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I am a Professor of Operations Research (OR) in Monterey, CA, with interests in optimization modeling and millitary OR. Since April 2005, my focus has been on combatting cancer. This log is about my battle and the people helping me fight it. The beautiful loving woman beside me is my wife Pascale, the strongest pillar of my team.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Blog Wild, Blog Mild

I have been writing about living with cancer since it was diagnosed 18 months ago. In the last post, I went blog wild – writing over 4000 words. This one is blog mild.

I mentioned earlier that this series of publicly accessible writings has been useful in three ways: bringing people up to date if they want to be, helping others who face or anticipate similar problems, and helping myself understand my experiences and feelings by trying to explain them to others.

Unwisely, I failed to mention a fourth benefit. The blog has prompted others to share their thoughts, experiences and feelings.

Some people have been moved to share emotionally wrenching episodes in their lives and how they dealt with them. I am grateful for these insights into their lives.

Some people send me breaking news from cancer research frontiers, or promising accounts of alternative treatments.

Some people latch on to my attempts at humor, and respond with amusing lines of their own. One wise soul commented that humor is a good way to deal with fear.

Other readers pick up a little piece of my background, such as having taught sailing in my youth, and write about their similar experience.

A number have said that the blog prompts them “to think and rethink about our own lives and values,” as Wilson Price put it. A few younger professors say it helps increase their resolve to spend more time with their kids, money and professional reputation be damned.

I love to hear from former students. They notice that my approach to the cancer is infused with the operations research way of thinking. Kirk Yost said, “Issues are presented clearly and concisely, and the relevant experts are identified and quoted. You are applying analytical skills to a difficult problem and giving the rest of us advice that would be difficult to obtain otherwise.” Heartwarming praise from a tough critic, indeed!

Kirk went on to say, “Also, length is not a problem. Most of your audience probably reads at a rate of at least 300 words per minute, so the 4000-word post takes less time than it takes me to walk across the Pentagon parking lot.” (It's nice of him not to mention that the Pentagon parking lot is probably larger than the city of Monterey.)

Of course, no writer gets uniformly positive reviews. One of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett, says good reviews thrill her for about ten minutes and bad reviews crush her for about ten minutes. Her actual point is that she does not care much about critics: "It's just as unnatural for people to sit around and tell you you're a genius as it is for people to tell you you're a fraud. It's not healthy either way."

Be that as it may, I don't hesitate to say Ann Patchett is a genius. I also admit that the positive feedback I have received on my blog warmed me up for longer than ten minutes. A not-so-positive email commented on my excessive wordiness, and said it was not desirable to read about other people’s illnesses. Okay, I can understand that, though I’m perplexed as to why they bother to tell me.

But fear not, I shall blog on.

Even if it is just to say hello, responses from readers are truly a godsend. Thank you all!

Cancer Update

I have been on chemotherapy vacation for seven weeks, with increases in appetite and weight, but not much increase in energy. An MRI last week showed that the spinal tumor in T-7 has not grown in the last two months, but there are other smaller ones above and below it. We are still holding off on radiation.

A CT scan the same day showed that the liver is essentially stable except for one tumor that is a bit larger. There are also some very small spots on my lungs, which have been there since the first diagnosis. My back is still sore. We don’t know if it is cancer-related or just due to lack of exercise. Depression is the key problem. We are rethinking approaches to it.

An exception to the low energy and low spirits was my birthday, when Pascale and I went camping at Harbin Hot Springs. We pitched a tent by a babbling stream and took frequent soaks in the soothing thermal pools. I did a lot of walking the first two days. By the third day, my energy waned. Pascale has been a champion through all this. It is a difficult ordeal for her. Her old friends have given her great support. We wish they lived closer.

P.S. If you want to be inspired by the joy of scientific discovery and witness academics behaving beautifully, read or listen to this profile of biologist Bonnie Bassler. Share it with any bright, impressionable youngster (or adult) you know who has time to make decisions about education and career.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was --just-- thinking about you, and hoping I'd get a chance to see you in at the upcoming Pgh INFORMS meeting. Thanks for the latest posting, and sharing what's going on. All my healing thoughts and prayers are with you & Pascale.

Robin Lougee-Heimer

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr Rosenthal,
It is a treasure to read your Blog. You said, "In retrospect, I wish I had taken more play time in the summer, especially when my daughters were young – money and professional reputation be damned." I have time to do something about this in my life - with my wife and three daughters. I will buy that boat we have been looking to purchase and spend some time on the bay, together.
I wonder how a formal decision analysis process would approach this dilemma. What would you do different if you knew your time was short? What if you lived longer than expected? Isn't the legacy we build outside our family a place of comfort for loved ones when we are gone? Is it professional reputation or immortality through our published works that we gain?
It was said, "The measure of a man's character is not what he gets from his ancestors, but what he leaves his descendants." Turn around and look at the beauty of your foot prints in the sand. Thank you. Ted

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rick -- I am a friend of Judith and John Philpot, and they shared your blog with me. I am also a cancer survivor (so far)so I know the truth of your tales. Thanks for sharing in your very special unique voice. I'm holding you and Pascale in the Light.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It was nice to see you at the Pittsburgh INFORMS meeting.

I have spent the last hour
or so catching up on your blog.

I have just passed your blog URL
to two close people I know with breast cancer.

I will be thinking of you.


3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Rick,

I read these postings and realized that indeed, the "fourth benefit" you mention is such an important one. It exerts from the reader his/her deepest emotions – recollections of his/her own – obviously thanks to the writing which is so full of humanity.
I – to speak only for myself, of course – am less interested in the technical and practical detail of cancer. Still, those "tranches de vie" such as missing the periodical visits to the clinic – chats with the nurse, or being informed about the particular meaning of the Nobel prize of your own relative – in such a coincidence must affect the reader. Is writing a late-discovered talent of yours or you have always been writing (to put in the drawer)?

I wish you a healthier new year,

Israel David
Ben-Gurion University, Israel

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

people need to understand..cancer treatments are never going to save people... chemicals kill...the medical community knows this, however they continue to give people false hopes all the while pumping them with dangerous drugs.
it's all by's all about $$$ ...keep wearing your pink ribbons...continue putting your faith into the medical's all a joke. Think about it...with all of the money poured into various cancer research..still no better treatment than chemicals? What is up with that?

God is the only answer. The cancer was created by evil people in order to destroy life and keep the money flowing. Abortion too.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Cameron VSJ said...


I have a quick question about your blog. Could you email me when you get a chance?


10:23 AM  
Blogger Cameron VSJ said...


I have a quick question about your blog. Could you email me when you get a chance?


10:23 AM  

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