If you read only one blog full of ranting and raving about sports (local and otherwise), movies, TV shows, miscellaneous pop culture, life and other assorted flotsam and jetsam, make it this one!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Brief #cancerisabitch Update

So I'm still doing the Avastin treatments every two weeks as I mentioned in my last post and have to schedule an outpatient MRI for this month to see if it's helping stop the cancer from growing. But in addition, my chemo oncologist at Aria put me in touch with a doctor at the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine.

There's a clinical trial of a vaccine that would basically bolster the immune system to fight the cancer cells in my brain. The Penn doctor said she feel it's very likely that this will be approved by the FDA based on the results so far. In order for me to be part of the trial they obtained my pathology from my surgeries -- particularly the slides containing bits of the removed tumors, which they have to test for the presence of a genetic marker targeted by the vaccine. It will take up to two months to get the results.

On a more disconcerting note, the facial twitching that set off this whole odyssey? On Saturday evening, after months of facial peace, the spasms returned. Unlike every prior incident, this time the left side of my face spasmed on and off for about 90 minutes. It would settle down briefly and start back up again, over and over. I went to the emergency room and they did a CT scan of my brain, which showed nothing worse than what it did before.

A possible cause: that day I slept in late and didn't take my first daily dose of meds until about 3 pm. This included Keppra, the anti-seizure med they put me on in April for these "focal seizures." But I'm skeptical because I've been on these for months. I wouldn't think a half-day delay would have had such a drastic effect. It had me worried.

After too much waiting for the test results on a bed/gurney that was ridiculously uncomfortable to lie on, I was ready to leave. The doctor said that although the CT scan didn't show a possible cause, I could stay overnight for observation if I wanted. I declined. Nearly five hours in the ER was enough. There hasn't been any twitching since. If it does happen again, then I'll really worry.

Friday, January 15, 2016

I'm Feeling The Bern

So this happened over the summer when I was at the Navy Yard taking pictures of the new development (including park space) there...

And then this happened last night on my way home from work...

A few minutes later it hit me: this is why I should vote for Bernie Sanders.

All of this paranoia and the extra "security" that doesn't really protect anyone, all of this crap that began after the 9/11 attacks, annoys me more and more with each passing day. (Well, pretty much everything annoys me more every day, but that's another story.) And, as much as I like her and much of what she's done and what she wants to do, Hillary Clinton -- previously a United States Senator and Secretary of State -- is part of the political machinery that has led to this steady erosion of our freedoms. This has to change, and I don't think Clinton will be as willing to make the needed changes as Sanders.

Make no mistake: I'll vote for whichever candidate the Democrats nominate to go up against the survivor of the RepubliScum Clown Gang Wars. But when Pennsylvania holds its primary (which is so important with the number of delegates at stake, the state schedules it for the day before the first party convention begins) I'm voting for Bernie Sanders.

All he has to do is be competitive and make my vote meaningful. In 2008 I voted for Hillary even though by the time the PA primary occurred it was a foregone conclusion that she came from way ahead to lose the nomation to Barack Obama. At the time I honestly had doubts that he could win in November. Oops. So maybe I shouldn't think this way, but I see no chance one of the GOP clowns can win in November 2016. They've painted themselves and each other into the most extremist corner. None of them (not even John Kasich, who's probably the most sane of the GOP clowns) can escape this when the general election rolls around.

So do your part, America, and make my vote count!

And look up at the sky!

Cropped version:

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: Bye, Felicia

So a year ago at this time I finished my third day back at work. The state hadn't called me back after the 2011-12 LIHEAP season ended in May 2012, thanks to budget cuts and my being last in seniority. But out of the blue last December they finally had enough people leave or some more money in the budget.

There is much I dislike about the job. Not in any particular order: the decrepit computer system, the building that is essentially a germ factory, with the HVAC system that often keeps it too cold in cold weather and too warm in warm weather, the mismanagement of the agency, the time it takes me each day to get to and from work via SEPTA...but with no other prospects and my finances in dire straits I had no choice but to go back. But I was determined to spend this summer in an intense effort to find another job.

Then, one evening in April, my face started twitching.

The whole you-had-a-small-stroke-oh-wait-it's-brain-cancer saga and the 6 weeks of daily radiation pretty much wrecked my plan for finding new employment. And then the state called me back to work in September with everyone else. While the pay is a help, I now have some medical bills in addition to my other debt. And I hate my job as much as ever, if not more. And I'm stuck in it until sometime in May, when I'll be free to try again to find something better.

Unless my body betrays me some more.

So basically what I have to say is this:

Dear 2015: drop dead.
Dear 2016: be better than 2015 or else. Don't fuck with me. I'll cut a bitch.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Quick Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So just before Star Wars: The Force Awakens began I posted this question to my Facebook and Twitter: "Star Wars will be a reboot/nostalgia exercise. But will it be great (Creed), awful (Terminator: Genisys) or in between (Vacation)?"

Now, I enjoyed the original trilogy a lot, but I was never that obsessed with it. I never bothered to see Episodes 1 through 3 (especially when I heard about Jar Jar Binks) or got into any of the spinoff products (cartoons, novels, comic books...). So for me the hype for the new installment got to be a little much, and the endless ads touting everything from autos to fast food to jewelry were an extreme turnoff. And the extreme obsession over spoilers! IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS, STAY OFF THE INTERNET! But, because I am kind, I won't post any details that will spoil your experience. This time.

I really didn't want to see it on the opening weekend, knowing the theaters would be crowded and not wanting to seem to reward the previously mentioned ad campaign. But bus and movie schedules, plus my desire to not miss too much of the NFL, combined to put me in one of those crowded theaters.

I look at it as one of those Colorforms sets from way back (and today, as their website makes clear). You take vinyl pieces and slap them on plastic backgrounds. There are many scenes in SW:TFA that are very similar to those in the original, but instead of the original characters, newbies are slapped into their place. And, bit by bit, those originals appear to tie events together and propel the plot towards the next film.

So as for that scale I established: it certainly tapped into the nostalgia. As for updating or bringing a new perspective on things, not as well as "Creed" but definitely better than "Vacation." If you're one of those superfans, you'll love it. Me, as I said, I'm not one of them, so... My grade: B.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Anger Stages (RE-POST)

(I originally posted this in early August. Even though it was published, the Blogger app on my phone still listed it as a draft. I deleted the "draft." It ended up deleting the post itself. Fortunately, before that I had it open on my desktop, available to copy and paste.)

I came up with some self-analysis this week when I lost my temper while having difficulties straightening out the dispensation of my chemo pills at the oncologist's office over the last two weeks. (Not sure whether it was the pharmacy, who had to give me the initial supply, or the staff handling the transactions, or my insurance company. I won't go into details but I think there will be no future problems.)

As I see it, I have three stages of anger.

Stage 1: I am upset but explaining things in a calm, controlled voice. Example from Wednesday: me to my oncologist: "...when they (nurses/staff) say to me that 'there was a miscommunication' I interpret that to mean that they are placing at least some of the blame on me. Even if that wasn't their intent, that's how I feel."

Stage 2: This is the stage I reached with the nurses/staff 90 minutes after seeing the doctor and still waiting for my week's supply and being told I may have to wait another day: yelling. "This was supposed to have been resolved last week! This is unacceptable after all that happened last week! I am not going through this EVERY WEEK! I AM NOT LEAVING HERE without my meds!"

Stage 3: Similar to Stage 2 but with lots of cursing.

I suppose there could be a Stage 4 that includes physical acts such as throwing or breaking things, or worse. Let's hope we never find out.

More Movie Catching Up...

I actually wrote this on my phone, the same way I took notes at the doctor's office the other day. I actually wanted to just post the note itself, but I haven't figured out to get a full image of it because it's so long.

So some of these movies are more recent than others, obviously. When I went back to work my movie attendance dropped off, but I got to see a few during my recovery from surgery before I went back to work. The older ones...well, they're probably available in some format or other.

The Visit - M. Night Shyamalan with a scary movie...with a small budget and cast with no real "name" actors? But the story of 2 teenagers spending a week with grandparents who turn out to be really creepy is very effective. My grade: B-plus.

The Intern - Robert DeNiro plays a magical elf who shows up and fixes everyone's lives. Well, he's not really an elf but basically that's what happens when this bored, retired widower applies for a senior-citizen internship at a growing e-commerce firm owned by Anne Hathaway. Advice on whether to hire a CEO? Bob's on it. Help young coworkers with dating advice and getting more appreciation from the boss? Bob's on it. Help fix his boss's marriage and even an afternoon babysitting? Bob's...you get the idea. It's not a bad movie but the lack of significant dramatic tension (even comedies need a little of it) doesn't help. My grade: B-minus.

The Martian - It was visually great, well-acted, had some nice character touches...but ultimately lacking a bit in real intensity. There was no doubt WHAT would happen to Matt Damon's astronaut, stranded on Mars and presumed dead after his fellow crew members are forced to prematurely return to Earth. The only question is HOW it would happen. My grade: B.

Spectre - The latest Daniel Craig-as-James Bond outing followed up on events in Skyfall, with a much talkier villain and more backstory for Bond. Neither trend is great. Craig is under contract for one more Bond flick but is said to want out. Kinda hope he gets his wish unless they can come up with a better plot and villain. My grade: B-minus.

The Peanuts Movie - It's basically a greatest-hits collection with modern-day animation, frantically racing through recreations of, or at least winks and nods to, just about every famous joke or scene they've done over years of TV specials and previous films, all serving an updated plot in which Charlie Brown tries to overcome his Charlie Brown-iness and win the heart of the Little Red-Haired Girl. But they did it so well, even if I saw the ending coming from miles away. My grade: A-minus.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 - Upon some reflection, it's good this is ending so Jennifer Lawrence can return to the rest of her increasingly fine career. This was kind of meh, rather bleak, and the split of the final book into 2 movies was poorly executed. My grade: C-plus.

The Night Before - I walked out about halfway through. Unfunny, especially Seth Rogen. And a movie that makes me NOT like Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Unforgivable. My grade: F.

Creed - Superb. They rebooted, or restarted, or whatever you want to call it, the Rocky franchise almost perfectly. Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), son of the late former heavyweight Apollo, determined to follow in his father's footsteps, moves from LA to Philadelphia and sells Rocky Balboa on training him. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are brilliant - well, just about everyone is, really. With acknowledgments to the original films and updates to reflect the current day, parallels between young Creed's journey and that of Rocky, the way Philadelphia looks, the diversity...just one or two minor quibbles keep me from a perfect grade. My grade: A.

Krampus - I was a little tired and briefly fell asleep early on, but didn't really miss anything important. Family tensions two days before Christmas causes a boy to lash out at everyone; when he tears up his letter to Santa. Enter Krampus, the anti-Santa, a demon who punishes the naughty at Christmas. Krampus has minions (no, not those Minions), and that aspect gave it a "Gremlins" vibe, which really helped. My grade: A-minus.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Post-Second Surgery #cancerisabitch Update

Previously on "Joe's Adventures in the Medical System..."

Anyhoo...my second surgery ended up not happening until Friday, November 20th due to a combination of insurance company bureaucracy and a primary care doctor's office that was either closed when it's normally open or whose staff is a touch incompetent when turning their phone system on and off. Oh, and on Thursday the 12th, the night before it was originally set, I got a call saying they had to cancel because an important piece of equipment (that helps guide the surgeon to the points he needs to work on) was malfunctioning and had to be repaired. So instead of surgery they had me get another MRI to make sure it was as current as possible. Boy, weren't they surprised when I showed up for work the following Monday!

The surgery went well, and the immediate aftermath (meaning, when they woke me up and took me back to my room in the Neuro ICU) was infinitely better than the last time. Much more comfortable. Also, much (but not all) of what they saw on the MRI was actually scar tissue caused by the chemo pills and radiation treatments during the summer. The next day, after the physical therapist visited and I passed her walking test, the weekend neurologist covering the unit suggested I was well enough to go into the "step-down" unit (as described here). I made it quite clear that it was not happening. I believe my exact reply went like this: "NONONONONONOIWILLNOTGOTOTHESTEPDOWNUNITIWILLSIGNMYSELFOUTIFIHAVETO"

So I was actually moved to a regular room instead, and the next day I was released. Since then I've been at home, resting or going to the movies or doing a bit of shopping when my energy levels allowed. I had the neurosurgeon's office fax a letter to work informing them of my followup exam date (which is tomorrow) and that a determination would then be made as to when I can return to work. (Ugh.)

Meanwhile, today I had followups with both my chemo and radiation oncologists. When my chemo doctor explained what he felt had to be done next, I realized I was not gonna remember all of this sufficiently to inform the family and friends (and whatever strangers happen upon this). I was actually about to ask my doctor for paper to write on! Then I remembered my Galaxy Note 4. The one that came with a pen. He kindly gave me a minute to remember how to write a note on the screen.

Because the tumor did begin to grow again (and the pathology report did again show it was cancerous, BTW), he felt that the chemo and radiation did not work well enough and that, at this time, there won't be a resumption of chemo pills. Instead, in two weeks I will start getting a drug called Avastin. This will be given intravenously every two weeks (So I'm going to be working partial days every two weeks). Avastin, it is hoped, will slow the growth of tumors. The treatments will continue as long as it's working. It doesn't cause any nausea/vomiting but there is a chance of blood clot issues. They will need to monitor that and I'm supposed to try to be as active as I can, but for now I won't have to go on baby aspirin or blood thinners. The chemo doc wants a followup MRI in about 2-3 months. He thinks my neurosurgeon may want it sooner, though. Either way, if the Avastin by itself doesn't produce results, he would then want to add another drug to the mix and that one would have nausea/vomiting side effect potential. So let's keep our fingers crossed.

The radiation oncologist says there will be no further radiation at this time. The current information doesn't indicate it would be helpful. She said that, depending on what happens with the Avastin treatments, there may be some radiation treatments but only on a small pinpointed area. Nothing for now, however.

Further updates as they happen. Or eventually. And, once again, I thank everyone who has been praying and wishing me well and all that good stuff. It is very much appreciated.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Gay Porn Boxer And "Journalism"

When these stories first appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News a few weeks ago, I said I had to discuss them here. Well, I procrastinated again, so here we go now.

I laughed at the first one and cringed (and laughed) at the second. The first one reported a tale told by a one-time local boxer, Yusaf Mack, who said he was offered money via a Facebook message to do a porn scene in New York. Desperate for money, he accepted the offer and showed up at an address in the Bronx during the summer. He claimed there were naked women walking around. When the time came to start the scene, he said he needed a drink and someone gave him a shot of vodka and a pill. He claimed the next thing he could remember, he was on a train at 30th Street Station being awakened. He didn't remember getting on a train but did find $4,500.00 in a pocket.

Cut to October, when he says people were acting strangely around him, and finally someone told him about a clip online in which he was in a threesome with two men -- no women in sight. He denied it until he got a look at it. He said he had no memory of anything between the time he downed the shot and pill and when he woke up on the train. He aggressively said he was straight: "My whole life, I've been what they call a whoremonger. I love females...the only time I touch a man is when I'm in the ring fighting." He has ten kids and was engaged to a woman.

A week later, after the story went viral, the porn company denied drugging him and reports began to surface about there being possibly more than one scene with Mack and other men, he admitted he lied. He's gay, or bi, or something (his story changed a time or two just in the course of the followup interview), he admitted doing the scene because he was unemployed and need the money to help his ten kids and three grandkids. His fiancee reacted by leaving him. But hey, he got some assistance from one Anthony Cherry, who contacted Mack via Instagram and offered to represent him for free.

The article says Cherry is "a Los Angeles-based hairstylist/crisis public-relations manager" -- so hey, when he's done with Yusaf's PR he can work on the do!

Okay, it seemed fairly likely from the beginning that he wasn't telling the truth. That turned out to be the case. But what is more sad is the tone of the original article. The writer, Jenice Armstrong, seemed to go out of her way to help make the story seem plausible, using a gee-whiz tone that, I believe, belies her own experience as a writer. This portion, in particular, got to me:

But bizarre things can happen when you mix drugs, alcohol and illicit sex. I did some poking around online yesterday and someone pointed me in the direction of GHB (gamma-Hydroxybutyrate), a/k/a Liquid Ecstasy or Georgia Home Boy, a colorless and tasteless so-called party drug that has been known to lower users' inhibitions and also leave them with severe memory loss.
Could someone have slipped it or something similar into Mack's drink? I asked an expert if it was at all possible for him to do something out of character sexually and then forget it.

Of course, the expert said it was certainly possible. But we knew that already, didn't we? How many stories have we heard in the media about date rape? About sexual assaults where drugs and alcohol were involved? How many stories have we heard about women at parties or in bars having their drinks "roofied" by men they met? How many articles has Armstrong herself written about such stories? Hell, just in the last year she's written about Bill Cosby's attacks on women, hasn't she?

Her website says she has over two decades of journalism experience! And here she says she had to go online after hearing Mack's tale to learn about GHB? Come on.

I don't know what her agenda was in writing the story, but she ended up getting burned. Of course, a good portion of what she writes about is celebrity fluff, stories about clothes and hairstyles, local and national celebs, women's issues, African-American culture, and of course, she basically curates the annual Daily News Sexy Singles promotion. (Go search for my posts about that, why don't you?)

Journalism is so loosely defined nowadays.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cira Green

This just opened, and I went there and took pictures today since I didn't have to go into hell work. I wanted to post these right away so I just uploaded without cropping or any kind of editing. Maybe I'll put some edits on Instagram later. (Or maybe not. I have to go into hell work tomorrow and I'm having my latest brain surgery the next day...update: surgery actually happened a week later.) This includes a couple of skyline shots and one or two were taken through glass panels.

A park on top of a parking garage? What a time to be alive.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Thanks, Bill Cosby

This is a mural that I found on North Broad Street, near Glenwood Ave., when I first started working for the state...

This is the same location now...