Hanging out with the Big C

Added: 30-11-2006

Well, we’re finally about to leave the US for the year, and what a time it’s been. What a few weeks in fact…I had written before of the need to keep the website going over the winter and if anyone has been checking back you will have noticed that in the last few weeks I have completely failed to do just that. Sure, you got some words on New York and a few paragraphs on the election but not much else. Some photos, nice ones at that, but mostly a lot of nothing.

Why? Well, things have been dramatic as usual. We had lost wallets and now we have lost body parts. OK, that sounds gruesome…the long and the short of it is that I haven’t been writing because I have fallen ‘ill’ – not ill in a traditional sense of coughs and colds, aches and pains, but more in a oh-shit-this-isn’t-good type fashion…how to write this…keep it simple I guess: last week I developed testicular cancer and this week I have been recovering from the surgery that comes with it.

Good eh? I’ve wanted to write something about this but mostly I’ve been sitting around, luckily in the company of Dave and my friends from DC (who are now simply amazing, in my eyes, for all the help and support they have given me). when I’ve not been sitting around I’ve been wearing pyjamas and hobbling from my bed to the couch and kitchen, or lying on the bed watching DVDs (I have seen a lot, nearly caught up with the movies I wanted to see in fact). it’s been quite a week, including as it did Thanksgiving and the associated weekend of too much food and too many dishes involving pumpkin. of all the times to get sick…

so yeah, I was putting off writing something until today when I was supposed to get the pathology results from my Urologist (‘my urologist’…I sound like a rich old man or something…). as it turned out the pathology didn’t come back and all I got was like a trailer for my forthcoming months instead of the whole plot, but the long and short of it is that it appears my cancer hasn’t spread. not yet anyway. where we go from here is in one of two directions – a monthly monitoring regime or some sort of treatment program (if I’m in the UK, it must be chemo! (if I was in the USA it might instead involve a Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection (RPLND). Check the link if you want to see big surgery…marvellous…

If all this sounds quite desperate and terrifying I should say that it’s not so bad (I am crossing everything I own that is not needed to type at this point). Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer that affects men between 15 and 35 years of age and, while not that many men get it, there is an increasing incidence of it as we move on into the 21st Century (why? have no idea. more news when I get it). If caught early (as I believe I was – the whole thing came on on a Thursday, hung around over the weekend and, following a guest appearance for 12 hours in an emergency room on a Monday, was gone by the Wednesday evening. there I was, one man lighter, ready for Thanksgiving Thursday evening) there is a very high ‘cure rate’ with over 95% of those afflicted still alive five years later (nb. this doesn’t read as well as it should, it’s just that medical jargon conjures up cure rates using what happens to people in the five years after diagnosis). because I was in good hands here in the US – Stand up Doctor Fernando Bianco! – I go into the next phase of fun ready to get into it and get involved. The survival rate for men with Stage I non-seminoma (that’s me) is about 98%. If I have to play, I like these odds.

So anyway, more to come in the book which now really has a good halfway point plot twist. Not one I woulda chosen, but there you go. Dave and I are now ready to return to the UK after missing our opportunity last week (and our associated welcome home parties, something we were both looking forward to) and we should be leaving DC tomorrow night and be back in the UK on Friday. By then I should have the test results and know a bit more. Good times eh?

This announcement was bought to you in association with the George Washington University Hospital, in particular the Urology department and the hardcore Dr Bianco who stayed late on the night before Thanksgiving to relieve me of a traitor, and also the very cool people at the British Mountaineering Council (our travel insurers) who have really been great throughout all of this (mostly likely hideously expensive) situation and who are arranging to get me home tomorrow. Biggups to all of you, and also huge love to Marni, Dave, David, Mikkel, Steph, Rob, and Leila (great cookies!). It’s been a pleasure being ill with you guys, I know we’ve had fun…

More soon come. Am back on the bus…

Disclaimer/Meta Comment or whatever you call it: it might seem quite odd to announce to a website’s readership that I have testicular cancer. I guess it is, especially when I haven’t told all of my friends and colleagues yet (to those of you I haven’t emailed and might feel put out…I’m sorry but it’s been mad enough trying to tell the same story all the time to people even in my immediate circle here. let’s get a beer and talk testicular cancer soon). I figured, hell, there is nothing I can do about this, no way I coulda prevented it as far as I can tell, and the outcome of this situation I find myself in does affect the future of the walk. therefore it is of relevance and I am not having some sort of odd Chris Morris moment.  things will pan out as they are meant to pan out, and we will all be walking long distances before we know it.

Stuart                                  Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

An entry desribing a New York weekend. Skip it?

Added: 14-11-2006

So below this you can find some brief musings on the recent mid-term elections (more to come in the book). Apart from following the US political scene very closely we’ve also been sticking rigidly to our usual policy of partying and enjoying local US customs (Halloween, American Football watching and Lite Beer). Since I last wrote we have been mostly in DC, hanging out once more at our friend the Malouin’s house where we can sit down a lot and monitor our email every three seconds in case someone really important has tried to get in touch.

This weekend though, we departed for New York. My second visit, the first being way back in 2000 when it was a different city and perhaps we all lived on a different planet. This time I was with Dave and instead of flying from England we took the bus from DC and endured the usual sweaty four hour fun of uncomfortable seats, random onboard temperature fluctuations, screaming babies and assorted livestock that often are to be found on US public transport (nb. one of these pieces of fun is made up). As is traditional at the beginning of every large Hamilton/Toolan jaunt, Dave lost his wallet with all his credit cards and ID soon after we arrived in New York and the tone was set for a weekend of high drama and excitement.

We were also lucky enough to add my Danish flatmate and DJ partner, Mikkel, into the mix, and we were extra lucky enough to stay at the New York apartment of Loida, fellow librarian and Walkingthestates supporter through and through. We had a crew, we had a list of things to do, and some of us had wallets. Here is a brief rundown of how we entertained ourselves:

  • Friday night: drinks at Loida’s and then the lower east side, hitting such establishments as the Liquor Bar and the Library Bar (Yes, I know…). Dave became enthused and stayed out very late on a solo mission photographing the inhabitants of local pizza parlours (images in the Gallery very soon)
  • Saturday: shopping. A preliminary mission of shopping led by style guru Mikkel Holst, taking in shops all over the lower east side and going up a little bit further when the need took us. We hit record stores and I spent silly money on rare Ramsey Lewis records and old hip hop I didn’t know existed. After this we went to the strangest place of my whole weekend –Flight Club, an exclusive shop selling only rare Nike trainers (or sneakers, if you’re American). Not only was there a locked front door and a queue to be buzzed in, once you got in it was like the New York Stock Exchange as people shouted back and forth about sneaker stocks and tried to sell rare Nikes to the staff. It was quite overwhelming and I saw my first pair of $1000 kicks.
  • Saturday night: if it was Saturday night it had to be Williamsburg, hipper than hip in Brooklyn. We ate Polish-American and then played pool for hours against a succession of very nice people (good on you, Cormaic!) and people with exceedingly annoying hyena laughs (not missing that, Dan). Following this we went back to the lower east side and trawled the streets looking for bars that weren’t requiring ID (there aren’t many). Ended up back at the Liquor Bar drinking Sangria and marvelling at the crazyzee antics of some frat boy named Josh who kept shouting very loudly concoctions of phrases such as “Yeah Baby! New York is off the chain”, ” A! T! O!” (it was his fraternity) and, er, “Yeah!” or “Yeah!!”. All of this at the top of his voice, with no concern for his rep and accompanied by a variety of weird finger signs that we thought were supposed to mean something significant. We had a picture taken with him in case he turned out to be President in 2040 or something.
  • Saturday early morning: up on the roof. Not yet ready for bed we went up to the roof of Loida’s building and marvelled at the New York skyline. Quite incredible, Blade Runner-esque yet quite familiar with all the landmarks. Dave played guitar and we rewrote ‘Sexy Back’ in a George Formby style.
  • Sunday: not up so early. Out for brunch (it’s New York) with Mikkel and Loida and then more shopping. It was now Mikkel’s turn to lose his credit card but luckily he just left it in the brunch place. We walked up and down Manhattan in the rain in a shopping spree that netted me a jumper and a shamefully priced pair of trainers from the crazy lockdown sneaker store vistited on Saturday. I didn’t get the $1000 ones though.
  • Sunday evening: I headed out on a solo mission to meet with Lefty Leibowitz, head honcho at Jinx Magazine and one of the chiefs of New York’s urban explorers (crazy folk who go down storm drains and climb up buildings, explore subway tunnels and generally go the places that other people don’t. A very nice fella, and he played steel pedal guitar too). We made tentative arrangements to come back in April and check out some of the subways on the upper west side where the mole people once lived…
  • Monday: tourism. we do Coney Island in the rain, which was how we wanted to do it, and then Dave and I headed to Ground Zero to see what was happening. This was a strange experience – I found it odd that there were so many pictures of the attack and its aftermath, some of which were truly beautiful photographs – works of art created on a terrible day…I wasn’t sure how to interpret the existance of these powerful photographs at the site of such destruction, but I was impressed with the dignity around the area, the simplicity of the ‘exhibition’ but also the hustle and bustle of the city going on all around Ground Zero. I found the experience moving actually, and am still trying to work out what it means…
  • Monday afternoon. I slept.
  • Monday evening. Dave and I cooked for Loida, an effort that involved getting caught in a tremendous rainstorm, a truly hectic shopping experience courtesy of a full-to-bursting Wholefoods uptown, and a Russian liquor store owner. In the end our meal was wolfed down, we watched Heroes, The Daily Show and then loads of Malcolm in the Middle. It was all good and sleep was long and much needed.
  • Tuesday: Depart for DC after hours in New York Public Library writing this far too long journal entry…

Yep, I want to keep the journal ticking over but I figure I’m gonna have to come up with something more interesting that simply describing where we’ve been out. This week should yield something good though – we have to start planning the structure of the book of the trip, and we also have to review the 17 hours of video footage that we’ve shot in the past five months. Much work to do, but at least it will done sitting down…

Stuart                                Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

On the US Mid-term Elections

Added: 14-11-2006

It’s been a long time, it seems…

Well, we’re still in the US, in New York to be precise, and while we’re doing a lot more sitting down we are trying to continue exploring in our own way. This one comes to you from New York Public Library, arguably one of the global Daddies as far as public libraries are concerned, and all is good.

Since I last wrote much has changed. I had a shave and the Republicans were overwhelmingly rejected by the American voters in the mid-term elections. During our walk we did a lot of thinking about the mid-terms, and asked a lot of people a lot of questions about them, so it was quite exciting to see them finally come around at last. All across the country the election signs had been out for months, posters and billboards supporting those running for Congress or the Senate, but also advertising for lesser known positions such as county sheriffs or county property tax collectors. Say what you like about American democracy, the depth to which a voter actually has a choice over his representative is quite impressive.

These elections also come with a large number of local referendums, another feature of democracy which doesn’t rear its head in the UK. For example, in the final state we passed through, Missouri, voters were asked to vote on whether or not to support embryonic cell research – a thorny issue for many Americans and one which had become very high profile in the weeks leading up to the election. Advertisements featuring a shaky Michael J. Fox (who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease) got a lot of publicity and likely caused voters to carefully consider the issues. In Missouri the amendment to support stem cell research narrowly passed.

For me though, the Michael J.Fox advertisement was a relatively calm moment in the whole TV campaign. Shocking though it might have been to see the fella from Back to the Future II bravely making a point about the need for medical research that might cure Parkinsons, it paled into insignifiance when the overall way American politics is sold to the people at election times is considered. Negative adverts were everywhere on TV, absolutely everywhere and I wouldn’t have had a clue what the politicians were really about if I hadn’t gone to the newspapers and Internet. The adverts were so relentlessly negative that you would have thought legal teams for all politicians were standing by screaming “Libel!”. After a while there seemed to be a common format: some sinister sounding music coupled with images of the politician concerned doing sinister things (talking to Republicans/Democrats, kissing ugly babies), more stills of the politician with some voting statistics superimposed over the top (“So and so voted for the war!!”, “So and so wants abortion to be mandatory!!”), then an exhortation to dump the evil doer out of office forthwith and replace him or her with a polititician from the other party. The icing on the cake of every advert is the very quick garbled message at the end breathlessly rushed out: “This advert is endorsed by (insert politician’s oponent’s name here)”. (nb. this ‘disclaimer’ approach is also found in the medicine adverts and can be unintentionally hilarious – there’s an asthma aid on the market at the moment which has an advert that finishes with “Warning: Taking this medicine can cause asthma-related death.”)

By far the most heinous campaign advert I heard about was the one directed at Harold Ford Junior, the Democratic challenger for the senate seat in Tennessee. In what seemed to a lot of commentators to be a classic playing of the race card (Ford is African-American) the Republican National Committee ran an advert featuring a blonde woman saying “Harold, call me!” after it emerged that Ford had once attended a party sponsored by Playboy. To be fair, the Republican opponent Bob Corker denounced the add but the Republican Party refused to pull it off air.

Anyway, that was the campaign and now we all know the result. Americans seem to have convincingly rejected the course of the war in Iraq at the very least, and they have also had their say on what is perceived in many parts to be extensive corruption in the Republican Party. Where we go from now is anyone’s guess but already the talk is of who will run for President in 2008. Giuliani stepped up to the plate yesterday, we should likely expect John McCain and there’s plenty of talk about Hilary getting involved on the Democratic side. Myself? I’d like to see Barak Obama in the race, and not just because we were once in the same room as him…

Stuart                                  Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

Our latest partner - Fitness Travel Gear

Added: 6-11-2006

A real bonus for us – a new partner that will make a massive difference to how we approach next year’s walk. Fitness Travel Gear is a website that reviews top quality products for fitness and travel activities indoors and outdoors, and is a one-stop portal for advice on what exactly is the best kit for those of us seeking to go on ridiculous long walks (or even just for popping down the gym).

We’re really pleased that Fitness Travel Gear (FTG) have agreed to be a partner with us for the next stage of our walk. Next year we’re expecting a much more technical challenge, with mountains and desert meaning that we’re gonna need good kit if we’re going to continue to travel light (sadly we’ve not yet solved the problem of how to make our laptop and cameras lighter – ideas?). Because of our partnership with FTG we are now going to be able to test out some of the latest and most innovative hiking clothing and equipment – this is a bonus of huge proportions. In return for testing out kit from such manufacturers as Sierra Designs and GoLite we will be writing reviews and posting them on the FTG website for all to see. First up we’re going to test some lightweight windjackets over the winter – the reviews will posted as soon as we know what we’re dealing with…

In the meantime, you can read a bit more about Fitness Travel Gear’s mission here..

Stuart                                Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

A short while later...

Added: 1-11-2006

We’re back in DC and in some ways it feels like we never left. Almost. Back in the same house, hanging out with the same people and the same dogs, sleeping on the same floor and still enjoying every minute of it. Except now the pressure is off, of course, and to an extent we are free to do with our time as we please, get up when we want and take afternoon naps should we so feel like it.

It’s a good feeling. An overall awareness that we had actually finished walking started coming over me on Sunday while we were still in Kansas City but before that I was just kinda numb…we srnt the weekend celebrating the end of the walk (with a side-order of birthday celebration of course), moving in and out of Kansas City bars and clubs and getting the vibe of a city building up to Halloween. By Saturday night, after a long and pleasant day meeting up with several British expats in an Independence bar, I was exhausted and opted for the early night option (Dave held our end up well, performing keg stands and apparently dancing outrageously to ‘Gin and Juice’ at the Halloween party you can see in this Gallery). Sunday was more recovering for everyone in the city I think, and I took advantage of the beautiful weather and quiet streets to, er, go and sit in the dark at the cinema, watching the decidedly average Running with Scissors.

We left Kansas on Monday, and were amazed at how quickly it is to get places in a plane.  Seriously, 5 hours from KC to DC, and that’s with a stop at Chicago on the way. Took us nearly five months to walk that. Both of our DC friends Steph and David were at hand to meet us at the airprt (video cameras in hand) and before I knew it we were back in a familiar bar in a now-familiar city and it was almost as if we’d never left.

It’s odd the way the human mind works. OK, that’s like a no-brainer, but forgive me if I briefly digress on the subject of time. We’ve spent four and a half months on the road, walking at 3 mph slowly west. All the time one is involved in this activity one feels a sense of progression, of a movement towards somewhere and away from somewhere. Now that we’ve stopped, and in fact returned to the place from where our journey started, all of this time seems to have disappeared somewhere. I know that the time concerned contains things that we’ve done, people we’ve met and places we’ve been, but now it feels part of a previous Act and we’ve moved on. I’m not sure what to call this feeling, and I only know that it’s likely to morph into something else the longer I have to think about what Dave and I accomplished this summer. For now though, it’s like we stared in a weird perfomance play we wrote together, and we’re waiting for the reviews (written by us) to come in. More news when I work out what exactly it is that I am talking about.

For now though, anyone who is reading this should know that we will continue to post on this website over the winter and beyond, covering all of our preparations for the second leg next year. That is due to start at the end of April 2007 and in between times we’ll be hanging out in DC and New York and then returning to Europe to seek work and time to write. At various locations we will be, and, while perhaps not as regularly as before, journal and photo updates will be appearing. We’re also planning to put on one or maybe two exhibition/presentation thingies on the first stage of the walk – venue and format as yet undecided but possibly taking place in London and/or Brighton at the end of January. We’ll display some of Dave’s amazing photographs, give a presentation on what it felt to be in each other’s company 24-7 for months and tell you all about the dogs, cats and roadkill we met along the way.

And finally, while I have your attention I should say that it has been a pleasure to know that people have been tuning in to our ramblings and visions, and to know that people have maybe been telling other people to tune in as well. Since we launched the site we’ve been getting nearly 2000 unique visitors a month and have received over 900,000 hits. We’re extremely, extremely happy ’bout this and thank y’all once again for joining in…

And another finally: it was Halloween last night and great fun it was too. Check new pictures by clicking here

Stuart                               Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

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