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Monthly Archives: January 2008

Jan 28, 2008

Here’s a letter sent to friends this afternoon: Read More »

I had wondered a bit to myself just what might be of interest to post here, and the days went by with no answers. Most of my public musing about politics or society or art seem to fit better in a discussion, like that at, where whether it actually happens much or not, there is at least the semblance of a discussion, or give and take, which somehow makes it more interesting and engaging, at least for me. [Given usual net forum behavior – or for that matter most settings for public discourse – it is obvious this is a minority view: in nearly any setting those who speak and those who keep silent are clearly two differing kinds, with many more of the latter than the former.]

Anyway last week circumstances shifted, and dropped a topic in my lap maybe suitable for this setting where the functional given is that it is a monologue. I’ll still have to find a voice for this way of speaking, but for the moment here’s a letter sent out to a long list of friends and acquaintances, to let them know first:

I’ve been too busy of late to get around to finishing a shared letter with news and thoughts from here – it got started but now seems to have cobwebs. Anyway for closer friends a bit before I get around to finishing up the longer one. I hope you won’t mind me bunching this up for you – I’d prefer writing individually, but time is scarce, and for this I certainly wouldn’t want to write it all repeatedly in happy variants. Briefly, the other week, thanks to a thing Yonsei does – free exams for professors at the University hospital, reputed to be Korea’s best – I went for a thorough medical exam which by and large said all’s OK (cholesterol a little high, blood pressure a little high, otherwise all normal or better). With one little glitch, one not unexpected on my part as my mother had and died therefrom: an ecographic scan turned up a little something – a “nodule” in my pancreas. A consultation with doctor A went on to specialist B, who this morning confirmed what I’d pretty much already figured out from data so far, which is that the odds of this being cancerous are a bit high (20% higher than statistical norm thanks to genetic bequest from family, and given size etc., 50-60% chance it is not benign). Whatever it is, benign or mean (!), it is in early stages since it hasn’t caused any readings to alter of things that would tilt if it were metastasizing along. Tomorrow I go for a scan, and on Thursday get the info, and if I have my way, I’ll say let’s just do the biopsy and cut it out at the same time, a nice thing or not (since we kind know if it is nice now it might not be later). My guess is this is the way it’ll go except they’ll likely want to separate biopsy (endoscopic), and the other part later. The location of the whatever-it-is is not in the head of the pancreas, which we’re told makes for a much simpler and easy operation. I’d just as soon get it over and back on my feet in time for next term, starting in March. Doctor today said recovery is about a month. I’m otherwise in rather good shape, so I hope it’ll be shorter. So, if things are as they seem, and go this way, we’ll be slowed down here a month. If it is not benign I guess some chemotherapy would also ensue. Well, most my hair is gone anyway!

Anyway that’s the hot news from here. Marcella is taking it very well, and while our philosophy muscles have had a nice little workout, we’re feeling fine. In the last few years I have found myself wise-cracking, as is my habit, that at this age the next grand adventure is decrepitude and death, and lo and behold. So much for wise-cracks, now the reality. Aside from philosophy muscles, the rest are getting a nice daily workout too: we both swim vigorously for half an hour a day (nighttimes of late), do some exercises (me 80 pushups, 60 toe-touches, 60 squats), walk a lot. The cranium side is busy all day working at the computers, finishing up new film, PARABLE, shot in Lincoln area last spring – maybe it goes to Berlin fest (will hear latest tomorrow); OVER HERE premieres in Rotterdam festival in a few weeks. Was going to go if both were in fests, but not now, needless to say. Otherwise university and living in Seoul going well for both of us. Lots of other things to tell, but later.

Best to you. No maudlin sentiments please – not looking for them. Just wanted to pass along the word. I’ll update once we’ve found out more and perhaps gone through the whole process. The lay-back recuperate period should give me time to finish up that damned shared-letter update.

from us

jon and marcella

So this would seem an appropriate topic for solitary rumination that might be of interest. As Marcella and I think to make some kind of work of this, here is a tentative opening commentary written this afternoon:

It arrived more or less by accident. The whole thing. I’d gone to Seoul for a festival, and casually dropped word with my host that should there be interest, I’d be game for a job teaching. Seo Hyun-suk, now my friend, took it up and I found myself a year later in my first real paid job – at the age of 64, due for mandatory retirement a year later. Marcella and I moved to Seoul in August of 2007 where anointed me a Professor. I’d been kicked out of college in 1963. Later Hyun-suk told me about a free offer of the University hospital, for a full physical exam for faculty. It was something I’d never really had, and the last vague one had been done back 15 years ago. Never one to pass up a freebie, I signed up and went.

The place was like a medical assembly line, shunted through like a car body being put together, except here it was more the fashionable matter of deconstruction: take out 8 vials of blood, sent off to labs for analysis; pulse, breath, pulmonary, intestinal exams, flipped this way and that by a machine moving tracing fluids in your gut; an ecographic tool probing your innards. It was fast and efficient, and a few days later went back for the analysis. Cholesterol a touch high, blood pressure too. I knew about both those. A slip of the pen or something had me down for “extremely obese” in the gut. I’m 5’10 and weigh 150, and there’s no there there when it comes to my belly. What we get from an exam where no one actually touches you, you’re just one body on the line, zipping by.

One thing though did pop up to mess the clean bill of health, something I had anticipated. The ecography exam had seemed to hone in on my pancreas as the lady did the exam, marking it, and seeming to mark something else. My mother had died of cancer of the pancreas 30 years ago. Genetics. So towards the end of the consultation the doctor said there was a “nodule” in my pancreas, and this could or could not be a sign of the unsaid word, cancer. Funny how the doctors seem to assume you can’t deal with simple things, like cancer, life and death. It’s their business, but I guess they see too many cases of adults who never grew up. So I had to bring it up, as he referred me to the next specialist on the assembly line, and we booked for a CRT exam a few days later. The doctor said none of the cancer markers had shown, and all my other readings were normal, so maybe nothing bad, at least not yet. So it was back to the technicians who inserted a needle, injected a dose of iodine to help the machine read the innards, and then slipped me into a metal circle that shunted across my torso, spinning, zapping X-rays, taking a more precise reading of the pancreas and its errant guest.

More to come. Tomorrow we go hear about what the CRT says. I think I know.

January 20.

Here’s letter sent to friends, after my visit for information on the CRT:

Today went to Severance Hospital to find out the analysis of the CRT or whatever it was done the other day. Marcella came along, visibly nervous though I tried to cajole her with humor out of it, but to little avail. We arrived a touch late for our appointment at 9:30 am, and so had to wait a bit amongst the others who went into the office and emerged a few minutes later, conveyor belt swift. Our turn came, went in, sat down. The young doctor pulled up the electronic files, showing us as the scan dropped down through my body, “here’s the heart, the liver, and then honing in on the pancreas, this angle and that. He said the seeming nodule in the tail wasn’t there, the other machine had mistakenly read a something. Marcella audibly was relieved. Then he flicked on and pointed out some gray mass on the edge or side of the head of the pancreas, and said “there’s this” which made Marcella slump a touch. The other day he’d commented how much easier something in the tail rather than the head was to operate on. He then went on that the indications are that this was a “lesion” on the side of the pancreas, or was a “nodule,” but in either case there wasn’t any indication it was (silent word) cancerous, and that statistically there wasn’t any reason to think it was, others had this and it was no problem. However, he suggested we do an MRI in 2 or 3 months, up to us. Pressed a bit more on what was meant, he seemed to indicate (his English is OK but not great) that at this time it didn’t appear to be in any way bad, and we should just keep track of it. I tried to get more out, like the odds of it becoming cancerous and he seemed to waffle a touch, unwilling to give anything more specific. He didn’t say it could become cancerous, no more than keep a watch and come back in 2-3 months for an MRI. I then told him we were attempting to have a child, which begot a quick, “Well, in that case come in promptly for the MRI.” Marcella and I didn’t quite see the logic of this jump, though I doubt it was indicative that there was more of a problem than he was letting on. I think he was just erring on the side of caution, thinking in such a case better to know a bit more, which apparently the MRI does. So we’re now scheduled for an MRI this coming week, and the Monday after they’ll give us the analysis of it.

For the moment my reading is that it is probably not now cancerous or a problem, but that it could be in the future, and we’re lined up for an MRI every 3 months. In case it does turn into a problem we should be on top of it, and catch it early, upping the survival rate/length of time. Being though on the pancreas’ head, it’d be apparently a messier more complicated operation, but doable.

So for me a relief, though for Marcella it has underlined that I am not a spring chicken and my being around is not assured, hence a bit of anxiety for her. Understandable. And a little wake-up call for me to get my chaotic papers (bank stuff mostly, along with originals of work) all organized and legally assigned, so in case I do drop dead or get run over by the proverbial bus, or this takes an unhappy turn, its all done.

So, not really a false alarm or a clean bill of health, but a little red flag to pay attention to. Not much “to do” about it – dietary things don’t matter much apparently, and there’s no preventive medicine, and having long passed the stage of being nervous or stressed out, little to do there. So we’ll do as we did last night, and go swim 30-40 minutes, do our other exercises, mind our food, drink very sparingly, and be happy campers. And go have the MRI next week and find out the data the one after this, and if this happy-toes stuff gets flipped then, well who woulda thunk it?

News for now. I’ll keep you posted. Now back to work, and boy is there a lot of that (self-chosen, of course).

Have had time to let all this sink in, a kind of tentative and temporary reprieve from possible worse news. Perhaps only for a week, once we get the MRI and word on its indications. Meantime friends in New York, one of whom is a doctor specializing in such things, offer a bit of expert “second opinion” once we send the data (all nicely available to us on CD for the asking, wonderful scans slicing through my body, of which I’ll post some here once I have them and figure out the mechanics of pasting them in.) For the moment, whatever comes next, it is a good workout for the philosophy muscles – the kind of workout that confronts everyone, everyday, but which we tend to avoid until pressed by circumstances.

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