Day 62 — Should I be
Tired of this?

Given the snow forecasts, I wasted two free nights that I had at a hotel close to LV-Muhlenberg, but it was nice to relax.

Then, this morning, I woke with my mouth full of blood residue, and knew my platelets had dropped again.  Ruined two hotel pillows, but staff were kind.  I explained what was going on, and they said no worries.

Got to the hospital and told the nurses, New blood test, after having a good one on Friday.  Results?  Platelets had dropped from 30,000 to 12,000.  Thus, another transfusion, a weekly phenomenon.  Such fun.

It is tiring, to say the least, but I just keep going.  The doctors say this is normal.  The shots kill the bad guys to make room for the good guys.  Progress is supposed to occur between months 4 and 7.  Since this is month 3, I would expect the worst times are now.

It is not pretty to look in the mirror and see your mouth covered with blood and mucus-like strands of red hiding in the upper reaches of your gums.  Certainly, a new experience in my life.

I guess the good news to report is that my students’ homework for one class was particularly good.

So, here I sit.  Waiting for the platelets, with IV in my right arm.  After that Vidaza shots.

A lovely day.

To be continued… 

Day 61 — Round #3

Sitting in the hospital cafeteria waiting for a doctor’s appointment (normal), and then day #1 of 7 days of shots.  This is the third round.  The prognosis was that results could be seen after round four.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.

The antibiotic that I started taking on Friday worked.  Sniffles and sneezing disappeared by Saturday.  For the first time in  a while, however, the pills did cause discomfort.  The weekend was long.

As the routine falls in place, I note changes caused by the medicine:  gain of weight, some forgetfulness.  Even shoveling a bit yesterday took much energy.  I wonder if strength and stamina will ever return?  I will be careful today and tomorrow with he oncoming storm.

One can be worn down, but there is always the other side of treatments to look forward.

Enjoy the storm!

To be continued…

Day 60 — Looking Inside

Tear the brain open
To see what it thinks;
Tear open the heart
To see what it feels.

Tasks so difficult
In moments of stress;
Wanting new answers
To quickly find peace.

But no window exists
To provide a glimpse,
And make it easy
To counter duress.

Still writing does help
To enter the mind,
For words provide triggers
To connect and be sure.

And writing has helped
to enter the heart,
As feelings do challenge
Today to make clear.

Day 59 — Trust

A snowy Saturday morning and recovering slowly from what was the beginning of a sinus infection, which brings me to today’s comment.

Yesterday, I went in to have a blood test in anticipation of Monday’s renewed sequence of treatment shots.  Remember, that these will go on for seven days.

I woke sneezing, blowing my nose and generally not feeling great.  When my hematology nurse came out to tell me the results, we talked about what was going on .  Two of my critical measures were in good shape: red cells and platelets.  Nonetheless, my white neutrophils were still very low.  She suggested that I take an antibiotic just in case, given that the weekend was looming.

And today, I feel better.

Trust.  I cannot say enough accolades for the staff at Lehigh Valley Hospital, in particular those at Muhlenberg, where I have spent most of my time.  The caring nature, enthusiastic attitude, watchful concern has made this endeavor much easier to take on.  Indeed, I look forward to seeing the staff.  It makes the prospect of next week’s 21 total shots easier to take.

I am thankful for their help.

To be continued…


Day 58 — A Path to Take: Math, Data, Code, Expert

Sunday’s chills and fatigue were indeed eye-opening.  I understood what is the beginning of slow deterioration within the body, and how special processes (like transfusions) are just an adjustment needed to keep the keel even, at least temporarily.  The third round of shots begin next Monday.  Optimism that the shots will do their job remains high.

Finding one’s way back from the precipice of emotional shock is neither pleasant nor immediate.  Readers might notice that over the last few weeks, my mood finally has improved; I have narrowed my temporal focus; I seem to be more in the “now.”  Writing has helped enormously.

With that hurdle behind me, I turn to the task of finding, “what’s next?”  Answering this question has been a goal throughout my trial.

For the last few years, I have become increasingly involved in the rise of “Big Data” and “Data Science.”  I am not an expert, but I have worked hard to understand the basics that include several particular skills — transforming data, executing math algorithms, and some basic coding.   That I have knowledge of business and policy processes helps me in some cases to be able to interpret stories out of data.  Of course, there are many fields where I have no knowledge and thus cannot provide adequate interpretation.  Experts in those fields are necessary.

My take away is this:

Anyone looking to carve out a career during the next decade might take notice of the revolution in data analysis and statistical learning.  Being able to offer value will be harder and harder if an inventory of skills are not mastered.

A partnership with a friend who operates an information technology incubator has brought me closer to participants in the field. I observe the companies and their staff.  I see entrepreneurial spirit and lots of knowledge.  I am fortunate to walk away from this wonderful experience with these observations about educational goals that should be considered by aspiring professionals.

  1. Study and apply math and statistical tools.  You cannot do enough of this.
  2. Learn how data is organized, transformed, and manipulated.  Data is messy.  Deal with it.
  3. Become proficient in using a programming language.  You might not become a great programmer, but develop the ability to know what the language is trying to do.
  4. Become an expert in a field, any field.   It does not matter what industry.  If you know your field, you can interpret data, otherwise what is presented to you is gibberish.

Of course, one must know how to write and communicate.  A good communicator can rely less on the above and act as the link among various parties interested in what the data has to say.

Students and young adults must recognize this new world if they wish to remain competitive.  It is not easy.  Time and effort is necessary.  Maybe the result will not lie within the top percentile of talent, but an inability to speak this language in the coming years certainly should hurt career progress.

Remember math, data, code, expert.  Each requires diligence.  The nice part is that choice of expertise is flexible: Science, English, History, Engineering, Political Science, Construction, Electricity; it does not matter.  Whatever field is chosen to pursue excellence, it will only be enhanced with competence in math, data, and code

As an educator, I have something to work on:  how to push students to recognize that ignoring this type of education may lead to a difficult career search.

To be continued…

Day 57 — Secret Codes

I apologize for not writing earlier in the day, but I was wrestling with the insurance company on understanding a procedure code that was denied.

Did find out why, and it was the result of an unintelligible code written on the prescription for lab work.

Talked to the lab, and!!!!!!!

Yes, they will change it if the doctor will call them.

I have had good luck with the doctor, and even the hospital lab people have had trouble reading the code.

Secrets can be broken, I guess.

To be continued…

Day 56 — Massive Open
Online Whining

Over the last year, I have enrolled in 4 MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Course) to help me expand my knowledge in a particular field I teach.

Today, I started the fourth, and saw another example of what I think is a problem with education.

These courses are free.  However, for very low-cost, one can also receive a certificate of completion (in various forms).  Given my schedule, I participate at my own pace, and do not try for certification. The courses have included material I know and also pushed me into new areas.  I find the professors do a good job, the materials are useful, and the quizzes/homework/tests are fair.  (I take them although not for a grade).

What amazes me, however, is to read comments from students toward the professors and the course.  Now, there are some good, constructive suggestions that would help the course.  They do not necessary correct a bad situation — just offer an improvement.  However, the incredible intensity of whining I also see!!!!  Oh, “the questions are confusing.”  “Can we have second chances on homework?”  “The slide covered the subject a bit differently than the book.”  “The test was too hard.”  The complaints are so childish and selfish.  I suppose it just a continuation of the rude Internet culture that has developed.

Teachers are not perfect.  They do their best to bring material to students, and I think MOOC’s and other forms of knowledge delivery are great.  However, I do think there is this time-tested relationship between someone who understands material and the student who is trying to master it, even if only reading text or watching a video.  One party knows and is trying to bring the subject to the person who does not.

There should be a working relationship as both parties build on each other’s ideas.  But still, there is a need for diligence by a student who should recognize that learning is messy and cannot simply be handed on a silver platter.  I am not in favor of direct lecturing.  It is a team effort, constructively.

Make a suggestion.  Improve the course.  Challenge the professor, but do so politely and without whining.  The teacher has a job to do.  Most are trying their best.  Respect that.

Not one of my teachers were perfect, but they tried, and ultimately, I believe, trying is the source of knowledge.  Indeed, one reason I like face to face teaching is that the relationship is different and potentially everlasting for good reasons, like yesterday, at a low point, while getting blood, sitting alone, I could call my history teacher/coach who is now 81, and just talk.

To be continued…

Day 55 — What a Little
Blood Will Do Ya

After a bag of platelets and a 2 bags of red cells, a new man walks out of the hospital 9 hours later (1 hour test and wait, 3 hours wait for scheduled transfusion, 5 hours sitting in a chair.

Instead of feeling cold, fatigued, breathless, and looking pale, by last evening I was fine, again.  Warm and energetic.  Color came back.  Walking up the stairs seemed normal.

New semester starts today.  Onward to the end of 20 years of full-time teaching.

To be continued…


Day 54 — Of Red, White, and Platelets

Yesterday, I was so rundown.  Leaning over produced shortness of breath.  I knew the little old reds were slipping away.  I felt lousy, and worried, also, “had I caught a cold?”  My white counts are low, too, and there is nothing that can be done about those.

On my schedule for today, however, was my weekly blood test.  So, I jumped into bed early, and hoped that I would get a good night’s sleep, with a plan to wake early.  Fortunately, yes, that worked!  And even the long rest helped me feel better when I woke.

Arrived at LV-Muhlenberg, headed up the stairs to diagnostics, and immediately knew that the rest had achieved only so much.  By the time I was at the top, I was out of breath again.  Had blood drawn and went up to the 3rd floor to report to my nurse that the blood was now at the lab.  Down to the cafeteria to wait for her call since the blood work was labeled as “stat.”

Her call came, and her friendly voice reported, “you’ll need blood.”  My hemoglobin count was down to 7.1.  They get worried around 8.  :)

Also need platelets although they had not dropped as far as the prior week.  “Might as well get a boost since you are here.”

What does this all mean, a reader might ask?  Well, the medicine shots I get monthly are designed to “turn/kill off” my bone marrow guys both good and bad, producing room for good guys to be produced again.  This means that during the first few months of treatments, declines in metrics are probable.  It is good that I “can tell” when something is happening.  I have to wait till June or July until I learn if this is working.

My appointment is for 12:30pm.  Right now it is 9:30am.  I’ll finish this post and move on to getting some coursework done.

Hope everyone has a good day.  I will celebrate the great Martin Luther King’s birthday contemplating that the world should get a life and forget about its petty grievances.  We all have one place to end up.  Don’t accelerate the process.

To be continued…

Day 53 — Early,
Early Morning

It’s 2:40am, and I cannot sleep.

This after a very good day, but I decided to try sleeping without an aid for the first time in two months, and it did not work.  I just took some Tylenol to relax the low-level aches caused by the return to exercise the last few days.  Let’s see if that helps.

But first, I guess I should take a stab at writing, and schedule it for later this morning.

Last night, in a conversation, I was asked what makes me happy.  Then, a link was offered in Facebook about Harvard’s study of men’s perception of happiness throughout their lives.  I guess we are back to understanding happiness, a topic approached in the early days of my diagnosis.

I answered that I have used three words to describe myself over the years, admitting that maybe they were just how I felt, and not necessarily “real.”  Curious, enthusiastic, and sensitive.  While I admitted that I had become good at recognizing the feelings of sadness, and even their source, understanding of “happiness” had escaped me.  I also described how when students approach me about career choice, I advise them to keep a diary that records their happy moments and those times that cause them not to smile.  Over time, a pattern might suggest what road to follow in life.  Even though I write, and have kept a diary, I have not taken my own advice and monitored my sources of happiness.

I can speculate, however.

I love to read, and I love to exercise, in particular to run.  Note they are solitary tasks, which does say something.  Teaching helped me to enjoy reading with others who share the same interest.  On the other hand, long ago I gave up competitive sports.  Other than an occasional round of golf, I seem to like individual exercise better (maybe I just do not make the time, I will admit).  These two loves were squashed for a while with my illness.  I found myself not wanting to read, and readers know how the leukemia took away my ability to run at a distance. I am pleased that I am satisfied with the start of one minute intervals for 20 minutes, which I would like to build upon.  Over the last few weeks, as my sadness lifted, I found myself being able to read again — a good thing!

But to be honest, what else interests me?  I answered that question with this:  “I have always been interested in how it all works.”  I acknowledged that this was like asking, “why is there air.”  The thought crosses my mind that maybe this is a clue, I think “macro,” and have trouble with the “micro,” thus finding everyday things to enjoy and savor.

And brings me to the big conclusion stimulated by the Harvard study.  According to the story I read, a great source of happiness to these men were relationships, both social and intimate.  Relationships have been hard for me. And somehow, I have to come to terms to that.

Thus, a task, one which might lead to other activities and people and to relationships, of all kinds, and ultimately the satisfaction of happiness.

Thanks for listening.

To be continued… (3:31am, I need to try again to sleep)