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Kirsten and I traveled to Boston last Monday for another visit to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she had a PET scan in preparation for an appointment with Dr. Kulke the following day. The scan was uneventful. When it was complete, we boarded the inbound trolley at Brigham Circle.
We got off the Green Line at Prudential, since the Copley Station stop was closed for the Marathon. We were going to hang out at the Boston Public Library, as per usual, but it was closed. Our intention was to wander around at the Marathon, before heading in the direction of North Station, where we would catch the 17:00 Amtrak Downeaster back to Maine.
Ka-Boom! What was that loud, very low frequency sound that came from the direction of the finish of the Boston Marathon, and which shook the ground beneath our feet? Kirsten and I were about two blocks from the finish line, having snaked our way down streets and sidewalks at Copley Square, taking in all the excitement of the marathon and its crowds. Instantly, I thought it sounded a lot like an explosion; a 9/11-like attack was my immediate fear. While my initial instinct was a tragic attack, Occam’s Razor pulled my mind toward less nefarious sources of the sounds. A construction accident, perhaps? A person nearby wondered aloud that perhaps it was a gunshot, but I knew the sound was too low, and not as piercing as a gunshot. Then, the second explosive detonated, shaking the ground beneath our feet again, and sending a thunderous sound reverberating through the streets and off every building. Not able to see from where the blasts came, I turned to Twitter and searched for the hashtag #BostonMarathon. Unfortunately, the wireless networks were overloaded, making a search mostly futile; nothing immediately about an explosion. We kept walking. Then, the sirens. Police motorcycles, fire trucks, and ambulances streamed by, all headed towards Copley Square. By this time, we were near the Boston Public Garden at Columbus Avenue and Park Plaza. I checked Twitter again, and was horrified by the images coming through, including one showing lots of blood on the sidewalks. Everybody around us was oblivious, but curious and speculating. I let several know what had happened, and showed them the pictures. It didn’t take long, however, before everybody knew. In our age of social media and ubiquitous connectedness, news travels quickly. People were gathering on the sidewalks in front of pubs to watch reports on the televisions inside. The mood was more horror and disbelief than panic and fear.
Besides adding some excitement, the Marathon bombings did little to change our plans; we walked through the Boston Common and Downtown before grabbing a bite at UBurger on North Street and making our way to North Station.
North Station was packed with people trying to get out of the city. Conductors from our train were checking tickets to insure that people with reservations for the 17:00 train were given preference. Luckily, we did. More than a hundred persons were left standing on the platform when our train pulled out of the station.
The following morning, Tuesday, we had to return to Boston to see Dr. Kulke and discuss with him the PET scan from the day before, as well as how Kirsten’s enduring chemotherapy, etc. Copley Station remained closed, as was the library.
Dr. Kulke said that all of Kirsten’s tumors were reduced in size, which is fantastic news. The chemo, apparently, is working. It was a brief visit, which ended with a physical examination. The news of the shrinking tumors was offset somewhat by the fact that Kirsten has lost three inches of height, likely all from a compression of her spine caused by her soft bones. There are many fractures caused simply by her own weight. It’s as if hard bone has turned to putty, and is unable to withstand gravity. In addition to the shrinking, fracturing vertebrae, it was discovered on the brain MRI (to determine if the pituitary tumor had changed) that Kirsten has developed Meningioma, which are small tumors in her brain. The likely cause is the radiation treatment she underwent, but the causes of meningioma are not well understood. Most meningiomas are benign and asymptomatic.
I asked him about tumor heterogeneity and cancer genomics, which I had been reading about in the current issue of Science. He said that heterogeneity appeared low in Kirsten’s biopsies, and wasn’t a concern. Regardless, she’s responding well to the chemo. We also talked briefly about OncLive TV, of which he had moderated a recent panel discussion. I heard about it from Facebook, and watched the entire episode. He was surprised I had seen it, as it’s audience is primarily oncology professionals.
With time to burn before our 17:00 train to Maine, and read a tip on Facebook that admission to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) was free, to help the people of the city recover, process, and be somewhere quiet and safe. MFA was within walking distance of Dana-Farber, so we plugged it into Google Maps and off we went. On the way, we discovered Clemente Field, which offers a wonderful view of Boston’s iconic skyscrapers.
We didn’t stay at MFA long, but we enjoyed our time. I especially enjoyed the “Degas and the Nude” exhibit, which will surprise exactly nobody who knows me. I’m puzzled how nudity is completely accepted inside a museum, yet vilified, derided, and often illegal outside them. We are a peculiar and puerile culture. We boarded the trolley at the MFA stop.
We got off the Green Line at Arlington Station. It was a fortunate decision, as it placed us at the heart of the media activity related to the Boston Marathon bombings of the previous day. We were at the police barricade at Boylston Street, which they were preparing to move forward. Big media was camped out in the Boston Public Garden, catty-corner to where we were. Television reporters, standing next to us, were recording their reports, and videographers were capturing b-roll footage. Still photographers were snapping pictures at dizzying rates with their ultra-long lenses and high-end camera bodies. I was a bit envious, for sure.
After a while, the police opened the sidewalks and let us proceed down Boylston, closer to the scene of the bombing. We could see investigators scouring the sidewalk for clues. Helicopters hovered overhead. It was exciting to be there, but also quite troubling. The tragedy that unfolded the day prior had shaken the city, and everybody seemed a bit on edge.