Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Cancer Checkup & Holiday Season

Hello again everyone! Might as well get right to it...

I had a checkup with my doctor this morning to see how my cancer and current remission is progressing. I got there a few minutes early and checked in with Delia, then had a seat there in the atrium with a few others who were already there. A few minutes later, my doctor walked in through the front door and gave everyone a pleasant, "good morning", and I couldn't resist a hearty, "What's up doc?!" What can I say... I'm a Bugs Bunny fan.

A few minutes later I was ushered into the room where they do the blood draws and analysis, and the nurse there said she had to get five vials of blood from me. I just laughed and said, "Go for it! Do your worst!" We laughed and she said she was just kidding, and only needed one, and we got right to it, no fuss, no muss

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it before, but they've got a really cool machine there that I would love to know more about. It's about the size and shape of one of those little refrigerators that are popular with college students - the smallest ones you might see at an appliance store. Anyway, they take the vial of freshly drawn blood and put it into a little holder in a window in the front of the machine, press a button or two, and it starts whirring and humming as it analyses the blood right there on the spot, culminating with it spitting out a little computer printout of all the info on that sample. Actually, two copies - one for me and another for the doc that ends up in my file there in his office. And it all happens in about a minute. Modern medical technology is just amazing to me.

While the machine was doing it's thing, she took my blood pressure with another device that's now automated. No more squeezing a bulb and feeling for a pulse and counting beats while looking at a watch. She just wraps my arm and presses a button, and a few seconds later all the info is displayed on an LCD. Very cool stuff.

With the blood draw fun over, she took me across the hall to one of the examination rooms, and I grabbed a Reader's Digest and hopped up on the table to read a few jokes. Before I could even get though the first one, the doc popped in and got right to it. He consulted the printout and said my blood looks great. As he did a little physical exam, he asked how I felt and I told him the truth: "TERRIFIC!" He said I looked terrific too, and pronounced me fit as a fiddle and to come back in four months for another checkup.

We walked back down the hall to the front desk to set up the appointment with Delia, and he told her he'd see me in four months. She looked disappointed and asked, "He's not going to be here anymore?" At first I didn't catch the implications, and laughed, "Miss me already, eh?" Then I thought, "hey, what did she mean by that 'anymore' bit?" I looked at the doc and asked, "are you moving from here?" He explained that it was a little cramped there with the other doctors and so many patients (it IS a rather small office), and that it just made sense for him to stop shuttling between that office and the other one he works out of, which isn't really all that far away.

So, my next appointment, which is on April 25th, will be in their other facility. I was there once before to get one of my chemo treatments, and recall that it's a lot bigger place. Anyway, it's fine with me, though I'll kinda miss the staff at this one. I always enjoyed the pleasant interaction with Delia in particular and, to be honest, I always thought she was kinda cute too. ;>)

So that's about it on the cancer update for now. I'm still kicking it's butt for the time being, staying positive and active, and still in my current remission. Nothing but good news all the way around.

The doc asked me during my visit if I'm taking any time off these days, and I told him that I'm flying to Detroit on Thursday to visit with family for a week, then flying back. It's pretty much a holiday tradition with me to go 'home' for a week or so at this time of year. He seemed to think that's a good thing, and made a comment of approval.

To be honest though, it's rarely relaxing at all. There's the airport craziness, the long flights, the rushing around trying to get a visit in with most of my relatives, the annual shopping spree with my kids, and so on. And to tell the truth, I've never been all that crazy about cold weather, snow and ice. Nonetheless... It's what I do, and it's all worth it for those moments with my family that are irreplaceable.

The other, implied, part of "are you taking any time off" is "how's work?" The end of the year is always pretty hectic in the business I'm in, and this year hasn't been any exception. I spent most of the last couple of weeks, including weekends, putting in about 20 hours per day. I worked about ten hours, then slept two, then went at it again for another ten, slept two, etc., etc., etc., until I'd finished what I was working on, which was mostly a bid for a construction project we'll start in the first quarter of '05, and some budget stuff for the coming year.

By the end, I was pretty burnt out, and spent this past weekend just catching up on sleep and not thinking about much of anything at all - totally relaxing my brain by disconnecting it. I didn't even do any reading, online or off, which is pretty unusual for me. By this morning, I was feeling refreshed, and my old self again, ready to tackle the world. Well, except that I'm still dreaming about spreadsheets, data and formulas... But that'll pass.

Of course, working my brains out banging away on spreadsheets and so forth for the last couple of weeks like an obsessed fanatic means that I haven't gotten out to do any photography lately. Well, it's just a priorities thing, and I'll make up for it in the new year, after I get back from the holidays in Detroit. Actually, I'm likely to start with my trip home. I'll probably shoot hundreds of photos there, though I expect they'll mostly be family album type stuff, rather than artsy-fartsy stuff. Either way, I'll be glad to be pressing the shutter button again.

I doubt I'll have anything more to update here between now and the new year, so I'll take this opportunity to extend to you my hopes that you all have a safe, happy and wonderful holiday season, and a terrific New Year.

Lots of folks have written to ask about my own take on the holiday season, being that I'm not at all a religious person. There is no "Christ" in my "Christmas", so to speak. Well, it's pretty simple really. I celebrate and take advantage of this time of the year anyway - just like nearly everyone else.

It's a time of the year when families and friends get together traditionally, whether for religious reasons or not (and be for real - it's usually not), and it's as good a time as any in the year for everyone to agree on for when to make time in their busy schedules to get together and share some love with each other - me included. After all, you don't need a religious reason to love your family and friends - well I don't. If you need a reason to share some love with your family and friends beyond just the love you feel for them, well... I don't really know what to tell you, but I think it's kinda sad.

Besides, history shows that the winter holiday season didn't start with "Christmas" and the Jesus story anyway. It started loooooong before that. Tomorrow morning marks the winter solstice, which is the longest, darkest day of the year. But it also signals the beginning of ever longer and brighter days ahead, which has been a cause for celebration around the Northern Hemisphere of the world to all peoples of all cultures for all of recorded history and, I suspect, long before that.

People noticed that nearly everything died as the year progressed toward the time we now call the holiday season - December - the winter solstice. With each passing day, there was less daylight time, longer and colder nights, and life, existence and even the world itself seemed to be heading toward a point where it would all be nothing but entirely dark, cold and dead - a pretty dismal thought, especially in those ancient times when superstitions and myths, rather than science, explained what was happening.

Some notable exceptions to all the death that surrounded our ancestors at this time of year were holly and the evergreen tree, which had the ability to stay green year round, thus 'ever green'. The festivities that surrounded their ability to do this, and their promise that all is not lost, goes on today in our holly and Christmas Tree traditions, pagan as their origins are.

Of course, speaking of pagan origins, it's no mere coincidence that church leader Pope Julius I in the fourth century picked December 25th as Jesus' birthday in the first place, despite no evidence to support the notion, and even some evidence to the contrary (Springtime is better supported).

For centuries leading up to that time, the winter solstice on December 21st, and the pagan holiday Saturnalia on the 25th, as well as the birthday of the god Mithra (also born of a virgin on December 25th - a story predating Jesus' by at least 1500 years, per writings found), were all events being celebrated by people all over the continent, complete with holly, evergreen, feasting, partying, decorating and gift giving. Church leaders couldn't seem to disuade the common folk from those 'heathen' and 'pagan' celebrations and traditional practices, so they simply took over that celebration season and the days associated with it as their own by connecting it with their own reasons for having a celebration - the birth date of Jesus, again, invented in the fourth century by a pope.

The church spent the next several centuries trying pretty hard to do away with the traditions associated with it - the holly, evergreen, feasting, partying, gift giving, etc., but it was no use. After all, that's the fun part! Eventually, they all but gave up, and adopted their own stories and connections to fit those practices into their own versions of "why" they're done as part of "Christmas".

Nowadays, some 17 centuries later, most people don't even realize that "Christmas" started out that way in the fourth century, and actually think that Jesus really was born on December 25th. Neither do most realize that it's not been such a smooth ride over the centuries to the mostly common acceptance of "Christmas" that we see today. The notion of associating Jesus with December celebrations has not been as widely accepted as most people think.

In fact, that actual history of the pagan rituals, heathen celebrations and birth of "Christmas" in the fourth century is why several Christian sects even today refuse to recognize or celebrate "Christmas", as they understand that it has nothing to do with the actual day Jesus was born, but has everything to do with the "heathen" and "pagan" roots at it's heart. The Puritans forbade the observance of Christmas, and Massachusetts second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to "stamp out 'pagan mockery' of the observance, penalizing any frivolity". In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25th (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations.

Nonetheless, Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Jesus' birth, and even the very similar birth tale of the god Mithra are all stories and celebrations surrounding the end of dismal, darkening, dieing days, and the birth or rebirth of hope, life and brighter days to come. In that way, they all share a common point of reference that most can embrace, in one way or another, whether that's in the birth of the "son" or the rebirth of the "sun".

So, I celebrate in the shared love of family and friends, in the renewed hope and promise of better, brighter, life-giving days ahead, and in the idea that we can all make a little extra effort to be kind and friendly to one another, regardless of our differences or religions, just because it's so much more pleasant an existence to do so. Now if we can just find a way to extend that from just the holiday season to something that happens year 'round, we'll really have something!

All the best to you and yours this holiday season, and every day of the year!

Your humble Blogster,