Staircase, University of Coimbra

I tend to be a bit odd when visiting places.  It’s not always the usual touristy things that catch my eye.  Sometimes it’s interesting patterns or spaces that intrigue me.  This staircase is an example.

There’s so much about this space that I like.  I love the curve of the ceiling at the top of the stairs.  I like the way the light comes through the window at the top and highlights the roughness of the walls.  I like the way the stairs curve to the right as they rise.  And I like the contrast between the simplicity of the walls against the colorful patterns of the azulejos.

And all of this from just a simple staircase at the University of Coimbra.

University of Coimbra Staircase

Me and My (Cancerous) Shadow

There comes a time when we begin to realize we’re not immortal. For me, that was when I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

Multiple Myeloma is a cancer of the blood where a certain protein becomes cancerous and then clones itself over and over, eventually forming tumors in the bone marrow. There have been several new drugs and treatments introduced over the last few years which have extended the life expectancy of patients, but there is no cure.

I had known for years that I could eventually develop the disease. I’d had smouldering myeloma, it’s precursor, for a decade. There’s about a fifty percent chance that the cancer would progress from the smouldering phase to the active phase within the first ten years, so I was right on schedule. I was still shocked by the diagnosis, though. After ten years of nothing I figured I was in the clear.

The average life expectancy of someone with multiple myeloma is three to five years, although with recent advances many people are now expected to live many years longer. I’m nearing six and my protein levels are still pretty low, although lately they’ve begun to climb again. I consider that pretty good.

I’ve been lucky. As the disease progresses, tumors develop in your bones and spontaneous fractures can occur. So far the disease has not damaged my bones.

I underwent a stem cell transplant in 2013.  Sometimes the stem cell transplant doesn’t work. Mine did, and I was home two weeks after my stem cell transplant. There were a couple guys who’s first stem cell transplant didn’t take and were into their second transplant.  I was out of work for six weeks, post-transplant, the minimum required, then returned to work full time. A work acquaintance who had the same disease, underwent a stem cell transplant one week before me and even had the same oncologist returned to work part time and then retired a year later. So, yes, I’ve been lucky.

There have been some positives. I’ve lost a little weight, so I’m right where I should be as far as BMI. My wife and I eat a lot better than before, with a lot of vegetables and organic foods. I’ve cut out sodas and most processed sugars. We’re working on staying healthy.

Don’t get me wrong.  Having cancer sucks.  I’m always tired. I can’t spend a lot of time in the sun because skin cancer is a real possibility. The chemotherapy drugs have some pretty maddening side effects, and that’s always a concern.

Then there are the costs associated with monitoring the disease. So far, I’ve had three bone marrow biopsies, a stem cell transplant and I’ve been on chemotherapy of one sort or another for six years. The chemo drugs are around $200,000 per year.  Doctor’s appointments and full blood panels have to be done every three months, and they aren’t cheap, either.  I blew past the million dollar lifetime insurance cap that existed before Obamacare within four years of my transplant.

These days depression is an issue.  Multiple myeloma is never cured; the best you can hope for is a reduction in the protein levels to keep the disease at bay.  You live in constant fear that the disease will suddenly start growing again, that the chemotherapy drugs will stop working or that the treatment will become too expensive.

For years I worried about insurance because I now had a pre-existing condition.  After Obamacare I had to worry that the GOP would repeal the law. Now I worry that they’ll simply roll back the lifetime cap or the pre-existing condition protection and I’ll have no insurance.  There’s plenty to be depressed about.  ABMT Clinic 2

Because my protein levels are once again climbing, I had an appointment with my oncologist to discuss future treatment.  There are several new drug therapies that we can use, but before we can decide on which one to go with I have to undergo another bone marrow biopsy.  I’m not looking forward to it.  I’ve had three already and I can honestly say it’s probably the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.  But it is what it is.

So for now, I’m kind of up in the air, waiting to see what the future holds for me.

Infrared Photography

Infrared film photography was labor intensive.  You had to work in complete darkness to avoid spoiling the film, so I had to use a film changing bag in a closet with no lights to load the film.  Then, to be safe, I had to seal the edges of the camera’s film compartment with electricians tape to avoid any light leakage.  That was just to load the film.  The process had to be reversed to unload it.  And then there was the development…

Some digital cameras make digital photography much easier.  With my Kodak P-850, all I needed was an infrared filter, such as the Wratten 87A filter.  The filter is a very dark filter that blocks virtually all light-waves except the infrared waves.  There are a couple difficulties to using one of these filters.  First, you can’t see through the filter, so you’ll need to compose your photo first, then place the filter on your camera after you’ve set up your photograph.  Second, the exposure time is very long, so you’ll need to use a tripod to avoid camera shake.  You’ll also probably have to take several different exposures to find the right settings.

Once you’ve taken the photo, it looks like this:

The pink tint is because the filter isn’t black as it appears to be, it’s actually a very dark red.  Because the pink tint is a little weird, I use Paint Shop Pro to create a black and white version:

Home Infrared

Infrared light is reflected differently than normal light.  The trees and grass appear nearly white and the sky is very dark.  I like the way you get a different perspective of things through infrared photography.

By the way, there are a lot of online tutorials for infrared photography.  You can also create faux-infrared photographs using photo editing software.  Here’s a faux-infrared photo of the Crooked River Lighthouse:

Crooked River Lighthouse

I didn’t use an infrared filter here; it’s all done through manipulation using Paint Shop Pro.

Melting Ice, Yukon Territory, 2016

I admit it.  I had preconceived ideas about what the Yukon Territory would look like.  For years, I had read books where tough men in heavy parkas and mukluks fought their way through snowstorms and across glaciers in search of gold.  Luckily for us, our visit to the Yukon was much less work.

I was blown away by the beauty of the place.  I expected wilderness, which was everywhere, but not the fantastic colors- the greens of the shrubs and grasses growing around the rocks, the wildflowers in bloom and that wonderful deep blue sky.   It was late Spring so there was still plenty of snow and ice, but the plant life was taking advantage of the warmer temperatures and longer days.

With this particular photo, I love the way the melting ice reflects the sky.  I also like the way the stream leads you to the mountains where it finds its beginnings.  The Yukon was a fascinating place and provided a great opportunity to photograph some amazing landscapes.

YT Melting Ice