THE CONUNDRUM OF LIFE

explorations of various aspects of living

LINEAR ACCELERATORS 101

Treating breast cancer usually involves radiation. “Radiation therapy works by damaging the genetic material within cancer cells and limiting their ability to successfully reproduce. When these damaged cancer cells die, the body naturally eliminates them. Normal cells are also affected by radiation, but they are able to repair themselves in a way that cancer cells cannot.” (This quote is taken from an unremembered website.)

I will be given partial breast 3DCRT radiation. (Translation, 3 dimension conformal radiation therapy.) It will be delivered using a linear accelerator. There will be a total of 10 treatments, 2 a day, 6 hours apart.

Here’s my understanding of how a Cliniac Linear Accelerator works:

A cathode emitter, a piece of metal that is heated, allows electrons to be “liberated.” These electrons are then directed toward an anode target, made of tungsten, and photons are released. These photons then go through a linear accelerator. Here, the photons are sped up at a uniform rate so that a beam can be formed. That beam then makes a 90 degree bend (using a bending magnet) in order to reach the treatment head (pictured above.) The area of my breast to be treated is oval in shape, and includes both where the tumor was removed and enough surrounding tissue to hopefully destroy any stray cancer cells that may still be lurking nearby. Once in the treatment head, the photon beam is modified using multileaf collimation (MLC). You can see the “leaves” in the picture – the ones in the center are retracted to construct the oval shape. I will be lying on a table, as still as possible, and the treatment head will rotate around me.

For those who wonder why physics is important, here is a prime example. The beam must be targeted in such a way that it doesn’t damage either my ribs or my right lung. (Because the cancer was in my right breast, we don’t have to worry about photons hitting my heart.)

This will happen next week at the Department of Radiation Oncology at KUMed. While I’m not really looking forward to being irradiated all alone in a concrete and lead walled room, I don’t think this part of the treatment will be too bad.

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Introducing… the monster under the bed

It was time for my annual mammogram, and I received a letter reminding me of my appointment. It also included the following:

“The University of Kansas Hospital is pleased to announce the installation and availability of 3D Mammography (also called Tomosynthesis). This revolutionary technology is being called the most significant advancement in breast cancer screening in 30 years.”  And, it would cost me an extra $60 if my insurance company wouldn’t pay for the more expensive mammogram.

I decided to spend the extra money and have a 3D mammogram. Soon thereafter I received a phone call. A “suspicious spiculated mass” was found that needed to be biopsied. During the biopsy, the radiologist told me that a regular mammogram would not have found the mass. Because my breasts are dense, the tumor would have not been seen without 3D mammography. The biopsy confirmed what the radiologist already knew. I had invasive ductal carcinoma.

I had no idea I was such a wimp and/or that cancer could be so scary. I referred to my tumor as “the monster under the bed.” Fear became my constant companion. I wanted to write about making sure to have mammograms and to warn those who have dense breasts to have a 3D mammogram. I just couldn’t seem to type the words. My mind turned to mush.

On Monday I had a lumpectomy. The tumor had not spread to any lymph nodes. It is either currently undergoing pathology or has been flash frozen in the University of Kansas Biospecimen Bank to be used in research. I thought it would be a fitting place for that nasty tissue to reside.

I am blessed that my cancer was caught early. It was found because I chose to have a 3D mammogram. For anyone with dense breasts, please consider this new option. It just might have saved my life. That part of my fear is gone and I can write about it.

Because my cancer was invasive, (notice I’m using the past tense,) I will have further treatment. My fear has shape shifted. I’m meeting with my medical oncologist on Halloween. I chose the date.

To be continued…

I need to clarify…

It has come to my attention that an iPod can be rebooted. I was wrong.

In my last post, I alluded to a metaphor used by Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind, in which the conscious mind is likened to the rider of an elephant. The conscious mind uses 1% of mental processes and the elephant uses the remaining 99%. It was distressing to me that only 1% of what I do involves conscious thought.

Haidt has written a previous book, The Happiness Hypothesis, which I obtained from the library. I decided to take a break from reading his other book and began to read this one. Two ideas immediately stood out:

1)      Each of us makes decisions with our gut and then we use our brains to rationalize those decisions.

2)      There is a psychological phenomenon known as “naïve realism”: “Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is. We further believe that the facts as we see them are there for all to see, therefore others should agree with us. If they don’t agree, it follows either that they have not yet been exposed to the relevant facts or else that they are blinded by their interests and ideologies.” (p. 71)

I truly want to understand why we have such divisiveness in our society at the moment, and the two ideas mentioned above give me more insight. Also, I admit I need more information, and that I was wrong.

I think I’m ready to commence reading The Righteous Mind, part II.

Please note that, while the iPod can be rebooted, it cannot be turned off.

where’s the “music of the spheres”?

My last blog post explored the possibility that reading Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, might help me understand how to bridge the divide between liberals vs. conservatives, right vs. left, even Apple vs. pc/android. I was hoping that Pythagoras and his cosmic harmony might be invoked

I’ve read Part I, and I’m not hearing any music. So far, to quote the author (p. 92),

“…the first principle of moral psychology: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. To explain this principle I used the metaphor of the mind as a rider (reasoning) on an elephant (intuition), and I said that the rider’s function is to serve the elephant. Reasoning matters, particularly because reasons do sometimes influence other people, but most of the action in moral psychology is in the intuitions.”

“The rider” is depicted as conscious reasoning and “the elephant” is the remaining 99% of mental processes. So, if I understand correctly, 99% of my existence doesn’t involve conscious reasoning.

I’m depressed. And it could get worse. In Part II (of III,) Haidt will “draw a map of moral space, and I’ll show why that map is usually more favorable to conservative politicians than to liberals.” (p. 92) Does this mean that the moral mentality in our country is determined by white males who think women shouldn’t use birth control (or at least not have insurance pay for it?) That being the most conservative is the best? That slogging mud at each other shows good moral fiber? Yuck.

But wait, there might be hope – the quote says is usually more favorable to conservative politicians. Maybe that doesn’t apply to the group we’ve got now? I’m waiting for the music…

(…in a yet to be developed iTunes app on my android tablet.)

two books and some music

first book:

A few months ago, I watched an interview in which Jonathan Haidt previewed the content of his soon to be published book, The Righteous Mind. Haidt is a social psychologist who explores why there is such a rancorous division between the left and the right, the conservative and the liberal. He believes there is a way to find mutual understanding. I was intrigued and pre-ordered a copy of the book.

second book:

I just finished reading Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. Wow, was it full of insights. Jobs was a genius, control freak, artist, perfectionist visionary who had a tendency to be extremely rude. That he was complex is an understatement.

Steve Jobs changed the world. The products he envisioned have altered our concepts of computers, books, the arts, and audio/video communication. He did this in a “closed system.” Apple products support and sell other Apple products. IMac, iPhone, iPad, and iPod work in and most easily among themselves. ITunes seals the sales.

some music:

My stereo system was beginning to have issues. I searched, and found that most of the newer models have an iPod dock. After resisting for many years, I finally bought an iPod classic. I downloaded my music and it sounds fantastic. However, it has a sort of “fatal” flaw. Music can only be imported onto an iPod using iTunes. And, once that music has been transferred to an iPod, if a computer’s iTunes becomes corrupted or the computer dies without being backed up properly, [guilty…] synching with iTunes is only a one way street. Basically, I own an underused 160GB hard drive that I use to play 67GB of music.  I have been assured that anything I buy from iTunes would still be available in “the cloud,” but I haven’t made any purchases. Also, there’s no way to turn off the iPod. (Steve Jobs didn’t like to put on-off switches on Apple devices.)

Bear with me, these two books and some music do tie together…

It would seem that the Apple vs. pc/android divide might be similar to the liberal vs. conservative, right vs. left divide. I “belong” to the pc/android camp. My pc is a desktop model with a large, easy to open case. Every few years my son adds more memory, or changes the motherboard, or puts in a new fan or soundcard, etc. I like making incremental changes and having the freedom to decide exactly what I want. My android tablet has tons of ports and an s/d slot. My smart phone works just fine. For all of these, I have the freedom to choose which brand to buy. And, most of the time, any issues can usually be solved by rebooting the device. I do, however, find Apple’s music component superior.

I haven’t yet read A Righteous Mind. Perhaps subconsciously I needed to develop a mental framework before reading. I could look to the ancient Greeks. Pythagoras believed in the “music of the spheres.” This inaudible music was produced by the movement of the stars and planets and kept the world in harmony.

I do not like the divisiveness in our society at the moment. We seem to be frozen in our separate viewpoints with no way to bridge the gap. I want to discover the “music of the spheres.” I think I’m ready to begin the book. I’ll let you know what I find.

Perhaps Apple’s music can, at some future time, bring harmony to my tablet/smart phone (which, if Steve Jobs had his way will never include the iTunes app.) There’s always hope.

what’s conventional wisdom? where’s the reset button?

Our book club met this past Saturday. The book selection for this month was Born to Run, A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall. [I need to give an immediate disclaimer: I would not have chosen to read this book on my own. I am not and never have been an even semiserious athlete. Now, to continue…] This is a fantastic read that I highly recommend. It was the beginning of a series of thoughts I find challenging.

Idea #1: One portion of the book was devoted to debunking the current running shoe ideal. According to the book, runners who wore the top-of-the line running shoes were 123% more likely to suffer injuries than did those who wore cheaper shoes. And, as running shoes were worn for a long time and began to conform to the shape of the runner’s feet, runners gained more foot control. Finally, human beings are designed to run without shoes. And, the book states that Nike knows this.

Idea #2: Terry, the member of our book club who chose this book for us to read, has done extensive training in “energetic healing.” I had been suffering from an icky cold for several days prior to the book club gathering, and I was beginning to feel worse instead of better. I was feeling so poorly that I didn’t even partake of the wine we always imbibe. My husband asked Terry to use “energetic healing” to treat my cold. I, the eternal skeptic, thought it wouldn’t do much good. To my surprise, I immediately felt a sort of vibration or current flow between his hands and my head. That night, I slept well. Sunday I still wasn’t feeling all that great. After another good night’s sleep, today I think I’ve said good-bye to that virus. Alternative medical practices might sometimes be more effective than conventional medical science?

Idea #3: On my way to work today, I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR. The topic was depression. The gist of the story is that the drug Prozac helped foster the myth that depression was caused by a deficiency of serotonin in our brains. The explanation is long and involved. Here’s the link for you to read for yourself: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/01/23/145525853/when-it-comes-to-depression-serotonin-isnt-the-whole-story And, to quote from the article: Researchers don’t really know what causes depression. They’re making progress, but they don’t know.

It’s hard to ignore when 3 ideas are presented to me in a short period of time that challenge my worldview. Is conventional wisdom wrong? Wikipedia defines conventional wisdom as “a term used to describe ideas or explanations that are generally accepted as true by the public.” I believe every single word found in Wikipedia – Oops, I lied. But this simple definition (which is why I like Wikipedia) made me wonder how much of conventional wisdom is wrong. And, would it be possible to repair conventional wisdom? All I have to do is find the reset button.

speaking truth

view from a window at the observance

To me, a prophet is one who speaks truth that we don’t want to hear. I have long considered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be a prophet. But I didn’t realize the extent of the truth he embodied until today.

A friend gave a talk at the Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City as part of the 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observance. We decided to attend. We went to the wrong entrance and had to drive to another parking lot. We pulled up shortly after another car had parked and it took a while for all of us to figure out how to enter the complex.

We heard only the last 10 minutes of our friend’s discourse. The next person to speak was one of the people we met in the parking lot. His name is Archie Williams. And he is a dedicated scholar of Martin Luther King, Jr. One of his talents is the ability to speak King’s words in a voice and cadence that sounds like King. That, in and of itself, was meaningful. However, I particularly was enthralled by Mr. William’s focus on the message of King during the last year of his life. I had known that King had started speaking out against the Vietnam War, but I had not realized there was more.

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech at the Riverside Church in New York City. That speech marked a shift in his message. It focused on more than just civil rights; it embraced the idea of social rights and justice for all individuals worldwide. As a result, the last year of his life was filled with conflict. A year to the day later, King was assassinated.

Mr. Williams did not recite this speech, but suggested we read it online. About half way through reading the speech, the truth of the words hurt my heart. I am providing only snippets of what King said, and I recommend reading the entire speech:

http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html

“…because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.”

“We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. …The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

…”We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

Mr. Williams concluded his talk with the recitation of part of The Drum-Major Instinct, Martin Luther King’s sermon of February 4, 1968.  Toward the end of the sermon, King imagines his own funeral:

“Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, “What is it that I would want said?” And I leave the word to you this morning.

“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

“I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

“I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

“I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

“I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

“And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

“I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

“I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.”

creating order out of chaos is unhealthy and expensive

my tangled thoughts

For reasons beyond my understanding, I decided to compose a New Year’s Resolution entitled creating order out of chaos. It encompassed everything I felt I should improve in my life. Then I posted it.

The “publishing” of my quest became a great weight on my shoulders. I had no idea how to even begin. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. I became forgetful and unable to focus. I found myself watching online movies as a way to delay action. I had difficulty sleeping because I was constantly reviewing all the areas of my life that needed work. I was afraid I would never become organized. I was afraid to be afraid. I looked online and self-diagnosed ADD and OCD. I was a mess.

I decided action was needed. There’s no action as decisive as the shredding of paper. So that’s where I started – with paper from 1985. It was exhilarating. I breezed through the 80s and started on the 90s. Then my shredder stopped mid-document. It refused to work. I placed its broken carcass carefully in the car and traded it in for a more modern, heavy-duty, and oh-so-expensive model.

Shreds of paper had found their way under furniture. I took out my hand vacuum, plugged it in, and found it picked up absolutely none of those shards of history. So I went on Amazon.com and bought a new one. Then I needed to buy the little accessories that went with it. I needed new colored file folders (my OCD manifesting itself in the urge to color-coordinate my files.) Then I needed file folder labels. (Notice how I’m referring to all of these as “needs” and not “wants”…) At that point I had an epiphany. If I kept up my current behavior I would be very sick, and penniless.

I have decided to focus on two specific areas for improvement at a time. I am currently exercising daily, and sorting and either shredding, recycling, or filing every piece of paper I find in my house. Once exercising has become a habit, I think I’ll add making changes in my diet. I will continue to go through paperwork to make sure the shredder makes it through its limited warranty period. Next I may peruse and weed our extensive library of books. Or I could tackle the junk drawers I have created in several areas of the house. But there’s no hurry to decide. The pressure is off.

I can now sleep, but first I need to exercise.

order out of chaos

Making New Year’s resolutions is easy. Writing them down is harder. Keeping them can be next to impossible. Thus, I begin to write mine.

I’ve decided to use the word CHAOS as an acronym:

C: Show Compassion. Merriam-Webster online defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” It should also involve some form of action. And I also need to apply this to myself.

H: Strive to be Healthy in mind, body and Spirit. Have positive thoughts and attitudes; exercise, eat a healthy diet, etc. etc.; pray, meditate, listen, contemplate, ponder.

A: Abide in the moment. Don’t focus on “if only” or “what if…”

O: Work toward becoming Organized. No words come to mind; the very thought is overwhelming.

S: Simplify. Remove all the stuff I don’t need or use. The task is daunting.

I need to post this so it won’t get lost as I work toward finding order out of chaos.

the Christmas tie

Daddy wearing his Christmas tie

My dad died way too soon. He only knew my son as a toddler. He held my 3 week old daughter briefly. Then he was gone.

There is a Christmas memory of my dad that lives in a special place in my heart. Some background needs to be provided. My dad was the oldest of 4 brothers. He didn’t understand my sister’s and my interest in what we wore. He didn’t pay much attention to what he wore. He felt it wasn’t important.

One year, my sister made Daddy a Christmas bow-tie. It was a clip-on, with two green felt holly leaves and fuzzy red berries in the middle. I’m not sure how old she was when she made it, but it was obvious she was in elementary school. My dad loved that tie, and wore it every Christmas. As we got older and the tie got shabbier, we begged him not to wear it, but to no avail. Eventually we grew old enough to chuckle with fondness when Daddy wore the Christmas tie.

Daddy died in the month of May. My brother, sister, and our families met at Dulles Airport in Virginia, and made the journey to our parents’ house. My memory isn’t clear about the details. But at some point, we decided that Daddy should wear the Christmas tie he loved. When we reached the house, the 3 of us went to the funeral home together. Our dad wasn’t there, only the body he no longer needed. And the tie was front and center.

In my memory, that Christmas tie has become a talisman for the spirit of Christmas. It can’t be bought. It is constructed with love. And it fills my heart with hope and joy.