Happy Spring!

Where things stand at this point

I’ve been in Portland for about three weeks now. I’m alternating between my sister’s home and my mother’s home . My sister’s dog is in the photo, next to the coolest computer workstation setup ever.

Treatments for the cancer are proceeding as prescribed, with one exception. I had been scheduled to begin chemotherapy a couple weeks ago, but lab work showed that it would be a strain on my liver. We decided to put it off for three weeks. It could be that my liver was simply not yet used to the two treatments that I was taking already.

This delay made me feel a bit nervous, because in my mind I kept hearing my friend Ric saying that the fact that they were offering treatments was a good sign that they might work. Now that we were delaying one of the three kinds of treatments, did that mean it wouldn’t work?

Well, I got lab work done again a few  days ago and the doctor was right. The liver numbers improved. They are still not the best, but good enough to proceed with chemotherapy at a reduced dose.  So  I’m probably the only person you know who is excited and positive about the prospect of chemotherapy. We’ll start next week on April 5th. The doctor seems confident  that the sequence will go forward.

Meanwhile I’ve had more people praying for me than at any time in my life. I very much value it and thank you for it. Indeed it’s hard not to see a divine plan in all this. If not for that puzzling cough that plagued me for several months last fall, the cancer would not have been discovered, perhaps not even yet, and I’d be in much worse shape by now.  It’s almost like the strange cough had been sent to get me to pay attention. I certainly have no trace of it now, now that it has served its purpose.

After my previous update, a lot of people wrote me encouraging emails.Thanks to all who did. I’m embarrassed to say that I was unable to answer every message before they got lost in my browser’s “conversation view.” So I apologize. And I thank everybody for the messages they sent.  They make a difference, helping me feel that I’m not forgotten. I should be able to answer any and all new messages going forward.

And I especially thank those who are keeping an eye on my house in various ways.

Many people have sent encouraging stories of people with prostate cancer, which I really appreciate. However those cases have all been less serious than what I’m dealing with, so they have limited applicability to my situation. On the other hand, all the treatments that I’ve been receiving are pretty new, so I can remain hopeful in their effectiveness. Indeed one person I know who’s received them asked their doctor if they could be continued indefinitely. The doctor said he didn’t really know, because they are so new. So maybe I’ve got some time left on this earth, which I hope to spend on writing.

A few weeks ago, I had little confidence that I”d make it to April. Now I’m thinking I might last months rather than weeks.  We’ll see.

Writing

So most of the time since my diagnosis has been devoted to writing, and particularly to finishing some pieces that I have long wished to complete.

My most substantial writing project at the moment is an extension of my father’s, grandfather’s and great grandfather’s biography to weave my own life into a continuation of their stories.  As part of the introduction:, I wrote this:

My grandfather and great grandfather were loggers and businessmen who thrived on wise investments and innovation. My father was a manager in both businesses and government. He also thrived on innovation.  I am a teacher who spent a lifetime deepening my understandings and applications of knowledge itself (epistemology) and learning theory. Every few years I had to admit that I was ignorant and start again. So innovation is relative to my experience, too.

In my forbears’ writing, they highlighted the innovation in their careers. I only hope that I can accomplish the same thing. I have been really fortunate to have had outstanding teachers in both pedagogy and in cultural studies, so I hope that I can reflect the knowledge that they taught me, so perhaps others might find something useful in it.

And by the way, if anybody wants to read the biographies of my father, grandfather and great grandfather, just click here, as I mentioned last time.   It’s a pdf file of only 3 megabytes.

Gus Wright passed away this month.

When I was living in China, I had an American friend named Rob who had grown up in the South. He regularly complained that the dumbest, meanest people in the whole country could be found there. But then, with a twinkle in his eye, he added: You’ll also find the country’s best people there. With the South, it’s either the one or the other.

Whenever he told that story, and whenever he got to the part about the country’s best people coming from the South, I thought of Gus, who came from South Carolina, and I knew that that part of Rob’s story was true.

Gus had gone into the navy and had become a nurse. After completing his military service, he served in the emergency room at Eden Hospital in Castro Valley. He also served in the “emergency room” at Schafer Park School, where his sons attended, and his wife worked, along with many friends such as myself. And I thought it wonderful that he had the same nickname as my grandfather.  Every few years we’d throw a “thank you” party for him.

Gus first attended my class’s annual five-day camp at Point Reyes as a chaperon when his older son was a sixth grader in the class. He returned when his younger son was in the class. And then, at some point, he must have realized that we could use his skills whether or not his own kids were in attendance, so he began attending most (or maybe all) years until the final camp in 2007. And on more than one occasion, he made all the difference in the world.

I remember one year, the night before we would return from camp to home in Hayward, a student started wheezing. Gus immediately identified the problem (it was a croup, which the student had never previously had). He helped the kid breathe easier. We called the kid’s parents, and determined that we would drive him out to San Rafael and meet them there, where they could either take him home or bring him to a local emergency room. They took him home. I never had a kid with croup again. Gus must have scared those germs away.

Gus and I took such late night runs from camp on more than one or two occasions. Generally, the occasion was not as serious as the croup.

I owned an old patched-together Volvo in those days, as did Gus, so as we drove through the night, we discussed our respective Volvos’ conditions and which parts would soon need replacing. We also gossiped about B & N Car Repair, who handled many of our Volvo-repair needs

One more memory involves Gus with another of our country’s best people, Kay Frye. Kay had retired from her teaching job at Schafer Park School, but she continued to attend the camping trip, and she continued teaching by serving as a classroom substitute, but only for Schafer Park School, where she already knew the kids. As the years passed, she put entirely too much energy into what should have been a simple part-time job, with time to pull back and relax.

On one occasion, she was substituting for the school librarian. She was just about out of energy. I learned about it when I walked through the teacher’s workroom during the morning recess. Several teachers seemed at their wits end, as Kay refused to leave her post, even though she really should. After all, other solutions could be found for any missing library time. And just at that moment, Gus walked by. He sized up the situation, and confidently told us that he’d take care of it. He left the room, leaving a trail of “Gus has got it” ringing in his wake.

Kay still didn’t want to leave the library, but she listened to Gus, who calmly explained to her that it was time for her to go to the hospital.  He convinced her when no one else could. Soon she was off to the hospital. I found out later that, had she not gone there, she might well have died that day. But thanks to Gus, she got a few years of life more. He was like our own guardian angel!

Yes, that’s Gus Wright, one of our country’s best people.

Miscellany

Between my moving to Portland and dealing with disease, and writing my story, I haven’t had much inclination to concern myself with other issues. However, the other day, while I was writing at the computer, the television that was playing in the background featured an interview with Ai Weiwei, the famous and abrasive Chinese artist and dissident. He now lives in Europe, presumably because it’s safer.

Well, my ears tend to prick up when they hear something about China. The interviewer asked him that, if the rivalry between China and America intensifies, would America win? The artist’s answer: No. The reason why: because America hasn’t the strength. That is, it hasn’t the compassion.

Only an artist could come up with that response.

But I think he has a point. The last few years, particularly during the previous guy’s presidency (a guy whose guiding philosophy is revenge), were characterized by increasing antagonisms along the fault lines that have always characterized our society. In the past two or three years, the rate of murder has even begun to increase, after having fallen steadily every year for thirty years.

I am reminded of an old argument against capital punishment — that every time somebody was executed, the murder rate increased in the region where the event was known.  The last year of the previous guy’s reign was characterized by a mad rush to execute as many people on death row as they could. No wonder the murder rate has increased in response.

As a Christian, I am reminded that the whole point is to love your neighbor, and to love God for having given you that ability. It is my hope that we return to that goal, turning away from purveyors of hate, such as the Fox News that I wrote about last time.  If we do, then we will go back to prevailing in every rivalry that we come across, like we always used to back in the old days.

Gosh. I almost think I could rewrite that paragraph into the pseudo-paraphrase of a psalm.

Thanks for your prayers and your emails. And thanks in advance for any that you care to send my way in the future.

Yeah, I’m still stuck on YouTube

The Song my Grandfather used to play on his accordion: “I Finlands Skogen

Crabtree Park in Sacramento – across the street from my first home.

And here’s Ormie the Pig, which I used for teaching English

Once again the HERD elephants come to protect the baby.

And the same HERD in the rain.

And here’s the house in Sweden where my grandfather grew up, recently added to Google Streetview