Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Now It's Metastatic Mucoepidermoid Carcinoma

The only part of this that isn't fair is that I've been spared so
many more health problems than most 80-year-olds.

After my open heart surgery in early July I told several people I was thankful that with my having something like a bypass procedure I could just concentrate on my recovery and not have to worry about some reoccurrence of the same problem, as I might if I had something like cancer to deal with. In other words, it was over and done. Not easy, but simple and straight forward.

I never dreamed, of course, that I would be diagnosed with a malignancy less than three months later.

Today I had a good visit with Dr. Alexiou as a follow-up to his November 21 surgery, and learned that a more in-depth lab analysis revealed that my cancer is a scary sounding "metastatic mucoepidermoid carcinoma, high-grade" rather than it being adenocarcinoma, as first reported from the initial lab test. But Alexiou did assure us this cancer was considered preferable to having adenocarcinoma (!). 

I also learned that of the seven lymph nodes he removed next to my tumor (in the parotid gland on the left side of my face), that four of these were found by the lab to be cancerous, and that I could be glad they are no longer inside of me. 

Radiation therapy should be an effective treatment for any remaining lymph nodes that might still be affected, and this treatment will begin in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I can start back to work as soon as I feel up to it, which will probably be by the middle of next week.

He also feels my tongue impairment should only be temporary, but he will be able to tell better at my next appointment, which is set for December 16.

Meanwhile, I'm feeling fine and reasonably encouraged. And chemotherapy is not likely to be required, but we'll see.

Thanks for all the outpouring of love and prayers!

Here's the link to my earlier blog on the topic:

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

HARD TIME VIRGINIA, Volume 5, Number 1 (an occasional newsletter by and for incarcerated Virginians)

Its mission is to "grant parole to those whose
release is compatible with public safety."
2019 Parole Release Rate Low in Spite of New Member
Kemba Smith Pradia, whose 26 year sentence for being implicated in her boy friend's drug dealing was commuted in 2006 (after her serving 6 years of her time) was appointed to the Virginia Parole Board by Governor Northam in September. Pradia, a domestic violence survivor and a national advocate and consultant in the criminal justice arena for over 20 years, is seen as a welcome addition to the Board by most justice advocates.
     Parole grants remain exceptionally low so far through September of this year, as follows:
118 regular grants
21 geriatric releases
5 board reviews
36 continued back to parole (violations)
14 discharged (violations)
Overall Total Releases = 194 statewide.
     One recent dramatic development was the Board's release of Jens Soering to his native Germany. He had been incarcerated for over 30 years for a crime he insists he did not commit, but one he says he confessed to in an effort to save his girl friend from the death sentence, believing that as a German citizen he would be extradited to his home country for trial and acquittal.

Another Suicide at a Virginia Correctional Center
Sometime on September 23, 2019, Donald Edward Worrell, age 76, hanged himself in his cell at the Buckingham Correctional Center. According to a friend of his, Worrell, was a "tall, gentle, humble, soft spoken man" who had been denied parole for the 21st time for a crime he committed forty years ago. "He was just a humble, easy going guy,” he said.
     According to inside reports, Mr. Worrell had begun attending Sunday night church services several months ago, but failed to show up on Sunday, September 22, undoubtedly a sign that he had given up hope of ever being free.
     Suicides are an all too familiar tragedy in Virginia prisons, where even model prisoners are denied release time after time on the basis of "the seriousness of the crime," no matter how transformed they have become since their crime or crimes have been committed.
     The current chair of the Virginia Parole Board, is known to have said that the remaining prisoners legally eligible for parole under the "old law" (incarcerated before parole was abolished in 1995) are the "worst of the worst" in terms of the crimes for which they have been sentenced. But what if, due to an offender's personal penitence and thorough change of life, he or she may have joined the ranks of the "best of the best," having demonstrated the ability to be infraction free in the worst environment imaginable, a state prison?

Dental Care in a State of Decay in the DOC
Virginia's prisoners used to be able to see a dental hygienist at least once a year to have their teeth cleaned and checked, but it's become increasingly difficult to get an appointment for dental work of any kind, according to reports from those behind bars. 
     "All the dentists want to do is extract our teeth," one long time prisoner lamented, "For the ones who have gone so long without dental services, they have had to get the majority of their teeth pulled so they won't have constant pain and suffering."
     DOC dentists do not automatically put such people on a soft or liquid diet unless they specifically request it, so many eat what they can until their gums get hard enough to eat most foods, according to reports.  
     "I personally know men who have been waiting over a year to receive dentures, and many times once they receive them, they still don't fit," is a familiar complaint. In Virginia, dentures are made by prisoners. 

Please share this information with the Governor of Virginia who can be reached at:
VOICE MAIL: (804) 786-2211
And contact the Virginia Department of Correction's Chief of Medical Services, Mark Amonette at:
P. O. Box 26963
Richmond, Virginia 23261-6963

As Prisoners Continue to Die, Virginia Appeals Federal Court Order Mandating Better Health Care
Virginia Mercury, August 14, 2019
Inmates at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women weren’t particularly surprised when Margie Ryder died last month. Sad, yes. But sick inmates at Fluvanna die with frequency. In 2016, a judge approved a settlement of a lawsuit brought by inmates alleging medical care at the facility was so poor it violated inmates’ constitutional rights. The Department of Corrections promised to make improvements while denying any wrongdoing.Twelve deaths later, a federal judge ruled the prison wasn’t keeping up its end of the bargain and ordered the state to hire more staff and take inmate health complaints more seriously.“Some women have died along the way,” Judge Norman K. Moon acknowledged in a January decision. 
This year: at least three more deaths that raise concerns about medical care, according to the Legal Aid Justice Center, which is representing the women.Among them, Ryder, a 39-year-old who was serving a two-year sentence for embezzlement and was due to be released in October. Her friends at the prison say she was terrified her chronic medical condition was being managed so poorly that she’d die. After she was hospitalized three times following lapses in the delivery of her medication, she asked Judge Moon to intervene in her care. His ruling was still pending when she passed.
“When she did die, it didn’t surprise anybody here,” said inmate Shebri Dillon, who says prisoners at the facility resort to performing medical procedures on themselves when they can’t get prison staff to take them seriously. Dillon has her own horror stories, including cleaning out an infection in her gums with Q-tips before packing the socket with table salt smuggled from the mess hall. “So many people have died. It’s like, at this point, we almost practice Civil War medicine ourselves.”
State says nothing’s wrong
Officially, the state concedes no deficiencies in the quality of the care it provides to inmates at Fluvanna or any other state prison. Department of Corrections Director Herald Clark told lawmakers earlier this year that the legal setbacks were a result of court-room technicalities rather than a reflection of the care inmates receive. As for all those deaths, they argue that prison inmates are typically less healthy than the general population as a result of poor life decisions leading up to their incarceration. And prisons are difficult environments in which to provide health care. The state is in the process of appealing Moon’s January ruling, which, among other things, required the facility to provide “meaningful responses” to medical grievance requests and boost its medical staff to a minimum of 78 employees...

Here's a link to the rest of Oliver's piece:

HARD TIME Editor Faces Health Challenges (updated)
"My recovery from heart bypass surgery in July has been remarkable, but the tumor recently removed from my parotid gland (on the left side of my jaw) revealed a form of cancer known as mucoepidermoidcarcinoma (not adenocarcinoma as earlier thought). The surgeon believes it was all safely removed, but four of the seven lymph nodes he took out at the same time were also found to contain cancer cells, but thankfully those are no longer in my body. I will have a series of radiation treatments beginning in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, if I can fully recover the normal use of my tongue, the muscles of which have been somewhat affected by some nerve damage in surgery, I should be OK. 
Thanks for your love and prayers."                                                        - Harvey Yoder 11/29/19

Friday, November 22, 2019

My First 24-Hours After Being Diagnosed With Adenocarcinoma

The one thing Alma Jean didn't like about this snapshot was
that it made her look much happier than she really felt,
having just had a good cry. (photo by RN Michele Fortuna)

My surgery at the Martha Jefferson Surgical Center yesterday took longer than expected, and while everything went well, we learned that the tumor in my parotid gland represents a form of cancer called adenocarcinoma, a not so welcome piece of news. We were assured that it was all safely removed but I'll probably have to have a series of radiation treatments to make sure it doesn't reoccur.

I had a mostly restful night, with more discomfort from having had a breathing tube in my throat during the surgery than from the incision itself. The one Tylenol (Extra Strength) I took at bedtime may have helped, too, but I felt no need for the Percocet prescribed to take if needed. 

All the love and support from Alma Jean, other loved members of my family, church family, and many friends and colleagues were also a blessing beyond belief. And then there was the good work done by my ENT specialist and surgeon Dr. Alexiou and his staff (the best), and all the good folks at Martha Jefferson.

For all of my readers, a lesson to be learned is that any kind of suspicious growth on your face or anywhere else on your body should be treated with, well, suspicion. And as in my case, don't hesitate to get a second or even third opinion. Surprisingly, even then the biopsy done prior to surgery didn't indicate that my tumor was malignant. That was discovered during the surgery yesterday.

Our two remaining concerns following a check up with the surgeon this morning are: a) I'm having some impairment in tongue movement on the side of the face that was operated on, which somewhat affects my normal eating and speaking and may have resulted from some nerve damage during the delicate surgery; b) The several somewhat enlarged lymph nodes Dr. Lexiou decided to remove while doing the procedure are awaiting important lab results which we should have by Wednesday. If those are completely cancer free, then I can be considered "cured" unless some new malignancy occurs. If not, there is at least some possibility that other lymph nodes may be affected as well. In either case, radiation treatment should begin in a month or so.

Meanwhile, I should be able to return to some work (hopefully half time as before) and other normal activities in two weeks, so I'll not likely fully retire or disengage any time soon.

Adenocarcinoma in a parotid gland (in front of ones ear) is very rare, and in most cases, very treatable, yet just to know a cancer has invaded your body is a scary thing. So far, I'm sure I'm still in Kubler-Ross's "Stage One" in my grieving process, experiencing some disbelief and denial. But my prognosis is good, and I know that in God's economy, no experience has to go to waste.

Here's a promise a good friend shared with us from the Amplified Version of Hebrews 13:5:

(God) has said, “I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!”

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Billions Of Incredible Gifts On My Gratitude List

Thou that hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee
By art.

He makes thy gifts occasion more,
And says, If he in this be crossed,
All thou hast giv’n him heretofore
Is lost.

But thou didst reckon, when at first
Thy word our hearts and hands did crave,
What it would come to at the worst
To save.

Perpetual knockings at thy door,
Tears sullying thy transparent rooms,
Gift upon gift, much would have more,
And comes.

This not withstanding, thou wentst on,
And didst allow us all our noise:
Nay thou hast made a sigh and groan
Thy joys.

Not that thou hast not still above
Much better tunes, than groans can make;
But that these country-airs thy love
Did take.

Wherefore I cry, and cry again;
And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankful heart obtain
Of thee:

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.
- "Gratefulness" George Herbert, 1593-1633

I recently pondered, "If I owe God (and others) thanks for everything I enjoy that I haven't put together with my own hands, what would be included in my thanksgiving list?"

Well, pretty much everything.

At this moment, I'm working on my laptop, an  incredible device put together by literally thousands who mined the raw material and transported the various components from all over the globe. It was designed and engineered with an untold number of intricate parts that make it do amazing and near magical things. It utilizes programmed software that I rely on for gathering information, communicating with people from all over and producing written material as I'm doing at this moment.

Neither the chair, desk or any other pieces of furniture in the room are of my own making, and each is likewise made of components that come from all over. Hundreds of human beings have been involved in creating all of the furnishing in the house, the clock and the pictures on the wall, the carpet on the floor, and all of the floors and walls and windows and doors that make up the house itself.

The food items in our refrigerator and cupboards have been produced and transported by millions around the globe, and packaged and shipped and railed and retailed and brought to our home in a vehicle made up of an amazing array of parts and engineered to operate with remarkable efficiency.

And oh the created life and all the living creatures everywhere! Especially the sight and sound and touch of human ones, beloved wife and sons and daughter, our grandchildren and siblings and family and church family and friends--all precious beyond belief.

That's just the bare beginning of what should go on our thanksgiving lists. I haven't even begun enumerating the many things in the world around us that are spectacular and totally undeserved gifts.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;         
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:         
                        Praise him.
- "Pied Beauty" Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844-89

This Thanksgiving season, let's look around. Take a walk. Begin taking inventory. We'll never do more than scratch the surface.

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the sky of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And ever one a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

- "The Love of God" Frederick Martin Lehman 1868-1953

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Ten Sure Signs That God's Reign Has Begun

While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere.... “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
Matthew 3:1-2 (the Message)

What are clear and convincing signs that God's rule has begun on earth as it is in heaven?

1. When followers of Jesus all put their oversized homes on the market--or open them up to people in need of shelter.

2. When people are as likely to invite the poor, the hungry, and the stranger as guests as they are their friends and family members.

3. When the staff and leadership of our church institutions voluntarily live on less in order to further their cause, in the same sacrificial way their founders did.

4. When Christian colleges, universities and other institutions in the US are as interested in including believers from poorer parts of the world to be on their boards (via teleconferencing) as they are in recruiting big US donors as board members.

5. When the lines at our local Virginia Relief Sale Giving Table are as long as those for doughnuts or Brunswick stew.

6. When believers everywhere begin to lay down their arms, refuse to take part in war and other forms of violence and see their primary allegiance as being to the peaceable Kingdom-of-God-movement around the world.

7. When multitudes become pro-life, and when all pro-lifers become just as concerned about millions of children who are victims of famine, war and and other forms of violence--and about children being separated from their parents at the border--as they are about the fate of the unborn in the womb.

8. When people demonstrate greater dedication to earth care and care for the environment than they do to their lawn care.

9. When those with special needs are esteemed as highly as are celebrities with special gifts and talents.

10. When church and charity sponsored events generate even greater levels of enthusiasm than do sporting events.

What signs would you add?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

(AP) Over 500 Prisoners Freed In Oklahoma!

My birth state, led by a Republican governor, did a wonderful
thing this week. Check this for some video footage.

I simply couldn't resist posting this. Click here for a CBS news segment with photos.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- More than 450 inmates walked out the doors of prisons across Oklahoma on Monday as part of what state officials say is the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history.

The release of inmates, all with convictions for low-level drug and property crimes, resulted from a bill signed by new Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt. The bill retroactively applied misdemeanor sentences for simple drug possession and low-level property crimes that state voters approved in 2016.

Stitt has made reducing Oklahoma's highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate one of his top priorities and has appointed reform-minded members to the state's Pardon and Parole Board.

Releasing the inmates will save Oklahoma an estimated $11.9 million over the cost of continuing to keep them behind bars, according to the governor's office.

The board last week considered 814 cases and recommended 527 inmates for commutation. However, 65 are being held on detainers, leaving about 462 inmates to be released on Monday.

"It feels amazing to be on the other side of the fence," said Tess Harjo, a 28-year-old who was released Monday from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, Oklahoma.

Harjo was sentenced to 15 years in prison after her Okmulgee County conviction last year for possession of methamphetamines. She said she was surprised at the number of women she met in prison serving long sentences for drug crimes.

"I have met many women in here who came from a medium- or maximum-security prison who have already served 18 or more years," Harjo said. "It's ridiculous."

Steve Bickley, the new executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board, said Monday's release is the most on a single day, surpassing President Barack Obama's 2017 commutation of the drug sentences of 330 federal prisoners on his last day in office.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

8 Reasons I'm Grateful For My Place Of Work

I've been so blessed being a part of this agency since 1988.

I shared this at the Park View Church's "Moments in Mission" this morning:

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season, I’m grateful for the generous support of your congregation for the Family Life Resource Center. You've been with us from the first, renting us our first office space right here in the south wing of your church in 1987. And you’ve continued to include us in your giving, which makes it possible for us to see people who don’t have health insurance or other means to pay for professional help, so we don't have to turn anyone  away for financial reasons.

I’m grateful for the vision of the founders of FLRC, people like Gloria Lehman, Sam Janzen, John Drescher and others who way back in the 1980’s saw a need for a counseling center to help couples strengthen their marriages and help bring healing to broken relationships and hurting individuals.

I’m grateful for the privilege of working with colleagues like Jim Glanzer, formerly of this congregation, and people like Terri Adamson, who is also our clinical director and who’s with us this morning, and with seven other dedicated staff members working under the leadership of Marie Bradley, our exceptional executive director.

I’m grateful for all of the wonderful clients I and others have had the privilege of working with, people from whom I’ve learned so much. In fact, I’ve come to see that tapping into the wisdom and insights people bring with them is one of most helpful things that happens in my office. We see counseling as a collaborative process where therapists are coaches and facilitators in helping people find solutions to problems.

I’m grateful for our being a part of a network of Mennonite founded mental health agencies, ten different inpatient and outpatient institutions from Kings View Hospital on the west coast to Penn View Counseling Center on the east, many of which started in the aftermath of WWII, when hundreds of conscientious objectors, people like Harold and Ruth Lehman from this church who served in terrible state-run mental hospitals, saw the need for humane kinds of treatment and help for people with mental illnesses. For a small denomination, we're blessed with a disproportionate number of such centers.
I’m grateful I can work in a faith-based agency, not where we are imposing faith on others, but where we can, as appropriate, encourage people to draw on their faith and their faith communities as an important part of their health and healing. Only a small number of our clients are Mennonites, but many choose us because we are faith based, and an equal number simply because we’re seen as a reputable resource for people in distress. Our case loads are full and we too often have to put people on a waiting list. 
And finally, I’m grateful to be working in collaboration with others in our community who are in healing and helping professions, and with pastors and congregations wherever possible in order to be a resource for promoting shalom, extending grace and effecting reconciliation in the kind of troubled times we live in.
Thanks for your support and prayers. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Life Sentences Condemn People To Death Row

Lifer's are deprived of hope and left to die in places like this.
"I'd like to see our jails and prisons become more like greenhouses and less like warehouses."

- Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha Garst, in a presentation at a recent criminal justice conference

According to an Open Forum piece in the October 18, 2019 Daily News-Record a Rockbridge County man was sentenced to 170 years in prison in January of 2018 for downloading child pornography on his home computer. The commonwealth's attorney office had offered him a plea deal with a lesser sentence, but the defendant chose to have the jury trial he was entitled to under our judicial system.

Unfortunately, this resulted in his being convicted of multiple felony counts, each of which carried a mandated sentence by Virginia law, thus the 170 year total.

Our public prosecutors defended the multiple sentences on the premise that the children in these awful porn videos were being re-victimized with each download of this dreadful footage.

I am in total agreement regarding the seriousness of the harm done to children who are victims of this unimaginable abuse. But what constitutes actual reparation for this kind of unbelievable harm? A life sentence that completely eliminates the possibility of any reparation or redemption? Being condemned to die in a steel and concrete cage, in a de facto death row?

This negates Garst's statement that jails and prisons should be greenhouses for rehabilitation rather than warehouses for unending retribution. As much as I am against capital punishment, it could be argued that execution would be less cruel than being sentenced to a lifetime of being deprived of hope and simply waiting to die.

Having said that, I believe most societies would consider a life sentence to be disproportionate for someone guilty of being a virtual accessory to a crime (aiding and abetting the criminal act) but not having actually personally committed the crime (of subjecting a child to sexual abuse).

The other aspect of this case that needs to be considered is that if our constitution guarantees every person the right to a speedy and fair trial, might we in effect be punishing people (by threatening them with a possible worse outcome) if they avail themselves of that right? And if the lesser sentence associated with a plea is to be considered just, is a life sentence imposed by a mandated sentencing process to be seen as somehow more just?

I recently heard of a judge who makes a practice of publicly shaking the hand of the defendant in each jury trial and then turning to the jury with the words, "I have just shaken the hand of an innocent man (or woman)." The judge does this as a way of underscoring the principle that in our judicial system everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

With a plea deal, a person may feel forced into admitting guilt and forgoing a fair trial based on that presumption of innocence. 

Here's a link to the case cited: