When I told people I was going to New Zealand to present my ReAssert paper, nearly everyone asked if I was planning to travel around the country. Absolutely. One does not visit New Zealand for a three-day conference, then immediately turn around and go home. I stayed for 10 days. During that time, I attended the conference, toured Auckland, drove all over the south island with Yun Young and Danny, and saw more interesting things than I could possibly fit into one weblog post.
I considered writing a travel report like my Yellowstone or California posts, but the length of this trip made me feel that a different approach was necessary. The map below shows the path I/we took through New Zealand. Clicking it will take you to an annotated, interactive map with descriptions and pictures of the interesting places.
Even though most of my time is taken up by graduate school and medical appointments, I recently managed to find time to travel. I spent each of the past four weekends visiting friends all over the Midwest. First I helped Charlie celebrate his birthday in Louisville, Kentucky. Then, Michael had a bachelor campout—like a bachelor party with less debauchery and more trees—at Stuart's family's farm in Ohio. The following weekend, several UIUC friends and I visited Josh at his new graduate school home in Nashville, Tennessee. Finally, last weekend Michael and Alice got married in northwestern Indiana.
Each trip could fill its own post, but for now I will just describe one particularly noteworthy event from each.
Charlie and the Belly Dancers
Last year I helped Charlie celebrate his birthday in Montana. This year he came to Louisville, Kentucky, where he had spent several years at the University of Louisville. He visited several UofL and high school friends who were in the area. I drove south from Indianapolis to meet them there.
Charlie had his birthday dinner at a restaurant in the blocks-long entertainment district of downtown Louisville. The restaurant was decorated with faux-Greek wall hangings and pottery. The entertainment as well as the food also had a Mediterranean flavor. About halfway through the meal, three belly dancers in sequined dresses began dancing through the aisles, playing castanets and hand drums. It wasn't salacious dancing—it was a family restaurant, after all—just surprising and pleasant entertainment.
Charlie, knowing, it seems, everyone in town, recognized one of the dancers. I mentioned this and the fact that it was Charlie's birthday to the server. She in turn told the dancers, who came to the table and danced around Charlie. Afterward, the head dancer got all the other restaurant patrons to wish Charlie a happy birthday. It is difficult to embarrass Charlie, but I think that experience came close.
Michael's Bachelor Camping Trip
Two weeks prior to his wedding (which I write about below), Michael had his bachelor party. Unlike most bachelor parties, we went camping. Stuart offered his family's farm as the destination. It had a beautiful man-made lake surrounded by woods and cornfields.
We did normal campout activities like sit around the campfire roasting hot dogs, but I also got to do something I had never done before: shoot a gun. Before leaving for the farm, Michael's father gave us a small 22-caliber target rifle and an old mailbox. He urged us to destroy the mailbox. We placed it by an earthen berm next to one bank of the lake and did just that.
It was deeply satisfying to hear the loud "ping!" when one hit the mailbox. We noticed that some of the bullets left trails along the edge of the mailbox or failed to make it all the way through both walls.
This picture illustrates the best part about visiting Josh in Nashville: getting to spend time with good friends.
It is a good thing we visited because Josh has been so busy that he has not gotten a chance to enjoy Nashville's famous music district. It was a new experience for all of us. We found several venues with live music, but the best came when we found a jam band playing mid-90s alternative rock. One member of the band soloed on electric violin, which gave them an especially interesting and unique sound. The lead guitarist would also trade his guitar with friends in the audience. That informality and the style of music reminded me strongly of the shows I saw my friends play in high school.
Michael finally married Alice, the fellow Purdue alum that he has been dating since right around the time he and I graduated.
Like the trip to Louisville, the wedding gave me a chance to catch up with longtime friends. Of course that includes Michael and Alice, but Stuart, Todd, Matt, Joe, Josh H., Brittany, and Megan also attended. Even though I have been keeping this weblog for over eight years, it is amazing (and discouraging) how much I have forgotten about my time at Purdue. Similarly, despite electronic social networks, I knew less than I would have liked about the lives and activities of the other attendees that I knew from that point in my life. The wedding underscored the importance personal contact with friends.
I am sure this pales in comparison to Michael's experience at his own wedding, so I won't try to overstate anything. Instead, I can simply say that I am deeply honored to have helped him celebrate his marriage, and I wish him and his wife the absolute best in their new life together.
The animation above shows my most recent PET scan. See the bright yellow sparkles in the pair of otherwise dark areas above the center of the image? Those are the tumors in my lungs. Some appeared since the last set of scans; others are metabolizing more, and thus showing up brighter. For comparison, the left image below is from last November, and the right is from this most recent scan.
These are not good results. Obviously, the chemotherapy has not prevented tumor growth. Medical literature would say I have reached the regimen's "time to progression", that is, the point after starting treatments at which the disease advances or reappears. Despite the provocative title of this post, that does not necessarily mean that the chemotherapy has stopped working; it just means it is time to try something else.
Unfortunately, my options have become much more limited over the past year. By last March, I had long passed the maximum lifetime dosage of one drug (ifosfamide). Last July, side effects prompted my oncologists to remove another (docetaxel) from my treatments. These latest results show that the remaining drug (gemcitabine) alone has not been effective.
My oncologist searched through the medical literature for other treatments. There is not much, since I have already tried almost everything, and the pool of patients with recurrent, metastatic osteosarcoma is so small as to limit the number of clinical trials for new drugs. Nevertheless, he found one clinical case study in which a combination of gemcitabine and a drug called irinotecan most often used to treat colon cancer was beneficial in a case very similar to mine.
The combination of gemcitabine and irinotecan has
shown acceptable toxicity and synergistic activity against
many refractory solid tumors. Our case report demonstrates
an excellent clinical and radiographic response
in a heavily pretreated patient with recurrent osteogenic
sarcoma...Due to the absence of a radiographic response
to gemcitabine and irinotecan used as single agents, we
think that synergism between the 2 drugs makes their
So far I have undergone one cycle of treatments with this new pair of drugs. Time will tell if it will work for me.
But truthfully, while I remain optimistic, I don't expect to find the silver bullet. At best, this new regimen will most likely just stabilize tumor growth, and the prospects of experimental treatments or more drastic alternatives like surgery or radiation are not much better. That makes, "try something else and see if it works," an unsatisfying answer to the question posed in the title of this post, but it is the only answer I have for now.
I cannot comment on how Siebel Center's architecture compares to The Guggenheim or Fallingwater, but the building has some interesting features that were a challenge to translate into Lego. In particular, choosing the correct scale, building the angled sections, and sculpting the topology of the courtyard took a lot of experimentation. Fortunately, Siebel Center is one of the most photogenic buildings on campus, so the web is filled with pictures that I could reference [
The key to figuring out an appropriate scale came from this detailed floor plan. I needed a scale that provided a good level of detail, allowed walls and other structures to be subdivided into "nice" Lego sizes, and produced a model of reasonable size. As is often the case, the simplest solution was the best: if I used a single 1×1×1 block for each window, then everything fell together like magic. At this scale, the full model is about 70 studs (≈22 inches) long by 60 studs (≈19 inches) wide. I have not yet measured the actual size of Siebel Center's windows to determine the Lego-to-real life scale.
I started with the western wall of the building since it is a sheer face of brick and windows and I had a picture reference handy. From there, I continued roughly counterclockwise until I reached the glass-faced northern facade which angles out from the main body of the building. I built this pie-shaped section separately and slid it into place against an otherwise blank wall. Many angled "wing" pieces hide the gap.
A patio sits in a depression at the bottom of the angled section. I first attempted to orient the depression to the main building and rest of the courtyard but found that the grass and stairways did not meet the patio nicely. Instead, I connected the slope to the patio and slid the slope under the rest of the grass using stubless plates.
You can view the digital model in Lego Digital Designer. I would love to build the model in real life, but according to LDD, it would cost around $850. I could probably reduce the price by refining the design and buying bulk pieces. Maybe the computer science department could sponsor its construction?