Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best Books of 2013

     For the last few years I've compiled a best of list which included movies and music, but nothing really stood out in either of those categories for me this year. However I did read 68 books in 2013 and I gave 5 stars to 7 of them. I also gave 4 stars to 27 books so exactly half of the books I read this year were very good or excellent - I guess I'm getting better at picking good reads. I track my reading at goodreads.com and it helps at year end to look back at what I've read. The lowest rated book from 2013 was "Turing's Cathedral" which was about the beginnings of the modern computer. It apparently was a bestseller but all it did for me was make me feel stupid.
     So here are the top 7 books I read this year, along with the comments I put into my database after I read them:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio 
      I loved this YA novel about a boy who goes to school for the first time (grade 5). Because of gross facial deformities he had been homeschooled. Wonderful use of voice - different sections written by a variety of characters. I read it 3 times - once for myself, then once to prep for using it in class, then as a read aloud. A very 'rich text' as we say in the teaching biz - used most of the music referenced, Auggie Doggie cartoon and movie clips, study of voice. Very endearing character, in the end quietly heroic - really a story about acceptance. 

In the Absence of God by Richard L. Cleary  
     This is a pretty heavy book in a few ways but I really liked it. The author has an amazing vocabulary (I looked lots of words up - so convenient on the ipad) and the depth of thinking about belief is something I’ve never read before. It sometimes seemed like I was in a course on philosophy. My only complaint would be that sometimes these dialogues became too pervasive and then the story dragged somewhat. However, overall I think this quite an amazing book and I found it very encouraging to my own beliefs (did quite a bit of highlighting).

Canadian History for Dummies by Will Ferguson  
     I really enjoyed this look at our country’s history. It’s filled with lots of interesting information about our past and is told with a wry wit. It also balances some of the social history (women’s, native rights) that are important to our development. Some overarching themes emerge as well, like the continual federal-provincial tensions, French-English problems, unity-multicultural issues. It is an overview though so he can’t give lots of details (but this encourages me to read more about some people or events). I’ve recommended this great book to several people and plan on buying my own hard copy to share and reread.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs  
     This was a great read - the author decided to try to follow the Bible for one year, even though he was agnostic. OT for 8 months, NT for 4. Had some nominal Jewish background (with more religious relatives). I was mostly impressed with his honesty and respect for believers, even those he found pretty ‘out there’. Lots of humour comes through as well. He would admit by the end, to have been changed, valuing some aspects of faith-filled living, but not to the point where he would say he believes in God. Very interesting to get an outsiders perspective on some of the things in the Bible.

In Search of Deep Faith by Jim Belcher   
     I really loved this story about a pastor and his family who take a year off to travel around Europe exploring spots where important people of faith have made an impact on the author. They start in Oxford and then hit some important places on the continent - southern France where Huegenots sheltered Jews in the mountains during WW2, the Netherlands to see the house where Corrie ten Boom’s family also rescued Jewish people, Germany for Bonhoeffer sites, Austria and the real Von Trapp family. Along the way he shares honestly about family dynamics and encourages the reader to think more deeply about faith. 

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd   
     Loved this book! I think the trick to reading Rutherfurd is having extended time to give to the long, intricate story, so reading this on holidays at the cottage was perfect. Plus I think this is the best story of his I’ve read so far. However I would say it is skewed towards the more modern era, giving more time to the 20th century than most of his work. Still, I was able to really enjoy the storylines and many characters, plus I learned a lot of French history along the way. I think he really captures the heart of the French people, and many of the things that make them unique. It helped too that we had visited Paris back in 2006, though now I wish we had seen a bit more of the city.

     The Gospel of Mark by Michael Card  
     I find these studies very helpful (he's written 4). Card has so many insights that really help the stories come alive. Two interesting themes that keep being reaffirmed with this gospel is that it was written during the persecution of Nero and it was also based on the reminisinces of the apostle Peter. Over and over again there are clues in the text that set it apart from the other gospels and support these 2 proposals. Good preparation for our Friday night study of this gospel.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chemotherapy Graduation

     While not too much exciting happened during the last two weeks (except for attending a beautiful wedding last weekend), the past few days have been very eventful. Of course the ice storm hit on Sunday, cancelling church and bringing down a large limb from our tree in the front yard. It hit Alison's and Joel's cars but didn't do any significant damage. But our power went out about 6:30 in the morning and didn't come back on until almost midnight. We spent a bit of time over at David and Rachel's keeping warm, cooking food, and looking after Lindsay so they could have a date time.
     And Monday of course was Beth's final chemotherapy treatment. David accompanied her for this one and I dropped in at lunch time.
Everything went very smoothly (there have been some previous issues sometimes getting her port-a-cath to work properly, but it wasn't a problem yesterday). At the appointment on Friday her chemo doctor was very pleased with her liver enzyme levels (they were normal) and her hemoglobin (iron level) had also come up significantly. However the calcium level was creeping up again to what they call a 'critical level' so she ordered another infusion (Beth has had one before) to bring it down somewhat. So this was an add-on to Monday's treatment. It's a 3 hour infusion so they allowed her to go home with it (around 1:00) and then she went back around 4:00 to get it disconnected.
    And then the blessings started pouring down. We first came home to a gift bag from a friend between our front doors. Then at around 5:00 one of the doctors that Beth works with at St. Mary's dropped by to deliver a card, flowers, and gift from the hospitalists (8 doctors who work with patients that have been admitted) there. It included a very generous set of gift cards for local restaurants and Chapters - let's just say we've got eating out covered for a while now!
   About 7:30 three of Beth's co-workers arrived at our house carrying in baskets and bags of gifts that had been collected at the hospital. Apparently her floor had sent a message around the hospital letting people know that they wanted to bring some Christmas gifts to Beth and wondered if others would like to contribute. Well, it was pretty overwhelming to see the number of gifts that were given, and it took a long time to go through them all. There were so many thoughtful gifts and wonderful cards with words of support and encouragement - we were just soaking in the love and care of her friends at the hospital. The original plan, apparently, had been for a whole choir of co-workers to file down from the hospital on Sunday night to sing carols to Beth at our house. Unfortunately the ice storm prevented them from doing that. But they had put together a beautiful compilation of pictures taken around the hospital with so many of her coworkers holding creative and touching signs. So we popped this DVD into the computer and just sat there with tears streaming down our faces as all of these wonderful people encouraged Beth on this journey - it was truly beautiful and touching (if the video doesn't work try this link: St. Mary's Encouraging Beth. Also if you click the box corners in the bottom right corner you can see a larger version of the video)
     We're looking forward to having family and friends over tonight to celebrate on Christmas Eve and then we'll spend tomorrow at my parents. Beth says she still wants to go up to the hospital to sing carols on Christmas morning (a Kreutzkamp tradition for many years now). We've received many words of appreciation for this blog keeping folks updated - but I'd say from our end it's been such a blessing to have so many people taking an interest in what's been happening. It's hard to express how much your support and prayers have meant over the past few months. Thank you for your love and care, and we wish a Merry Christmas to each one who reads this!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More Good News

     Beth had two really good appointments last week that brought more peace regarding a couple of issues. On Thursday we met with the surgeon who will be performing the mastectomy in January. He explained things very well and agreed that in Beth's situation a double mastectomy would be appropriate. He will also need to remove some of the lymph nodes under her arm on the right side which makes the recovery on that side a bit more complicated. That is, she will need to have some physiotherapy for that as it will take some time to regain normal mobility. It was interesting to hear him say that he felt Beth will find the surgery to be easier to handle than the chemotherapy (not sure yet if we'd agree with that but we'll wait and see). Beth's chemo doctor had mentioned at her last appointment that the ideal time to wait between her last chemotherapy treatment and the surgery would be about 3 weeks. Since her surgery was scheduled for January 31st (about 5 weeks post chemo) I was a bit concerned and asked the surgeon about moving the date up. He said that shouldn't be a problem and when his secretary checked into it Beth got a new date for surgery - it will now be on Monday, January 20th.
     On Friday we went to Toronto Western Hospital to see a liver specialist who deals with Primary Biliary Cirrhosis. The first thing she said was that cirrhosis is actually a misnomer and that this condition really doesn't fit that designation. She also said that when people respond to the drug treatment (which Beth apparently has, as her levels were much improved with her last blood work) then their life expectancy is no different from the rest of the population. As well, the doctor said that there have been some cases where they have actually found there can be some healing in the liver with this drug. So this was really great to hear, especially because Beth had been quite worried about the long term consequences of this disease. It was also interesting to hear that the doctor who spearheaded the Canadian study of this drug just retired in June and so the (quite young) doctor we met, has worked with one of the best experts in this area.
     As far as her latest chemo treatment has gone the most annoying side effect has been her mouth being affected. She continues to use the special mouthwash they provide but it still is hard for her to enjoy food. That timing was unfortunate too, as we had her family Christmas gathering this past Sunday at her niece's in Cambridge. Still it was a wonderful time of visiting with extended family.
     On Saturday we visited the ChristKindl market at Kitchener City Hall and then met with our friend Daryl who had taken some family photos for us back in September before Beth lost her hair. There were some good shots and we thought we'd share one here:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Good Reports

     We travelled down to Toronto last Tuesday to see the surgeon about Beth's parathyroid glands. Here's a bit of technical stuff (skip it if you don't need to know and the picture just freaks you out). Most of us have 4 parathyroids, but Beth only has 2 - the two on her right side were lost during her surgery for thyroid cancer in 2002. This surgeon we saw at Princess Margaret Hospital was the one who took out the rest of her thyroid (on the left side) in 2003 and he was able to preserve those parathyroids. However, as has been shared in a previous post, there is now a benign tumour on one of them, which has been causing her calcium levels to rise significantly. The hopeful news from our visit with the surgeon was that he felt he would be able to just remove the one affected gland and leave the other one intact. If the one remaining parathyroid would be able to do the job of regulating Beth's calcium level that would be wonderful, as having to take synthetic calcium supplements can cause some other challenges long term.
     On Wednesday we had supper at our place with some friends from way back when we were in youth group together (sometime in the previous century). We had a lovely time visiting and then rushed off to hear the author Malcolm Gladwell speak. His latest book is called "David & Goliath" and it's all about the power of underdogs. He didn't talk about it that night but there's an interesting profile in the book about a doctor who revolutionized cancer treatment back in the 60's. He was the first one to use a drug called Vancomycin and he also was the doctor who began using a mixture of different drugs to treat various cancers. Both of these revolutionary ideas are significant to us because Beth has, of course, received the "cocktail" treatment for her cancers, and in fact when she received chemo for Hodgkins disease back in 1983, one of the drugs in that mix was vancomycin. Our son David bought a copy of the book for Beth and got it signed by Gladwell, to encourage her in the battle against the giant she's facing. Interestingly, Beth has not been able to read much while she's been off, and she had thought that she'd be able to get some extra jobs done around the house. But it seems that just dealing with this disease is pretty much a full time job - she recently tallied some of the things that have taken up her time: 21 doctor appointments, 19 tests, 5 chemo treatments, a variety of workshops & info sessions.
     Beth had blood work done on Friday, as well as meeting with her chemo oncologist. All of the levels that have been a concern had improved - her calcium level had come down, the indicators for her liver were all much better, and her iron level was the best it's been since this all started. It seems that some combination of drugs (she had the infusion for the calcium level last week, and has begun taking 2 tablets daily for her liver) and prayer are certainly working! As well, the doctor said the breast tumour has continued to shrink in size significantly.
     Today (Mon. Dec. 2) was Beth's 5th chemotherapy treatment and it went amazingly well. The port-a-cath worked right away (without needing to be flushed) and they could administer the drugs more quickly since there have been no reactions during the previous infusions. Josh went along with her this time and they were home by shortly after 1:00. Then Beth had a pretty good sleep by the fireplace in our family room and after supper she even wanted to put up our Christmas tree!