October 14, 2004
Laptop outlets in coach: a problem which need not exist
Tuesday's Wall Street Journal "Quick Fix" feature by Raymond Flandez was about where to find power for your laptop when you're flying coach.
I find the whole subject beyond bizarro: why would you even bother going through the effort, and wasting the time required to find a solution as outlined in the story (below), when you can avoid the issue entirely by bringing your computer on board with a fully-charged battery and a spare ready to go?
Anyway, for those who'd rather work hard than smart, here's the article.
Laptop Outlets in Coach
•The Problem: Where to plug in your laptop when you're sitting in coach.
•The Solution: Most airlines have power ports in first and business class, but for coach passengers seeking laptop access, it helps to know where to sit.
Continental and American, for example, offer power ports in economy on some planes, but only in certain rows.
US Airways and Delta provide them in all seats in the cabin, but only on certain aircraft.
Check your flight itinerary online to find out what plane you'll be flying.
Then go to SeatGuru.com, which shows the location of the power ports for about 175 aircraft and more than 20 airlines.
A black dot on the seating map indicates a power port.
The laptop icon on SeatGuru.com also tells you if your laptop adapter is compatible with the power port in the seat.
AC, Cigarette and EmPower are the three most widely used types of ports.
•The Caveat: JetBlue and Southwest don't have ports on their planes.
BehindTheMedspeak: When it comes to mold and mildew on your shower curtain, take Raymond Kurzweil's advice: 'Work smart - not hard'
Sam Schechner wrote an interesting piece for the Tuesday Wall Street Journal's "Cranky Consumer" feature, entitled "Testing Ways to Kill Shower-Curtain Mold."
Why would anyone want to?
I mean, you can buy a shower curtain at IKEA for $1.29, far less than the price of a bottle of Tilex ($3.29), the best product in the Journal's test.
And even the Tilex had a downside: "The smell eventually burned our nose (and drew tears to our eyes), even in a well-ventilated bathroom."
bookofjoe observation: anything that smells that toxic probably is: you're taking a chance on jump-starting your brain tumor using stuff that acrid.
Here's the Journal article, followed by their detailed test results.
Testing Ways to Kill Shower-Curtain Mold
It's easy to spot mold on a shower curtain - but is there an equally fast way to get rid of it?
Big household-cleaning companies like Clorox and SC Johnson offer assorted sprays that promise to eradicate these black splotches with a minimum of elbow grease.
Meanwhile, the Internet abounds with do-it-yourself advice for cleaning up mold.
Some companies even sell mold-resistant shower curtains, with antifungal agents baked into the vinyl.
For those who don't want to replace their shower curtains every few months, which of these options works the best?
We tested five methods, using five different slices of the same disgustingly moldy vinyl shower curtain.
We tried a spray with bleach (Tilex Mold & Mildew Remover) and one free of chlorine (Seventh Generation Shower Cleaner).
We also tried dumping a strip in a washing machine along with bleach and white towels (for friction).
We soaked another slice in a bathtub with a bottle of distilled vinegar.
Finally, we scrubbed one slice with a mixture of water, dish soap and tea tree oil.
The worst result came from bleaching the curtain in a washing machine, a method that two different microbiologists had recommended to us.
It may have killed all the mold and bacteria, but it left behind visible rust-colored stains, even after running the 30-minute hot-water wash cycle twice.
The NOW tea-tree oil, a natural fungicide that we bought at a local health-food store, seemed to be an intriguing option.
It smelled like a new-age mountain spa as we poured three teaspoons of the oil into a washbasin.
After soaking and sloshing the curtain around in the soapy tea tree solution for five minutes and then scrubbing hard for another 10, much of the mold was gone.
But there were still large yellow stains and gray specks left behind.
NOW doesn't market its tea-tree oil for mold per se, but many Web sites suggest using it to kill and clean fungus.
The best of the five by far was the $3.29 bottle of Tilex.
We were skeptical at the outset because the label instructed us only to "spray, wait until stains disappear and rinse."
But three minutes after applying the spray to the dry strip of curtain, the mold started to disappear.
After 10 minutes, and a rinse, it was gone, apart from two very faint yellow stains that resisted a second spray and scrubbing.
The downside: The smell eventually burned our nose (and drew tears to our eyes), even in a well-ventilated bathroom.
For those averse to chlorine, a bleach ingredient that can contaminate groundwater, Seventh Generation "natural citrus scent" shower cleaner ($4.99 a bottle) is a workable alternative.
Using hydrogen peroxide, which kills germs and then breaks down into water, the cleaner got rid of most of the mold stains.
It left behind only subtle, gray stain remnants.
Unfortunately, it required a good deal of scrubbing, which is mitigated slightly by its pleasant Orangina-like aroma.
Soaking the curtain in a solution of bathwater and distilled vinegar didn't wow us.
After an hour, the mold looked unchanged - but some of the stains yielded to sustained scrubbing.
Still, the gray areas that remained were slightly more noticeable than those left by Seventh Generation.
METHOD: Spray with Tilex Mold & Mildew Remover
COST: $3.29 for 32 fl. oz. spray bottle
EASE OF USE: As promised, requires no scrubbing
SMELL: Like a noxious swimming pool
THE RESULT: The curtain came out practically bone-white.
METHOD: Spray with Seventh Generation Shower Cleaner
COST: $4.99 for 32 fl. oz. spray bottle
EASE OF USE: Shoulder felt tender after 14 minutes of scrubbing - and that was only one section of curtain
SMELL: Sweet lemon soda
THE RESULT: Grayish pattern remained where the black mold had been - was less noticeable from across the room.
METHOD: Soak in distilled vinegar and water
COST: $1.29 for 16 fl. oz. bottle of Heinz distilled white vinegar
EASE OF USE: Requires slightly less elbow grease than some methods, but takes an hour to soak
SMELL: Like someone had made a salad in our bathroom
THE RESULT: So-so; gray stains still visible
METHOD: Wash with NOW tea tree oil and dishsoap
COST: $5.95 for 1 fl. oz. bottle of oil; $1.99 for Palmolive
EASE OF USE: Felt like we had done a full upper-body workout at the gym
SMELL: Massage parlor
THE RESULT: Minimal payback for all that effort.
METHOD: Bleach in washing machine (hot-water cycle)
COST: $1.29 for 24 fl. oz. bottle of Clorox Ultra Regular Bleach
EASE OF USE: Just let the washing machine slosh around
SMELL: Light bleach odor
THE RESULT: Big rust-colored stains remained. We even tried a second time again, without much improvement.
This company began with the
Nap-Strap, and now appears to be diversifying with this stylish $99.95 fashion statement that, like the Nap-Strap, guarantees no one will bother you en route.
Comes in red, navy or black, and you get a ton of included accessories to make your slumber as blissful as can be.
From the website:
Stylish cap keeps your head supported in a comfortable position while you sleep in transit.
Easily adjustable to position and support your head to your own liking.
Removable fleece eyeshade.
Simple to use, lightweight, compact, and portable.
It's good to be Elfriede Jelinek - and win the Nobel Prize in literature - if you want people to buy your book
What a difference a day makes.
Austrian novelist Elfriede Jelinek, winner of this year's Nobel Prize in literature, was the author of books that mostly remained unread and unpurchased - until last Thursday, October 7.
Early that day, her novel "The Piano Teacher" was ranked 1,163,804 on amazon.
For comparison, even yours truly's first book
was ranked higher than that (932,715 if you must know).
My latest, though,
wasn't faring quite as well: it was down there at 2,068,715.
Without a bullet, it goes without saying. But I digress.
By Friday morning, Jelinek's book had climbed to No. 9.
Mine didn't change much at all.
Adventure Cam H2O - 'What happens underwater when you fart in the bathtub?'
From the website:
What happens underwater when you fart in the bathtub?
You can answer that question and more with our Adventure Cam H2O ($360).
This is a fully submersible helmet cam that offers our standard plug-and-play design, multiple cable options and extensions, with waterproof connections, so you can be sure to catch all the action - both under and over the water.
I think the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquiter [the thing speaks for itself] can be appropriately invoked here, even though we are far from the arena of jurisprudence.
BehindTheMedspeak: 'Beating Back Cancer... Again'
Laura Landro (above) is assistant managing editor of the Wall Street Journal.
In 1991 she was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia and underwent a bone-marrow transplant (from her brother) which saved her life.
She thought she was cured... until the cancer came back in 2002.
She wrote an eloquent, beautiful essay about how it feels when that happens; it appeared in Monday's Wall Street Journal.
It is so good that it needs no more introduction.
Beating Back Cancer... Again
Ten years without leukemia meant everything was supposed to be OK. It wasn't.
On July 22, 2002, 10 years to the day after receiving a bone-marrow transplant that saved me from a deadly form of leukemia, I threw a victory party for family and friends who had been there during the long fight.
A decade was a big milestone: I was now supposed to be officially cured.
It turned out to be something of a "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment.
A few weeks later, I learned that I was in the early stages of a relapse.
The cancer was coming back.
Was it a big surprise?
Even though I had been given a clean bill of health every year for nine years, the annual tests performed to monitor me would periodically come back with an ominous mention of what doctors called "minimal residual disease": small traces of the leukemia cells that weren't really doing anything - but weren't going away, either.
My doctors told me my new immune system, created by bone marrow from my brother Chris, appeared strong enough to keep it in check.
But in my gut, I had a feeling I was going to have to face this opponent again, someday.
As almost anyone who has survived cancer knows too well, you are never really sure that you are out of the woods.
Even in cancers with the most-effective treatments and the best long-term survival statistics, the possibility of a recurrence is always there - as is the danger of new cancers caused by highly toxic chemotherapy drugs and radiation used in the original treatments.
The good news is that there are more weapons at our disposal than ever before.
Researchers have made huge strides with drugs like Gleevec, Iressa and Evista, new "targeted" therapies that inhibit the growth of cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact.
And oncologists are finding novel strategies to harness the human immune system to fight cancer as well.
The bad news is that cancer cells are already outwitting some of the newer drugs, and treatments that seemed to be miracle cures aren't always working.
Some cancers continue to elude breakthroughs, and others are so fast-growing they simply can't be stopped.
This year, 1.4 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed, and 1,500 people daily will die of the disease in the U.S.
Despite having access to the newest treatments and the best doctors, several of my friends and colleagues have lost their battles against cancers in just the past year alone.
But I've also seen many friends and family triumph over breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, melanoma and Ewing's sarcoma.
There are now more than 9.8 million cancer survivors in the U.S., a number expected to rise as the population ages and new therapies emerge from clinical trials.
Close to two-thirds of people diagnosed with cancer now live at least five years, up from a five-year survival rate of 50% in the mid-1970s, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By 2010, the goal is to increase to 70% the proportion of cancer survivors living five years or longer after diagnosis.
Some cancers are now being treated as chronic diseases that have to be managed, like heart disease and diabetes, with daily medications, lifestyle modifications and constant vigilance.
Thanks to the wealth of information online, it has never been easier for cancer patients to keep abreast of new treatments and get involved in research studies when conventional therapies fail or the cancer recurs.
The Web has enabled cancer patients to connect with each other as never before, providing much-needed support and inside information.
Cancer survivorship has become enough of a public-health issue to rate a national action plan: The CDC called for one in July to help survivors and their families and caregivers deal with the many physical, psychological, social, spiritual and financial issues throughout their diagnosis and treatment, and for the remaining years of their lives.
I was fortunate to emerge from my bone-marrow transplant with relatively few of the long-term complications of the procedure, which can include debilitating side effects, poor general health and depression.
But it is impossible to emerge unscathed: I lost my fertility, my immunity to some diseases, my ability to digest some of my favorite foods, and some short-term memory and cognitive function -- though sometimes I use that as an excuse for being a scatterbrain.
In the 10 years after my treatment, my life was better than I ever dreamed it could be: I met and married my wonderful husband, while my four grown stepchildren, six step-grandchildren and two beautiful nieces have given me some of the joy I missed in having my own children.
But living with cancer has left me unable to project very far into the future or to presume that I will be there when they grow up.
Still, I've come to think of myself as lucky - lucky to be alive at all, and lucky to have one of those cancers, chronic myelogenous leukemia, which researchers have made steady progress in conquering.
Not so long ago, CML was a death sentence.
In the early 1970s, scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle made the first breakthrough with bone-marrow transplants, using high-dose chemotherapy and radiation followed by an infusion of donated cells to kill off any remaining bad cells and build a new cancer-free immune system.
If the disease recurred, second transplants were possible -- but much riskier and often fatal.
By about 1990, doctors perfected a rescue technique known as donor leukocyte infusion, or DLI - literally, a booster shot of cells from the transplant patient's original donor, to reactivate the immune response that knocked the cancer out in the first place.
Doctors also had success treating CML with other drugs, including interferon, but by the 1990s, Brian Druker, a researcher at Oregon Health Sciences University, working with the drug company Novartis AG, began developing the drug Gleevec, a breakthrough that blocked the molecular cause of CML.
That meant patients with no match for a transplant or those who didn't wish to undergo a risky, painful bone-marrow transplant and spend months in isolation in the hospital could simply take a pill.
Today, the accepted first-line treatment for many CML patients is a daily dose of Gleevec.
And while about 10% of 15% of patients become resistant to the drug, researchers are already in trials with a new compound to get around that problem for some of them.
Of course, with the science of cancer treatment moving at a rapid clip, patients often have to gamble on new therapies.
In my second bout with CML, I was offered a treatment plan combining two therapies - DLI and Gleevec - which sounded reasonable, but for which there was no real long-term data.
By contrast, when I was first diagnosed in 1991, there was clear evidence that a transplant was the only hope for a cure.
I was fortunate to have two brothers with the identical tissue types necessary, and there was hard data about various transplant regimens to help choose the best treatment plan.
After investigating several centers, I chose the Fred Hutchinson Center, which had won a Nobel Prize for pioneering the treatment.
Nicknamed "The Hutch," it had not only the most impressive long-term survival statistics, but it was staffed by medical professionals whom I liked and trusted - something of inestimable value when you are about to put your life in someone's hands.
After three harrowing and painful months in the hospital and two as an outpatient, the transplant was considered a success, and I returned annually to Seattle for follow-ups with my doctor, Rainer Storb.
My own experience launched me into what would become a whole new phase of my journalism career, writing about health care and the issues consumers face in making informed decisions as patients.
I made it a point to keep abreast of new developments, reading medical papers from the annual American Society of Hematologists meeting and looking for anything I could find online about relapse and new treatments.
I always wanted to understand the complex events happening to my body; it helped me to visualize the cancer and psyche myself up to fight its return.
The aim of a transplant is to eventually have all the donor's cells take over and stay in control for good.
In transplant lingo, I was a "mixed chimera": My immune system was a mix between my own remaining blood cells and cells made by marrow from my brother Chris.
I knew the term chimera from mythology: a fire-breathing creature with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent.
Because Chris was a U.S. Marine, we called his cells the Mighty Marine Marrow; on occasion I would pick up his beautiful ceremonial sword and picture myself slashing away at the leukemia creature.
In the years after my transplant, the tests to detect residual or recurring disease were becoming ever more sophisticated.
In my annual checkups, doctors or nurses would pull marrow out of my lower back with a giant corkscrew-like needle, and then looked at just 20 or 30 cells.
If the cells were all male, that was good news.
But newer tests could check on millions of cells at a time, and doctors were beginning to believe that CML could recur if even a few bad cells remained in the body.
In CML, an abnormality called the Philadelphia chromosome creates a hybrid gene called BCR-ABL, and it causes white blood cells to grow uncontrollably, eventually killing the patient.
About five years after my transplant, the minimal residual disease, as they called it, was making a pretty regular appearance in the tests as copies of the BCR/ABL gene.
By July 2001, the number of copies began to multiply, and we began to talk about an infusion of new cells, the booster procedure known as DLI, from my brother Chris.
That conversation took on new urgency after September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center across the street from my office was destroyed and the country began to make plans to invade Afghanistan.
Chris, a Gulf War veteran, was still a reserve officer in the Marines, and as reserve units around the country began to be activated, I started to worry that he would be called up to active duty.
After discussing our options with Dr. Storb, he suggested we collect and freeze some cells from Chris, just in case.
In early October, we boarded a plane to Seattle, where Chris was hooked up to a giant centrifuge for a process known as leukapharesis.
Over four hours, it pumped his entire blood supply out of his body through his right arm, collected leukocytes - the white blood cells which fight off infections and are responsible for immune function - and ran his blood back into his left arm.
The collected leukocytes were then frozen, to be thawed and available to me if I crossed over into full-blown relapse and Chris was overseas and unavailable to donate fresh cells.
For now, though, we were still in a watchful waiting phase.
It wouldn't do to jump the gun and get the new cells if I wasn't in technically in relapse.
There was still a chance the residual cells would go away, and even if not, any recurrence would likely be a slow evolution rather than a sudden crisis.
Moreover, we didn't want an infusion of new cells unless absolutely necessary.
Like the original bone-marrow transplant, a donor infusion carried a risk of the potentially dangerous complication called graft-vs.-host disease, in which the donor cells, known as the graft, recognized my body, or the host, as a foreign place and triggered a nasty, and possibly deadly fight.
We went back home and tried to get back to normal.
That was hardly easy; in December, just as I had feared, Chris's reserve unit was called up by the Marine Corps, and he was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for training.
We were too busy coping with the fear and anxiety after the terrorist attacks on New York and worrying about whether Chris would be sent overseas to think much about anything else.
In February 2002 I seemed to get a reprieve: The tests showed that the number of leukemia cells had plunged dramatically.
Dr. Storb remained optimistic that I might not be heading into a relapse, but suggested more frequent monitoring through the most sensitive testing procedures.
Perhaps, I thought, my minimal residual disease was just a bunch of flotsam and jetsam after all.
By August 2002, however, it was clear that was not the case.
Tests showed more than 2,100 copies of the bad cells, up from just 79 a few months earlier; between 3% and 4% of my cells were cancerous, and the Philadelphia chromosome was back in evidence, meaning the disease was progressing.
Breaking the news to me on the phone, Dr. Storb said the transplant team had reviewed the case and come up with a new idea for a treatment plan that was a little different than what we had discussed before.
By then, the new drug Gleevec was well out of clinical trials and was becoming the standard treatment for newly diagnosed CML.
Since the number of leukemia cells was still relatively low, the doctors were proposing a two-step treatment - a three-month course of Gleevec, followed by the DLI using my brother's cells.
The way I understood it, we would use the Gleevec like the first wave of infantry to knock down as many cancer cells as possible, and then bring in those tough Marine donor cells from my brother to obliterate whatever was left.
DLI appears to work by sending original donor leukocytes into the bloodstream, where they again recognize the patient's leukemia cells as "foreign."
That in turn appears to kick-start the same immune response - known as graft-vs.-leukemia effect - that worked in the original transplant.
Or as Dr. Storb explained it to me, Chris's original cells had gotten a little complacent in there over time, and had let some vagrant leukemia cells slip past their defenses.
The new cells would act as reinforcements, stamping out the insurgency.
There was plenty of evidence that DLI worked: In one study of CML patients who relapsed following transplantation, two-thirds had gone back into remission after DLI and 95% of them were alive three years later.
But there weren't any studies and no real evidence that combining Gleevec and DLI would work over time, because it was too new an idea.
It made sense: Clean up as many cancer cells as possible with the drug so the donor cells would have less work to do and we wouldn't need such a high dose of Chris's cells, which might trigger a bad reaction.
Though I had relied almost entirely on statistical evidence in the past to make my decisions, I would have to trust my doctors' instincts that this was a good route to take.
I remember waiting at the kitchen table for my husband, Rick, to come in the door so I could break the news that it really was a relapse this time.
I meant to be calm and optimistic.
But then I saw his face.
We had met and married four years after my transplant, and though he knew everything there was to know about my situation and had adopted my health as his personal crusade, I had hoped to spare both of us the experience of facing this cancer again.
Still, there was no one stronger, more loving or more resolute to have by my side now.
As I called my parents and my brothers to let them know, I felt a strange sense of déjà vu - nothing had been as hard as the day in October 1991 when I first had to tell my parents that I had cancer at the age of 37.
Now, while we had all been hoping for a different outcome, we were all veterans of the cancer wars.
My father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998 and responded well to treatment, my aunts had survived breast cancer, and a brother-in-law had survived colon cancer.
And everyone was able to take heart from my assurances that the prognosis was excellent, and the treatment would be a cakewalk compared to the torment that had taken over our lives 10 years before.
At that point, I had to make a difficult decision.
Taking Gleevec, I would have to be monitored closely, and all the doctors agreed it would be best to obtain fresh cells from my brother rather than use the ones we had frozen the previous fall.
The idea of commuting back and forth to Seattle while I was working full time was hard enough, but getting my brother back and forth a couple more times from Camp Lejeune to Seattle was more hardship on him than I wanted to impose.
I decided to look for a cancer center on the East Coast that would be fast and easy for both of us to get to, and that had experience with relapse and donor leukocyte infusions.
In reporting a story about a group of patients using the drug Gleevec to treat another form of cancer known as gastrointestinal stromal tumor, I had met their doctor, George Demetri, at Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston, so I called and asked if he could recommend anyone there.
He put me in touch with a bright young doctor named Ted Alyea, who had done extensive work and research on DLI.
We flew up to Boston in late August to meet with Dr. Alyea, whom I liked immediately.
He was happy to work with Dr. Storb in Seattle to coordinate my treatment, and the two conferred about the best course to take - including the duration and dose of my Gleevec regimen and just how many of my brother's cells to give me to trigger the anti-leukemia effect without the graft-vs.-host complications.
Dr. Alyea was doing some experimental work with manipulating the T-cells in the marrow of DLI treatments and asked me if I was interested in entering a clinical trial.
But he didn't push the issue, and given the fact that I was feeling a little out on a limb already, I decided to pass.
I started the Gleevec in August of 2002.
Although most people find the drug tolerable, it has a few unpleasant side effects, like swelling, eye bleeds and puffiness, and fatigue.
I couldn't get some of my fashionable pointy-toed shoes on, and my eyes were perpetually puffy and bloodshot.
Though I tried to exercise, I felt tired a lot of the time.
But I was able to work and go about my life, and most of the anxiety came from worrying about whether my brother would be sent to war and counting down the days until I could stop the drug and undergo the DLI procedure.
Dr. Alyea wrote all the necessary letters to the Marine brass to get the clearances for Chris to make two trips to Boston.
Sure enough, after three months, the Gleevec had done its work; there was just a trace of the leukemia cells.
On December 3, my brother flew to Boston from Camp Lejeune to start the four-hour procedure to collect the cells I needed.
The next morning, Rick and I arrived in time to see him in the last hour of collection, once again hooked up to the centrifuge machine.
The process was a little harder on him this time; his red blood cells were "sticky," we learned, so it was taking longer to get the white cells.
I felt terrible, like the family vampire, always needing new blood products.
He was cold and depleted of calcium during the process, so they gave him a blanket and Tums, and then took the cells away to be processed further overnight.
He was barely able to make it to dinner afterward, and after a night's sleep at our hotel, he was back on a plane to the base the next morning.
Rick and I, meanwhile, returned to the hospital so I could be infused with the collected cells.
I was in a huge room, full of patients getting infusions of various things, when Dr. Alyea came by with the tiny bag of cells, and turned on my pump.
Within a matter of minutes, the infusion of my brother's cells was complete.
For the next year, we watched and waited.
My brother, thankfully, returned from active duty.
Every few months, I had to undergo a painful bone-marrow biopsy: Although some local anesthesia and a mild sedative took the edge off, it felt as if a corkscrew was being slowly twisted into my lower back pelvic bone and then wriggled around a few times for good measure.
To take my mind off it while it was happening, my husband and I would do things like invent trivia quizzes for our favorite cult movie, "The Big Lebowski."
At first there were still signs of disease, and Dr. Alyea explained that the DLI might take a while to kick in.
We were elated when we finally got a negative result in August 2003, but worried again when a test came back "inconclusive" in February 2004.
This past July, we had a vacation planned out West, so we decided to have the next test in Seattle.
I had a long talk with Dr. Storb and met with Mary Flowers, a transplant doctor who had also cared for me over the years.
Like Dr. Alyea in Boston, both were confident that I would get a good result this time.
"There are so many things we can do now for the CML," she said, chiding me gently for not minding some other important health issues.
She had a point; I had been so focused on the relapse that I hadn't had the mammogram she had recommended, let alone a Pap smear, eye exam, or dental checkup.
One lesson I've learned is that fighting cancer can make you so focused on the disease that you let everything else slide.
Being cancer-free doesn't mean you can stop taking care of the rest of yourself.
Back home, I waited to hear the results.
In the past, Dr. Storb or Dr. Alyea would send an e-mail or leave a message asking me to call to discuss my results; my heart was always in my throat until I was able to reach them.
This time, Dr. Storb put the good news in the e-mail: All the tests were negative.
I was in "complete remission."
I was also just a few weeks away from turning 50, and it was the best birthday present I could possibly have.
The next best was being able to share the news with my husband, my family and friends.
When I blew out the candles on my cake at that birthday party, my wish was for all of us: that we would just get to live out our lives, in good health and happiness.
Over all these years, I've come to see myself as a member of a very exclusive club.
It isn't one anyone would ever join voluntarily, but membership has its rewards.
As cancer survivors, we are actually able to do something good for others with the lessons we learn and the connections we forge.
We know who the best doctors and hospitals are, and we use our network to help the newly diagnosed talk to the right people and get the right treatment.
We can offer unique insight to help newcomers understand what they're up against, and help them cope with what they have to endure.
And, perhaps most important, we stand here as a beacon of hope, living proof of the answer they most need to hear: Yes, you can beat this.
Where do I go from here?
I know I will have to stay on top of this the rest of my life, but I can live with that - and I don't plan on living my life from test to test.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer so many years ago, I despaired at first that I was clearly a Darwinian failure, with a body programmed to check out halfway through a normal lifespan.
At the time, I invented my own survival-of-the-fittest theory: Survival meant using any means at my disposal, including the latest advances in medicine and technology, to stay alive.
For many years now, I've been surfing a wave of new technology - and I hope to stay right on the edge of that wave.
Timex Digital On-Off Lamp Timer
Very cool device.
For $19.99, you get a timer that lets you set an exact time for on/off, unlike other plug-in lamp timers.
You set it just like a digital alarm clock and then plug in your lamp - or any appliance up to 600W - to turn it on and off once per day.
They also have a 7-day version that will vary the on/off times daily, to make your empty home seem even more inhabited.
The sundial returns
Adrian Higgins wrote a masterful article, lyrical and informative, about sundials and their revival. It appeared in the September 30 Washington Post.
Among the things I learned:
• Sundials must be tailor-made for their location to tell time accurately
• The angle of the sundial's slanting shadow maker, called the gnomon, must match its latitude, approximately 39° north in Washington, D.C.
• The noon mark on the dial must be precisely oriented to true north
Here's the story.
Sundials, Time and Again
Cast into Shadow by Clocks, This Garden Icon Is Making a Comeback
In the garden of Tudor Place, the house museum in Georgetown, an 18th-century sundial is framed by a saying that begins: "With warning hand I mark time's rapid flight."
Except, it doesn't. Or not with any useful precision.
As anyone who has purchased or admired sundials knows, they look great but are lousy timekeepers.
In theory, the shadow cast by the upright marker is supposed to fall on a horizontal dial divided into hours.
As the sun crosses the sky, the shadow moves around the face to the appropriate marked hour.
But don't set your watch by it.
"They are garden decorations," said Dave Kreiner, a sundial maker in Cedarburg, Wis.
"They have nothing to do with telling time."
Kreiner, who owns a company called Accurate Sundials, is among a cadre of sundial experts who, separately, are trying to restore the sundial as the precise celestial instrument it once was.
The problem: Sundials must be tailor-made for their location, and generic antique reproductions are not.
Instead, they are built typically to show time at a latitude of 40 degrees, roughly the midline of the United States between Philadelphia in the east and Northern California in the west.
This may not matter to people drawn to the garden to escape the clock, who find a sundial merely a gracious ornament and are charmed by the notion of tracking the loose passage of the day as told by the sun.
The same plume of fountain grass ignited by the morning sun forms dark blades with dazzling edges toward twilight.
That connection to the natural world is much of the value in gardening.
But the sundial's laxity does matter to others, especially because it can be fixed.
"Everyone is fascinated when they see a sundial actually working," said Frederick W. Sawyer III, president of the North American Sundial Society.
"In the home garden, it would be nice for people to set them up so they actually work."
You can make a mass-produced sundial a little more accurate by correcting its orientation north, and even tilting the pedestal it is on, but for one of far more accuracy you will need to get a better dial.
First, the angle of the sundial's slanting shadow maker, which is called a gnomon, has to match the latitude it is in, approximately 39 degrees north in Washington.
The angles between the hour marks must also be arranged for one's latitiude.
Also, the noon mark on the dial must be oriented to true north.
Even then, the sundial will not precisely match the clock.
Every day, the sun reaches its high point in the sky, the moment known as the meridian: Hence the designation of a.m. (ante meridiem) and p.m. (post meridiem).
The meridian occurs at a different moment within a single state, or even a single Zip code: The solar noon in Annapolis will occur before the one in Rockville, and accurate sundials in each locale would show noon at different times.
Time zones were invented in the 19th century to bring uniformity in an industrial age, and each of the world's 24 time zones has one fixed average meridian.
In the Eastern Standard Time zone, it is at longitude 75 degrees west, just to the east of the Delmarva Peninsula.
Hence we now exist in two temporal worlds: sun time and clock time.
"Our mentality changed at the beginning of the 20th century," said Sawyer.
"It's another way of noticing how we are being removed from nature."
Kreiner seeks to correct sundial accuracy with gnomons and dials customized to specific locations.
Look at his Web site, www.accuratesundials.com, and you will see how dials and gnomons differ by state. Models in aluminum, copper, brass and granite range in price from $259 to $599.
They are made either to record standard time or daylight saving time; he recommends the latter because most people are in the garden in summer.
You cannot simply rotate a sundial pedestal to put your sundial forward or back.
Even a sundial built for your garden does not account for another variable of solar time: The sun does not keep a precise 24-hour day.
Sometimes it is early, sometimes late, by a few seconds or minutes depending on the time of year.
This is related to the Earth's tilted axis and its elliptical orbit around the sun.
For sundial scholars, this produces something called the equation of time, and it means that even an accurate sundial will gain 16 minutes in the weeks leading to Halloween and lose almost 15 minutes by Valentine's Day.
It is a variation of little consequence either to the sun, the Earth or, for most of human history, the people upon it.
Even when we tried hard to measure time with such things as primitive sundials and, later, clocks, solar time remained something to be regarded and followed.
When you bought a wind-up clock in the 19th century, you got a little sundial to place on your windowsill so that each solar noon, you could correct the errant mechanical timepiece, said Sawyer.
Now, though, as we strive for ever greater precision, it is solar time that is faulted for its inaccuracy.
Indeed, we care not for solar noon anymore, but set our clocks by an atomic chronometer in Boulder, Colo., that measures time by aiming lasers at a fountain of cesium atoms and getting them to glow back.
Its owner, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, says it is accurate to within a second every 20 million years.
It is the godclock, bestowing truth and purpose on all other timepieces on the planet.
But just as clocks can be improved, so too can sundials.
Sawyer, a retired actuary in Glastonbury, Conn., has devised a sundial within a sundial: Its inner scale measures sun time, the outer one clock time.
Like Kreiner and Sawyer, a sundial maker in Burlington, Vt., named Bill Gottesman has been striving to improve the precision of sundials, and says his patented Renaissance sundial accounts for all the variables the sun can throw at it (www.precisionsundials.com).
It is a handsome solution, a large, bronze helix designed so that time is not marked with a shadow but by light, using a spine of specially milled glass beads to create a reflective mirror.
Its band of light travels once around the helix in 12 hours at a rate of six inches per hour.
The base is adjustable for latitude, and a sliding scale within the helix corrects for the equation of time as well the switch from daylight saving to standard time.
Gottesman, 47, a retired physician, has long harbored an interest in sundials along with the question of why they wouldn't tell the time.
His Renaissance model, he says, is so accurate "you could schedule your day around it."
It sells for $8,000, and so far he has sold nine of them.
He also makes a sundial based on Sawyer's compensating sundial principal.
Made of bronze and granite, it sells for $1,800.
This quest for sundial accuracy is not new. In the old days, when sundials were serious timekeepers, they were designed for specific locations and kept a fairly accurate measure of the hours.
George Washington had a locally accurate sundial at Mount Vernon in the 1780s, said Robert Kellogg, a physicist from Rockville and registrar of the sundial society.
The weathered original is displayed in the mansion, a replica sits on a pedestal in the west courtyard. Reproductions sold at Mount Vernon, thus, are locally accurate.
Kellogg may trump it.
He has one of the few surviving examples of a pocket sundial.
It was made around 1720 by Johann Willebrand, one of two pocket sundial makers active in the German city of Augsburg.
Made of brass and silver, it weighs about two ounces, fits in the palm of the hand, and is adjustable for latitude.
You find north by a compass in its base.
The dial is a ring attached at right angles to an upright scale and can be moved to the appropriate latitude reading.
The dial gives the latitudes of major European cities, and the piece was made, probably, for a wealthy patron who would travel between capitals in Europe, said Kellogg.
Curiously, it has a bead of brass on the scale at the 38th parallel, too far south for most of Europe.
Kellogg thinks it was a benchmark for a colonial settlement, possibly Williamsburg, and that it was made for an American client.
It is currently on display at Homewood House Museum in Baltimore as part of a show on clock making in early Maryland. (On Saturday, Kellogg lectures at the museum on colonial American sundials, at 11:30 a.m. For information call 410-516-5589; jhu.edu/historichouses)
The sundial at Tudor Place, a mansion built by the Peter family at Q and 31st streets, NW., was retrieved from the Peter's ancestral home in Scotland in the early 20th century.
It forms the centerpiece of the boxwood knot garden.
Kellogg said members of the sundial society calculated that the hour markings were geared to around 48 degrees north, nowhere in the British Isles but close to Augsburg.
"Of course," he said, "it would never tell time" correctly in Scotland or Georgetown.
This does not diminish its delight as the decorative heart of a formal but serene and relaxed pleasure garden.
Wander Tudor Place, or indeed your own garden, and there are signs everywhere that sun time still reigns if we let it.
You know that the meridian is lower each day in the advance to the winter solstice, and that its backdrop alters as well. Soon, the fall light will be soft but limpid.
In winter, azure skies streaked by vapor trails will bring a bone-chilling cold and leaden skies will herald snow.
Faint, ghostly shadows will play on the face of the sundial and accuracy no longer seems to matter.
Sun time may be fast and loose, but as an inscription on a sundial at the historic Hampton estate in Towson, Md., points out, it is still "more sacred than gold."