Too many trolls!

IMG_0564I’ve discovered a way to save myself a lot of time and aggravation!

For the past few years, I’ve read the news online. I rarely turn on the TV and gone are the days of having a newspaper delivered to the door each morning. The news can be depressing enough, but recently I’ve developed the habit of scrolling down past the end of an article and reading through the comment thread that’s often found there. That’s where my real aggravation begins. I love a good, well thought out debate with arguments on both sides of an issue but that’s seldom what I find. Instead, these threads tend to be filled with ridiculous and radical statements or worse yet, personal insults. I was beginning to think that the world must be filled with stupid people! Then I realized that some of them are trolls.

Like the mythical creature lurking under a bridge and waiting to gobble up the Three Billy Goats Gruff, they hide behind their keyboards and wreak havoc on unsuspecting internet users. By definition, an internet troll is “a person who sows discord on the internet starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response.” Or, as someone else put it in a somewhat more indelicate manner, “being a prick on the internet simply because it’s the internet and, hey, you can be!” Clearly people are willing to say all sorts of things online that they would never say to a person’s face.

Reading about the tentative agreement reached yesterday in the BC teachers strike is a case in point. Obviously, in a province where labour disputes seem to be the norm and where students have been out of school for several weeks, heightened emotions are to be expected. As I read the comments following one of the articles, I wasn’t surprised to see mudslinging directed at both the government and the teachers union. I was a little more uncomfortable with the nasty comments directed at the teachers themselves, probably because I’ve been in their shoes, but I was also glad to see many supportive ones. In no time, however, the discussion deteriorated into individuals hurling insults at one another. The trolls had done their dirty work, stirring up dissention then sitting back and watching people come apart at the seams! Why would I waste my time reading that? In the future, I won’t. I’m determined to break the habit of scrolling down and looking at the comment threads!

Internet trolls don’t limit themselves to news pages. Blogs and other social media aren’t immune. In fact, I’m aware of one popular blogger who is, in my opinion, a troll himself. He writes controversial and sometimes inflammatory posts, then watches the comments fly! He doesn’t moderate them or even comment on them. He just lets his readers chew into one another. I can only guess that he finds this entertaining but I’ve stopped reading his blog.

I have a Facebook friend who, sometimes inadvertently, starts the greatest online discussions. The topics are often controversial and thought provoking but the moment a troll interjects or the conversation moves toward insults and personal attacks, she has the good sense to remove the entire thread. I so appreciate that! The internet is a great place for us to flex our intellectual muscles and engage in stimulating conversation, but sadly there are those who delight in ruining it for the rest of us.

My only question now is, what will I do with all the time I redeem by not reading this trash?

Finally!

Yesterday I FINALLY had the cancer treatment that my doctors wanted to give me a year ago! Thankfully, mine is a slow-growing, chronic cancer or I doubt I’d be here to tell the tale.

When my neuroendocrine tumours (NETS) were diagnosed last September, the doctors at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton would have preferred to start me on a radioisotope therapy, known as Lutetium-Octreotate, that they had been using very effectively since 2010. Unfortunately, shortly before that time, the government had cut off funding for that treatment citing a need for more evidence of its safety and effectiveness. That necessitated the setting up of a clinical trial, a very time-consuming process.

Unlike many NETS patients, my tumours were equally receptive to a second, similar treatment, so rather than waiting for Lutetium to become available again, I received injections of mIBG in November and January. It wasn’t long after that that my second cancer was diagnosed and treating it became a higher priority. My NETS was put on the back burner while I underwent surgery and radiation to rid me of the acinic cell carcinoma in my salivary gland. In fact, my neuroendocrine tumours weren’t looked at again until a CT scan was done in late July. Dealing with a second cancer was bad enough but not knowing what was going on with the first one was equally disconcerting.

While all of that was happening, the Lutetium-Octreotate clinical trial was finally approved and as of yesterday, I’m finally a participant. So, what does that mean? I don’t feel like a guinea pig because the treatment isn’t a brand new, untried one. Having heard the success stories from Dr. MacEwan, chair of the Oncology Department at the University of Alberta and head of the Nuclear Medicine Therapy/Neuroendocrine Tumour Clinic at the Cross Cancer Institute, a man who I trust completely, I have no doubt that it is both safe and effective. Simply put, participating in the clinical trial is the only way that I can access the treatment that Dr. MacEwan feels is the best one for me so it’s clearly a no brainer. I will remain in the study for up to seven years and will be followed up for another year after that. Data that’s gathered along the way will be retained for 25 years and will hopefully be used to improve patient care over the long term.

For me, there are several advantages to taking Lutetium instead of mIBG. From Dr. MacEwan’s point of view, the fact that it will probably be less harmful to my bone marrow was the deciding point, but I’m happiest about the difference in the precautions that I have to take after each treatment. They’ll still leave me radioactive but the effect of that radioactivity isn’t as far reaching. I didn’t have to stay shut away in the lead lined room after yesterday’s injection and Richard was allowed to visit me. Instead of being in virtual seclusion for two weeks afterward, now it will only be one week and the restrictions within that week are much less limiting. Following an mIBG treatment, I had to stay at least 10 feet away from Richard for all but 3 hours a day. For those 3 hours we were allowed to be just 3 feet apart! I still have to have my own bedroom and my own bathroom for the next week but we can be 3 feet apart at any time which definitely makes life easier. I’m also more free to mix with other people as long as I keep a bit of distance between us and I’m careful to stay away from pregnant women and children under the age of 12. Though there’s still the need for several blood tests between treatments, there will also be periods of several weeks when I’m not required to have any blood work done. I definitely see a winter holiday in our future!

I was told that I’d be very tired for the first week after each treatment but I really haven’t felt tired today at all. I suspect that that might have something to do with the exciting news that we received following this morning’s post treatment scans. They confirmed what July’s CT scan appeared to show. In the 7 months since my last mIBG treatment, my neuroendocrine tumours have remained absolutely stable. There are no new growths and the existing ones have not grown! In addition to that news, the scans also showed very clearly that the cancer in my face is completely gone. We were already quite sure of that but seeing it on the screen was absolutely wonderful!

Now I think I can FINALLY breathe a sigh of relief and begin to live a somewhat more normal life again. I still have cancer. In fact, without a miracle, I always will have, but I also have high hopes that the year ahead won’t be quite as crazy as the one we’ve just come through!

International Literacy Day 2014

Right now, you are doing something that one in five people on the face of this planet cannot do!

As one who values my ability to read above most other skills, I find that an appalling statistic! According to the World Literacy Foundation, an estimated 67 million children around the world do not have access to primary school education! Equally disturbing is the fact that almost two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. Given that statistic, it’s hardly surprising to learn that the majority of the world’s poor are also female.

Today is International Literacy Day, a day for shedding light on the desperate need to ensure that all people have the opportunity to learn to read and write. Education is a basic human right, but one that many people are denied, particularly in parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The problem is not restricted to underdeveloped parts of the world, however. Literacy rates in Canada are high, around 97 per cent, but what does that really mean? While they may have basic decoding skills, the most recent literacy study by Statistics Canada shows that millions of Canadians do not have the literacy skills they need to keep pace with the escalating demands of our society and economy. A whopping 48% of Canadian adults over the age of 16, many of them new immigrants, have low literacy skills that do not adequately equip them for the workforce. The situation is similar in the US.

But what can we do? How can you and I overcome such an enormous global issue? That’s where the Starfish Story comes in (adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley).

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We cannot solve the world’s literacy problem, but we can make a difference for one or two.

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This is Marie. My husband and I have been sponsoring her through New Missions, a small organization operating in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, since she was in primary school. She now attends high school and dreams of becoming a nurse. For approximately one dollar a day, we provide her with the opportunity to go to school in Haiti where only 2% of the children finish high school and about 40% of the adult population is illiterate. She also receives a hot meal at school each day as well as regular health check-ups and medical care when it’s needed. There are many similar organizations, including World Vision, that offer you the opportunity to provide a child with the chance to go to school. Perhaps that child could be your starfish!

I also choose to give Kiva loans to impoverished women in third world countries who are helping support their families and educate their children. By investing in women’s lives, society as a whole benefits because women typically reinvest 90% of their income back into their families. In so doing, they break the cycle of illiteracy and help lift their families out of poverty.

Closer to home, encouraging literacy is as simple as reading to a child! Fill your home with books and let the children in your life see you enjoying the gift of reading.

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Going back to school!

If money had been no object, I’d have gone straight back to university after earning my education degree. I would have pursued a second bachelor degree, this time in cultural anthropology, simply because I loved it. At the time, however, that wasn’t an option. My first degree was paid for by a grant from the Government of the Northwest Territories but that had run out and it was time to find a job and begin supporting myself.

Since retiring from teaching seven years ago, I’ve often thought that if I lived closer to a college or university I’d probably enroll in a few courses just for fun. Although anthropology still interests me, at this point I’d probably choose women’s studies. I’ve never considered myself a feminist because I’m adamantly opposed to abortion (except when continuing a pregnancy places the mother’s life in grave danger). By definition, I suppose I’m a pro-life feminist as I’m keenly interested in the plight of women worldwide, believing that girls and women should have equal rights and opportunities to men. It pains me to know that, in this day and age, girls and women in many parts of the world continue to be denied access to education and to endure obscene cruelties such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Okay, let me climb down off my soapbox and continue what I started off to say!

Though I don’t regret the fact that I didn’t go to Bible college as a young person and I didn’t encourage my own children to do so, in recent years I’ve also thought that I wouldn’t mind taking a few Biblical studies courses. Recently, I learned of an opportunity to combine all three of my academic interests and audit a course entitled Biblical Theology of Womanhood: Old Testament online for free!

The women’s studies course, offered by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is described as “an amplified and comprehensive study of womanhood in the Old Testament which overlaps in a general way and is supplementary to systematic theology, especially as concerns the doctrine of anthropology.”

Auditing the course means that I’m not taking it for university credit. I get to enjoy all the lectures and do as many of the readings as I want, but I don’t have to write any of the papers or take the final exam. There are also online discussion groups that I can participate in. I must admit that I felt a tingle of excitement when I received the email with my student ID number! It’s been 39 years since I had one of those!

The course actually started on August 21 but since I was on vacation, I chose to wait until I was back home to begin. As an online student, I’m not tied to the regular Thursday evening schedule. Instead, I can watch the two and a half to three hour lectures whenever I choose. The first one, which I watched this evening, was an introduction to the course and laid the groundwork for what lies ahead. I’m not sure that I’ll agree with everything that’s taught but I do know that I’ll be challenged to dig into scripture and to seek a better understanding of what God’s Word says to and about women. I also know that I’m excited to be going back to school even if it is in the comfort of my own living room!

One year later…

It’s hard to believe that a whole year has passed since I heard the fateful news. 365 days of living with cancer have gone by already!

The first days were the scariest when we didn’t yet know what kind of cancer it was and the process of finding out seemed ever so slow. Eventually, we learned that I have neuroendocrine tumours, a very slow growing chronic cancer that often responds well to treatment, and we breathed a small sigh of relief.

There have been dark and disappointing days, especially the day in late March when we learned that I had a second, completely unrelated cancer. That led to seven hours of surgery and six weeks of radiation. There’s still plenty of healing to be done and some long term repercussions but for the most part, I think we’ve put the second cancer behind us and I’ll soon resume treatment for the first one.

Though we’ve spent a lot of time away from home, our gypsy tendencies have been severely curtailed this year.  We’ve spent many days on the road driving back and forth to Edmonton for tests, scans, biopsies and treatments but we haven’t been outside Canada at all. We did renew our passports though and we opted for Canada’s new ten year ones in hopes that my wandering days aren’t over yet.

I often wonder if there will ever be a day when it doesn’t cross my mind that I have cancer. It would be so easy to feel sorry for myself and to focus on the negatives but I refuse to do that! Cancer has changed our lives significantly and we continue to live with lots of unknowns but life goes on and we have much to be thankful for.

I’m ever so thankful for my loving husband who has been by my side every step of the way patiently chauffeuring me to appointments, meeting with doctors and sharing the good days and the bad. We’ve also been absolutely overwhelmed by the prayerful support we’ve received from around the world. I know that that has sustained me through the ups and downs of the past year and that it will continue to do so in the days that lie ahead.

So now, as I move ahead into my second year of life with cancer, completely cognizant of the fact that many people don’t get that privilege, I’m determined to continue living life to the fullest!

Porteau Cove

As we sat in an Edmonton waiting room on April 10th anticipating our first meeting with the surgeon who was to remove the cancerous tumour from my salivary gland, my cell phone rang. It was our four-year-old grandson, Sam.

“Can we go camping with you this summer?” he asked.

We spent the past week honouring that request at beautiful Porteau Cove Provincial Park, just a half hour drive from his North Vancouver home. At Sam’s age, I lived in an oceanfront house and the beach was my playground. I’ve always said that you can take the girl away from the ocean but you can’t take the salt out of her blood. This week at Porteau was good for my soul!

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From the morning mist hanging over Howe Sound to the sun sinking behind the ridge across the water, our days were spectacular. We watched seals bobbing in the water, bald eagles plunging from the sky to catch fish, and herons standing like sentinels at the low tide line every morning. We also watched the brazen little squirrel that we nicknamed Sticky Fingers attempting to steal food from our table!

Our days were filled with fun. With our two little pirates, Sam and Nate, we built a driftwood fort amongst the logs on the beach and searched for treasure (geocaches). We visited nearby Shannon Falls and toured the Britannia Mine Museum again. We even had front row seats for the beginning of the first Canadian Surfski Championships yesterday. We ended every day around a propane fire pit roasting marshmallows and eating s’mores. It lacked the crackle of a wood fire and the smell of smoke that usually goes along with camping, but the blue sky days and lack of rain have resulted in a fire ban along the coast and only propane is allowed.

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Now we’re back in the city where the next few days will be spent, in part, helping my 91-year-old father with banking and other issues related to my mother’s estate, but the memories made over the past week will be with us for a very long time!

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Baby snuggles

This morning, we loaded our suitcase into the vehicle and left home as we’ve done almost every Monday since the beginning of June, but this time, instead of heading for Edmonton and another round of radiation treatments, we turned south and came to Calgary to get some baby snuggles!

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After returning from Vancouver last week, we met with Dr. Sandy McEwan, head of the neuroendocrine team at the Cross Cancer Institute, to review the results of the previous week’s CT scan and begin planning for future treatment. We were given the good news that, in spite of the fact that they haven’t been treated or even looked at since the beginning of February, my neuroendocrine tumours are stable. Apparently, there hasn’t been any significant change in them while I’ve been undergoing treatment for my second cancer. Now, with the exception of one monthly injection, I am free of all things medical for the entire month of August!

After being away from home so much recently, it was tempting to stay put for awhile but grandchildren are a much bigger temptation! Simon is almost 5 months old already and I hadn’t seen him since the beginning of June. We’ll be taking care of him and his two older siblings all day tomorrow and the next day while our daughter, Melaina, takes a first aid course. I guess we’ll see how much energy Gram has these days!

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