Posted by: cg00n | December 24, 2015

Winter Solstice

The blue, sunny skies of July have given way, once again, to the grey, cool, sometimes foggy environment of December.  “Enthusiasm” is not a word I normally associate with this time of the year, but I don’t get as miserable as I used to.  These days we have a very laid-back Christmas season, and the lack of expectations to which I must live up is a great relief.  A few coloured lights adorn the house and the artificial Christmas tree in the living room, and a few Christmas cards give the dining room table a slightly festive look.  A will be home tomorrow, flying in late enough that P and I can take in a party with some friends before going to pick her up.  So, our small family will be together again for the first time in 6 months.  That is a Good Thing, but I have learned to feel the presence of my friends and loved ones even when I am alone.  It would be great to see all of you more often, but I know you’re out there.

My unusually philosophical frame of mind is partly the result of a one-week retreat I was at recently.  Some of you may be familiar with Shinzen Young.  I find his approach to enlightenment refreshing.  He is in the process (multi-year) of taking a hard-nosed, scientific look at what all this “mindfulness” stuff really does.  Working with neuro-types at Harvard, he gets people to try various meditation techniques while they make themselves comfortable in an fMRI machine.  Unlike many of the traditional Buddhist traditions, his practices and explanations draw heavily on psychology and neuroscience, and largely dispense with what I regard as the baggage – the more elaborate rituals and ceremonies, the mystical language, the religious overtones, and so on.  It is something of a chore to learn new mind-training techniques when the ones I have more or less work and feel comfortable, but it is probably a good thing to disrupt my habits.  Familiarity breeds contempt, so it is all too easy to fall into a self-devised formulaic ritual which may reduce the effectiveness of one’s practice.  Furthermore, it is actually quite interesting to pay attention to habits of mind that usually go unnoticed.

Life has been easier to take since I started meditating, and easier still since I started on the IL-2 injections 3 years ago.  Trekking into the city every two weeks is a pain especially in winter, but the treatments are now very routine.   P usually dumps me at the clinic so she can go shopping.

Image0282 The waiting room has an inpiring  view (see photo), but I rarely get a chance to appreciate it for very long before being shunted off to an examination room.  I call P when the inaccupuncture (about 30 very small but still quite painful needles) is complete, generally in less than an hour.  Then it is home to snooze for the rest of the day and a couple of days of relative torpor thereafter.  There is a somewhat alarmingly large lump on the back of my leg, but the doctors are more curious than concerned, so I follow their lead.  Dr. G expects (“when, not if”) that I will start on some kind of cocktail or combo drug therapy this year, although the recipe is not yet finalized.

My “Life With Cancer” story is still unfolding.  Sadly, this is not the case for two people I know.  Adrienne Lotton, who I introduced to you about a year-and-a-half ago, died from her melanoma in August 2014.  It took me until very recently to work up the courage to check up on her.  Her blog has gone untended for some time, but her obituary is more recent.  In addition, our much-admired friend Bill Gilkerson died a few weeks ago after a long battle with a rare form of leukemia.   He greatly outlived the doctors’ prognostications and was receiving guests at his home until just a few months ago.

Both these people, as well as the brother of Mr. R.J of Calgary (last mentioned here 3 years ago and once more undergoing treatment), were treated with conventional, allopathic techniques and medicines.  In Adrienne’s case this did not produce the hoped-for cure or even much of a respite, but the other two have benefited greatly.  My next door neighbour, in complete contrast, swears by the use of hemp oil to treat cancer.  Other friends have found homeopathy to be very effective for what ails them.  What’s up with all that?

I am a great advocate of the scientific method as a way to discover how the universe works.  Conventional medicine makes use of this method to figure out what causes sickness, and to predict possible ways to alleviate it.  However, no one (in their right mind) claims to know everything about humans, how their biochemistry works, and how their psychology affects their health.  Most reasonably enlightened medical researchers will freely admit this and will be quite open to the idea that unconventional therapies may help.  There are several reasons why such therapies are not embraced by conventional medicine:

  • to make use of treatments that lack scientific support is to give them the same level of credibility as those that have scientific support, so even if “it looks like this works for some people, sometimes” doctors will be very reluctant (at best) to condone them until the science catches up.
  • to allow others to practice alternative medicine also gives it respectability and allow scientifically unsupportable claims to be made about it; many cases of fraud have resulted (dubious and expensive cancer treatments, for example) because there are no good criteria to separate what works from what doesn’t.
  • in some cases attempts have been made to verify unconventional therapies by scientific means, and the attempts have failed (homeopathy, for example);  further scientific experimentation is hard to justify.
  • without carefully controlled experiments, manufacturing processes, and so on, “natural remedies” (herbal extracts, naturopathic and health food products etc.) may contain almost anything which may do almost nothing or entirely too much (this food supplement, for example).

Obviously this list is not exhaustive.  Quackwatch is a great place to find out more.

All that said, any profession or discipline suffers from myopia or, indeed, outright prejudice.  Western medicine is largely driven by profit, and pharmaceutical companies are hardly beacons of unfettered knowledge.  It is the devil we know best, and there are several efforts (and here too) to improve it, but there will certainly be times when promising remedies are ignored because it is politically or financially convenient to do so.  So consider, for a moment, what the situation would be like if (say) “conventional” medicine was based on homeopathy:  how would we go about determining what works under what circumstances, what constitutes a therapeutic dosage and what the risks might be of getting it wrong, what might be the most effective lines of research into better treatments, and so on?

Science, or at least the application of the scientific method, is arguably the only reliable way humanity has devised to study our world and how it works.  It is the only “way of knowing” that has a built-in mechanism designed to weed out falsehoods.  Used properly it is a very effective tool and we disregard it at our peril.

I hope you enjoyed this Christmas Rant!  All rational discussion on the subject is welcome, and I promise that I will not censor any politely phrased comments you may have to offer.

News Roundup

Thank you to all who have contributed!  The continuous flow of hopeful news is a real morale booster.

(takes deep breath and dives into teetering pile of URLs…)


Cancer in general

 Other subjects

That should keep you busy over Christmas – which I hope you all thoroughly enjoy!  Thank you for staying with me over the years:  I really appreciate it.  Talk to you again in 2016.



  1. Thank you for the update. I always get a lot out of reading the links.

  2. Just to catch you up on my brother – he has recently had a second transplant approved, conditional on a good response to preliminary chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It should happen next month or so, and (provided he survives it) promises an extra three years or so of active and healthy life. Odds on survival of the transplant are a bit vague, but in the range 90% – 98% depending on who you ask.

  3. Thinking about you and hoping all is well!

    • Thank you for your thoughts! I have been VERY well for some time, but I know I need to post another update. This should happen RSN: I’ve just had a (routine) PET scan and hope to have the results in the near future.

      Wishing everyone a wonderful summer.

  4. How’s it going?

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