Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'm bald! But I asked for it!

It looks a bit shocking... but that was, in part, the goal. Those of you who know me well will remember about 5 years ago when I had my hair dyed platinum blonde over the summer. I quite enjoyed the effect. However my family, especially Desney, didn't like it at all and made me promise never to do it again.

The next thing I could think of was shaving all my hair off and I was contemplating that in the summer of 2005. Then it looked like the decision was going to be made for me. As you all know I was diagnosed with cancer at the end of August 2005, operated on twice in September and started treatment in November. It was one surprise after another and one, of the many, was that I was going to be having full cycles of chemotherapy. I expected to lose my hair at that time. I had psychologically prepared myself for it. I had planned that as soon as I would notice it starting to fall out I would just shave all of it off rather than going through it in stages. For whatever reason I never lost my hair. The rest of the side-effects of chemo were enough without that as well so I was not overly disappointed. However I remained curious.

It's been 3 years now and I dediced I finally wanted to see what it would look like. I'm now healthy, not too pale and currently overweight. I thought it would look different now than when I was sick and going through treatments. But there's only one real way to see what it would look like, and what my head looks like, and that's to do it. So I decided that this time I would have all my hair shaved off, I would go bald and it would be on MY terms.

I'd say it's about 99% shaved off. My hairdresser found a bunch of brown spots along my hairline at the bottom above my right ear and she didn't want to go any further. I now have to get those looked at which allows me to go through some more paranoia worrying whether I'm now to go from the pleasures of throat cancer to the joys of skin cancer or something similar.

In the mean time my head if much cooler in this hot weather than it was before and it takes me seconds to dry my head in the morning.

Like everything else... this too shall pass.... and sooner than I think my hair will be growing in enough for me to no longer be considered a skinhead and just somebody with stylishly short hair.

Friday, July 18, 2008

CANCER FREE!!! Still...

It's become almost routine. After treatment finished it was every 3 months at first, then it was every 4 months and now it's every 6 months. The less often it is the more confident "they" are that the cancer isn't going to recur too quickly in a state which requires urgent treatment. As I've been through it so many times now, and with the extra help of Xanax, it's become much easier than it first was.

Today was therefore my twice-yearly visit to my ORL for my throat, thorax and chest area exam. For the gory details of the exam read one of my previous posts... this time it went relatively well. I felt fine after the exam with simply a sort throat, sore nose and the absolute need to sleep. I drove home in a state which some may have considered to be too drowsy and slept for a couple of hours...

No matter how grueling the exam may be it always feels worth it when we sit down at his desk afterwards and he says "Tout va bien" and that he hasn't found anything. That was what the entire experience was all about and that made it worth it!

We talked a bit about the pains I get when I turn my neck to far to the right or sometimes if I am sitting in a sort of angled position for too long. He checked out my scar and found a few hard bits which he explained are due to the radiation on top of the scar tissue and are normal. He recommended massaging it more often and to do "soft" sports (swimming in particular) and stretching (yoga, ...) which would work the neck area gently. He was also a bit curious about my thyroid, without any real explanation, and asked me to get a blood test before we meet again.

My next appointment with him will be in 6 months. He's also now moved the PET scan to every 18 months rather than annually. I assume that's good news and means that he's optimistic. That means my next PET scan would be in February or March next year a bit after our next appointment.

For the moment I know that my entire throat area and upper-chest area are completely free of cancer and everything is evolving as it should. I can sleep a bit better than usual tonight.

F*@K CANCER indeed!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dr. Horrible

I've been waiting for this for a while now. I first found Felicia Day by accident when I found The Guild webisodes by accident. Following her on Twitter I found out about...

Dr. Horrible which I have been reading about for weeks. Now it's finally gone live. Act I is available now, Act II on the 17th and the final act on the 19th... and then... it'll be gone!

So watch now as this, and The Guild, are good strong signs of one of the future major directions in how we obtain entertainment in the future.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Graduation Day

Today was a stressful and emotional day and ended as probably one of the proudest moment of my life.

Today was Jessica's graduation day. Her last day at Lycée. In our rather peculiar and unique situation we have created an artificial graduation day where the OIB (Option Internationale du Baccalauréat) students get a fake diploma while they wait until October to receive their official French diploma. The teachers deliver the diplomas at the same time as they deliver the file with the students' detailed Baccalauréat results.

A discussion as to how the whole French Baccalauréat system works could take days. For those of you interested in how the whole OIB process works and how the French Baccalauréat works I recommend reading through the OIB Handbook published by ASIBA. The grading process is ridiculously tough and made up of a 20 point system. Most subjects are obligatory and each subject has a weighted value (coefficient) used to calculate the overall Bac grade. French for example can be worth 4 points for the Scientific Bac (S), 4 points for the Social and Economic Sciences (ES) Bac and 9 points for the Literary Bac while math is worth 7 points for the Bac S, 5 points for the Bac ES and 2 points for the Bac L. However French, Math, Science (Physics, Chemistry and Earth Science), Philosophy, History/Geography and, of course, English are all obligatory as well as a second foreign language. It's rough and long... they spend 2 to 3 weeks with a few days a week of exams which last 4 to 5 hours each.

The grading system is equally grueling and probably incomparable internationally. Although grades are given based on 20 a 20, or a perfect grade, is extremely rarely given as well as grades in the 18 to 20 range. The Bac grades are then broken down in to simply passing one's Bac (obtaining the Bac is all most French students require to go to university in France) with a grade of 10 to 11.99, a "good enough" (assez bien) note of 12 to 13.99, a "good" (bien) note of 14 to 15.99 or a "very good" (très bien) note of 16 and up. These mentions are very important for students applying to foreign universities as well as those applying to universities requiring a detailed application. To somehow provide an idea as to how difficult these mentions are only the top 25% of the country obtains a mention assez bien, only the top 8% of the country obtains a mention bien and only the top 2% of the country obtains a mention très bien. I don't believe that the UK university admissions officers really understand this... yet.

As you may remember when you read through our adventures in the month of March this year we visited the 3 universities which Jessica had received an offer from. She had applied to 5 but York replied with an offer which required a mention bien (top 8% in the country), Warwick replied (late) with an offer which required a mention bien including a minimum of 13 in math (one of Jessica's worse subjects and in which she had never gotten over 10) and Sheffield required a mention assez bien (top 25% of the country). We therefore knew that Jessica not only had to get her diploma but she also had to get at least a mention assez bien to be able to go to university in the UK at all next year.

To summarise: If she got assez bien she could go to Sheffield, if she got bien she could go to York or Sheffield and if she got bien including at least 13 in math she could go to Warwick or York or Sheffield.

Ever since Jessica went through the awful exam process of 3 weeks we've all spent about 2 weeks of stressful worrying, during which time we could not do anything, waiting for her results.

Today was the big day. I had been to the OIB ceremony many times over the years as the President of the British Parents' Association. But this was the first time I was there as the parent of a graduating student. It was a stressful, emotional and wonderful experience. They read off the students names in order by mention. They read all of the très bien first. There were 5 très bien in our class this year was revolutionarily wonderful (a first). There were 8 bien in our class this year and I shouted "woo hoo!" when they read the name Jessica Erb to come get her diploma with mention bien. She sat back down and looked over her diploma and then started looking over her grades. She made signs to Desney and I, who were sitting with the parents, that she had 13 in math!

To summarise: Jessica graduated with her Baccalauréat, with her OIB, with a mention bien (placing her in the top 8% of the country) and with a 13 in math!!! She also happened to get a perfect grade (20 out of 20) in her English orals which only one other child in the school had achieved. It is now completely up to her as to which university she wants to go to. She can choose, without negotiation, where she wants for whatever reason she wants. Desney and I were overjoyed and I spent the entire evening so overwhelmingly proud I didn't know how to express it.

The four of us went out to an absolutely wonderful Italian restaurant in Clichy (La Romantica), to celebrate, and Jessica was rewarded with graduation presents including the 32 GB iPod Touch I had promised her if she got mention bien. I had purchased it weeks ago as I am an eternal optimist and positive thinker. The meal was wonderful, the evening was wonderful and life is good. Jessica went off to (well-deserved) party with her friends afterwards...