Tag Archives: cancer

Reading the Christmas Barometer

Conversation

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I have become bitter, old, and cynical, but it is still my favorite holiday. It’s my favorite holiday when it’s good. Otherwise, it’s one of the most depressing days of the year. If it’s bad, it becomes a barometer of how messed up your life has been. What the hell have you been up to that you can’t even get a Christmas that is joyful?

The thing with Christmas is that it always brings me to a time when my family and I were still living together. My mother was still around, everyone got presents, and we even shared the evening with our cousins and extended family. There were tons of food and something Christmas-related was on the television to further amp up the mood. It was close as I could ever be to experiencing a Norman Rockwell painting. And yes, I do realize that nothing could ever replicate the holidays of my childhood, especially with rose-tinted glasses, but every year, I just want a decent meal and an evening that doesn’t end with me sleeping depressed.

Joyful is the last word I would use to describe Christmas this year.

There was one Christmas when my family, after having celebrated and opened all of our presents, was subjected to the sounds spousal abuse happening over at our neighbor’s house. It was pretty bad. To this day, I could still remember the sound of that poor woman being choked, as well as the knocking of her husband’s mother saying, “that’s enough… please stop it.” I don’t remember how the whole thing ended, but I do remember that no police officers were called to the scene.

There was another Christmas when I spent the holidays all by myself. I was in midst of the lowest depression. Nothing was working out in my life and I found myself wandering the city all by myself while people around me laughed, cackled, held hands with their loved ones, and made me all the more depressed. I remember one of the good things about that year was that it was actually snowing. It reminded me of being back home. See, when everything is bad, it’s the smallest things that count. What surprised me that year was that I got messages from two people I long discounted from my life. One from an old student and another from a friend whom I like to think I once helped out through her depression. It was good to be remembered. And at that time, I like to think I did something good to be remembered during the holidays. My life was messed up, but at least I did a bit of good for some people. I wonder what they’re up to now?

I’ve never been seriously bullied in my childhood, but I do remember being ostracized or being called names at one point or another. It was nothing serious, and I used to brush them off, but I do remember its sting and the cold lump it built on my throat, slowly making breathing a little bit harder. I’m sure everyone knows this feeling. I never thought about those feelings much before, but on Christmas, that’s the exact sensation that I felt. I’m a grown man, but I felt insecure, ugly, inept, unloved, not normal, and in a word “weird.” It was one of those few instances when I truly felt I didn’t belong… that something was truly wrong with me. That cold lump on my throat was making it harder for me to breath, and as I type these words, the sensation is still so fresh that I can still feel its sting. It’s like I am that neighbor lady being metaphorically choked.

I actually sometimes wonder if that actual benign lump in my thyroid is a manifestation of insecurities, Christian guilt, actual guilt, depression, and anxiety, and that it will someday grow and choke the life out of me.

Ugh… what am I writing? It’s December 26! It’s a low bar. I had a shitty Christmas. I hope everyone had a better Christmas than me.

 

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I will miss you, Gord.

Larva

Saw the Tragically Hip play the last date of their Man Machine Poem tour online. Thank goodness for the CBC for streaming the show for free online, especially for expats like myself. It was a bit of an odd online experience, as I was watching and messaging to my friends online during the show. I imagine it was like that for many Canadians around the world, a collective experience for one of the greatest acts the world doesn’t know.

I’ve been listening to the Hip since I was a teenager and I saw them play in Winnipeg during their Phantom Power tour back in 98. I have always admired Gord Downie’s ability to meld the Canadian experience with history, grief, love and hope. I believe whoever wrote Prime Minister’s Trudeau said it best, “Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years.” The band never exploded south of the border the way Canadian pop acts often do. They’ve done concerts, played in Woodstock, and was even featured in Saturday Night Live, but they just didn’t take off. The Tragically Hip was a band that it seems only Canadians truly got. I tried explaining this to my wife, and how acts like Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber are not what Canada is about. And that often music acts like them take away from the soul of what is actually good and substantive Canadian music.

It was great to see the band play but ultimately it was sad knowing that this could very well be the last time Gord Downie plays with the band. Back in 2012, he talked about dealing with his wife’s breast cancer, and how it takes a toll not just on the person afflicted, but also to the people helping them through it. His wife recovered but her struggles have influenced the band’s album ‘Now For Plan A.’ And now Gord has been diagnosed with an aggressive terminal cancer. While the show was a celebration of the band’s history, it was also a sad farewell to a great artist. It was Canada saying goodbye to a dying man, a dying man that we love.

I still have not recovered from my mother dying from cancer. I can talk about the subject lightly and even joke about it now and then, but it is still a sore wound. I’m sure most people’s lives have been touched by the disease in one form or another. I myself have given up to the fact that I would probably die from cancer myself. The show over the weekend is a celebration of life in the face of inevitable death. However, it is also a reminder that cancer, death, will take away all of the beautiful things in life, all of them, and that we should appreciate them while we still have them.

Hug your loved ones, watch your favorite band, go out and play sports, do things while you still can. Love and appreciate things while you still have the chance. I guess that was the big take away from the weekend. And as a Canadian, I’m glad to have known the beauty that is the Tragically Hip.

You really missed out, America.

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AIDS Cures on TV

Serial

My niece colors like a serial killer.

I saw Bill Maher interview Dr. Samir Chachoua, the doctor who is currently treating Charlie Sheen. He’s the doctor who advised him to get off his regular meds, use a treatment that he claims cures HIV (not therapy), and apparently even injected some of Sheen’s own blood to himself in order to assuage Sheen’s fears. It is a bit concerning that Bill Maher would give the doctor a media platform when prior to the interview, Charlie Sheen said in Dr. Oz’s show that his “numbers are back up” after getting on Dr. Chachoua’s treatment. Still, the booking was not much of a surprise. Bill Maher keeps giving questionable people platforms. He once talked to Sam Wurzelbacher or “Joe the Plumber” as if he was a serious person. He also basically birthed S.E. Cupp who often comes up with the most ridiculous points on issues.

But aside from the doctor’s many dubious claims on the program (“I’ve cured entire countries!,” “Sheen is HIV negative.”), I believe there’s value in the message that we shouldn’t be complicit with the status quo. We should have healthy skepticism of what’s being told as well as keep an open ear to what’s new. Is the current HIV and AIDS treatment truly the best science has to offer? Perhaps we should be looking at other options. I haven’t done much reading regarding Dr. Chachoua’s claims. But my skepticism goes both ways, to the established science which is married with corporate interests and to the unknown Dr. Chachoua. My skepticism for the doctor comes from Sheen himself. His numbers are back up. I already fear that he’s leading Sheen down the wrong path, whether the doctor knows it or not.

The many claims Dr. Chachoua put out on Bill Maher’s show paints a great picture of possibility regarding curing AIDS and other disease, but the media tries to ridicule him and his treatment based on arthritic goats. While he may indeed be a “quack,” we should not dismiss the possibility of finding cures in the least likely of places, even arthritic goats. There is value in looking at all alternatives and not just surrendering to what the established truth is. Scientists right now are looking at sloth hair clippings for new antibiotics. However, it all must be evidence and results-based. And right now, I still haven’t looked at evidence that supports the doctor’s claims.

I guess the fear here is that this will produce another Jenny McCarthy: more “experts” that would convince people to forego proven treatments to their detriment. This is generally a symptom of the mistrust against authorities, and unfortunately in many cases, people rail against scientific authority for the wrong reasons. This is why there’s a resurgence of flat earthers and creationists along with the climate change deniers. The Charlie Sheen/Dr. Chachoua HIV thing could very well be explained as a similar reaction against established scientific authority. I am hoping it leads to more creative zeal regarding the treatment of diseases, not necessarily from Dr. Chachoua who may or may not be a “quack,” but to many people in the scientific community. I’m hoping it doesn’t result in a wave of AIDS denialism. So yeah, for now, I’m cautiously optimistic about the doctor’s appearance on Bill Maher’s show.

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Nothing on TV

David Letterman announces that he will be retiring from the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN on the broadcast tonight, Thursday, April 3 (11:35pm-12:37am, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

David Letterman announces that he will be retiring from the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN on the broadcast tonight, Thursday, April 3 (11:35pm-12:37am, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

This hit me much like Seinfeld did on its last show. It’s just entertainment, but it breaks my heart a bit knowing that the Late show is now gone. It is a sadness not just for a show ending, but a bit of mourning since it serves as a marker for time past. We are now at an age, when the Late Show with David Letterman is no more. And to the more extreme, it is a reminder of the inevitable. Everything ends. Enjoy every sandwich.

I guess the next show’s end that would affect me as much would be Conan O’Brien’s show, that and the Howard Stern Show on satellite. Here’s hoping both shows last far long into the future.

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AIDS for Cancer

contortionist

I saw the VICE News report on new cancer treatment recently. I have to say; some things about VICE turn me off. I believe some pieces on VICE are being “edgy” just for edginess’ sake and really have no redeeming value.  But overall, VICE News is amazing. They do wonderful journalism and are not hindered by the news media’s myopic attention on issues. I’m so glad that they’re now on HBO. While the Internet is more popular than traditional media, it helps to get the show out there on TV screens for people who don’t even know what VICE is.

I remember when I was twelve and I was reading about Taxol on LIFE Magazine and how it was the miracle drug that could wipe cancer off the planet. While many cancer patients’ lives were prolonged by Taxol, it wasn’t the miracle drug that the magazine article made it out to be. People still died from many forms of cancer. Along with the lack of a reliable cure for cancer, treatment was still expensive, and the chemicals and radiation would often harm patients just as much as the cancer would.

The use of viruses to treat cancer looks very exciting. It’s heartwarming to see the patients in the documentary basically snatched from death’s door and given new hope, even new cancer-free lives. It is a shame however that much of the research still struggles to find funding. It is a shame that so much money is being spent on other useless things instead of helping find a cure to deadly diseases. There’s so much brainpower and genius wasted on products that don’t really help humanity in comparison. I don’t care much about the new Apple watch. I care more about using the AIDS virus to kill cancer cells. How about we all pool our collective intellects and resources to solving that one problem for a year? I wonder how far we could go.

While the documentary makes me feel hopeful for the future, in many ways, it depresses me as well. What have I done with my life? How come I’m not helping cure cancer? How come I’m not putting money out there for cancer research? Maybe I should start putting my money where my mouth is. We should all be invested in this. It’ll affect us one way or another.

I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer years ago. She was misdiagnosed by a careless physician for months, and by the time they confirmed it was pancreatic cancer, she only had a few months to live. Perhaps if she had been diagnosed earlier, she might still be alive today. Or perhaps if more people cared about curing cancer…

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So Far So Good

Year_of_the_Sheep

Happy Lunar New Year, everyone. It’s the year of the sheep.

I just got back from a long holiday. I also bought tickets to visit Canada this summer. It’ll be good to be back home again, just for a little bit. I have to say, getting negative results on my biopsy, working a little extra, and finally booking tickets for Canada… so far, things are going fine this year.

Now let’s hope that this all continues and things get better with other aspects of my life.

And yes, feel free to steal the image and put anything on the banner.

 

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Gooble Gobble

Thyroid

This is as close as I’ve ever come to a self portrait. It’s not anatomically correct, and no, I don’t have tentacles sticking out of me, but my goodness am I worried about my thyroid.

I’ve never done a self-portrait before, especially in the style of drawing that I do. A part of it is that I’m not really a big fan of my face. I find it narcissistic. And I don’t think so much of myself to the extent that I couldn’t afford narcissism. Another part is that a lot of what I write in my works is more personal and probably says more than a portrait would. A picture does not tell a thousand words. Pictures lie. Diaries however, while they may not be 100% truth, they show that particular person’s truth.

And speaking of my fears.

cancer

What a difference an article makes.

 

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A Year of Health Scare

buds

Last year, around the same time today, I got diagnosed with an enlarged thyroid. The doctors don’t quite know what to make of it and they said they would just put me under observation. “Come back in a year.” It’s been a year. I’ll see what’s going on this afternoon, fingers crossed.

After my diagnosis last year, I learned a couple of things. One is that my family has a history of it. My sister has an enlarged thyroid and she’s managing it with drugs. My mom had issues with her thyroid as well. I forgot all about it, but I do remember worrying about her having goiter when I was younger. In any case, according to test results, my hormone levels are fine so there’s really not much cause for concern for now.

The other thing I learned is that there’s a tendency for some Korean doctors to exaggerate the need for surgery when it comes to thyroid problems. Patients end up getting their thyroids removed, using drugs to manage their hormone levels, and harming themselves more in the long run. I guess it leads to more business for surgeons, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals. So yeah, as immoral as it may seem, I have to exercise a bit of caveat emptor when it comes to medical diagnoses in this country.

It will be my mom’s birthday in a couple of days. Last year was horrible for me. It was started by the news regarding my health, and it just went downhill from there, one thing after another. God, I hope this year would be better.

Update: More tests, more bills. Despite the doctor’s reassurances, I feel more grim. Paying hospital bills hurts, but the waiting just adds more to the pain.

 

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Drawing Again

crab

I’m finally making art again. I’ve been in a funk for a couple of months and was unable to make any art at all. It can be a bit of struggle, but what my professor once told me is true, “the hardest part about making art is the beginning.” It got harder and harder for me to start making art, and it’s good to finally get something going, maybe a series. Yay art!

 

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Anniversaries of All Kinds for Everyone

Gabo

Today’s my wedding anniversary. It’s also my parents’ wedding anniversary. I used to joke that I chose to get married the same day because it would be one less day to remember. But really, it’s in honor of my mother who passed away a couple of years before I got married. It’s a way of sharing one of the most special days of my life to the people I love and miss the most. Happy anniversary, Ma. We miss you.

And to my lovely wife, happy anniversary to you too.

My best friend messaged me this morning, wishing me happy anniversary and hoping that the day would be an excellent one. Unfortunately, just like 2014, it’s gotten a very inauspicious start. First off, I woke up with a strange sharp pain in my gut. Who knows what it is? Ulcer? Maybe… but I chose to ignore it for now. Just like my diagnosis of an enlarged thyroid earlier this year, it could be as serious as impending death or just something I could completely ignore. With my luck, it could be something worse… me being paranoid about it for years.

Then I turn on the computer and learn that my favorite author just died. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works could be wildly misogynistic, in a sort of every-man-cheated-on-their-wives-back-then sort of way… but they’re also magical and romantic. He saw humanity and created worlds that would take us through the great heights of love to the lowest of human misery. They were both exotic and familiar at the same time. I was selfishly saddened by the news that his deteriorating health and failing memories a couple of years ago could make Memories of My Melancholy Whores his last book. But now I’m simply stunned at knowing that a great soul is no longer with us, not one who entertained us with his words, but one who painted windows into our humanity. It’s sad. And I’ll probably have to pick up his books again.

We are seriously running out of living people to look up to.

(My entries are turning into Simpsons episodes. They start about one thing and completely end about another.)

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