2020/11/02

How to navigate the blog


Greetings.  This blog contains several hundred posts covering a wide array of topics.  The most recent ones are below.  For a chronological menu of older posts, see the lower left-hand side of this page.
Henri aboard 60' sloop, en route from Ibiza to Pireaus
(For the account about this fateful 1961 voyage, see the post of August 26, 2008)



Pinpoint Radiation for bladder cancer tumours


The 'Varian Linear Accelerator TrueBeam'
(Radiation machine)

If we read in a book about a character who becomes fatigued after cleaning a whole house, how would we really know how tired he/she was? Only after we'd had to clean a whole house too.

Similarly, in the past, I'd hear once in a while about someone who was "having radiation", but we really had no idea what was involved. How could we know?

Well, now I do. The natural process of aging (I’m now 91) brings with it a basket full of aches, needs for medication, and medical help.

In 2015 I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, but after surgery and BCG treatments, I got the all clear several months later.

Earlier this year, the symptoms returned and sure enough, so had the cancer.

Altogether in the past few years -- and more recently -- I’ve experienced:

• 3 CT-Scans

• 3 Cystoscopies

• 2 Surgeries for removal of tumours in the bladder

• 1 CT-Planning Scan

• 1 Nuclear Medicine Bone Scan

• 20 radiation sessions with the “Varian True-Beam Linear Accelerator”


Late summer and early fall, from August 27 until September 24, I had radiation treatments at the BC Cancer Agency, here in Victoria, British Columbia. These took place Monday-Friday, with each session lasting just 15 minutes.

This is how it works: a small team of radiation therapists prepare the ‘bed’ of the Linear Accelerator machine for the patient. We were surprised to discover this space-age, $2M piece of medical equipment is made in Las Vegas.(!)

Depending on which part of the body needs the radiation (in my case, the pelvis), some attire needs to be removed.

Great care was taken to position me on the bed precisely, with comfort, a pillow under my knees and head support.

Before the radiation sessions began, about 7 days beforehand, I had a CT-Planning Scan. During that procedure, I was given two (permanent) tattoos.

Two laser beams are zoomed in a ‘cross-fire’ matching the two tattoos (see photo), in order to be 100% sure the radiation beam reaches the right spot each day.


Two laser beams align in a 'cross' to ensure Henri is positioned in exactly the same place on the radiation bed each day.

Once I’m in the correct position, the team leaves the room and goes to an adjoining space, before pressing the ‘button’

Overall the entire staff are also caring and compassionate. They demonstrate a well-coordinated, high level of skill. Everyone of course wears masks thanks to the invisible C-19 killer virus.

Arms crossed over my chest, the machine begins to rotate slowly, stops, turns in the other direction, stops, turns again. No more than 10 minutes, the whole experience around 15 minutes.

Immediately following the radiation, the radiology technicians prepare to receive the next patient. This goes on all day long, five days a week.

Before going home, we’re given the time to return the next day. We had requested morning sessions and true to form they all took place between 09h30 and 11h45.


Natasha was my stalwart partner throughout it all

My lifelong partner, Natasha, somehow in her special way got us an exceptional deal on a rental car for one month (we don't have a car and live on a shoestring budget), and she faithfully drove me there and back each day.

Also, to help matters along, my brother-in-law Bruce paid for half of the car rental costs, and our long-time friend Seonaigh who lives on the Mainland, made a contribution too. These two gifts combined just about covered the full price of the rental.





Henri waving 'good-bye' on the final day of radiation, 
September 24, 2020

Bone Scan - Nuclear Medicine (radioactive)

Backing up a bit, before the radiation treatments began, I had to have a Bone Scan in a special area of the hospital devoted to Nuclear Medicine.

This is standard practice for people about to undergo radiation treatment. The purpose is to see if any cancer had spread to the bones.



First you get an injection of radioactive material, then you go away for 3-4 hours while this substance gets absorbs into your bones. The radioactivity lasts for two weeks. Then you return to the same place for the scan.

This test took much longer than the CT-Scan. The bone scanning machine moved very slowly over the whole body, from head to toe, for an hour.



Here is the image of the complete skeleton scan - 
quite spooky, isn't it?

A couple of weeks after the radiation was over, there was another CT Scan, to learn whether the radiation had done its job. Verdict = it had. They erased the tumours, all clear!

So, all the tests and treatments were not in vain.

Sincere thanks to many friends and family, who, by their heartfelt good wishes and prayers, I'm sure helped a lot towards this positive outcome to the 'pinpoint' radiation.

Thought I’d share these experiences with my blog readers. Any questions are welcome.

Henri van Bentum
November 3, 2020





2020/05/29

A reader asks about my early work, created in the Rocky Mountains, 1959


An interesting question just came our way from a reader of this blog, a woman originally from my homeland, the Netherlands. She lives in Alberta and asks about my experience of painting in the Rocky Mountains, summer of 1959 which I've written about elsewhere. 

Henri van Bentum painting at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, 1959

This seminal trip to Banff in 1959 was made possible by my ear doctor, the late Dr. Wilfred S. Goodman. I've written elsewhere on this blog about Wilf, here is the link.  Wilf paid for my return train fare across Canada, from Toronto to  the Rockies, and onward to Victoria (in those days, via ferry from Vancouver). 

Wilf became a close friend and was my patron in the early days of my career. (Later, it was Ann Southam who became my patron when I evolved into abstract painting, I recently wrote a five-part essay in her honour.)  You can also read more about the 1959 experience here. 

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park,  Henri van Bentum, oil pastel, 1959

The woman who asked the question lives in Edmonton and asked if she could see any of the paintings at the Art Gallery of Alberta or other public galleries in the province.

Unfortunately, none of the paintings from that summer of 1959 – all created in either Banff, Jasper or Yoho National Parks, or in Canmore  -- are presently available to the public. 


Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Henri van Bentum, oil pastel,1959

[The Alberta Foundation for the Arts does have one of my later works in its permanent collection, a watercolour from the “Spatial Rhythms” series. ]

All of these works from 1959 are in the private collection of Dr. Goodman’s family. Of course, now already 60 years have passed. 

Banff as seen from Tunnel Mountain, Henri van Bentum, oil 1959

The Goodman clan has grown and multiplied.  There are children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. My paintings are amongst them. Don’t know who has which ones. I hope they continue to like them.

Beaver Pond, Vermilion Lake, Banff National Park
Henri van Bentum, oil 1959
Artist's Private Collection

So our reader from Edmonton, who often travels to the national parks, asked if we could post some photos of these works so she can see them, which we’ve done on this update.

  
Three Sisters, Canmore, Henri van Bentum, oil pastel,1959

She is not alone, over the years many others have asked the same question.

Pilot Mountain, Massive Range, Henri van Bentum, oil on canvas board 1959

Ironically, it was in the Rocky Mountains with its stunning landscapes that my work evolved from representational to surrealist (and then abstraction). How this came about is another story, which we will publish in the near future. 


Lake Louise, Henri van Bentum, oil 1959

Most of the works shown here are done in oil, a few in oil pastel. All were done ‘en plein air’, like the Group of Seven.  

Takakkaw Falls, Banff National Park, Henri van Bentum,, oil on canvas board 1959

I rented a small room in a private home, the Parkin family. Having no car, I'd get up very early and hitchhike for a ride out of town, mostly with recreational trout fishermen. 

Early spring, Banff National Park, Henri van Bentum, oil on canvas board 1959

All these works were painted from mid-May through mid-July, at which time I became the first-ever guest student at the Banff School of Fine Arts.  How that totally unexpected event took place is chronicled elsewhere on this blog. 

Henri van Bentum, Lake Louise, 1959


We hope this post has been helpful to the reader. 

p.s.  You'll notice some of the photos of the paintings posted here are not ideal, but they are the only ones we have available. We'd like to have better photos taken. The original paintings are located over 3,500 kilometres away in Ontario, spread amongst the extended family of Dr. Wilf Goodman.  





2020/05/18

From Quartet to Quintet


written by Henri van Bentum, illustrations by PJ Heyliger

written by Henri van Bentum, illustrations by PJ Heyliger


Although it’s usual for me to spend a lot of time at home, during the recent and ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, while we were unable to play our regular Snooker games 4x/week, this situation added extra “staying-put” time.
The invisible killer C. virus has the whole human family globally in its grip. So, what to do? Something memorable perhaps, using the creative little grey cells.

Eureka! Why not write another children’s book, following up the four others? That would make it our fifth, a quintet.

A few email chats with our friend in Arizona, PJ Heyliger, who illustrated the previous four books, settled it.

And so, with the green light, I wrote another story, which PJ will once again illustrate. Already several sketches have seen the light. 


The story is about a Cheshire cat. That’s all we’re telling you, for now. When the book is completed, we’ll be sure to tell you more.

At least the self-isolation during the C.v pandemic will result in something good, as it has given me (and many others) an opportunity to use their creativity.




written by Henri van Bentum, illustrations by PJ Heyliger

written by Henri van Bentum, illustrations by PJ Heyliger


Stay tuned for our fifth book, coming in 2020



2020/05/17

Getting to Age Ninety-One



In Indigenous cultures, when Elders advance in age, this is often expressed as the journey of the four directions, taking them back to the East --- where life began, where the Sun rises -- as part of the eternal cycle. 

Aging is something I can talk about, being 90 years young. Here's an aphorism I wrote nearly fifty years ago:

Where is the line
Is there a line
Where day ends
And night begins

Where is the line
Is there a line
Where autumn of life ends
And winter begins.



Heading towards the 91st orbit in August. How did I get this far?  Well, in my childhood a pretty strong immune system must have developed, because over the past nine decades I’ve ‘slipped on a few banana peels’, as they say, having several experiences on the health-related side. Beginning at age 2.


For those of you who don't know me, what follows might seem a long list of suffering and pain.   


But for the greater part of my life, I’ve been fortunate to have overall good health, and a very rich basket of life experiences, as witnessed by the hundreds of posts on this blog. 


For posterity, here is a brief synopsis:


Henri van Bentum, around age two. 
This photo helped in finding Henri after 
he was taken away by the Gypsies.  See more details here. 

1931: The Netherlands - as a toddler, had Diphtheria. In those days, it was (and still can be) a serious illness.




Henri van Bentum age thirteen in the Netherlands with his Mother
before the mastoid operation described below

1943: During the war, I developed a mastoid (ear) problem called "mastoiditis".  This was a common cause of death in children.

An operation, a mastoidectomy, was essential, but conditions were not good. Many doctors had been taken away by the Germans, so the operation was done by a retired surgeon with less-than-perfectly-steady hands. 


The Ear: here the arrow points to where you can see the proximity 
of the mastoid bone cells to the facial nerve 

“The mastoid bone, which is full of air cells, is part of the temporal bone of the skull. The mastoid air cells are thought to protect the delicate structures of the ear, regulate ear pressure and possibly protect the temporal bone.” 

There is a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that during this procedure the facial nerve could be cut. This is what happened to me -- resulting in paralysis of the right side of my face and losing my hearing in the right ear.

1952: Next, Tuberculosis on both lungs. Spent three years in the Zonnestraal sanatorium in the Netherlands. See my earlier post about this remarkable and pioneering facility connected with the diamond industry (my father was a diamond facetter), now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Zonnestraal TB Sanatorium, near Hilversum, Netherlands

1961: After immigrating to Canada four years earlier, my ear acted up again. Another operation was necessary. But this time, the surgery was done by a very fine doctor who also became a close friend and patron, Dr. Wilfred S. Goodman ("Wilf").  


It was Dr. Goodman who paid for me to travel by train to the Rockies in the summer of 1959, to paint in Banff. This experience is written up elsewhere in this blog, click here.  Later I donated to Wilf and his family all the paintings done in Banff and region.



A friend, patron (during my period of figurative art) and "good" man, 
Ear Nose and Throat specialist, Dr. Wilfred St. Goodman




"Awakening", Henri van Bentum, oil on masonite, 1961. 
Painted after coming out of anaesthetic following ear operation
by Dr. Wilf Goodman, at Toronto General Hospital.
Artist's Private Collection

The oil painting (above) was painted right after surgery. I had asked if I could have my paints and material ready so that when I came out of the anaesthetic, I could capture the feeling.

Not long after this operation, Wilf asked if I would like to observe an ear operation. (Today such a thing would be impossible, for a lay person to be allowed in an operating theatre.)   

I said "Yes".  During the surgery Wilf had a microscope with which he performed the operation, while I was able to observe what was going on, through another microscope. 
Not long after this experience, I created this painting, "The Ear".
"The Ear", Henri van Bentum, oil on masonite, 1961
Painted after observing through a microscope, an ear operation.
Collection of the Goodman Family



1961:  Dr. Wilf Goodman encouraged me to have reconstructive plastic surgery in order to restore some symmetry to my face. 
Dr. Hoyle Campbell (1915-1998), pioneering Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon

The 8-hour operation was performed by the late master reconstructive plastic surgeon, Dr. Hoyle Campbell, in his clinic, the Institute of Traumatic Restorative Plastic Surgery, established in 1956 after he worked at three Toronto hospitals. I didn't have to pay anything.

Dr. Campbell is a legend in his field, and devised many new treatment methods. Dr. Campbell had a wealth of expertise, he had helped many disfigured soldiers after  WWII. 

Henri van Bentum, 1961. Sitting in the garden 
of his boarding house at 150 Walmer Road, Toronto
the day after 8-hour reconstructive plastic surgery performed by Dr. Hoyle Campbell

The surgery succeeded in restoring some symmetry to my face. 


Henri van Bentum, April 1966
Photo by Robert Title, for TIME Magazine

1980: we moved to Banff, Alberta and lived there for five years.  The only health-related incident during our time there was surgery in 1983 for varicose veins in my lower left leg. 


Henri and Natasha van Bentum, Banff 1984. 
Photo taken at home of Paul D. Fleck, President, The Banff Centre



1987: We moved to Vancouver in 1985.  Two years later, on the afternoon of February 13, out of the blue -- a heart attack.  No previous symptoms or warnings.

Thankfully, Natasha just 'happened' to be home from work that day, very unusual for her. 

She got the ambulance there within seven minutes. Because we arrived at St. Paul's Hospital so quickly, damage to the heart was confined to one area, but I had to spend five days in hospital. 
St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver

However, when I was being released, the doctor tole me to take an aspirin every day, regular dose, instead of low-dose aspirin. Little did I know this would result in stomach bleeding three months later, and yet another trip to hospital. It should have been a low-dose aspirin.



1988: Vancouver – unfortunately the mastoid problem of my youth came back, requiring surgery once again on my ear. 

During this procedure, in spite of my warning the doctor that a lot of reconstructive surgery had taken place in that area and “to be careful”, all the good work of Dr. Hoyle Campbell was undone -- the facial paralysis returned. 

The operation had been necessary, however, since two 'cysts' were discovered and removed.


Natasha and Henri van Bentum, aboard "Marco Polo", 2002
2003: During our time based in Vancouver, Natasha and I had been spending a lot of time on ships, where I gave creative exploration classes and also lectures. 

Late on the evening of Friday, June 21 (the next day we were supposed to sail to Alaska), I started trembling and turning blue. Later we learned this was a sudden onset of Hypoxemia -- a dramatic loss of oxygen.

Natasha came to the rescue once again, since when we arrived at Emergency, the Triage nurse wouldn't let Natasha go in with me.  

Natasha knew she had to explain to the Emergency doctor about my medical history, and let them know I was hard-of-hearing.  

(Due to the facial paralysis, the doctors might assume I’d had a stroke which was not the case.)
Natasha to the rescue

However she persisted and rushed into the large open area of the Emergency area where I was lying on one of many beds (mostly filled with several drunk people, it was Friday night). She said,“You’ve got to save him! He’s a great artist!”


Immediately everything changed. The doctors wheeled me in the “ultra-Emergency” room with specialized equipment and went to work on me for an hour. 

During this hour I nearly went “over the horizon”. The doctors said it was touch and go. NDE.  'Was in St. Paul’s Hospital for five days and underwent numerous tests, all showing up 'normal'. 

The cause of this dramatic and sudden onset of Hypoxemia was completely unknown and the doctors couldn't figure it out.  The doctor who had looked after me the most, a woman from India, called me “her mystery man”.

Increasing deafness in my ‘good ear’

After the 1943 mastoid-operation-gone-wrong of my youth, I’d lost hearing in my right ear. 

Now I was becoming increasingly hard of hearing in my ‘good ear’, the left. Despite having a hearing aid, it was still very difficult to hear.

2004: We moved to Victoria in 2004 and it was only nine years later that another problem arose: 

2015: In the summer of 2015, I was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer, a big surprise.  No pain, good appetite, sleeping well. The only symptom was blood in the urine.


The late Dr. Paul Whelan, urologist and 'life saver'


2015-2017: August 2015 surgery, a "Transurethral Resection", was performed by the late Dr. Paul Whelan: a success, tumours were removed. Appreciation to our family doctor, Mark Sherman, for referring me to Dr. Whelan.

Two years of follow-up treatments were required:  several BCG treatments, two CT Scans and four Cystoscopies.  Elsewhere in this blog I wrote about the bladder cancer experience.


[On a happier note, during this period, between 2015 and 2018, I wrote four children’s stories, illustrated by one of my former art students, PJ Heyliger, who lives in Arizona. See my blog post of April 2018, "It's a Quartet!" ]


2018: Victoria – in March I tripped in our apartment and came down hard on back and head – a “smash hit”.  X-ray revealed a compression fracture of the L1 vertebrae. Six months of pain, but finally healed by itself, without surgery.



After my “smash hit”, we started making use of the helpful Handy Dart service


2019: Victoria – the X-Ray the year before, for the back injury,  also revealed the presence of three Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms ("AAA"'s).  

These are being monitored with CT-Scans since there is a danger the larger of the three could burst, which would be fatal.

2020: Victoria - another CT-Scan booked for early June, to see how the bladder and aneurysms are doing. 

Our very fine family doctor since moving to Victoria, Dr. Mark Sherman
who also teaches mindfulness training to other physicians

And now, we wait . . . 

However, during the recent 'lockdown' for the Covid-19, I've written another children’s story – hopefully to be published this autumn -- which will make it a quintet!



Here we are, with Natasha – my partner, caregiver 
and the "rock" of our household, on her birthday, 2020
(Natasha is wearing a huge gardening hat, a birthday gift from a close friend.)


☼   4 2 3  💀

We realize I’m not alone in having an ‘interesting’ medical history, and ups and downs along the journey of aging. 'But thought I’d share this with you.

Henri van Bentum, 
Victoria, BC   May 2020









2020/05/10

Eighty Years Ago Today - May 10, 1940


Eighty years ago today, I arrived at school to find a big sign posted on the door, "Closed - WAR". 

My walk to school had taken me along my usual route, which took two hours each way --- through farmland, crossing brooks filled with salamanders, walking through the grounds of a small chateau which had a swan lake, peacocks and a rose garden. There was also a Chestnut tree lane -- paradise really for a 10 year old.

Walking back home, suddenly the sky was dark, loud engines above me, German planes. The invasion had begun.

Back home, I found mother crying, being comforted by my father. 

From that day onward, my formal school days ended forever and five years of suffering followed.  The war ended when I was 15. 

I didn't return to a school of any kind until much later, to the Ontario College of Art, in 1959.  There I lasted just five months of a 3-year course. (My teacher and mentor Jock (J.W.G. Macdonald recommended I not continue, for more about this see my blog "Jock Macdonald Remembered".)

Thought I'd share this memory with you, brought on by the eightieth anniversary of the invasion.




2020/04/29

Remembering Ann Southam

This week we published a new blog in honour of Ann Southam (1937 - 2010). The tenth anniversary of her passing is coming up in November.  Ann was a composer and dear friend. It's an essay in Five Parts, below is a screen capture from the start of Part One.