Archive for February, 2015

Radiation and chemo, weeks 6-6.5

On Monday, February 2 — Groundhog Day! — we went to the hospital for Kate’s last radiation treatment. (She had already taken the last dose of chemo on Saturday night.) Got the treatment, met the doctor, got a dorky little certificate and discharge paperwork… and then the doctor came back and said that there had been some kind of mix-up in the paperwork and there was actually one more treatment to go.

Groundhog Day!

We just laughed, and came back the next day, and got another dorky little certificate. And then we went to meet with the naturopath.

I had been leery of naturopathy, thinking (basically just from the name) that it’s a woo-woo pseudoscience akin to homeopathy. But after several different people recommended it, I did a little research and discovered that it’s actually a science (or can be, depending on the practitioner) which attempts to improve health with proper nutrition and exercise. And there are even naturopaths at our cancer clinic! So we met with one of them, who looked at the diary Kate had kept of everything she had eaten in the last three days and asked a lot of questions, after which he said that we’re doing pretty well.

He recommended more walking — a LOT of walking, as much she’s capable — as a good general all-around health improver and particularly valuable for cancer patients. Breast cancer survivors, he said, have as much as 50% less recurrence if they walk daily than if they don’t. He also recommended eating mushrooms every day (they are full of protein and fiber and a variety of possibly-cancer-fighting antioxidants) and prescribed some supplements — powders to be mixed with yogurt — to improve the health of the gastrointestinal system, which is hit pretty hard by chemotherapy. All of this seems pretty reasonable, so we are going to try it. I’ve even set up a star chart to track our daily walks.

So now we are all done with radiation (for good) and chemo (for a month). To celebrate this victory we got donuts from Blue Star — ssh, don’t tell the naturopath — and I cooked us a dinner of kung pao chicken, which is the first dish I ever cooked for Kate, back when we were first going out.

During this month off we can expect the fatigue to get worse for a while, then slowly improve. We will be ramping the steroids down as much as possible. Then, beginning in early March, we’ll be doing chemo on a four-week cycle (5 days of daily pills, 23 days off) for six months or so. The chemo dose will be higher, but as there’s no radiation and she continues to heal from the surgery we have hope that life will be somewhat closer to normal. We are even starting to make travel plans for those six months, with the oncologist’s blessing.

All in all, Kate came through this six intensive weeks of therapy in remarkably good shape. She is tired, naps frequently, and has some side effects from the steroids, but her language skills are almost back to normal. She does still have some other cognitive deficits, but they are subtle — if you didn’t know about the cancer and the brain surgery, you might not notice anything wrong in an ordinary conversation — and we hope they will continue to improve. Her mood is good, and mine is also greatly improved. Which is not to say we don’t have bad days, but we are much happier than we have been in weeks, and I for one have begun being able to worry about things other than cancer, like deadlines. Also, Kate’s starting to feel kind of stir-crazy, and if you know her you will understand that her NOT being stir-crazy during the last two months of not going anywhere shows just how poorly off she was. So in a couple of weeks we’ll be heading to the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the Oregon coast (we have the Amy Tan room) for a relaxed getaway. We also got tickets for some Portland International Film Festival movies.

So, things are going well. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but we are out of the dark tunnel and the sun is shining on the tracks ahead. If you would like to drop in for a chat, run errands, or bring by a pie or a casserole, they would still be welcome; just drop me an email or a text before you come. I will send out an email if we need anything specific.

I’m certain that we would not be doing nearly as well now if we hadn’t had so much help and support from our friends and relatives. Thank you all so very much for all of your help and good wishes — it means more to us than we will ever be able to express.

Enceladus: research and calculations

I’m working on a short story which I’ve decided to set at the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. I thought I would share with you a few paragraphs from my notes.

How big is Saturn in Enceladus’s sky? According to Wikipedia, Enceladus orbits 237948 km from Saturn and Saturn is 108728 km in diameter (pole to pole). Popping these two figures into the angular diameter calculator at tells us that it is 25.7 degrees wide — bigger than your spread hand at arm’s length (about 20 degrees). On Earth, the full moon is 0.5 degrees wide — smaller than your finger tip — so Saturn is 50 times wider than that. The rings would barely appear as a line, because Enceladus orbits within the outermost E Ring and the rings are less than a kilometer thick (but the rings’ shadow is visible on the planet’s face, changing with Saturn’s 29.5-year orbital period).

Enceladus’s orbital period is 32.9 hours and it is tidally locked, keeping one face turned toward its primary at all times. Unlike Earth’s moon, it does not librate (wobble). Its axial tilt is zero and the inclination of its orbit relative to Saturn is very near zero. This means that as seen from the south pole of Enceladus Saturn sits on the horizon, with its south pole uppermost and the line of the rings horizontal (but this line is so fine as to be nearly invisible, and it’s probably below the horizon anyway — however, when seen from anywhere other than the pole, the E ring in which Enceladus is embedded may appear as something like a Milky Way). Because Enceladus is tidally locked, Saturn does not move in the sky at all, but it does go through phases along with Enceladus’s day, with a complete cycle every 32.9 hours. You can always tell what time it is on Enceladus by looking up at Saturn (if you happen to be at a place on the moon where Saturn is visible).

The shadow of Saturn falls across the rings during the Saturnian equinoxes (every 15 years). When this is happening, Enceladus experiences a solar eclipse every day. For how much of Saturn’s year does this occur? Saturn’s axial tilt is 26.73 degrees, which means that the sun rises 27 degrees above the horizon at the solstice. Since Saturn is 26 degrees wide in Enceladus’s sky, 13 degrees of that is above the horizon (as see from the pole), and the sun rises at most 27 degrees above the horizon, that implies that these eclipses occur during (very roughly) half of Saturn’s year: those periods, near the equinox, when the sun is less than 13 degrees above the horizon as seen from the pole. That’s about seven years out of every fifteen.

Around the solstices, when the sun is higher in the sky than 13 degrees, there are no eclipses. The eclipses begin with a brief blip each day (the sun appears to graze the top of Saturn in the sky) and get longer and longer as the equinox approaches, maxing out at about two and a half hours (26 degrees / 360 = 0.07, times Enceladus’s 32.9-hour day = 2.37 hours) — these maximum eclipses occur at the equinox, when the sun as seen from Enceladus appears to be in Saturn’s ring plane. Saturn’s equinox is also Enceladus’s equinox (axial tilt zero), so the period of maximum eclipses is also the time when, as seen from the pole, the sun drops below the horizon and is not seen again for 15 years (or reappears after a 15-year absence). The period of eclipses lasts for (very roughly) 4 years of increasingly long eclipses before the sun vanishes and 4 years of decreasing eclipse length after it reappears, with seven years of no eclipses in between.

All that being said, sunlight at Saturn is only 1% of what we see on Earth, so whether the sun is in the sky or not, human eyes would perceive the scene as near-perfect blackness. My astronaut main character will need an image-enhancing faceplate.

ETA: Dr. Plotka writes to say: “1% of the Earth’s sunlight is plenty for seeing things. The sun is very very bright, and we don’t need anything like that much light. Specifically, full sunlight on Earth is up to 100 kilolux, so on Enceladus it would be around 1 kilolux. Which is about the same as TV studio lighting, and twice as bright as a well-lit office.”

ETA 2: Rob French says: “I don’t think you meant to say that the shadow of Saturn falls across the rings at the equinox. Maybe the shadow of Enceladus? The shadow of Saturn falls across the rings the entire year.”

My reply: I wasn’t clear on what I was trying to do there. The real question I was trying to answer was: how common are eclipses on Enceladus? Or, to turn the problem around, for how much of Saturn’s year does the planet’s shadow on the rings reach all the way to Enceladus? It does at the equinox, obviously, when the shadow and the rings are coplanar, but for how much of the year on either side of the equinox does that remain true? The answer is that Saturn’s shadow reaches Enceladus for about half of Saturn’s year.