Less than two years ago, instead of Champagne-coloured, my urine showed red.
After seeing our family doctor, who then sent me to a urologist, the first step was an Ultrasound to see “what could be seen”. But the ultrasound couldn’t reveal enough information.
So the urologist then booked a Cystoscopy, done at the Royal Jubilee Hospital, with a thin tube inserted into the urethra that has a camera and light at the end, enabling him to see inside the bladder. The Cystoscopy does not take long and requires no anaesthetic. Laying there, I could also see the images on a large computer screen.
Although earlier on, I'd been told by my family doctor that for someone of my age (87 years young), blood in the urine usually means only one thing: cancer of the bladder.
However, that day during the Cystoscopy -- to my disbelief -- several tumours appeared. I immediately thought of them as “alien stowaways”.
[We don’t hear much about bladder cancer, yet it’s the fourth most common cancer in men. Unfortunately, research into this disease lags far behind most other cancers, due to lack of funding.]
The tumours were at such a stage, the urologist said he needed to get them out quickly, and told me surgery will be necessary.
There is usually a long wait time, and on top of that it was August -- traditionally a “down-time” -- but luckily for me, he was able to book the operation later that same month.
So I went back to the Royal Jubilee Hospital for the surgery, called a “transurethral resection for bladder tumour” or TURBT. [This procedure is only effective for early-stage cancer.]
In my case I had a choice between general anaesthetic, or a spinal anaesthetic, and I opted for the latter.
I stayed overnight in hospital. Very early next morning, the urologist came by and said the surgery went well, and he had the necessary material to have the analysis done. So I was sent home. (continues below . . )
The week after the operation was an awkward and messy one, having to use a catheter -- but necessary. Slowly but surely. the liquid changed from pale red, to deep orange, then to a normal colour.
Two weeks later we returned to the urologist's office to hear the results of the analysis. It was a positive report.
That was not the end, however. Next step: preventative therapy -- Immunotherapy, involving a series of treatments using the “BCG” vaccine. Amazingly, this is actually a form of the tuberculosis vaccine.
BCG stands for “Bacillus Calmette-Guerin”, named after two French scientists who developed the vaccine between 1908 - 1921.
Doctors aren’t 100% sure why it works, but believe it makes the bladder react in a way that triggers the immune system to get rid of cancer cells.
So it’s not the vaccine itself that gets rid of the cancer cells, but the BCG somehow kick-starts your immune system, and it’s your immune system that fights the cancer cells.
In my case, it was a poignant situation: after WWII in the Netherlands, I had tuberculosis and spent a few years in a sanatorium. [See my blog post of August 4, 2008 about the Zonnestraal Sanatorium]. So the thing that nearly killed me, now helped to save my life.
Since having that first round of BCG, over 6 weeks once a week, I’ve had two other rounds but these were three treatments, also once a week.
Recently the latest Cystoscopy procedure gave the “all clear”. The urologist pronounced my bladder a “work of art”, knowing that I’m an artist, but also meaning he thought his surgery was a work of art too.
Throughout all of this, with support and care from Natasha, my wife, plus many good wishes from friends far and wide, I maintained a positive outlook. I worked hard on keeping my spirits high and did a lot of meditation and contemplation.
In many ways, I have been very lucky: being able to see a specialist relatively quickly (normally long wait times). Then the urologist getting surgery booking quickly, before the “alien stowaways” as I called them, broke through the protection wall of the bladder. If that had happened, the whole bladder would have had to be removed – major surgery.
Thankfully, thanks to destiny and my ‘guardian angels’, this was not necessary.
Because bladder cancer has a high recurrence rate, the highest amongst the cancers, it requires “life-long surveillance”. So the doctors keep you on this regimen of having BCG treatments twice a year, plus further Cystoscopies, to monitor things. [This makes it “the most expensive cancer to treat, on a per-patient basis.” ]
I thought to share this personal experience on my blog, at age 87, since to me it is worthwhile communicating to others the importance of taking very seriously any warning signs like I had at the beginning.
Henri van Bentum
Preview image from the new book. Illustration by PJ Heylger.
“Nimbert and Tirwinkle in an Enchanted Garden” is a children's fable about a garden Gnome who reveals to me the real reason why we have flowers on Earth today.
Natasha, technical advisor on the children's book(s)
Natasha, my wife and partner, with her boundless logistical and technical support, is technical advisor.
Again for this new project, I wrote the story and our friend PJ Heyliger is creating the illustrations. The publication will be available on Amazon, and ready around the third week of February.
As someone said who received a preview of the book, “Nimbert and Tirwinkle in an Enchanted Garden” promises to be whimsical, colourful, educational -- and, joyful book. For the young and young at heart."
A visit to the realm of tropical fish in a coral reef
King Neptune's Jewels with Tails and Fins is a whimsical and delightful visit to the realm of tropical fish in a coral reef, complete with King Neptune, mermaids, Moray eels, nudibranches, parrotfish, seahorses, and many other creatures. Written by Henri van Bentum and illustrated by PJ Heyliger.
One reviewer summed it up in a word: "Fintastic!".
Now available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca, and soon in Europe, Japan and Australia.
Direct link to Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1541005589
Direct link to Amazon.ca: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1541005589
The Henri van Bentum Archive Project
Mandala #87 from the #100 set
ORGANIVERSE, original Helios edition ©
Henri van Bentum
Watercolour on paper, 1972
size: 8.5 cm in diameter
We are currently working on an Archive project. At this stage the goal is to gather as many digital photographs as possible of my paintings (located around the world) in private and public collections. You can see a preview of the site here.
Destiny moves in unknown directions, we all know that. Seventeen years ago, I was guest artist and lecturer aboard a ship making a circumnavigation around the world, to mark the new millennium in the year 2000. (See Blog posts of 12/2008). We had a class of twenty-five student/passengers over the 4 1/2 months of the voyage.
Amongst them was a couple who lived at that time in Colorado. The woman proved to be an excellent watercolorist and very good draftsperson.
Natasha and I have been on many ships in the same capacity. Over the years I’ve had maybe a thousand or more students. We stayed in touch with only a handful, and amongst them, this American couple.
A few years ago they moved to Arizona. In late 2013 they sent us an email to ask if we’d be interested in looking after their house and their cat, a Bengal breed, while they went on vacation for the month of February.
Since we reside in Victoria, BC and our winters are wet and chilly, the request came as a welcome respite.
Henri van Bentum with friend, the "Bengal" cat
To make a long story short, we not only took them up on their invitation, but returned again the following year while the couple went on a 3-week Christmas holiday.
We probably would have gone back again since then, because we are very fond of this unique species of cat (and great fun to be with) --- except in the summer of 2015, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Happily, however, it seems that now those ‘alien stowaways’ have been defeated.
Not long ago my artist/student contacted me. She asked if I’d like to write a children’s story for a series of watercolors about tropical fish and coral reefs.
Gladly I obliged.
And so our collaborative project was born: a children's fable that will be published as a printed book. The title is “King Neptune’s Jewels with Tails and Fins” (c). We're currently in the production stage, and the book will feature some twenty illustrations by my artist/friend, whose idea is now becoming reality.
We will keep you posted when the book becomes available. It will be self-published, using Amazon’s “CreateSpace”.
So, like I said at the beginning of this post, destiny moves in unknown and unexpected directions – which sometimes proves to be a pleasant surprise.
“Letters From Far Away Lands”
Remembering my Cousin - Dr. Piet van Bentum
Petrus Bernardus van Bentum (Piet)
Feb. 27, 1931 – January 1, 2016
Piet van Bentum,1962, New Guinea
Piet van Bentum was born in Amsterdam in 1931. Piet wanted to be a doctor, but had no funds to go to medical school. However his mother (sister-in-law of my father), obtained work as a technical assistant to my father, who was a diamond-facetter at Asher in Amsterdam. This allowed Piet to go to medical school.
Also the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) was always looking for missionaries and for young doctors who they would sponsor, like a scholarship. The DRC missionaries had been active in many countries around the world, for centuries. For example, they established a church in New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea), already back in 1640. Piet applied and trained to become a doctor.
During this time, cousin Piet visited me while I was in a tuberculosis sanatorium called Zonnestraal (‘sunbeam’), near Hilversum. After I immigrated to Canada, we corresponded in the 1960’s by mail.
After graduation Piet married, and in 1962 was sent far, far away to a remote region of New Guinea -- to the highlands at Ajamoeroe. There he worked amongst a tribe that until recently had been headhunters and cannibals.
It was wonderful to receive letters from such an exotic place as New Guinea; even the envelopes and stamps were a source of wonder not only to me but to others in Toronto.
During a cold Canadian winter, I often imagined Piet over there in New Guinea. His letters brought things to life from that far-away place. As an artist, I lived a nomadic, bohemian life and had at least twelve different addresses in three years, so sadly I no longer have Piet’s letters.
In New Guinea, Piet travelled around to various places with other doctors to gain experience. In his letters, he described being there was “like living at the dawn of time”.
Dr. Piet set up camp and a clinic in the highlands. (A hospital had been established in Biak, the closest town.) His ‘patients’ had no currency as we know it. Their culture was based on the barter system. The most valuable currency was piglets, and also shells such as Kina or Cowrie shells.
Kina (and Cowrie) shells were a form of currency. Here you can see shells that have been cut and made into a necklace.
In this way, the young van Bentum couple experienced the barter system. One of Piet’s patients gave him a skull in exchange for treatment. It had been the head of an enemy warrior. Piet realized this skull was a valued object, and the patient instructed him with gestures that he was to use it as a pillow. (!)
One day, another patient came with an arrow sticking out of his chest. Dr. Piet carefully removed it, and told the man to stay at the clinic for a few days until the wound had healed.
Next morning on his rounds, Dr. Piet noticed his native patient had disappeared. But three days’ later, the man arrived back -- with two piglets -- as payment. He pointed at his chest, which had already healed, and gave Piet a big grin.
Several of the tribesmen had injured their genitals due to ‘accidents’ with the penis sheathes they wore, which gave Dr. Piet a lot of extra work. All the while, there were still skirmishes and fighting between tribes, mostly about piglets, land or women. However, there was no more headhunting or cannibalism.
During this time, the young couple became parents to a boy, Carel, who was born in Biak.
Then, the Indonesian government declared that all citizens of the Netherlands had to leave New Guinea. Mrs. van Bentum and her new-born son travelled back home, and Dr. Piet stayed on a while longer.
After New Guinea, Piet returned to the Netherlands, where he took extra training in surgery. A second son, Pieter Jr., was born during this time.
But in 1964 Piet was off again: this time, posted to Cameroon, Africa to do the same thing, provide his services as a doctor. Piet worked in a hospital where he also made use of his newly-acquired surgery skills. There, in Cameroon, a third son, Floris, was born.
Stamps from Cameroon
After three to four years (in 1967), they returned to the Netherlands via freighter. The ship’s cargo was African wood. The freighter caught fire and the van Bentum’s were transferred to another vessel, homebound.
On one of my visits to the Netherlands, Piet showed me his collection of artefacts from New Guinea and Cameroon. Already back then, I suggested that he write a book about his experiences. But he didn’t seem keen, shrugging his shoulders and saying “not important”.
All these experiences in both New Guinea and Cameroon enriched Piet van Bentum’s knowledge of tropical diseases, and gave him a unique set of skills.
In 1967-68, Piet was a GP, in Utrecht. Then, he applied for a position as an instructor for young international doctors at the renowned Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam (Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen /KIT. ) Piet van Bentum worked there for five years.
Early picture of Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (now known as KIT)
In Groningen, he became Director of the south-west Groningen Geneeskundige Dienst (GGD), [“Groningen Medical Service”], serving for six to seven years as medical advisor for sixteen districts. From Sneek, they moved to Veendam, where Piet also worked for the “GGD” as manager/doctor, but for the north-east district of Groningen.
Piet really loved sailing. He had a sailboat, called “The African Queen”. He also kept bees, for honey.
Piet was one of a kind. As I mentioned earlier, I often encouraged him to write his memoirs, but he never did. I don’t know why, for he had so much to tell us all.
He retired in 1993 and moved from Veendam to Frieschepalen.
Piet van Bentum was a happy family man, had a great sense of humour, and was a true humanitarian. Piet recently went ‘over the horizon’, in his sleep, on January 1st of this year. It is in his memory that I compose this blog post.
A picture of the “Tuinfluiter” in the garden at Piet and Wimmy’s house. Piet loved this spot, where he admired the peaceful landscape of Friesland.
Henri van Bentum
One of the mandalas from my "Organiverse" Starry Night edition reproduced on cover of Network Review
Below is a picture of the cover from the most recent issue of Network Review, an international journal published by Scientific and Medical Network, showing mandala #26 from the set of #100 of my "Organiverse" Starry Night edition.
To read about the history of the Organiverse portfolio, simply enter the word "Organiverse" in the blog Search box. Or visit our Vimeo site with videos of the full set in both the original, Helios edition, and the Starry Night edition.In addition, here is an item published on our website about the Organiverse Handheld Set.
Art, Meditation, Ecology
Atom by Atom - Dot by Dot
ArtCreated in Morocco and on the island of Madeira by artist Henri van Bentum, born in the Lowlands in 1929. van Bentum's work is in several public and many private collections around the world. All 100 mandalas in the Organiverse series are done in pointillism, dot by dot. Each mandala is only 8.5 cm. in diameter.
"The work of Henri van Bentum reminds us of organic processes on the cosmic and microcosmic levels. His work helps me understand the vastness, complexity and beauty of the cosmos.
van Bentum's work is executed with a fine sense of colour and other elements.
I see his work as a paradigm for enduring works of art in the future."
Leslie Mezei, Former Professor of Computer Sciences, University of Toronto
MeditationOrganiverse is a meditational aid or 21st century kasina device. It is used to enhance meditation practice. It works by simply placing the cards face-out in the display module and, after allowing for some time to pass, move the front facing card to the back of the holder. In this way you will rotate through the Organiverse mandalas in sequence. The idea is to go through the whole series of 100 spheres.
EcologyHenri van Bentum was one of the first eco-artists beginning in the 1950’s. He has always advocated ‘Small is Beautiful’ and works on a small scale, using a minimum of resources for maximum results. The Organiverse rotation handset comes in a unique wood display holder made from recovered wood from Vancouver Island, as part of the Woodworkers Guild “Wood Recovery Project”.
This box is made from recovered Garry Oak.
“Organiverse is a glimpse into the multilayered beauty of all that is Life. These mandalas offer an immense opportunity for healing and for a heart-based understanding of who we are physically, emotionally and spiritually. A dance of colour, form and contemplation.”
Dr. Mark Sherman, MDCM, CCFP