Paris – 18 years and one cancer diagnosis later

Immediately after I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in December 2016, I vowed to fulfill my long-standing desire to return to Paris. More than 1 year later, I finally did it.

I first visited Paris as part of a school-sponsored tour in the summer of 2000. I always wanted to go back, but I put it off for one year, which became two, then three and eventually 18. This won’t be a simple diary but rather a commentary on my experiences in Paris. There were a lot of great moments that I don’t want to be overshadowed by my critical commentary, but I do hope it will inspire people to be more thoughtful while traveling.

On this blog, I’ve explained how and why I’ve become a Francophile. My desire to visit Paris went on the back-burner until I was diagnosed. Suddenly, time became precious and I wanted to make up for lost opportunities.

I went back to Paris in May 2018 with my mother, father and brother. I am lucky to have shared this experience with them and have their love and support throughout my illness. We visited a lot of the same places I saw in 2000, but it was better to have them along with me. I also visited a few new places, such as the military museum at Les Invalides and explored on my own.

Artillery at Les Invalides.

There were lots of happy moments. One of my favorite memories will be rushing to see the Eiffel Tower on our last night in Paris – it was cool and rainy, but it was still a joyful experience. We all rode the carousel near the Eiffel tower. I was on a zebra that leapt through the air, and I got to be a kid again for a moment (video). I probably haven’t ridden a carousel in 20 years, but I almost started to cry because my emotions were so strong. I was almost overwhelmed by the love and gratitude I felt, but I also felt a deep sense of relief because I finally accomplished what I had delayed for so long. Without the epiphany caused by cancer, I may have kept prolonging this trip and other priorities indefinitely.


I love French film and I had originally hoped to visit the massive Grand Rex theater , but I settled for something more intimate: the Filmotheque du Quartier Latin. We stayed in the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne, which actually turned out to be home to a number of small independent theaters. The Filmotheque was literally right around the corner from our apartment and the walls were adorned with political graffiti. It happened to be showing the classic Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn film “Charade,” with an excellent musical score by Henry Mancini. The Filmotheque only had two small theaters – each without about 50 seats. It was like sitting in someone’s private home theater. The rest of the family stayed in to rest, so it was my own private Parisian moment.

Street art in Paris.

However, I kept my eyes open to the realities of Paris and its history as well. Notre Dame was one of the first places we went to. Built between the 12th and 14th centuries, it’s one of the best examples of a Gothic church. The western façade features three entrances which are richly decorated with images of saints and martyrs. Of course, Notre Dame is also famous for its magnificent stained glass. Inside, the high domed ceilings reach up more than 100 feet into the air. We toured Notre Dame during a Wednesday morning mass. The hymns, combined with the flickering votive candles, created a very peaceful and reflective atmosphere, which my mother found to be quite moving. However, I was quite ambivalent about it. I was certainly impressed by the amount of labor, time and money that went into creating such an impressive monument.

Entrance to Notre Dame.

On the other hand, it struck me as rather misguided. I’m skeptical of organized religion in general, and the Catholic Church is no exception. For more than 200 years, skilled artisans and architects dedicated themselves to creating a monument to the glory of God and the Catholic Church. Much good has been done in the name of God, but much hatred, violence and oppression has been committed in his name as well. I appreciated the artistic value and the engineering accomplishments Notre Dame represented, but I couldn’t help feeling the effort was misguided at best. How much good could have been done in the world with the money and effort spent to create this awesome monument? And remember, it was only one of dozens of massive cathedrals throughout France. I’m not anti-Catholic, but I am critical of how resources spent by any religious organization to glorify God could be better used for that same goal by alleviating suffering here on Earth.


This sense of inequality and injustice would be a recurring theme throughout my trip and my reflections. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to have the chance to return to Paris, especially with my family. I’ll back again, and next time I’d love to get outside the city. Maybe someday I’ll even do the classic “romantic” escape to Paris. However, Paris is a real city – not just the stereotypical “City of Love.”

Ceiling tapestry in the “Hercules” room at Versailles – more than 5,000 sq. ft.

I had visited the Palace of Versailles 18 years ago, and I went back with my family earlier this year. Originally a royal hunting lodge, King Louis XIV made Versailles more than just a mansion in the 1600s. It became a byword for decadence, opulence and luxury. A single room in the palace represents a vast fortune of art, furniture and furnishings. The palace interior was overwhelmingly lavish and featured the largest ceiling canvas in Europe (more than 5,000 square feet). The palace in its entirety is incomprehensible.


We did the main tour and then walked down to the Apollo fountain in the massive gardens. The gardens were a refreshing break from the crowds and the weather was perfect. I laid down in the grass near the Apollo fountain and took a brief snooze. Soothing classical music flowed through the air and dozens of ancient statues adorned the gardens. However, even after several hours we didn’t have time to visit the Trianon Palace, to which Louis XIV retreated when life at Versailles was too hectic.

Visiting Versailles made it obvious that revolution against the monarchy in France in 1789 was almost inevitable. Versailles represented a nearly incomprehensible amount of wealth, but it was only one of many royal estates the Bourbon dynasty owned. I cherished the opportunity to revisit Versailles, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but couldn’t ignore its historical context.


The Louvre was a “new” destination for me. It was on our itinerary 18 years ago, but I missed it because I was lying on a bench ill and tired. I was excited about having the chance to return and see the impressive collection of Egyptian artifacts. We’d already visited the Musee d’Orsay so I had already seen enough European paintings. I’ve always had a passing interest in ancient Egyptian history and, as a child, once dreamed of becoming an archeologist like Indiana Jones (instead I chose the equally lucrative field of history). Again, after several hours we had only scratched the surface on the Egyptian collections at the Louvre, let alone the extensive exhibits of ancient sculptures, Islamic art and European paintings.


The vibrant colors of the Egyptian artifacts, especially blue pottery, really struck me. The wonderfully intricate hieroglyphics were also inspiring. Again, the sheer amount of material was overwhelming. There were entire rooms on display, as well as an entire exhibit hall filled with dozens of sarcophagi. I’ve never been to Egypt, and, although I’d like to go someday, I may never visit. So, it was rewarding to be able to see these artifacts while visiting France, but I couldn’t ignore the moral context of the exhibit.


Egypt has demanded many institutions, including the Louvre, return artifacts that were taken sometimes illegally and sometimes only under a “legal” façade created by bribery and corruption. I think any institution with Egyptian artifacts should return them or sign an equitable agreement for retaining them on loan. It might be costly or embarrassing, but it’s the right thing to do. Cultural imperialism is still imperialism.

The stark reality of life in Paris also regularly intruded into the bright joy of our time in Paris. When arriving and departing from Charles de Gaulle airport, we traveled through the grimy working-class suburbs of Paris near the Stade de France. Gone were the pristine cafes of the Ile de la Cite – instead there were store fronts covered in graffiti. Every day we also encountered beggars, and this issue doesn’t get much attention. Back in the United States, I often wrestled with the quandary of whether I should give money to panhandlers. I prefer to give out bottled water to beggars back home, but that wasn’t an option in Paris.

Ultimately, I did give money to several Parisian panhandlers – especially those who had a pet dog and another who had a pet rabbit. But Paris is filled with people in need, even if more financial support and social services are available than in the United States. In addition, there are a lot of refugees in Paris and the rest of Europe. Again, my point is not to tarnish experience in Paris with negative memories but to embrace the city in its totality instead of immortalizing it as the romantic ideal. Similarly, I cherish both the good memories from New Orleans as well as remembering the glimpses of inequality. To ignore it would be a disservice to the real people of Pairs. Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you leave your compassion at home.

I’ll carry my love for Pairs home with me when I watch classic French cinema, read bande dessinee and participate in French discussion circles. But I’ll also remember that Paris is vibrant and complex city – not just a cliched postcard.

Cancer, Obamacare and the “Gig” Economy

NPR recently did a series of articles on the contracting/freelancing economy. This resonated with me, because, until recently, I relied on the “gig” economy to survive. After I graduated from UK with my master’s degree in 2014, I worked a number of temporary jobs. I taught a wide variety of college history courses on an “as needed” basis. The pay was low and I usually only taught at any one college for one or two semesters before I had to move on to the next position. I also wrote freelance magazine and newspaper articles. I enjoyed it, but the pay was irregular and low, even by industry standards. I also worked as a substitute teacher – another poorly paid, unreliable, and stressful job. On top of this, I didn’t receive any benefits from these myriad jobs. The only reason I was able to make ends meet was that I was living at home for most of the last four years. I couldn’t make enough money on a steady basis to afford living on my own.

Then I got sick. I was extremely fortunate that I was able to live at home and didn’t have a family for whom I had to provide. I didn’t have to try and make ends meet with irregular low-paying work while I was going through treatment. It would have been nearly impossible, since I couldn’t speak for about two months (a major problem for a teacher and journalist), and then my voice was very weak for at least another month after that. Plus, I was a huge jerk while I was on steroids.

Medicaid was the biggest benefit I received. It paid for the first nine months of my treatment, and, without it, my meager savings would have evaporated instantly. I was spared the added stress of dealing with mounting medical bills on top of everything else.

If I hadn’t had insurance, my whole upper-middle class family might have been financially ruined through no fault of their own. I had three surgeries in a single six-week period, and each cost several thousand dollars apiece. The CT scans were more than $1,000 each (I had four last year alone). The MRI scans cost thousands as well, and I had four of those too.

The biggest expense would have been my medication, which costs about as much as a house every year. Medicaid covered it all. So, my advice to anyone who gets sick is to first be very poor and qualify for Medicaid. It’s great that we have at least some basic safety net for people who are poor, but many people don’t qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford decent insurance either. My whole recovery would have been so much more difficult if I had to worry about skyrocketing medical bills and trying to take care of a family at the same time.

Eventually, once I got back on my feet, my income rose, and I lost my Medicaid coverage. I couldn’t find a permanent job with good benefits right away, so I relied on more temporary work and insurance from the Obamacare marketplace. This time, the work was steady, reliable, and well paid. It was project-based, so my job was relatively secure for the duration of the assignment. The pay was also about twice my highest previous salary. However, I didn’t have any PTO, insurance, or retirement benefits.

The Obamacare insurance was a good temporary solution, but it wasn’t a permanent fix. I still qualified for a subsidy, which reduced the monthly premium from about $300 to a more affordable $200. The benefits were pretty good – the deductible was a $1,000 and I met it almost instantly. However, at the end of 2017, the plan changed. The premiums went up to almost $500 (about $250 after my subsidy) and the deductible rose to $1,500. The out-of-pocket limit also increased, copays went up, etc. The insurance wasn’t as great as it had been, but it was still better than nothing.

However, the insurance didn’t cover my medication. Luckily, the manufacturer has a program that will help patients get access to their medication if they can’t afford it. For me, my income was still low enough that the foundation covered 100 percent of the cost. That generous assistance may eventually expire, but the foundation also offers co-pay assistance on a sliding scale. I’m lucky that the manufacturer put lives ahead of profits, but not all of them do.

So, a whole network of programs exists to help people who are very sick, including Medicaid, Obamacare, and private assistance programs. However, Trump has severely undermined Obamacare since he took office. He eliminated subsidies and the big tax cut also killed the individual mandate to buy insurance. Trump has authorized the sale of cut-rate plans and cut funding for the 2018 open enrollment period. Despite these setbacks, almost 9 million people signed up for Obamacare in the 2018 open enrollment period, exceeding expectations. Obviously, there is still a need and a desire for Obamacare. It’s not perfect but introducing instability and uncertainty hasn’t helped.

Recently, I found the Holy Grail of health insurance – the employer sponsored plan. I was hired for a permanent position by the same company with which I had been consulting. They offer a 401k, PTO, and several different health insurance options. Obviously, I picked the most comprehensive plan. The premiums are affordable, with a low deductible and reasonable copays. However, it still doesn’t cover my medication, and I rely on the corporate foundation to fill my prescription every month. Countless Americans are not so fortunate. Millions now rely on the gig economy and will face undue hardship if they ever get sick or hurt.

We should do everything we can to ensure that every person can get the healthcare they need. It’s a right, not a privilege. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been trying to get through my treatment while also facing financial ruin. Illness, injury, or another disaster could strike any one of us (rick, poor, black, or white) at any time. It is basic compassion to ensure your neighbors of all classes and races have basic comfort and security. If the “gig” economy is here to stay, then we need a new sustainable system that offers health insurance, retirement, and other benefits. There are some models already, such as the Freelancer’s Union, which offers benefits; however, more should be done to ensure that nobody falls through the cracks. At the very least, professional programs, like the Freelancer’s Union, need to be improved and expanded. Adjunct professors are particularly vulnerable, although the Faculty Forward movement is trying to make improvements. New state and federal laws could also improve working conditions. I’ve been very fortunate, and I want to ensure all Americans have the assistance they need when facing major medical crises.

One Year Living with Cancer

I think this comic accurately sums up my attitude to 2018. 2016 was an unhappy year that ended with my diagnosis with stage four lung cancer. The tumor paralyzed my vocal cords, and I could only speak in a hoarse whisper. I was frustrated because I lost a good job and a nice apartment. Suddenly, I wasn’t allowed to drive myself because of the brain tumors. I wanted to get my life back together as quickly as possible, and, one year later, I’m on the cusp of achieving that. However, it’s been a long road and the future remains uncertain.

2017 was also a traumatic year. The steroids drove me crazy and kept me from sleeping for weeks on end. Surgery restored my voice to about 90 percent of what it was before I was diagnosed. My treatment also proved to be effective. I also fulfilled a long-time desire to visit New Orleans, and I had a great time with my uncle and dad. Friends and family have been invaluable this last year.

Eventually, I started to work again and even fell in love with Jessie. But, it wasn’t too long before I was reminded that disaster can strike at any time. If any health crisis was going to happen soon, I assumed it would happen to me. However, Jessie suddenly was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and immediately went through some very serious surgery. It was terrifying, but I gave her all the love and support I could.

Despite that, she decided to end our relationship and focus on her treatment. It was heartbreaking, but I couldn’t blame her. She seems to be doing well, which is a relief. She is a kind and generous person who certainly doesn’t deserve this (not that anybody really does).

I’ve been picking up the pieces of my life these last few months. I found a temporary job and will be hired on a permanent basis later this month. I’m planning to finally move out, and I will fulfill another big dream that I’ve been putting off. For the last 18 years, I’ve been talking about going back to France, but this spring I’ll actually do it.

I recently had my annual checkup and the scans show my brain tumors are gone. The chest scans are also largely unchanged, and my liver function remains normal. The doctors say things are stable for now, but the long-term picture remains unclear. The disease could mutate and become resistant to the drugs I’m taking. If that happens, there are other treatments available. Still, uncertainly looms.

The last two years have been very challenging, but I’m on the verge of finally regaining my independence. Despite the good news, I can’t get overly complacent or optimistic. Aside from my disease, the mundane tragedies of life, such as a car accident, could strike me or someone I love at any moment. Even worse, Trump could start a war and get us all killed. So, 2018 looks like it’s going to be a good year, but nobody can predict the future. Thus, I’ll keep my guard up.

I’m Co-Owner of a French Castle

I haven’t updated this blog in a while, but felt I had to share a discovery that combines two of my favorite things: crowd sourcing and castles.

I’ve supported various comic book projects on Kickstarter over the last five years or so. I thought it was a great way to support niche projects that might not otherwise get published. But, just the other day, I saw a blurb on BBC America about how crowdfunding was helping to save a castle (château) in France. It turns out there’s an organization that has been doing this in France since 2015 – Adopte un Château.

I love châteaux! I visited several when I was first traveled to France 17 years ago, including Chambord and Chenonceau. I loved them because they were so opulent and distinguished. They are cultural and historic treasures, and we don’t have anything like it in America.

Adopte un Château claims there are thousands of French castles that have been abandoned and need to be saved. They’ve raised money to start restoration efforts at several dozen locations. What really got me excited was the ability to buy “shares” in one of the current projects – Château La Mothe-Chandeniers.

Château La Mothe
Château La Mothe-Chandeniers  (Photo by Pierre Maire –

Built in the 1200s, Château La Mothe-Chandeniers has experienced a lot of turmoil. It was pillaged during the French Revolution and lay abandoned until a wealthy businessman bought it in 1809. However, in 1932, a fire destroyed the castle and many important artifacts, including the library and tapestries. It has been empty ever since. As you can see in the picture, the castle is intact but overgrown. Despite that, I can see the potential in it!

So far, more than 9,000 supporters have donated to the fundraiser. Their support has grown to more than 760,000 Euros (almost $900,000). That’s an average of about 85 Euro per person (or about $100). The fundraiser will continue for another two weeks.

It will cost about 500,000 Euro (almost $600,000) to buy the castle. Another 150,000 Euro ($177,000) will go towards fees and an architectural study. Anything beyond that will be used to start the initial restoration work.

I eagerly donated 50 Euro (about $60) to become a “co-owner” in the castle, and I’ll have a vote in how the restoration project proceeds. I also gave an additional 10 Euro ($12) for a welcome kit that includes a letter and membership card. Another 8 Euro ($10) was added to pay for fees. So for a total of about $82, I’m now a châtelain (castle lord)! It’s located about 3 hours west of Paris. Someday, when Château La Mothe-Chandeniers is fully restored, I’ll be able to visit it and know that I have helped save a piece of French history. I know it will take years and a lot more money, but I’m optimistic. I’m eagerly awaiting my membership kit!

Adopte un Château has several other fundraisers underway at the moment, and I donated smaller amounts of money to them as well. Like with other crowd sourcing projects, rewards include tchotchkes like magnets and postcards. My only complaint is that taxes and fees can take a large part of each donation. For example, with a 15 Euro gift (about $18) only 5 Euro ($6) may actually go towards the project!

Château de Gizeux
Château de Gizeux (Photo by: Boris Alexandre Flora)

Of the other projects, Château de Gizeux caught my eye as well. Located about three hours south-west of Paris, Châteaux de Gizeaux was built about 1300. The large collection of murals, which depict other famous French châteaux, is the most striking feature. Châteaux de Gizeaux is already open to the public and this is the site’s fifth fundraiser. However, the murals are in dire need of restoration. So far, more than 12,000 Euro have been donated (about $14,000) which is enough to start the initial restoration work, although the total price tag is about 33,000 Euro ($40,000). So far, 60 supporters have given an average of 200 Euro each ($240). The project continues for another three weeks. I think my agenda for Paris this spring is already pretty packed, but I’ll certainly visit next time when the murals have been restored!

Dartagnan, the website that hosts the fundraisers, also supports a number of other projects, including museums, parks, and religious sites. Obviously, this model has been successful in France, and I think it should see more widespread use in the United States. There are some “public benefit” projects at Kickstarter, including a skate park and library, but I’m excited about the possibility of supporting more than just comic books. Other websites, such as Spacehive and Citizinvestor, promote local civic projects. However, critics point out that relying on crowdfunding allows politicians to continue shifting the burden for public services to private donors. That’s true, but I still think there’s a place for crowdsourcing when it’s combined with public funding, especially for very large projects, if it’s treated like seed money or matching funds for a public/private partnership. I think it’s a model that could be successful here too.

It’s that time of year when lots of organizations are asking for support, and I know châteaux probably aren’t a high priority for many people. There are a lot of worthy projects here in the United States, and I’ve donated to several local organizations that I support too. But, I’m a francophile and I have a lot of friends who are as well. I’m excited about becoming a châtelain, and I’ll post updates as work on Château de Gizeux and Château La Mothe-Chandeniers progresses. Hopefully, I’ll get to see the results in person!

You can keep up to date on the latest news from Adopte un Château by liking them on Facebook or following them on Instagram.


New Orleans with Cancer and No Booze

My recent trip to New Orleans proves it is possible to have a rich life while living with stage 4 lung cancer. Although I couldn’t drink because of the medication I’m on, I still had a great time.

I flew down on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. I hate flying and it’s been several years since I had to get on a plane. I had some anti-anxiety medication left over from when I was also on steroids, and I took one before I got on the plane. It worked wonders, and I wasn’t nervous at all on the way down or on the return flight. In the air, I finished an audiobook about the Arcadian settlement of Louisiana.

A street preacher on Bourbon Street.

We arrived early in the afternoon on Tuesday so we still had half a day to explore New Orleans. Bourbon Street was one of our first stops, but I wasn’t impressed. It was pretty busy for a Tuesday night in the off season, but it wasn’t much more than cheap liquor and bad music. Plus, it stank!

We had dinner at Crescent City Brewing Company  where I had an alligator sausage po’boy. It was unremarkable, except that the sausage was a little tough and chewy.

Beignets all day every day.

Then we had beignets for dessert at Café du Monde. They were an interesting treat and tasted like a crispy donut. My dad loved them so much we went back almost every day, and they lost some of their unique appeal as a result.

My kind of parade.

As we were eating beignets, a parade of illuminated bicycles rode up Decatur Street. The cyclists had strings of LED lights attached to their wheels that lit up the night. Some cyclists hauled small speakers on trailers behind them that blasted music, while others used megaphones to produce wacky special effects and other noises. It was a joyful, and entirely unexpected, event, and was just one of several serendipitous experiences we would have before we left New Orleans. These “social” bike rides have been occurring several nights a week for the last seven years.

A great place for arts and music.

On Wednesday, we explored Jackson Square and the French Market. We visited the old US Mint which had some interesting historical displays and artifacts about the process of minting coins. It also had two modest displays about Jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and Pete Fountain. We went to Central Grocery for lunch and split a single enormous muffuletta sandwich between the four of us. It had ham, salami, provolone, mortadella, mozzarella, and olive spread. I’m not a fan of olives but I enjoyed it none the less and suggest you should try it next time you’re in the Big Easy.

On the way back to the hotel, we stumbled upon a tiny National Park visitors center in the middle of the French Quarter. Named for the legendary pirate Jean Lafitte, the visitors center provided a good overview of Louisiana’s diverse cultural history, including Native American, African, French, and Spanish influences.

However, after only a day in New Orleans, the city’s luster had already begun to fade a bit. It’s impossible to ignore the large numbers of homeless people as well as beggars in the city. The French Quarter was also crowded with cheesy stores full of cheap trinkets for tourists, such as t-shirts and pralines. It reminded me a lot of Pigeon Forge. At the same time, there were lots of high-end art galleries, fashion stores, and restaurants. Later we visited the Garden District, and I was overwhelmed by the stark inequality. Massive mansions, decadent palaces, and enormous castles lined St. Charles Avenue. On the other hand, the homeless lived in tents under the freeway. The huge gap between the rich and poor disgusted me. Of course, it’s not just a problem that needs to be addressed in New Orleans, but across the country and around the world.

We ate dinner at the House of Blues and I had some pretty good salmon and Cuban beans. We walked around the French Quarter some more and stopped back at the Crescent City Brewing Company. As you will see, my dad has a habit of latching onto something once he likes it, while I prefer to try something new.

A Sherman tank – very common and uninteresting.

On Thursday, we visited the National World War II Museum, which was one of my top destinations. It was a mixed experienced. The introductory session at the museum was very interesting and visitors board a train just like recruits did during the war. Each visitor was assigned a “dog tag” that allowed him or her to follow the story of a real WWII veteran. However, the museum was so crowded that it was impossible to find and use the interactive stations that told each veteran’s story. I was impressed that the museum included a section about the merchant marine, because it was an essential part of the war effort that usually doesn’t get much attention. The museum also did a good job of balancing local and national perspectives in the exhibits. Lunch at the Soda Shop turned out to be our worst meal in New Orleans. The service was very slow, the tiny shop was crowded, and the food was very expensive and bland. My uncle Dave exclaimed that it was indeed possible to have a bad meal in New Orleans!

The museum included a rather modest collection of tanks and plans. I was expecting more than just a Sherman, Stuart, and a few fighters. None of the vehicles on display were that interesting or rare. I also achieved a small personal victory over my fear of heights when I walked out across the catwalk that was suspended several stories above the ground. My one regret was not paying the extra $5 for the USS Tang experience, which recreated the tragic sinking of an American submarine in the Pacific.

We skipped the Nazi propaganda exhibit and the display about the Pacific Theater because we were running out of time, energy, and emotional stamina. The exhibit on the European Theater was quite comprehensive, albeit a bit superficial since it’s hard to accomplish both depth and breadth. The most interesting exhibit was the 4-D movie narrated by Tom Hanks. It only lasted an hour and was therefore also very superficial. However, it was very frank about the horrors of war and had lots of entertaining technical gimmicks. The nose of a bomber plane was lowered on cables when the movie discussed the strategic bombing campaign. The nose made it feel like the bomber was actually coming out of the screen towards the audience. Artificial snow fell when the segment on the Battle of the Bulge began. The chairs were equipped with motors that shook violently when the film depicted the detonation of the atomic bomb.

After being exhausted both mentally and physically by the WWII museum, we took the trolley car back to the French Quarter. It was very cheap at $3 for a day pass and every efficient. Trollies moved quickly and arrived at regular intervals of about 20 minutes. The weather was also warm and breezy, so riding in the trolley was also very pleasant, even if it was crowded. It’s an essential resource for anyone visiting New Orleans.

Circa 1855 soda fountain.

Back in the French Quarter, we stopped at the pharmacy museum. My paternal grandfather had been dean of the college of pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati where my brother is now studying to follow in his footsteps. Although we only had a few minutes before the museum closed, we had fun exploring the collection of medical equipment, bottles, and advertisements.

Book heaven.

Our next stop, Arcadian Books, was another priority for me, and is said to be one of the best foreign language book stores in the Crescent City. As a Francophile, I originally planned to get a book published in French, but instead, I bought The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans by Lawrence Powell. The store was small and filled with books, and the owner was very knowledgeable and helpful.

Everybody in the band is white because they’re German.

Upon exiting the bookstore, we immediately encountered the Louisiana Funky Butts, a brass band from Stuttgart, Germany. This was one of several fortuitous musical encounters we had before leaving the city. It’s amazing to find such great music out in the streets. The bands we found simply by strolling the streets were much better than the mediocre cover bands playing on Bourbon Street.

Totally not phallic in any way.

After dinner, we went back to Jackson Square where we had yet another surprising musical encounter. Two musicians were performing in front of the Presbytère museum. One musician was on a drum kit while the other was playing the kora, a west African stringed instrument that sounds like a harp. I had never encountered the kora before and it was an interesting performance that highlighted the wonderful cultural diversity of New Orleans.


10 pound rifled artillery.

Friday was our last full day in New Orleans, and we started out by visiting the Confederate Civil War Museum. It was small but packed full of weapons and various personal artifacts that humanized the soldiers and brought the Civil War to life. Several Louisiana units also received special attention.

Very ornate.

Afterwards, we rode the trolley out to the Garden District and eventually arrived at Loyola and Tulane Universities. We stepped into the beautiful and massive Holy Name of Jesus cathedral which is located in between the two schools. It was a quiet and peaceful moment of reflection. The two beautiful campuses are located right across from Audubon Park.

Dad at the Audubon Park.

The park was gorgeous and peaceful. It was filled with southern live oak trees that dipped their limbs down towards the ground. Some of them live for hundreds of years. The park was filled with ducks and turtles too. It was a peaceful and relaxing place. On the way back to the hotel, we took the trolley and looked at the decadent homes that lined St. Charles Avenue.

The meat lovers special.

I wanted to have at least one slightly upscale and adventurous meal before we left and Cochon was on at the top of my list. My dad wanted to go back to the restaurant where we had lunch earlier on Friday, but my uncle Dave helped me gently persuade him to give Cochon a try. It was an amazing way to end the trip. The entire restaurant smelled like a smoky palace and the wonderful aroma stayed on my clothes until I got back to Cincinnati and did my laundry. I ordered the beef brisket with horseradish potato salad and split a boucherie plate with uncle Dave that had pork shoulder, pork check, pate, head cheese, intestines, and pickles. I tried it all and loved most of it. The pate was good, and the head cheese was very spicy. The pork cheek was delicious and salty, but the intestines weren’t really my thing. They were pretty chewy and didn’t have much flavor. My dad surprised me by ordering a boucherie plate as his main dish! I really appreciate that he was willing to try something new with me. The brisket was amazing – very smoky and flavorful.

Although I was sad to leave New Orleans, I also felt encouraged. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, because time felt so precious I felt the urgent need to accomplish things that I had left undone. I was worried that I might fall back into my old inertia-driven habits as the prognosis became more optimistic. New Orleans was an initial victory and proved that I can follow through with my new priorities. Because I was a Francophile, I had always wanted to visit New Orleans but never took the initiative to actually do it until after my diagnosis. There is a lot more that I want to accomplish and it feels good to get the ball rolling. Next stop Paris!

New Orleans was a relaxing break and a great distraction from dwelling on my diagnosis, job search, and anxieties over my personal relationships. It was very refreshing and invigorating!

Lunch with uncle Dave.

The trip was also great because it was such a good family experience. My dad and uncle Dave went with me. I am extremely lucky to have my family that will help me fulfill me dreams. My dad and uncle Dave helped me plan and finance the trip. I was a little worried about spending so much time together and was afraid that we might butt heads over what to do, but it was very fun. I haven’t taken a family vacation for years and never one with uncle Dave. During the trip, I got to hear lots of interesting family stories, especially about my paternal grandparents who are now both deceased. I learned that grandpa Glasser flunked pilot school during WWII because he hit another plane during a landing exercise. I also found out that my dad ate reindeer hearts while at a conference in Sweden!

The only regret I have from the trip is not visiting Mid City Rock and Bowl or partaking in a crawfish boil. I’m not sure I’d like crawfish, but I want to try it in the spirit of living my new life without regrets. I have a three-month checkup later this month and it looks like the results should be positive. I think it would be a fitting celebration to partake in the weekly crawfish boil at BrewRiver Gastro Pub. Perhaps I can recruit a few friends to participate with me!

Cancer at 34 Part 11 – I’ve got cancer, but what’s your excuse?

I’ve talked about how invaluable family and friends have been during this process, and it’s still true. Rev. Mitra and members at St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church have also been very supportive. I’ve also talked about my experience with Cross Fit before, but I’m revisiting it today because I just finished competing in the 2017 Open.

I started Cross Fit when I lived in Pittsburgh last year and I joined Cross Fit Blue Ash when I returned to Cincinnati. It has been a great source of continuity during the last three months as I began my treatment for stage four lung cancer. Cross Fit provided a respite by giving me an hour each day where I couldn’t think about anything but finishing the workout. If you missed my initial post about Cross Fit you can read it here.

I decided to participate in the 2017 Open, even though I was afraid of embarrassing myself. The Open is the first stage of the Cross Fit Games and any athlete can participate. The competition spans five weeks and each week a new workout is announced. Participants must report their scores online and are ranked according to how quickly they finish the workout or by how many repetitions they complete.

I’ve never been very fast or strong, so even before I was diagnosed with cancer my performance probably would have been mediocre at best. Ten days before the 2017 Open began, I underwent thryoplasty in order to restore my voice.  Afterwards, the doctor told me to avoid any strenuous activity, including Cross Fit, for 10 days. So, my first day back at the gym would be the first day of the 2017 Open. That really put me behind the eight ball but I decided to go through with it. The workout for 17.1 featured an increasingly difficult progression of dumbbell snatches and burpee box jump-overs.


I really struggled with the scaled 35 pound dumbbell snatches, and I only managed 122 reps during the 20 minute time limit. I was sore for days, but I came back for the next Open workout.

17.2 included a 12 minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds as Possible) workout with 50-foot weighted walking lunges, 16 knee raises, and 8 power cleans. I couldn’t even manage the scaled version of 35 pound lunges so I ended up doing 15 pounds instead. Even then, I only completed 78 reps before time ran out. For days after, my knees were raw from rubbing against the ground.


The gym had organized four different teams that all competed against each other and talked trash, good naturedly, on a Facebook page. Most members finished the workouts during the gym’s “Friday Night Lights” event each week. Everyone brought food and cheered each other on as they sweated and strained.

Until 17.3, I had done the workouts during morning sessions at Cross Fit Blue Ash. Steve Hollowell and Sam Spice dedicated the “Friday Night Lights” session for 17.3 to me, and their effort was very moving. Steve had already paid for wristbands that honored me. They even created a flyer for the event that featured a true-to-life photograph of my amazing physique.

This photo is 100 percent accurate.

I had originally planned to be out of town the night of the 17.3 “Friday Night Lights” session, but I could hardly skip an event held in my honor. For most people, the workout was over quickly because few athletes, myself included, made it past the first checkpoint at 8 minutes. It featured a progression of increasingly difficult jumping pull-ups and squat snatches. The weight on the squat snatches quickly increased from 45 to 75 pounds, which overpowered me. I lack the stability and strength for heavy overhead lifts, and I was only able to complete two of the heavier squat snatches, even though Steven, my team captain, was cheering me on.

In addition, my parents and brother also attended the 17.3 “Friday Night Lights” event and talked to Steven after. My parents were terrified that I might hurt myself at Cross Fit or somehow damage my voice. But as time was running out, I looked up at my mom as I got ready to try one final squat snatch. I had to summon all my strength and concentration, but I managed to do it. My mom’s face burst into joy and pride as I lifted the barbell above my head. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her be so exhilarated before. It was great to have them there, and I think it also made Cross Fit seem less threatening and dangerous to my parents.


In the end, I only managed a paltry 45 reps, but from then on I made sure I went to the “Friday Night Lights” event. Afterwards, many of the participants went to the Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash. It was a great opportunity to get to know some of the other athletes, especially those whom I never saw in class.

The workout for 17.4 included sets of 55 deadlifts, wallballs, rowing, and hand-release pushups. However, I only made it half-way through the rowing for a total of 134 reps. My lower back was sore for days, and when I repeated the workout the following Monday, my score was even lower.


The final workout, 17.5, was a timed competition that called for 10 rounds, each with 9 thrusters and 35 single-unders with a jump rope. Thrusters are one of my least favorite lifts and 17.5 was no exception. I only managed to do half the workout on the scaled 65-pound requirement, although I did do well when it came to single-unders. I eventually finished just shy of 20 minutes.


Most of the participants again went out to Firehouse Grill after the workout was finished, and I enjoyed socializing. I know it’s a crude measurement, but during the last few months the number of connections I have on Facebook has grown from about 100 to more than 170, and many of the new friends are people I met at the gym.

I finished the 2017 Open with a ranking of approximately 11,000 – hardly a great accomplishment. But I did finish, which many people keep telling me is a great victory in itself. However, it was frustrating and humbling to see other athletes, even those much older than me, record much better performances.

The end of the 2017 Open was bittersweet. I will miss the challenge and competition it inspired, but I won’t be sad to return to regular Cross Fit workouts (which are challenging enough on their own). Again, I am extremely grateful for what the athletes and coaches at Cross Fit Blue Ash have done for me, and I plan to continue strengthening my connection the Cross Fit Blue Ash community in the months to come. I also hope to improve my performance at the 2018 Open.

Cancer at Age 34 Part 10 – This Doesn’t Feel Like Cancer

According to the Ohio State University’s James Cancer Center, “there is no such thing as a routine cancer.” In my case, I’m amazed by how quickly my life is returning to “normal.”

It’s been almost three months since I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I’ve undergone radiation therapy for my brain tumors and have begun treatment for the seven-centimeter tumor in my lungs. In another month, I’ll have some follow-up scans to see whether or not the treatment has been effective. I’ll probably never be in remission, but hopefully the drugs will stop the tumors from expanding and perhaps even reduce them. Everything seems to indicate that the results next month will be satisfactory.

As shocking as the diagnosis was, I haven’t had it too bad really. Of course, the month that I was on steroids to reduce the swelling in my brain was pretty unpleasant, and I couldn’t drive for awhile. I’ve also gone through some painful operations, but I recovered quickly. The only complaint I really have right now is that I can’t drink alcohol, but that’s a minor inconvenience. I’ve met people whose situations are a lot worse than mine. All I have to do is take a pill at night.

In fact, sometimes I even forget that I have cancer because I can do almost everything I did before my diagnosis. I hope I don’t live to regret these words, but so far things haven’t been too bad, all things considered. I’m not doing chemotherapy and I haven’t had any serious operations, such as brain surgery. When I was diagnosed, I had this image in my mind of what cancer “should” be like. I expected weeks of terrible chemotherapy treatments and a major reduction in my quality of life, if only temporarily. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I wish that’s how things had gone, but it does feel sometimes like my situation is somehow less authentic and that I don’t really have much to gripe about. At some point in the future, new tumors might form or the drugs might stop working, but right now, the outlook is pretty positive.

Ever since I was diagnosed, I’ve been impatient to get my “old” life back and I’ve already almost got it, or at least something very close to it. I started looking for a job a few weeks ago and already had an interview. I also went on my first date since my last relationship ended about eight months ago. It might be premature and overly optimistic, but it seems like this whole ordeal might be more of a speed-bump rather than a major breakdown. Everything might change next month, but it seems like I’m going to have a relatively normal life again pretty soon. I’m incredibly lucky that the cancer was discovered soon enough that it could still be treated. I’m also very fortunate that there’s a specific drug that targets my mutated cancer cells.

Perhaps it was my own ignorance, but I never thought stage four lung cancer could be so easily contained. For that I’m very grateful. I suppose popular media might have contributed to my perception of treatment cancer as an acute and destructive battle. For many people, that’s unfortunately the truth, but I’m learning that cancer can be a chronic, low-intensity conflict that grinds on for your entire life. I don’t want it to sound like I’m boasting about how easy I have it. I hope my story can give hope to others enduring a similar situation or sheds light on the many different ways individuals can experience cancer.

One Shot – “Nuit Noir sur Brest”

Story and Dialogue – Bertrand Galic and Kris

Illustration and Colors – Damien Cuvillier


“Nuit Noire sur Brest” is a departure from the other comics I have reviewed so far in several ways. First, it’s not about airplanes but a submarine. In addition, all the other bande dessinée albums I have reviewed were published by Paquet but “Nuit Noire sur Brest” is published by Futurpolis. Furthermore, the story is presented as a one-shot and is contained in a single album as opposed to the other stories so far which have been serialized over three or four books. In addition, “Nuit Noire sur Brest” violates the usual format for bande dessinée albums with a hefty total of 66 pages, as opposed to the standard of 48.

Although my main passion is French history and culture, this BD caught my attention because I also have an interest in the Spanish Civil War. “Nuit Noire sur Brest” tells the story of the Spanish submarine C-2 and is based on the book “Nuit Franquiste sur Brest” by Patrick Gourlay. Gourlay also wrote an extensive post-face for the album which includes lots of contemporary photographs, a thorough discussion of the political atmosphere in 1937, and a description of the aftermath of the C-2 affair.

The submarine C-2 appeared unannounced in the port of Brest in September 1937 after experiencing a technical problem. The submarine’s arrival was politically sensitive because France had declared it would not intervene in the Spanish Civil War. “Nuit Noir sur Brest” follows the actions of X-10, a shadowy secret agent who supports the Spanish Republicans. X-10 investigates a plot by Franco’s agents and their conservative French allies to capture C-2.

However, the writing can be a little cliché at times. For example X-10 declares that “personne ne me connait” (nobody knows me) and “je suis le pêcheur en eaux troubles” (I am a fisher in troubled waters).


Damien Cuvillier’s art is more engaging. He uses watercolors for the sky and utilizes thematic colors in several scenes. For example, each case (image) that depicts a scene at l’Ermitage, a red-light dancing hall in Brest, is tinted in red. Scenes occurring in the interior of the C-2 submarine are viewed through a greenish-yellow filter. In addition, Cuvillier utilizes a plongée (high-angle) shot to emphasize the hustle and bustle of the dancing hall.

Unfortunately, my complaint about the male gaze in Paquet’s “Cockpit” series remains true for “Nuit Noir sur Brest” as well. The cast of characters is almost entirely male, and the only female character, Mingua, is a dancer at the l’Ermitage with little agency. She amounts to little more than a pawn and seductress.

Overall, I found “Nuit Noir sur Brest” to be an intriguing and refreshing break from the “Cockpit” series. The dialogue can be clichéd at times, but the art is engaging and Gourlay’s post-face helps this little-known incident come alive.

Pittsburgh’s Booming and Diverse Brewing Industry

Brewers and other industry insiders were confident that Pittsburgh’s booming craft beer scene would eventually make the city a premiere destination for tipplers in search of the perfect pint.

In December, a report by, a financial technology company, ranked Pittsburgh as the third best city for beer drinkers in the nation.  The report calculated the rankings based on the number of breweries in each city, each brewer’s average Yelp score and the average price per pint.  Arch-rivals in both sports and beer, Pittsburgh edged out Cincinnati, which came in fourth. Although Cincinnati has more microbreweries, the Steel City brewers had a slightly higher Yelp rating. Both cities rose six spots since the initial report in 2015.

Rob Soltis, owner of CraftPittsburgh magazine which covers the regional brewing industry, said other cities, such as #1 ranked Asheville, NC, had a head start on Pittsburgh but it was only a matter of time before Pittsburgh broke into the top tier.

In the last five years, the local brewing industry has grown significantly.  In 2011, there were eight breweries in Pittsburgh and now there are about 20, with more scheduled to open this year.

“It seems like there is a new brewery opening every week,” Soltis says. “Pittsburgh is a city with deep hard-working industrial blue-collar roots.  That same spirit is leading this craft beer boom, and shit is being made in Pittsburgh again.  But until recently, if you wanted Pittsburgh-made beer your options were pretty limited.”

The Church Brew Works, which opened in 1996, was one producer that entered the Pittsburgh market long before the industry took off.  The Church Brew Works is located in a deconsecrated Catholic church on Liberty Avenue and celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.  The brewery offers a wide variety of beers ranging from pale ales to stouts and everything in between.  Brewery Manager Justin Viale has been working at The Church Brew Works since 2011 and says not only has the number of Pittsburgh breweries increased, but brewers have also become more innovative. Both trends have helped make Pittsburgh one of the top beer cities in the nation.

“Brewers are putting all sorts of stuff in beer now,” Viale says.  “Now just putting a little coconut in a stout might seem a little tame.  People have taken to it like cooking – they find some ingredients and look for what they can do with it in a beer.”

The Church Brew Works also includes a full restaurant and can seat about 400.  But, Viale says the current trend amongst Pittsburgh brewers is to open smaller neighborhood taprooms without a kitchen.

“In the new brewery model, they don’t need massive facilities,” Viale explains. “They don’t need to grow every year.  They’ve become watering hole-type places.”

Although they are competitors, local brewers often collaborate to create unique recipes, share information and assist each other, Soltis says.  Tony Zamperini, brewmaster and co-owner of Draai Laag Brewing Company, says the plethora of new breweries has created friendly competition that makes it harder for a taproom or brewpub to stand out.  Draai Laag, located in Millvale, specializes in Belgian and sour ales, but Zamperini says the decision to focus on a particular type of beer is not a gimmick.

“We brew what tastes good to us,” Zamperini declares.  “I like big bold flavorful things.  We push the envelope with flavors.  There are a million ways to skin a cat but we just do it a certain way.”

Zamperini uses special yeast strains to create flavors without adding additional ingredients, such as fruit.  In addition, most of Draai Laag’s beers are aged for at least six months in wine barrels, or less often bourbon barrels, to add oak or apple flavors.

“You can’t rush it,” Zamperini says.  “It tells you when it’s ready.”

Tony Zamperini, brewmaster at Draai Laag, inspects the brewery’s pilot system.

Because each barrel produces a slightly different flavor, Zamperini blends the beer together in varying proportions to create the final product.

“Blending is probably the most artistic part of what we do,” he says.  “We mimic the wine world in a lot of ways.”

Max Morrow, assistant brewer at Draai Laag, fills barrels.

Although most other Pittsburgh breweries avoid specializing in a particular type of beer, they do have their own distinctive styles.  Zamperini, Viale, Soltis and other experts praised many local brewers, including Insurrection AleWorks in Heidelberg, which specializes in Vermont-style bitter and unfiltered beers.  Penn Brewery, established in 1986, focuses on brewing beers in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, a 16th-century German purity law.  Roundabout Brewery, in Lawrenceville, has a New Zealand-inspired theme that includes beer brewed with hops from the southern hemisphere and a menu that features meat pies.  Meadeville-based Voodoo Brewery is known for its barrel-aging program.  In addition to numerous noteworthy local producers, Carnegie-based Apis makes honey wine, known as mead, and Lawrenceville-based Arsenal creates cider.

Despite the competition, local artist and craft beer enthusiast Mark Brewer agrees that there is still room for additional capacity in Pittsburgh, although some businesses may close.

“I don’t think there’s a craft beer bubble,” asserts Brewer.  “I feel like we are in the beginning because so many people are still learning about craft beer.”

There’s no shortage of opportunities for novices and aficionados alike to sample local beers.  There are several beer festivals throughout the year, including Oktoberfest in the fall and the Pittsburgh Winter Beerfest in February.  There are numerous tastings and other special events as well, including beer dinners where craft beer enthusiasts and foodies alike can enjoy a multi-course menu paired with local brews.  There are many other examples of the synergy between Pittsburgh’s booming brewing industry and local restaurants.  Hop Farm Brewing Company has a coffee-infused porter and the Butcher on Butler uses the grinds to create coffee-cured bacon.  Eliza’s Oven uses local beer and whiskey to produces pies, cakes and cookies.  Zamperini, brewmaster at Draai Laag, has collaborated with several regional chefs to create a beer-infused sorbet as well as a beer that mimicked the flavor of blue cheese.

“Food and beer go hand in hand for sure,” Zamperini argues.  “Pittsburgh is definitely turning into a hip city.”

The construction of a proposed beer museum in 2018 could also help cement Pittsburgh’s reputation as a premiere destination for craft beer enthusiasts. The proposed museum would have 20,000 feet of exhibit space and a 300 seat-brew pub. It could accommodate up to 40,000 visitors, including many from out of town.

Pittsburgh also has a strong homebrewing community which contributes to the city’s rich brewing culture. Both Zamperini and Viale, as well as many brewers in Pittsburgh, started by brewing beer at home.  Viale says he learned a lot through trial and error and became a volunteer at a brewery in Chattanooga before becoming the manager at Church Brew Works.  Zamperini quit his job as a carpenter to become an informal apprentice at Draai Laag.  His advice to anyone interested in becoming a brewer is to start experimenting with homebrewing kits and then find an opportunity to get involved at a local brewery.

“You have to be willing to make sacrifices,” Zamperini says.  “It really is an art form.”

Pittsburgh has two local homebrewing clubs – the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers (TRASH) and Three Rivers Underground Brewers (TRUB).  The clubs hold meetings where members share their latest batch of homebrewed beer and swap advice or recipes.  TRASH has grown from 40 members a decade ago to more than 100.  The clubs also host and participate in brewing competitions where beers are judged according to taste, color and mouthfeel.  Shane Walters, secretary for TRUB, says homebrewed beer originally had a stigma of being “basement swill,” but that label has disappeared as the hobby has become more popular.

“It’s no longer this weird taboo thing,” Walters says.

Homebrewing tends to attract individuals who have careers in information technology or engineering because they enjoy solving problems, Walters says.  He began brewing malt extract kits and later created a more expensive and complex all-grain system that eventually occupied his entire garage.  Walters says it’s common for homebrewers to continually upgrade and expand their systems.

“It’s a never-ending process,” he laments.

Walters suggests that anyone interested in becoming a homebrewer start by making malt extract kits which don’t require as much equipment as all-grain brewing.  Making sure everything is sanitized after you take the pot off the burner is the most important part of homebrewing, he says.

“If you get some bacteria in there it’s going to taste like crap,” Walters warns.

Anthony Rowsick, vice president of South Hills Brewing Supply company, says, in addition to sanitation, paying attention to detail is also important in order to succeed as a homebrewer.  He also suggests that first time homebrewers treat yeast like the living organism that it is and clean their equipment soon after they are done brewing.

“It’s not rocket science but you can’t just throw it together either,” Rowsick says.

South Hills Brewing Supply has been open for more than 20 years and is where most homebrewers in Pittsburgh get the ingredients they need.  Rowsick says interest in homebrewing spiked a few years ago but has declined slightly since then.  He says younger men seem to be more interested in homebrewing, however more women are participating both at as amateurs and professionals.

“We have a lot of bearded guys in here doing their own thing,” Rowsick says.  “It’s kind of big toys for big boys for some people.  But women are making inroads too.”

The local chapter of the Pink Boots Society is trying to accelerate that trend.  The organization wants to increase women’s participation in brewing at all levels.  The western Pennsylvania chapter has about 15 members. Meg Evans, head brewer at Rock Bottom and chair lady of the local Pink Books chapter, says the society has provided a lot of guidance and other members are very supportive of each other because they understand the struggles women face in in the brewing industry. She became interested in brewing because it felt like a boy’s club.

“It felt like forbidden territory and I liked the idea of a challenge,” Evans says. “I felt inclined to try something that not many females were dabbling in yet.”

The Pink Boots Society has increased the number of women involved in the industry both locally and nationally, but Evans says she hopes to see even more progress in the future. Historically, women dominated the brewing industry until about 1700 because it was regarded as a household chore. When the industry began to become more commercial and profitable, men took over, Evans says. Women were also discouraged from doing physical labor and were taught to drink wine rather than beer.

“Patriarchy seems to be at the core,” Evans says.

However, attitudes in the last few decades have begun to change.

“There isn’t as much of a stigma or restriction on women making beer or doing a physical job,” Evans explains. “Once we stop stereotyping beer as male dominated or focusing on ‘female beer,’ we will find that gender neutralizing beer will move the industry into a place that includes more women.”

Thus, the Pittsburgh brewing industry is not only becoming more innovative but also more diverse.  However, the current brewing boom is not new in Pittsburgh’s history.  Edward Vidunas, a local amateur historian, says brewing has been an important part of the city’s economy since the first brewery opened in Pittsburgh in 1795.  Production increased and the late 19th century was the golden age of Pittsburgh’s brewing industry, Vidunas says, although the lack of documents makes it hard to get an exact count of breweries in the city at the time.

The ongoing expansion of the brewing industry is probably the largest number of local producers since the end of the 1800s.  Although it is may not be as dramatic as the growth of the technology sector in Pittsburgh, the expansion of the brewing industry creates jobs and generates tax revenue, Vidunas says.  There’s no reason to think the trend will stop any time soon, he says.

“Pittsburgh always has been and always will be a beer-drinking town,” Vidunas says.

Cancer at 34 Part 8: The end of Silence

This whole ordeal began with what I thought was a temporary case of laryngitis in November 2016. For the last two and a half months, I’ve been isolated and frustrated as I dealt with my limited ability to speak. At one point in December 2016, I was reduced to writing everything down on paper in a desperate attempt to “save” my voice. I also had to pound on the walls of the house in order to get my parent’s attention at times. I avoided social engagements and cancelled work obligations to avoid straining my voice further. After my vocal cord was paralyzed, friends said I sounded like Christian Bale’s Batman or a film noir gangster. Although humorous, some even said they began to forget what my real voice sounded like – a horrifying proposition!

That seems to finally be at an end. I had thyroplasty on February 17, 2017, when the doctor made an incision and inserted a piece of hardened Gore-Tex that forced my paralyzed left vocal cord back into contact with my right vocal cord. A previous effort to inject medicine into my paralyzed vocal cord provided temporary relief but ultimately failed. However, the thryoplasty result should be permanent and seems to have been immediate and significant. I can already talk and it’s nearly the same as it was before the cancer diagnosis. It might take a few weeks to readjust and relearn how to speak properly using my vocal cords instead of my neck muscles. The operation resulted in a pretty ugly incision right across my neck, but hopefully it won’t leave a permanent scar.


February 17, 2017, was a long and unpleasant day. I couldn’t eat breakfast or lunch because my operation was at noon. However, I wasn’t hangry, probably because I was so tired. I’m still not sleeping well although I’m done with steroid. I was pretty resigned to the whole thing because I didn’t have much choice – either I had the operation or my voice would continue to wither. It was the third time I’d undergone surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in the last six weeks, so I was pretty inured to the whole process. However, my dad and especially my mom were very anxious. It only got worse when the nurse twice failed to start the IV in my left arm.

But, Rev. Mitra from St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church was again a great comfort to my family. She kept us company for almost two hours while we waited. I dozed off, but Rev. Mitra distracted them by talking about how we all love cats, among other things.

Unfortunately, I was awake for the whole operation because I had to be able to speak at the end so the doctors could be sure everything had gone smoothly. Again, I was sedated but only in a “twilight” state and I remember most of what happened. The doctor used a local anesthetic where he actually made the incision. Although it didn’t hurt, I actually felt the doctor making the incision and pulling my flesh apart. In addition, he forced a thin camera down my nose and used a horrible-tasting medicine to numb the back of my throat. I still gagged when the camera hit the back of my throat. Overall, it was a pretty horrible experience, but I didn’t have much choice other than to endure it.

In the end, it was worth it. It marks the end of almost three months of isolation and frustration. I had numerous frustrating phone conversations when doctors called to schedule or confirm appointments and they were unable to understand me. In frustration, I often flung the phone to my parents and had them deal with the situation. I also work as a freelance writer so I had to conduct my interviews via email instead of over the phone, which led to unsatisfying results. I also felt left out of conversations, although most people said they didn’t have any trouble understanding me in person. Speaking wasn’t painful, but it was tiring because I compensated by using my throat muscles to try and make a voice. I also got tired of explaining over and over again why I couldn’t talk. It’s been a long and exhausting process, but I hope this is this beginning of the end. The only downside is that I’m banned from Cross Fit for the next week or so, but I’m willing to make just about any sacrifice at this point.

I’ve also had to put my job search on hold while until this was resolved, so it will be great to finally start getting my life back on track. I’m working on an alternative/temporary teaching license but nobody would hire a teacher who can’t speak. Now, I can start applying for positions for next year and hopefully start lining up some interviews. Although there’s been a temporary setback in my cancer treatment (I had to stop my medication because it was damaging my liver), it’s great to finally speak again. I always took my voice for granted, but I hope this experience has ensured I’ll never do that again.