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Living on the Edge of Life

Pancreaticcancerawareness160leftTomorrow will mark six weeks since my surgery for pancreatic cancer and I think I am doing remarkably well. The long incision down the middle of my torso is healed. Hardly any pain related to the surgery remains.

Although I am still unwilling to lift anything heavier than six or seven pounds, I am doing everything else for myself now, if a little slowly, and I drove for the first time over the weekend. It went well.

The overwhelming fatigue has lifted but by late afternnoon, I'm done for anything more than lying around, and that gives me plenty of time to ponder my predicament: the malignant tumor was successfully removed from my pancreas but there are those three pesky lymph nodes (and more that were not tested?) where the pathologist found cancer cells.

In about ten days I will spend time with the medical oncologist to find out all about what chemotherapy can do about that. Having that treatment is, of course, my choice but recovering now from surgery that was the hardest thing I've ever done, I doubt I'll reject giving chemo a chance to work.

Meanwhile, I am living in a sort of twilight zone of an unknown precarious future. Sometimes I try to imagine what the cancer looks like and picture it gone, poof. Other times I think of it as an enemy, as I would any person who is trying to kill me, that I must fight with all my might.

Neither of those work for me, especially the second. I can't seem to rustle up a mental scenario of bodily war against cancer. Lack of imagination, I suppose.

Many people have told me I'm brave and courageous but I don't know about that either. Bravery, to me, means lack of fear in face of danger and that's certainly not true of me right now. I am definitely afraid of the future.

Having courage, on the other hand, is to take on a dangerous adversary while also feeling overwhelming fear.

You may think that, particularly in agreeing to chemotherapy to fight the cancer, I am being courageous and for me, chemo is as frightening as cancer itself.

But I see it differently: that I must live in the world as it is and what it is now - a cancer that can kill me - doesn't change whether I am afraid or not so courage doesn't enter into it.

The possibilities for my future are simple and obvious:

The chemotherapy works and with or without additional treatments, the cancer goes into remission and am granted some reasonable number of additional years

The chemotherapy doesn't work and I die sooner rather than later

It's such a mystery, death is. Our culture sees it as the ultimate adversary to be fought against relentlessly. My current fear notwithstanding, I believe death is the natural order of things – nothing else makes sense to me.

Further, I've always thought that as the time of my death approaches, I would gradually lose interest in the world around me – I watched that happen to my great aunt and several friends who died decades younger than she did. But the thing is, faced with this medical catastrophe, I haven't lost interest.

Well, maybe I have to a degree. As I have recovered from the surgery, I have lost interest in most non-news television, even many of my favorite shows. Suits, for example, seems much less compelling this season, less well written, more soap opera. Is it them or is it me? I can't tell.

And it's not just recovery that has slowed me down. I take time outs during the day to try to think about how I want to spend the time I have left, and about dying - what I need or want to do to be ready for it.

I don't get much further than the idea I hold that death is a normal, peaceful process and that I would like to be awake as I die – to experience it.

Mostly, however, I have not come to terms with dying yet, which leaves me living on the edge of life. It is impossible to imagine that the world will go on without me to keep an eye on it. Silly, of course, that. And so many other unresolved issues to work on. But just for today, I have places to go and things to do, fully engaged as though this hasn't happened to me.

"Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome." - Isaac Asimov

ELDER MUSIC: Twilight Zone

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

”There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone.”

They're Rod Serling's words, not mine, and they mean that it's twilight time.

Naturally, I'll start this column with THE PLATTERS, as they have the best twilight song that I know about.

The Platters

As I've said before (because I can't think of anything original to say), The Platters were by far the best vocal group in the fifties. This is one of their biggest hits, one that most of you will know. Twilight Time.

♫ The Platters - Twilight Time

The Band recorded a song called Twilight for their "Islands" album, their "financial obligation" record. It didn't appear on the original LP, and I've always wondered why as it's a better song than any of those that did.

It did appear on the rereleased CD with all the extras. RICK DANKO was the singer for the song.


Later, he recorded it a couple more times, one of which I think was better than he did with The Band. This is from one of the albums he made with Eric Andersen and Jonas Fjeld under the name Danko-Fjeld-Andersen. Here is that version.

♫ Danko-Fjeld-Andersen - Twilight

It's difficult to know what to say about ART PEPPER.

Art Pepper

He recorded a number of fine albums and played in Stan Kenton's and Buddy Rich's bands. However, all that was punctuated with a number of spells in prison for drug-related offences. What a waste of time and talent.

We have his records though, and his tune is Blues at Twilight.

♫ Art Pepper - Blues At Twilight

At the behest of the Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, and I quite agree with her because I hadn't thought of it, we have the next song in place of the one I had originally included. The singers are JO STAFFORD and GORDON MACRAE.

Jo Stafford & Gordon MacRae

I didn't think of it as it doesn't have twilight in the title, however, it's certainly a twilight song. I'm talking about Love's Old Sweet Song. This is occasionally called Just a Song at Twilight.

♫ Jo Stafford & Gordon MacRae - Love's Old Sweet Song

It's a bit hard to categorise KEIKO MATSUI.

Keiko Matsui

That's no bad thing in my opinion, I don't like pigeon-holing music. Keiko is ostensibly a jazz pianist but she brings elements of rock, classical and other genres into her music, as will be demonstrated by her contribution today, The Edge of Twilight.

♫ Keiko Matsui - The Edge of Twilight

Given the name of the column, we have to have a song that references the twilight zone, and it falls to CHUCK BERRY to do that.

Chuck Berry

Chuck's song is I'm In the Twilight Zone, not one of his biggest hits.

♫ Chuck Berry - I'm In The Twilight Zone

I need no excuse to include JULIE LONDON.

Julie London

Fortunately, she has a twilight song. It's from her album where she sang a song about each month of the year, useful to me way back when I did a column on the same topic. Julie sings November Twilight.

♫ Julie London - November Twilight

The DESERT ROSE BAND was really just two of my favorite singers from two of my favorite bands with some backup musicians.

Desert Rose Band

They are Chris Hillman from The Byrds and Herb Pedersen from The Dillards. These days they don't even pretend to be a band, they just perform as a duo. They harmonize wonderfully together, and that's not surprising as both bands were noted for that. Here they are with Twilight Is Gone.

♫ Desert Rose Band - Twilight Is Gone

SAM COOKE is rather out of his comfort zone with his song.

Sam Cooke

It sounds as if it could have come from western movie – perhaps it did, although I wasn't familiar with the song until I selected it. I could find out, but I'd rather just play it. Twilight on the Trail.

♫ Sam Cooke - Twilight On The Trail

There was considerable turnover of musicians in this spot. Initially, it was a tossup between Van Morrison and Dr John, but they both got the chop because, really surprisingly for those two fine musicians, their songs weren't very good.

Lou Reed took their place and he was there for quite a while. His song was good for the first half, but then he turned up his amplifier just to annoy us.

It was actually a few weeks later that I thought, "Why didn't I use DAVID LINDLEY with his song Tiki Torches At Twilight?"

David Lindley

The corollary is: why didn't it come up when I searched my database? I investigated and found (duhh) I had forgotten (over the years) to transfer my CD to my computer. So, Lou is out and David is in.

David is most noted as a guitarist, but if a musical instrument has strings he can play it brilliantly. Besides being a solo performer, he's worked with Jackson Browne a lot (as well as other performers). Here is the song I forgot about.

♫ David Lindley - Tiki Torches At Twilight

Will the Republicans Cut Social Security?


Earlier this week, I posted a story titled The Attempted Theft of Medicare. That done, today it is time for a Social Security update – especially since the Board of Trustees released its annual report (pdf) on the status of the trust funds earlier this month.

The full report is 269 pages. If that is as daunting to you as it was to me, here is a one-page highlight version.

First, some facts to keep in mind about Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) which is the official name of Social Security:

According to the Social Security Administration, 43 percent of single Social Security recipients who are 65 or older and 21 percent of those who are married, rely on their checks for 90 percent or more of their income

In 2016, the combined number of beneficiaries of OASDI was about 61 million

It cost $6.2 billion to administer the Social Security program in 2016, just 0.7 percent of total expenditures - (a bargain)

Republicans have been trying to kill Social Security since President Roosevelt signed the bill into law in 1935 and now that they own all three branches of government, the current assault on Medicaid and Obamacare are only their first targets.

Their attacks usually start with the lie that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are “entitlements.” Too many people believe that but every penny comes of worker contributions (and interest on that money). These social programs are “earned benefits” and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Keeping the focus on Social Security today, Republicans also repeatedly tell us that OASDI is unsustainable. Here are a few facts addressing that lie according to this newest Trustees Report:

The asset reserves of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $35 billion in 2016 to a total of $2.85 trillion.

The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2021. Beginning in 2022, the total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed income – the shortfall covered by reserves.

Reserves are projected to be depleted in 2034 – the same as last year's projection. At that time there will be sufficient income to pay only 77 percent of scheduled benefits.

The Trustees project that come January, there will be a 2.2 percent increase in benefits for 2018. That certainly does not cover the real costs faced by elders who spend much more on medical bills and prescription drugs than young and midlife Americans but we'll deal with that another day.

Today, we need to educate ourselves on the best ways to ensure that Social Security will be viable way past 2034 and how to counter those in and out of Congress who are working hard to cut the program.

Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, who probably knows more about the program than anyone else in the U.S. wrote this following the release of the Trustrees' Report:

”Social Security is the most universal, secure, fair, and efficient source of retirement income that we have, providing a guaranteed, inflation-protected source of income that one will never outlive. Expanding Social Security is a common-sense solution to that looming crisis...

“Expanding Social Security is a solution to other challenges, as well. Americans are rightly concerned about growing income and wealth inequality. Expanding Social Security and requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share will begin to put brakes on this dangerous, and rapidly growing, upward redistribution of wealth.”

Regarding expansion, in February, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon introduced the Social Security Expansion Act in both the House and the Senate.

The bill would remove the loophole so that earned income above $250,000 would be subject to the Social Security payroll tax (it is not now) and replace the current calculation for cost-of-living (COLA) increases to one that better reflects how elders spend their money. It also would

Increase benefits for Social Security recipients by an estimated $65 a month

Improve the Special Minimum Benefit by making it easier for low-income workers to qualify for benefits and increasing the benefit level

Apply a 6.2 percent Social Security tax on investment income for high-income households, collecting more revenue for the program

If enacted, the Social Security Expansion Act will provide a critical expansion of benefits and extend the solvency of Social Security for more than 60 years, past 2078.

Of course, since the Republicans control both the House and Senate, this bill would seem to be dead on arrival. However, listen to Nancy Altman again from her article referenced above:

”As divided as the American people are over many issues, we are not divided about our deep support for Social Security.

“Support for Social Security expansion, and opposition to benefit reductions, cuts across ideological divides. These views are shared by Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. They are held by self-identified Tea Partiers and union households.

“A Pew poll conducted during last year’s presidential primaries discovered that supporters of every candidate running overwhelmingly oppose Social Security cuts. Our Social Security system is so popular that it unites Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz supporters!”

So now that Congress ran out of steam on repealing Obamacare and gutting Medicaid late last night, it won't be long before they try to convince Americans that Social Security isn't working which simply isn't true. Some well-researched tweaks can fix it.

With their unrelenting attacks on the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress have already proved that they don't care what their constituents want and it won't be any different for Social Security.

So be ready to barrage Congress with the truth. For ourselves, our children, grandchildren and beyond, we can't afford to lose this one.

Crabby Old Lady, Prescription Drugs and Insurance Companies


Having complained in these pages about my fuzzy brain with its lack of focus and concentration, it's only fair to let you know that over last weekend, it improved dramatically.

Or, maybe it has been improving a little at a time but was finally far enough along for me to notice only a few days ago. Either way, I'm glad to finally be more cognitively functional again.

I just read a book in three days, can now get through news articles I care to read and, as you might have noticed on Monday, can actually write something that involves a little research and more organization than I've been able to handle for the past few weeks.

Best of all, Crabby Old Lady has reappeared and she would like me to shut up now so she can get on with what she came here to say.

Crabby's attention and energy level have improved enough that she could probably drive her car again – at least for short distances - but she's not willing to try it quite yet. Over the past weeks of her recovery from surgery, she has relied on neighbors and friends to get her around but does not like to burden them any more than necessary.

With that in mind, Crabby arranged with Cathi Lutz to drive her to a doctor appointment this morning and on Monday, intending to combine what would otherwise be two trips, she telephoned her pharmacy to arrange to pick up a couple of medication refills – just a small detour on the way home – while Cathi would be driving.

Sorry, said the pharmacist. You cannot refill prescriptions until one day before you run out.

Listen, folks, this is not a controlled substance like, oh say, oxycodone. It's a drug that replaces enzymes Crabby's pancreas no longer produces. She will need to take it a minimum of three times a day for the rest of her life and without it, the pain resulting from eating is agony.

Secondly, people with life-threatening diseases, people recovering from surgery and people who rely on others to get them out and about cannot easily pop over to a pharmacy at the pharmacy's convenience.

The difficulty might be the availability of a friend to drive. Or, maybe it's being too sick or too fatigued or in too much pain on that particular day to be able to leave the house. Crabby knows all about those problems these days.

Crabby knew she was well on her way to being her old mental self when she told the pharmacist all this, making it abundantly clear at the same time that she was – well, miffed would be putting it mildly.

There was a long silence on the other end of the telephone connection and then: “There is nothing I can do about it.”

Unable to control her indignation – or, perhaps, relishing it – Crabby asked the pharmacist how it is not cruel to inflict this stupid rule on people many of whom may be at their most vulnerable. Or, what if Crabby were going out of town for a week or two and needed the medication to have while she was away?

Long silence at the other end of the phone again. Then: I can't help you. It's not a pharmacy rule; it's the insurance company.

Is that the dumbest rule you've ever heard – that the insurance company decides how soon a customer can refill the prescription? The company that may be hundreds or thousands of miles away?

Then it got weirder. The pharmacist told Crabby that the earliest she could refill the script was on Tuesday, the next day, but Crabby would need to phone again then to make the request. One day's difference.

To make matters worse, this pharmacy does not deliver. So, apparently, they are willing to let a customer go without what, in some cases, could be a life-saving drug because they allow an insurance company to dictate when they can dispense it.

As has been discussed in these pages before, being old is hard. Being old and sick is even harder and it is harder still when a person can't easily hop in the car or on a bus to get somewhere.

It may seem to be a small thing but Crabby Old Lady believes such a refill rule as this is of a piece with the kind of awful healthcare the Congressional Republicans and President Trump are trying to foist on Americans too young for Medicare.

The operating principal of the lawmakers and the insurance companies appears to be to make it as hard as possible for people of all ages to get the care they need - even simple things like prescription refills.

The Attempted Theft of Medicare


While the American president and the Senate majority leader are trying (and so far, failing) to make sure only the rich in the United States can afford health care, GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan is proposing to take out Medicare.

He released a 2018 budget plan last week that would make it possible to overhaul the tax code (read: cut taxes for the rich) and he wants to do it on the backs of elders and the poor.

The plan promises to balance the budget through unprecedented and politically unworkable cuts across the budget. It calls for turning this year's projected $700 billion-or-so deficit into a tiny $9 billion surplus by 2027,” reports the AP.

“It would do so by slashing $5.4 trillion over the coming decade, including almost $500 billion from Medicare and $1.5 trillion from Medicaid and the Obama health law, along with sweeping cuts to benefits such as federal employee pensions, food stamps and tax credits for the working poor.”

Ryan's plan would privatize Medicare, as noted on the website of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM):

”Undermining Medicare has been a long-held dream of fiscal conservatives. Their 'premium support' proposal is a thinly veiled scheme to allow traditional Medicare to 'wither on the vine,' as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once put it.

“Privatization is being sold as 'improving customer choice,' but based on the way current Medicare Advantage plans work, private insurance will continue to offer fewer choices of doctors than traditional Medicare does. If traditional Medicare is allowed to shrink and collapse, true choice will disappear, too.

“'Weakening Medicare is a politically perilous path for Republicans,' says [NCPSSM President Max] Richtman. 'Recent polling indicates that large majorities of Americans across party lines prefer that Medicare be kept the way it is...'”

As Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California noted in the AP story:

"Republicans would destroy the Medicare guarantee for our seniors and inflict bone-deep cuts to Medicaid that would devastate veterans, seniors with long-term care needs, and rural communities.'”

I know a little more about this lately than I used to. The Medicare Parts A and B summaries for the biopsy and subsequent surgery I recently experienced are beginning to come in.

The mailings haven't caught up to the expensive part yet but it's already apparent that without traditional Medicare as it currently operates, I would not have been able to afford any of these medical needs and that gives me chills for all of us.

It may seem that Washington, D.C. is taken up these days with Russians and collusion and a president's threats to fire nearly everyone he's hired and pardon himself from wrongdoing but the budget bill must come up. So it wouldn't hurt to let your Congress person know how you feel.

Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from the best story I've read on Ryan's 2018 budget plan by John Wasik at Forbes:

”What House Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP congressional leaders are proposing is to tear down and remold basic Medicare into the troubled Medicare Advantage program, which would be like throwing kerosene on a house fire.

“There's even more of a muddle on how the GOP would calculate how much to give seniors for their yearly stipend to cover private premiums. What if policy costs go up double digits and the stipend doesn't keep pace with the private market?...

”I think there's a reason why there's a billboard in Kenosha, Wisconsin - in the heart of Ryan's Congressional District - that shows Ryan in a robber's mask. There's an attempted theft in progress, but older Americans and the disabled will be the victims.”

During the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump repeatedly promised not to cut Social Security and Medicare. If, somehow, Ryan's 2018 budget gets through Congress, don't count on President Trump to veto it. So far, he has reneged on every campaign promise he made.

ELDER MUSIC: I Don't Want to Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

This column was originally called "Songs About Rock and Roll", but Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, suggested the title above, based on the final song today.

The column might appeal only to people of a certain age and that age is round about mine. I was 10 years old when rock and roll blasted on to the entertainment scene, and that age is critical. It's like Pavlov's dogs; it imprinted on my brain and stayed there for all those many decades since.

I have done columns on rock and roll in one form or another, this one though is songs about rock and roll. These are not from that seminal era, well mostly not.

KEVIN JOHNSON wrote and recorded the best song ever about rock and roll.

Kevin Johnson

This is somewhat unusual as Kevin is an Australian singer/songwriter whose songs tend towards the folkie end of the scale, albeit with more instruments than is usual in that genre. This song was a mega-hit for him, it was one of those once in a lifetime songs that probably set him up for the rest of his life.

Those who know his name will know that I'm referring to Rock & Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life.

♫ Kevin Johnson - Rock & Roll I gave you the best years of my life

Even when rock and roll was a new phenomenon there were already songs about it, tributes indeed. I have a couple today, starting with DANNY AND THE JUNIORS.

Danny & Juniors

They were a fine DooWop and rock and roll group and even during that era they were writing songs about it. In this case it was Rock And Roll is Here to Stay. They certainly got that right.

♫ Danny & The Juniors - Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay

The column today was inspired by The A.M. and my watching a concert by the Righteous Brothers, one of the A.M.'s faves (and I like them too). They performed a couple of songs that would fit today, one of which was a cover of BOB SEGER's Old Time Rock and Roll.

Bob Seger

Rock and Roll Heaven was also originally in the mix but didn't make the final cut. So, here's Bob rather than Bill and Bobby with Old Time Rock and Roll.

♫ Bob Seger - Old Time Rock and Roll

Back in 1977 MUDDY WATERS' career had pretty much ground to a halt – his record company had dropped him and he attracted fewer people to his concerts.

Muddy Waters

Johnny Winter, who was a huge fan (well, who isn't?), got him a recording contract with Blue Sky Records and produced the record himself, as well as playing on it. It became one of Muddy's biggest selling albums and his career went into overdrive.

From that album comes The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock & Roll.

♫ Muddy Waters - The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock & Roll

The A.M. thought we should have Starship's We built This City on Rock and Roll because it offered a contrast to the other songs. While I agree with her reasoning, I really didn't go for the eighties' drum machines and synthesizers, so I over-ruled her. In its place I decided on LONNIE MACK, for this spot.

Lonnie Mack

Lonnie was a guitar hero before the category was invented. His guitar playing influenced several generations of pickers. Alas, he died last year, but his musical legacy lives on, in today's case with the song Rock And Roll Like We Used To.

♫ Lonnie Mack - Rock And Roll Like We Used To

THE SHOWMEN were from Virginia, but they all moved to New Orleans to record there.

The Showmen

They weren't stupid – they managed to get the great Allen Toussaint as their record producer. In spite of the many songs they recorded, only one really made a dent on the charts and it's this one: It Will Stand. It's another from the time when the music was still young, but they were already singing about it.

♫ The Showmen - It Will Stand

Australians universally know the next song as It's a Long Way to the Shop if You Want a Sausage Roll, by ACKER DACKER.


Okay, translating for those not conversant with Oz-speak, that's AC-DC performing It's A Long Way To The Top If Ya Wanna Rock And Roll. This is the rockiest song today, and as an added bonus there are bagpipes.

♫ AC_DC - Its A Long Way To The Top If Ya Wanna Rock And Roll

I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll) was written by Nick Lowe. He was in a really good group called Rockpile in the seventies with DAVE EDMUNDS.

Dave Edmunds

Nick did a fine version of the song, but Dave's version really captures the essence of the song and it's his we have today.

♫ Dave Edmunds - I Knew the Bride

There must be something in the water here in Australia that causes the local singer/songwriters, who are mostly folkies, to write songs about rock and roll. It's probably because of our small population that musicians of any stripe have to be versatile and be able to play music in any genre so they can earn a living.

Also, some of them started out as rockers. MIKE MCCLELLAN would be a super-star if he lived in a bigger country. Well, he is here in Oz.

Mike McClellan

Mike's song is Rock ’n Roll Lady. Rick Nelson was really taken by the song and recorded it. Alas, that was shortly before he died so he didn't get a chance to perform it widely. Here is Mike's version.

♫ Mike McClellan - Rock’n Roll Lady

There is really only one way to end this column, and that's with CHUCK WILLIS.

Chuck Willis

Chuck was a great song craftsman who honed and polished his songs before he'd record them, or let anyone else do so either. His is another song from the rock and roll era because he died in 1958, at the peak of his career, from peritonitis while he was undergoing surgery. I Don't Want to Hang up my Rock and Roll Shoes.

♫ Chuck Willis - Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes

A Reverse Bucket List

Not many people with pancreatic cancer survive for long. As a reminder, here is how I explained my condition after surgery:

”The tumor was determined to be 'clean at the margins' - that is, cancer had not escaped the pancreas.

”In addition, 17 lymph nodes touching the pancreas were removed and tested for cancer cells; two were positive. Here is what that means for me.

”There are types of chemotherapy to treat this cancer and I will meet with a medical oncologist about that sometime in the next month or two. According to my surgeon and his team, a few people respond to this treatment and live up to ten more years.

”Sounds good except that 80 percent in my circumstance who take this treatment are dead from the disease in five or fewer years. Numbers may vary from other sources but not enough to talk about.”

Yes, as some TGB readers have noted, statistics are not destiny, but they can't be ignored and further, they can certainly be used as one kind of guide when life throws up such a devastating bump in the road as this.

For now, a month since surgery, I am seeing small improvements in daily life. I'm generally pain free now, am finally catching on to how I need to eat for the foreseeable future and I've learned not to scrimp on rest. The smallest exertions still deplete me of energy so I nap a lot.

The many rest and sleep periods have given me plenty of time consider what I want to do with the time remaining to me – whether a year or two or a decade.

I don't have anywhere near a complete answer, but I do have this: a strong suggestion of one's shortened mortality makes it easy to ditch projects you were not all that interested in to begin with while shedding guilt about not keeping up with the zeitgeist.

Most of what I have so far added to my list to ignore relate to technology.

ITEM: I have now absolved myself of learning to text. It's too hard to hit those itty-bitty letters on my phone and in general, I don't have anything to say in what's meant to be a short format. “Hi there – thinking of you” doesn't strike me as meaningful communication.

ITEM: Given the extraordinary number of videos, news reports, promotions, reviews, actor interviews and more, it is clear that Game of Thrones has become a cultural icon of enormous proportions, something anyone who pretends to knowledge of American pop culture must be familiar with.

Although I have deduced that GoT is a television program (are there books too?), I have zero knowledge of what makes it noteworthy and now I don't have to try to figure it out.

ITEM: “They” are now at it again, telling us in recent months that virtual reality and augmented reality are the next big thing. (I suppose that's why Google Glass failed so spectacularly and was pulled from the market two years ago.) This new iteration has yet to materialize and I'm ignoring it – happy to go to my grave steeped in the real world.

ITEM: And I've stopped feeling guilty about my deficiencies – based on dislike – in Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I know that a billion people on earth use FB. That doesn't mean I must and I use it minimally to accommodate readers of this blog. Beyond that, I'm done with thinking I really should put my mind to mastering it.

As for Twitter, there is nothing I have to say in 140 characters or fewer that is worth anyone's time. And I have blacklisted Twitter's daily emails telling me how to “get more people to pay attention to me.” That wasn't a goal in my life before my diagnosis and certainly not now.

It feels great to free myself of these “shoulds” and they are just the tech-related items. I've also made peace, for example, with the idea that I am unlikely to re-read all of Shakespeare before I die. And I have a tentative list of other items I'm considering adding to what I now think of as my reverse bucket list.

How about you?

The Specialness of Caregivers

Pretty much everyone works for a living. Some enjoy their jobs, others don't and a few lucky people consider their work a calling, even a mission to which they are fully dedicated.

Undoubtedly the Oregon Health & Sciences University Hospital, where I stayed for a total of 12 days, isn't alone in the excellence of its patient care but it has been four decades since I last needed the services of a hospital so what do I know.

I'll tell you what I know now about OHSU: without exception, every person who helped me in all their various ways – and there were about two dozen of them – were smart, knowledgeable, experienced, friendly, compassionate and always made me feel that caring for me was the most important thing they were doing that day.

At a time when I was the most vulnerable I've ever been as an adult, every one of them made me feel safe. Safer than I have ever felt.

I'm not going to mention names because I will leave out too many and there is not one who doesn't deserve my thanks, respect and gratitude:

The surgeon and his team who told me the truth about my disease with kindness, understanding, hope and who held my hand when I wept.

Meal delivery man who told me not to order coffee from the menu but allow him to bring me the better-tasting coffee that was brewed on my floor. He did that every day.

Nurses and CNAs who somehow inspired me to walk more frequently and farther than I would have done on my own, and without my ever feeling coerced. They made it fun.

Those same RNs and CNAs who wiped my bottom when I couldn't do it myself and made me feel as okay about it as when they helped me in and out of bed.

The night nurses who somehow woke me for a pill without entirely waking me so I could sleep through the night.

My primary care physician who just dropped by one day for a personal visit.

Now that I'm home, there are my go-to nurse from the surgeon's team, the dietition and the medications nurse who are friendly, caring and patient with my phone calls, questions and worries.

I believe the people who choose these careers and professions are different from me and probably most other people. They are special in ways I do not know about.

It is one thing to care for a loved one, as I did with my mother during the last months of her life, and quite another to not only show, but feel the same commitment to the strangers who arrive sick and frightened every day at the hospital or other medical facility where you work.

All these helpers never once faltered in their kindness and concern. They were not pretending. It is as though they have a goodness gene I certainly don't have. This is who they are and I cannot think of them without becoming weepy with gratitude.

* * *

Remember about four weeks ago when Autumn was writing blog posts in the first days following my surgery? She titled one of them “A Room with a View” and this is why: my room overlooked a small portion of the huge OHSU campus on a hill.


Focus and Concentration Deficiency

It's really annoying. Since my surgery four weeks ago, I've lost focus. I can't concentrate long enough to get through an average news article or sift through a simple Google search results page and certainly not a book chapter.

Sometimes, when I read a sentence, there is a delay before I understand it. Not much; I've been describing it as the length of a slow finger-snap – just enough time so that the slippage is obvious to me.

When that happens with each sentence in succession, concentration drifts away and meaning is lost.

As it turns out, there is a name for this phenomenon as it occurs after general anesthesia. It's called Post-Operative Cognitive Disorder (POCD). TGB reader Linda commented about it here on 7 July.

She quotes from the American Society of Anesthesiologists:

"Confusion when waking up from surgery is common, but for some people – particularly those who are older – confusion can last for days or weeks..."

It's not exactly confusion for me. In fact, I never doubted that the gazillion bugs I saw crawling up the walls of my hospital room for a day or two following surgery were anything but hallucinations.

However, some other changes Linda tracked down that affect the process of cognition definitely apply to me:

”Cognition is defined as the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. Typical complaints of those people reporting POCD are:

Easily tired

Inability to concentrate. For example, they cannot concentrate sufficiently to read a book or newspaper

Memory dysfunction. For example, they have a reduced ability to remember things recently said or done

Reduced ability to perform arithmetic. For example, they make mistakes with normal money transactions while shopping.”

I'm doing fine with arithmetic but the first three are definitely present in my life although I'm heartened to learn they are temporary. Meanwhile, I'm mostly annoyed by it but it does make napping and resting easier than it would be if I were eager to be reading.

ASIDE: Perhaps you have noticed in these blog posts since the surgery that they are all generated from my head alone - no research, no outside links, no facts and figures. That's unlikely to change until my brain fog (POCD) clears.

It is experience rather than reading and research that is making this months-long recovery period a sharp learning curve for me, and I expect there to be more of it.

For all the many years I've been studying ageing, I see now that I have never fully appreciated the difficulties old people face whether from a bodily assault such as my surgery, the natural progression of growing old or “just” managing a chronic disease or condition.

Only last Friday, after being home from the hospital for two weeks, did I finally get a usable grasp on my medications, their dosages, frequency and times of day. Food restrictions add another layer of complexity.

It took several hours to make a chart I can follow until my brain, out of daily practice, will finally know what meds to take when without consulting a list – and double-checking it to be sure I'm correct each time.

Fatigue requires daily management not only of one's own energy level but recognition of it by family members, friends and helpers. I tire so easily that I've given myself a routine of one hour up and about, one hour lying down or napping.

Even the normal activities of life are draining – the small amount of cooking I do, washing up the few dishes, paying bills, sorting the mail, answering email, etc. take their toll.

If there is an “event” in my day – a doctor visit, a physical therapist session at home, a friend stopping by, even phone calls with my medical team or friends – I need the next day to myself, to quietly regain my energy.

Until now, I did not realize how crucial the home assistance tools of recovery (see this post) are and it took a while longer for me to understand that for many elders, they are not temporary, that daily life without them can be nearly impossible.

It's hard to be old, something I've said in the past but did not know until experiencing it first hand how much effort goes into it every day.

That takes nothing away from the pleasures of life and it might be that the difficiulties make them even more precious.

ELDER MUSIC: Try To Remember

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

Ah yes, I remember it well, at least I hope I do – and that you do as well. If you don't, I have some songs that may jog your memory. If you think you've forgotten these you'll probably go, "Ah yes, that one is da dad dum dum dum doh" (or something like that). I hope my trigger works.

I'll start with one that wasn't really on my radar before I did a search for these songs. I really liked it, which is why it's here today. It's by JIM CROCE.

Jim Croce

Jim had a bunch of wonderful songs, and it's another tragedy that he died so young. His song is (And) I Remember Her.

♫ Jim Croce - (And) I Remember Her

FRANK IFIELD was probably the first Australian pop singer who made a dent on the charts of the rest of the world.

Frank Ifield

As was the case back then, he had to go somewhere else to make that dent. In Frank's case it was England. He got hold of an old pop song and put his own spin on it and it became a worldwide hit. I Remember You.

♫ Frank Ifield - I Remember You

THE STATLER BROTHERS were big on nostalgia.

Statler Brothers

They had a number of songs in their repertoire along those lines. A lot of people distain that sort of thing but not me. I really like it. I don't know what that says of me, but I don't care.

The song of theirs I've selected is Do You Remember These? I have to admit that I don't remember a lot of what they sing about because we grew up in different countries.

♫ Statler Brothers - Do You Remember These

There were too many versions of this next song to countenance. I pretty much threw my hands in the air (waited for them to come down, reattached them) and selected semi-at random THE FOUR LADS.

Four Lads

I don't think they were lads by this time, but when you've selected a name you're stuck with it (The Beach Boys comes to mind). Also, there was someone in there doing a talkie bit who didn't sound at all laddish. Oh well.

By now you've probably figured out what song I'm talking about because my readers are a smart bunch of people (how's that for sucking up?). Moments to Remember.

♫ Four Lads - Moments To Remember

Does it get better than OTIS REDDING?

Otis Redding

That was a rhetorical question; you don't have to answer that. I was listening to my dozen or so versions of Otis's song, just to select the best quality one, and to my surprise I discovered that he had recorded the song more than once, there are other versions out there. Well, I'll be gobsmacked.

I still preferred the original though, and here it is: I've Got Dreams to Remember.

♫ Otis Redding - I've Got Dreams To Remember

There are few people who could follow Otis, and one of those is ELVIS.

Elvis Presley

This is from way back in the fifties when he was at his best. I Forgot To Remember To Forget.

♫ Elvis Presley - I Forgot To Remember To Forget

A long time before he was Lennie Briscoe on Law and Order, JERRY ORBACH was a song and dance man.

Jerry Orbach

Indeed, he was in the very first production of the musical The Fantasticks, often considered the longest running musical in history. Jerry played the part of El Gallo and sang the musical's most famous song, Try to Remember.

♫ Jerry Orbach - Try to Remember (1960)

You probably remember FRANKIE LYMON AND THE TEENAGERS for just one song, but they had many others.

Frankie Lymon

One of those others is the one we have today, and I hope you remember it. If not, this might jog your memory, or if it's not there in the back of your brain, here's a new one for you. I Promise To Remember.

♫ Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers - I Promise To Remember

UTAH PHILLIPS wrote the song I Remember Loving You and he included it on his album "The Telling Takes Me Home".

Utah Philips

Somewhat later PRISCILLA HERDMAN recorded it as well, and she managed to get Utah along for the ride.

Priscilla Herdman

I like their version better than Utah's solo effort, and here it is.

♫ Utah Phillips & Priscilla Herdman - I Remember Loving You

I'll Remember April was another song for which there were many versions but I spotted JULIE LONDON in the mix and it was a done deal.

Julie London

There were many instrumental, mostly jazz, versions of the song but I ignored them all.

♫ Julie London - I'll Remember April

You knew this one had to be here. This could be the theme song of TimeGoesBy, I'm talking about MAURICE CHEVALIER and HERMIONE GINGOLD.

Maurice Chevalier & Hermione Gingold

Those who are familiar with musicals will know the song, I Remember It Well from "Gigi".

♫ Maurice & Hermione - I Remember It Well

First Post-Surgery Outing

The doctor removed my 20-odd surgical staples on Wednesday. For those of you who asked, it was no big deal, feeling something like a minor pin prick for each one.

Although I consider it a milestone, this, of course, does not end my recovery. The doctors and I discussed the eight or ten questions I'd brought with me, adjusted some medications and when I expressed my frustration with the slow return of energy and simple capabilities, the surgeon reminded me that this will take, overall, about six months before full normal activity resumes.

Not that there won't be noticeable progress toward that goal as the weeks go by.

If you don't count my ride home from the hospital on 29 June, until Wednesday I hadn't been outside since I checked in at the hospital on the morning of 20 June – more than three weeks ago.

That doesn't mean as much to me as it does to many people who like to be out and about every day. I like being home. Even so, I saw the trip to the doctor on Wednesday as my debut outing after this gigantic assault on my body, mind and spirit.

Among the extraordinarily kind friends and neighbors who are helping me out these days is Cathi Lutz who had volunteered to drive me to the doctor appointment on Wednesday.

She kept by my side as we walked to her car and was there in case I faltered as we navigated from the parking garage to the elevator and through halls to the doctor's office. I've been walking and balancing well at home so I did this without the walker and it went quite well. But I was happy to have Cathi for backup.

The doctor's office had phoned in a couple of new prescriptions so on our way home, Cathi offered to stop at the pharmacy to get them and I realized I was pleased to further extend the outing – excited to be out of the house and/or medical situation after so long.

When I said this to Cathi, we both laughed that the destination of choice (or, necessity for the medication) was – wait for it: Safeway. Go ahead, you can laugh too.

As always in these weeks since the surgery, I am paying for the change in routine today (Thursday) with a near complete collapse of energy. It happens this way every time.

According to the doctors, I am doing well but this is the way it is for awhile. I wish I could buy patience at the pharmacy as easily as a pill.

Post Surgery At-Home Assistance Tools

My 20-some staples come out today – three weeks and one day since the surgery and I'm glad for that. The incision looks nicely healed to me and it's time to move on.

Still, overall recovery will take much longer. A whole lot of stuff inside me was removed, relocated and reconnected in new ways so for several more weeks I am not allowed to bend over or twist my torso.

Until forbidden, you – like me – might not ever have noticed how often you bend every day. It can easily be dozens of times and as a result, I now have a reasonably large collection of special tools to help me do so many things I did without second thought before now.

You will be familiar with most of these but the last two might be a surprise for you.

Of course, the ever-present walker. Lots of elders need this at some point – temporarily if not permanently. I navigate well on my own in the house but I'll take it with me just in case for awhile when I go outside.


With the help of a home health aide, I took my first shower at home on Monday. It went well but no way, even with an industrial strength non-skid pad in the bathtub would I stand on one foot in the shower right now.

The shower stool is a steady, reliable solution.


This tool is almost as ubiquitous as the walker. It is endlessly useful, as I found for laundry. I'd thought – hey, no big deal. I can drop the dirty clothes in the washer, put in the soap and then transfer it to the dryer.

Oh yeah? I have a stacked washer/dryer that would involve a major bend in the middle of my torso to get the wet laundry out of the washer. Not good. But then I remembered the grabber and all was well.


Even if you've never used one, you've seen this a zillion times in your life. Custodians everywhere use them to keep floors in offices, schools and even ballparks clear of trash.

I've found it's also useful for all the things I manage to drop.


Apologies that I don't recall the name of the TGB reader who recommended this to me. The image below is different from mine which includes a long-handled, small bucket to hold a plastic bag in addition to the long-handled litter scoop as shown in this photo.

It's slightly unwieldy to empty the litter box but it works fine.


Cats are unpredicatable and the last thing anyone just home from surgery needs is a cat landing on an incision.

A neighbor had told me that after her abdominal surgery several years ago, she turned a large cardboard box upside down, removed the flaps and cut holes at either end for her legs and chest.

She slept that way and was safe if the cat jumped on her - he'd land on the box, not her abdomen.

I thought this was a clever solution but I didn't have a big box. What I do have however, sitting unused in a bedroom corner for longer than I can remember, is a bed table. I place it over my mid-section when I'm in bed and sleep safely from the cat's potential errant ways.


As soon as I got home from the hospital I realized I had no idea how I would feed and water the cat. I couldn't bend over to get his bowls from the floor and he's too old and fat to jump onto the counter. What to do?

This is ingenious not to mention, the coolest thing: My neighbor, Lauri Lindquist, got a three-foot, cardboard tube. He then formed a plastic cup into a funnel and taped it to the top of the tube. Voila!

All I do now is place the bottom of the tube in the cat's food dish and pour his dry food through the tube. (Sorry the photo isn't better; you can barely see the plastic funnel at the top. I didn't have the energy to fool around to get it right.)


Lauri's wife, Judy Rossner, had the idea to use a watering can to carefully pour water in Ollie's water dish and that works too.

There are plenty of other useful tools for people coming out of surgery or who are disabled in other ways. They are all helpful and I'm grateful for every one of them. But my favorite is Lauri's homemade cat food funnel. Excellent.

There Was an Old Woman...


...who was estranged from her only relative. A short, sad story.

They had adored one another as children – big sister, little brother. Then, the parents' divorce separated the two resulting in their living in different states, visiting on holidays and summers. The split came about thusly:

At age 15, big sister was allowed by law to choose the parent she lived with. Little brother was too young to be given the choice and further, government bureaucracy required that big sister go alone to a courthouse to answer questions from a judge about her homelife.

Sixty years ago, 15-year-olds were nowhere near as sophisticated as they are nowadays, big sister then being even more naive than many. She was frightened and nervous during the proceeding but did the best she could.

Life went on. In their adulthood, the sister and brother lived on opposite coasts of the United States. They hardly ever saw one another and then, mostly when sister traveled to the west because brother did not like to fly.

Time passed. At one point they developed a habit of spending an hour or so on the telephone together each Saturday and sister looked forward to that every week. It lasted quite a long time until brother's girlfriend announced she was now an orthodox Jew and brother could not talk on the telephone on the Sabbath anymore. No alternative seemed possible.

Thereafter, communication became a haphazard affair – neither regularly on nor entirely off.

Decades went by until circumstances brought big sister, now an old woman, to live in the vicinity of her brother. She thought, hoped they might be able to forge a new kind of sibling relationship in their dotage.

At their first holiday together, brother accused sister, who had taken on the caregiving their mother in her final months, of not equally sharing the small inheritance. Sister was shocked. It was nowhere near true; in fact, she had used her own money to clear up a few hundred dollars of extra bills that came in late.

Apparently, brother had been harboring his misbegotten belief for 20 years.

Next, brother refused a gift from sister because, he said, he could not afford to respond in kind – that is, monetary kind. Who, thought sister, tots up the price of gifts to make sure they come out even?

For those and some other disagreements, there was no resolution and for several years they each lived in their nearby towns without communicating.

Out of the blue, sister was hit with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. As she prepared for surgery, she thought to inform her one and only relative, if only so that he had that family medical information for his own use if ever necessary. After vacillating, she sent a neutral, informational email.

Brother was terribly busy wrote his wife, but in several exchanges between the two women, there seemed to be some room for a rapprochement that sister welcomed even if something god-awful had brought it into being.

As she prepared to leave for the hospital at 5AM on the morning of her surgery, sister checked her email for what she surmised would be the last time in awhile. There, time-dated at 2:43AM on the morning of that frightening medical ordeal, was a note from brother.

There was something he wanted to clear up, he wrote. The gist was that because of sister's conversation with the judge 60 years previously, brother had “lost his family” and grew up with the wrong parent which had ruined his life.

But oh, he added in closing, sister was his one and only relative so she had better survive, signing off with “love.”

The ride to the hospital felt longer for the old woman than it really was and she couldn't get her brother's monstrously timed note out of her mind even as she was wheeled into the operating room.

Because neither brother nor his wife has followed up since then, the old woman assumes they have come to see that with such a grotesque message sent in the final hours prior to sister's surgery, an immutable line was crossed.

Even so, not a day has passed – nor a few nights - that the old woman has not been haunted by this sad, painful story in all its aspects, wondering again and again from whence such cruelty arises.

* * *

PERSONAL ADDENDUM: As just about every TGB commenter has mentioned over the past several weeks since this difficult new "adventure" in my life began, an optimistic outlook - within the context of reality - is crucial to a good recovery. With some effort, I am maintaining that and it is in no small part to the warm, loving support of this TimeGoesBy community.


Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

You can find Part 1 here.

Naidoc Week

As I mentioned last week, it's NAIDOC Week here in Australia, celebrating the culture of the original people of the country. As this is a music column, that's what I'll be featuring.

KEV CARMODY is a songwriter and singer whose best known song is From Little Things Big Things Grow about the land rights movement that he co-wrote with Paul Kelly.

Kev Carmody

Kev had little formal education growing up in country Queensland; this was unfortunately the norm at the time for indigenous people. However, he managed to get into the University of Southern Queensland where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in music.

Fortunately he had lecturers who allowed him to supplement formal work with his guitar and oral histories.He later gained a Diploma of Education and a PhD in history.

He has made several studio albums and a bunch of live ones. His songs have been covered by musicians of all genres.Kev sings Cannot Buy My Soul.

♫ Kev Carmody - Cannot Buy My Soul

Last week we had the Warumpi Band with My Island Home. They are the ones who wrote the song, however, CHRISTINE ANU had a huge hit with it.

Christine Anu

Christine's version won song of the year at the APRA Awards (sort of the Oz version of the Grammys) and she performed the song at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics.

Christine has recorded the song three times now, with quite different arrangements, so if there are people who are familiar with one or the other, this one may come as a surprise. It's the most recent.

♫ Christine Anu - My Island Home

TROY CASSAR-DALEY is one of the biggest names and most successful performers in country music in Australia.

Troy Cassar-Daley

He started busking when he was eleven and began touring with his band at just 16. From the beginning he wrote his own songs and also wrote for others as well. One of his own songs is My Gumbaynggirr Skies.

♫ Troy Cassar-Daley - My Gumbaynggirr Skies

One of the young opera singers that Deborah Cheetham, mentioned last week, has mentored is SHAUNTAI BATZKE.

Shauntai Batzke

She is a graduate of the Short Black Opera Artist Program based at Melbourne University. Shauntai has performed in a number of contemporary roles as well as singing the traditional opera repertoire. In that latter role she performs Sì, mi chiamano Mimì from Puccini's La Bohème, accompanied by a piano.

♫ Shauntai Batzke - Puccini ~ La Bohème ~ Sì mi chiamano Mimì

YOTHU YINDI is the best known of the indigenous rock groups.

Yothu Yindi

They had several songs that made the pointy end of the charts over the years, the best known of these would be Treaty. Unfortunately, their lead singer and organizer of the band, Mandawuy Yunupingu, died several years ago. Gurrumul, mentioned last week, was also a member for a while.

♫ Yothu Yindi - Treaty

The STIFF GINS are Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs. Emma Donovan was also a founding member of the group.

Stiff Gins

Gin was a Dharug word for woman but was used by some of the wider community for far too many years as a derogatory term for an Aboriginal woman. The group decided to reclaim the word. They perform Go Go from their album "Wind and Water".

♫ Stiff Gins - Go Go

NO FIXED ADDRESS were probably the first indigenous rock band to make an impact on the wider community.

No Fixed Address

The band was formed by the charismatic Bart Willoughby who sings and plays drums, and guitarist Les Graham. Besides performing, they also made a film in 1980 called Wrong Side of the Road with another Aboriginal band, Us Mob.

The film was about the trials and delights of life on the road for such bands. The band has split and reformed several times in their performing career. No Fixed Address play their best known song, We Have Survived.

♫ No Fixed Address - We Have Survived

Although born in Sydney, SHELLIE MORRIS is mostly associated with Darwin and other parts of the Northern Territory.

Shellie Morris

She has performed with many of the artists featured in these columns and has toured Europe and China as well as Brazil and South Africa. Shellie is also an ambassador for foundations concerned with diseases of the eyes and other health concerns, and has won awards for these as well as for her music.

Shellie enlists the help of the Borroloola Songwomen to perform Li-Anthawirriyarra A-Kurija (Saltwater People Song).

♫ Shellie Morris & the Borroloola Songwomen - Saltwater People Song

ZOY FRANGOS is a classically trained singer who also performs in musicals.

Zoy Frangos

He appeared in the world premiere of the Deborah Cheetham's indigenous opera "Pecan Summer" and has sung in other such productions as well as similar operatic roles.

Zoy was the first indigenous Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables". Here he sings Anthem from the musical "Chess".

♫ Zoy Frangos - Anthem (Chess)

EMMA DONOVAN was born into a musical family.

Emma Donovan

Three of her uncles were part of the award-winning country band The Donovans, and Emma performed with the group when she was young. She later helped co-found The Stiff Gins (mentioned above) before embarking on a solo career.

These days her singing style is a blend of soul, gospel and reggae as will be evident in the song Mother she performs with her band The Putbacks.

♫ Emma Donovan & The Putbacks - Mother

As a bonus treat, at least it is for me, I'll include DEBORAH CHEETHAM and SHAUNTAI BATZKE performing The Flower Duet from Léo Delibes' opera “Lakmé”.

Deborah Cheetham & Shauntai Batzke

♫ Deborah Cheetham & Shauntai Batzke - Flower Duet

Surgery Recovery – Day to Day

(NOTE: This is a report about my personal progress – no one else's. Maybe there are hints for others in a similar recovery, maybe not. Aside from the general path toward recovery, none of us can know another's needs or solutions. This is one person's journey to wellness that might - or not - have a little value for some others.)

* * *

Nothing anyone told me prepared me for how hard this recovery is. I think that unless you are on a second or, god forbid, a third major surgery, you have no idea.

This is the hardest thing I have ever done.

Two weeks after the surgery, Wednesday, was my first pain-free day. The only discomfort was, and still is, where the 20-odd staples are in place down the middle of my torso. But that's only an irritation, not pain.

(If I were 40 years younger, I'd plan for a zipper tattoo when I am healed.)

The sorriest difficulty, which continues so far without improvement, is that the thing that most heartens and inspires me is also the most exhausting. Let me tell you about exhaustion, the kind I have never imagined:

A walk from the bedroom to the kitchen requires a sit-down rest. Scrambling an egg and washing up the pan and dish is equally tiring. Cleaning the cat's litter box – even with a special long-handled utensil (I'm not allowed to bend or twist) – requires a lie down.

But worse than that is how much a friend's telephone call or neighbor's visit depletes me while, ironically, also invigorating me – if only in my heart and not my body.

Any phone or in-person visit longer than about 15 minutes results in an hour's nap but I know they also make me feel better. So I try to balance but other forces get in the way.

On Tuesday, a woman from a home health care service came by and spent two hours taking my medical history, medications, inspecting my home and taking notes. She is smart, knowledgeable and spelled out a good course of help.

But after those two, long hours, it took all of Wednesday in bed to get back to my (admittedly, low) normal. A phone call that day with the pharmacy to sort out a prescription took more attention than I was capable of giving.

Eating is difficult. I'm almost never hungry so must force food in five or six small meals a day. Most of the time it feels as though I've just finished Thanksgiving dinner so I worry that I'm not getting enough calories and protein. I've not found a solution but to hope for improvement as healing continues.

There is a dreaminess to my days. I've made myself a schedule of one hour up and one hour in bed that I intend to expand to 90 minutes when I feel ready. The in-bed time expands and it's not that I sleep. Nor read. Nor watch television. Nor listen to music necessarily

I'm in a kind of stupor then, aware of what's around me if I care to pay attention but mostly drifting to head places I don't recall when I “come to” again.

Although it takes several sittings over two days to get one done, writing these blog posts keeps me focused for longer periods. I've decided that's good for me.

Recovery from something as big as this surgery is, I think, living in another world for awhile that I never imagined existed.

Watch this space for a story about the ingenious tools some neighbors and others have invented to help me through these weeks of recovery.

* * *

FACEBOOK: For many years through Typepad, the company that hosts this blog, each post has automatically posted to Facebook. A week or so ago, Facebook, without announcement or notification to Typepad, stopped this connection so that TGB posts no longer show up on Facebook.

Typepad tells me that I can let TGB Facebook readers know about a new post by including a link to the blog in a "status update" on Facebook. I have no desire to learn any more about FB than I already know but apparently I am being forced into this much. Anyone who can explain what a status update is and how I do it, please let me know in the comments below. And thank you in advance.

A Cancer Patient's Perspective on Today's Politics

There is a lot I want to write here about this frightful disease, treatment and recovery, the hospital, doctors, nurses, other care professionals, friends, helpers and more.

But today, I want to give you a short take on how my worldview has changed as a result of this major health and medical interruption.

Most TGB readers know that my second big interest after ageing is politics and government combined with the media that reports on those institutions.

You wouldn't be wrong to call my attention to them rabid – at least in the past and perhaps again in the future but for now, since the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, mostly suspended.

Potential imminent death does focus the attention in new directions and, I think, clears the fog of constant screeching reports of a baby president's latest tweet storm.

How much more foolish they all seem to me now - the self-serving politicians, the (with a few admirable exceptions) sycophantic reporters and pundits and all the rest who, day in and day out, pretend (they couldn't believe, could they?) that this is a normal presidency, a normal world.

What mean little men (they are mostly men) we have in Washington, D.C. who openly trade health care for the poor to enrich just 1,000 gazillionaires, and the few who say they oppose them have only empty words, no deeds.

The world has become demonstrably more dangerous in the months since the baby president took office as he ignores the nuclear threat from southeast Asia, buddies up to America's pre-eminent and crafty political enemy, and doesn't even acknowledge the lastest terrifying climate change warning from Stephen Hawking.

(Look it up; I can't bear to repeat it.)

According to American news media, there is no news now except about President Trump's idiotic tweets and they have lost the craft of editing. If it comes out of the mouth of the incompetent, ignorant, vulgar and stupid president, it leads the newscast and they, the media, drone on without insight, without thought, without citing consequences. It is all so much the same each day that I've stopped reading and watching but for headlines.

I am equally angry with the leaders of the United States, with the fourth estate - both for abdicating their responsibilities - and terrified for future of the world. Not that I wasn't before my surgery – it is just so much more obvious to me now that no one has a plan or the will to do anything to stop the world's headlong rush into oblivion.

My Pancreatic Cancer Prognosis

According to my surgeon, only 10 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are eligible for surgery. Had I not been one of them, there would have been, essentially, no useful treatment.

Following surgery, it was a week before the pathology report on the bits and pieces taken from my body was ready. In words you and I can understand, here is what it said, the short version:

The mass in my pancreas was positive for pancreatic adenocarcinoma – pancreatic cancer to you and me.

During surgery, called the “Whipple Procedure,” the diseased part of the pancreas was removed along with my gall bladder and some other parts. The tumor was determined to be “clean at the margins” - that is, cancer had not escaped the pancreas.

In addition, 17 lymph nodes touching the pancreas were removed and tested for cancer cells; two were positive. Here is what that means for me.

There are types of chemotherapy to treat this cancer and I will meet with a medical oncologist about that sometime in the next month or two. According to my surgeon and his team, a few people respond to this treatment and live up to ten more years.

Sounds good except that 80 percent in my circumstance who take this treatment are dead from the disease in five or fewer years. Numbers may vary from other sources but not enough to talk about.

(Excuse me while I take a moment for another small weep.)

Well, that's a stunner. Even though I'm 76 years old and even though my parents and other relatives died of one cancer or another when they were younger than I am, I was aiming for my grandmother's lifetime (92) or my great aunt's (89).

Nonetheless, I find it hard to complain that 77 or 78 or 80 years is not a decent run at life. And I have no patience with “miracle” alternative cancer cures – believe me, if they were real we would all know about them. Nor do I place any hope in beating the odds – a foolish waste of time.

Beyond that, my thoughts are an unrelated jumble still fogged from the effects of surgery, anesthesia and follow-up drugs – not useful. It takes every bit of my physical and mental effort right now to work out my medication schedule, figure out this new way of eating and give my body time to recover from the trauma of the surgery.

Walk, they tell me, even short distances. Keep your feet above your heart to reduce the swelling in your feet, ankles and legs. Well, which is it? How do I balance that?

Not to mention nap time. For the short future, I'm doing one hour up and about, the next hour in bed and so on.

I want to answer your lovely email and snailmail cards but 30 minutes at the desk every couple of hours is my body's and mind's limit and there are also banking, bills, personal business items, etc. to deal with.

Thinking time too. How do I want to spend the months and years remaining to me? I don't expect to answer that now, all at once, but the thoughts bubble up and need attention or, at least, notation before they float away.

The most I've figured out so far is that I desperately do not want to become a professional patient but I don't even know yet how much of my time and effort will need to be devoted to being as healthy and active as possible.

There is a lot more to life than dying and I still want as much of it as I can get.



Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

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It is NAIDOC Week here in Australia. This is a week to reflect on and celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Naturally, as this is a music column, I will feature some musicians who fit into that category and I'll extend it to two weeks to recognise a range of artists.

Some of the musicians today and next week, as well as many others, were taken from their families by the authorities at the time and fostered out or adopted.

Many were put into institutions that were little better than jails. They have come to be known as the stolen generations. This has brought great shame on this country.

One of those is ARCHIE ROACH.

Archie Roach

His most famous song, Took the Children Away, highlights that beautifully and graphically. Like a lot of the taken children, he found himself on the streets later on.

Fortunately for him, he had great talent at songwriting and he wrote of that experience in the song Charcoal Lane, which is about life on the streets for young indigenous people, set in Fitzroy, an inner suburb of Melbourne, but the song of Archie's is the one mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph.

♫ Archie Roach - Took the children away

When he was on those mean streets he met RUBY HUNTER.

Ruby Hunter

Ruby was another who was taken from her family but became Archie's life companion, wife and musical partner. She became one of the most important female singers in Australia but alas she died in 2010, at just 54 years old.

Musician Paul Grabowsky said of Ruby:

"Her sound nursed somewhere at its heart a moan, a lament, which came from a deep place, a place outside of particularities of space and time, but a singularity, nonetheless.”

Ruby sings Proud, Proud Women.

♫ Ruby Hunter - Proud Proud Women

GEOFFREY GURRUMUL YUNUPINGU is generally just known as Gurrumul. He has been blind since birth. He is from a musical and activist family in Arnhem Land, northern Australia.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu

Like the great blues musician Elizabeth Cotton, he takes a right-handed guitar, turns it upside down and plays it lefty without changing the strings. This gives a distinctive sound to his playing. He has one of the most beautiful voices in the world. Here he sings and plays Wiyathul.

♫ Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu - Wiyathul

JESSICA MAUBOY is an actor as well as a singer.

Jessica Mauboy

She had a lead role in the fine film The Sapphires from which this track is taken. That film was based on a true story of four indigenous singers who went to Vietnam to entertain the troops.

Jessica came to prominence when she was runner-up on Australian Idol. Nobody remembers who the winner was. Her music is more rhythm and blues than most of those today. Today's song is no exception, I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), originally recorded by The Four Tops.

♫ Jessica Mauboy - I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)

KUTCHA EDWARDS has made three solo albums; he was previously in a couple of bands - Watbalimba and later Blackfire.

Kutcha Edwards

Many of the songs he writes reflect the oral tradition of the indigenous people. He was one of the Stolen Generations and he presents a unique and personal insight into that. Besides singing, Kutcha has written and performed in theatrical works as well.

From his album "Hope", we have Stand Strong.

♫ Kutcha Edwards - Stand Strong

Unlike many of the others in this series, DAN SULTAN grew up in Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne mentioned at the top.

Dan Sultan

Dan performs mainly in rock bands as a singer and guitarist. He also writes most of the songs and also plays piano. But today, his song, Nyul Nyul Girl, is taken from the musical “Bran Nue Dae”, set in Western Australia. It has been made into a film that features Dan, Geoffrey Rush, Jessica Mauboy and many others.

♫ Dan Sultan - Nyul Nyul Girl

DEBORAH CHEETHAM is a soprano, actor, composer, playwright and educator.

Deborah Cheetham

She has performed in France, Switzerland, Germany, Britain, America as well as Australia and New Zealand. She's a role model and mentor to up and coming Aboriginal and other opera singers and helped found the Short Black Opera Company with this in mind.

Deborah performs Chi ll bel sogno di Doretta from Puccini's “La Rondine.”

♫ Deborah Cheetham - Puccini ~ La Rondine ~ Chi ll bel sogno di Doretta

Broome, on the northern western coast of Australia, is one of the most culturally diverse towns in the country. It consists of indigenous people, white folks from down south, descendents of groups such as Japanese pearl divers, Chinese gold miners, Afghan cameleers, Malays and Indonesians from just over the waters.

Among the inhabitants are the PIGRAM BROTHERS.

Pigram Brothers

This is a family of seriously good musicians, who play a variety of instruments. Before the current group, several of the family were in the band Scrap Metal, along with others that reflected the makeup of the Broome community.

These days the brothers play together and also as separate entities writing music for plays and film soundtracks and the like. They perform Saltwater Cowboy.

♫ Pigram Brothers - Saltwater Cowboy

TIDDAS is a three piece vocal group whose members are Amy Saunders, Lou Bennett and Sally Dastey.


They started out as backing singers for the band Djaabi and got their big break when invited to perform at a women's artist achievement celebration. Ruby Hunter, also present, gave them their name, a Koori word for sisters. Tiddas perform Anthem.

♫ Tiddas - Anthem

Neil Murray wrote the song My Island Home for his friend George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga. Both were members of the WARUMPI BAND, Neil played guitar and George was the charismatic lead singer.

Warumpi Band

The Warumpi Band mainly toured the Northern Territory and the Kimberly area in the north west of the country, but did have successful tours of Europe and America. Neil has had a solo career since the band's demise, but unfortunately, George died of cancer in 2007.

I've always liked this video clip of the Warumpis which is why I'm including it rather than just the audio of the song.

The SALTWATER BAND was formed by men from Elcho Island, on the northern tip of the Northern Territory, east of Darwin.

Saltwater Band

Their most famous member is Gurrumul, featured above, who was also once a member of Yothu Yindi (who will be in next week's column). Their songs are a mixture of traditional songs and reggae style pop. One of the former is Djilawurr.

♫ Saltwater Band - Djilawurr

NAIDOC Week Part 2 is here.

Recovering at Home

This post has been the Saturday Interesting Stuff for many years but not today. I'm writing on Friday morning because I am too tired now to think that I can do any better later.

One day at a time. Up days. Down days. Certainly I overdid on Thursday so I'm taking a makeup rest day. No need to comment - you have all been wonderful keeping my spirits high.