Sunday, November 30, 2014

Health update - 6 months

The road goes ever on
At the end of April I was admitted for surgery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  Over a delicate seven-hour operation, surgeons Kofi Boahene and Jeremy Richmon removed two tumors from the head and neck region.  One of them (Dr Richmon's) turned out to be cancerous, so after a month to get my strength back we returned to Hopkins in June (six months ago) for five weeks of intensive radiation treatment (Dr Harry Kwon) with supportive chemotherapy (Dr Christine Chung).   The end of treatment (just after the Fourth of July) was a day to celebrate, but with that intensity of radiation the effects keep coming at you for some weeks after treatment has stopped.  It was not until the beginning of August that I started feeling - very tentatively - a little better.   But this fall I have definitely been improving in health and energy, taking long hikes with Liane and fulfilling a long held desire by getting back to Seneca Rocks to climb in time for the annual chili cookoff, held in mid October.  Getting back on the sharp end of the rope required some focused not-listening to those voices in my head the night before that wanted to tell me I was now too sick (or too old!) to be leading - but, once I put fingers to rock again, those voices might as well never have been.  "Purity of heart is to will one thing", said Kierkegaard, and such is the meditative beauty of climbing: no room for noise, simply the joy of balance and movement.

I've been back a couple of times to the hospital and my next set of check-ups is scheduled for February.  Scans are good - no sign of recurrence - but of course there are some issues that I have to deal with after intense treatment like that.  I had quite severe hearing loss on my right side, caused by fluid buildup in the middle ear - but I've now had a tiny drain inserted (like a kid with an ear infection might) and that is helping enormously.   Perhaps related to that, I have been dealing with a recurrent sinus infection (antibiotics seem to have it under control).  A longer-term issue is the loss of movement in the jaw muscles caused by surgical and radiation damage.  I'm working with a physical therapist to increase flexibility here.  I've been a regular visitor to the PT department over the years but this is the first time I am not there for a climbing injury!

So all in all the news is good.  Thanks to all my friends who have sent their prayers and support over the last year's roller-coaster ride.  I'll try to keep you updated.  Hugs to all.   Having cancer has definitely made me a huggier person (as one of my former graduate students was startled to discover recently!)  Hug a friend today! (You can blame me if you like...)

Photo: author

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

News of MATH 033

Here's a Penn State press release regarding MATH033!

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Back in 2008, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain famously argued whether properly inflating the tires on America's roads would be enough to offset the need to reopen offshore drilling.

After a semester in John Roe’s Mathematics for Sustainability course (MATH033), students will be able to whip out their calculators, estimate the numbers and make a determination about whether properly inflating tires is beneficial or not.

MATH033 is a newly introduced course at Penn State that will be offered in spring 2015. Through this unique course, the students will be able to study sustainability from a mathematics perspective.
“Engaged citizens need to be skilled in talking about these issues," Roe explained, “and not just glazing over when the numbers come up.”

The class will carry out specific case studies and analyze sustainability issues that range from local Penn State campus waste management to global warming. Students will learn how to analyze sustainability issues by asking fundamental mathematical questions: How large? How fast? How risky? How connected?

“This class is so different than any math class I've seen,” said graduate assistant Sara Jamshidi. “It introduces ideas and concepts that few people outside of math or research get to see, and I think it does so in a very down-to-earth way.”

The aim of the course is for students to become informed citizens who are able to engage in discussions about sustainable resources, pollution, recycling, economic change and similar matters of public interest.

“When most people think about math, sustainability isn't usually a topic that crosses their mind,” said teaching assistant Kaley Weinstein. “But almost any sustainable decision made by someone ultimately has math behind it.”

Weinstein continued, “Since sustainability can be applied to everyone's life, it is important that people know how the math behind sustainability works.”

This course fulfills a GQ (general education-quantification) credit and is intended for students who are not mathematics majors.

The course is scheduled to take place from 2:30 to 3:20 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 115 Osmond. It is limited to 40 students, so interested students are encouraged to register now.

For more information about Mathematics for Sustainability, visit To learn more about sustainability at Penn State, visit

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Praying the Te Deum and Benedicite

"Let us now sing the first six verses of the Tedium".

That at any rate is how my mutinous younger self parsed the vicar's injunction, herded into traditional Anglican worship every Sunday morning at school, and by no means a believer at that time.  The vicar, also, seemed in a hurry to get on with the service - I don't think we ever recited more than the beginning of the canticle Te Deum Laudamus ("We praise Thee, O God") taken over by the Book of Common Prayer from the Catholic liturgy and thought to be written in the fourth century AD.