August 26th, 2013
My wife, Sharon, has breast cancer, and on Friday the doctors are going to remove her right breast. Friday will also be our 36th wedding anniversary.
Sharon is 56 -- fairly young for this sort of thing but hardly unheard of. It's unique in her family history as far as she knows. What caused it?
Could it be the chemicals and diesel fumes that come off the train engines and the chemical cars that pass on the nearby tracks, which we lived next to for almost 20 years? We've lived within a couple of miles of major railroads for about 40 years -- and equally close to major highways. Diesel fumes are a known cause of cancer.
Could it be the endless cigarette smoke that used to waft in when we lived near the tracks -- the "smoking area" was upwind most of the time (brilliant planning; why couldn't they just make the supposedly kid-friendly complex smoke-free?).
She never smoked cigarettes or anything else, and hardly ever drank (but preferred Maker's Mark on those very rare occasions). She's a computer programmer like myself, so there was radiation coming off the early monitors.
And of course, it could be the larger environment: Fukushima? Sure, maybe. Her health certainly started to drop at the same time, but we blamed stress from incidents with the old apartment manager, who is mentally unbalanced and reportedly a meth addict (that's why we had to move after 18 years in the same place). Having someone like that have a vendetta against you can be very stressful, and required hours and hours of talking to the police. But really: Did stress cause THIS? I think second-hand cigarette smoke is the more likely culprit. Even with the lax apartment rules, I suppose it might have happened even sooner if we hadn't moved to California 20 years ago, since California has some of the best laws to keep cigarette smoke away from non-smokers -- laws which are constantly improving.
I still remember the first time I saw that breast -- and who wouldn't?!? I was 10 or 11 years old (she's nine months younger) and it was totally accidental. I was probably walking up to her door or maybe bicycling past her house. I can't remember which, but I did both regularly every summer when I would visit my dad in Pennsylvania for a couple of weeks, who lived nearby. She thrilled me so I came up with a million reasons to go over there while I was in town.
Sharon was inside walking past the large front window, and pulled off her sweater, and her shirt came up with it. For a 10-year-old boy, this was... awesome! Another neighbor, slightly older (and also still a friend), would walk her dog topless, and told me and someone else that Sharon can't do that anymore because she's starting to form. And I was able to think, "uh, I can confirm that!" but of course, kept silent.
It would be a few years -- half a decade or more -- before I would see "them" again, and my how they had changed! Sharon lived 300 miles away, but the families stayed close and one day our paths crossed again and we connected. Luckily, my dad and my step-mom gave me a car to get to school with, and I used it to go visit Sharon. I brought her to my graduation from High School, and she visited once or twice before that. One of my friends actually had the audacity to comment on her rich endowment, cupped his hands and smiled an ear-to-ear grin. It was meant sweetly, however crude. I think there were half a dozen of us in the shower at the time when the comment was made. She had come to our varsity game or something.
THOSE breasts. Those are the ones that are in trouble.
I have nestled my head there many times, of course... oh well, after the operation at least I will be able to get closer to her heart! (At least I will be able to on that side. The doctor refused to even consider removing the other one, having biopsied the one spot that worried her on the left side.)
Sharon does not plan to have reconstructive surgery. If you're on my Twitter or Facebook feeds you might know all this already, and if you "friend" or "follow" me there you can follow the day-by-day progress if you like.
Below are most of my Facebook comments about her cancer, approximately in order over the past few days from oldest (top) to most recent, plus various assorted other comments along the way. The outpouring of love, prayers and good vibes on Facebook has been astounding! Sharon, in return, has promised me she will fight this horrible thing with every (non-cancerous) cell in her body.
Just got back from Dr. with Sharon. Determination: Breast cancer. Complete removal of the right breast as soon as Dr's schedule permits.
From: Susan (one of my oldest (20+ years) and best friends): Let me know, can I help? Hugs and love to Sharon.
Thanks, Susan. Sharon's emotionally holding up pretty well I guess. We seem to have gone to the doctor with opposite expectations: I felt like we came away a little better than expected, but Sharon felt things were a good deal worse than she thought they would be. We had both hoped, of course, that it was still "just" an infection causing the discharge, but the biopsies are pretty revealing. They saw "abnormal cells" weeks ago in the discharge (hence the biopsies last week). Now they know the stage of the cancer. It's fairly advanced but hopefully still only in the breast. A lot of what happens next depends on what they find during the operation -- they send the nearest lymph nodes to pathology as they're working on other areas, and if the pathologist sees any cancer in them, they'll extend how much of the lymph system they remove, until they don't see any. What they find as they go in will also help determine what other things (chemo, etc.) she has to endure over the next six months or so. And PET scans and whole-body CT-scans and I forget what else the Dr. mentioned -- technetium-99 and radioactive sulfur will get injected into the duct system the day before the operation, so they can see if anything has been wandering into the lymph system. (Yep -- radiation is about to save my wife's life, God willing!) The operation will be either next week, or if there's a scheduling problem with that, the week after. It will either be at Tri-City or at Scripps, whichever can schedule it first (the Doctor can operate at either one). Sharon sends her love and hugs to you too, and to Shea as well (and so do I!) and hopes she'll see you both soon -- perhaps at a survival party or something, after the Doctor says she's cancer-free some day, if all goes well. She promised me she would fight for her life with every (non-cancerous) cell in her body.
[people started to offer prayers and support...]
That's about all we can do at this point, too, thank you! A little divine guidance for the surgeon's hand is what we're praying for right now, so that she can cut all the cancer out and leave nothing bad behind. And that it hasn't spread yet.
You all are amazing. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission just contacted Gene Stone to say that they've rescheduled the next San Onofre decommissioning hearing to Carlsbad, California, September 26th. Funny, they've never scheduled one in my town as long as I've lived here that I can recall! Maybe a push from the NSA? And you thought nearly-universal spying was all bad! Of course, it could just be coincidence, but as the man who's saved many a life including Sharon's AND mine likes to say, we don't believe in coincidence! (Steve Verret) Anyway, I texted Sharon about the surprise new NRC hearing schedule, who called back to say the surgery has been scheduled for a week from today, August 30th, and the "follow-up" is Sept. 16th. So she'll be in God's and my hands between those two dates, and then two weeks later, yes, of course she's planning to go to the NRC hearing in Carlsbad, come the devil or the deep blue sea. Who wouldn't? She'd gone to 20 years of their hearings, and only stopped two years ago when she started not feeling well, was dreadfully busy at work, and (perhaps most of all) was fed up with ... oh, never mind, that's all past us now! God willing, we're going. And thank you, Nuclear Regulatory Commission! But really: She's your worst nightmare!
Sharon's mastectomy -- full removal of the right breast -- will be a week from today, August 30th, at Scripps Memorial Hospital. I'm pretty sure that's also our 36th wedding anniversary, but for some reason neither Sharon nor I have ever been very good at keeping track of the date, and I can't ask her because she's out getting a pre-surgery mammogram right now. (They say we met in nursery school but neither of us remember that, either!) On Monday [actually Wednesday] she'll have another CT scan (full body, I think they said this would be). Then on Wednesday [actually Friday morning] she'll get a radiation injection, just a couple of drops they tell us -- but of course, that could be millions of lethal doses but in this case it will be mostly water, probably something like, 99.9999+ % H2O and only a tiny smidgen of a smidgen will be radioactive. Hopefully that won't be a problem later for her in life if everything else goes well. The radioactive injection is done so that during the operation they can use a Geiger counter (radiation detector) to search for the elements they injected on Wednesday [Friday] (Technetium-99 and I think they said a radioactive sulfur isotope as well). They'll want to determine if the cancer cells are leaving the breast, and that's how they do it. The radioactive elements get taken up by the cancer cells, which may, or may not, travel to the lymph nodes, and beyond. We sure hope that hasn't happened! Thanks everyone for all the support, and we'll keep you posted on how things progress...
It's going to be a tough week for my wife Sharon: Radiation, more radiation, still more radiation and a knife: 8:00 am today: More mammograms [actually blood work, EKG and chest x-rays]. 8:00 am Wednesday: CT Scan. 8:00 am Friday (our 36th Wedding Anniversary!): injection of radioactive tracers. 1:00 pm Friday: Complete removal of the right breast and associated lymph nodes. Saturday some time: She comes home from the surgery.
Thanks everyone, darling Facebook friends and others, for your prayers, advice, support and encouragement. She's hanging tough and I'm trying to! We had a marvelous weekend: Went biking twice, swimming, shopping and out to dinner Saturday night with an old and dear friend. And we did some computer programming together and some house cleaning, making a guest room for Sharon's older sister, who offered to come stay with us if we need her to.
Getting old is not for wimps (and we're only in our mid-50s, but I think Fukushima aged everyone tremendously...).
I'm sure that most of the radiation procedures will be replaced with non-radioactive methods -- more MRIs than CTs some day, becauce the best MRIs are probably delivering BETTER images. But who has them? Scripps? Tri-City? Not yet, apparently. But the risks Sharon is facing are staggering. The chance of survival - the actual odds - well, she's one of the 1 in 8 women who will get breast cancer and it's in an advanced stage. It took them forever to get the diagnosis but from that day to surgery will be 8 days. I don't, of course know the odds of other solutions that she might try, but I do know that the person who finally made the right diagnosis is the one who will do the operation and make a wide variety of decisions along the way. How much to cut and what treatments to apply later. The doctor is considered the best in North County (San Diego, CA). She needs information to guide her hand as she cuts my darling Sharon apart. I've prayed that God will guide the surgeon's hand, but I want the surgeon to have all the information she needs to go as deep as she needs, and not one millimeter more. Sharon's risk from radiation has certainly gone way up and thanks to Fukushima everyone's has gone up a little, or a lot if you live in northern Japan.
I assume you're referring to the interview yesterday? She was saying that it wouldn't be "Nuclear Winter" which I take to mean, complete cessation of life on earth for anything larger or more sophisticated (or slower-reproducing, to be more specific) than a cockroach -- she said that "only" nuclear war could cause that, although I think she forgot the following scenario: Fukushima pool four falls, irradiating entire area. So what happens next? Nothing? No! What happens is one by one, unattended, the other spent fuel pools boil dry, INCLUDING the main one. And, as Helen did point out, Daiini, less than 10 miles away, also suffers the same catastrophe because no one can even get THAT close to Fukushima! Ah, but would it wipe out the whole world? Probably not, at least not right away. If society lost five BILLION people to a nuclear catastrophe (5,000,000,000) it would still leave a couple of billion "survivors" (surviving might be the less optimal option) so if Fukushima blows completely, it might kill hundreds of millions, or maybe even billions. But the interviewer asked if it would wipe humans off the face of the earth. Helen thought it would be especially devastating in the northern hemisphere if it was an atmospheric release, since the two air masses mix very little. The water, however, mixes differently, from ocean to ocean and around each ocean. Bottom line: Definitely be freaked out. Just not so much as to be incapacitated into inaction!
I asked Sharon to hide the SmartWater bottle; this was as good as I got... it's weird for both of us to go from almost never bothering to photograph ourselves to wanting as many pictures as I can get in a week, while praying I don't need them: "PLEASE smile! Oh, come on! That's not a real smile, that's forced! That won't fool anybody! And "don't look at the camera" is only for when I'm taking video! For still pictures you're SUPPOSED to look at the camera, smile and say 'Cheese!'" Last night I joked: "Make love to the camera, baby, imagine it's me..." while she sat on the couch doing bills and teaching me what I'll need to know, like passwords and when to pay what and so on... just in case... not that there'd be any money to pay them with, since she's the breadwinner in the family (my work contributes (sometimes), but not so much). She's been trying to comply and this is certainly the most "unforced" smile I've managed to capture since Thursday's doctor appoint and the diagnosis of breast cancer. She's at work now. I'm cleaning the house...
Another problem with Yucca Mountain is that it's been used as an excuse for the continued generation of nuclear waste for about 20 years already, and right now they are coasting through on jurisdictional confusion -- bringing Yucca Mountain back from the dead won't make it happen, but it will keep the "debate" going. What debate? The one that ought to happen! "Waste Confidence" is what they call it at the NRC, precisely because there's nothing to have any confidence in -- truly Orwellian terminology for a hopeless, intractable, terrifying, growing problem. Filthy, carcinogenic, useless, dangerous, destructive, poisonous, creepy and creeping, seeping, spreading... let's call it "Waste Confidence!" Yucca Mountain is coming back only as a ruse to try to prevent the obvious: SHUT 'EM DOWN!
You can almost see the tritium washing up from Fukushima... and blowing in, carried on an ill wind into this sweet girl's chest, perhaps strontium, which mimics calcium and ends up in bone... and so presumably also in milk ... which means in breasts. So I go to my own book, the one I wrote, The Code Killers, to that picture (Page 7, and which I didn't originate, but just added stuff to and colorized -- there are many versions of it and mine is hardly the first)... but breasts aren't listed! I'll have to fix that when I redo the book! I had been wanting to update that page anyway, so that it explains clearly that isotopes don't go to different places as many versions of that chart -- including mine -- implicitly might suggest. The chemical properties determine what organ a radioactive element will target. Chemical properties of atoms are based on the number of protons in the nucleus of the atom and the electrons that correspondingly surround the atom, and the interactions of those electrons with the electrons of other atoms. On the other hand, isotopes are differentiated by the numbers of neutrons in the nucleus of the atom, not the number of protons or electrons.
I am in love with Facebook. No seriously, how could so much love come so fast, any other way?!? I wish all my FB friends could introduce themselves to each other, because you're all so wonderful!! Sharon and I have been blessed all our lives -- who knows why but even my own mother, may she rest in peace, said I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and you'd think she would know -- she was there! Sharon's been blessed with interesting jobs that have supported our activism, and great friends, and I've been blessed with... well, a lot of things, but mostly her. Sharon promised me she would fight this "with every (non-cancerous) cell" in her body. I can't ask for more from anybody, except divine intervention if the surgeon needs any help, but she seems like she's crossing her "T's" and dotting her "i's" prior to Friday, and our doctor, whom we both thought was the best we ever had (or at least equal to the best) said she's extremely competent (our doctor, unfortunately, has since moved to Washington State, luck for them!). But for this operation, Sharon's in good hands, God's and the surgeon's -- until Saturday, and then she's in mine, but her sister said she'll come out and help on a moment's notice if I get in trouble.
Love to you all!