Friday, September 9, 2016


In treating my cancer, the first step was Radiotherapy. Now as much as it sounds like listening to the radio, it is actually high energy waves (X-rays) that are used to treat brain tumors. This is because there is a blood brain barrier. Meaning that things in your bloodstream do not cross over into the brain. Medication that can help the tumors in other places in the body can't help brain tumors. So the best treatment is to radiate the brain.  This will cause the tumors to shrink and disappear. They use the CT scan to see the shape of the tumors. Then they look at the important structures in relationship to the tumor (eyes, ears etc.) They then can decide how to aim the radiation beams so that they avoid those structures. "They give a high radiotherapy dose to the cancer cells and keep the dose to normal brain tissue as low a possible.  They may use radiotherapy beams from a number of different angles.  The highest dose is given where all beams cross." (2015 about brain tumor radiotherapy)

In order to give an exact treatment, and to protect the important structures in my head, they made a mold of me.  They do this by heating up plastic and covering my face, (they cut out a nose and mouth hole) and shaping it around my head. After they have it all shaped (and it is tight fitting) they cool it down with ice packs so it goes back to hard plastic. The mask, when worn, is clamped to the table so that I cannot move and the treatment happens exactly where I need it. They make marks on the mask to line up with the radiotherapy machine so it is extremely precise.  Here are the pictures of my mask. 

The extra space is because there was a neck placement on the table to hold the curvature correctly. 

The space on both sides that was open was to pull my hair back in pigtails. It was quite the fashion statement

The clamps they used to pin me to the table so that I could not move
Every time I went in for therapy, they clamped me to the table.  The machine (and this is the actual one I was on - they let me take pictures) looks like this:

The neck piece is not placed on there yet, and the blue is where my legs go.  Technically the machine is a relativistic particle cannon. Sadly most people don't know it by this name. In the hospital it is called a linear accelerator (LINAC) radiotherapy machine.  The machine can move around in an arc so that the treatment can come from different directions.  In fact for part of mine they actually moved the couch as well as the arc of the machine. Every day when I was finished and they unclamped me I would say " We'll see you tomorrow for more fun and games." It's a good thing I am not claustrophobic, and having my head pinned down tight wasn't an issue for me. 

One of the side effects of having your whole head radiated is hair loss. As we came up on the end of treatment, I would brush my hair and it would come out in handfuls. I decided Monday not to brush it because I had one last treatment and I need the pigtails so that the mask fit correctly.  After treatment, we decided to see how much would fall out.  My kids (the two that are here) started brushing it, and well, most of it came out. 

Here is what was left of my hair:

The rest had bald spots and looked, well sad.  

Because I knew that the rest will fall out in the next two weeks, and because it will take 3 to 6 months to grow back - hopefully - it was decided that I just needed to shave my head.  My son, bless him, decided that whatever we needed to do to my hair, he would do to his.  

As much as I like the bald look... I prefer to play with hats and scarves. So much variety!  

So now you know more than you would like about relativistic particle cannons and how to treat brain tumors.  The good news is that all of the radiotherapists are confident in my treatment and the ability to shrink/eradicate the brain tumors so I can function normally.  So far, as we are weaning me off of the steroids, everything seems to be great.  Time will tell how well it worked, and they will redo my CT scan in a couple of months.  I'm confident that this will work.  If nothing else, because I'm stubborn, strong, and have faith. I'm too ornery to let this get the best of me.

University of Southampton

So this year I have struggled with the program that I am studying under. It is a good program, but really hasn't been the best fit for me.  It is a program designed for linguistics language teaching, English Language teaching, Global Englishes, ELT/TESOL studies, and then mine which is Applied Linguistics Research Methodology. Most of the modules dealt with teaching, which I really didn't need, and my program was limited on what I could take as optional modules. Some of the modules had good information that was needed (Description of Language, Research and Enquiry in Applied Linguistics) but I struggled to see the relevance for me for things like Global Englishes, and what I hoped to be helpful like Second Language Learning, well, wasn't. Though I did find Discourse Analysis to be quite fascinating, it links into what I like, which is Metaphor, especially in intercultural communication. 

When asked about what I wanted to do for my dissertation/thesis, everyone looked at me weird, including most of the professors and tutors.  I just learned to be the odd man out and well, that was ok.  Most of the students were either ELT/TESOL or English Language teaching, which were about 80% Chinese.  My program, which was the research methodologies, had 3 of us.  Me, one from the Czech Republic, and one from Great Britain. I often wondered why I felt like I needed to study at Southampton. I was really confused. I will walk away with the research methodologies that I need for the PhD, but the fit  was awkward. 

Most of the school's funding comes from the Sciences and medicine.  So if you are a student in that area you can get funding and internships as well as scholarships etc.  The humanities have no idea what funding they will have from year to year, if any.  

When I biffed it and ended up in the hospital, it all became rather clear to me why I was at the University of Southampton.  It wasn't for my program, but for what the school is known for - cancer research.  I would see signs on campus that would say "the cure for cancer? it's you".  In fact, just outside the hospital ward I was in, they are building a new cancer research center as part of the hospital.  We could watch and hear the construction daily as the extension was going up.  

The University of Southampton is the leading university in the UK for cancer research.  It is on par with the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Stanford, and John Hopkins. One of the top people at Huntsman came from Southampton. It is on the cutting edge for treatment and research.  I couldn't be in a better place right now for what I need to beat this cancer. In fact, it is exactly where I need to be. I don't feel the need to rush back to the states because the answers are here; I won't have any medical bills when this is all done. 

The Lord knows what we need, even if we don't.  It isn't coincidence that I am studying here. I'll forgive the humanities faculty for not being exactly what I needed because right now the university's research on cancer is exactly what I need. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Arundel Castle

Since Monday was a bank holiday and I didn't have radiotherapy, we decided to take my son to see some of the sights - a castle.  This particular castle is a Norman castle sitting stately on top of the hill.  We just so happened to catch the end of the festival which made it even more fun.  They had historical re-enactment groups which reflected 12,000 years of local and caste history in crafts, costume and combat displays. We were also enchanted with a Falconry Display. 

It was a fun day of winding through the streets and then onto the castle grounds.  I may eventually have to go back and take the tour the the castle itself, but the entertainment on the grounds was great.  Pictures don't capture the day, but we will try. 

So here is the Castle itself:

Cool right? 

Ok, so here are pictures from the Falconry

 Owl were not traditionally in falconry because they were creatures of the night and were to be feared.

And the costumes.  

stone age ca. 12,000 BC

Iron age ca1000 BC

Roman invasion 55 BC 

More Roman invasion - + a gladiatior 

Saxons came next invading in 500 AD

and because they were pagan, the women could be warriers. 

Next came the Normans who invaded in 1000 AD

and they brought nuns 

The duke 

Then came the 14th century knights with their longer shields

14th century nobility 

15th century knights - my favorite 

15th century long bowmen

the musketeer

the pirates 1600- 1700

the one and only gentleman

And the ragged victorians ca 1850

and the future.... stormtrooper? 

Then they did battle of the time periods with one man standing

 they created a shield wall from the archers

battling against all the time periods 

 and in true victorian style - the snake oil salesman

and the victor - a small Roman

 I found me knights in shining armour.