Archive | March, 2014

All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun

28 Mar


Hat and Shades

I remember the day like it was yesterday.  Friday October 4th, the first Shabbes in October.  The day before (Thursday), my doctor had called me and told me that my spiral ct test indicated that the big thing in my chest was a cyst, nothing to worry about.  Still, there were these enlarged lymph nodes she wanted to test for, probably nothing.  So I took a blood test that Friday morning, got on with my day and looked forward to a joyous and peaceful Shabbat.  I went to the grocery store to get a challah, some wine, and some juice, and as I did I began to sing to myself God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.  “V’shamru, v’nei Yisroel et ha Shabbat…”  I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time.  I felt….giddy, ecstatic, carefree. 

I was still humming the tune as I walked out into the parking lot.  Suddenly my phone rang.  It was my doctor.  My blood tests didn’t provide the answers she wanted.  Now she wanted me to see an oncologist.  My heart sank and all the giddiness drained out of my body.  I don’t really think I’ve been giddy since and certainly not carefree.  To be clear, I’ve had some really nice times…good times…meaningful times… times filled with love, but I’m not sure I’ve had fun.  In truth, I’m not sure I’ve had fun for a very long time.  You know, the kind of fun I had when my world was young.  When Emma’s laugh could keep Amy and me beaming and chuckling for hours.  The kind of fun that comes when all is right with your world.  Your parents are healthy.  Your pets are spry.  Your friends still have all their hair and teeth.  Perhaps you’ve got a bit of money in the bank, perhaps not.  But things around you are good, and so you can let go and have fun.  I can’t really remember the last time I felt that way, except for that moment in the grocery store when I thought my future was devoid of oncologists and surgeons, misdiagnoses and uncertainty, and stuff like that.  That time in the grocery store was really fun, and it hasn’t come back.

Truth is, I’ve never been a fun guy.  People have told me I am funny, but that’s not the same thing.  Indeed, my lack of fun led one former girlfriend to occasionally call me “grandma.”  She would do this when I turned down the music in my car to hear myself think, or when I sat in the corner at a party filled with her friends (but none of mine), or when I just couldn’t bring myself to have fun, which was often. Back in the 90s I auditioned to be in the music video for Sheryl Crow’s hit “All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun.”  I didn’t get it.  They said I wasn’t fat enough (I never knew how to respond to that note), but I suspect I wasn’t fun enough either.  After all, I’m plenty fat.  I am known for many things—talking too much, arguing, a fair bit of pomposity, my love of cookies, etc.—but not for fun.  No one who knows me has ever told a story in which “Greenberg showed up, and the next thing we know we’re in Tijuana passed out drunk on the beach.”  I’m not that guy.  I’m not fun.

Why this meditation on my poor fun reflex?  Yesterday was my first day back at the gym since my surgery.  It felt great.  The ability to move my body, to breathe deeply, to come out of there with fewer of the aches and pains that have plagued me since I first met my rather dour, though well-meaning, surgeon really got me jazzed. I wasn’t giddy, but I was getting there.  And as I drove away I found myself thinking about the old Sheryl Crow song, “All I wanna do is have some fun.”  And I meant it.  I wanted, so badly, to feel giddy and carefree.  To have fun.  I’m not sure I know how to do that anymore.  At the very least, I know that fun, these days, will feel different than fun when I was younger.  But I want to give it a try.  I probably won’t make it until the “sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard,” but I can probably make it until 8:30 or so on Ventura in Sherman Oaks.

As always, stay tuned.


Because It’s All About Me: Adjusting the Focus of My Blogging

22 Mar


People who know me know that I talk a lot.  Sometimes I talk about interesting stuff, sometimes important stuff, sometimes nonsense, but the bottom line is that I find it hard to keep my mouth shut in the company of others.  Also, I tend to talk a lot about me!  This is not intentional, really.  Often, though, I seem to speak in stories…not like the way that Jesus spoke in parables, of course, more like the way a Borscht-Belt comedian seems to have a story for every situation.  When I want people to understand that I’ve heard and understand, or sympathize, or empathize with what they’ve told me, I often respond by telling a personal story that I think will resonate with the topic of conversation.  I suspect that at times this trait is annoying, and I thank so many of my family and friends for their indulgence.

This trait in me, this habit of speaking about myself, is significantly magnified in this blog.  Truth is, I’ve looked around at personal health blogging a bit, and it tends to be a pretty “me-centered” project.  I don’t think any of us who blog in this way are unaware of or insensitive to the people around us.  It’s just that, let’s face it, when you blog about illness, or recovery, or some combination of the two, you really only have your thoughts and stories to work with.  I can’t, for example, meld minds with my daughter and learn in any textured sense what she’s feeling these days (although, Emma’s talented English teacher has her students doing weekly blogs, and Emma’s is quite good…check it out if you’d like).  And even if I could reproduce with perfect fidelity the thoughts and feelings of my family and friends, those thoughts belong to them, as do their trials and anxieties, and it would be a violation of their privacy for me to share those experiences in a public way.

Events over the past few weeks, and particularly the past few days, have made clear the tremendous psychic toll the past six months have taken on my immediate family.  To be clear, Amy and Emma are ok, but it is quite clear to me that they have suffered greatly through the process of diagnoses, misdiagnoses, conflicting opinions, and the general worry that comes with a bizarre structure located in the center of my chest.  The same is undoubtedly true of my mother and sisters, each in their own way.  At times my heart breaks for them, and as much as I crave a more definitive future for me, I yearn for their lives to be filled with joy, contentment, and ease.

Lately, I’ve been pretty down, and I am sure my blog reflects that.  My surgeon, who told me the other day that he sees it as his responsibility to resolve my “problem,” has a way of speaking that just seems to worry me more than it should.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good guy, I just wish he were a little more…chipper, I guess.  The truth is, though, that I am no worse off than I was almost six months ago.  Indeed, I am better.  I am blessed with an extraordinary support structure.  I have doctors insisting that they look at me every few weeks.  I have a remarkable wife, whose sense of calm helps get me through a lot, and an extraordinary daughter, who has had to suffer through a lot of my nonsense for the past six months.  I want them, and all of you, to know that, today, I see things differently than I did even a few days earlier.  There are lots of tomorrows ahead of us.  They will be full of pleasure and promise, and so I would like all of us to worry a little less during our todays—and that begins with me!

Finally, let me apologize for my selfishness.  Too often when I have asked for the prayers and good thoughts of this extraordinary electronic community, I have asked for such support in my name.  That’s wrong.  Should you ever think of or pray for me, please do so for my family as well (who needs and deserves such help) and while we’re all at it, let’s direct those good wishes to a world of people who suffer far greater anxieties, indignities, and illnesses than I ever have.  I know that you’re all good eggs and have been doing that anyway.  I just wanted to add my prayers to yours.

As always, stay tuned.

Sisyphus and the 8 cm Tumor

20 Mar



I don’t want to bury the lead, so….final pathology, sarcoid tissue, nothing else.  I have sarcoidosis, the type that typically presents in people of Northern European descent (it can be a very different disease in African-Americans).  I will likely have to be watched the rest of my days to make sure that I don’t exhibit any symptoms and to be sure the disease doesn’t spread to my organs… so, that’s good, I guess.  Still, this post is not entirely about my diagnosis.  Maddeningly, it is also about the large, bizarre, and to my knowledge, benign tumor sitting in my chest, as well.  And so this is also a post about frustration.

Midday on Tuesday I called my doctor’s office to check in on a few things.  My protective bandages had begun to give way a week earlier than I expected.  I wanted to see if I could return to aspirin and fish oil, both of which I stopped taking a week before surgery.  And, of course, I wanted to see if the final pathology had come in.  About 6:30 that night I got a call from my surgeon’s office.  Apparently the loss of the bandages indicates, and I quote, “young oily skin as opposed to old dry skin”… (sexy).  I can get back to aspirin and fish oil whenever I want.  And the pathology came back as sarcoid tissue, nothing else.  Whew, what a relief!  But then I was told that my surgeon would present my case to the thoracic tumor board on Wednesday (which is not, in fact, a board composed of tumors, but rather a board of doctors who specialize in disciplines that frequently see and treat tumors)..  “What?! I thought I was done.” I thought it was time to move on to a rheumatologist or some other specialist to begin my new adventures in Sarcoidosis-land (Sarcoidosis-ville?  Burg?  Thoughts?).  “Why does he feel the need to discuss my case even further?  What is the point?”

“Well,” my surgeon’s wife said, “everyone just wants to make sure they’re not missing something.  You’re a young guy with kids.  We want to be careful and make sure we’ve considered every possibility,” or words to that affect. 

“What else could they be looking for?” I asked. 

“I don’t know,” she said. “Don’t think about this as a bad thing.  Think about this as a group of doctors who are really looking out for you.”Easy for her to say! I’ve been at this for 5 ½ months.  I want some closure, some sense that this chapter in my life is over and a new and better one has begun. 

Interestingly enough, one of my rabbi friends (like I said in my last post, I seem to know a lot of rabbis) predicted that something like this might happen.  I was talking to him just before my surgery.  I was lamenting how meeting my surgeon and being told, again, that I may have cancer had unmoored me.  I was stunned at how fragile I was.  “All of that work, I did, the eating better, the meditating, the Tai Chi, that was all bullshit,” I said.  After all, one stressful visit to a doctor and I had ceased to engage in most of those activities (See my previous post, Getting Back Up on the Horse).

 My rabbi friend reminded me that it was natural for me to feel beat up at that moment.  “Besides,” he said, “you don’t do all that work (the Tai Chi, the meditating, etc.) to keep from being knocked down.  You do it so that you have an easier time getting back up.  You do it for your wife and daughter.  You do it to deal with the next doctor’s report.”

“Wait! What do you mean the next doctor’s report?” I asked.

“Look, Erik, the way this thing has been going for you, I just don’t imagine that any report will be simple or straightforward.  They’ll probably be some new thing for you to deal with.” 

I guess he was right about that.  I mean, even if the tumor board said gey gezunt, which as you will see they did not, I will likely spend the rest of my life watching and being watched.  Doctors will watch my tumor, my new condition, my weight and cholesterol (which they would have watched anyway), my blood pressure, my blood sugar, and on, and on, and on.  In July I turn 50, and apparently 50 is the colonoscopy birthday…so there’s that.  And so I do the work, the re-formation of my life and lifestyle, to cope with all of these things and maybe live a better life than the one I lived before this whole mess started.

This morning the surgeon and I sat down to discuss the deliberations of the tumor board.  I’ll keep it simple.  They have no idea what the tumor is or its essential nature (benign or malignant).  They have no idea if it will grow or shrink, and so they recommend I have it surgically removed…probably.  Oy!  Where does that leave me? Basically where I was in November, which is to say I will get a scan in June.  If the tumor grows, we get it.  If it shrinks, we finally have an answer about its nature (benign).  If it stays the same, then I am forced to decide whether or not I have surgery. 

My sense of limbo continues, or perhaps not.  After all, limbo is a state between heaven and hell, and while I don’t really feel damned, there is a certain sense of Sisyphean condemnation in the way I am asked to expose my tumor to testing again and again, and when I come to the doctors to understand what the Oracle of the Pet Scan or the Mediastinoscopy has to say, I am basically told the same things they told me before the last procedure. I’m at the bottom of the hill….again…just me and my tumor…and all of you, of course.  The truth is that without your support this experience would be unimaginably more difficult.

So this is where things stand.  I live to scan another day and to try and live a better life with my brief reprieve from medical experimentation.  I cannot thank all of you enough for your prayers and good wishes.  I continue to need them.  Perhaps I have always needed them and will need them forever.

Stay tuned. 

Shake and Wake: An Unexpected Jolt Helps My Healing

17 Mar



If you’re reading this in Los Angeles you know that we had an earthquake this morning.  If you’re not in Southern California, we had an earthquake this morning.  My Facebook page is awash in reports of slightly frightened, slightly exhilarated friends who seem to be rocked awake but who, thankfully, remain safe and sound…Thank God.  Us, too.  The tremor (4.7, or so, which took place less than ten miles from our home) caught us in the middle of our Monday morning rituals, preparation for work and school generally performed in a lackadaisical half-waking/half-sleeping state, and jolted us to attention as we all hung tight and rode it out.  It woke me up in more ways than one. 

Over the past two days, I’ve begun to feel better.  My body doesn’t ache as much.  I tire less easily (though I still tire more than I would like).  And just in general I have a good sense that my healing is moving in the right direction.  I don’t want to make too big a deal about this.  After all, it’s not like I went a full fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson in his glory days.  People have had more difficult surgeries and surely more difficult physical traumas.  Also, I could be fooling myself into feeling better—which I guess isn’t the worst thing in the world, really.  I could be weeks away from where I want to be and just don’t know it yet.  Still, over the past five or six months I have taken to blogging about my health and how I feel.  I blogged about how bad I felt on Friday, and so I should probably blog that this Monday I feel a bit better. 

Still, I’ve felt groggy, a little out of it…like somehow I’ve been walking around in a dream.  Well, that’s not a problem anymore.  The earthquake shook me to attention.  It got my adrenaline flowing and my blood rushing, and it reminded me that other things can and do happen in the world beyond my health odyssey.  I suppose I should offer thanks for that.  And it seems I’ve found the perfect bracha (blessing) to do so.  Shortly after this morning’s quake one of my rabbi friends (I seem to have quite a few) posted a meaningful blessing on his Facebook wall which I liked very much.  “Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, whose power fills the world…. But really, must your power fill the world before 630 am?”  It’s a fair question.

I hope this post reaches all of my friends safe and well (just had an aftershock, here) and not too shaken up.

Stay safe and stay tuned.

The Agony and…well, the agony: My First Real Experience With Surgical Recovery

14 Mar

Beaten Up

Last spring a good friend of mine—an historian who has somehow remained quite fit despite his incredibly sedentary career—walked into my office and told me he had had surgery a few weeks earlier.  I could tell.  He lacked his typical vitality.  He seemed grayer than he had a few weeks before, not just graying at the temples, his whole being seemed grayer.  I was stunned that someone as fit as he was had not recovered faster.  By my recollection it took him somewhere between 6-8 weeks to really get back to his old self.  I felt terrible for him and quite frightened about the idea of surgery.  I mean, if surgery could lay this guy so low, how could I possibly hold up to such an assault should I require it someday?

Tuesday afternoon that same historian walked into my office, stunned to learn that I was about to have surgery—he is new to my blog.  We talked a little bit, he offered me his sympathy and support (both of which were greatly appreciated) and as he left he lamented that “recovery always takes longer than they say it does.” 

The next day (Wednesday) I had my surgery and, bolstered by pain medication, the exhilaration of surviving surgery and the initial good news of the biopsy samples, I felt great.  Yesterday (Thursday) when I spoke to my surgeon’s office I told them how amazed I was that I hadn’t taken an ibuprofen all day.  Well, that was yesterday, and today (Friday) is today.  Today I feel the pain of surgical recovery.  Wow!

I didn’t get into a lot of fights when I was a kid, and though I played some hockey when I was young, and participated in a bunch of sports at summer camp, I never really got clobbered….well, maybe once when my tongue got cut pretty bad while playing soccer, but that was a long time ago.  Today I feel like I got the crap beaten out of me.  Like these wonderful medical professionals, who were really caring before they put me under, each took turns punching me in the neck while I slept.  Who knew that the worst side effect of my recovery would be the stiffness that comes from laying your head down on a pillow?  Seriously, last night I got walloped by a pillow!

Don’t get me wrong.  I am sure things could be worse.  I slept a few hours, meditated a bit, got up at 6 with my daughter, and will go through the day in a sleep deprived fog (which helps a little bit with the pain, I think).  I have tremendous help from a loving family, a supportive workplace, and a fantastic network of friends, both nearby and on the web.  Still, today I am reminded of my friend, the fit historian who got beat up by his surgery last spring, and his parting words to me as he left my office on Tuesday.  “Recovery always takes longer than they say it does.”  I guess he was right.  Damn!

I am sure I will feel better…eventually and when I do, I’ll write a bit about it here.

As always, stay tuned.

This Just In

13 Mar


I noticed a little blood in my sputum this afternoon, and so I called my surgeon to see if that’s normal.  Apparently it is.  Then the nurse (who is his wife, as well) tells me that my “initial pathology” came in this afternoon.  Sarcoid tissue and inflammation, no malignancy.  The news is good, my friends. 

And yet!  There may be one more report to come in about 3-5 days because apparently I haven’t been tortured enough.  I swear I’m not making this stuff up!

Still the news started good and keeps on getting gooder.

As always, stay tuned.


My Promising Post Surgery Post

12 Mar

As most of you know, I had surgery today to extract some lymph nodes to determine once and for all whether I had cancer.  You know I was scared out of my mind at the prospect of general anesthesia AND the possible pathological findings. of my procedure.  I am happy to say that on both counts, things look promising.

I simply will not say I do not have cancer until I have heard the results of the lymph node biopsy (which I should learn on Friday).  Too many times in the past six months I have been led astray by embracing good but incomplete data.  The process has been emotionally draining, and over the past few weeks, downright emotionally devastating, as well.  I have been so terribly frightened, lately, so utterly besides myself as I tried to reconcile the competing theories of numerous talented and caring medical professionals, that at times I really did feel like I was in the middle of a horrible nightmare.  Indeed, if Wes Craven would really like to write a horror story, write one about a guy who goes to the emergency room for kidney stone pain and then is routinely told for almost six months that he probably has cancer.  Scary shit.    

So I will hold off making any of my own assertions until some time on Friday.  In the words of my surgeon, though, it looks like sarcoidosis (not cancer), and he saw nothing to indicate any type of malignancy.  Promising, but I will wait for the proof.  So please keep sending your fabulously good thoughts and prayers my way, and I promise that on Friday I will share, what I hope to be, the good news.

As for your good wishes, they surely worked, and I am grateful to each and every person who reads this blog and wishes me well.  You have helped, and continue to help, me through an incredibly difficult and frightening time in my life.  I honestly believe that your good wishes, which I was able to read in the surgical prep room right up until they wheeled me in to OR, made me stronger, and helped me to better tolerate the experience of general anesthesia and thoracic surgery.  Amy and I are discussing ways to thank you.  Indeed we are thinking about a three day party (kind of an open house) to have an opportunity to offer some hospitality and to hug each and every person that can make it.  For those of you who live a long way off…we’re working on that, too.  

I hope that Friday I can share glorious news, which is to say that instead of cancer I have an autoimmune disease (the bar for what I consider lucky is still quite low).  Until then, THANK  YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

As always, stay tuned.