Here’s to Staving off Dementia and other Demons


Txt me later - Waiouru Army MuseumI’ve been working on my CV over the last few days as my division and role are being disestablished. On the template there was a field for interests. Now if you know me, you will know I am addicted to learning. I am not happy if I am not developing a new skill, a new understanding or keeping up with the constant state of change in this amazing era I feel privileged to live in.

Why do we need to learn? For a start, we have a massive set of wetware in our skulls, that like any muscle, needs to be exercised. Just like muscle sinews, the dendrites in our brain grow or shrink as they are used or neglected. We have discovered this concept of neuroplasticity, or perhaps more to the point of it, science has proven it exists. We actually knew it all along. The link above has some great ways to grow your brain.

The challenge is to keep learning and my bent is to understand, not just absorb data. We have Wikipedia and Google to do compile the data, we need to understand what it means. We need to be ready to identify our weaknesses and keep pace with change. If we don’t the consequences are dire.

I told someone this morning that I feel like I am living in a science fiction novel. The space race is back on, our oceans, lakes, rivers and seas are polluted. Temperatures all over the globe are reaching extremes, we’re getting rid of plastic bags, the political trend around the world is becoming more nationalistic in many places, as we try to protect something we may not have actually had. Children are rising up and being recognised.

I have to chuckle at this one, because I tried that back when I was a kid. I was lucky to have the opportunity because whilst children were sent to schools and universities to learn, their views were largely ignored. Today they are realising that they can’t let grownups screw up the world that they will inherit.

The challenge was that we didn’t have social media and broadcast systems that allow children on one side of the planet to encourage people on another side of the planet to ban plastic bags. I remember being involved in seminars as a teenager with groups like the World Council of Churches and Paulo Freire, whom I was very lucky to have met and spent time with.

Paulo’s critical pedagogy which is now considered new, included the premise that “Study is not measured by the number of pages read in a night, nor by the number of books read in a semester. Studying is not an act of consuming ideas, but of creating and recreating them”.

That’s how we moved from the Morse Code machine to owning, often more than one smartphone, each with more computing power than was used in the entire Apollo 11 Space Programme.

Successes didn’t happen overnight. For example there were many failures before that light bulb lit up and stayed on. We didn’t stop with that incandescent light, we tried and failed and failed and tried and look at the amazing options we have now. Garden lights powered by the sun that work for years and cost less than $5 each!

So what happens when we stop learning? Have you had the sad experience of having to put a family member into a rest home? What happens in most of those places? They have limited resources and the people in them spend a lot of their time withering away until they no longer know who they are. Yet, we know that playing them music they were once familiar with, can bring them back. Things they learned are still there, but the dendrite connections turned off.

I wonder how we will use that knowledge now that it has been accepted as scientific fact, because dementia is at its highest level in recorded history and I’m not sure it needs to be.

I actually wanted to write about interests and one of mine is linguistics. At various times I have learned and spoken around 8 languages. I formally studied 6 of those. The other one, which I have forgotten was Hungarian, which I learned at 3 because my neighbours at the time only spoke that language. It was easy for me because I already spoke Dutch and English and learned French and German because my parents used it when I was a child, to have a conversation they didn’t want me to understand. Now there’s motivation for a kid to learn something!

I also wanted to talk about conferences, having attended, chaired and spoken at venues in 10 countries around the world, frequently sharing the frustration that most of the people that needed to attend weren’t there, because they were struggling to survive in a changing world and didn’t have time to learn the very things that would save their business. So instead of using Freire’s pedagogy, they kept repeating what they had once been taught, even though it was no longer relevant.

The number of people I have come across who say they know all about their business seems interesting proportional to the number of businesses that are going broke, or the models that are failing because disruptors have delivered what customers were asking the incumbents for, and not getting. So we were frequently preaching to the converted.

I’ll come back to the importance of language in another article, because it is a subject in its own right. Language and linguistics has provided me with a rich career in business and communications. It has taught me much about culture and helped me develop friendships and business relationships around the world.

But haven’t they changed over the decades? My cousins in Holland frequently use words I haven’t heard before and the technology is also now taking us into a whole new area of language, much of which is international, like emojis.

Anyway, I’d like to tell some stories about languages and the value of learning, but you’ll have to watch this space to find them. That’s assuming you still read, but of course you are here. That’s probably a sign of your age, because after writing my latest book targeted at millennials, I realised that many do not like to read at all, but will happily spend hours on YouTube watching educational videos. Maybe one little take away if you are in a business where you want to communicate with people. It used to be simple back in the day.

The things we were taught about in communications decades ago may still work in some niches. The principles still apply, but as Freire said, you have to create and recreate ideas.

So WTS and I’ll BRB 🙂

When People Say Good Luck


gruntled

I was in the shower this morning listening to Episode 55 of The Poker Mindset podcast.

One of the topics they discussed was wishing people good luck. Like saying “good luck on the table tonight”. Gareth made a great comment along the lines of (paraphrasing) so the 3,000 hours of playing on the tables and 500 hours of study, come down to good luck? I hope not.

It’s been a while since I consciously thought about this, but I rarely wish people good luck unless it is with their Lotto ticket or something that truly requires luck. There is no skill in parting with cash for a raffle. Otherwise I do feel that wishing someone luck, is almost a sign of disrespect. You know, like a sarcastic “Good luck with that!”

I’m waiting for approval from ACC for back surgery and when it finally comes, I don’t want people saying good luck. I’m relying on the surgeon having completed years of diligent study, of his attention to detail, a great team alongside him, all with many years of experience and the fact that he has performed the particular fusion operation, which is fairly new, over a hundred times with only one surgery that had complications which I believe were unrelated.

I met a cop recently (I only mention his occupation because fitness is a crucial part of his daily work) who had the same surgery from the same specialist, and he was back on the job after 6 weeks of recovery. That’s what I want.

I was going to write a spiel about some of my many past career successes, but it started looking like a memoire when I still have a good chunk of my career ahead of me. The crux of it was a saying I really like and that is probably all I really needed to say.

The harder and smarter I work, the luckier I get.

Your thoughts?

A Few Hours of Bliss at Float Culture


I arrived in an addled state this morning at 11AM for my 10AM appointment for a float and massage at Float Culture. It was in my diary for 10AM, but somehow that’s when I had booked my taxi to pick me up. I only got a few hours sleep last night, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

When I got there, they told me they had cancelled my appointment because I hadn’t turned up, even though I had confirmed this morning. I just tapped the button, not even reading it, or I would have realised and called for an earlier cab. How often do you do that with EFTPOS or paywave, just hit accept without looking at the price?

FC9Anyway, after my heart dropped, it turned out I was in luck and despite messing everyone around, they were able to fit me in. They asked if a Pod was OK rather than one of the newer ‘rooms’. When I’m floating on Epsom Salts laden water in the quiet and dark it could be a farm water trough for all I care.

I keep a pain diary so that I can discuss my physio treatment, exercises etc for my back injury with the team of people assigned to restoring my health and getting me back to work. (3 bulging disks pushing against nerves which has kept me off work for 6 months) The injury has me at a pain level of 6-7/10 most of the time and that’s with some hard hitting pain medications. This morning I was up at 2AM (6/10) 3-4AM (7/10) and up again at 6AM with 6/10.

Once I was in the pod, for some reason I struggled to keep my mind quiet and even using breathing techniques, my brain would be off on some tangent before I could count 5 breathes in and out and the hour was over all too soon, BUT I could barely feel my back when I got out of the tank for a shower and I still had a massage to come.

Now I’m no biochemist and my understanding was that endorphins are what used to give me the bright colours and the grin that wouldn’t stop, back before I had radiation therapy, and enkephalins are the body’s natural painkillers, but it seems they both come from the same part part of your brain. I didn’t have the buzz, but I also didn’t have the pain!

Anyway I went straight from the tank to the massage room for an hour of total relaxation.

At the end Kim said to take as long as I needed. I could have quite happily gone to sleep at that point. Well when I did get up from there, I was pain free, I was able to stand up and with a bright red rosy face, I felt the way you probably take for granted. I was able to put my track pants and shoes on without grunting and groaning. I was even able to stand up, leaning on a counter to look out the window watching for the cab to arrive without any pain.

Now to be fair, after the taxi ride home I was up to 3/10 and now I’m now at 4/10 but that’s still a lot less than 6-7. It will go back to 6-7, but I can’t describe how good it felt to be pain free without the use of drugs. No other treatment other than morphine has been able to do that for me in the last 6 months.

If you have any sort of chronic pain injury, I strongly recommend not just having the float, but combining the two. If you think how relaxed you feel after a massage, imagine having the massage when you are already totally relaxed. I pay a membership subscription and occasionally I get given a voucher for someone to get a free float (does not include a massage).

If you live in Auckland, leave a comment and I’ll use some random method to let someone try it for FREE. Find out more about floating on their website. I’ll pick one person on 1 December. Think of it as an early Christmas present. That’s worth $100, but I’m sure you’ll agree the outcome is worth much more. Do remember it is sensory deprivation so if you get claustrophobic, this is not for you.

Meanwhile if you’re still here, I’m going to get into the Delorean and zip back to 4 October 1987 for my 3rd float. You can go back to my previous blog for the 2nd one.

Now just to set the scene, I was working for a company that was bleeding money for no obvious reason (yet). I was making sales for 6 figure sums of money, delivering cheques in some instances, but somehow even though they had been cashed, they never seemed to reach the company bank account. It got worse from there when not long later I arrived at work on my way to a sailing weekend on the family yacht, to find out why my pay hadn’t been deposited. I met the receivers who were in the processing of padlocking the office door. To make matters worse, a certain person (not me) had taken a first class family world trip on my company credit card (note, if you get one of those, you are jointly and severally liable for any debt) and the bank took me for the money. I ended up losing just under $40,000 and I was just an employee and had to refinance our home. Take it that I was a little stressed.

So, off to the Belleview Clinic in Mt Eden on 4 October. This is what I wrote:

“My third float. Nothing spectacular. I didn’t feel any more relaxed, or different. The float itself was unremarkable, anticlimactic. Yet as I sat down to relax afterward, I felt a vibration throughout my body and a general sense of well-being. Not euphoric, but content.

I concentrated some energy on relaxing my jaw, probably the last place where I still felt stress from clenching my teeth.

Driving home I felt rag-doll relaxed, although I still felt fragile in the face of pressure, real or imagined. (Note at this stage I wasn’t aware the company I worked for was being embezzled, I just knew something was seriously amiss), It is difficult going from a cocoon to a demanding environment. I felt like I didn’t want to let go of the comfort of zero responsibility that I enjoyed in the tank.

Floating Book

The current edition available from Amazon

My general bearing and outlook was positive and I could see many parallels to other relaxation methods like meditation. I felt as though I was taking a short cut. It was interesting that subsequently I read similar comments in ‘The Book of Floating‘. It has been compared to many ‘laboristic’ relaxation methods including Yoga and acupuncture. 

There is a notebook of floater’s comments, a visitors book in the lounge at the clinic. Every comment is positive. Most people are there to solve personal problems and seem to want to apply mystical meaning to the amazing results. That’s not surprising off course when their bloodstreams are getting a rush of natural brain produced opiates.

I found myself holding back from conclusions, but was keenly looking forward to moving beyond release of tension and balancing myself, to getting creative with the tank and finding new ways to benefit from sensory deprivation. 

I subsequently did that and had all sorts of experiences and experiments that you can read about in future blogs about these awesome tanks. Bookmark or subscribe to this blog to find out more. If it’s boring you to tears, sorry, this is my personal soapbox and like the woman who was offended by the 2 minute song, based on the doppler effect, that I performed in one of my sets at the Parnell Rose Festival many years ago, called What I Like About Reefton. She stood up and said ‘That’s not very nice” and left her seat in the audience. If you want other types of blogs feel free to visit one of my other blogs like The Future Diaries , Location Is Everywhere , First Home Buyers Training or SoLoMo Consulting.

 

Lingering Effects from my Second Float in 1987


Following on from my blog on my second float, way back all those years ago, I made some notes four days later. Take them as you will. From 29 September 1987:

Lift (2)“It must be having an effect. Today was an extremely hectic day. I was writing proposals and attending meetings at a frantic pace. I was suffering from heartburn (turned out that I had a duodenal ulcer) by midday and finding it almost impossible to unwind.

Yet, although I am exhausted, my jaw is tender from clenching my teeth and I have a slight headache and despite the issues going on behind the scenes at work, I am feeling unusually cheerful.

I also feel as though my head is clearer, memory access improved and my thinking power is enhanced.

I will treat these impressions with a grain of salt, because I can’t prove that this is from the float, but I don’t have any other explanation.

I still get this strange feeling in my right temple region. It is a positive feeling, almost like a vague pleasure twinge. Unfortunately I can’t really describe it other than like a gentle ongoing endorphin flow.

Floating Book

The current edition available from Amazon

I have just been reading in ‘The Book of Floating’ by Michael Hutchison, that as a result of various studies by researchers including Roger Sperry, Michael Gazzaniga and Joseph Bogen, it was demonstrated that “Not only does each hemisphere of the cortex have its own consciousness, thought and its own memories, but that the two sides think or operate in fundamentally different modes”.

This is exactly what I experienced after my first float, in the differing perspective and ‘stereophonic or divided brain thoughts‘ relating to the distance from my eyes to the ground. At the time I put it down to a natural high induced by the increased flow of our naturally produced opiate.”

However, if you watch this video, perhaps as with early research using float tanks, illustrated in the movie ‘Altered States’ you will see there is some interesting theory which suggests we have a lot more concurrent thinking capacity than we consciously use. This is something that David Kadavy seems to be promoting.

Reading this back, I sound a bit like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory and I admit I will always be a bit of a geek. I was listening to the October 31 Born to Write podcast this morning from Azul Terronez interviewing David Kadavy:

David Kadavy is a creative entrepreneur and author of Design for Hackers: Reverse-Engineering Beauty (which debuted in the top 20 on all of Amazon), The Heart to Start and multiple “short reads.”

It reminded me of some of my early school days, like when my teacher got fed up with me correcting his misinformation once too often and picked me out of my seat and threw me across the room in front of the entire class. I understand his anger. I was always catching him out. Just as well we didn’t have Google back then. I’m a bit OCD when it comes to learning and using what I learn. From my earliest memories, I was asking ‘why?’ in Dutch, English, French, German and Hungarian at about the age of 4. Our brains are almost limitless vessels saying fill me with information. The more information we have, the more we can see patterns in disparate areas and realise that ultimately as Hawking would have put it, everything is connected.

Anyway, that was the four days after my second float. It continued to deliver benefits days after.

If this is boring, skip my next one in this series about my third ever float. (Don’t worry this won’t continue to my 200th! lol) As I mentioned previously, if it does peak your interest. Check out Float Culture in Auckland or find a float tank centre somewhere near you.

My Latest Float at Float Culture and my Second Ever Float in 1987


Float 5So yesterday I had another float and massage at Float Culture. My back pain from my injury back in April is still hovering around 6-7/10 most of the time and I was so looking forward to the zero gravity and a great massage from Kim.

I had booked the Cosmic Room, which is a newer float tank, which instead of being a pod like the one I showed a photo of in my last blog, which was also cool, this one is more like an Alice in Wonderland meets Dr Who.

What is really cool about it is that while it is still a floating tank, you enter through a door and it is high enough to stand in, which is great when your time is up and you want to stretch out. I can’t say one is better than the other, when you are in the dark in total silence, floating on a silky nothing, it is really irrelevant. It’s also easier if you have a physical injury in regards to getting in and out.

Float 2When you come out after your float, the atmosphere is pretty cool. Bright colours and a picture of a galaxy awaits your heightened senses, especially if your body produces endorphins, which mine isn’t good at since my cancer treatment, along with low cortisol and virtually no adrenaline, I don’t experience the mental natural high that you will, but there are so many benefits from floating that it’s no longer an issue for me. A lot of cancer patients float. Relaxing when life is tough isn’t easy, but here you have no choice.

I think I’ll turn this into two blogs because the next one is going to be quite long and possibly boring unless you really want to know more about the floating experience in detail. Being a geek, I did.

When you have been in chronic pain for 6 months and any time you are awake, gravity wants to push your vertebrae together and you are constantly dopy from pain medications, being in an environment like this is bliss. I was pain free for most of the day yesterday and what you might take for granted (just feeling physically normal) was wonderful for me.

I met, Anton the owner of Float Culture and we had a great chat with him and one of his team about how there is a resurgence of interest in floating and sensory deprivation, some of the history of the origin of sensory deprivation tanks. More of that perhaps in another blog, but for now I just want to say:

  1. Whether you are physically or emotionally stressed, injured, tired or just want to try something new, I strongly recommend going for a float at Float Culture in Grafton.
  2. If you are totally relaxed, life is great, and you just want to try something new, refer to 1. You don’t have to be suffering in any way to get a benefit from it. The experience will still be amazing.
  3. Go with a friend, they have several floating rooms. But you might need to book a few days ahead. They have an app and you can also pay a subscription and get better pricing if you go regularly and even free passes for friends. One or two lucky people who talk to me nicely, might be able to get one of those.
  4. Have a float followed by a massage. Imagine having a great massage when you are already totally relaxed. If you’re thinking about a day spa and want to try something new. Do this.
  5. Tell them Luigi sent you. I want them to know that I am recommending them because I want them to do well. There have been some years where there hasn’t been a float centre in Auckland, which was frustrating.
  6. 6. Just do it. Make a booking today. If you’re not totally convinced, read some of these testimonials from other floaters.

My First Ever Sensory Deprivation Float – I’m Sold


Warning – Longish Blog, but if you want to know what the first time floating experience is like, you will find it interesting IMHO.

As promised in my previous blog, I am going to post a series of blogs about some of my experiences in float tanks.

September 1987

I was badly in need of relaxation and decided that the time was right. I had heard about floating previously and found a brochure at the Tourist Information Centre in Auckland’s Aotea Square.

I was very tense, there were some suspect things going on at my work (it looked like the company was being embezzled) and I was suffering from heartburn and chronic indigestion and had been constipated for three days. I feared I was becoming a candidate for an ulcer.

For some reason I felt very positive about the concept and that it could be good for me. My confidence was boosted by the fact that major sporting organizations including the Dallas Cowboys and AFL Teams owned their own tanks, for rehab of their elite athletes,  recognizing the benefits of sensory deprivation. The Cowboys apparently had TV screens in some of their tanks where players could relax on watch strategic videos.

On entering the Belleview Clinic in Eden Terrace, I was welcomed by a quietly spoken man who took one look at me and said “You haven’t floated before have you?” My disposition was obvious.

FC5He gave me a leaflet containing initial instructions. These were essentially:

  • Empty your bladder and bowels
  • Take a hot shower paying particular attention to your face so that you have no itches while you are in the tank. You don’t want to get salt water in your eyes, while scratching your face.
  • Put Vaseline (provided) on your private or sensitive parts to protect against the salt
  • Fit the supplied earplugs
  • Open the hatch in the tank, get in and close the rolling door.

Five minutes before the float ends, the underwater stereo system will pipe in quiet relaxing music. When the music ends, sit up whilst leaning your head back to avoid getting salt in your eyes, then exit and shower again to rinse of the residue Epsom Salts.

FC9Next I got a guided tour. The tank itself (a bit less modern than this one at Float Culture today) is an 8 foot by 6 foot by 4 foot fibreglass enclosure resembling a ship’s liferaft container before it is dropped in the water and opened up. It featured a rolling door through which you enter the inner spaceship which had 10-12 inches of water almost saturated with a solution of Epsom Salts.

So I had my shower, inserted the earplugs, applied the vaseline and climbed in.

The water felt warm, thick and sort of silky, almost sensuous. I closed the hatch and was suddenly in almost total darkness. I slid the hatch open again so that I wouldn’t forget where the knob was if I needed it…..

I tried to partially close the hatch but that didn’t work, so I closed it again and lay down. Then I sat up again, opened the hatch a little and closed it again just to reassure and orient myself.

Finally I lay down and tried to relax. I had been warned that my shoulder and neck muscles might start to hurt a little as they start to unknot and release their tension. The man told me to either breathe with the pain or rest my hands behind my head, flexing the muscles a little.

I tried both, but decided that a hands down version of the yoga nidra corpse position offered the most relaxing attitude for my body.

FC6So I relaxed. As my eyes adjusted there was a little light in the tank through the little indent patterns in the fibreglass.

My mind found it hard to cope with the fact that I was totally safe from external influences which might disturb the water or distract me. I kept slipping to one side as though I was balancing on a beam and for 3-4 minutes I found it hard to maintain my balance.

Eventually I achieved a level of equilibrium. I tried to keep my eyes open but found that I was easily distracted by light, sound and even nonexistent stimuli. I closed my eyes again achieving better results, however for the next 5-10 minutes I opened and closed my eyes a number of times, just to reassure myself.

Then I started to relax physically, but my mind was racing, very much the same as when I would go to sleep at night. When you are not experienced in relaxing, you can try too hard.

I felt a spinning sensation. I was hardly moving more than a cm per second and only for a tiny distance and then I’d stop by gently touching the wall with a foot or hand, but it felt like I had turned 90 degrees. This continued on and off for about 20 minutes. My sense of time was distorted.

Yes indeed, my shoulders were getting heavy and tired. Good, it seemed I was doing something right.

Now I moved into a conscious REM State. It was exactly like the first stages of sleep in which dreams that actually take  microseconds appear to take much longer. Yet I was conscious and could feel my eyeballs darting all over the place under my eyelids. It was an interesting feeling but the more I tried to analyse it, the more my consciousness started to return.

I knew that I was reaping rewards physically but mentally, because I was constantly analysing the experience, I wondered if I was wasting the opportunity.

Next thing I knew, time had passed and I was being gently roused by music from the underwater speakers which reminded me of the whale sounds on Pink Floyd’s Meddle album. It was soft and repetitious but relaxing. It only seemed to last about 20 seconds but it was actually 5 minutes.

I leaned my head back, protecting my eyes from the salt and opened the sliding door, then eased my way out and onto a wooden platform.

My shoulders and neck felt heavy and I was a little light headed but otherwise I felt normal enough.

I busied myself in the shower, washed and shampooed my hair (yes I still had hair then), making sure that all the Epsom Salts were rinsed off. Having dried myself off, I dressed and went into the pastel colored lounge, which had comfy chairs, a booktable and a selection of drinks including many herbal teas.

Floating Book

The current edition available from Amazon

Although I only felt slightly light headed, things seemed to take an awfully long time. My time sense was distorted. I sat down, which felt better and picked up a book entitled “The Book of Floating” by Michael Hutchison.

I then decided that I should have a drink to replace lost fluid and selected a Peruvian Lemon Tea which sounded refreshing.

I tried to fill the jug, which was not only full, it had a ‘cup number indicator’ on the side which said it was full. I emptied a bit out again and looked down at the floor. The opiate-like action of my natural endorphins induced an unusual effect. I was getting two independant impressions.

The left hemisphere was telling me that it was about five feet from my eyes to the ground. The right hemisphere said “I know it is only about 5 feet to the ground, but my perception tells me it is nearer to 10 feet.” Talk about a well balanced split personality!

I enjoyed a mild dose of euphoria, enhanced by the monochrome pastel room. I finished my tea and had a chat with the owner who said he could see by my eyes that the float had been beneficial.

I went to pay and found that they did not accept credit cards. I got the impression that this was a bit of a tacit protest against new technology. I found it hard to accept that they took me on trust for the cost of the float and the book which I had decided to buy.

Driving away I felt very relaxed and couldn’t stop my face from smiling. I felt a time distortion at traffic lights, it seemed they had stayed on red for too long.

That night I felt I had to waste some of the beneficial effects as I had to attend a business dinner. This was Wednesday night.

Yet, when I wrote these notes on a plane from Wellington to Auckland 2 nights later, I still felt better than I should after a very tiring day. I looked forward to greater effects from passive floating more often in the short term, and experimenting with Super Learning (now used by Navy SEALS) which I read about in the book, and other possibilities in the future.

In short, I was sold!

The floating experience is different for each person, but this should give you a bit of an idea of what to expect first time. Please remember I wrote this 31 years ago and the technology has improved dramatically although the principal’s are the same.

Of Asimov, Robots, Artificial Intelligence and What is a Human Anyway


You might say I have too much time on my hands. I would answer that I never have enough time, but my back injury continues and I have had time to think in a few directions.

Whether it is HAL 9000, remember “I’m sorry but I can’t do that Dave” as an answer to “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” from 2001 A Space Odyssey?

If you haven’t tried it, ask Alexa, Siri, Cortana or whatever your speech interface is to the internet, those famous words. “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” If only Arthur C Clarke was around to experience that.

Damn, I just remembered that they had a 4K restoration of the movie at Imax last month for the 50th anniversary of the movie. I was hoping to find someone to go with and then totally forgot about it. That would have been amazing.

AsimovI collect books and in recent years have given away many books that I was never going to read again, but decided to extend my collections of specific writers and starting at the beginning of the alphabet, I looked at what was missing from my Isaac Asimov collection and amongst others bought a copy of The Bicentennial Man.

Asimov is of course famous for the 3 Laws of Robotics. Ironically a lot of people debunked his laws and said they were flawed and used that to criticise him as being unrealistic or perhaps idealistic, which is a trait of many SciFi authors of the 70’s. However, he knew that himself. In many of his stories, robots disobeyed the laws.

There is a great story in this book called That Thou Art Mindful of Him, in which is a play on Psalm 8:4-6, he also infers in some of the stories that he was Jewish through some of the characters and had a keen sense of humor.

In this story (and I’m sorry for the spoiler) a series of robots are produced and given the capability to become self aware, in effect sentient. They redefine what it is to be human and declare themselves as such.

I played with the thought of Singularity and imagined if autonomous cars could pass the Turing Test 

I also looked at what might happen if they didn’t and what hackers might be able to do.

What I keep coming back to and writers like Philip K Dick, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and many others foresaw 50 and more years ago and similar to where the TV series Humans is heading, is that humans are dangerous to the planet.

Now I like being human and I hope that my descendants will have safe and healthy planet for thousands of years from now and many of my little stories are in jest.

BUT, if climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution, brinkmanship politics, drought, famine, and war are the result of how great and committed we humans fancy ourselves to be, would it not be realistic if an Artificial Intelligence was developed to the point of Singularity and able to continue to learn with or without programmed biases, would their logic determine that the human race should either be limited or allowed to exterminate ourselves?

Kurzweil looked at it a different way and said that Singularity would occur around 2045 and potentially be a synthesis between human and machine, in effect human 2.0. He would be about 98 at that point in time, so it will be interesting to see if he is still around and if he is right.

Maybe Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and many futuristic projects should have the last word. He’s pretty successful and walks the talk. DARPA, Rex Bionics and hundreds of companies, universities and other innovators are developing systems that will be able to think for themselves. Yes, for specific purposes, but they are being created.

It’s interesting that in this clip, they say that Science Fiction is usually about 50 years ahead of its time. So back to Asimov, reading him today, especially a book like The Bicentennial Man, where like Stephen King and others, he talks about his stories, was he in fact prophetic?

Yes, maybe I’ve had too much time to think, but do you think we should be thinking about this. Just imagined if a machine, say a Robocop decided that using facial recognition or perhaps racial recognition, that you were, could be, or could become a criminal and then think about biases that go into programming, often of necessity.

What conclusions could an AI start taking when given some information and some bias and then left to learn on the basis of that starting point? Oh and I didn’t even mention George Orwell. He wrote Animal Farm in 1945. Remember “All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others”? Shutting up now……..

 

How I Chose My Prostate Cancer Treatment AND Got to Remission


I have had feedback from many people that they are reading my blogs about my cancer journey and appreciation for my speaking out, when for many men this is a taboo subject. I really appreciate the feedback. It’s not exactly a comfortable thing to share. There are a couple of things I would appreciate even more. If you think these blogs are useful, please leave a comment or share it with others and if you can find it in your heart to do so, please visit my Relay For Life page. It’s a month away and I am desperately hoping the weather isn’t like it is today!

IMG_3494The biggest win for me has been that I am now up to 20 people who have been motivated by me to get tested for cancer, which is awesome. Prostate cancer does kill people. On Wednesday night I was standing by the window in a stinking hot room at the West Plaza Hotel in Wellington with no air conditioning, looking out at the night sky and hoping it would cool down and watching the Halberg Awards live on TV. From West Plaza

In the memorial section, there was the face of Steve Sumner how died only a year ago from Prostate Cancer, I thought of a radio personality (I haven’t asked her permission so won’t use her name) who told me her father died from Prostate Cancer because he didn’t get checked until it was too late; and I thought of Paul Holmes who on one TV interview said that he wished he had never known he had cancer, but reading this story, I suspect he changed his mind as he realised how important life and his family were to him.

Anyway, I met with my urologist and my oncologist to discuss my cancer treatment options. They gave me an information pack from the Auckland Cancer Society and whilst being very diligent in trying not to let their biases show, explained a little about the options available to me. I have had a little experience with specialists who are very focused on the particular treatments or therapies they offer, and they should, because they shouldn’t be performing them if they don’t believe in them. But one size doesn’t fit all.

I was given four medical options. I did also try alternatives like Pomi-T for a long time and sea cucumber which tasted horrendous and cost a fortune. They didn’t hurt me, but the tumors kept growing.

  1. External Beam Radiation. 8 weeks of radiation, which according to my oncologist has a 95% success rate for people at my level of cancer.
  2. Brachytherapy. This is where they insert radioactive isotopes into the prostate and treat it from the inside out.
  3. Hormone therapy. This is similar to the treatment they use on sex offenders to reduce their sexual urges, reducing testosterone and increasing female hormones. Testosterone feeds tumors, so less testosterone means less for the cancer to thrive on.
  4. Radical Prostatectomy or surgical removal of the prostate gland. As it sounds.

I listened to their arguments for and against. I read the pamphlets. I joined a prostate cancer forum and asked other people who had prostate cancer about their treatments and found that they had all done a lot of research; and uniformly recommended the book Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer by Dr Gerald Chodak, which I mentioned and linked to in this blog.

I also went to a prostate cancer support group which was the most depressing thing I’ve ever been to. I appreciate the intent, but what an experience. One man had been told that day that he had less than 6 months to live and he was telling me how he was bewildered and horrified, struggling to comprehend a life of daily exercise, good diet and basically doing everything right and instead of looking forward to retirement in 5 or so years, he wasn’t going to be around for it; and a guy so depleted of testosterone that he had suffered massive weight gain, hot flushes, emotional swings, inability to reach an erection (and the lack of desire to do so with the depression of not having it) and more. I understand the purpose of the group and applaud the Society for providing this service, but it wasn’t for me. It could have just been that I picked the wrong day to attend.

With regard to treatment and side effects I want to reiterate that everyone is different. If you look at the side effects for any drug you take on the packaging or leaflet, most people don’t experience many of the potential effects, but the odd person could have severe reactions. I’m not trying to influence your decision. You need to make it for yourself and decide even how informed you want to be.

External Beam Radiation

As a poker player, 95% odds of success appealed to me. Imagine going into an 8-week poker tournament knowing you had a 95% likelihood of being in the money at the end if you followed instructions!

The center offering the treatment said they were prepared to provide my treatment at 7AM each morning, so I could go to work afterwards and have minimal disruption to my life.

The side effects to consider were:

  • Hair loss in the area (not a worry)
  • Mild fatigue (about that…)
  • Frequent urination, weak stream and burning pain while urinating.
  • Possible diarrhea, incontinence, impotence and proctitis.
  • Reduced or no seminal fluid with ejaculation

Many of these side effects disappear a year or so after the treatment. Everyone is different.

Brachytherapy

Many of the symptoms are similar to external beam radiation, but instead of 2 months of radiation, it’s a brief surgery where radioactive seeds are implanted and that’s it. A key difference is that the side effects occur fairly soon after the implants have been placed and improve, where the symptoms of external beam occur later. Side effects include:

  • Burning pain during urination
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Sexual Dysfucntion
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Bowel Incontinence
  • Diarrhea
  • Having to stay away from pregnant women (what if they don’t know they are pregnant?) and adolescent children.

Hormone Therapy

In the book I mentioned above, Dr Chodak explained that the treatment is more or less the same as what is known as chemical castration, the treatment that is used to stop sex offenders, because one of the primary side effects is that it reduces your libido or sex drive. Great if that means reducing the risk of a criminal reoffending, but not for a normal male, or in fact a normal couple.

  • Loss of interest in sex (libido)
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Hot flashes
  • Loss of bone density and risk of fractures
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Weight gain

Radical Prostatectomy

This is surgical removal of the prostate gland. The things that worried me the most were the risk of nerve damage and the potential to never be able to have an erection again as well as a reduction in penis size. Sorry of this is something that you find creepy to read, but it’s amongst the things I had to consider. If I was 70, these things might not be such a big deal, but I’m not and they are. In the USA this surgery is frequently done by a robot, but here it is humans and I don’t care how good the surgeon is, stuff happens, there is a high risk of at least partial nerve damage.

Ignoring infections and other things that can go wrong and potential risk of tumors crossing the enclosure holding the prostate gland in place (also a risk with biopsies and the Brachytherapy), side effects include:

  • Urinary incontinence and/or urine leakage which can mean having to wear pads for 1-3 years or longer
  • Trouble getting or maintaining an erection, potentially permanent
  • Dry orgasms and loss of sensation and pleasure (and the impact of that on your partner)
  • Infertility
  • Penile shortening
  • Bowel Injury

But Wait There’s More

So this is just scratching the surface. I read the book and it literally gave me nightmares. It wasn’t a short book and went into way more detail than what I have shared above. It was very thorough in explaining all of the details of the different surgeries and what factors you should consider based on the severity of the cancer, your age, your lifestyle. It helped me make my decision from a personal and clinical perspective, but I’m not sure I would recommend it. I was pretty upset and stressed out for a long time after reading the book. I can’t even bring myself to go back to it to quote parts of it to you.

My decision

I want to reiterate again that my decision was based on my feelings about the treatments, the people offering the treatments and my personal circumstances, my relationship (of course my wife was also part of the decision making process because it affected both of us), my age (I plan to be working for at least another 10 years), my family and obviously wanting to survive and live a productive and happy life.

I chose external beam radiation for various reasons.

  • A 95% success rate is not to be sneezed at (unless you become semi-incontinent!). It’s no laughing matter either as people who have semi-incontinence can attest to.
  • My granddaughter was 7 and I didn’t want to lost that special relationship of being able to sit next to her, have her on my knee or miss out on hugs. I was worried that if for her safety, I had to keep my distance that this  might have a long term impact on our relationship. You can’t get that back and she was too young to have been able to understand if I noticeably kept my distance.
  • While it would impact on my ability to travel by plane for work, which I was doing 2-3 times a month, I could do some of the treatment over Christmas.
  • Doing the treatment at 7 each morning meant that I wouldn’t have to take time off work.
  • IMG_4479I wouldn’t have to risk sitting next to someone on a plane with radioactive seeds between my legs. Imagine saying to the airline, I’m flying on Friday. Please don’t seat me next to a child or a pregnant woman. What if the woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant? Okay please don’t seat me next to ANY woman. I wonder how many people do and if any women struggle with fertility as a consequence of having randomly sat next to someone on a plane or at a concert. I wasn’t going to have that risk on my conscience.
  • The side effects seemed to be the least severe of the 4 options.

“I’m sorry, but you’re not in the 95%”

IMG_2105Unfortunately after 2 months of radiation treatment, when I had a series of scans to see how it went, the treatment was unsuccessful. I was in the 5% of people for whom it didn’t work.

I got many of the side effects, some very severe, but the cancer was still there. I may write about the year during and after the treatment for anyone that wants more insight into what it was like. From drinking a bottle of water every morning on the way to Mercy Hospital so that my full bladder would push my internal organs out of the way during the radiation treatment, being afraid that I couldn’t hold it, the painful urination, the loss of libido and erectile dysfunction, a feeling of loss of dignity, chronic fatigue, depression, needing to stay close to a toilet and on the other side, meeting some wonderful people, both fellow patients and those who helped me with treatment of my body and mind.

Another Choice

So then I had 3 more options. Brachytherapy wasn’t much of a choice given the radiation had already failed, so I had to go to hormone treatment, given I do not want the surgery.

This treatment was just pills, nothing more. I had side effects and continue to have some lingering effects. I had to make use of the counselling from a psychologist at the Cancer Society.

IMG_2290The end result was about 7 months ago my Oncologist said “You are in remission”. I had to ask what that means, because sometimes people talk about being cancer free. There is no such thing, but you can be in remission for years or decades.

This is important because I frequently read or hear stories about people being cured of cancer. As I understand it, there is no such thing. We all have cancer cells, they may be dormant or managed, either with treatment, diet or our immune system, but you do not get cured.

I am now on 3 monthly visits and in January had my 3rd one where my oncologist said my testosterone levels are good, my cortisol levels are lower than we would like, but I am producing some, I am still barely producing adrenaline, but my PSA levels are low and stable. I don’t have to go back for another 2 months.

Early Birds 2018

Our 2018 singlets have just arrived. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of people living and sadly past who we are walking or running for on 10-11 March. The day after my birthday.

I’m in remission. I am focused on Relay For Life. Check out our Team Early Birds singlet. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of the people we are walking for over 18 hours. We are raising funds for the Cancer Society who do amazing work. They don’t take any money out of it for admin or running the society. It goes to research and supporting services like the psychologist who helped me and accomodation for people who have to travel a long way from home for their treatment. I’m on a mission to get people like you to donate $5 to this wonderful cause. Think of it as a koha for the time I spent writing this blog.

For those who are facing decisions like mine. I’m happy to answer questions and I will probably share more details of what it was like physically and emotionally to go on this journey.

CLGR7749In the meantime, I’m working on recording my EP of 4 songs called The Cancer Diaries. I am struggling with the rhythm guitar for the second demo, called Who Stole My Words and may need to call on one of the guitarists who offered to help me with this album to lay down a track for me. I hate asking for help but I need some with this.

I hope this has been informative and not an uncomfortable read. It is an uncomfortable condition as is any cancer and I hope that this blog is helpful. I hope that I can increase the number of people who get tested early beyond 20. I hope you will leave a comment, question, share, or make a little donation to Relay For Life.

 

 

 

Prostate Cancer, Gory Details, Treatment Choices and Relay For Life, Can You Help?


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A sign we walk past during the night in Relay For Life

I’m writing this blog to ask for your help in raising awareness and fundraising for Relay For Life, to support the Cancer Society in raising funds they need both for cancer research and to support people who need help, from counseling to transport and even free accommodation when people have to travel out of town for treatment.

The Cancer Society is funding research amongst others in the area of treating cancer like a virus, which is showing a lot of promise and would mean that people like me in future might not have to go through the treatments and processes I went through.

IMG_4287Can you spare $5 in support or in memory of a friend or family member with cancer. You can do so here. You can do it with a message, you can leave your name or mention the person you are supporting, you can do it anonymously and if you are in New Zealand it is tax deductible. I’ll bet that you, dear reader, know at least one person who has cancer. Several of you of course know me, so there’s one.

Like my previous blog, if I get some donations, I will spare you some of the gory details that we prostate cancer patients have to deal with.

I would dearly welcome your donation, I’m struggling in receiving them this year. Where I am doing well, is that the number of people who have told me that they have been motivated to get tested for cancer has now risen to 20! Every single one of them is cancer free and more importantly know so and have baselines.

So in my last blog, I spared you the gory details of the first visits to the urologist and trading my dignity for hope.  Now I am going to offer to spare you details of some of the side effects of prostate cancer treatment, some of which I endured and some of which I chose not to risk. I had to make decisions based on choosing life (if possible) and the most suitable treatment for my lifestyle and work.

IMG_2184 (2)Some of those side effects included painful urination, short term or permanent erectile dysfunction, never producing seminal fluid again, the length of your penis being reduced, damage to other organs, chronic fatigue, loss of libido and depression. Some of these are experienced by most prostate patients and some depend on the choice of treatment, which of course depending on the seriousness of the condition may not be optional if you want to live. It’s also important to recognise that everyone responds differently to different treatment.

The next steps were a series of biopsies. I’ll spare you the details of how they do that for prostate cancer other than that they approach it from behind. Initially they found 3 tumors and confirmed that they were malignant. Then over the next few months, scans and 2 more biopsies confirmed that I had at least 5 and they were slow growing.

They gave me 3 options. One was to implant radioactive seeds into my prostate a treatment called Brachytherapy. Here’s more if you’d like to know more about how it works. I decided against it because it meant staying away from my granddaughter and pregnant women for about 6 months. Besides not wanting to change my relationship with my beautiful young granddaughter, how do you know if someone in your circle, or even randomly sitting next to you, say on a plane, is pregnant? They might not know themselves.on

IMG_4479Basically you are emitting radiation, which while not powerful, could have unintended side effects for others. The percentage likelihood, very slim, but percentages weren’t working well for me at this time and I wasn’t going to have on my conscience that I could be sitting next to a random stranger, potentially damaging a foetus she didn’t even know existed. Obviously some people do that. You can’t exactly hop on a flight and ask not to be seated next to a young girl going through puberty or a woman of an age that she could be pregnant and perhaps not know it.

The urologist was keen on this option. It would mean a quick procedure and a couple of days later I would be home. It would have minimal impact on my work, but given part of my work is reasonably frequent air travel and what I just told you, it wasn’t a great option. It was a treatment he would perform with my oncologist, who I had yet to meet. Specialists tend to favor opportunities for surgery or treatment that is their specialty of course and I respect that.

IMG_2061The next option was 8 weeks of almost daily radiation on this beast, which includes a CT scanner which would first make sure that every morning, after drinking enough water to fill my bladder and push my organs out of reach of the radiation (where possible), that I was lying in an identical position.

It would give me a 95% chance of killing the tumours. They could accomodate me so that I could go in first thing in the morning, if I got up early and have the treatment before work. They could do it over December and January as well so that would mean 3 weeks where it did not impact on my job.

The third option was to remove the prostate altogether, so if the tumours haven’t spread beyond the gland (pretty difficult to tell), they might get it altogether.

At this point I felt I needed to be informed. What were the risks, benefits and side effects? I thought back to watching Sir Paul Holmes on TV before he passed away from Prostate Cancer in 2013, saying that he wished he had never known he had cancer at all.

So how do you choose? I purchased a book called ‘Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer, Get The Treatment That is Right For You‘ by Dr Gerald Chodak. Oh how I wish I hadn’t bought the book, but I’m the sort of person who needs to understand.

It explained in gory detail how the different treatments worked (including some chemical treatments that we hadn’t discussed). Every treatment came with side effects and after effects. I hardly got any sleep for the week it took me to read this book. It scared the hell out of me and whilst you need to be positive, as stress has an impact on your body’s ability to fight cancer cells, it’s pretty hard to make an informed decision that WILL impact the rest of your Teamlife without being informed. I chose the book over Doctor Google, because it was recommended by cancer patient support groups.

So in the end I chose the 8 weeks of radiation and yes it had lots of side effects. Most of these are now over, 2 years later, but I’d be lying if I said it had been easy. If you’d like the gory details, please don’t pop $5 into my Early Bird account.

lava lava

Naked barring my socks, each morning I lay on the scanner, watching them mark with a pen, where the beam should go, trying to hold on to my dignity and my full bladder

Unfortunately soon after 2 months of treatment they told me that I wasn’t in the 95% of people who found themselves in remission after the treatment, but I felt very happy for those who were.

I had side effects from the treatment and scans showed the tumours were still there.

I did work on positivity and put my energy into starting my EP The Cancer Diaries following suppRelaort from my friends when I didn’t have the emotional strength to pick up my guitars or play them. I also took up the offer of free counselling from an Auckland Cancer Society specialist cancer psychologist, one of the services funded by your donations. If you haven’t heard the DEMO of the first song called If I Could Turn The Pages, you can listen to it here.

I hope you don’t want the gory details and will find $5 to shut me up although if you have prostate cancer, or want to know more about getting tested or the journey you are facing, I’m happy to share my experiences with any individuals on request.

Several people have found it helpful to speak to someone who has cancer rather than well meaning people, who haven’t had the experiences or had to make difficult decisions.

Early Birds 2018

Our 2018 singlets have just arrived. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of people living and sadly past who we are walking or running for on 10-11 March. The day after my birthday.

So instead of encouraging me to talk in more detail about the physical and emotional experiences I’ve been through in the last 2 years, please drop a couple of coins in the virtual bucket and lets celebrate life and hope and support Relay For Life 18 with my team. The Early Birds.

Prostate Cancer. No Pressure. Need Help for Relay For Life 2018.


So when my GP told me that my PSA levels had increased every test over the last couple of years when they should fluctuate, he said there was a risk that I might have cancer. He told me to lie up on the bed in his surgery, pull my pants down and my legs up and before I had a chance to ask, “is this necessary?”, his gloved finger went where the sun don’t shine. To say that it was unpleasant was an understatement, but I barely had time to feel embarrassed.

We wasted no time in making an appointment with a urologist and off I reluctantly went. I’m not sure what I was dreading most, being told I had cancer (If I did) or having yet more insult and injury to my dignity.

IMG_0817

A sign on the track at Relay For Life

He was a very nice, gentleman who explained to me what was going to next and asked if I had any questions. I was feeling pretty much in shock and bewildered and was barely taking in what he said.

He asked me what my flow pressure was like when I peed. I thought it was OK most of the time. They told me on the phone that I had to arrive with a full bladder for a urine pressure test, so I was ready to relieve the pressure.

I had to pee in a basin that had a sensor in it and I thought I did pretty well, as he stood in the next room, watching the gauge. He then burst my bubble and said that my flow was well below average and asked, would I like a script for something that would make it flow faster.

I declined. Up on the bed and he started prodding my stomach and then asked me to pull my pants off, lie on my side with my knees hard up against my chest.

20160320_095520Now dear reader, you may be feeling squeamish, you might be feeling embarrassed, you might be thinking, I’m pulling out of this story.

You might be thinking, why is he telling me this? Is it necessary?

No it isn’t, but I want your help and if I get some donations for our next Relay for Life, I won’t share the next step with you and I won’t tell you graphically how I felt.

People ask why I share my story. I’ll tell you why. All around me people are either battling or losing the fight to cancer. One in 3 people in New Zealand will get cancer and we have to do something about it. We can do something about it. The numbers are pretty similar in the western world.

Early Birds 2018Relay For Life isn’t just for raising money for cancer research, it is about remembering the people we love, work with, our friends and family who are affected by cancer. It is as much a celebration of life as a sharing of loss.

We walk for 18 hours in relay, and the number 18 on our singlets if you zoom in, you will see it is made up of the names the 13 of us are walking for. Some have passed away in the last few months, some are battling, some have been gone for some time and some are in remission like me.

When you walk around the track and you see an 11 year old in front of you and on the back of his shirt it says ‘I miss you Mummy’, you know why you are there.

So to stop me sharing the rest of this visit to the urologist, how about going to the Relay For Life website here and making a small donation. $5 is tax deductible if you are in New Zealand and it would mean a lot to me to have your support. If you’re overseas, maybe you won’t get a tax rebate for it, but I’d still be very grateful if you could share the cost of a coffee.

IMG_2082

These are the bags we put our clothes in, when we go in for radiation treatment. Each one of these bags represents a person being treated for cancer at any given time, just in this clinic

I hate asking for money, but it isn’t for me. It may will help you or someone you care about. Remember that number. 1 person in 3 in New Zealand will get cancer at some stage in their lives. Draw up a little list of people in your family and then separate one third of the names on that list. Imagine if those people got cancer. This is personal folks.

This year Relay is on the 10th and 11th of March. We got through the night to symbolise the cancer journey. You don’t have to walk the whole time, it’s a relay, but many of us like to do as much as we feel able. Our team is quite small this year. So far only 13 people. If you feel you would like to join us please head to the Team Early Birds page and let me or one of the team know.

Will you join us in person or in your thoughts?