What a Wonderful Week

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Recorded by Louis Armstrong

As I think about the week just passed, what comes to mind is the 1967 song written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss and first recorded by Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World.” There were just so many magic moments over the last several days.

I share them here to highlight how special life can be when you look for the positives and allow them to dominate. I made an active decision that I refuse to allow “little c” cancer to control how I live my life. To date, that decision has served me well.

With that said, how I live with cancer from day-to-day is different. Every meal is a new experience without a stomach. My portion size is comparable to what children are served. The duration of how long I chew every mouthful puts me as the last one at the table across the finish line to clear a plate. When in a restaurant, I know that half of what is on my plate is going home. A major benefit of chewing every mouthful longer is I find myself savouring the flavours of an excellent meal more than in the past. Perhaps the lesson for everyone is we should all slow down when we eat in an effort to extend the pleasure of a great meal.

Richard, Me, Janet, Anne Louise, Mike
Friday, October 9th.

My brother Mike, Janet, and I headed to the Annapolis Valley for the day. I had some errands and a visit with our cousins Anne Louise and Richard who live in Port Wallis is always a pleasure.

Our first stop was in Kentville. I had some engraved glasses and plates to pick up at Porter’s Custom Trophy and Engraving. The back story here goes is from a feast we hosted with some of Melanie’s cohort from Université Sainte-Anne. Her friend Jesse showed up with seven engraved wine glasses with O’Hara on one side and By Virtue and High Repute on the other. Her Mother is one of the owners of Porter’s. Jesse brought seven as that was our family head count at the time. Today, with spouses, our head count is now ten. There is potential for two more spouses in time so it seemed sensible to order five more wine glasses to bring the set up to twelve.

Weddings 2019

In 2019, we had two family weddings. On June 8th., Chris married Becca and on December 31st., Drew married Jade. The plates on the bottom of each holds the names and dates. In my opinion, it finishes these beautifully framed photos. I neglected to pick a font so Shawna Porter sent two different plates so we had choices. The children debated which to use and picked the one that looked more like a hand-written script.

As an interesting side-story, and a shoot-out and expression of thanks to Shawna. She would not take payment for either the wine glasses or the plates. She sent the following message, “As far as price goes, you will get the ‘father of the best daughter ever discount’ and there will be no charge. No arguing.” I offered a tangible thankyou such as a bottle of wine or pastries from a bakery. Shawna’s response to that was, “And, I truly appreciate the offer for wine or sweets but I like to do things for others and you will defeat the purpose of me being able to do something nice for someone by bringing me a ‘treat’ so just enjoy the glasses and the plates and have a happy time with them.” There are so many special people eh?

Our next stop was lunch with the cousins in Port Wallace. Anne Louise and Richard are on my side of the family. On every visit, we learn something new about our heritage. Anne Louise’s collection of family artifacts such as pictures, bibles, and other items is always entertaining.

The picture to the right is my Great Grandfather Jacob Whitman Croft. I’ve always known that Croft is in our family tree. I didn’t know Jacob was the first name.

In an earlier blog, I shared that Janet and I became Grandparents on August 31st. Our grandson’s name is Jacob Christopher Philip O’Hara. I thought is ironic to discover he is not the first to bear the name Jacob. To the best of my knowledge, no family member bears the name Whitman but that is a pretty nice name so who know what the future holds?

Lunch with the cousins wrapped around 2:00 pm. We had a couple more stops before heading home; visits to a couple of vineyards (Planters Ridge, Lightfoot, and Sainte Famille) to pick up wine for Thanksgiving Dinner on Sunday, and a stop at Oulton’s Meats to pick up a free-range turkey.

We arrived at home about 5:00 pm. It was good timing as Meredith was coming over to assist with the preparation of Onion Soup for Sunday’s feast. This is always the first course.

The red and black bowls are regulars. The white bowl at the bottom of the picture is gluten free. The two white bowls in the second row are lactose free as I use goat’s cheese instead of mozzarella.

What you’re looking at is the picture is the final version. I always prepare the onion broth about two days before assembling the final bowls. It allows time for all the flavours to soak into the onions.

This soup is a staple of all festive meals in our home. I don’t really follow a recipe but use a little of this and a little of that and it always seems to work out. Meredith was enthusiastic to help and take notes so we’d have a documented recipe for the future. As it turned out, I think is was the best we’ve ever consumed so it should be easy to replicate.

On a final note, you might notice the bowls are not full. Onion soup is a heavy start to a large meal. Too large a serving limits how much people can eat in other courses.

Saturday, October 10th.

Our new table arrived last week. For years I yearned to have a proper dinning room table, but on scale, there were far more important priorities. In the picture, the table has three of the four leaves installed. It is 107 cm (42 inches) wide and 274 cm (108 inches or 9 feet) long. With all four leaves, it can seat two more people and is 304 cm (120 inches or 10 feet) in length. We need a few more chairs but as you can see in the picture, our festive meals start with a pretty good looking table.

Saturday was spent cleaning, grocery shopping, and picking up a few items like butter dishes. We also looked in several places for tapered candles. We didn’t find any so we settles on straight candles. As the first festive meal, everything takes more time to figure out than it will in the future. The day just flew by.

Sunday, October 11th.

I was up around 5:00 am to ensure I had plenty of time for food preparations. My first task was to assemble the Onion soups you. That starts with bringing the broth to a boil for fifteen minutes in order kill off any bacteria which naturally develop as it sat for thirty hours. Assembly starts with a layer of cheese on the bottom of the bowl, then the toast which has the crusts cut off, in goes the broth, and finally the cheese on top. These go under the broiler just before serving for a final cook.

Next was getting the sides peeled. That includes potatoes and turnip. The children all contribute something to the meal these days so there were other sides coming. I do like roast potatoes so it’s a given that they’ll be in the pot with the turkey.

Janet, her Mom Betty, and I headed to Mass at 9:30.

The turkey was fresh so all it needed was to be put in the pan. I put a couple of apples inside to hold the shape. It was so big that I had to remove the rack to get the lid on. There was plenty of room for the potatoes. For the first time, instead of oil and water in the roasting pan, I used the onion soup broth. It is loaded with garlic and lots of taste so it seemed to be a sensible experiment. In fact it proved to an excellent way to baste the turkey and the roast potatoes were outstanding with all the garlic and onion flavour. This was a highly successful experiment.

The children started arriving around 5:00 pm with a goal to sit down for dinner around 6:00 pm. There is always a lot of conversation before the meal with a few light hors d’oeuvres. Adam took care of the pre-meal snack.

Of course, no festive meal can be consumed without celebratory toasts at the start of each course. We had a pretty good selection of red, rosé, chardonnay, and white wine to satisfy any taste. I typically do the first toast and assign the next salute.

At the start of each course, we use sorbet to cleanse the palette. The idea is to prepare the taste buds to thoroughly enjoy the upcoming tastes.

Soup is the first course. There were two choices: onion soup (Meredith and Phil) and a nice carrot-ginger (Jade) that is vegetarian, gluten and dairy free.

Salad is the second course. There were two choices: chickpea and bean salad (Marissa and Melanie) and garden greens (Becca and Chris).

Turkey (Phil) is the main course. The sides were roast potatoes (Phil), mashed potatoes (Drew), steamed carrots (Chris), and mixed vegetables (Janet).

Dessert is the final course. The options were apple pie (Phil), and carrot cake (Becky Tucker). Becky’s cakes are creative and wonderful. She makes one or two a week as a side business. She can create a theme cake for any occasion. Every bite was delectible.

I think we set a record with this Thanksgiving meal. We started around 5:30 pm and the children were heading out the door around 10:00 pm.

Everyone had a wonderful time between the fine food and cheerful conversations. These occasions give me tremendous pleasure. Something special happens when a group sits at a table and breaks bread. I hope to have many more moments like this going forward.

Monday, October 12th.

After a very busy weekend, it was good to have a slow day.

Tuesday, October 13th.

Three cancer related events today. I have an phone appointment with a nurse from my oncologist’s office. It is a routine checkup to test how I’m tolerating the chemotherapy. It is thorough and a way for the team to track my progress.

At the suggestion of a friend, I’ve been doing acupuncture just prior to each chemotherapy treatment. It is very relaxing and my friend suggested a lot of people find it reduces the nausea during a treatment. I haven’t had any nausea so let’s say it’s working.

Before every treatment I have blood drawn and tested. Chemotherapy drugs can stop your bone marrow producing enough red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. So in advance of each treatment, my levels are tested. It could result in an adjustment to my drugs.

Wednesday, October 14th.

Chemotherapy Treatment – I start the day with three hours in the clinic on an infusion pump.

I begin with a bag holding two drugs which takes about thirty minutes to infuse:

  1. Ondansetron blocks the actions of chemicals in the body that can trigger nausea and vomiting.

    Ondansetron is used to prevent nausea and vomiting that may be caused by surgery, cancer chemotherapy, or radiation treatment.
  2. Dexamethasone is used to treat conditions such as arthritis, blood/hormone/immune system disorders, allergic reactions, certain skin and eye conditions, breathing problems, certain bowel disorders, and certain cancers. It is also used as a test for an adrenal gland disorder (Cushing’s syndrome).

    This medication is a corticosteroid hormone (glucocorticoid). It decreases your body’s natural defensive response and reduces symptoms such as swelling and allergic-type reactions.

The next bag is Dextros with Leucovorin added:

  1. Dextrose is a form of glucose (sugar). Dextrose 5% in water is injected into a vein through an IV to replace lost fluids and provide carbohydrates to the body.

    Dextrose 5% in water is used to treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), insulin shock, or dehydration (fluid loss). Dextrose 5% in water is also given for nutritional support to patients who are unable to eat because of illness, injury, or other medical condition.

    Dextrose 5% in water is sometimes used as a diluent (liquid) for preparing injectable medication in an IV bag. A diluent provides a large amount of fluid in which to dilute a small amount of medicine. The diluent helps carry the medicine into your bloodstream through the IV. This helps your caregivers inject the medicine slowly and more safely into your body.
  2. Leucovorin is an active metabolite of folic acid and an essential coenzyme for nucleic acid synthesis. 1 Leucovorin can be used to selectively “rescue” cells from the adverse effects of methotrexate or to increase the efficacy of fluorouracil

The next bag is the chemotherapy drug called Oxaliplatin. It takes about two hours for the infusion pump to empty the bag.

Oxaliplatin, sold under the brand name Eloxatin, is a cancer medication used to treat colorectal cancer (note – apparently not just that cancer). Often it is used together with fluorouracil and folinic acid (leucovorin) in advanced cancer. It is given by injection into a vein.

Common side effects include numbness, feeling tired, nausea, diarrhea, and low blood cell counts. Other serious side effects include allergic reactions. Use in pregnancy is known to harm the baby. Oxaliplatin is in the platinum-based antineoplastic family of medications. It is believed to work by blocking the duplication of DNA.

Oxaliplatin was patented in 1976 and approved for medical use in 1996. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.

After this I am finished with the infusion pump and get a syringe of Fluorouracil.

Fluorouracil (5-FU), sold under the brand name Adrucil among others, is a chemotherapy medication used to treat cancer. By injection into a vein it is used for colon cancer, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and cervical cancer. As a cream it is used for actinic keratosis, basal cell carcinoma, and skin warts.

When used by injection most people develop side effects. Common side effects include inflammation of the mouth, loss of appetite, low blood cell counts, hair loss, and inflammation of the skin. When used as a cream, irritation at the site of application usually occurs. Use of either form in pregnancy may harm the baby. Fluorouracil is in the antimetabolite and pyrimidine analog families of medications. How it works is not entirely clear but believed to involve blocking the action of thymidylate synthase and thus stopping the production of DNA.

Fluorouracil was patented in 1956 and came into medical use in 1962. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.

I head home with a “baby bottle” of Fluorouracil that slow drips into a vein over two days. In the picture, you can see there is a balloon inside the “baby bottle”. It deflates over the two days and I head into the hospital to have it detached when it’s empty.

All of drugs enter my body through a piece of brilliant technology. I have a device known as a Port-a-Cath implanted just under the skin in my right chest. It is about the size of 1/3 of a ping pong ball. There is a tube under my skin coming off the top of device. That tube goes up and into a vein where it turns down and runs down to just above my heart.

The top surface is like the drug vial for a syringe with a self-sealing membrane. A small needle is inserted through my skin into the Port-a-Cath. It is just a minor pinch and use of this devices reduces discomfort and bruising. It should last for about five years.

I go home with this very fashionable YETI pouch with the “baby bottle” inside.

I arrived at the clinic to start treatment at 9:00 am and left the clinic around 1:00 pm.

When I had treatment last February, my first visit was frightening. I had no idea what to expect. I have to express gratitude and a huge shout-out to the team in the Chemotherapy Clinic. They deal effectively with patient emotions as they professionally infuse the drugs. It is an inviting environment and not the terrifying experience I expected.

After my treatment, I had a rest at home for a coupe of house and headed down to Wolfville to have supper with a student who has been sailing with me during the summer. Wolfville is surrounded with numerous vineyards. We visited the Blomidon Estate Winery for a little taste testing. At one point, the server grabbed a flare gun as he could hear birds in the vineyard. Bang bang and they scared away. Apparently when the flocks go through during migration, they can eat the amount of grapes needed to make a barrel of wine each day so clearly they need to be handled.

Matt (my friend at Acadia) and I went to supper at the Church Brewing Company. Good food and a good selection of craft beers. The last time I was in that church was for a wedding. This owners have done a good job repurposing it as restaurant and micro brewery.

I headed home about 7:00 pm. It was a good day.

Thursday, October 15th.

It was time to have a quiet day. Janet and I did some shopping and I went to the boat to complete a few more tasks in preparation for haul-out on October 19th.

Friday, October 16th.

It was another quiet day. Janet and I did some shopping in the morning. Then I spent some time helping a niece setup her computer, visited the chemo clinic to have the “baby bottle” removed, and picked up Janet from the grocery store.

Brad called and invited me to a backyard campfire at the home of long-time friend Ray. It was a beautiful night to sit outside with good friends.

Saturday, October 17th.

I met my friend Bret for lunch at Battery Park Beerbar & Eatery. I like the vibe and they have great food. They also have a large collection of craft beers on tap. I had a lamb burger with a side salad.

Janet and I went shopping for picture frames and a bunch of other items. She is working on setting up the Den as a reading room. We looked at several love seats and ottomans for the room but were shocked by the price. Then we looked on Wayfair and found exactly what she had in mind for a third of the price.

Sunday, October 18th.

Janet, her Mom, and I started the day with Mass at Saint Catherine of Siena Church. We have just become registered members of that congregation. I find weekly Mass to be a source of important comfort.

This is the last day that our boat will be in the water. Bret and I decided we’d celebrate the season at the Lower Deck and then sleep on the boat.

In the picture are Bret, me, Keaton, Daniel, and Brady. The food was good, nicely complemented with a couple of adult refreshments, and the band Signal Hill was tremendous.

It was truly a Wonderful Week.

9 Replies to “What a Wonderful Week”

  1. I was sorry to see the boat has to be wintered, Phil, but enjoyed your description of your Thanksgiving meal. And I love, love, love your new table.

    Also, although I know I’m a bit behind, congrats on the bike trip plans. You give me something to get excited about, as we all sit here in COVID-land and can only enjoy things like that vicariously!

  2. Thank you! It is so nice to read about your journey and the wonderful road you have taken to ensure so many happy days. I think about you often and wish you continued good days. Take care.

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