Tag Archives: Awaiting Diagnosis

Returning to the Donut….MMMMMMM….Donuts.

11 Aug

About a year ago, I posted the news of my impending, and what now seems to have become an annual, Petscan. Well, it’s time for another one.  A text to my oncologist in late  June began the process.  Three weeks later, when I hadn’t even received a notice from my insurance company delaying the procedure (a common occurence),  I texted my oncologist again and learned that either he or the folks at the lab slightly misspelled my name.  So some guy named Eric Greenburg, or Erich Greenberg, or Erick Greenburgh got a referral for my scan.  So we began again.  This time, success!  A week after my text, the insurance company sent me an e-mail delaying my procedure by 45 days while they research the need for the test.  Then a week later, the referal arrived. Earlier this week I called the scan place,  spoke to the same guy I spoke to last year (which was kind of comforting), and made my appointment.  Thursday, August 18th, first thing in the morning. 

And so the process begins.  On Wednesday morning I start a 24 hour carb fast.  Not even a piece of fruit until I am done with the scan on the 18th.  On the 18th I am given radioactive sugar, and then placed into what looks like a large donut as they test the size and metabolic activity of my tumor (a structure that one of my friends assures me is my ancestors seeking to live close to my heart–I love that idea).   Then scantasia begins, my family’s celebratory embrace of all the carbs I couldn’t eat the day before.  A flavored coffee and muffin in the morning, Italian food at night.  Then we wait a week for the results, which I am always nervous about no matter how certain I am of thier positive outcome, and, God willing, have Scantasia part 2, the celebration of good news.

As you may recall, last year in an effort to drag all of you into my life and my concerns, I called on all of you to make the day before my scan a carb-filled wonderland for you and yours.  You may not think that stuff like that matters, but  I certainly can’t argue with the results of the scan.  So I am calling on all of you to return to this evolving tradition.  On Wednesday, August 17th, I call on all of my family and friends to double down on their carb intake.  Have some pizza, some pasta, a hoagie (or sub, or grinder). If you are a hipster, please curate a selection of locally brewed, artisinal IPAs and the drink every last one of them.  Or, if you’re like me, have a whole mess of cookies.  When you do, I will feel your good wishes, and that helps my state of mind a lot.  Maybe this year you could take some pictures of your carbs and share them on Facebook?  It might seem like a cruel taunt at my carbless existence, but I think I would dig it. 

Whatever you choose to do or not do, just know that I appreicate your interst, kindness, and support. Naturally I will share the results of the scan as soon as I get them.

As Always….Stay Tuned.

 

A Less Than Modest Proposal

2 Sep

Baagel Doughnut

In an effort to generate a little positive energy and test the boundaries of my considerable hubris, I would like to declare September 2nd“Eat Carbs for Erik” day.

As some of you may recall, I have my PET scan on Thursday the 3rd.  For those not familiar with the process, the PET depends upon the fact that tumors and other forms of inflammation metabolize sugar at much greater rates than the rest of your body.  The day before the procedure you abstain from all carbohydrates, and on the day of the scan, the medical technician pumps a syringe of radioactive sugar into your bloodstream, which then gets quickly metabolized by your tumor.  So that’s what I’m getting ready for, and it begins with a day without carbs…then a 6 am check in, a 7:30 or so injection, an 8:30 scan, and a 9:30 muffin and caramel latte.  Then we await the results, which I hope and pray are good, and then on to Scantasia!

I call on all readers of my blog, all people in my social universe, indeed all people on the planet to spend September 2nd ingesting and enjoying bready, sugary, creamy, carby treats. And when you do, please think of me. Have a bagel for me!  Have a doughnut for me.  Have a waffle, a roll,  or a pancake for me!  Have a cookie for me, actually, take two, they’re small.  Overcome your South Beach, Atkins, Paleo, Gluten abstinence, 21st century diets and dive into the cornucopia of carbs.  And when you do, when you taste that delicious sweetness, send some positive thoughts my way.  I swear I will feel them.  Who knows, maybe I will even taste them!  And I will be forever grateful. 

As Always….stay tuned.

My Return to Scan-Land

23 Nov

PET SCAN

This used to be a blog about health and well-being, right?  It is again, for at least the next few posts.  Two weeks ago, the calendar in my head clicked off a reminder about my impending biannual PET scan, and I got the scheduling process underway.  A quick text to my doctor was followed a few days later with a reply apologizing for the delay and an assurance that my paperwork was being processed.  Then, while I was in the middle of composing a lengthier post complaining about the ways that my medical group tends to delay these decisions, I got my approval in the mail.  All that remains is the scheduling, my abstaining from carbs for 24 hours, the injection of radioactive sugar into my bloodstream, the scan itself, and, of course, the results show. I’ve begun my journey down the rabbit hole into scan-land, and I won’t come out the other end for another week or so at the earliest.

When I first started writing this post I tried to craft some cute and funny stuff about the role these tests play in my life and about the frustration of knowing that no matter how I feel, I will have a scan of my thorax and abdomen every December and July for the rest of my life.  But you know what?  There’s nothing cute and there’s nothing funny about that.  It’s frightening and anxiety producing.

I’m not sure what to say concerning my expectations or feelings about what the scan may find.  I feel pretty good these days, but part of me, no doubt the Jewish part, is afraid to say anything positive or hopeful about the process for fear that the evil eye will sense my confidence and curse me with bad news.  What can I tell you? This is how my mind works.  And yet I can’t just run away from this and not do the procedure. Can I?  My, now, semi-annual PET scan is one of the few moments in my life where I actually face my fears and do the responsible thing.

I’ll keep you posted about the progress and results.  If the past is any prologue, I will find great calm and comfort in the good wishes of my many friends who read this blog or at least take a look at my status on Facebook.  I continue to appreciate your readership, friendship, and care.

And as always…stay tuned.

I Live to Scan Another Day!

18 Jun

Erik Hat

 

For those of you who may have missed my last post, I announced that I was due for a PET scan and would receive the results this week.  Well, the results are in, and there is no surgery in my immediate future.  As my oncologist said, depending upon the angle that you look at it, my mass may have grown a millimeter.  And the only time he would recommend surgery is if I am not feeling well, or if the growth is significant (say, 7mm in 6 months).  I feel fine.  There is limited growth–so limited that my Dr. tells me there is no change in my mass at all–and so we do this all over again in 6 months.  Tonight, Scantasia, an evolving tradition in my family where we celebrate good scan results with a meal out and  the heaving of yet another heavy sigh of relief.  In all likelihood this will be followed by a brief, personal moment of panic and a tortured consideration of my own mortality, which seems to follow every one of these events (perhaps a mild form of ptsd).  I’ll write about it, and other less creepy stuff, too.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for your continued good wishes, and thanks for your presence in my life.

 

As Always, stay tuned.

 

E

Stuck in the Middle

9 Jun

Scarecrow Both Ways

 

After weeks waiting for my doctor’s referral to be approved,  I finally made my appointment for my June Petscan, Thursday, June 12th first thing in the morning.  Also in June I will see a rheumatologist, make a second visit to a pulmonologist, likely see my oncologist (who referred me for the scan), and make weekly visits to a physical therapist (to help ease the effects of some pinched nerves in my neck).  It seems that as I approach my 50th birthday, I have become a regular consumer of the health care system.  I have become one of those people who likely costs the insurance company so much money that I require younger, healthier Americans to sign up for insurance to bring some financial stability to the system (that’s how insurance works, folks, no matter how you feel about Obamacare).  I am not sure what to make of this phenomenon.  I have always associated having numerous medical professionals on speed dial with old people, but I am surely not old.  Am I?  As I noted above, I have not even hit 50, yet.  My birthday is July 14th (yes, Bastille Day for all of my Francophile friends).  I haven’t even taken the somewhat obligatory step of joining the AARP.  And yet my life is filled with regularly scheduled doctors’ visits, with minor aches and pains, with a sense of nostalgia for 1980s and 1990s, with numerous regrets about roads not taken, and everywhere I go, people call me sir. No, I’m not old….yet, but I think that I have hit middle age.

It’s an odd term, yes, middle age?  At the very least our use of the term, which we generally employ to describe men and women in their fifties and sixties, is either wildly inaccurate or incredibly optimistic.  If I am, as Dante wrote, “midway along the journey of our life,” then I should be about 100 years old at journey’s end.  I’m not sure anyone reading this blog believes that I will hit the century mark.  I don’t really feel like I’m in the middle of anything, except maybe my career.

Instead, I feel very much like I’ve come to the end of numerous life circumstances and the beginning of others. Two years removed from my hooding ceremony, I am no longer a graduate student, and what is worse, most of the young historians I met in grad school have also received their Ph.D.s. And so even my younger friends have come to the end of one road and started down new paths.  On the other hand, this year I have been on television a bunch of times as a, so-called, professional historian. In fact, just this past week I taped two episodes of a new show, and so perhaps I am on the cusp of becoming one of those talking heads we see when the history channel actually chooses to broadcast shows about history.  Who knows?  I feel as if I am coming to the end of my time as a football fan.  While I love the game, I am not sure I can continue to watch young men destroy their brain function for the sake of my entertainment.  I have tried to take a look at other sports and see if I possess a shred of the passion that I have for the NFL in general and the New York Giants in particular.  Truth is, though, that I am not drawn to any other sport in the way that I’ve been drawn to football for the past 45, or so, years.  Perhaps I will dedicate my Sundays to something less competitive.  And, of course, as Emma enters her senior year, Amy and I are fast approaching the end of our time with a child at home, and will soon begin our lives as “empty-nesters.”  Thankfully we have been preparing for this development for years.  While Emma’s time in summer camp may have been a kind of preparation for adulthood, it was also an opportunity for Amy and I to see how we got along as a couple, and I am happy to say that most of the time I don’t annoy her too much.  

Indeed, much of the past year, which I count from the death of my father-in-law last May through Emma’s completion of 11th grade, has been a year of endings and beginnings. As I just noted, last May we lost my father-in-law.  This past fall my mother sold her house in Harrison, New York—once the center of all social and family life for countless friends and relatives.  Just recently my sister has ended her lengthy employ with a well-known department store chain.  Yet another niece has finished high school and is on to college (USC, no less….the horror). And Amy has taken the bold, but very attractive, step of abandoning dyes and embracing her gray hair.  Endings and beginnings seem to hit me wherever I turn. 

Perhaps that’s the real meaning of middle age, not that we’ve reached our chronological midpoint, but rather that we’ve reached a turning point, a moment when one a set of circumstances that have come to define our adult lives come to an end, and yet we have not fully embarked on, or embraced, our new paths.  We’re like Dorothy, standing in front of the scarecrow, asking for directions.  And as those of you familiar with the movie already know, his assistance is none too clear….”Some go this way, some go that way, and of course some go both ways!” Very helpful.  Nevertheless, that’s how I feel these days, stuck in the middle of massive change, but uncertain which way to go, which path to follow, and with absolutely zero sense of where any one path may lead.  That must surely be the definition of middle age. And by the time I get it all figured out, I’ll be an old man, which is a lot better than the alternatives, I guess, but it’s still frustrating.

Well, maybe the AARP will be able to explain all this stuff to me when I join, next month.  Who knows?  What I do know is that Wednesday I eliminate all carbs from my diet, Thursday morning I drive over to the scanning place—a place I’ve been to so many times that they actually remember me—then I take my radioactive sugar, get undressed, climb on a gurney, and let some big electronic doughnut scan my body.  Great fun!  Once I know the results I will, of course share them with all of you.  Until then, I hope that all is well for my many friends, family, and casual readers of this blog. 

Thanks for reading, and, as always….stay tuned.

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.

Sisyphus and the 8 cm Tumor

20 Mar

Sisyphus

 

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.