I’ve struggled a lot lately about whether my glass is half full or half empty. I’ve lived seventy-five years. Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing? 

Whatever. 

Lately, I’ve often mused nostalgically about my past. My present is not what I would have it be, but I’ll write about that below.

For now, I want to write about moments in my past that were particularly instructive for me. You all know that I have cancer. That’s not news. However, some of you may not know that I was diagnosed with kidney cell cancer in 2002. From what I was told, I had what they call a lesion on my left kidney. In this case a ‘lesion’ means a fairly large growth protruding from my kidney. They were loathe to do a biopsy because any puncture of the lesion or any attempt to remove the growth by aspiration was going to spread the cancer far and wide. So, they scheduled me for surgery. I was fortunate to have a very good local urologist perform the surgery with my GP attending (he’s an internist as well as a family physician).

My Nephrectomy

When my time came for my nephrectomy (removal of my kidney) on February 17th, 2002, Carolyn drove me to the hospital early in the morning and left me there to find my way to the surgical unit. I wasn’t there long before they ushered me into the operating room. I was set at ease to see so many people I knew there, including a nurse who was a former student, my GP and the surgeon. I didn’t know the anesthetist although I had met him earlier in the hospital for a pre-surgical interview. 

So, taking my kidney out would be a straightforward affair if you knew what you were doing! Thankfully, the urologist knew what he was doing. In order not to spread the cancer far and wide, he opted to open me up using a 35 centimetre incision between my ribs on underside of my left arm to my midsection but lower on my body. They essentially cut me in half so they could gently lift my kidney out of my body without messing with the surrounding tissue and risking metastasis. I heard later that my GP was humbled by the process of cutting me in half and putting me back together. 

After the kidney was removed and they made sure they hadn’t left anything in there that shouldn’t have been there, they stapled me shut and sent me off to a room upstairs. I was there for a few days. I had a morphine pump to make sure I had no pain but it did have a governor on it so I didn’t overdose. That was kind of them, I think. 

I went home after six or seven days. We had just moved to Cumberland on an acre. There was lots of work to do. I couldn’t do any of it. Thankfully a number of my family members came over. There was lots of help and Carolyn was healthy, as she still is so I watched as my family and some friends helped us move in and get the yard together. 

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Visit to Cancer Care Centre 

We saw my local GP/oncologist this morning. These meetings are always interesting. I’ve been off chemo for a month and I’ll be off again for another month so that we can more properly assess how I react while not on the chemo meds. I’m also off hydromorphone (opioid), having gone through the nasty process of withdrawal over the past few days. I’ve never taken a very high dose of it, but I have been on it a long time. That makes it a bit of a challenge to stop taking it. I’ve also cut way back on gabapentin, which is a drug initially used for epilepsy, but has been used for all kinds of ailments since (maybe overused). I really have no idea how it’s affecting me because I have had such a mix of medications over the past couple of years that there’s no way I can tell what med is having what effect. It’s supposed to help with my peripheral neuropathy. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. I really don’t know. It’s just a bit confusing and frustrating. 

I was in the Cancer Care Centre at the hospital this morning, as I said, to meet my GP/oncologist, and I saw a few of the usual suspects getting treatment. There was an older woman (probably a bit older than me) getting an infusion in Chair #4. I’ve seen her a number of times before. This time she was with her husband (I presume) who sat in a chair beside her. We nodded to each other. A young woman came by us as we waited to see the doctor. She was in Chair #3 I think. She was dragging her IV pole along beside her as she made her way to the bathroom close by, something I’ve done many times. IV poles, with bags of meds hanging from them with a line entering the arm somewhere, are on casters but they still rattle away as they are dragged along. I thought to myself: “This is my life. I share it with people I don’t know and some I do know, people who share my struggle to one extent or other. What we share is cancer.” But we also share the care and love that the staff gives us. Notwithstanding, every one of us will die. We may survive a year, two, ten, or twenty, but we must die. I’m not complaining about that. It is what it is.

I’ve spent a good part of my life studying life and death. I’m a sociologist, but I’ve not contained myself within that discipline. I’ve struggled to see the big picture of life on this planet and how life cannot exist without death. I know it’s something I’ve brought up before, but it’s always on my mind. 

We’re coming on to spring. My favourite season. Plants spring up everywhere. They count on the decay from previous years to fuel their growth. Life is not a cycle. It’s more like a spiral, with an inevitable end. To think of the seasons as cyclical is a mistake, a comforting mistake, I guess. I’m thinking we have a built-in biological aversion to death. From what I’ve observed, we share that aversion with most other animals. Life is the big draw, death and disease are the ultimate enemy. Our whole culture is built on that false premise. Silly us. 

This spring for me is not like the spring of my tenth year, nor of my fortieth year. I’m hoping this is not my last spring. I’m thinking it won’t be, but the future is promised to no one. 

Teaching on live TV, with Roger Loubert (RIP)on the phones.

So, sometime in 1986-87 I started teaching live-interactive telecourses on the Knowledge Network. The Network was very different then and North Island College had several telecourses telecast on it by a few instructors, me included. I’ve already posted a blog about my experience doing that work. You can check it out here:

One thing I didn’t mention in my 2018 post was the selfless dedication of one of my friends, Roger Loubert, to me and to my courses on the Knowledge Network. He “worked the phones” for the phone-in segments of the courses every two weeks during the academic year and he did it with no expectation of pay or reward. He died at Crossroads Hospice in Port Moody of complications from prostate cancer on July 3rd, 2021. He was just a little older than me. You can read one of his obituaries here.

Roger and I go back to the 1970s. He had come to BC from New Brunswick. I don’t recall any of the details of his migration, but he ended up in Maillardville, a small French-Canadian community in Coquitlam established in 1909. Fraser Mills, on the banks of the Fraser River needed sawmill workers who weren’t “Oriental” but were at least White and who could strike break if needed. The fact that they spoke French was a minor irritant, but they were also Catholic, and that proved a little more problematic because they wanted their own church building if they were going to stay.

Maillardville was were I grew up and it was to remain a French-Canadian community for many years, until the late 1970s. It has remnants of French culture and still has two French-based Catholic Churches. The assimilation rate is over 95% now so you’ll find that most people in the community speak English exclusively and intermarriage has made it more and more difficult to call families French-Canadian anymore. That’s not to be lamented, that’s just the way the world works.

Loubert (that’s what I always called him) thought Maillardville was special, a microcosm of Canada. He invented something called Information Maillardville and rented a room in a building at the busy corner of Brunette Avenue and the Lougheed Highway to store all of his Information Maillardville (stuff) documentation, and there was a lot of that right from the beginning. He eventually moved his stuff to a warehouse in Vancouver around Manitoba and 8th. He lived there too of course. No running water, no anything. Just lots of paper and stuff. He moved it again later to various locations in Coquitlam and environs. After he died, it was left to his friends to clean it up. He would never have given up or gotten rid of his stuff while he was still alive.

Loubert was certainly an eccentric. His eating habits back when I first met him were unusual. His girlfriend at the time was Dutch and she was more hippie than eccentric. I don’t think that veganism was as common then as now but they were both vegans. They cared not an iota about what anybody thought about them. He subscribed to the ‘mucusless’ diet, a diet originated by a German ‘naturopath’ and ‘alternative health educator’, Arnold Ehret, who died in October 1922 at age 56 from a fall and head injury while walking along a sidewalk. He had moved to Los Angeles by then to prey on gullible Californians, I assume. His diet has been thoroughly debunked as ridiculous although it’s sadly still around. Loubert swore by Ehret and carried his book around for some time. Loubert was crazy like that, but he was not insane.

At one point while living in the Port Coquitlam area he adopted ten husky dogs and named them after each Canadian province. I can’t remember how that turned out. I can assume that he fed them before he even fed himself. He was like that. Eventually he got a job driving a school bus. That would have given him time to devote to his cultural and social activities. He was involved in a number of organizations in Coquitlam and adjoining municipalities. As I note above, he died still in possession of his ‘stash’ of Information Maillardville stuff and whatever else he managed to accumulate, which was substantial by all accounts.

Loubert was big on festivals and celebrations, at least when I knew him. He was always trying to organize Festival Maillardville. It never did materialize from what I remember. He could never get buy-in from the parishes in Maillardville (with their parish halls), but there were other festivals in which he could participate like Le Festival du Bois held this year at Mackin Park in early April.

I was a student at Douglas College in New Westminster from 1971 until 1973 then at Simon Fraser University from 1973 until 1980. Loubert and I had intermittent contact after that, especially after Carolyn and I moved to the Comox Valley with the kids in 1983. In 1974 or so I took time off from my studies to work on a project called Plan Maillardville. I was in my third year of my Bachelor’s degree but I was hired to be the project sociologist because not only was I from the area, but I was bilingual. Loubert was delighted by my work on the Plan Maillardville. He was frequently in my office, chatting it up.

For a few years after 1983, Loubert and I, like I said, had only intermittent contact. However, when he found out that I was going to be on the Knowledge Network, that really piqued his interest again. He was always fascinated with radio and TV because of information, of course. So, we met and discussed his participation. He was delighted to be involved.

I had NO budget from North Island College for much of anything except props. Of course the College paid for my transportation and hotel costs, but not much towards the production of the telecourses. So Loubert’s offer to work for nothing was a godsend. During my broadcasts he sat in the control room to take the phone calls during the twenty or so minutes at the end of the hour program we allowed for that. That was every two weeks. He loved to talk on the phone and always used the occasion to chat people up. He was always very sociable on the phone from what I gather.

Loubert was always game to help out. I appreciated him for that. He was definitely one of a kind. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to thank him again for his dedication to our work on the Knowledge Network. This is not a substitute for that, just a small token of my appreciation.

February 18 Update

[I’ve written about some of the issues I’m having with myeloma before, many times. Because it’s such a presence in my life I can’t help but write about it often. Sometimes, I write about it to provide an update on my treatments and side effects. That’s what this post is about. It’s somewhat technical, but you don’t have to know everything about the drugs involved to understand the thread of my story.]

I sit here in my chair warmed by our new(ish) mini-split HVAC that lives on the wall up to my left with it’s companion outside, visible from the large window just behind me. It’s just after nine in the morning and it’s cold today but clear with the temperature hovering around the zero Celsius mark. We have the wood stove on too because the electric heat just doesn’t cut it when the temperature gets near or below zero. 

Myeloma is always at the forefront of my mind, but now pernicious anemia, and my opioid dependency are butting in and taking up some space of their own in my consciousness. So, in this post I’ll discuss the challenges posed by these issues for me every day. 

I’m so conflicted these days I’m almost completely immobilized. My myeloma saga is putting me in a space where I’m not sure what to think. I’m off my chemo meds for at least one cycle, approximately a month. My local oncology GP as well as my consulting oncologist in Victoria can’t detect much myeloma protein in my blood, if any at all, so it seems logical to give my body a break from the meds. Fair enough. However, for the last 7 cycles the combination of chemo meds (lenalidomide and dexamethasone) along with the monoclonal antibody Daratumumab have effectively erased most, if not all, traces of cancer in my blood. I’ve come to appreciate the protection I get from these meds even though they produce some nasty side effects, peripheral neuropathy** in particular. Still, I know that myeloma will always return. The last time I went off chemo meds was some time ago. I was taking a lenalidomide* based cocktail at 10 mgs per cycle but then I got a severe abdominal rash and had to shut that down. 

After that, I was moved to a drug called bortezomib, along with dexamethasone, and cyclophosphamide. The bortezomib (Velcade is its trade name) had some horrendous side effects for me, threatening to put me in a wheelchair or worse. I quit taking these meds out of desperation, but found that soon my paraproteins were increasing rapidly in my blood. That scared the poop out of me. Time to make another move. 

That’s when I was switched back to lenalidomide (Revlimid is the trade name) but at a minimal dose of 2.5 mgs along with 12 mgs of dexamethasone and an infusion of some 500 mls of Daratumumab per cycle.  That’s the cocktail I just stopped taking. Next month I see my local oncology GP for another assessment. It will be interesting to see what my bloodwork reveals. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about it. 

To complicate matters, I’m trying to wean myself off hydromorphone (an opioid) and gabapentin , both are widely prescribed pain relievers. Opioid dependency is no picnic. I was first prescribed hydromorphone when I was diagnosed with myeloma in the fall of 2019. Since then the goal has been to fine tune my doses to get the maximum effect while leaving me more or less sentient. It’s been difficult. For some time now I’ve been taking two types of hydromorphone, a slow-release 3 mg capsule and a 2 mg ‘breakthrough’ dose. I’ve taken one 3mg capsule in the morning and two in the evening. Now, as I try to get off this medication, I’m restricting myself to one 3mg in the evenings and none during the day. Last night I thought I’d be tough and not take any meds at bedtime. Well, I soon got schooled by hydromorphone for trying to back off too quickly. By 11 PM I was downstairs into the medicine shelf getting a 3mg capsule to take. The thing is I was not prepared yet for a full withdrawal. My body let me know very quickly. The pain in my back returned with a vengeance, and I couldn’t stand to have anything against my skin. I was completely distracted by itchiness all over my body. Thoroughly unpleasant. I expect that as I restrict my intake of hydromorphone more and more, that I will have fewer pain issues. Ironically, opioids can contribute to pain, especially during withdrawal. 

The reason I’m trying to get off hydromorphone is because of the success we’ve had in dealing with myeloma. I’m thinking that with my myeloma symptoms under control, I may not need as much pain relief as when it was in full bloom. 

As far as the pernicious anemia is concerned, I should have my B12 up to acceptable levels. I’ve injected B12 (cyanocobalamin) eleven times now in the last six weeks. That should do it. However, it will take up to six months before I experience any kind of improvement to my health. It would be nice if I only had one issue to deal with but I think I have things more or less under control for the time being. 

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•For a list of common side effects of lenalidomide check out this website: https://www.drugs.com/sfx/revlimid-side-effects.html

**I am a member of a myeloma support group. We had a Zoom meeting last Thursday. We are all at different levels of treatment and on various medications but we pretty much all have one thing in common: peripheral neuropathy. The neuropathy in my left hand is now starting to interfere with my ability to type. Given that I write a fair bit, that’s not at all welcome.

Freedom

The word freedom is much bandied about these days particularly by people engaged in or supporting the “freedom convoy” now occupying downtown Ottawa. I thought I’d give a shot at defining it, because I don’t think most people have a clue as to what it means or implies. I invite you to think about what you mean by it, if in fact you use the term at all when it comes to your life. 

The online dictionary (the one living on my computer) defines freedom as:

The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint: we do have some freedom of choice | he talks of revoking some of the freedoms

  • • absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government: he was a champion of Irish freedom
  • • the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved: the shark thrashed its way to freedom
  • • the state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily: the shorts have a side split for freedom of movement

• (freedom from) the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing): government policies to achieve freedom from want

• the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity. 

• unrestricted use of something: the dog is happy having the freedom of the house when we are out.

I also looked up liberty in the dictionary. Here’s what I found:

1 the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views: compulsory retirement would interfere with individual liberty.* 

• the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved: people who have lost property or liberty without due process

• (usually liberties) a right or privilege, especially a statutory one: the Bill of Rights was intended to secure basic civil liberties

• (Liberty) the personification of liberty as a female figure: the Statue of Liberty

2 the power or scope to act as one pleases: individuals should enjoy the liberty to pursue their own interests and preferences

  • • Philosophy a person’s freedom from control by fate or necessity. 
  • • Nautical shore leave granted to a sailor.

I don’t see a lot of difference in these definitions, at least not in substance. So, to distill these definitions some, it looks like that at the individual level, if you were free or completely at liberty, you would be able to do whatever you wanted to, whenever you wanted to do it.

 Let’s see if that works. Well, if you live in a society, as most of us do, this is a highly improbable and unacceptable idea. I mean, it’s possible, I suppose, for you to do whatever you want, whenever you want to, but you might end up in jail pretty quickly if you try it, or you might end up dead. Try lying in the middle of the freeway at rush hour. That’s something you might want to do, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Or you might want to ignore those pesky red lights at intersections all over the place. Again, you might get away with that a few times, but you may soon end up with a wrecked car or a traffic ticket. Do it again and you may have your license suspended. Driving in this province is a privilege, not a right, and that ‘freedom’ can soon be taken away from you. That would be a good thing for the rest of us who follow the rules because otherwise we would have anarchy. Then again, you might want to have sex with that gorgeous young barista at your local coffee shop, but you might want to ask her before you attempt it. She may not be as into it as you are. 

At another level, you might want to skip paying your mortgage or your rent for a few months because you want to spend the money on a new video game. You can do that if you want, but the consequences may be that you end up living in a cardboard box under an overpass somewhere. You may not want to do that, but we are not always happy with the consequences of our actions. You may be sick and tired of your job and don’t want to do it anymore. Yes, I can relate to that, but I don’t suppose you want to starve to death either, so you have to find some way of paying for groceries. I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. 

No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you have, there will always be restrictions on your freedom. During the 1980s when Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and their ilk were the heads of government, they advocated the removal of regulation on business arguing that business wouldn’t do anything to hurt their bottom line so they would always do what their customers wanted. They argued (following the shill economist Milton Friedman) that corporations needed to be released from regulation and when that happened, we’d get the trickle-down effect because they would invest in ‘the economy’ and we’d all end up rich. In truth, give corporations the freedom to regulate themselves and you end up with the MAX 737 catastrophe, the mining disasters that keep showing up in the news (think Mount Polley for a recent example), buildings collapsing in Bangladesh killing hundreds of textile workers, plastic pollution, global warming, the depletion of global fish stocks, etcetera. I could go on. We know what happens now too when corporate tax rates are cut to almost nothing and they are freed from regulation. We get more social income inequality than ever.  Corporations need to have curbs on their freedom. They cannot be allowed to do as they please whenever they please. 

So, what does freedom actually mean when we live in a society with thousands if not millions of other people all wanting to do what they want, whenever they want to? Without rules and regulations limiting freedom you get a shitshow. It doesn’t make sense to allow people absolute freedom. We need a system to maintain order at least to some degree. You may not be happy about having to curb your desires and wants because of other people, but that just has to happen. You learned that as a child, or maybe you didn’t and that’s what’s making you unhappy now. Living in society means having to compromise and negotiate, and to temper our urge to always do as we please. 

So far I’ve considered freedom in the context of the individual and the potential for freedom in a social context. There are other contexts to think about freedom. 

Years ago, the convenience store chain 7-Eleven introduced a marketing slogan: Get your freedom at 7-Eleven! I was incensed! Not sure why except that I was quite convinced that there was no freedom for sale at the 7-Eleven in my town, just mostly fast food and other crap. So, is freedom these days just part of a marketing strategy? It seems so if we consider the evidence. The “freedom convoy” is not about freedom. Taking spokespeople for the ‘movement’ at their word it seems that they want no government interference in their lives. Or they want to become government so they can get rid of all the pesky rules and regulations governments impose on us. Good luck with that. 

It strikes me that we need to think of freedom and liberty on a continuum. Nobody is perfectly free nor is anybody completely unfree. When I taught the odd course at the Matsqui Medium Security ‘Correctional’ facility, I heard one kid saying he wanted to go into solitary confinement so he could have the freedom to work on his college assignments and study for his mid-term exams. This was a month before Christmas. He got his wish. I’m not sure how he did it, but he did. Freedom in captivity. Weird, eh? 

I concluded decades ago that I cannot be free unless we’re all free. If I enslave you, I’m captivated by the need to watch over you, by the need to punish you, by the need to keep you in your place. So the only way to maximize freedom is to do so for everyone. Perfect, absolute freedom is impossible. If someone tries to sell you on that idea, call bullshit on them. They are obviously deluded or disingenuous. Don’t stand for it. 

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*…and don’t try to convince me that Canada is an oppressive regime. Try living in North Korea.

75 UP

So, this post is about what’s up with me now. I’ve reconciled myself with the fact of my frailty, which I share with all living things. It stands to reason that my body is not as it was twenty or even ten years ago. All individuals of all species, plant and animal have a life course. We’re all born. Even trees, but some of those individuals die young (like the trees that are being cut in the hills above Cumberland), some trees live out what must be considered the outer limit of life’s potential, in the Carmanah Valley, for instance, no thanks to BC’s forest industry. Some of us humans die young. Some die hacked to death in a stupid race war in Rwanda in 1994. Others die horrible deaths in the ovens of Auschwitz. Still others, of all species, die of inborn problems, with their DNA or or whatever. In the end we are all frail, even the biggest and toughest among us, and vulnerable. For most plants and animals eventually, the soft, squishy material that we’re made of becomes increasingly brittle and inelastic as we age and approach our inevitable ends. My squishy material is definitely becoming worn out. It still has some bounciness in it, but nothing like it had years ago, and there’s no turning back. But on with the story.

Being one who kind of likes living (even given what I write above) I dutifully injected B12 into my legs (alternating left and right) once a day for a week mid-January and since then I’ve injected once a week.*That should replenish my B12 levels and keep me going. It may take some time for increased amounts of B12 in my blood to make a difference to my energy levels, but I can be patient as I know that results will come. Of course, I’m fighting a losing battle. We all are. Death will catch up with me regardless of how much B12 I inject or how many chemo drugs I take. I find it almost funny that we talk about medicine, police, firefighters, paramedics, etcetera as saving lives. The best they can do, in reality, is allow life to go on a bit longer, to postpone death. In any case, I have my B12 situation under control.

In terms of myeloma, I’m off chemo drugs for at least a month. Myeloma protein is barely detectable in my blood so this is a good time to lay off for a while and see how things go. It would be grand to get some relief from side effects for a time. Next month sometime they’ll check my blood again to see what the status of my paraproteins(myeloma proteins) are. I can easily go back on chemo if the bloodwork shows a rise in paraproteins. During our last phone call my local GP/oncologist uttered the word remission. I hope he’s right but only time will tell.

Another thing has come to plague me. It looks like it’s true that nastiness comes in threes. I’m getting a CT scan on Monday of my left jaw. I saw an endodontist a while ago because of excruciating pain in one of my left upper molars. He figures I need a root canal. Well, that’s probably true, but because I had a lesion in my left lower jaw that required radiation treatment earlier this year, I wanted some assurance that this issue with my upper jaw wasn’t also due to myeloma. It may be that I should be more trusting, but the symptoms caused by a myeloma lesion and a rotten tooth are similar so I just wanted a little reassurance. I got that when I spoke with an oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency in Victoria last month. She ordered the CT scan the results of which will determine whether I get a root canal or more radiation. My, my. Life can be complicated.

In the meantime, I’m back to doing some drawing. I got a very cheap but good set of coloured pencils for my birthday last month, so I did a couple of drawings. Here they are:

Christmas cactus head on view.
Christmas cactus side view.

I have one more I want to do with the coloured pencils using a different profile. Then I want to do a couple more in watercolour on proper paper, and maybe in acrylic on a large canvas. I’ll have to assess my level of energy before I undertake a large(ish) canvas, but I seem to be getting stronger every day now.

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*If you haven’t read my post from January 13, 2022, you might want to do so now. It outlines my experience with B12 deficiency and pernicious anemia.

Remembrances 2: Pornography

I’ve just finished reading a book by Julia Shaw (Dr. Julia Shaw) who studied psychology at UBC. Her book is called EVIL: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side. (Doubleday in Canada, 2019). Her basic premise in that book is that evil is entirely subjective and we all have evil tendencies within us and the potential to act on them. For Shaw, murderers and torturers, even Hitler, are human. They may have committed atrocities at times, but not 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. For Shaw, no one is objectively evil, not Ted Bundy, not Jeffrey Dahmer, not Paul Bernardo. Not even Hitler. She asks, provocatively, would you have killed baby Adolf if you had been given the chance? Her answer is, probably not because there would have been no way to predict how Hitler would end up on the basis of what he was as a one year old boy. For Shaw, evil is situational a great deal of the time and one person’s evil is another person’s glory. Ernest Becker declares in his book Escape From Evil that the twin pillars of evil are death and disease. He doesn’t objectify people as inherently evil. In essence, he argues, we have a deep-seated cultural aversion to death and disease and we have created a plethora of institutions dedicated to the denial of death and disease (including hospitals, I might add). Those institutions may be at loggerheads with one another as part of the ideologies of competing groups as they go about vilifying each other. But I digress somewhat.

Shaw deals with many instances of evil in the world, including pornography. Like all other themes in her book, Shaw doesn’t condemn people for watching porn, (and she doesn’t even consider it evil). She insists that people who watch porn are not evil, and are in fact, normal. This is true particularly considering that she argues from a 2007 study by Pamela Paul elaborated in her book Pornified (New York: Times Books) that “66 percent of men and 41 percent of women consume porn on at least a monthly basis.”1 When I taught a course in 2010 and 2011 at North Island College called Love and Sex and I did research on porn for the course, I learned that at that time 37% of the income derived online was from pornography. Of course there’s no way of pinning down a reliable statistic on the valuation of pornography, but it’s big business, there’s no doubt about that. Still, as Shaw argues, there is a gloss of shame and moral terpitude that accompanies pornography. Shaw is entirely correct here. In fact, I challenge you to admit yourself to viewing porn, or to have someone else you know admit to viewing porn. I wrote above that I researched porn for a course I taught at NIC in 2010-11. In doing that research, I viewed a lot of porn.

As people got to know that I was doing research on porn I got a lot of: “See any good porn lately, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” That kind of comment was absolutely uncalled for with veiled suggestions that what I was doing was somehow immoral, but sex is such a powerful subject in our less-than-open society that even doing research on a taboo subject in any way associated with sex was liable to unleash opprobrium and displeasure. As part of my responsibility around this research, I notified the college that I was doing this kind of research and that they should be aware of that because it may show up on my computer. Shaw notes in her book that:

“When attempts at empathy and understanding are made, there is often a particularly vicious utterance that is used to shut them down; the implication that some people should be empathized with, lest we imply that we too are evil. Want to discuss paedophilia? That must mean you are a paedophile.” (p.8)

What I was especially interested in as I investigated porn was the way that women are portrayed by the purveyors of porn. I’m assuming that porn hasn’t changed much in the last ten or twelve years since I conducted my research, but I do know that there is a movement among some women to transform porn.2 In my research I noted that it was very common for women to be referred to as dirty, sluts, etcetera. Actually, I take it back. Porn has changed a lot in the last ten years. Just a quick scan of one porn site and it’s obvious that there’s a lot more DIY porn out there. It’s now common for young women to set up chats or performances of various sorts for money, and incidentally for the pleasure of men,I suppose. And, somehow, tokens have become part of the porn scene. I wasn’t going to get into how that works. Much on the DIY porn is ‘porn-lite’ but there’s still a lot of violent and nasty stuff out there with much denigration of women. It’s hard for me to relate to misogyny given that I had a mother, I have a spouse, many sisters, two daughters, and granddaughters. However, I know about the origins of misogyny in the Biblical story of creation and in many other cultural institutions and myths, and I see misogyny glorified in politics, education, movies, and popular programs like Game of Thrones, among many others.

Actually, porn is no different than many mainstream views on sex as dirty. Why the association of sex with dirt? Well, dirt, death. I’ll not go into this here to any extent. See this post I wrote from March, 2018 for a discussion: https://rogerjgalbert.com/2018/03/27/why-do-some-people-refer-to-sex-as-dirty/ Interesting that I seem to come back over and over again to these themes.

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1page 145 in Shaw’s book.

2see especially After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters by Anne G. Sabo, a book I just ordered. (After I read Sabo’s book I’ll get back to you about how women are transforming porn.)

Remembrances

I was going to write ‘remembrances of times past’ as the title of this post. Then, I realized, of course, that would have been redundant. As far as I know, we can only remember events in the past. So, remembrances, yes. Of times past, of course, always. No need to state the obvious. 

That reminds me that many years ago when I was still at university and having a difficult financial time of it when I got a job on a salmon troller for the summer. I don’t want to talk about that experience in detail although it was loosely tied to graduate work I wanted to do at UBC. It was rather painful in several ways, one of the main ones being that I had to leave Carolyn and the kids. The boat that I was on was called the Morning Sunrise.  Now, I may be a little thick, but I don’t recall the sun rising at any other time of day. It always rises in the morning. I think the skipper, who was not particularly erudite, nor was English his first language, just got impatient when he went to get his commercial fishing licence and blurted out, when asked by the snotty clerk: “Well, what IS the name of your boat?” “It’s the Sunrise…” “No, you can’t have that name. It’s already taken.” “Okay, then, the Morning, ah, Sunrise, I guess.” “Okay, then. The Morning Sunrise it is.” Well, shit. He fished with a few other guys in a loose compact of maybe a half dozen boats, mostly of Scandinavian extraction (including my now deceased former brother-in-law on the April Fool), but I never heard him being made fun of for the name of his boat. I certainly never made fun of him. It turned out he was a fine gentleman even when he realized that I was not fit to be on his boat because I was so lonely, I was fit to be tied. So, he took the boat into Skidegate on Haida Gwaii and put me on a plane to Vancouver. 

I just stated above that I didn’t want to discuss that summer on the Morning Sunrise. (How quickly I can change my mind!) But that whole trip in 1981 (or 1982) was memorable in a number of ways, so maybe I will write about it a bit. I, and a kid from Winnipeg, were the deckhands. Neither of us had any fishing experience, really. We arrived in Prince Rupert by plane and took a taxi to the docks. The cab was rear-ended on that short trip, and I got whiplash, which meant that I was plagued with headaches the moment I stepped on to the boat. I had been hoping for a good summer, making a few dollars to tide the family over a rough spot, but that wasn’t to be. I went home empty handed. Still, standing in the cockpit of a fifty-foot troller in rising seas of the Hecate Strait with waves crashing over the wheelhouse into the cockpit was unforgettable. Without getting into too much detail about how a fishing troller goes about its business*, learning how to set the lines, especially the pig lines, distracted me momentarily from my raging headache and my loneliness. We set out three downriggers each with multiple lines attached at intervals of varying depth on each side of the boat. I had the port side, Winnipeg buddy had the starboard side. The pig line consisted of a piece of foam about forty centimetres square that had to be attached up the line to keep it on the outside of the rest of the fishing gear. I never really figured out how that worked. I didn’t have a sense of it like the kid from Winnipeg did. He was very good at getting his lines out and getting them back in too. I was always slower than him. I learned that not long after I left, he left the boat too. No doubt a better offer came along, I imagine. Summer on the fishing grounds could be a case of musical boats. The better skippers, the highliners always found it easy to get the best, experienced deckhands. The skipper on the Morning Sunrise was known as a hard ass, so getting deckhands was more of a problem for him. One other skipper I knew chose his deckhands carefully. He was gay and wanted a like-minded deckhand aboard. Fair enough. I may have stayed out there longer if I had had a more congenial skipper. Who knows?

I’ve always thought that I had a terrible memory. Then I realized that if I worked at it a bit, I could recall many events in my life, some I might be proud of, others not so much. I may just explore some of my more memorable moments over the next few blog posts. One thing is for certain, I’ll not make this an exercise in self-flagellation. That would be unfair to me and to my family. There were good times and there were less than good times. Studying at Simon Fraser University was a good time for the most part. I was there from 1973 until 1980. The two years I spent at Douglas College before that as a student were good too. It was a brand-new college, one of many being established in BC following the California model. Our classrooms were portables at McBride and Eighth street in New Westminster. They leaked like a sieve, but we didn’t care. This was the early 70s and we were excited to learn. I started on a Master’s degree at SFU in 1976, worked as a teaching assistant too as well as getting a contract to teach a course at Douglas. I eventually taught at Kwantlen College too for a time. Then I got a job at North Island College (in 1983) and stayed there until 2012. But that’s only a slice of my professional life. In the meantime Carolyn and I were starting a family and other things were happening that would be interesting to share.

So many stories to tell. 

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*For a sense of how a troller works check out this YouTube video: https://www.bcsalmon.ca/faces-of-bc-salmon-fishing/salmon-trolling-on-the-north-coast-of-british-columbia

Pernicious Anemia and Multiple Myeloma: A link?

Well, well. I should have known. Sometime before I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in October of 2019, I was diagnosed with pernicious anemia. That’s a vitamin B12 deficiency that cannot be corrected by just taking a supplement. With a B12 deficiency, a dietary supplement can fix the problem, but pernicious anemia is a situation where B12 cannot be absorbed into the blood by ordinary means because of a missing intrinsic factor, a protein which is produced in the gut by gastric parietal cells. For me to get vitamin B12 into my bloodstream I need to inject it intramuscularly. I do it myself because I can’t be bothered to go to the Nursing Centre or somewhere where someone can do it for me. It’s a simple jab in the leg. No big deal, but for me it’s a life saver. As Martyn Hooper, the Founder and President of the Pernicious Anemia Society (PAS) in Britain, says it regarding his own experience: “Consequently, should I stop receiving injections then I would once again be unable to make healthy red blood cells and would gradually become anaemic and eventually die”*. Hooper was undiagnosed for years and has suffered permanent neural damage because of the delayed treatment. It’s a question of life or death. Pernicious anemia is called pernicious because it’s deadly. Just to add a bit of fun to it, it’s also incurable, just like myeloma. Towards the end of this post I specifically address the link between pernicious anemia and myeloma, but for now I need to deal with pernicious anemia.

As it turns out, I had been on monthly injections of B12 for years before about six months ago I let it slide. I ran out of B12 and just didn’t bother asking my GP for another prescription. Truth be told, I didn’t really feel as though the monthly injections were doing any good. Of course, my whole body was thrown into chaos by myeloma making it very difficult to pinpoint the source of any given issue I may be having, and there were lots of those. Frankly, I should never have stopped injecting B12, but it’s not going to do me much good to beat myself up about it. I’ve already spent enough time doing that.

About three weeks ago, after feeling like I’d been going downhill for some time, I called my GP’s office and requested a B12 blood test and a prescription for a new supply of it. This past Monday I went to the lab for my regular monthly blood workup in preparation for my chemo appointment today, but this time B12 was added to the assay. On Tuesday I got the results. No wonder I haven’t been feeling well, the level of B12 in my blood was way below the recommended amount. I came in at 84 pmol/L when the reference range is between 150 and 600. The literature I’ve scoured is inconclusive, but it seems that 150 is way too low for most people and 1000 is recommended by some sources for seniors to maintain good cognitive and neural health. In any case, my GP’s office contacted me this morning and told me that for the coming week I should inject B12 daily, for the following month, every week, and thereafter once a month. I’ll have to make sure the docs add B12 to my monthly blood assay so that I can ensure that I have the requisite amount in my blood. I think I’ll aim for 1000 pmol/L. If I can’t maintain that with a monthly injection, I’ll increase it to bi-monthly, etcetera. 

I haven’t conducted a scientific poll, but I doubt that most people know about how important vitamin B12 is for good health. B12 is crucial for the production of red blood cells. B9 (folate) is also important as is D3 but these can be easily supplemented. It’s worth doing an internet surf to find out more about B12 especially if you’re feeling chronically tired for no reason. I think the PAS is a great source but there are others, lots of them. The challenge is to recognize the stupid sites and not use any of their stupid suggestions or offers of stupid products. Make sure that if a site makes specific claims like methylcobalamin is better than cyanocobalamin get a second opinion. Martyn Hooper injects methylcobalamin twice a week (5mg/ml). It’s available online but it’s not cheap. He offers only one source for his assertion that methylcobalamin reduces peripheral neuropathy whereas cyanocobalamin doesn’t, and that paperis about ALS and methylcobalamin in megadoses. I generally trust Hooper, but we all make mistakes and sometimes we get headstrong about our own health and how to manage it. Hooper has good reason to be pissed at the medical profession, and the medical establishment in Britain and if you read his very accessible books you’ll know why.

Now we get to the fun part…the one with no conclusive argument: the relationship of pernicious anemia with multiple myeloma. So far, very little research has been conducted on the links between pernicious anemia and myeloma. This article does address the issue but is ambivalent in its findings as you can ascertain from this quote:

For multiple myeloma, increased risk was seen only with pernicious anemia, an inflammatory condition in the stomach leading to vitamin B12 deficiency. This association was also demonstrated in two other large studies, which found few other autoimmune conditions associated with multiple myeloma.1617 Because of the lack of association with other autoimmune conditions, our finding may point towards the involvement of vitamin B12 deficiency. Indeed, vitamin B12 deficiency has been reported in patients with multiple myeloma and in patients with the precursor condition, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance.161946 Although multiple myeloma may cause vitamin B12 deficiency by consuming stored vitamin B12,47 we speculate that vitamin B12 deficiency could promote the development of multiple myeloma by causing derangement of one-carbon metabolism, as proposed in other cancers.48 2

See citation below.

This study3 shows a more significant association between myeloma and pernicious anemia: “Using a large population-based dataset, we observed a 3-fold significantly increased risk of MM among subjects with a personal history of pernicious anemia, which has been found in previous studies.” Now, that got my attention. It’s clear that I had pernicious anemia before I had myeloma – at least that’s what I think. However, because I wasn’t diagnosed with myeloma for a long time before I contracted the disease it may be that I had both pernicious anemia and myeloma at the same time. 

All I know is that pernicious anemia and multiple myeloma share a whole load of effects and they are both incurable and fatal if not treated. I’ll let you know how my current B12 therapy goes. Right now it’s being affected by today’s injection of Daratumumab. Oh well. I always liked a puzzle.

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* from: What You Need to Know About Pernicious Anaemia and Vitamin B12 Deficiency by Martyn Hooper, Chris Steele)

1Izumi Y, Kaji R. Clinical trials of ultra-high-dose methylcobalamin in ALSBrain Nerve 2007:59 (10): 1141-1147.

2  Lesley A. AndersonShahinaz GadallaLindsay M. MortonOla LandgrenRuth PfeifferJoan L. WarrenSonja I. BerndtWinnie RickerRuth ParsonsEric A. Engels. Population-based study of autoimmune conditions and the risk of specific lymphoid malignancies. International Journal of CancerVolume 125, Issue2, 15 July 2009, Pages 398-405

3Ola LandgrenMartha S. LinetMary L. McMasterGloria GridleyKari HemminkiLynn R. GoldinFamilialcharacteristics of autoimmune and hematologic disorders in 8,406 multiple myeloma patients: A population-based case-control studyInt J Cancer 2006 Jun 15;118(12):3095-8.

Happy New Year (sort of)!

The conventional thing to do at this time of year is to reminisce about events of the past year and pick out highlights and possibly low lights, in this case, of 2021. Well, I would do that except that my brain is quite mushy right now. I’m not sure why. It may be the chemo meds. They have a variety of side effects that vary from week to week. This week my meds may have decided to afflict me with a sludgy brain to go along with my barely functioning legs. 

Then there’s the fact that 2021 was, to be charitable, less than a stellar year. Chemotherapy and monoclonal antibody infusions every four weeks for a morning at the hospital can put a damper on life. Part of the problem with the chemotherapy pills I take every day is that I experience a surprising range of side effects. While all this goes on, I have a lot of difficulty writing. I can’t seem to hold onto an idea or a train of thought for any length of time. I’ve tried to put together a couple of blog posts over the past three weeks, but they’ve turned out resembling alphabet soup rather than carefully crafted narratives. Right now, I seem to be experiencing a slight window of lucidity, but that may just be self-delusion on my part. I have no idea how long this window will be open. You be the judge. 

Today is January 1st, 2022. The first day of the year is supposed to be infused with positive thoughts, merriment, and optimism. I guess saying that 2022 will not be the year that I die qualifies as optimism, or maybe reckless self-delusion. I turn 75 years old in a few days. I know I’ve written it before on this blog, but I say it again: How in the hell did that happen? It seems to me that I was forty years old yesterday. Now seventy-five? WTF. Following Barbara Ehrenreich (who is my age) I have noted in the past that I’m old enough to die. That’s true, but still, I have confidence that people will not have to publish an obituary about me in 2022. 

My memory has gone for a crap. I don’t have dementia, that’s for sure. But still, I guess that’s to be expected of a person my age. I retired from twenty-nine years of teaching at North Island College in 2012, but I had been teaching in the Lower Mainland since 1976. Since my retirement, I have somehow mislaid recollection of so many things. I do have this blog to jog my memory. I started it in late 2012 and have produced over 300 posts since then. That’s a lot of bits and bytes engraved somewhere in a computer hard drive or on the cloud, whatever and wherever that is. I think that the number of words I’ve clicked out probably amounts to at least a five-hundred-page book. I know that since my cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2019 I’ve put together the equivalent of a three-hundred-page book chronicling my experience with myeloma, its side effects, and chemotherapy with its side effects. Now, I’m not sure what I’ll do with this blog. Unfortunately, I have very little energy to do much of anything physical. The oncologists in my life are very reluctant to tell patients what to expect of a life with cancer, especially one like myeloma. Gawande is clear on that:

“Studies find that although doctors usually tell patients when a cancer is not curable, most are reluctant to give a specific prognosis, even when pressed. More than 40 percent of oncologists admit to offering treatments that they believe are unlikely to work. In an era in which the relationship between patient and doctor is increasingly miscast in retail terms — “the customer is always right”—doctors are especially hesitant to trample on a patient’s expectations. You worry far more about being overly pessimistic than you do about being overly optimistic. And talking about dying is enormously fraught.” (from “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande)

I have found that with old age and a crumbling infrastructure, and as I note above, a lot of physical activity is out of the question. Coming to terms with that reality is very difficult, I can tell you.  Carolyn and I have done some camping over the years since our retirement. Sometimes we were accompanied by family. Most often we were out there by ourselves. We spent most of our time camping in Strathcona Park. I hope to be able to go camping again, but I don’t have a lot of strength and energy. That’s something I have to work on so that I can DO STUFF this coming spring and summer. 

Now, I don’t have to think about physical activity. We have a blizzard outside and snow 50 centimeters thick. So, I read. I have five books on the go right now. I’ll discuss them soon in a post!

Time For Celebration

[I wrote this (slightly edited) post in 2017, a couple of years before I was diagnosed with myeloma. Time is a subject that has been on my mind for a very long time. I wrote my dissertation about the work of Harold Adams Innis (1894-1952). He was very much preoccupied with time and wrote extensively about it late in his career (and life it turns out). So have been hundreds of other philosophers, social theorists, physicists, biologists, etcetera. We think about time on many levels of analysis, from cosmic time to microseconds in productive processes. We think about it in social as well as personal terms. We are especially concerned with it when it begins to run out. Read on]

How do you experience the passage of time?

Time is a big subject and has been the focus of many philosophical and scientific ponderings and is, of course, a major preoccupation of the world’s religions and cultures. There is also the individual, institutional and cultural projects around time and its importance to our lives. We mark (as distinguished from experience) time in many ways. We use clocks and calendars. (The Maya had two calendars, that’s how important time was to them.) We carefully note the passage of the seasons with special celebrations, and we celebrate our birth days every year. We don’t celebrate the day we die, of course, we let others do that in the form of wakes, funerals, and these days, celebrations of life because we are no longer in any shape to celebrate anything ourselves.  We ask: “What time is it?” and we expect to get an answer: “Why, it’s two thirty in the afternoon.” We don’t expect “the anthropocene” as an answer although it would be technically correct.

But this blog post is not about any of this. It’s about how we experience time. In many ways, time and life are synonymous. As individuals we need to be conscious to experience time. In our dreams time is irrelevant or, at least, it can take on bizarre aspects, but we aren’t aware of that until we wake up and can reflect on our dream and its bizarre depiction of time. Writers, novelists in particular, distort time as a regular practice.

We experience time as past, present, and future although we live only in the present. The past and future are cultural constructs that have only the reality we give them. Our memories and our recollections of events are highly selective. There is no such thing as an objective past. We select events, actions, people, names, places, etc. and construct a cognitive map of them into a coherent picture, a picture that is congruent with our life as we experience it and build a store of impressions by which we then judge our actions and those of others. Recall is impressionistic, not realistic. It deceives us all the time as we ‘fit’ the past into our current views of things. 

We are most often not even aware that that’s what we’re doing. We drive, we brush our teeth, we pay taxes, we get on airplanes, we go to libraries, we bank, we vote and most often we don’t question these actions or even consider them a part of a consistent set of habits of life and thought that we learn from others as we live out our lives in networks of interdependencies. As Norbert Elias argues we are less individuals than interdependencies and interweavings. Our daily thoughts and desires, as they join collectively to express themselves as consciousness, make us more Borg than anything. Magically, however, we learn to believe that we control all aspects of our lives as individuals and sadly, people who have shitty lives can only blame themselves for that. That’s the classical economic view of things. Classical economics, according to Thorstein Veblen, uses what he calls the hedonistic calculus to describe how we make decisions in our lives. For him, classical economists (and I would add more contemporary trickle-down ones like Milton Friedman) think of us as ‘globules of desire’ who everywhere seek to maximize pleasure and avoid pain. Of course, life just doesn’t work that way. We do not judge every situation or opportunity we encounter in life as a calculation of pleasure or pain. There are numerous capacities and propensities we bring to our daily lives that have everything to do with the need to delay pleasure, accept pain or make decisions clearly not in our own interests. 

We interpret the past, the present and the future based on our ideologically constructed maps of how the world works. And, boy, do we love our maps. We hang on to them for dear life. Those ideas we cherish, those beliefs we idealize are created in a cauldron of the past, a past we had no hand in making and that starts presenting itself to us the moment we drop out of the womb. Of course, the ideas we pick up early in life we often reject later as we join more and more interdependencies and interweavings, some of which will have more appeal and relevance as the world changes around and in us. 

Christians and adherents to many other religions accept time as a concept, but deny its existence after death when, for them, eternal life kicks in. How could we experience time in a state of eternity? Time is change. What would happen in a place of eternity? I’m no theologian, but I’d be curious as to how a theologian would deal with the question of time in eternity.

Merry Christmas, all, and Happy New Year.