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Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Rest of the Story

Click here to hear about the afterlife from my Dad.

I wonder if you tear up if you don't know him.

CLARIFICATION: This interview was taped last month, before Dad's doctor told him that the cancer was gone, and of course, before Grandma's doctors told her there was nothing more they could do.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Time for Everything

I stayed up late last night gorging myself on political junk food. The districts around St. Louis have not reported yet! Wow, she seems to be leading in California by a lot, but with only 1% of the votes in. Huckabee's going to win Tennessee too?!

Then, just before going off to bed, my brother said, "Oh, hey, I forgot to tell you. Dad called and the doctors said that there really isn't anything more they can do for Grandma, so . . ." Grandma is the matriarch that defines our extended family. She was strong enough to be a princict captian in 1952, strong enough to come back to Indiana, without her husband, in 1980 because she knew Indiana was where she needed to be, strong enough to drive the "old ladies around," in 2004. Last year she started feeling weak, which was unheard of despite 86 years. It seems impossible that she would be in her last days.

Then, this morning I got a call from my mother and father. He went in for a scan to determine the effectiveness of his last round of chemotherapy; there is no evidence of Dad's incurable cancer. None. I could not believe it, and for that reason Dad put Mom on the phone. I still couldn't believe it and asked how the oncologist reacted. Mom said he was dumbfounded, touched.

And so I give you the following from Ecclesiastes, complete with a bit that illustrates the author's profound ambivalence. If it helps, in the last paragraph substitute Universe for God.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 I know there is nothing better for me to do than to be happy and do good while I live.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Navy versus Whales

First, George W. Bush is not a king, and his signing an order exempting the Navy from compliance with environmental rules targeted directly at the Navy is awful. The order was related to using active sonar.

"An NRDC-led coalition of wildlife advocates succeeded in restricting the U.S. Navy's use of a powerful active sonar system known as SURTASS LFA in 2003." Here is a link to an little video clip, narrated by Pierce Brosnan no less, and an article by the NRDC.

I think protecting marine mammals is very important, even a moral obligation. The one thing that concerns me about the tone of the NRDC's fight, is the idea that nothing is lost by restricting the use of active SONAR. Active SONAR is an important tool in engaging the very quiet diesel electric submarines. Also, using sonar is much more difficult that one may think. For example, it is about a million times more difficult to use that RADAR. To be good at it, sailors have to train on it. And, there are limitations to simulators.

That said, the potential threat may be too slight to justify harming living sea creatures today. That is a worthy discussion.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Whirlwind of Cancer

You know, I've always thought cancer was terrible. I've always recognized that it generates stories of courage that shames you and tragedy that makes you weep bitterly. But for the last several years I've been swept up in the whirlwind that is this disease. Consider the these three folks: We start with Nathan Gentry. I had the privilege to know this wonderful, loving, intelligent, and creative child. He passed away last year, and it was the single greatest tragedy I have personally experienced. His life, primarily as honestly shared through his parents' blogs has enrinched and transformed my life. Praise God, for Nathan Gentry.
Then there is Matt Dick, the best man in my wedding, my debate partner in matters of faith, a man of endless energy who soon after Nathan was diagnosed turned his efforts to raising money for cancer. Matt has participated in the St. Baldrick's fundraiser for years, raising literally thousands of dollars to end tragedies like Nathan's. [*Good as Matt is, I'm still providing a link to donate in the name of your's truly: Click here to give.
As if that wasn't enough we move to Elisabeth Villavicencio, MD, PhD. She is a friend of mine who joined the group a little after college, by marriage. Beth is a mom, a fun friend, and so smart it is scary. Oh yeah, at she tries to cure kids of cancer:
As a pediatric oncologist, I am acutely aware of the need for more effective, less toxic drugs for kids with cancer. Our lab's focus is medulloblastoma, which is the most common malignant brain tumor in
children. While cure rates can be up to 80% for standard risk patients using a combination of neurosurgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, patients under the age of three have only about a 30% chance of cure. Kids who are cured typically have significant side effects from therapy, such as deafness, difficulties with walking, speech difficulties, and growth failure.

Our lab is looking for better drugs for medulloblastoma. We have developed a transgenic mouse model in which the mice get metastatic medulloblastoma. This is really important, because nearly all children who die of medulloblastoma die of metastatic disease. If the candidate drugs we're testing work to treat medulloblastomas in our mice, we will move the drugs toward clinical trials. We have a great track record in moving drugs from the lab bench to the bedside.

Sadly, it is harder than ever to get research funding. Fewer than 10% of NIH grants are funded. Companies that develop drugs typically focus their research on common adult cancers, since they need to be able to recoup their research and development costs through drug sales. Since pediatric cancer is rare, there will never be profit in developing drugs for this small but very important group of patients. Thus, private funding is critical to finding cures for childhood cancer.

The St. Baldrick's Foundation is a group that is making big strides towards curing childhood cancer. Private groups raise money by sponsoring "shavees" to shave their heads in solidarity with children undergoing treatment for cancer. These funds are granted to doctors and scientists doing cutting-edge research in pediatric oncology. Like many physician scientists, I rely on private funding to move my work forward. Children with cancer rely on all of us to find cures for them, fast.

I have little choice but to sacrafice my few wisps of hair to this cause. Click here to give.