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07 June 2018 @ 09:03 am
After I had my cancerous prostate removed in late 2016, the level of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) was meant to drop to undetectable levels and stay there, for ever. A subsequent rise in PSA would most likely indicate a return of the cancer, with the rate and extent of PSA increase being well correlated with cancer growth - either in the original site or in distant metastases.

So in February 2018, when my PSA crept back up out of the undetectable range, there was every reason to believe that this was a harbinger of my demise. The cancer was coming back to get me. My urologist, Dr K, decided to do a repeat PSA measurement in 3 month's time to see how quickly it was rising and whether it was then high enough to send me off to an oncologist.

This week I had that test, and yesterday I saw my GP, Dr M, to find out the bad news.

But it turned out that the PSA had dropped back down into the undetectable zone.

What does this mean? It could be that the non-zero PSA measured in February was a false positive, with the test detecting something other than a substance secreted by cells of a prostate. Even some women show non-zero PSA levels. Or it could be that my prostate cancer is re-growing but is only just at the threshold of detectability.

Only time will tell. The next PSA test is scheduled for September 2018, and for now I'm taking the optimistic approach and celebrating my (at least temporary) reprieve.

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05 June 2018 @ 02:26 pm
I'm celebrating.

I'm sitting in Campos with all the Newtown hipsters having an excellent Ethiopian Yirgacheffe origin long black .

Today is D-day (Diagnosis-day) #1. The pathology report on the pigmented lesion on my forehead has been revealed (and the two stitches have now been removed).

If it had been malignant melanoma I'd have been very disappointed. After all, a GP with skin cancer training (at The Elizabeth Laser and Cosmetic Medicine Centre) and a skin cancer specialist (The Skin & Cancer Foundation) have both looked at it in the past and declared that I shouldn't worry. If, in fact, it had the potential to turn malignant, shouldn't they have suggested removal? Or at least biopsy? Anyway, my current dermatologist biopsied it and the pathologist reckons it's a seborrheic keratosis.

D-day #2 will be tomorrow morning, when I see my GP, Dr M (unless the cancer specialist gets in first - he likes to break the bad news himself). Whoever delivers it, the news is very likely to be bad, but it's a question of whether it's somewhat worrying, or really serious, or something in between.

But at least for the moment, I'm not going to let the possibility of future bad news stop me from celebrating this brief moment of good fortune.

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30 May 2018 @ 06:37 am

Back in 2011 we planted a Gymea Lily outside our bedroom window. The plant nursery told us that because it was only a young plant it might take up to 7 years to flower.

At the time I remarked that waiting for the flowering would give me a reason to live, although I doubted that I would survive long enough to see it bloom. I didn't have any known illness, but it seemed likely that cancer would kill me.  I wrote:
I’m expecting to follow my relatives’ pattern & succumb to cancer. Maybe melanoma – from spending too much time running in the sun when I was younger

Bearing that prediction in mind, I recently went to a skin cancer specialist to see if one or more of my pigmented spots is melanoma. She was sufficiently suspicious of one spot that she took two biopsies. I find out the result next week.

Also next week later I submit to a blood test to track the progress of the my known cancer. So there's plenty of possible bad news on the horizon. Meanwhile, the Gymea Lily has been growing well, but there has been no sign of any flowers, so it would appear that my 2011 prediction of death-before-flowering might come true.

Last Friday, however, as I arrived home in the evening darkness, I noticed an unusual growth from our now seven year old Gymea Lily. The cold grey light of Saturday morning revealed what I hoped to see - A flower stem!! The plant nursey's prediction of a 7-year wait had come true.

It does have a little way to go before it actually flowers. The shoot will grow to perhaps 3 or 4 metres before the flower blooms, and that process might takes several months. So although my death might be 'on the horizon', I need to hang in for a while yet. Next week we'll see what my cancer specialists say about my chances of achieving that goal.

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24 April 2018 @ 09:53 am

Some time ago, at daiskmeliadorn's suggestion,  I listened to a podcast of Professor Belinda Beck talking about bone health in athletes (and ordinary people). She suggested jumping down stairs as an ideal exercise to enhance bone density and strength.

I had been diagnosed as having osteoporosis of the lumbar spine in 2016, and I didn't want to take alendronate (aka Fosamax) to  fix the problem. I wasn't too keen on the possible side effect of osteonecrosis of the jaw, no matter how remote the likelihood. So I decided to try:

  • weight gain of ~10%

  • 1200 mg / day calcium supplement (plus 1000 units Vitamin D)

  • Stair-jumping, as suggested by Belinda

Here is the result. My 2016 and 2018 BMD scores are shown by the black square:

My age-weight-sex related BMD score was 2.3 Standard Deviations below the mean in 2016, but I'm now only 1.7 SDs below the mean.

Thanks for the tip Belinda!

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17 April 2018 @ 06:57 am

"I have never seen Vegemite spread so thickly", said my American work colleague, staring at my lunch of wholemeal sourdough toast with a thick black covering.

Although it was actually Marmite, not the American-owned Vegemite, the point was taken nonetheless. I grew up in a Marmite-loving family, and seem to have
passed on that trait to at least one of my offspring.

I did cut down my Marmite consumption a few years ago after an episode of gout. But I discovered that the gout story is rather complex, and despite purine's role in uric acid production, the medical evidence indicates: "There is very little scientific proof that avoiding the purine-rich foods (such as Marmite) can successfully reduce gout attacks."

So I intend to continue this particular habit until I die. Indeed, the time when I stop looking forward to a dose of Marmite is probably an indicator that death won't be far away.

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09 March 2018 @ 07:58 am
I am currently reading a brilliant book - A Line Made By Walking, by Sara Baume.

In the book a young woman, Frankie, retreats to her (dead) grandmother's bungalow to reflect on life and death, and a lot more besides. One of Frankie's memories of her childhood is of her mother telling her she could ask a banana to answer a question. You slice the banana and the remaining stump has a pattern that could be a "Y" or some other character or perhaps just an indecipherable smudge.

Yesterday I saw my cancer surgeon and asked him about my future prospects. My observation is that doctors don't like to bear bad news and they tend to emphasize the most positive perspective, even if it only has a small chance of being the outcome. My doctor was no exception to this rule. He didn't want to talk about the dark possibilities of widespread metastases.

When I got home I decided to follow Frankie's example and I asked a banana if my cancer was going to kill me. Here's what it said:


I ate the banana before it had a chance to shed any more light on my future. It was good.

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25 January 2018 @ 02:58 pm



I walk along this road every morning about 03:30. Can you see those white blobs in the upper branches of this tree?

They're ibis, known more commonly as bin-chickens for their Darwinian(!) adaptation to urban life.

They're always grouped together in this tree and a couple of other trees along this road.

Last year in the vote for Bird of the Year they came second, just being edged out by the magpie, and two places ahead of my friends, the tawny frogmouth:

This popular vote was a huge social media battle ground in Australia and no doubt many ibis have their noses out of joint as a result of their rejection. The ibis roost at night in large groups, sitting quite still until around sunrise. They're usually very quiet, and you might not notice them as you walk past, except every few minutes there's a loud splat as the digestion of yesterday's bin-pickings is completed and the remnants hit the road below, exacting sweet revenge non-ibis voters (such as me) who would dare to walk underneath.
I've seen cars parked under this tree overnight become almost undrivable from the ibis excrement caking the windscreen. Our local council places signs under Bunya Pine trees to warn of falling pine cones. Maybe it's time they did the same for falling ibis shit.

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06 December 2017 @ 12:31 pm
I woke about 20 minutes before my alarm this morning. There's no point trying to get back to sleep in that situation - I'll just lie there thinking "my alarm is about to go off", until it does. So I got up, and was pleased to note that the weather bureau had been overly pessimistic (80% chance of rain, they had predicted) and in fact the rain radar was pretty clear. Because of my hamstring tendon problem I'm not walking much these days, but I was up early so I decided to walk slowly as far as I could go along the route of the Night Ride bus and get on the bus at a stop further along the route than the stop where I normally catch it. After I'd been walking about 30 minutes the algorithm in my Polar activity tracking watch clearly decided that I was not going back to bed, and it vibrated and flashed this message

I guess I knew it was less sleep than preferred, but the device did also give more data about the continuity of my sleep. Only five disturbances:

And the heart rate variations during that time:

Just before midnight I got up to go to the toilet, but this didn't seem too disruptive to my sleep and my heart rate continued its slowing trajectory to reach the lowest level in the day (55) just before I got up. That's the good thing about being really tired - my 'sleep time' is nearly always efficient.

I've only recently started wearing this Polar device, which monitors heart rate as well as movements. The thought has occurred to me that if my heart trouble worsens and I have a fatal heart attack, my Polar device might record the last moments of my life. I'd like to see that!

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22 November 2017 @ 09:39 am
Months ago my daughter told me how much she enjoyed listening to Brad Beer's podcast, The Physical Performance Show.  I listened to a couple of episodes, but I guess I wasn't sufficiently performance oriented at the time to keep it up. I mostly chose classical music instead to accompany my running. Actually, I haven't been doing much running at all, largely due to sustaining a couple of vertebral osteoporotic fractures in late 2016.  I was surprised that I had osteoporosis. After all, I'd been active my whole life  and consumed a lot of calcium when I was younger.  Anyway,  now I am a vegan I thought I'd better start calcium and vitamin D supplements, and hope that maybe that would help restore my vertebral bone strength. I also decided to put on some weight (I heard once that obesity offers the best protection against bone loss).

When I started to become more active and begin running again this year, my proximal hamstring tendinopathy returned and I had to do stair climbing as my mode of exercise. To relieve the boredom of going up and down 11 flights of stairs, I listen to podcasts. My daughter, who knows about my osteoporosis (and is probably sick of hearing about my health woes), told me that her old friend Brad Beer had recently  hosted a podcast episode featuring bone scientist Professor Belinda Beck. Not expecting too much, I decided to see what Professor Beck had to say on the topic.

Wow! I was really surprised at what a good interviewee she is. For me, anyway, she pitched her message at just the right level.  She obviously has great expertise, but also a wonderful ability to summarise the current research literature on bone health to a message relevant to Physical Performance Show listeners. Interestingly for me, she spoke about how a chronic energy deficit (e.g. from  running a lot and not eating enough to make up the energy loss) can lead to osteoporosis in even the most active person. I think this has been my problem.

Right at the end of the show, as I climbed the building for the last time, Brad Beer asked Prof Beck to follow his usual practice and set a challenge to listeners. In one sentence, what should listeners do to implement her research findings in their daily lives? "Take the stairs!" said Professor Belinda Beck, as I climbed up the last flight up to level 13! "Yes!", I gloated, "I'm doing that right now." But Belinda followed up "And when you're going down stairs, jump, landing on both feet."

OK, Belinda, I'm up for it. Not sure how high I should be jumping, but I decided to jump down the last two stairs of every flight from now on. Not just in my morning half hour of stair climbing exercise, but every time I go down every set of stairs I encounter. Starting now.


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16 November 2017 @ 12:04 pm
Back in November 2015 I was doing a lot of running and I developed a painful condition affecting the connecting point between my left hamstrings and my pelvis: Proximal Hamstring Tendinopathy (PHT). I had to stop running altogether (and even stop walking any distance) and it took around 9 months until I could start running again (June 2016). Unfortunately, it wasn't long after I started running that I sustained osteoporotic fractures of two vertebrae, then found I had cancer, and a heart condition. Eventually, after surgery then recovery, I got back to doing some running, but then had another lower hamstring injury and knee problems that forced me back to walking and even catching the bus. While walking I re-developed left hip pain. I thought this was 'just' arthritis, but I now believe it's the PHT back again.

The only exercise I can do which doesn't seem to exacerbate the PHT is stair-climbing. So I catch the Night Ride bus to work, then spend half an hour walking up and down the stairs between level 2 and level 13.

The most depressing aspect of this health reversal is that the PHT re-developed when I was doing not much exercise at all. My mother is in a wheelchair due to joint and muscle issues - I wonder what my future holds.

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