The Waiting Game Part 1

Two weeks ago today, the leader of my medical team at the hospital told me that my lymph node biopsy showed a positive result for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  For the two weeks prior to that, I was on a roller coaster of blood-work, biopsies and other tests that provided a great deal contradictory information.

Basically, I contacted a virus.  The virus was similar to one several people in my social circle have recently had: flu-like symptoms (inconsistent fever and chills, night sweats, fatigue) and swelling of the lymph nodes in the face, similar to the mumps.  Viruses can be quite tricky and most are impossible to diagnose unless they’re common, major viruses.  During the process of trying to pinpoint a diagnosis, my medical team tried out a lot of different treatments and tests and, as a result, they stumbled upon the fact that I also have cancer.

Daily blood tests provided very little information other than indicating elevated stress levels and low electrolyte levels.  I had been so sick before entering the hospital that I had had a lot of trouble eating.  My stomach felt off and just felt terrible in general.  I think there was actually a test done specifically to see if I had lymphoma cells in my system.  As far as I know, the results of this test were inconclusive, which is quite common.

In order to rule out a bacterial infection, I was given intravenous antibiotics, to which I had an awful allergic reaction.  I had a red, spotty rash that covered my whole body (except for my armpits and the bottoms of my feet).  Personally, this was a bit of a nightmare because I was pretty scary to look at and, after the second dose of the antibiotics on my second day in the hospital, the rash started to burn and itch. I had to use steroid-based creams on my whole body and was basically doped up with antihistamines for a few days after.  They took biopsies of my skin to analyze the rash. The results were non-specific.

Of all the tests that my medical team conducted while I was in the hospital the only results that were useful were my second CT scan.  My first CT scan was only performed on my face.  Due to the virus, the lymph nodes in my face were so swollen that it was difficult for me to speak, particularly on the right side.  The doctors were concerned that it could be an infected abscess and so they wanted a scan of my face.  On my second day in the hospital, I was given a second CT scan of my whole upper body in order to determine whether the lymph nodes in my lungs, and other areas that are not immediately visible, were also inflamed.

They were.

After those results were analyzed, my medical team told me that they were 90% certain that I had lymphoma.  Subsequent to that a power struggle seems to have developed between several different specialty teams regarding performing a lymph node biopsy.  Some wanted to take samples, some wanted a full excision (taking out a whole node) and I spent 5 more days in the hospital waiting around for all the doctors to figure their shit out.

Meanwhile, the swelling in my lymph nodes (the obvious ones anyway) decreased significantly, because I was recovering from the virus.  This complicated the biopsy issue, because the surgical team wanted to excise one of the nodes in my groin which had been prominently swollen.  A few days after my examination by the surgeon, however, those nodes drained and returned to their normal size.

All of the doctors started murmuring that maybe it wasn’t lymphoma.

They did the biopsy on my 7th day in the hospital.  They took samples using an ultrasound machine from one of the nodes in my left armpit.  After the procedure was over, I was discharged from the hospital.

Several days later, I had a follow-up, outpatient appointment to go over some of my test results.  My biopsy was inconclusive.  I was told to come back several days later to review some of my other test results.  With very little fanfare or sympathy, the leader of my internal medical team informed me that, after further testing, my lymph node biopsy was positive for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Up until that point, I felt like I had been doing a lot of waiting, but it’s nothing compared to what I’m dealing with now.  I had always believed that the cancer diagnosis process was simple: have some scans, ultrasounds and MRIs, find a tumor or mass, then start treatment.  Turns out, it’s a lot more complicated than that and I’ll get in to it later this week.

The best laid plans…

“When Man plans, God laughs.”

My mother has been saying this a lot lately.  I’ve never been religious at all, but I think this maxim characterizes my life pretty accurately right now.  When I picked up this blog again in October, I had planned to use it as a way to (mostly privately) motivate myself to start dealing with my mental health and financial issues.

And then I got really sick, wound up in the hospital, and was subsequently diagnosed with cancer.

They think it’s Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but mostly my diagnosis is a bit up in the air.  I had always thought that cancer was mostly a straightforward diagnosis, but it turns out that there’s a lot of waiting and wondering before you get solid information.

It’s killing me, but I’ll cover that later.

In order to keep myself sane, process some of my grief, and vent on some topics that have been on my mind recently, I’ll be writing here as often as I can manage.  I’ll probably share my posts on Twitter as well, as I know there are a few folks out there who would like to keep track of how I’m doing.

Finance Post: My Money Philosophy

A few months ago I purchased a financial advice book called Why Didn’t they Teach me this in School by Cary Siegel.  There is an accompanying workbook with exercises meant to assist the reader in learning more about personal finances.  In order to use my free time a little better and to get the most out of writing again, I have decided to blog the exercises from this book that I think are useful to me.  Some really are decent blogging prompt.

Exercise 1: “Write about/discuss your money philosophy.  Are you a spender or a saver? If someone gave you $10000 to spend on whatever you want, what would you do with it?”

It should probably be said right from the start — I am notoriously bad at managing my money and I have always been a spender, to my detriment.  My family was well off and inclined to spoil me, so as a child I never wanted for necessities or luxuries.  We went on nice vacations, I had lots of toys and lessons and sports and books to read.  I never had to worry about money.   As a teenager, this trend continued.  My parents were what you would now call “helicopter” parents.  They were strict and wanted to exert a significant amount of control over my life: part time jobs were not allowed.

Unfortunately, my lack of experience with money as a child and adolescent didn’t serve me particularly well.  I didn’t learn money management through osmosis and, once I started working and had to manage money on my own, I had no idea what I was doing.  When I finished school and started earning more from a full time job, things just got worse: I spent every cent I had and more.  When I started work on my Masters degree in 2006 I paid off my max-ed out credit card ($5000) on my new student line of credit, and then continued to spend irresponsibly.

More debt cycles followed and only over the past year or so have I been trying to live below my means.  I am working hard to transition from being a spender to being a saver and to develop more frugal living habits.  I do still want to enjoy my life, however, so I am a little more relaxed with my budget than I think some would be in my position.  I am particularly fortunate that I don’t have to pay any major living expenses at the moment, which is allowing me to pay off debt quickly and save a little bit without worrying too much.

This month I will finish paying off my credit card (which was maxed out at $8,000 earlier this year).  After that, I will be moving on to paying off my latest student loan (currently sitting at $18,200).  It is my hope to be completely debt free by June of 2019, though hopefully I will manage it several months earlier.

I think it’s fairly obvious, then, that if I received $10,000 that I could spend on anything I like, I would use it to pay down my student loan debt.  While the urge to spend and treat myself is strong, getting a 10 month head start my current plan would be incredible.  The sooner my loan is paid off, the sooner I will be able to save at least one full paycheck per month.

Starting over

After several years of not blogging, I have decided that it’s time to start writing on a regular basis again.  On the recommendation of my therapist, I have tried using a paper journal, but while I find writing on paper to be quite satisfying, it can be a little time consuming and I have trouble sticking with it.

And thus I am blogging again and I have some grand plans.  For the past few years I have taken an interest in self-improvement and self-actualization.  I’ve tried out a lot of different things like tarot readings, goal setting, journals, wellness wheels, watching lifestyle videos on Youtube, planning, all to varying levels of success.  I have found wellness wheels to be particularly useful, as they provide me with an overview of which areas of my life need work.

Every year I do two particular wellness wheels, both of which have an interesting crop of categories.  I tend to do well in areas such as fun and leisure, personal growth and learning, romance (because right now I am in a good relationship), spirituality and intellectual health.  None of this is surprising as I generally excel at pushing myself up steep learning curves in my spare time and I have a lot of interesting hobbies that I enjoy.

My lower scores are almost always in the friendship, physical/mental health, career and money categories.  This is also not particularly surprising, as my main career choice has been a huge flop, I have been unemployed for long stretches, I have been diagnosed with several chronic illnesses, I suffer from depression, and I have been in significant debt for the past few years.

I have been making positive changes, particularly with regards to my finances.  I have nearly paid off my credit card (which was maxed out at about $8000), which has carried a balance for about 17 years.  I have also made a responsible budget and, while it is a little complicated, I have confidence that I can stick with it.  When I do my wheels again in January of 2017, I know that this score will improve a great deal.

I am proud of myself, but I feel like there is more that I can be doing to make improvements in other areas of my life that need attention.  I had a significant falling out with an old friend this week and, while I think he was being a tremendous asshole, he made a few points about me that were accurate.  This was a significant wake-up call for me and I spent most of my day yesterday thinking about (and writing down) the main aspects of my life that need the most attention:

  1. I have isolated myself and almost completely withdrawn from all of my friends.
  2. It is likely that I have been in a depressive episode since mid-2014. I have felt better at times, but I suspect that I have never fully snapped out of it.
  3. I have not been managing my chronic medical conditions as well as I could and, due to my depression and various other issues, my emotional binge eating has reached a level that is extremely damaging.
  4. My previous career path is not working and I need to embark on a complete career change.

In order to work through these issues, I am going to do my best to go to counseling once per month.  I am also considering medication to assist me, but I will discuss that with the counselor.  Sometimes I think that counselors think I am doing quite well, because I am good at assessing and analyzing my issues; however, I am not good at dealing with them.

I will also be blogging.  Writing has always been a hobby that I enjoy and I believe that it can help me with a number of the issues that I discussed above.  My plan, for now, is to primarily write about my journey through a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) workbook, my feelings around depression and taking medication and how I do with counseling.

And finances, I will probably write about finances.  I purchased an interesting book about finances that has weekly exercises for improving and adding to your knowledge about  money.  I have become a lot more interested in personal finance, and I think it will help to keep me honest and on track with my budget.

Here’s to hoping I stick with it!

Fable: Anniversary and my relationship with sequels

I had ultimately wanted to blog twice per month in this new year, but I have been in the midst of making a number of significant personal and career decisions.  Whenever I have personally or professionally important matters ruminating in my mind, I tend to lose my focus and wind up not accomplishing much other than the bare minimum.  In this case, I guess it’s better to do that rather than nothing at all.

Just after its release, I played about 10 hours of Fable: Anniversary.  I had intended to finish it, but the significant load times and frustrating controls got in my way.  The original Fable was terribly important to me as it was one of the first games I got totally absorbed in when I started playing video games again in 2005/2006.  I fell in love with it, warts and all, and played through the main story 3 times.  I was, of course, very excited about Fable 2.

I think I played about 2 hours of Fable 2 before I dropped it.  I didn’t even get the dog.  I just didn’t like it.  I had become so accustomed to the first game’s crappy controls that while the sequel’s control scheme was simpler and far more intuitive, I just couldn’t compute the differences and thus I had a negative play experience.

These kinds of subtle differences have always been problematic for me and sequels, particularly to games I really love.  I played games when I was a kid (I had an NES and later a Genesis and did play some PC games growing up), but I was never all that good at them and the medium never grabbed me the same way it does now.  I spent my teens and early 20s reading history texts and classic novels, watching pretentious movies, and hanging out in weird internet communities.  I did not spend my youth with a controller in my hand, and I didn’t get involved with hobbies that required any kind of strategic thinking.

So, when I got in to games, I had to learn each game I played from the ground up.  Each new game was a slow and laborious learning process, unless it was something simple like a visual novel.  For a long time, this made it difficult for me to process subtle changes in control and strategy.  Fable 2 was, at the same time, too similar and too different to its predecessor.  Had it had a completely new control scheme, or had I had different expectations, I may have initially liked it better.

The combat in Persona 4 was also a difficult challenge for me.  I wanted to play Persona 4 using the same strategies I used in Persona 3, using my protagonist as the primary magic attacker, but that just didn’t work in Persona 4 due to the subtle changes they made in the combat.  The growth of the P4 protagonist’s mana and health made him more like Junpei where the P3 protagonist was more like Yosuke.  He’s better suited to physical attacking and avoiding using magic all the time.  Not to mention that Persona 4’s combat just doesn’t lend itself as well to the basic strategy of analyze, knock everything down with magic, and all-out attack.  These types of subtle differences just weren’t obvious to me when I first started playing games again.

And now, of course I’m much better, but it’s taken me quite a long time to actually get comfortable with approaching both new games and sequels.  I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy certain types of games like first person or third person shooters (for a lot of reasons), and I will always prefer less twitchy, turn-based experiences, but I don’t feel like I have such a difficult learning curve ahead of me when I try out something new anymore.  I’ve been wondering over the two weeks since I tried out Fable: Anniversary if I should try out Fable 2 again.  This time I think I might like it a lot better.

Skyrim, 2 years on…

One aspect of my New Years Resolution for 2014 is to write more often.  NaBloPoMo 2013 was an excellent way to get me writing again after a significant time away, but I want to ensure that my writing won’t get stale and laboured again, so I will be trying to blog twice per month from now on (and hopefully at least once per month).  I will be talking a bit more about changes I’m trying to make in my second post for the month, but for now I want to talk a bit about Skyrim.

I purchased the Legenday edition of Skyrim for the PS3 in November. I wanted to pack my XBOX 360 away to make room for a PlayStation 4, but I was reluctant to do so in case I ever wanted to go back to playing Skyrim. Since I had no intentions of packing up my PS3 and hadn’t yet purchased any of the DLC for the game, I thought that the Legendary edition was my best option. From a technical perspective, the game runs much better after all the patches, though the load times can still be uncomfortably long and the frame rate still chugs when you first enter towns. It is, however, totally playable at this point.

As I mentioned in a few of my NaBloPoMo posts, Skyrim is my favourite game of Generation 7. While I still stand by my choice, I have to admit that until just this week, I had never finished the Main quest line, or the also important Civil War quest line. The meta game of dungeon delving, buying, crafting, and selling was almost always the biggest draw toward Skyrim for me, and it was interesting enough that I didn’t need the mediocre story messing that up. Finally, after two years of back and forth between the two, I was able to complete some of my most significant objectives in the game: both meta and ortho.

I completed the Main quest line. The story, of course, wasn’t particularly interesting, but it was fun to play. I especially enjoyed the environment of Blackreach, an enormous Dwarven settlement. It was a fascinating place to explore, even if Falmer and Chaurus enemies make me terribly uncomfortable. I thought that the armistice discussions in A Season Unending were also interesting, and forced me to read more about Skyrim’s political history like the Great War, and the treaty with the Aldmeri Dominion. I had never paid much attention to these elements of the story before this series of play sessions. I knew that Nords didn’t much like the Thalmor due to their involvement with banning the worship of Talos in Skyrim, but I hadn’t ever absorbed much more than that.

Learning more about the Great War made the Civil War quest line a little awkward for me. While I knew that the Stormcloaks were racist against other groups, my character was a Nord and I had resolved to join tthat side of the war long before I started playing again in December, but I’m not sure if I like how things turned out in the end. The replacement Jarls were a little creepy, even after A Season Unending. I liked Balgruuf and Laila Law-Giver (though I’m assuming she became Jarl again after the Stormcloaks won the civil war — I didn’t check). The guy in Markarth was a little sketchy, but his replacement, Thongvor Silver-Blood was far worse.

There were just so many wider political issues at stake in the conflict as well. I agree that the people of Skyrim should have had the right to worship Talos as they saw fit, and I think that they deserved the right to be autonomous if that’s what they wanted, but I’m not sure Ulfric Stormcloak much cared about any of that. Ulfric seemed far more interested in his own power to me, and even in creating his own empire, than he did for the people of Skyrim. While he was tolerant of other races in Windhelm, I can’t support his segregation of the Dunmer and Argonians in various parts of the city. The racial elements of the Stormcloak cause were a great source of discomfort for me. All that said, I’m not sure the Empire was working particularly well either. I may watch a Let’s Play of that side of the story to see if their aims may have been more palatable, but I’m pretty sure it would also be a mixed bag of motivations and justifications. All that said, I was level 35 by the time I got to the Civil War quest, and it was pretty fun killing off large waves of Imperial soldiers in two hits apiece.

I also felt that both the main quests had difficult endings. I found it hard to accept that the Dragonborn would fade in to obscurity after singlehandedly solving both the dragon problem and the civil war problem. I know that this is necessary to allow the player to continue to explore the enormous world after the main quest is over, but I still found it a little difficult to accept. I wonder if this is something Bethesda will try to think about a little more in the next Elder Scrolls game, though with all the controversy that’s happened around this issue in the Fallout series, I think they may not bother doing much about it.

And so I will now be taking a nice, long break from Skyrim. Aside from those two large quest lines, I finally was able to get the 100k gold achievement, purchase and upgrade all of the city houses (and Lakeview Manor near Falkreath), and discover all 13 Standing Stones. I still have a fair amount I’d like to accomplish, however. I would like to try out the Dragonborn DLC and travel to Solsheim and get the 10 sidequests achievement. Eventually, I’ll get there.

On completing NaBloPoMo

Today is the final day of National Blog Posting Month.  I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Blogging every day, particularly when you’re determined, like I was, to actually write something every day and not just post photos or videos when pressed for time or not feeling like writing something is tough.  The most difficult part of it isn’t the writing itself, because I generally found I was fine writing about something until I’d finished everything I needed to say.  The hard part is coming up with a topic to write about every day.

I was able to find a sufficient number of topics through using prompts, mostly from Plinky.  The first time I did NaBloPoMo, I was against using prompts.  I thought that I should be able to write something every day just by picking out topics that were on my mind, but as I discussed in my second entry the writing I did in 2008 wasn’t nearly as consistently good as I thought it had been.  The secret for me to actually write things is to use prompts to shape ideas I already have.  To really look through large numbers of them and choose prompts that give me a framework or a start to talk about something that interests me.

I think that strategy has made NaBloPoMo 2013 quite successful.  Yes, there are definitely some posts that are throwaway and that were written just because I had to write something, but they aren’t the majority.  Many of the posts I wrote were about topics that I’ve been thinking about a great deal.  Looking through the list of topics I wanted to write about in my first entry, I managed to discuss most of the issues I had intended to touch on.  I wrote about difficulties moving home (clutter), lack of archival work (least favourite question), cooking and baking, my feelings about how my life has changed (wanting to leave Vancouver), etc…  I think what made many of these posts good and not totally exhausting was looking at them from a particular angle via the use of a prompt instead of just blurting out a lot of nonsense about very personal problems that may not be easily understood or expressed in one blog post.

I decided not to revisit posts from 2010 and 2008 because most of the entries I wrote back then weren’t worth revisiting.  There were a few from 2008 that I considered taking a look at, particularly my series on slash and BL, since my “Thoughts on Yaoi” are always evolving with current trends and with reading and experiencing more of it.  But, I’m also happy with what I wrote back then as a representation of my feelings, and right now my focus is more on particular series than it is on the genre/medium/whatever itself.

I also didn’t write at all about manga, anime, books or television.  There are several reasons for this.  I think it’s pretty clear that I am spending a lot of my free time playing video games right now.  Games are what I’ve been sinking most of my free time in to for most of this year, and I have spent a lot less time with manga, anime, and books.  I do still watch a fair number of TV series, but I haven’t had any particularly strong feelings about what I’ve been watching recently.  This is a significant shift from my 2008 run at NaBloPoMo, where I frequently wrote about manga and anime.  I think the main reason for this particular change is that in 2008, I was still pretty new to manga and anime and, consequently, a lot more enthusiastic about them.  Today, I still like them a lot (though I’m much more in to reading manga than I am in to watching anime), but I’ve just settled in to making them part of my regular fictional routine rather than giving them any particular focus or attention.

Despite not writing about some of the things I intended to cover, I am quite happy with what I accomplished in NaBloPoMo 2013.  I feel like I’ve created a good snapshot of my life as it is right now along with how I feel about it.  I wrote something half decent every day, even if some posts were a little more haphazard than others, and putting my thoughts down on paper has become much easier than it was at the beginning of the challenge.  All in all, I am quite pleased.  We’ll see how I feel about it when I look back at the entries in a few years.  Hopefully I won’t be totally horrified.