Monday, November 17, 2008

"Report from the front:" A fictionalized account of the events of the last few weeks in my ongoing war with an unwelcome tumor

We are each generals leading our personal battles with cancer. Here's the latest from my battlefield: (WARNING: Fiction Ahead)


This morning on “Talking with Katie” we have a very special guest: General David Goodwin, who is currently in charge of our troops fighting in the left temporal lobe territory, a region we must hold if w are to win this war, and repel the invader.

K: General Goodwin, first of all, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to talk with us.

D: Katie, I’m happy to do it. But of course, you’re right, when you say that I have a very busy schedule. In fact, I’m due back at the front lines in 30 minutes. We’ve seen some unusual activity in the Image Interpretation Center, where the essential meaning is extracted from the complex data sent from the field by our two optical sensors.

Our enemy pursues his dark ambitions without pause, and so we must remain ever at the ready, knowing that we may be called into battle at any time.

Another point that I should make clear up front: I hope you will understand that even as we speak, battles rage on several fronts. I must assume that the enemy will view this broadcast as well as our troops and supporters, and so I must answer carefully in some cases. And if you ask me certain questions, such as ones about our strategic plans to win this war, I will be forced to refuse to answer.

But within those limits, please feel free to ask what you like, and I will answer to the extent I can.

K: OK, let’s start with a summary of the current status. In your opinion, are we winning or losing this war?

D: Now Katie, that’s just the sort of question I can’t answer. If I say I think we are losing, it would surely demoralize our troops, precisely when we need them most, to help us over the “rough patch” in the road. And it’s not much better if I say I think we are winning. Then the enemy would be emboldened, thinking we had become complacent.

K: OK, let me rephrase the question: General, could you please summarize any new developments on each of the major battlefronts?

D: Yes, I’ll be happy to do so…

K: Great, … but first, a few important messages from our sponsors…

(to be continued)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

June Update

Well, it's been a long time (once again)... I guess I'd better get out and do some INTERESTING THINGS so that I'll have something to write about!

Well, actually I've got a few things...

Did I happen to mention that I'm writing a (short) story? It's lots of fun, and creative writing is a new experience for me! And to top it off, the story had a good moral: we must stop global warming! But it takes its own sweet time to get to that message....

Here's a little excerpt from the beginning you might find amusing... i

To set the stage: "Mr. Z" or "Zarathustra" and his friends live far away; in fact, they live in a 9-dimensional world outside our universe. Not only that, they actually created our universe! Now they didn't make every thing there is in our universe, they just set the physical parameters and then started the "Big Bang". They generally sit back and watch after that, without further intervention.

Mr. Z and colleagues all work at the "Institute for Universe Studies" and they created our universe in the "Big Bang Machine" (so named by the custodian due to the awful clatter it made) that they had at the Institute. The machine requires you to insert a coin (no free lunch!), set the parameters (e.g. the fine structure constant, the cosmological constant, etc.) and press the button to start. If all goes well, a nice display bottle emerges containing your new universe, suitable for display in your living room or office.

For most choices of parameters, the resulting universe is incompatible with life. The spacetime either never unfurles, or it expands quickly to a cold gas, and never reverses course. Both are quite boring. It is only when the physical parameters satisfy certain relations among themselves that the resulting universes seem capable of supporting any type of life.

Our universe turned out particularly well, and is one of the few they created that actually produced some semi-intelligent creatures (e.g. on the little planet "Earth"). For this reason, watching the development of Earth from a molten fireball to a place with good restaurants has been of great interest to them. So much so, in fact, that they have a "reality" TV series in their world far away, that is called "Watching Little Earth." This show is very popular with the general public in their world, and consists of transmissions of earthling-produced documentaries. For example, there is the one detailing the activities on a certail "Wisteria Drive"; other episodes have shown harrowing escapes from various tropical islands. The have learned through these transmissions from earth, that we play violent games where two teams face off and throw or shoot things at each other. This is not nice! Some people seem to get very seriously hurt in these games. At first, they just threw rocks at each other, but now they have these flying vehicles that they use to drop fireworks of some type on the other team. That hurts! Well, it is all very entertaining, but really they should find more peaceful games to play!

Recently, they noticed that little planet earth seemed to be getting hotter, and it seemed to be due to activities of the homo sapiens species. So they have come to visit with a message. Their goal is to get on Oprah or Larry King to tell all of earth: fix this global warming NOW or ELSE! It seems their Institute budget largely derives from revenue from the "Watching Little Earth" series. If we now mess up the planet so that their public is no longer interested in tuning in, then their Institute will lose so much funding they will be unable to continue their work. They can't allow this to happen. So they are giving us one last change. If we fail, they will sweep our entire galaxy into the nearest blackhold, and recycle the energy and matter into some more useful form. So if we want to avoid being "blackhold food" we'd better get our act together...

And of course, along the way, much hilarity will ensue...

Mr. Z Goes to Earth with a Important Message

A Short Story by
Dave Goodwin
June, 2008

An Early Morning Encounter

I first met “Zarathustra” or “Mr. Z.,” as we affectionately call him now, early one morning last Winter Term. For those of you who don’t live your lives according to the academic calendar, as I (and most people I know) do, “Winter Term” translates roughly to “January to mid-March.” Also, just to dispel any confusion before we begin, Mr. Z is no relation to the Zarathustra of history (6th century BC). He just chose to take his name. But more about that later. Now let’s get back to how this all began…
I remember distinctly that it was very early in the morning on that winter day --- probably about 5 or 6 am --- when I first saw him. In any case, it was still too dark to see much of anything --- trees, buildings, cars, and people were all just black silhouettes against the dark gray overcast sky.
I was taking my usual short cut through the park next to the University where I work, when I ran into Mr. Z. When I say “ran into,” I mean it quite literally, not like

“Oh Honey --- guess who I ran into this morning? Shirley! Remember her? I think you two met once. I think you’d actually like her if you just gave her a chance. Oh, Honey, that was a long time ago. I hadn’t thought of her in years until I ran into her today! ”

No, I literally collided with Zarathustra in the darkness of the park. Now you might think from his rail-thin body that he would come out the worse for a collision with me. But you would be wrong – he really packs a punch! He has abs like steel --- or, considering what we would soon learn, maybe I should just say “he has steel abs.” In any case, the result of our collision was that I found myself splayed out on the path, looking up at Mr. Z standing over me. Now if he were like some of the “tough guys” you sometimes see hanging out in parks like this one, he could have finished me off with a few quick, powerful kicks. But of course we know now that Mr. Z is not like that at all --- he is, above all else, a very decent fellow.
So he smiled and helped me to my feet. He apologized for standing precisely where I was planning to walk. I accepted his apology, and within seconds, I came to see him as the true “gentleman” we all now know him to be, and not as some local thug trying to mug me.
Soon, his entire group surrounded me, and they were all trying to shake my hand at the same, while looking me in the eyes with “sincere” expressions, and saying things like
“Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen!”
“Room for cream?”
“Fries with that?”

As it turned out, they were not really expecting answers from me – they were just practicing their English. Zarathustra explained to me that they were only visiting for a little while, and they live somewhere “very far away.” Judging from their strongly-accented attempts at English, I realized how true this must be. I couldn’t quite place their accent, however. Was it French? If it was, it was some obscure dialect that I had never heard before.
But their clothing suggested they could be French – very avant gard, and very colorful! Each one of them wore a single color – one guy was all “hot pink” and another wore electric blue. Not at all like the “practical” clothes we Engineering Professors wear at the university. On days I’m teaching (MWF), I usually wear a white or beige button-up shirt (but no tie!), tan or dark slacks, a very professorial old tweed sportcoat, and my old, comfortable athletic shoes. On other days (TuThSatSun) I usually just pull on my favorite old brown sweater over a T shirt and a pair of jeans.
But enough about how I dress. Their clothes were much more interesting. Remember those polyester “leisure suits” from the 70’s? Well, their outfits were similar, although the fabric did not seem to be polyester. Instead, it seemed to be something programmable – by turning a few small dials sewn into the side, they could change the color of the fabric, and even its texture and transparency. It was possible to dial in a look of metal mesh, or a very finely woven mirror-like gold or silver, or a fabric woven from brightly tinted plastic polyester-like fibers. But unlike the polyester we know, these fibers seemed to act as optical waveguides! Using tiny fiber couplers in the seams, they could capture light from any external source and use it to illuminate the garment. So if you were outdoors, sitting in the shade, then the outfit would turn bright blue! Now if you stepped out of the shade into direct sunlight, the color would quickly change to brilliant yellow! Of course, all of this is user-configurable using the dials. If you want, for example, to wear a bright red leisure suit that doesn’t change color, all you need to do is to turn off the external coupler, and instead use one of the little diode laser light sources sewn into the seams.
As an engineer,I must say I found this extremely cool. These people may not call themselves “engineers” but they sure do make some incredible stuff! I resolved at that moment that I would try to spend as much time as I could with Mr.~Z and crew, so that I could learn how to build as many cool gadgets as possible before they have to go back home (wherever that may be).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Status as of May 08...

Well, I'm still kicking... but I admit you wouldn't know it by the frequency of blog posts... It seems my last post was over 2 months ago. Sorry about that! I'll try to be a little more frequent...

First of all, I want to say that I send my very best wishes for a full recovery to Senator Kennedy and his family. As a glioma patient myself, I want let Senator Kennedy and his family know that you are in our thoughts!

And also - there really is hope! Research projects now underway at some of the major cancer centers, and at leading research universities, may be leading the way to radically better treatments! One project I know about uses nanoparticles that seek out and bond to the tumor surface to direct the full energy of a radio-frequency source to the tumor and the tumor alone. As a result, the tumor can be heated to a temperature where it is damaged or killed, without the surrounding tissue getting hot at all. Then there are other promising projectts involving genetic therapies, targeted drug delivery, and lots more. I'm really hopeful that before long, cancer will become a manageable chronic diseash, rather than the tragic disease it is today. Scientifically speaking, we are certainly living in interesting times!

If I had any advice for Sen. Kennedy (or anyone else newly diagnosed with a glioma), it would be this: to the extent possible, keep active mentally and physically, and keep on working to make this world a better place. I think the last one is very important but have hardly ever seen it mentioned as a component of recovery from disease. Sometimes it is important to get your thoughts away from your problems, and focused on those who are less fortunate than you are (yes, even though we have brain cancer, we are very fortunate indeed if we have a loving, supportive family, work that we find satisfying, and a network of real friends).

Some general advice for just about anyone, sick or well:

1. Don't spend time thinking about what might have been but wasn't. We can't control the hand of cards we are dealt, but we sure can determine how we play them!

2. Don't give in to anger. There is probably no reason you got this - it was likely a random mutation of some protein or DNA molecule somewhere in your brain... maybe you just happened to be standing in the way of the wrong gamma particle from the sun at the wrong time... It wasn't what you ate, or anything you said or did or thought. It just happened. But once it has taken an initial foothold, I do think it is possible for all of these things to combine to fight it and ideally destroy it while it is small. Exercise, a healthy diet, a genuine positive attitude, lack of stress, and good, satisfying relationships with friends and family, are all important in fighting the small cancer cells before then develop into large tumors.

3. None of us gets out of this thing we call "life" alive. We all have a finite lifespan. It is only a matter of degree that separates cancer patients from nominally "healthy" people. Of course, we want to have every precious moment that we can. But remember, every day the newspaper has stories of young people who die at the hands of other young people, or at their own hands. I think that combination of guns, cars, testosterone, and poverty is a deadly mix, and probably injures or kills more people every day than does brain cancer.

4. Don't play the "blame game". No one gave you this disease. "They" are not out to get you. Nor is it your fault or God's fault. It was just random chance, and unfortunately this time your number came up. I'm much happier with the random-chance idea, than the idea that God is "out to get me." Now that would be truly scary!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Coming soon to a blog near you

My Parkinson's symptoms suddenly become amplified. I go into an :"on/off" pattern. About 60 to 90 minutes later, I am "on" and can walk amd move in general very well

4 hours later: sinement no longer effective.

(more to come soon...)

Drawing and Painting

I have always enjoyed drawing and painting. Over the years, I'ven taken a few studio art classes, starting with a few classes at Stanford (summer just-for-fun classes in ceramics and painting, a figure drawing class with Nathan Oliviera, and then another figure drawing class at Foothill Junior College. Then about 1984. At the end of my time at Stanford, I went to a few figure drawing sessions put on by some of the MFA students. After I left Stanford and settled into Munich, my artistic inclinations took a backseat for a while, since who can really compete with the old masters?

Then for the next 10 years I hardly did any painting at all... Finally, I decided to try it again... Well, the rest is history... I went through a period of intensive artisic activity, during which I painted probably more than 10 paintings, did lots o pastel sketchs, etc. Now I've once again lapsed a bit, but my new goal is to paint some new works! Maybe I'll even start one this afternoon...

So why am I mentioning this? Well, painting is a good way to de-stress, keep the fingers limber, and generally promote health... And we all know how important a positive attitude and a relaxed, stress-free environment are for fighting cancer. This must be the only kind of battle that you fight by relaxing -- well, if that is what it is going to take, then sign me up!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Here we go again...

Hi! Welcome or welcome back to my blog! It has been quite a while since I posted anything (October). I was thinking that nothing interesting was happening any more, once the surgery was finished, and I gradually resumed my normal life. Well, I think I assumed too much... as it turns out, my life is once again "interesting" (in both positive and negative ways). But to cut to the chase: I'm doing well - I feel good, have had lots of visits from friends old and new, and (at least on most days) still remain optomisic, without being in pie-in-the sky denial. I know how tough it is to beat Glioblastome, but I'm ready to go to battle!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I'm Baaaaaack!

Just when you thought it was safe to go online, there's another post from me on "MyBrainyBrainBlog!" Well, I think I'm as surprised as you are... It seemed to me that after my birthday party in October, that everything else was going to be anticlimactic, as I went about resuming daily life. So as my attention turned to other things, blogging gave way to other activities...

Little did I know what was in store!

I'm starting up the blog again, and will try in my next post to summarize the period from October to now (early March). But first, the bottom line: I'm still here and kicking, and on the whole am feeling very good! So with that, I'll stop for now, and actually get busy doing something productive around the house here, like cleaning, maybe doing some laundery, etc. But watch for another post in a few hours!