You may want to sit down for this one

OK.  So.  I’m going to keep this short and to the point for now.  I found a lump on my neck.  It is not good.  It is lymphoma.  It’s not noticeable if I’m wearing shirt, but yeah, it’s not exactly hiding out either:

a lump

Last Monday I went to the doctor to get it checked out.  Blood work and a chest X-ray were ordered.  Something was seen on the chest X-ray and a I had a CT scan of my neck/chest/abdomen/pelvis done on Wednesday.  Results came Friday, and there’s a lot of swollen lymph nodes in my chest.  Like, the size of a softball.  In my chest, somewhere.  Where it all came from and how it all fits, I have no idea.  It’s big enough to constrict my windpipe and a major artery a bit, so I’m not exactly planning to just let it chill there.

Black parts = my lungs. Grey parts = lymph nodes taking over my lungs.

I’m going into surgery tomorrow morning for a biopsy, where they’ll cut a chunk of that lump in my neck out to take a closer look and see what kind of lymphoma it is and what treatment path to go down.  Good news is, most lymphoma is treatable.  We just don’t know which kind it is yet.  If it’s Hodgkin’s, I’ll probably get put on chemo right away and I’m told it’s highly effective.

I have lots of support right now from family and friends, and I appreciate all of it, but right now, there’s not a lot of additional help I need.  I’m still pretty much fully functional, and plan on being back at work on Wednesday, because it helps to take the mind off things, so right now, we just kind of have to wait to take further action.

I think I’m taking everything pretty optimistically for now, but well, everything still feels a bit like a dream, and I’m a little floored by it all.  I nearly fainted in the doctor’s office today when I found out about the softball sized mass in my chest that’s trying to kill me.  Waiting is hard.  I’ll keep you all updated.

Shredded

‘My bones are ringing the way sometimes people say their ears are ringing, I’m so tired.’
‘I’m waiting til the last possible second to even breathe.  I’m not expanding the cage till driven by necessity of air.’
‘So tired it’s out of tired‘s word-range,’ Pemulis says. ‘Tired just doesn’t do it.’
Exhausted, shot, depleted,’ says Jim Struck, grinding at his closed eye with the heel of his hand.  ‘Cashed.  Totalled.’
‘Look.’  Pemulis pointing at Struck.  ‘It’s trying to think.’
‘A moving thing to see.’
‘Beat.  Worn the heck out.’
‘Worn the fuck-all out is more like.’
‘Wrung dry.  Wacked.  Tuckered out.  More dead than alive.’
‘None even come close, the words.’
‘Word-inflation,’ Stice says, rubbing at his crewcut so his forehead wrinkles and clears.  ‘Bigger and better.  Good greater greatest totally great.  Hyperbolic and hyperbolicker.  Like grade-inflation.’
‘Should be so lucky,’ says Struck, who’s been on academic probation since fifteen.
Stice is from a part of southwest Kansas that might as well be Oklahoma.  He makes the companies that give him clothes and gear give him all black clothes and gear, and his E.T.A. cognomen is ‘The Darkness.’
Hal raises his eyebrows at Stice and smiles.  ‘Hyperbolicker?’
‘My daddy as a boy, he’d have said “tuckered out”‘ll do just fine.’

-Infinite Jest (p. 100)

Somewhere during my eighth or ninth stop for a break on the Sweat Heifer Trail, I finally found enough strength to not hate climbing for ever and ever.  Carrying a backpack loaded with supplies for the night along with my heavy camera, every body part ached – except for my legs.  My mantra of “SHUT UP, LEGS!” was useless, and I was lost.  I could feel blisters forming, bruises on my hips from my pack, and just to top it off, a little sun burn on the back of my neck.  I was only squeezing out single syllable grunts in between gasps for air, clearly spending my time in the anaerobic zone, and just from walking uphill a bit.

Granted, it was 2000 vertical feet climbed, and the trail never, not even once, dipped down or flattened out a bit to give some respite, so by the time I’d had another handful of dark chocolate covered raisins and drained my water bottle of Gatorade, it seemed like walking on clouds to finally meet up with the Appalachian Trail.  Only another mile down the mostly level section of that trail, and we ended at the shelter where we’d spend the night with other through-hikers, nearly 5 hours after we started earlier that afternoon.

The next day, we hiked down.  The day after we hiked to the Chimney Tops and back (~1700 ft climbed and had to scale some off-trail sheer rock faces in the process).  A few easier hikes to waterfalls followed later in the week, but through the huge jump in difficult mileage and corresponding calories consumed to compensate, my body was toast.  “Shredded” is the word I believe I used to describe my legs to Matt when we got out of the cold rain on Thursday evening to catch a March Madness game in Gatlinburg.  Maybe “Tuckered Out” is all some need to describe the complete satisfied exhaustion from a day of physically pushing the boundaries, but I like the fresh hyperbole.  Be ridiculous, I say.

Unpacking is always easier

lapse of thought

I’m back from a week in the Smoky Mountains, which was both relaxing in the “sitting around a campfire all night drinking beer” way, and strenuous in the “let’s hike 30 miles during the week, half of which will be directly up a mountainside” way.

I made some rookie mistakes regarding my photography throughout the week.  Above is Exhibit A.  Sometimes, you only get one night of clear skies, and when that happens, know that f/22 with an ISO of 100 is a dumb combination of settings.  Even with a 52 minute exposure.  I wish I could take that one back.  It’s something where I really do know what I’m doing, yet I can’t explain how my brain shut off and I ignored what I knew was right.  Anyway, this is the only shot from the night, and I had to bump it up 4 stops in post processing to even save what little I could, hence all the noise.

Later in the week I took a dozen shots without the auto-focus on, but I didn’t notice until afterwards.

Urban Planning

the pros and cons of suburbia

My urban planning experiences are confined to hours engulfed in SimCity (the original, 2000, and 3000 (by SimCity 4 I realized I had an addiction and had to quit)), and staring at maps playing “land developer” in my head to most efficiently carve out swaths of land.  There are, of course, the numerous flagrant fouls committed here in town that I deal with on a daily basis and inspire my own unique solutions, but I don’t think this town is urban enough to get a city planner who knows anything besides “this would be a good spot for a strip mall.”

There’s currently a heated discussion in New York City about the miles and miles of new bike lanes being built, peaking with a daft piece in The New Yorker.  It’s already been torn to shreds by BSNYC, the NY Times, The Washington Post, and The Economist, among others, but it stirred up my urban planning fantasies.  Clearly, the logical thing to do is to build tons of bike lanes and support for other transportation options besides cars.  But people are not so logical, and we cling to the “freedom” offered by our cars.

Now, I’m not living in a densely populated area by any means, and the extent of the public transportation here is a bus that runs to the grocery store, so I can’t claim expertise in “city living”, but I’d like to think I’d ride my bike around a lot more if driving wasn’t so darn easy.  In fact, I can’t wait to ride my bike downtown for all my happy hour needs instead of calling things off after 2 drinks so I can still drive home, but this continuous string of bad weather is really the main culprit, not infrastructure.  The curious thing is that the city was talking about installing a bike lane right here in town when they tear up and fix Central Ave. this summer, and I don’t really see the point.  What good is a mile or two of bike lanes on a single street when, aside from a few main arteries, most of the streets in town are already very quiet?  Maybe it’d kick off a network of new bike lanes around the city, but I can’t really see the need.  Would I use and enjoy it?  Sure.  But I already bike downtown as often as the weather permits, as it takes all of 10 minutes to do.  Why I still get weird looks for doing so, I’ll never know.

Anyway, I haven’t heard any recent plans, but I kind of doubt the bike lanes will get built due to nobody wanting to spend an extra cent on the project, and outrage from the reduced amount of parking the change will create.  People.  Not so logical.  See also: High Speed Rail debate.

Michigan Winter Beer Fest

drink michigan beer
Yesterday was the Michigan Winter Beer Festival, which was definitely held in winter-like weather at the parking lot next to Fifth Third Ballpark.  Plans to go only came together in the last week, because tickets sold out in January, so I was elated to walk in with a complimentary ticket and a DD to take me home.  I went with some coworkers and a few of their friends that I didn’t know, but as luck would have it, Casey and Lauren were there with her Dad and friend, so I spent the whole afternoon with them instead.

I can’t possibly recall all the good beer I had, but I’d say there was only one sample I had all afternoon that I didn’t care for.  A few of my favorites were the carrot cake beer from Short’s (which tastes just like you’d expect), a raspberry stout from Dark Horse, and a tiramasu stout from the B.O.B. Brewery (also tasted just like you’d expect).  Of course, there were tons of other more standard beers that were excellent as well, but I still have a hard time understanding people who say they don’t like beer.  There’s so much variety out there, and I’m only talking about beer from Michigan, that if you can’t find anything you like, you need to look harder.  I’d be glad to offer suggestions.

I’d do a few things differently if I go again next year.  First, dress a little more appropriately.  Yes, it’s still winter in Michigan, and the light snow throughout the event was kind of festive, and I thought I had enough layers, but apparently even thick wool socks aren’t enough to keep my circulation-starved feet warm.  The rest of my body was fine, but cold feet can make things a little miserable.

Also, I’d bring some snacks.  Many people made pretzel necklaces to munch on in between beer tastings.  Obviously, I was a beer fest rookie.  However, when I did get hungry, that meant I could pretend I was a Viking and chow down on a huge turkey leg hot off the grill.  It was delicious, and felt so appropriate for the setting.

After the event, I went to get some Indian food in GR with my coworkers.  On the menu, only the lamb vindaloo was labeled SPICY!!! with three exclamation points, and had a separate HOT warning in the description.  I read that and said to myself, “Self, that sounds like a challenge.”  The order came, the spice brought a little heat, but then just stayed put.  It was an excellent dish, but I was a little disappointed that the spiciest dish on the menu didn’t even make me sweat.  Did all of the other dishes on the menu just have zero spice then?  I blame west Michiganders and their bland taste buds for the neutralized spices and excessive warnings on the menu.

Promoted

blanket my mattress.

I got a promotion today.  Sort of.

So did everyone else.

All of the engineers in our department got switched to salaried positions, whereas before we were paid hourly.  This included a pay raise to compensate for the fact that we wouldn’t be getting time-and-a-half pay for working all those overtime hours anymore, and new job titles.  That makes me an “Engineer 2” with a paycheck that’s roughly 8% larger than it was before.  Kind of nice to actually get my first ever pay raise instead of that awesome 10% cut that came in 2009.

So that’s about it.  I still do the exact same work I did before, in the same cubicle as before, and with roughly the same expectations as before.  Now I’m just responsible for working the right amount of hours to get the job done (No one has any idea what this actually means in relation to our work.  Outlook: BAD).

I’m sitting here staring at the print out summarizing my pay for the last 3 years as well as my future earnings that kick in a week from Monday.  It doesn’t bring me joy or happiness.  Here is this new number with several zeros behind it, and all I can think of is how it solves nothing.  I’m still sitting here at home in Holland without anything to do on yet another Friday night.  No one to even join me for happy hour and “celebrate” my raise.

My Guaranteed* Weight Loss Plan

(*or your money back)

Not a day goes by where I’m not painfully reminded of the slipping collective health of our nation, and so after thumbing through another diet book someone was reading to see what kind of advice was actually included, I thought I could do a better job in one post than in the hundreds of pages in the book.  Now, I have nothing against diet plans in general, and they do work for some people.  Sample recipes are useful for a lot of people, and you most likely won’t find that here because I’m a lazy cook, but when you have to memorize a list that says you can’t have carrots until week 3 of the program, I can see how people lose interest.

Also of note, these are all tips I use now, when I’m not in a crazy workout program.  People often think I’m some workout fiend, but believe me, in the course of a day, right now I’m no more or less active than a lot of people (I hope).  Cubicles and suburbs are terrible inventions.  People give me cookies and cakes and chocolates because “I look like I could use it”, but they don’t realize that it’s because I specifically avoid constantly eating sweets that I stay healthy.  Why is it okay to poke fun at me for my “weird tiny lunches”, but I can’t go to a fat person and give them a salad “because they look like they could use it”?

As usual, I am not a doctor, IANALawyer, IANANutritionist, but here are some General Rules to start:

  • Eat 3 meals a day.  No skipping.
  • Set a cutoff time before bed when you won’t have anything to eat.  For me, it’s generally about 1.5 hours before bed where I’ll stop eating (obviously different if you have late dinners).  This eliminates late night snacking when you’re usually not actually hungry anyway.
  • Don’t eat out of a bag/jar/etc.  Portion things out on a plate and don’t go back for seconds.
  • Keep a written diary of everything you eat.  Everything.  I don’t do this anymore, but just actually looking back at your meals and snacks for a week can be pretty sobering.  If you still can’t hold yourself accountable, email it to me and I’ll provide motivation/mockery/free personal coaching.
  • Low-fat products are not always better than their normal counterparts.  In fact, a lot of times they are worse.  See Fructose is Poison.

Now for some more specific tips, starting with Beverages:

  • Water and Milk.  That’s it.  Cut everything else out if you want the best results.  I’m lenient of some things, but others are strictly forbidden.
  • Absolutely no pop/soda.  Even diet and zero calorie drinks, because artificial sweeteners still F with your digestive system, and that extra sodium is leading you closer and closer to a stroke.
  • No Gatorade/flavored water/etc.  Same thing.  It’s pure sodium and sugar to mask the taste, and you may think that 10 minute run you did left you dehydrated, but it didn’t, and in any case, grab water instead.  (Did you know it’s free from the faucet?!)
  • No fruit juice.  Those drinks have even more sugar than pop, and it’s easy to forget about those calories.
  • Wine/beer/liquor in moderation is fine.  Why?  Because I said so and there’s no way I’m completely cutting it out of my intake.  It just seems like you’re losing at life if you can’t allow it.  Also, I skip the “moderation” part a bit, so I guess what I’m really saying is know your limits and don’t forget to count all those empty calories.
  • Coffee/tea are fine as well, but only with nothing added. Put down the spoon of sugar and carton of cream and learn to like the taste of it as it’s meant to be.  BLACK.

Food:

  • Vegetables are your friend.  Eat lots and lots of them.  Try to get full on them once.  It’s harder than you think.  They’re (obviously, I hope) full of vitamins and low in calories.  But skip the ranch/hummus/blue cheese dip and dressings.  You’re undoing all the good.  For a visual on comparative calorie counts see:

140 calories vs. 140 calories. What do you think will be more satisfying?
  • Go light on meats (especially red meat).  I only eat red meat when I’m eating out these days, and if I am having meat at home (rare event) it’s usually chicken.
  • I live in the seafood deprived Midwest, so I take advantage of good stuff when I can, which is sparingly.  When I’m at home, some tuna or salmon is the most I’ll make.  Apparently fish oils are good for you or something.
  • Get as much fiber as you can handle.  Eat things with whole wheat instead of refined white wheat.  Eat fresh fruit.  Yes, the fiber will make you fart more.  It passes right through you and keeps the digestive system ticking.  But it’s either that, or having your body turning fiber-less foods into fat and storing it.  Fart or Fat.  Choose one.
  • In general, when I’m not on a workout training program, I cut way back on bread, pasta, rice, and other grains.  I don’t need that much glucose, and it allows for even more veggies.  When I do go for pasta, it’s without rich sauces and intriguing fillings.  Pasta is fuel, so the only toppings allowed are olive oil and maybe a little pepper and parmesan cheese.
  • Be careful with other toppings too.  You probably don’t need all that soy sauce, and you know HFCS is in ketchup, right?

I’m sure a lot of this is heresy to my Dutch-American farming roots where everything seems to have an extra stick of butter and is covered in cheese.  Yeah, it’s delicious, and I eat it when I’m with family, but I don’t want to develop Type 2 diabetes or have to take cholesterol medicine either.

The other part of the equation is exercise, or more accurately, physical activity.  I can probably write forever on the topic and might do more later on, but just try to get on your feet as much as possible.  Every minute walking instead of sitting on the couch is a good one.

One pound of body fat is 3500 calories, so if the standard daily intake is 2000 calories (probably a little low), and you reduce your diet to 1500 calories a day, it’ll take a full week to lose 1 pound.  That’s normal, but just realize that it’s a slow process.  Another good rule of thumb for exercise is that running/walking a mile will generally burn only 100 calories.  Avoid overeating post-workout, because you can undo everything with just a cookie or two.  But more seriously, take care of yourself.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Feeling Belgian

imagining flanders

Beer.  Frites.  Bikes.  I can’t stop thinking about Belgium.

It started last week with the details of the route for this year’s Ronde Van Vlaanderen getting released.  The spring classics seem tangibly close.  Not that I don’t already think about cycling constantly, but the Tour of Qatar has finally given me somewhat real preseason racing to watch, and I’m up to my neck trying to sort out which riders I want on my team for the year long fantasy cycling game I’m playing.  These are not trivial choices.

Last night I went to Brewery Vivant, which recently opened in Grand Rapids, with Jeremy and Brad.  It’s in an old church, and with no TV’s to occupy everyone’s eyes, it’s easy to forget what city you’re actually in.  The microbrew on tap consisted of all Belgian style beers, and the menu was limited to Belgian cuisine.  Naturally, I had to have some frites.  I felt more Euro leaving that place than I did when I entered.

I’m certainly no Flandrien, but this afternoon, I climbed on my trainer in the living for the umpteenth time this winter, and with Van Poppel’s voice (mp3) blasting through my speakers like he’s on my personal race radio, I went full gas and left a layer of rubber on the trainer’s drum.

These daily snow accumulations are starting to wear me down.