred Weasley
George Weasley
Ginny Weasley
Molly Weasley
Percy Weasley
Ronald Weasley

Now, by itself that's just a list of characters, but we know it's an incomplete list. What else is interesting, is that it's not just a list of good guys, because the list includes Draco, Dudley, and Snape. And it includes no character who we know is dead: Albus Dumbledore is not mentioned, nor is Sirius Black, nor Cedric Diggory, nor Moaning Myrtle nor any of the ghosts, nor Peeves. It becomes pretty clear that if you die, you're not on the list. That means that if Jo has wished you "Happy Birthday", it means you will see them through the end of the books.

This also means we need to consider significant characters who are presently (as of the end of HBP) alive, yet are not wished "Happy Birthday" by Ms. Rowling:

Bellatrix Black
Michael Corner
Vincent Crabbe
Colin Creevey
Dennis Creevey
Aberforth Dumbledore
Petunia Dursley
Vernon Dursley
Mundungus Fletcher
Justin Finch-Fletchley
Florean Fortescue
Cornelius Fudge
Gregory Goyle
Fenric Greyback
Luna Lovegood
Ernie MacMillan
Lucius Malfoy
Narcissa Malfoy
Mad-Eye Moody
Peter Pettigrew (Wormtail)
Rufus Scrimgeour
Stan Shunpike
Rita Skeeter
Horace Slughorn
Zacharius Smith
Nymphadora Tonks
Sibyl Trelawney
Delores Umbridge

This does not mean that all these people will die, of course; some are not important to the story (note that I did not mention characters who have graduated or who have no reason to appear in DH). But it does give one a few ideas.

Perhaps the most interesting thing, is that both Harry Potter and Tom Riddle are wished "Happy Birthday", which seems strange until you notice that "Lord Voldemort" is not mentioned. As we have seen in the cases of Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy, it is entirely possible to be nasty and mean without going all the way to evil beyond redemption, and Tom Riddle might be described the same way - he became evil when he became Voldemort. So, and this is a stretch I admit, what if Harry finds a way to "vanquish the Dark Lord" in accordance with the Prophecy, but "the other" which is mentioned in the prophecy is - really - the battle between Tom Riddle and Lord Voldemort?

You see, the prophecy line, "neither can live while the other survives" has bothered me for some time, because both Harry and Voldy have been around together for years - sure they have had clashes and are headed for a showdown, but I notice that Riddle ends where Voldemort begins. And if that means what I think it does, that is also what Dumbledore was trying to do instead of kill Voldemort: Dumbledore tried, and Harry will succeed, in changing Voldemort back to Tom Riddle. That is the 'fate worse than death' from Voldemort's point-of-view, it would keep Harry from being a murderer, and oh yes, it would explain why Harry's blood in Voldemort was so significant - just as Riddle-to-Voldemort was a gradual process, so too is the return trip. I don't know the details, but Jo has

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Arrogance and Amnesia – How the Republicans Gave Away the 2006 Election

I saw yet another column on why the Republicans lost the 2006 Mid-term elections to the Party se refugier dans une panique, long even by my standards. Folks, it’s really very simple, if sobering – the Democrats succeeded in poisoning the Republicans against themselves, so that voters were essentially told to either support the President or their Congressman. This does not mean, by the way, that President Bush was opposed to the Congress, or even that most Congressmen objected to the President’s work and priorities. Unfortunately, however, certain demagogues in the GOP – most notably Frist, Tancredo, McCain, Brownback, and Hagel – pressed their colleagues to support their turf wars rather than the nation’s needs and the party’s duties. Others, notably Hastert, Snowe, Foley, and Chafee, managed to disgrace the party’s image while allowing the Democrats to even appear to be morally superior. In the end, the most notable Republicans visible to the public in Congress betrayed the troops, the nation, their President, their party, their constituents, and their duty.

Only Democrats win under conditions like that, simply because they have much more experience at lying through their teeth to save their hides.

The problem now, however, is not only the damage done in giving over power to a collection of miscreants and immoral narcissists, but also the lingering poison in the Republican atmosphere. In one political blog which used to be a major player in the Blogosphere prior to self-immolation last year, the leading column writer (by volume) blasted the President with personal insults and unsubstantiated accusations. When I commented that the writer was acting very much like a Liberal in that regard and not at all like a Republican, he sarcastically thanked me for not considering him a Republican. And that sort of attitude is growing all too common – self-indulgent individuals of bad temper and no sense of duty to the President, who somehow think that assisting the Liberals and the Democrats by spiting the Republicans and Conservatives who try to maintain order and focus, will result in anything but disaster.

Potterthink - That Curse on the DADA post

(If you're not a Harry Potter fan, sorry this one will make no sense)

I've been thinking about Book 7, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", and a few dinks in the noggin about things that will happen. Today I want to discuss the curse which Voldemort placed on the Defense Against the Dark Arts (DADA) position. At first glance it would seem that bad things should happen to the DADA teacher, to make him quit, maybe kill him, but in actual fact the curse was much more sinister, and that tells us things we need to know, about Voldemort's power and what might happen in 'Deathly Hallows', or DH as I will call it.

First, a brief summary on the six DADA teachers we have seen, and what happened:

1 - Professor Quirrel, a modest and humble man. Quirrel seemed like a gentle teacher and a friend to the students, being antagonized by the villain Snape. But in the end, it was Quirrel who was the villain, having been possessed by Voldemort. He tries to kill Harry, but in the end dies.

2 - Professor Lockhart. Lockhart was exactly what he seemed to be, an incompetent blowhard. But in the end, Lockhart was willing to try to blank the students' memories to protect his ego and reputation, but in the end lost his memory and position.

3 - Professor Lupin. Lupin was a very good teacher, but he had a problem which led to his exit. Professor Snape, along with circumstance, exposed him as a werewolf, after which he could not longer stay and teach at Hogwarts.

4 - Professor Moody. "Mad-Eye" Moody would have been an excellent teacher, and at first it seemed this was precisely the case. In the end, however, Moody was not Moody at all, but Barty Crouch Jr. taking Moody's form through the use of Polyjuice potion. That, and the small matter of being a Death Eater out to bring Voldemort to power and kill Harry Potter along the way, brought Crouch Jr. to a grim end.

5 - Professor Umbridge. Not. A. Nice. Person. Or. Teacher. At. All. Does not understand teaching, or how to defend against the Dark Arts, and was quite willing to bully and torture children. Towards the end of the story, she picked a fight with the Centaurs, and ended up in the hospital.

6 - Professor Snape. Cruel, contemptuous of Harry, and in the end killed the Headmaster, if appearances are at all correct. Fled the scene as a man wanted for murder.

Scoreboard? Two of the six ended up dead, two more in the mental wing of the hospital, another unable to find work or a place in society, and the last running from the law and our hero.


What's interesting though, is that three of the teachers saw circumstances change, another two were a plain bad choice by Dumbledore, and the last one was either a good guy who was undone by his situation, or a man Dumbledore should not have trusted. I see, speaking under my know-it-all hat, Voldemort's influence there, not only affecting good people in nasty ways but clouding Dumbledore's judgment.

And there I can see a plot device in the first part of DH; Voldemort working to set Harry's allies against each other, and the question is how they defend against it. And that makes Lupin more important than before - Lupin is the one professor of DADA who finished no worse off, really, than he started, especially in his mind and morals. I smell a theme there, and one which could teach Harry vital skills he needs for his showdown with the Dark Lord.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Professional Friction

Well, here we are more than three months since my appendectomy and the discovery of my anomalous growth, more than two months since I was first diagnosed with Pseusomyxoma Perotonei, more than a month and a half since I was first referred to Dr. Laura Lambert at the University of Texas Medical Branch, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center … and I am still waiting as my ”case is under review”. Mentally, I appreciate the complexity, but after being told not to waste time in dealing with my situation, the delay is a bit frustrating, especially since so many unknowns remain. I need to see Dr. Lambert in an official sense (we have spoken by telephone) before I will know my surgery date, the specific procedures which will be necessary, and before I begin to discuss my situation with my insurance company’s “Care Coordinator”, which is a critical step. I will also need documentation from Dr. Lambert for my FMLA leave from work, and to get my home ready for the post-operation changes in my lifestyle, and to plan for whatever specific rehabilitation will be required. It’s a bit frustrating, all this waiting.

The thing is, it really cannot be avoided. M.D. Anderson is a big place with a lot of patients and providers, but a whole lot more prospective patients who are trying to get in. One of the disadvantages of going to a top-rate place for Cancer treatment, is that everyone wants the best. Also, with as many types of Cancer as there are, and the risk of misdiagnosis and the serious consequences if an error leads to the wrong action, a preliminary review is very important to the process. I was fortunate enough to speak with a Registered Nurse in the Gastro-Intestinal section, who confirmed that my records are complete, that my designation as Doctor-Referred is now correct, and that Dr. Lambert is reviewing my information along with two other doctors. This helps doctors determine some of the finer points and answer early questions, I think. So as much as I hate to wait, it makes sense, and I have been promised by a number of people that once I am in the system, the results of all these preliminaries will show in the success of the treatment.

Knowing this, I find that I am forced to reconsider my opinion of Congress. Like the staff at MDA, the people in Congress and their staffs are generally well-intentioned and hard-working, and the results we see are more to do with the conditions under which they operate, than from a true negligence on their part. Certainly, Congress has its share of ne’er-do-wells, but on the whole they are doing their best with difficult conditions and inconstant support. I’m not so na├»ve as to ignore deliberate dishonesty, but just maybe I will be a little slower to start with that judgment as an assumption.