Thursday, January 21, 2010

good and bad and lost

My dad's brain tumor is cancerous and fast-growing. The surgery removed most of it. He went home from the hospital last Saturday and found out the basic diagnosis on Wednesday. He has an appointment next Tuesday to get the details and lay out treatment. I'm hoping for relatively good news and not bothering to prepare for bad news because I don't see any way to do that.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Silence due to intracranial mass

While my silence here may not be unusual, the reason for it is. Here's the (abbreviated) story of the past few days.

My dad had a persistent headache for two or three weeks when my mom finally convinced him to see the doctor last week. The doctor scheduled an MRI for him this past Monday. The MRI showed a lime- or lemon-size intracranial mass (read: brain tumor) and he was immediately admitted to the hospital. I drove from Grad School Town back to Hometown on Tuesday, barely a week after I'd made the same drive the other way returning from my holiday visit. I packed enough clothes for a week since I had no idea how long I'd be staying.

The surgery to remove the tumor went "as well as [the doctors] hoped." They took out almost everything they intended to, leaving a little behind to avoid unnecessarily damaging his brain. Three hours after the surgery, my dad was looking around and chatting with everyone just as he was before the surgery. His recovery is going very well so far, so we are all relieved and happy. We still don't know what lays ahead for his continued recovery, but we are extremely thankful just to have him return from surgery as the same person.

I slept at the hospital Tuesday and Wednesday night. Last night I slept at my gramma's house since things seemed to have settled a bit more at the hospital. Shortly after I returned to the hospital today, Dad moved to the regular neurology wing. That means he has a private room, fewer monitors, and less frequent nursing checks. He and Mom should sleep better tonight. I'm sleeping at their house tonight and will return to the hospital tomorrow.

Dad will probably stay at the hospital at least through the weekend. We are taking it day-by-day until the pathology report comes in (probably by Wednesday). That should help us lay out a more long-term plan. Dad keeps saying he's going to fight this as hard as he can for his wife, his kids, and the rest his family and friends. "You can't hurt steel."

I don't know when I'll return to Grad School Town. Luckily, I brought everything I need if I get a chance to work or don't make it back in time for classes. Hopefully that will keep me from starting the semester too far behind. Posting may be sparse and/or brief.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New plan for a new year

Welcome, everyone, to 2010! I hope your holidays went well.

2009 closed just the way I hoped it would: quiet, happy, with friends and family. I didn't even attempt work over the holidays, so I feel much refreshed on that front.

My biggest challenge last semester was that I didn't know where I was going or why I should care about my work. I wasn't sure I wanted to follow the professor path anymore, and I'm still not sure of that. But, I think I figured out a way to continue with grad school while exploring other options. It's at least worth a try. I should also get back to my motivational program from October. That was a good idea.

If I don't want to be a professor or researcher, why do I need a PhD? Maybe I don't, but it's not going to hurt. The experience of finishing a huge project can apply to myriad jobs. I'm particularly interested in science writing. I've always liked writing, and it's obvious that I like science enough to attempt a PhD. I also see poor or non-existent communication between scientists and the rest of the world. Perhaps I can make a real difference there.

I'm a little disappointed that I didn't try for a journalism degree in undergrad, but that would have added another year and another ~$17k in loans. I have enough school debt as it is. I'm not sure I can take J-school classes here, either. Most of them are reserved for journalism majors. (Why is that, by they way? It was the same in undergrad.) I emailed the teacher of an undergrad science writing course in a different department to see if the course would be useful to me. He suggested it'd be more useful to get an old journalism book and practice on my own since I already (presumably) know how to write. The Idiot's Guide to Journalism isn't exactly a textbook, but it's a start. And it cost me less than five dollars.

Here's my plan. I'll keep working on the PhD and try my darnedest to get the prelim out of the way before next fall semester starts. Then I'm not required to take any classes the rest of the time I'm in school. That will either free me to take whatever classes I want (whether or not they are related to my field) or to leave Uni-town altogether. I can treat PhD research more or less like a normal job, maybe even give myself a time sheet (that probably wouldn't last very long, but it's a funny idea). Then I can schedule at least a few hours a week to work on science writing type stuff. Those add to maybe 50-60 hours/week? If I decide science writing is not for me, I can easily replace it with something else and use the same general framework.

If my mom can handle a full-time job and two tech-school classes on top of normal life, I should be able to make this work, right? I just need a little more self-discipline than she does since I have much less accountability for my time and progress. Maybe a more quantitative plan... next post? We shall see.