The Cancer Chronicles: Week 1


Last Thursday, around 9AM, Siobhan’s ENT called and told her that they’d found cancer in the biopsy. He said she should come down and talk to him in person, and arranged for that to happen at 3PM.

It turns out they’d found squamous cell cancer cells, and all indications were that this – the lump in her throat – was a secondary location. Odds are this cancer originated at either the back of her tongue or in her throat, but in rare cases the primary location is never found. Dr. Irvine, the ENT, said the most likely course of action would be a P.E.T. scan. He also said that this type of cancer was very common, very treatable and very survivable. But best-case-scenario is 5 radiation treatments a week for 5 weeks, with maybe some chemotherapy thrown in for good measure.

Next steps were to “go home and wait” for the cancer clinic to call with an appointment to see an oncologist.

That call came early the next week with an appointment with Dr. Jonn Wu, a radiation oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency, for Thursday. He would go over all the test results we had so far and from there a course of action would be drawn up.


The meeting with Dr Wu was very productive, if not more than a little overwhelming.

We met first with his nurse Holly and she interviewed Siobhan and took down a bunch of information, in addition to weighing and measuring her. Then Dr. Wu joined us and asked a bunch more questions. He then did a bit of an examination in Siobhan’s mouth, then they went into another exam room so he could stick a camera up her nose and take a look down her throat (she wouldn’t let me come with her for this part – can you imagine the great selfie I could have taken?)  Once all the examination stuff was done, he talked about what was next – other doctors and staff that there would be consultations, appointments and tests with.

Then he talked about treatment plan. Of course everything is really determined on what the results of the P.E.T. scan will be, but based on what he knows now it’s looking like 7 weeks of radiation treatments (5 times a week) with three chemotherapy session – at the start. middle and end of the radiation.

Next up was side-effects. There are a lot. Most are short-term, some are long-term, but there are a couple that will be permanent.

Finally we stopped by the 3rd floor so she could have an x-ray of her jaw and have some blood drawn for a battery of tests.

There was a LOT of information gathered today – we have a manila envelope stuffed with pamphlets and documents that we have to read and grasp. But THINGS are HAPPENING and for two people who are as control obsessed and impatient as us, this is a good thing.


Read this.

Race Report – Coho Run 14k 2014

I ran the Coho back in twenty-aught-ten with Clint. Clocking in at about 1:10 in the pouring rain. This year was shaping up to be quite the change.

It was already warming up when I left home and walked down to Broadway to catch the bus, with a clear sky and bright sunshine. I arrived at Kits Beach a little over half an hour before the start (which was to be at 9AM), plenty of time to drop my bag at gear check, hit the washroom one more time and then relax in the sun.

Pretty soon we were lining up and then we were off! The first k, a loop around Kits pool, was pretty crowded. Maybe I’d seeded myself too far back, but it was pretty tough to move here. Once we got back to the beach and were heading east towards Vanier Park, things opened up. Then we were under Burrard Bridge, where Candice was marshaling:

I’ve been having some issues with my left knee, so I was conservative on the bridge’s climb – if I’m going to blow out the knee, I want to wait until the Portland Marathon to do that – and got passed by two people, both of whom I caught by the time we reached the Inukshuk aid station. Here I grabbed a cup of water as I ran by and headed towards English Bay. As we looped around Second Beach Pool we hit the half-way mark and I hit the lap button on my watch. Exactly 7k and a time of 32:29. Then we were at Third Beach and we left the Seawall and headed up Meriless Trail. It’s a fairly steep climb, 44m in the first kilometer, and resulted in my slowest split of the race. My second slowest was the next split with its 22m of climb, towards the end of this one we started to catch up with the walkers, who’d started an hour ahead of us. But then we were past the 2nd aid station at Prospect Point, dropping down to Lion’s Gate Bridge and starting its climb. On the bridge’s downhill I started to push it, passing the 11k marker. Then down some stairs and across to the Park Royal parking lot, along the same path we take out to Dundarave Pier. Past the dog park and into Ambleside Park itself. The Coho Run is notorious for being shorter than 14k and just after passing the  13k mark I can see the tents of the Coho Festival where the finish line is, and there’s no way it’s 1000m ahead. The final push to the end. Done, 1:04:11 on my watch. Hung around at the end for a bit to see a couple people I know come in. Plus I’d beat the gear truck, so I had to wait for it to arrive and unload. Then I took a leisurely, slow run back to Vancouver.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the race. My average pace was a little slower than my half marathon a couple of months ago, but as I was nursing a twingy knee. All-in-all though it was a fun race, great views crossing the bridge, and having the finish coincide with the Coho Festival makes for an ideal endup. Definitely would recommend it to any runner.

Official Results: 1:04:12 (average time of 1:24:22), 57th out of 573 overall; 46th out of 222 males; 11 out of 53 in my AG.

Cardiology: The On-Going Saga

Part I and Part II, if you need to catch up.

Recently I went for the Transesophageal echocardiogram. Arriving at the Jim Pattison Pavillion, a name that I will always associate with car sales, with Siobhan and heading to Station 7 and get checked in. Then down the hall to the cardiac imaging area where, after a short wait and some questions, I was in exam room. The nurse hooked me up to a heart rate monitor (62!) and attached a blood pressure cuff (78 / 122) and inserted an IV. Then my cardiologist, Dr Tsang, stopped in and introduced Dr Spencer, who would be doing the actual procedure.

After a few more questions and an explanation of what was going to happen – like I hadn’t been reading up on it! – he had me sign a release. During this time, in the space of about 5 minutes, there were two “Code Blue. Code Blue in room blah, blah, blah” announcements on the PA. I asked if Code Blue meant the same as it did on TV, if they were both cardiac events? But he said no, code blue just meant that someone was unconscious, and usually it just meant that someone had fainted.

“Oh,” I said, “well no better place than a hospital to faint, right?”

“No no.” He replied. “This is the worst place to faint, You wake up with 200 people crowded around you and someone’s doing chest compressions when you don’t need them. Terrible place to faint.”

Pretty soon he was spraying the back of my throat with a numbing agent and they added the sedative to the IV. I’m pretty sure I remained awake the whole time, after all this is called Conscious Sedation, but I may have dozed off once or twice. Eventually we came to the part where they were adding the agitated saline to do the contrast ultrasound and he had me bear down and relax a couple of time to get images of how much was passing through the hole and to see how big the hole itself it. And then he was done and – this was the worst part – the tube came out and he told me that from what he saw the hole was small (good news!) but he’d send all the images to Dr. Tsang and she would be in touch.

After that they wheeled me to the recovery room – as far as I can remember, this was my first time in a wheel chair – and sat me back in a recliner and told me I had to wait for an hour before leaving. Boring. Just before noon a nurse came by and looked at my docs and said I could go – she went and got Siobhan from the waiting room. They took out the IV and taped some gauze over it and left. So I stood up and took off the hospital gown I had on and started to put my shirt on, one of the nurses rushed over and started pulling the curtains closed.

“Hey, no free shows here!”

And then we left, opting to walk home (it was just a couple of kilometres) because I was feeling pretty clear headed.

Now I had to wait to hear from Dr. Tsang. So fast forward a week and a half and I’m in the waiting room on the 9th floor of the Diamond Health Care Centre. Waiting. And waiting. Finally she calls me in. First up, the hole. Turns out mine is 3.8 mm which is bigger than I’d wanted. 4 mm is the point when intervention is warranted. But. still, I’m under the limit so that’s good.

Next we talk about the enlargement itself. The question is, what’s causing it? Do I just have a big heart? Or is it being caused my the hole? Based on the two measurements she has, Dr Tsang says that it’s getting bigger, but given the margin for error in these measurements, she can’t be sure. Add in the fact that I’m totally asymptomatic and we decided to wait until next March and do another echocardiogram and see what that showed. If it’s getting any bigger, then we move forward with plugging the hole. If not, then we’ll look at doing another echocardiogram further down the road to monitor the situation.

So, as has become the routine with visits to Dr. Tsang, the news isn’t bad, it’s just not as good as I’d hoped.

Month in Review – August 2014

I had hoped to have a run streak this month – ideally continuing through September – but a couple of medical things got in the way. While running the infamous Boot Camp Route on the 14th I did something to my left knee. I suspect it’s a bursa issue, but time will tell. Anyway, when I went out for a run the next day my knee was having none of that, so that broke the streak before it was even half way. Some icing and judicial application of ibuprofen meant I was able to continue running on the 16th and the knee has mostly behaved since then. To further dampen the streak spirit I had a medical procedure (more on that in a future post) on the 21st and that meant no strenuous exercise for 24 hours following.

But hey, good stuff too, right? At just over 450k, August is my biggest running month ever, and its final week – with 110k – one of my biggest ever.

Coming up on September 7th I have the Coho Run, which I did back in 2010. As I didn’t race at all in August – haven’t raced since the Knee Knacker – I’m really looking forward to this one.

The Numbers:

Distance: 456k
Time: 40 hours
Calories: 22k
Climbing: 3524m
Weight: 181.2

Drupal feed import file error 1002 1003 401

I know, cryptic post title and definitely non-standard content. But I spent more time than I should have banging my head against this problem so I thought I’d write it up in the hopes that it helps at least one other person.

Here’s the situation. I has a CSV file full of data that I wanted to import, as nodes, into a Drupal site (in this case, Drupal 7) using the Feeds module. One of the pieces of data for these nodes is a PDF file, initially represented in the CSV file as “file name.pdf”. I’d read somewhere that if I put this PDF into whatever folder Drupal expected files to be in, for example /sites/default/files, then the Feed import would automagically see the file and it would be added to the node in the appropriate field. Needless to say, this didn’t work and resulted in a 1002 error and a message in the log saying something about a download failing.

So I went about trying various other values for the filename in the CSV file: “sites/default/files/file name.pdf” and “/home/gburnham/www/sites/default/files/file name.pdf” and even “C:\Users\Greg\Documents\import\file name.pdf”. No joy. I tried replacing the space with %20, not having a space at all. Nothing would work.

But something about the log message about failing to download the file was nagging me. Was Feeds expecting a URL there for the file? Could it be that simple? So I uploaded the files to a server, changed the CSV file value to “ name.pdf” and voilà, the node in question was updated and the PDF file was right there in its field as expected. Finally.

So there you have it, looking to import nodes and include files? Remember that the Feeds module is expecting to be able to download the files from somewhere. It’s not a lesson I’ll soon forget.

Oh, and one thing to mention. The import process renamed the uploaded file. Rather than the original “file name.pdf” it became “file_name.pdf”, so if the original name is important to you, you may want to look deep into the module code itself.

And this write up obviously is dealing with importing via CSV. I haven’t tried importing from an XML file but my initial suspicions would be that the behaviour is the same.

Month in Review – July 2014

So, yeah, July. Knee Knacker. That was, um, something else, no doubt.

It got hot this month, as it is wont to do in July. So I’ve been able to get in a fair bit of heat training for the Portland Marathon (word is, it got up to 25 degrees on race day a couple of years ago, surprising for October.)

I realized this month that, given my recent weight-loss and my desire to keep that weight off, I should be tracking those numbers on a regular basis too, so from now on my monthly recaps will include my most recent weigh-in which will usually be from the preceding Wednesday evening.

The numbers:

Distance: 301k
Time: Almost 29 hours
Calories: 17k
Climbing: 5536m
Weight: 183.2

Oh yeah, no races for me in August! Just long runs in the hot-hot-heat.

Photo Essay: If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d’a Baked You A Cake

A few months ago the wonderful Gillian tweeted about making a rich, gluten-free, quinoa-based chocolate cake. I asked for the recipe which she provided and I promptly forgot to bookmark it.

When we decided to host my brother and his family for his birthday I figured this would be a good time to make such a thing and did a little searching and found that there was a striking similarity between the various gluten-free, quinoa-based chocolate cake recipes I could find. That is, they were all based on the recipe in Quinoa 365 by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming.

For clarity’s sake, I used this recipe. Enough words, to the pictures!

Line your pans with parchment

Line your pans with parchment

Get your blend on

Get your blend on

More blending

More blending

Dry ingredients

Dry ingredients

When wet meets dry

When wet meets dry

Ready for baking!

Ready for baking!

Starting on The Frosting

Starting on The Frosting

Chocolatey Base

Chocolatey Base

MORE Butter and Sugar

MORE Butter and Sugar

The recipe made about twice as much as was needed.

The recipe made about twice as much as was needed.

Homemade Spicy Tayberry Jam in the middle

Homemade Spicy Tayberry Jam in the middle

One more step to go....

One more step to go….

The En-Frostening!

The En-Frostening!

Would you believe I forgot to take a picture of the completed cake?!?!?!

Would you believe I forgot to take a picture of the completed cake?!?!?!

Race Report – Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Race

Getting There

Always do something new on race day, right? Because of the logistics of getting to Deep Cove to catch the shuttle to the start line, I decided to try something new. I got up at 2 AM and had some oatmeal and then went back to bed for a little over an hour, getting up at 3:30 and heading out to pickup my Zip Car and drive over to the North Shore. I ate a banana and a Clif bar on the way and drank some tea. Arriving at Panorama Park with enough time to hit the washroom (big thanks to the park’s caretaker, José, for opening the washrooms early every year so us Knee Knackers don’t have to pee in the bushes!) before boarding the bus.

I ate a pack of Honey Stingers and sipped my Gatorade/Nuun mixture as we drove to the start. Trying to relax and not obsess about the climb up Black Mountain that I would be facing soon, just listening to the conversations going on around me.

We got to Nelson Canyon maybe half an hour or so before the start. Right away after getting off the bus I saw Dianna, checked in and left my drop bag in the truck, then got in the bathroom. With that taken care of, I sent a last text to Siobhan turned my phone off and stashed it away. Quarter to, take a gel, top up my bottle with water.

Chatted with Tom real quick, then hung out with Karl at the front of the pack before moving further back once we were 5 minutes out. And we were off.

Swapping Goal Times With Karl

Swapping Goal Times With Karl
Photo Credit: Ken Blowey

The Race

I’d come out for one of the official training runs two weeks previous, and that had covered the first half of the course so I had a good idea what the next 4 hours had in store for me. As for the second half of the course, I’d run most of that before, bits and pieces of it are on the Iron Knee course and I’d done a few other runs out there as well.

But right now, it was all about climbing. From the start to the first aid station it’s a little over 5 miles (8 km) and in that time we climbed over 3400 feet (just over 1000 metres, or a Vertical Kilometre.) It was during this section that I had my slowest kilometre split – 31:57, this had 450m of ascent. As the aid station atop Black Mountain neared, I could hear classical music (or classical-ish music, I’m no connoisseur) and sure enough there was a cellist there with the entire aid station (5.1 miles) crew decked out in formal wear. Surreal. But no time for a waltz, a quick water refill and get a move on.

The rock slab

The rock slab
Photo Credit: Karen Chow

Eagle Bluffs

Eagle Bluffs
Photo Credit: Herman Kwong

Descending now – down the section that I so loathed on the training run two weeks previous, switchbacks made up of crushed rock, with lots of pointy bits. But like the climb, this didn’t seem nearly as bad and in no time I was at the Cypress aid station (7.5 miles – timing mat here, 2:01:16) for another water refill, a gulp of coke, and some food. Then onward.


Photo Credit: Nora

Coming into Cypress

Coming into Cypress
Photo Credit: Jay Klassen

Some more climbing then more descending and pretty soon it’s the Hollyburn Lodge aid station (10.2 miles) about a 1/3 of the way through the race. I’d printed up a cheat-sheet with the relative and absolute distances of the aid stations, so I’d have an idea as where I was but I’d forgotten it at home. Of course, if I had been paying attention, I would have noticed that each aid station had a sign which said how far into the course we were, how far was left and how far to the next aid station. Oh well.


Photo Credit: VFK

I did know that the next station was going to be Cleveland Dam, and that most of this next portion was pretty runable so I got to it. It seemed like no time until I was crossing various roads in the British Properties (on the training run, Dave had pointed out a street sign with glee “Look, Barnham Road!”) At one of the street crossings the course marshals had set up a mini aid station with, oh so wonderful, cherries. Delicious. Then it was back into the woods on the west side of the dam and then crossing the damn and the noise and bustle of the aid station (14.8 miles – timing mat here, 1:38:50 [3:40:06 total]) with the always enthused Eddy. Used my dropbag to change my shirt and hat, refilled water, drank some coke, ate some food, and grabbed a freezie for the walk up Nancy Greene Way to Grouse.

Up Nancy Greene Way, up the BP trail, Up and up and up. While this was slow going, I’d gapped the two guys who’d entered BP with me, and passed a couple of more. There were a few people I’d been yo-yoing with for most of the day and I figured that would continue. Then the Skyline Drive aid station (17.7 miles) for another water refill.

It was just more keeping on, as the Mountain Hwy (20.4 miles) came and went and then the route followed the river for a bit. I’d been hoping that the river would provide a bit of a cooling breeze, but instead it was more of humid, sticky wafting of air. Did I mention it was a hot day? So very, very hot.

Then it was the LSCR aid station (22 miles – timing mat here, 2:07:38 [5:47:44 total]) were I spent more than a few minutes stuffing my face and rehydrating. I knew the somewhere up ahead was the Seymour Grind and I was not relishing climbing it.

This next portion is a bit of a haze – there was the Lillooet Road (23.7 miles) and Hyannis Drive (24.8 miles) aid stations, one of which had Snow White and various dwarfs, and some crazy steep stairs.

But after Hyannis was the Grind. It was a steady climb to get to it – I kept thinking, am I on it now? Is this is? – but there was no mistaking it once it started. I recalled RD Kelsy Trigg saying at the briefing the night before that it wasn’t as bad as the Grouse Grind and it was only 20 minutes out of your life. That was quite the 20 minutes. But the trail after that was very runable and pretty soon there was the final aid station, Mt. Seymour Road (27.5 miles.)

Heading To The Finish

Heading To The Finish
Photo Credit: Salvador Miranda

A short stretch on trails, then it was Indian River Road and then the final section with all it’s stairs and bridges and oh so many hikers. Here I caught up with a trio in front of me which included local legend Ean Jackson and two women, Christine Chore and Janet Schonerville, who I’d been swapping places with all day. We burst out onto Panorama Drive together and I pushed hard for the final section, crossing the finish line in just under 8 hours.

Crossing the line

Crossing the line
Photo Credit: Mike Jones

Official Results: 7:57:35, 100th out of 192 OA, 28th out of 42 in my AG, 68th out of 120 men.

The Aftermath

It isn’t up anymore, but Ultra Signup projected something like 8:09 for my finish time. Previously I’d never actually hit their projection so obviously I was very happy to have squeaked in under 8 hours this time. Not that this race didn’t take its toll.

Totally Knackered

Totally Knackered
Photo Credit: Jan Heuninck

One of the interesting sets of stats that Knee Knacker provides is your place at the timing stations. At Cypress I was in 107th and I held at 104th for Cleveland Dam and Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. Given how often it seemed like I was being passed in the last quarter of the race, I’m surprised I advanced 4 positions (granted, 3 of those were in the last couple hundred metres) Another great stat is their temperature / median finishing times – maybe if it had been cooler I could have knocked some time off!

Giving Thanks

So many people to thank – first and foremost to Siobhan for her unwavering support and encouragement. I doubt I’d be a runner at all were it not for her early influences. Big thanks to my steadfast sponsour, Powered By Chocolate Milk, who greatly ease recovery. Thanks to Dave for coming out on the training run with me and ensuring I didn’t get lost (except that one time we took a wrong turn.) And to everyone else at the Broadway Run Club for their help. Finally to all the other Knee Knackers – the myriad of volunteers who hauled water and supplies and cameras, who set up tables and sliced fruit and laid out plates of cookies and chips; who handed out medals and cheered; who organized and planned and meticulously executed the plan – to all the other racers, those ahead of me who made me push that extra little bit and those behind who kept me going. Thank you, thank you, thank you all.

Month in Review – June 2014

Well, is there a better way to start off a month than with a new marathon PB? Nope, don’t think so.

Once recovery from the marathon was over, it was back to training for the Knee Knacker on July 12th. While I didn’t get out to the trails as often as I probably should have, I did end the month with a 4 hour, 22k training run covering the first half of the course. This run involved climbing Black Mountain which included a kilometre split of 31 minutes (over 450m of climbing right there) and required a full litre of Chocolate Milk when I got home.

The numbers:

Distance: 331k
Time: Almost 32 hours
Calories: 17k
Climbing: 5600m

Race Report – Scotiabank Calgary Marathon

Between the potential heat and the elevation, I was a little worried going into the Calgary Marathon. But it has an early start so even if it gets hot, it should be too bad by the time I finish. Racing a marathon at an elevation of 1000m though, this would be a new experience.

I was up at 5AM, trying not to disturb Siobhan too much. Had my oatmeal and some water with Nuun and was out the door shortly after 6. It was a quick walk to the Start line at the Stampede Grounds, one of the factors that influenced this choice of hotels. I was early enough that I didn’t have to wait for the bathroom, so I took advantage of that right away. I had a little time to kill, so I found a spot in the sun – it was still a bit cool – and tried to relax.

Pretty soon I was heading over to the start line, where the 3:30 pacers should be at the front of Corral B. But there were no pacers in sight yet. Although I did see Morteza and Steve, and soon enough Melissa and Emma came bounding by. In short order we were aurally assaulted by Greg’s cowbell, not to mention the visual of his near-daisy-dukes and scoop-neck top. And then there was Alan and the other 3:30 pacer and we all squeezed into the front of the corral just in time to see Dave working his way to the front of Corral A.

An instrumental version of the anthem (really, they couldn’t hire a singer?) and we were off! It was fairly crowded the first couple of k, I keep losing sight of Alan only to see his ears just up ahead or just off to the side. As we ran past the zoo I started to pull ahead of him and kept gaining as the distance clicked by. Around 8k we passed within a block of the hotel, and Siobhan was there cheering me on. Most of the next 5 k or so was spent climbing. Well, not really, but it was in this section that we had our most significant elevation changes, hitting the peak just after Mount Royal University, right around the 20k mark. It was during this section that I had to stop at a bathroom, and as I came out of the port-a-potty I saw Alan run by, so I took off to catch up and stay with him (the 20-25k split averaged 4:49, tying with 5-10k for my fastest.) Pretty soon we were crossing the Bow River again and dropping down to Memorial Drive and starting on the dreaded out-and-back. Almost right away, probably km 29, I saw the lead woman heading the other direction (she was probably at km 37.) The good part about Memorial Drive is that most of it is along the river and we had some cool breezes, the bad is that OH MY GOD IS THIS NEVER GOING TO END WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE TO RUN ALL THE WAY BACK TOO! So yeah, tough portion of the race. I was determined to stick as close to Alan as I could until at least the turn around, and I was probably within 200 metres of him at that point, but he was steadily disappearing into the distance. I was starting to feel some pre-clamp twinges in my calves, and oddly felt glad that they’d held off this long. Around 39k I could see there was a bridge coming up, and it looked like quite the climb. But these sneaky Calgarians have a secret sub-bridge that required almost no climbing at all. Ah bless.

A few more twists and turn and then we were back on the Stampede Grounds and I was passing the 42k marker and damn if both of my calves didn’t seize up right then and there, forcing me to stop and stretch them out. But it was a quick stretch. As I rounded the final turn I could see the clock was almost at 3:35, so I knew I had to push. I crossed the finish line at – gun time – 3:35:23 and knew I was sub 3:35. A 5 minute PB over Sacramento.

Official Results: 3:34:46, 181st out of 1617 OA, 144th male out of 940, 25th out of 126 in my AG. Average pace was 5:06/km. I’m really hoping to break 5 minutes in Portland (a mere 117 days from now)


The weather proved not to be as much of a factor as I’d feared. Sure, it got warm, but it didn’t get hot. And they has sponges at most of the aid stations which were really appreciated. As for running at elevation? I can’t say I really noticed it. I don’t think it had much of an effect on my race, but maybe if this had been at sea level I would have stayed with Alan all the way.