You are what you eat

This is a minor rewrite of a previous post, published under the title ‘The more things change’. 

First, the breaking non-news. I saw Dr Parente (oncologist) yesterday, and the PSA is still undetectable. So everything is the same as last time. The next appointment, in May, will be a Zolodex one. This means, after seeing Dr P, I get a new implant up in the oncology ward. (I say “up” because it is on the 4th floor of Epworth Eastern. If your station overlooks a window, there are soothing views over the nearby park. I always take my noise cancelling headphones, and usually listen to ABC Classic.)

My beloved has just returned from Paris. She had a week there, mainly for work, but added a couple of days to the end of the trip. I was to go with her initially, but we decided against this. Having flown business class on our last trip, it is pretty well impossible to go back to economy. (I would have needed to keep my feet up in any case, for the lymphedema.) We would therefore have been up for another BC ticket and extra accommodation costs. We looked at tacking on a river cruise or something similar to the end of the week. At that time of year, however, there is nothing much available — it’s just too cold.  I had Dr P’s appointment to go to as well — these things can usually be changed — but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. So I was baching for the week.

It was a strange time. We hadn’t been away from each other for that long for twenty-five years. So I decided I needed things to do. Fortunately there was no shortage of projects. We had a big sheet of plywood sitting down in the garage, about 1.2 metres square. With the help of a neighbour, I cut a roughly triangular piece out of it. This I used as a floor  underneath the vertical garden. The latter is in a corner of the courtyard which faces west and north. Being on casters, is obviously meant to go on a smooth surface, not resting on the ground as I had it. Having the plywood underneath it means I can now move it around to follow the sun, which is now much lower in the sky, and shining more on the northern wall.

This project actually took up quite a bit of time. First I had to measure up the corner. When I had a triangular bit of plywood, I removed the vertical garden and other things, then put the plywood in the corner to see if it fitted. It did — after I dug up a bunch of the native grass that is planted in the corner. (I will tell you what I did with that in a second.) The plywood has battens along two sides, so it is not lying flat on the ground. I decided I would paint it, however, to protect it just a bit from the rather boggy conditions in the corner. So I spread the tarp out on the driveway, and rustled up a miscellany of bits of cardboard packing and other things to rest it on. I had about ten litres of paint left over from painting the fence, so after pulling it out of the corner, I slapped a bit of that paint on both sides. The next day, I put it back in the corner, and arranged the vertical garden and another pot, into which I put the clump of grass which I had dug up before.

Sorted! Well, almost. The pot that holds the grass clump is slightly too small for it. (It isn’t a proper pot, but an old rubbish bucket that I have repurposed by drilling some drain holes in the bottom.) I have an old recycling bin which is a lot bigger, and is already equipped with drain holes. When I dragged this out, however, I realised it was about double the capacity of the present pot, and I didn’t have nearly enough soil or potting mix to fill it. When I shopped yesterday I bought a bag of potting mix. I expect therefore to have the grass in its new home as soon as I can get to it today.

Another little bit that needed fixing was the irrigation to the vertical garden. This is now a metre or so further away from the tap. I therefore had to cut a longer piece of hose to go on using the irrigation. When I move the vertical garden back in its original position, I will have to fit the shorter piece of hose to keep it connected to the tap. To do this easily, I will have to get some more of the click fittings — the bits that accept the male click-in portion.  Another trip to Bunnings! (Not that I mind — there is a coffee cart at the Chadstone store that sells the most insanely delicious Nutella doughnuts — giving my wanderings around its endless aisles a turbo boost.)

I have had very little success germinating seeds in the spot I originally set up for this purpose. So I am trying a new, shadier location, and giving it some more protection from slugs this time. They will have to be like Siegfried and pierce the ring of fire! In this new spot I put out dwarf beans and some more parsley and chives. The first of these have sprouted extremely vigorously — I will probably have to thin them out. So I have planted them out into the top layer of the vertical garden, where they get maximum sun, and have a trellis behind on which to grow.

The other seeds are not doing anything yet. To the ranks of these recalcitrants I added some baby beet seeds, having first soaked these in water for a couple of hours. When are you supposed to water seeds, by the way — as soon as you put them in, or after a week or so? The back of the packet doesn’t say anything about this. With the beets, however, I reasoned that, as they had been soaked in water, they wouldn’t mind a bit more straightaway. Incidentally, my helpful neighbour showed me a good way of labelling seeds or seedlings. This requires a packet of paddle-pop sticks (available from the $2 shop), on one of which one writes the name of the seed with a permanent marker. 

Another thing I did a fair bit of during this week was cooking. I did acquire a Sunbeam Nutri Oven for $20 in very good condition from the local op shop. Whenever I mention this device to anyone, they look puzzled, and I end up trying to describe it. A picture is worth a thousand words, however, so I am pasting in a picture below.

Nutri oven

The big ugly-looking unit on top contains the heating element. The vertical slots conceal a fan which circulates air around the food. Yes, folks, this is the predecessor to the air fryer we see advertised on late night TV. The Nutri Oven is a lot better, however, because it has a much larger capacity. Using the extension ring (not shown), you can cook a whole roast. Why bother when I have a perfectly good wall oven? The weather is chilly now, but after the hottest March on record, I was interested in something that wouldn’t heat up the whole kitchen. There is actually very little this thing can’t do! I have roasted, grilled, sauteed (sort of), and baked in it, all very successfully. You can do steaming as well, after a fashion — results with fish fillets and potatoes wrapped in foil are very good. I have also baked about half a dozen cakes and three loaves of bread. Being able to bake bread is particularly good for my beloved, who has to avoid bread containing any preservatives. (These don’t have to be listed on the packaging if they constitute less than a  certain percentage of the food.) She can now have a toasted egg sandwich, with Nuttelex, iceberg lettuce and salt. Raymond Blanc, eat your heart out!



Nothing to see here …

We saw Dr Parente yesterday morning. The PSA is still undetectable, and I remain in remission. After receiving this good news, we went to the oncology unit, where I had another Zolodex implanted. (You will remember that this is the hormone treatment — androgen deprivation — that is aiming to starve the cancers of what they feed on.) The implants are about the size of a grain of rice and last about 3 months. They just go in in the abdominal fat, of which there is still plenty, even after the gastro! There is very little discomfort. I booked in the next appointments with Dr P & the oncology unit, for the next implant.

My beloved is going to Paris in early April for a few days. She will be representing her work at an international transport meeting. We thought of me going as well, and tacking a cruise or other expedition onto the end of her work commitments. However, there is bugger-all happening in that line at that time of year (too cold, I suspect). So I am going to hold the fort. Of course this depends on nothing going awry in the meantime, but (touch wood) all seems to be quite stable. I have been going to an exercise class for oncology patients run by Lauren, the exercise physio, and this is pretty good! I will be going back to the gym soon as well (I stopped for a few weeks with the gastro).

My lovely old Luxman pre-amp has spat the dummy again and is only working on one channel. This is a real bore as I have to disconnect everything, pull it out, and run it over to the valve amp guru in Glen Waverley. He will have it for however long he needs to ponder its mysteries — could be weeks. (His workshop is like an Aladdin’s cave of amplifiers, many much more expensive than mine. So he knows whereof he speaks.) This is not my first pilgrimage there, however, and to be honest I am a bit over the vintage gear. Maybe I should sell it on Gumtree and get a nice, soulless, reliable, solid state integrated amp!

No guts, no glory

I was originally going to call this blog post “Smörgåsbord”, and it’s not surprising I should have had food on my mind. I came down with gastroenteritis on Thursday, and since then I have subsisted mostly on dry toast, tea, water, and electrolyte drinks. Forays into peanut butter on the toast and lentil soup were unsuccessful. I have only been beyond the gates a couple of times since it all began; the excursion yesterday was to a GP in Camberwell. My loyal readership might think I am taking an attack of the runs a bit seriously to call in a medico. For those who have had immuno-suppressant treatments like chemotherapy, however, the recommendation I have read is to call in a GP if the gastro goes on beyond a couple of days. (This was also the suggestion of my oncologist Dr Parente, with whom I had a brief phone conversation yesterday.) So it’s not just me being a wimp!

A medication that Dr P recommended is called Gastrostop. This contains both loperamide, which helps the bowel contents to firm up, and another ingredient meant to reduce abdominal swelling (which can be quite painful). I can report that this combo works well. It is delivered via a chewable tablet, wherein lies its only disadvantage in leaving a bitter taste. (This may not happen for other people.) To get around this, I have been breaking the tablet up and swallowing it in water. When I did this this morning, I felt quite nauseated; fortunately, I wasn’t sick. This could have been related to my being unable to swallow the tablet fragments, and having to chew them after all. Maybe there is a reflex that makes you feel nauseated if you chew something you haven’t been able to swallow. For anyone remotely interested in how their tums work, I can recommend Gulp: travels around the gut, by Mary Roach. (The link points to the Boroondara Library service record.) This is a great piece of science writing. Just don’t read it in your lunch break: especially when she is talking about vomiting and elimination!

Further in this vein, a good source of information about gastroenteritis (which I sincerely hope you won’t need) is the Better Health Victoria web page . From this and other sources I learned that my gastro is viral, not bacterial. Bacterial is accompanied by vomiting and abdominal pain, and can be treated by antibiotics. Viral has neither of these effects, and can’t be treated by antibiotics, or anything much. The main recommendations here are rest, very plain food, water and electrolytes to replace the fluids. Paracetamol can help reduce fever, but won’t do anything for the gastro. (Something nobody points out — stay near a toilet — i.e. at home. And wash your hands every time you go. My beloved has so far not succumbed, although it is way contagious.) The BHV page is superior IMHO to the equivalent federal government one, which is well written, but contains some weird advice along the lines of “Eat normal meals if you feel hungry”. This is pretty much guaranteed to irritate the gut big time! Stick with dry toast, maybe chicken noodle soup, plain rice or noodles. Avoid coffee, alcohol, chocolate, butter, spicy food, and all other fun things. Some GPs feel that loperamide-based medications like Gastrostop prolong the condition by stopping you up, and thus inhibiting the virus from passing through the system. I tell you what, though — if you have been to the toilet ten times, a bit of stopping up starts to feel like a good thing! At the very least, if you want to get a half-way decent sleep, have one or two of these (as directed) before you go to bed.

Coincidentally with this happenstance, we have been down to one car (the GT) in which to get around. Someone ran into the Camry while my beloved had it parked at Chadstone shopping centre. (She wasn’t in it at the time.) Fortunately the driver of the other car left a note under her windscreen wiper, apologising profusely and including her contact details. After quite a number of phone calls, the mobile C-suite has a new bumper, paid for by the other lady’s insurance. Drop-off Thursday, recovered yesterday. (Fair play to the repairer, Capital Smart, for providing my beloved a free Uber ride home and back to the workshop in the wilds of Mulgrave.)

Things got faintly complicated when our insurer got involved as well. We had a comprehensive policy on the Camry at the time of the accident, and ended up paying them the excess on that policy for the current repair. (When our insurers are reimbursed by the other insurers, we should be fully refunded.) Before I got crook, I ferried my beloved around in the GT; fortunately she also had a couple of drives with me as the passenger. This came in handy when I couldn’t stray beyond the front door! She is a very capable driver, however, and got the hang of it in no time, looking very Agatha Raisin in her string-backed gloves and big sunnies. She ended up taking it out for quite a few spins, including a night-time trip to a pharmacy. We bought an automatic model partly so that we could both drive it, and this turns out to have been a good move. It is a very entertaining little device, and injects fun into the most mundane supermarket trip.



What’s been and what’s to come

Before the main part of the post, there is a small addition to the Resources page in the form of the NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms .

We are now just a few weeks from Christmas. Those who know me will know this is my favourite time of year! (Not.) Still, it brings us to a sort-of review time for 2018.

The last twelve months has been one of numerous changes, and some milestones. I bought a new car, and we replaced some big-ticket things like the ducted cooling and the bed. The Blu-Ray recorder, and some electrical equipment, was also replaced. For the first time ever, my beloved moved to part-time employment. Most importantly, we are to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary at the end of this year.

It has also been a huge twelve months or so health-wise. My treatment summary from November 2017 to now is the story of my cancer:

  • radical open prostatectomy
  • subsequent treatment with a physiologist specialising in continence
  • referred to a radiation oncologist, with whom I
    • had radiation therapy, with moderate success
  • then referred to a medical oncologist, with whom I
    • had androgen deprivation treatment and chemotherapy.

Of course the last of these is ongoing. However, being in remission is a great result for the treatments I have received under the care of Dr Parente and the staff of the oncology ward in Epworth Eastern. My GP has been terrific as well — someone I have been seeing for many years. Modern cancer treatment of course relies on adjunct modalities, and I feel my exercise physiologist (a recent referral) will become someone else I rely on.

My progress through these treatments has been one from specific to general, i.e. from treatments focusing on individual mets, to ones that are treating the whole body. This has been driven by the failure of the specific treatments to keep pace with the growth in the tumours.  I believe the progression in the treatments is also from ones with lower potential side effects to those with more potential side effects, but more efficacy. (Time, as ever, will tell.)

The chemotherapy  has been less of a big deal than I expected. I have dropped some social engagements in order to lessen the risk of opportunistic infection — something my immune system is less able to handle than usual. However, I haven’t wanted to become a recluse. So new year resolutions include doing a better job of keeping up with people, both individually and through groups like the local Cancer Survivors.

The chemotherapy is adjunct with androgen deprivation therapy. Their combination gives apparently an increase in efficacy of 10% in absolute terms, over either treatment singly. I started with the ADT some weeks before the beginning of the chemo, and I will continue with that as long as I remain in remission.

(On the subject of keeping up with people, we have been having a lovely time just recently having an old friend to stay for a couple of nights. She came down from Sydney for Die Meistersinger at the opera, which we all saw last night. Amazing! The second act was quite the most spectacular I have ever seen live. The orchestra played every bit as well as the Gewandhaus, whom we heard in the Leipzig Ring, and everyone acquitted themselves extremely well in the principal roles, especially Michael Kupfer-Radecky, the third singer to be engaged as Hans Sachs. And Warwick Fyfe as Beckmesser! Is there a better anywhere? Anyway, I hope that 2019 includes more Wagner as well as more socialising. Wagner’s beautiful libretto also gave me the latest candidate for my memoir title: How spring has to be.)

I need to do more to keep the remaining grey matter active next year, too. I think 2018 was the year of Karl Ove Knausgaard. (I have the final volume of his autobiographical novel sequence to finish off.) I feel that enrolling in a course would keep me at something better than if I were just doing it under my own steam. Some candidates include a couple of online masters programs in creative writing. Doing the internet course Modern Poetry over the last few weeks was great as well; it is very well-supported. Hearing the beautiful German in the Wagner last night, however, and even understanding bits of it, put this further up the batting order as something I could re-engage with.

I would also like to read through In Search of Lost Time again, with a group. Ever thought about it? Or even just wanted to see what the fuss is about? (For example, Maugham regarding it the greatest novel of the twentieth century.) I will do it via Skype, if required. So come on, all you wavering Proustians! Carpe the diem, grasp the literary nettle, and let’s get down to it. I can issue a portentous promise — your lives won’t be the same.

A crazy day

Crazy it might have been, but it was definitely fun. I have just bought a red sports car, same colour and shape as this one — although mine is about four years old.

A bit late for a mid-life crisis, I know. But not too late to do a bucket-list thing. It all started quite inoocently, going into Camberwell Toyota for some spare brake light globes for the faithful Camry. There was a white GT-86 in the used car lot; not the one I ended up with, obviously. (That one was a manual.) Anyway, I asked if they had any automatics. They had one; red, very low kilometres. That was pretty much game over.

When I took it out on its first test on Friday, the manager did inform me that someone was talking to finance about it. When I got back, it had been sold. I wasn’t bothered. This morning, a phone call from the sales rep. The deal had fallen through. So they are fairly popular cars. Was I being played? Possibly. But my beloved and I chipped enough off the ask to make it worthwhile for us to sign the contract. She was the bad cop in the negotiations, and played that magnificently. As soon as she said “We’ll have to go away and think about it”, it all got more business-like. Being near the end of the month helped as well, I think. Everyone wanted to get it done. I will miss the old Fairmont, just a little — it kept me on the go for five years — but I think I will enjoy driving a bit of testosterone on wheels!

I did some vaguely rational stuff like taking it to our local garage for them to give it the once over. (They found no evidence of prangs, or anything wrong.) I cast an eye over prices of the other automatic 86s for sale in Melbourne. I also bought a two year warranty with it, with roadside service. It is even going to come with a full size spare! (This would have been a deal breaker had it not been provided.) My beloved gave it a test drive also; it’s not much use if only one of us can punt it around. Yes, we can both get into and out of it. We will just need to be a bit selective about where we park it; it needs enough room to open those long doors. And, for a sports car, it makes sense. As the guy from the garage put it, a joint development of Toyota and Subaru has good genes. Like any modern car, I just have to keep it serviced properly (I have read about Soobies). But the $64 question is: is it fun to drive? Definitely!

What else happened today? We had our plumber install a towel rail in the ensuite; initially upside down. (He came back and put it in the right way up.) And we had a new bed delivered. This seems enormous, although it is the same size as the last one. However, it is at least 10 centimetres taller. Thank goodness the sheets fit it! A new bed tends to set off a frenzy of vacuuming; all the dust balls lurking under the old base are fairly unattractive. This delivery was no exception. However, the guys were very careful to only move it in the plastic, so no grubby handmarks on mattress or base. I gave them a couple of chocolate brownies in appreciation.

The chemo seems to be going OK. I get awfully tired if I overdo things. Apart from that, I feel fine. Looking forward to a less crazy day tomorrow; I might be able to get some cooking done, and even get out in the garden. The new wheels should be visiting Burwood later this week.

Exclusive offer and new stuff

In my previous post about poncing around in the Benz, I gave the wrong information about subscribing to 3MBS-FM. I said $30; it is actually $85 for a Classic subscription. Didn’t check this — my bad. To make it up to you, though: if anyone following the blog wants to join 3MBS at the Classic rate, I will rebate them $55 from their first subscription. So you get it for $30 bucks as a one-off. This is a totes genuine offer to the first six to contact me. Expires at end of December. Check out the subscriber benefits and ask yourself – is this the best $30 I’ll ever spend? If you answer “yes”, just subscribe as normal and let me know. (My contact details are available from the sidebar.)

(Don’t live in Melbourne? You can listen to 3MBS via streaming radio on the internet, anywhere in the world. It hasn’t worked so far on VTuner in the stereo receiver, for some reason. It works just fine via my Google Home-enabled devices, though, which use TuneIn Radio. Or just use any laptop, phone or tablet. How will I send you your dough? I will use Paypal . All I will need is an email address or a mobile number. OK, if you don’t have a Paypal account, you will have to set one up, but this is free. Once the money has come through to your Paypal account from mine, it should take 3-5 days to transfer to your bank account.)

We have had a bit of turnover in some of our appliances. So I have some new gadgets to play with. The first was a pair of Pioneer bookshelf speakers. (These are for the living room stereo, which all fits inside a cabinet. This led to much neurotic measuring of the available space.) Anyway, after turning them upside down, toeing them in a few degrees, and sticking them down with Blu-tack (the audio nut’s friend), they sound a treat. Quite a bargain for around $250! (See description ; I didn’t buy them from this site, so this is not a plug for Kogan.)

Why turn them upside down? The tweeters are supposed to be about at ear level. The shelf on which they sit is maybe 8 cm above that, so if they are right way up, the tweeters are 15-20 cm too high. Could I move them onto the lower shelf? It would be quite a squeeze. Also, that would put them beside the TV, and they’re not magnetically shielded. We are having our new coolers installed soon; one (the split system) will have to go above the aforementioned cabinet. So everything in there will have to come out to allow the cabinet to be moved. When all is finally re-installed, I will see if I can bi-wire and/or move the passive subwoofer into a corner, to get a bit more out of that.

Another one is a new blu-ray recorder. Our old DVD recorder finally gave up the ghost last night, after about 10 years. (When we got it, we still had a big old CRT TV.) So after some more research, I headed out to Hardly Normal, as Harvey Norman is affectionately known hereabouts, for a Panasonic blu-ray recorder. When I pointed out that JB HiFi was selling this model at the same price, they threw in a 2 year extended warranty (on top of the 12 month factory warranty) and a $20 discount to the already-reduced price. Deal!

When installed, in the same cabinet as the stereo, it won’t yet connect to the network. I think I can fix this, but if I can’t, it is not a big deal; our Chromecast does all that. All the other setup went fine, ditto the main functions. What does it do? Record three programs at once – in high definition – record captions, set up series recording all in one go, and play blu-rays, DVDs, and CDs of all descriptions. All seems to work as expected; the interface is quite logical, and the picture, being HD, is notably sharper than the old one. There are cheaper ones with a smaller hard disc drive — this one has 2TB — but we watch time-shifted programs quite a lot. So getting the top model seemed a reasonable thing to put the extra money into. (We missed out on recording the first two episodes of War and Peace, but caught them from SBS Iview via the Chromecast. It is great!)

Things tend to come in threes, and the remaining novelty was a new kettle and toaster. (OK, this is four! Just seeing if you’re paying attention.) We had bought a new Kitchenaid kettle a few months previously. The lid latch became progressively more reluctant, until it finally didn’t open the lid at all. So we returned it to DJs and got a new Smeg kettle and matching four slice toaster. (The slots in two slot toasters are not long enough to take breadsticks or long slices.) The Smeg range is available in about six colours. We checked out the DJs web site and chose the powder blue; according to that site, Chadstone had stock of both. This being where we had purchased the Kitchenaid, I headed over there to effect the swap-over.

This was not as straightforward as expected. They accepted the old one back without cavil, and issued a refund. They didn’t have either of the Smegs to sell, however; the ones showing up on the web site may have been their floor stock. They did have this combo in store in polished chrome, almond green, pink, and cream. A rapid phone consultation ensued with my beloved, in which these colours were rejected in favour of the powder blue originally sought. DJs tracked down what we wanted at their The Glen store in Glen Waverley, only a short distance from Chadstone. After a fortifying coffee and almond croissant, I fired up Google Maps on my mobile phone, stuck it on the magnetic holder on the car dash, and embarked on the not-so-epic trip to Glen Waverley. All good — only took 2.5 hours for the round trip. Smashed avocado on toast for lunch!

Geek central

I have been enjoying listening to the Naxos Music Library. (Some of this post originally appeared in an email message to my sister.) If one joins the sheet music library IMSLP, at a cost of about $20 for a year, one gets access to the Naxos Music Library! This is quite vast, over a million tracks. They are not all Naxos recordings, either; NML seems to have licensing agreements with a lot of other labels. There are only two drawbacks that I have found:

  1. it doesn’t support gapless playback – only an issue with a composer like Wagner or Puccini, where one section segues into another. (I had a free trial of Deezer for three months, and that doesn’t do gapless either; at least for Android.)
  2. it doesn’t have Chromecast capability. However Apple households are in the wrong ecosystem to use Chromecast.

I can play it back through my all-analogue valve stereo through a slightly Heath Robinson arrangement, which I describe below. (A modern stereo could probably use Bluetooth.)

I first tried casting a Chrome tab to my Chromecast. This worked fine, but the sound was a bit harsh. Enter a bit of slightly old-hat magic called MHL. This is something I only stumbled on when looking through the user manual for my Cambridge Audio disc player. MHL is an audio standard; I had never heard of it until a few weeks ago. It answers the present purpose, however, in allowing me to connect my old Samsung tablet to the disc player. Why do I want to put a digital audio stream through the disc player? The latter has a good digital-to-analog converter, which removes the hardness from a digital audio stream.

To use MHL one needs stereo equipment and a device (phone or tablet) that are both compatible. Look under “Home theatre” and “Mobile” on this list to see if you have the magic double. A HDMI cable and a special connector is also required to link everything up. The latter is el cheapo; I just got this from eBay, for about $12.

It is a bit of a fiddle to hook it all up, but not difficult:

  • plug one end of the HDMI cable into one end of the connector, and the other into the disc player
  • connect the mini HDMI cable from the connector into the tablet or phone
  • scroll through the HDMI inputs on the disc player until it is looking at the correct one
  • on the tablet or phone, connect to the IMSLP web site
  • navigate to Naxos Music Library and follow that link
  • in NML, select a piece of music and play it.

IMSLP membership only entitles you to the lower sound quality from NML. However, I think the sound is very good. Streaming music eats up a lot of battery on the old tablet; I just start with it fully charged.