‘Twas the Night Before…

Well, here we are again.  The night before my next set of diagnostic CT scans.  This week has been pretty anxiety provoking; indeed Monday was definitely a down day.   My mood just took a header as I walked into my office building and it just stayed down for the majority of the day.  MaryBeth asked that evening if perhaps I was stressed because of my scans.  Interestingly, I was not (consciously) thinking about my scans, but once she reminded me of them, my anxiety made sense.

Tuesday, I was talking with my therapist and we got to talking about how many people point out to me that any one of us could go out and get hit by a bus at any moment.  (Which leads me to wonder why it would be a bus and not some more conventional vehicle.  You would think that if we are going to get hit by some vehicle, it would be something more common than a bus.)  My stock response to people when they make the getting hit by some vehicle comment is, “Great! Now I have to worry about getting hit by a [insert vehicle here] AND dying of cancer!”

Anywho, my therapist pointed out something that really helped put into perspective why the “getting hit by a vehicle” comment doesn’t really apply.  She pointed out that people do not get up every morning thinking about the possibility of getting hit by a vehicle.  In fact, the presumption most people function on the presumption that they will go about their day in relative safety.  On the other hand, I wake up every morning with the knowledge that I have a particularly deadly form of cancer.  Who knows how long I will hang on (my hope is a long, long time — in fact, MaryBeth told me I have to live until I’m 104 years old; I’m good with that).

I’m trying to wax nostalgic at the moment.  My brother-in-law scott just called to give me his condolences about my father and his good wishes for my scans tomorrow.  I told him what a good friend once told me: the scans will only tell me what is already there.   The cancer has either come back or it has not, but whichever the answer is, I won’t find out until next Wednesday.

In the meantime, I am enjoying my opportunity at being Mr. Mom while MaryBeth is visiting with baby Lucy, I mean visiting with her sister Catherine.  :-)   So far, all three kids are still breathing and not sporting any (visible) injuries.  Truth be told, I have really enjoyed being able to have this time with my kids.  It’s a challenge, to be sure, and I have a renewed sense of respect of the stuff that MaryBeth has to deal with on a day to day basis.

Thank you for sticking with me.  I will let you know what I find out as soon as I can.  More later.

Merle

Thank goodness for Karate!

Just a quick note to say that no matter how down or distracted I am, I can always count on feeling better when I go to teach at American Karate Productions.  Perhaps it’s the adrenaline; perhaps it’s the environment, or as one parent put it, perhaps it’s simply because there, I am Mr. H, not the guy with cancer.  Tonight I got to do a little sparring, offered up some friendly motivation for the students, and had a great discussion with my instructor, Mr. Quinn.

Life is getting back to “normal.”  It’s hard to believe that all this blew up only last week.  I return to work next week, while MaryBeth goes to visit with her sister.  I will continue to work through my issues, but for right now, I’m okay!

Merle

Back again

Well, I am back from my trip to Florida.  I still have a bundle of emotions rushing around in my head now, but I’m working through them.  The last couple of days were difficult, in particular, as my siblings and I began pulling together documentation regarding my father’s estate.  Indeed, as I drove to the Kinkos to make copies of the documentation, I could not help reflect on my eulogy.  I essentially asked how do you measure the scope of a man’s life?  Focusing on my father’s financials, while necessary, unfortunately made me feel as if we were measuring his life in terms of his monetary worth.  I know that is not the case, but it still felt “yucky.”

Several people also encouraged me not to equate my father’s fate with my own.  I know that he was older and had different cancers (and other health-related problems).  I could, however, help but be reminded during the past week of my tenuous situation.  I think MaryBeth, I, and at least my younger son all wondered if we would be doing this again sometime in the near future for me.   I continue to remain hopeful (even cautiously optimistic) about my prognosis, but I am also realistic enough to know that MaryBeth and I need to have some talks about the possibility of a less than favorable outcome and the immediate and more extended future.   You see, when the Rabbi came to talk to the family in the hospital about Dad’s wishes, my step-mother admitted that they had not discussed these issues.  I think that both my dad and step-mother focused on his getting better and to, perhaps, the exclusion of other alternatives.  As I sat there and listened, I realized the importance of having these not so happy discussions.

For those of you who were wondering, I did not come back to Atlanta to get my CT scans last Friday.  Instead, they have been rescheduled for August 28th.  MaryBeth is going to visit her sister in Indianapolis to help out around the house; who are we kidding — she’s going to Indianapolis to play with baby Lucy, and her sister is just a convenient excuse.  I probably could have had my scans this week, but MaryBeth wants to be there with me when I get the results (which I appreciate).  If the results, however, were not favorable, MaryBeth would have canceled her trip to Indianapolis, which I did not want her to do (she needs a break from the unhappiness as much, if not moreso, than the rest of us).  Thus, I put off the scans for another week.  In reality, if the results are not favorable, I really do not think that waiting an extra week will really matter.  (One of the consequences of dealing with my dad’s death is that, despite my earlier statements to the contrary, I would not be surprised if the scans come back unfavorably; though, I realize that thinking this does not make it necessarily true.)  As I said, lots of stuff rumbling around in my head.

I guess one good thing that came out of this past week is that I am blogging again, though, it’s unfortunate that it took my dad’s death to jump start this process.  I cannot promise that I will blog with the frequency that I have been over the past week, but I will do my best to blog more than once a month.

Merle

Dad’s Eulogy

As I said previously, I was asked to give the family euology at my father’s funeral service.  Several people asked me to post what I said, so here it is.  While I’m the final author, these comments reflects the thoughts, feelings, and love of the family and friends who have been here mourning my Dad’s passing this past week:

I’ve been asked to give you the family’s perspective on Ed Hamburger: husband, dad, step-dad, uncle, brother, grandfather, teacher, friend!  When I asked family members to describe my Dad, several words kept coming up: Loving! Devoted! Persistent!   Tenacious!  And Stubborn (but in a good way)!  Dad stuck by his convictions and beliefs, even if he was the only one who thought he was right.  He was a die-hard Orioles fan, despite how well (or more often) how poorly they were doing.  He was a gentleman and, indeed, he was a gentle man, but more than anything, he was a fighter.

When his health took a turn for the worse this past Monday evening, my siblings and I came down to Sarasota as soon as we could.  Dad was put on life support in hopes that he would live until all of us could get there.  It was a mad scramble, but we were all there by Tuesday evening when the collective decision was made to remove the life support. 

We gathered around his bed, telling him how much we loved him and how much he meant to us.  We stood there together, as a family, sharing the experience and supporting each other, expecting Dad to pass on pretty quickly.  And we stood….and stood….and stood…and stood.  After a while, we sat…and sat…and sat. And eventually, we found places to lie down so we could get whatever rest we could.  The doctors thought he would not last more than a couple of hours once life support was removed, but Dad held on for almost 2 more days. 

During his treatment, as in life, when he set his mind to do something, he did it regardless of the obstacles.   In talking with his doctors, he was constantly asking what he needed to do to get better!  He didn’t complain about what he had to do, he just did it!  He was a fighter.

This tenacity was nothing new for my Dad.  Throughout his life, he has overcome incredible odds.  For example, he took on the challenge of teaching special education children in the Baltimore inner city school system.  In addition, he earned two masters degrees despite having dyslexia.  As far as family goes, he would often decide to visit one of us kids, for no particular reason, and do whatever it took to do so.  My brother, Chip, fondly remembers how Dad would visit him while he was at boarding school, sometimes for an event, like a basketball game, and other times, just to visit.  Dad and Arlene would often visit with my brother, Sid, and his family, to watch the kids in a play or dance recital.  They would visit with my sister, Marjie, and her family, to watch the kids play soccer or do tae kwon do.  They loved traveling to Israel to visit with my step-sister, Lynn, and her family.  Just being there with his family is what mattered most.

My Dad and Arlene became snowbirds because they hated the cold.  But despite this aversion, they would regularly travel to the northeast to visit family and friends.  For example, they would travel to Baltimore to visit The Kalishes, the Goldbergs, and the Shapiros.  They would travel to Stowe, VT (often in the throes of Winter) to visit with my step-sister, Nancy, and her family.  Indeed, the Krakowers all recall how Dad would get all bundled up, with his white traveling cap and ear muffs on, and would trudge along so he could ride the Gondola up Mt. Mansfield for a mountain top lunch and then watch the girls ski down the mountain.   I know they loved all their children equally, but I think Dad’s favorite warm climate destination was Atlanta, GA.  What a coincidence: my family and I live in Atlanta, GA. 

For the last 20+ years, our family has had a reunion every summer at the beach in Wildwood Crest, NJ; it was one of my Dad’s favorite weeks of the year.  Dad had really wanted to go this year, but his declining health made this impossible.  Yet, our Dad managed to get us all together with him this week (which was scheduled to be the week in Wildwood).  Thus, even in his last days, he overcame a fairly substantial obstacle by bringing “Wildwood” to Sarasota. 

I cherish that my Dad and I grew much closer over the last couple of years.  You see, in 2008, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and I think our relationship was strengthened by our shared experience.  Throughout his fight with cancer, I remained in awe of his strength and resiliency in dealing with his health challenges.  I have attempted to emulate those characteristics in my own battle with cancer, as well as with other challenges in life.  

My father was a tenacious fighter, a loved and loving man, and an inspiration to me and those who loved him.  There are many ways to measure the scope of a man’s life.  You can count the number of lives he has touched through his various vocations and avocations.  You can count the number of challenges (health or otherwise) he overcame.  You can count the number of people who are mourning his passing. I choose to measure the scope of my father’s life by the amount of devotion he showed to his family and friends and the love that they gave him in return. 

You can also download a copy of this document here.

Thank you to all of you for the positive thoughts and warm prayers.  It’s hard not to go through this experience and project (or at least consider) the possibility that my fate may be the same.  Trying to stay present, but…

Merle

Yet Another Anniversary

Hello from the official Hamburger Funeral evening Meeting.  There are so many of us at the hotel in Sarasota, that the staff have given us access to the meeting room for us to congregate.  We have met here each evening to revel in the experience of the day and enjoy the camaraderie (and adult beverages). 

If things had gone differently, I would have had my 4-month follow-up CT scans today — on the 1 year anniversary of my Whipple surgery.  Of course, I put off the scans in lieu of being in a different state, but it’s hard not to reflect on the parallel between the outcome of my father’s fight and my own personal fight.  Interestingly, I have been asked to speak for the family at the funeral service.  I will spend tomorrow considering what I will say, but I am sure it will have a couple of prominent themes:

  • the fact that my father is a fighter
  • the similarity between his and my own health situation

My step-mom has told me that I do not have to be somber, but I can be my same humorous self; I wonder if she is aware of the blank check she has written for me.  (Of course, I have to say that I thought about bringing my “I’m Not Dead Yet” t-shirt for this trip, but even *I* had enough sense not to do that.

I appreciate the outpouring of thoughts and prayers from everyone.  I still have a whole lot of emotions running through my head at the moment, but I’m adapting. 

Merle

Dad’s Notice

Here is my father’s obituary:

On Aug. 13, 2009, Edward K., of Sarasota, FL (formerly of Baltimore), loving husband of Arlene Hamburger (nee Rubin); beloved father of the late Sandy Hamburger, Marjorie and James “Jim” Hampton of Mt. Laurel, NJ, Sidney and Susan Hamburger of Roseland, NJ, Isaac “Chip” Hamburger of Baltimore, and Merle and MaryBeth Hamburger of Atlanta Georgia; devoted brother of Henry and Terry Hamburger of Leonia, NJ and brother-in-law of Barbara Brody of New York, NY and Harvey Hafter; dear stepfather of Lynn (Rivkin) Rosenfeld of Shorashim, Israel and Nancy and Reid Krakower of Stowe, VT; proud grandfather of Alexandra, Jillian and Alicia Hampton, Samantha, Rachel and Ryan Hamburger, Benjamin, Kevin and Abigail Hamburger, Yaniv and Rakefet Rosenfeld, and Kara and Eliza Krakower. Also survived by many loving nieces and nephews. Services will be held in the sanctuary at Temple Beth Sholom, 1050 South Tuttle Ave, Sarasota, FL, on Sunday, August 16th at 10 AM. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be sent to Temple Beth Sholom, 1050 South Tuttle Ave, Sarasota, FL, (34237) or The Florida Studio Theatre 1241 North Palm Avenue, Sarasota, FL (34236). In mourning at 4953 Gardiner’s Bay Circle, Sarasota.

the end

Dad died at 6p this evening after a long battle with:
Lung cancer
Bladder cancer
Hydroencephalus
Hypercalcemia

Thank you for your thoughts.

He’s a Fighter

This past Tuesday morning, the nurses in the ICU at Sarasota Memorial put a breathing tube down my father’s throat and gave him medication to sustain his life so that my siblings and I could get there before he died.  My sister and I drove 7 1/2 hours from Atlanta and, after a harrowing traveling experience (which included a 3 1/2 hour delay), my brother’s arrived later that night.  Finally, we gathered around my father.  Each of us said our goodbyes.  After which, the family left so the nurses could extubate him (remove his breathing tube) and take him off his medication.  We fully expected that Dad would slip away shortly thereafter.

We stood around the bed, sharing the experience and supporting each other. And we stood…and stood…and stood.  And after standing for awhile, we began to drift away and find places to sit and, eventually, sleep.  (You know, if you are tired enough, a cheap office chair is a perfectly fine bed.)  Yesterday (Wednesday), we were given a little surprise as Dad became conscious and responsive on several occasions.  We were able to ask if he was in pain; to let him know that we were here; to remind him that he still needed to do his push-ups for the day.  He would shake or nod his head as appropriate (and gurgled a little at the push-up comment — not sure if that was responsive or just coincidental).

Last night (Wednesday) he was moved from ICU to a private room and continues to be given pain and anxiety medication.  He has not become responsive since.  His breathing is more labored, but he seems at peace.  We have initiated hospice care in the hospital, meaning that the only treatment he is receiving now is to maintain comfort.  We had thought that a bed might be available in an external hospice facility (closer to where the family is staying), but it turns it was not. Perhaps one will become available later today or tomorrow (turnover there, unfortunately, is pretty high).

He is a fighter.  He is literally a shell of his former self; before being admitted, his weight had dropped to 125lbs (from about 150lbs).  I know that I thought, along with his doctors, that he was pretty frail, yet he continues to hold on and fight.  He continues to take one labored breath at a time.  As he lies in his hospital bed, he is sleeping with his mouth open and when I look at him, I sometime envision him yelling at Death that he’s not giving up.   I once said in this blog that I hope that I could live up to the example of strength that he has shown through this ordeal.  I admire his determination and the sheer will he is exerting to continue on.  Both his doctors and his wife, Arlene, both describe Dad as doggedly focused on getting better.  At each doctors visit, my Dad would ask what he needed to do to get better.  He is a fighter.

The last few members of the family come into town today.  It’s ironic that this is the weekend of the annual Hamburger Family Reunion in Wildwood Crest, NJ (moreso ironic, in that my family and I were not going to make it to the beach because school had just started; however, while we were reluctant to pull the kids from school to go be with the family up in NJ, there was no question about pulling them out to be with the family in FL).  I would imagine that with all gatherings of this sort, these last few days have been quite bittersweet.  It is so nice to have the family together, united for this unhappy event to be sure, but fully together where were would have otherwise not have gathered.  Last night I was able to sit with my brother-in-law, nephew, and niece, MaryBeth, and my step-mother’s sister, her son, and her boyfriend, and just talk about stuff.  We talked a bit about Dad and the situation, but more often than not, we just talked about stuff, in general.  It felt normal, relaxed, pleasant (which is not entirely attributable to the adult beverages we were enjoying).  After spending the last several weeks worrying about Dad, it was nice to focus on pleasant stuff.

And so there you have it.  I am sitting here with my siblings (in order of age): Marjie, Isaac, and Sid, feeling something like a guardian over my father.  We continue to talk to him; to let him know that he is loved and being honored.  We’re not sure when this story will end, but the last couple of days have certainly been about celebrating my Dad’s life.  More later.

Merle

Father nearing the end

My father is currently on life support. We are waiting for my brothers and some other family members to show up before removing the support. He is not expected to make it.

UPDATE: My brothers showed up.  We all said goodbye and we took the breathing tube out of him and turned off his medicine.  He has an anti-anxiety medication and a pain med to help keep things under control, but so far, he is holding in there.  My Dad is a tough old bird.  His breathing is labored, but he IS breathing on his own.  More when I know more.

Merle

Heading to Sarasota

A couple of weeks ago, I had planned to go down to FL to visit with my father this coming weekend, given that his health had been declining.  In the last couple of days, however, his health has taken a decidedly negative turn, as he was hospitalized on Sunday for dehydration and malnutrition.  I tried calling today and, although he picked up the phone, he was not able to talk intelligibly.  I have been on the fence the last couple of days, wondering whether I should go down to FL before this weekend, in part, because I have my own CT scans scheduled for Friday and I’d kinda like to know what’s going on with my health.

My sister (who, by the way, is feeling better than the last time I talked about her in this blog) is also the medical expert of the family; she is a nurse manager / evac nurse up at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and we all go to her when we are dealing with medical issues.  Marjie has been keeping in contact with my step-mother these last couple of days and it seems as if Dad’s condition is getting worse.  Marjie called me up tonight and said that if I wanted to go down to FL it might be better to do it sooner rather than later.  So I’m hitting the road tomorrow (Marjie is flying into Atlanta in the early morning; I’ll pick her up, and we’ll drive on down the road to Sarasota.

I continue to experience a whole host of emotions these last couple of days.  As I was talking to MaryBeth this afternoon, I think more than anything, my father’s failing health just puts into stark reality my own impending health battles.  I am not currently showing any signs of illness and as far as I know, I remain cancer free.  However, my father’s ill health just serves as a reminder of my own issues.  In part, I think it goes back to a post I made last December.  I remember I was at Hamburger Hannukah when my father told me his cancer had come back (though, at the time, this ended up not being true — a radiologist had misread the scan).  I remember I was devastated, writing something along the lines that as long as Dad was doing okay, I would be okay; I looked toward my Dad as a model for dealing with health “challenges.”

My father’s current condition just reminds me of my own mortality; something that I have been quite flippant about recently (if you haven’t noticed, I tend to use humor when dealing with stressful issues).  Now that I face the possibility that my father may die, I find it harder to be flippant about my own situation.  I have been fortunate enough NOT to have had a member of my immediate family die.  Actually, that’s not entirely true — my parent’s first child, Sandy, had Down’s Syndrome and he was institutionalized early in his life.  I never knew him; never met him.  Thus, while he died when I was 7, his death is substantively different than the potential death of my father and the rest of the immediate family.   My grandfathers (on both sides) died before I was born; my maternal grandmother died when I was quite young (in fact, I think she died the same year as Sandy).  My paternal grandmother died in 1990, a week after MaryBeth and I were married (oy! was that an odd funeral — everyone was congratulating us on our marriage while also sharing their condolences for the loss of Granny).  Although I loved my Granny, I was not especially close with her.  I was sad at her passing, but not nearly as much as I feeling currently.

In the end, I am not sure how I should be feeling / responding.  I have been told over and over again, however, that there is no right or wrong way to feel.  I was hoping to be able to talk with my therapist about this tomorrow, but that will have to wait until I get back from FL.  I guess at one level, if my father does die (and as much as that will sadden me deeply), I will be happy that at last his pain and discomfort will finally be over.

Merle