Confession #2

A couple of weeks ago, I admitted to be a closet fan of pro-wrestling, and while I did not get much of a reaction from folks (perhaps it wasn’t as much of a surprise as I thought), I had at least one friend (whom I respect greatly) tell me that she grew up in Texas watching the Von Erich family do their thing in World Class Championship Wrestling.  It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one. :-)

This weekend, a good friend of the family celebrated his 50th birthday with a very nice party, to which my family was invited.  My younger son and his son have been friends since pre-k and Jerry and his wife are just plain good people.  As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife and daughter were off camping with the girl scouts, so it was just me and the boys at the party.  The boys were set — Jerry’s son has a Wii that was the focal point of the evening for the “yutes.”

Now to my confession — I’m shy.  I know it sounds odd for many of you — you know the outgoing, loud, sometimes obnoxious Merle.  When I get nervous or shy, one or two things happen, I either quite down or I get louder.  In many ways, the outgoing behavior people often see is actually a reflection of my nervousness about my situation.

Back at Jerry’s party, I sat there, not knowing anyone and trying to get up the nerve to join a discussion, but I realized that except for Jerry and his family, I really didn’t know anyone and it just felt awkward (on that night) to go up to folks and start talking.  I was eventually able to slide into a conversation or 3, but a lot of the time I just sat in the family room listening to music and/or watching TV. 

Interestingly, I thought a lot about TumorPalooza and the fact that the friends from very divergent and separate areas of my life will likely come to the party.  There will hopefully be folks from church, karate, scouts, and work, as well as some family members, at the party and the reality is that most will not know anyone.  At Jerry’s party, I just kept wondering what it will be like for my friends at TP II.

On the health front, I am taking a giant step today…I’m going back to my general practioner for the first time since my diagnosis.  I figure I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not worrying (all the time) about my cancer, so it might be worthwhile to get my GP to check my other parts.  I’ll let you know how things turn out.

More later.


Busy week..

This has been a busy week, but I was unceremoniously informed yesterday (thank you Mr. Thomas) that it was time for an update.  I mentioned early on how interesting it was that sometimes these posts just rolled off my brain and how often I just didn’t think I had anything of real substance to write about.  Unfortunately for you, my dear readers, this entry appears to be a member of the latter rather than the former.

Last weekend, I led 9 scouts on a 6 hour caving tour of Raccoon Mountain.  Caving is one of those activities that always seem to be a lot of fun before and very memorable afterward, but during….well, belly crawling for 180 feet, not so much during.  All in all, the scouts did great (we didn’t lose any — at least, we came home with the same number as we left with; there were a number of scout troops, though.  Perhaps we swapped kids?).  I have been exercising more the last couple of weeks, but apparently one uses a whole different set of muscles when one caves than when uses weight machines at the gym; I was pretty darn sore the next couple of days.

Last week was generally okay otherwise.  The temperature was very moderate; as my colleague Melissa said as we were walking to the parking garage one day last week, “This is why I moved to Atlanta.”  It is the middle of January and I can get by wearing only a fleece to cover myself up.  This weekend, my daughter and MaryBeth are going on their first “camping” activity with the girl scouts.  I put camping in quotes because they are going to be staying in heated cabins and, well, that just isn’t what comes to mind when I think of scouting and camping.  It puts me in the mind of when I would joke with female friends who would say they were “roughing it” by staying at a Motel 6.  :-)

As many of you know, two years ago, right after I was diagnosed with cancer, I participated in Wood Badge, which is the adult boy scout leader premier training.  Last year, I was honored to be selected to be on Wood Badge staff, in which I helped present the training.  This year, I have been asked back again (will these people NEVER learn) to serve on staff.  Indeed, I am part of the “senior staff.”   Today, the boys and I are driving up to Clayton, GA to go with some of the other members of senior staff to look at the location and try to start piecing together the logistics of the course (the program is being held in a different location for the first time this year, and the council is offering two separate courses at the same time, so there are a cornucopia of logistical challenges this year, in addition to the regular challenges of presenting the course material).  All that aside, I am getting excited about this year’s course and the role that I can play to help it succeed.

Other than that, things are moving along rather swimmingly.  I am still enjoying karate; even more so now that all 5 members of the Merle Hamburger family are taking classes (though, truth be told, I tend to teach more than I take, but I’m getting better with the taking part).  We have finally finished our holiday letters, which will be mailed out shortly.  I know what you are thinking, “Aren’t they a little late?”   And I say a resounding, NO!  While others may send out letters to celebrate Hanukkah, or Christmas, or New Years, my family decided that there are several other holidays that are no less exciting, but much less celebrated.  As such, this year we are getting ready to send out our inaugural Groundhog’s Day holiday letter.

As always, I want to remind you all of the upcoming TumorPalooza 2 extravaganza.  We have reserved the venue, have booked the band, and am coordinating with a caterer.  Did I mention this will be a big shindig?  August 14th; it’ll be a blast.

Until next time,



Have you ever played one of those “Get to know you” games where you provide an unknown, yet interesting, tidbit of information about yourself?  Well, in playing those games in the past, I have usually used the tidbit that I am 2nd degree blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do and a 3rd degree blackbelt in Kenpo, but I have another secret; one, I’m sure, most of you would never have guessed:  I am a fan of professional wrestling.

I will now wait for you to get over your coughing fits, in the event you were in the process of drinking something.  Done?  Good!  Let’s move on.

Like many of my adolescent (male) peers, I enjoyed watching the Saturday morning wrestling shows, which I described as testosteronic soap operas.  There was a good guy (who followed the rules and was often taken advantage of as a result) and a bad guy (who broke the rules to further himself).  You could root for one or the other, but it was (if not high) generally entertaining theater (at least for Merle the adolescent / young adult / adult — yeah, well, okay!  I still watch from time to time).

When I moved to Atlanta, I took that fandom a step further when I began photographing professional wrestling for a independent promotion here.  In fact, my start as a wedding photographer grew out of my wrestling photography (bear with me here); as I shot their matches, I got to know the wrestlers better and better.  When one of them was getting married, he asked if I would photograph his wedding.  Then another and another did.  That got me hooked on being a (wedding) photographer, but that’s fodder for a different blog post.  As I was saying, as I worked (loosely termed, as I wasn’t paid) for the wrestling promotion, I really enjoyed getting to see the “business” part of the wrestling world.

So what does all this have to do with my pancreas cancer?  Hold your horses!  I’m getting there.

While photographing wrestling, I also had the opportunity to meet, observe, and often photograph wrestlers who, up until that point, had only existed in my world on television.  I had the opportunity to meet wrestlers who were legitimately “celebrities” in the wrestling world and it was a thrill to meet them.  But in so meeting them, I realized that these wrestlers were, by and large, just regular guys who happened to perform on television.  The awe of their celebrity was less overwhelming (but not less impressive) and I became less awestruck by their presence.

So back to the cancer thing.  If you have read my blog for any amount of time, you will know that I hold Dr. Randy Pausch in quite high esteem.  In large part, I have looked to Randy as a role model on how to deal with my disease and be an advocate for those who are either in a similar situation or fighting for a cure.   I am no Randy Pausch, but I am doing what I am able. In fact, early in my diagnosis, and before he died, I Emailed Randy to let him know how much I appreciated his “Last Lecture” and how much he had inspired me in my fight.  Understandably, I did not hear back from him (this was after his “Last Lecture” presentation had gone viral on the Internet — I’m sure he was bombarded by an overwhelming number of Email messages at that time).

No!  I’m not going to tell you that I was visited by Randy’s spirit; however, through a series of events, which I can elaborate on in a later post, my respect and admiration for Randy (let alone my actual existence) was conveyed to Randy’s wife, Jai (whom I grew to equally admire through Randy’s blog posts).  Yesterday, I received a package from Jai with a lovely note and a copy of Randy’s book with an equally lovely inscription.  I felt (and still feel) like the main character in the movie “Julie and Julia” when she realized that people she admired and held in high esteem had read her blog.  I think my (and MaryBeth’s) exact response was something along the lines of, “That’s SOOO cool!”

In many ways, Jai is just as much a celebrity (in my mind and for many other people, as well) as was Randy — a celebrity for different reasons, but a celebrity nonetheless.  But as with the famous wrestlers, receiving the card and the book from Jai makes her celebrity a little less overwhelming and the person a little more “real.”

While I will send a personal note, I wanted to take this time (presuming any of you have stuck with this rambling expose) to publicly thank Jai for reaching out to me and offering her support to me and my family.



Catching Cancer

Today, my 6-year old daughter had surgery to put tubes in her ears (this will be her fourth set of ear tubes). My daughter has had a continuing problem with fluid in her ears that, most recently, led to a 30-40 decibel hearing loss in both ears. Thus, the surgery.

While I am sad that my daughter again needed this procedure, I was more sad when she expressed her concern that she was concerned she might get cancer. In reality, most of her experience with hospitals has involved me and my cancer, so I understand the origin of her concern, but it still makes me sad.

I’m happy to say that she came out of the surgery fine (though, she definitely does not like having the IV in her hand) and, just as we promised, she did not get cancer. After a couple of days, I’m sure she’ll be fine.



You know how you sometimes spend a whole lot of time and energy worrying about something and then you come to find out that there wasn’t anything to worry about?  Well, welcome to my world.  According to the doctors, my CT scans remain unchanged and my CA19-9 tumor marker remains in the single digits.   On the upside, all that stress and worry did increase my heart rate and blood pressure — I’m wondering if I can count that as some of my daily exercise?

The other news, and the reason for this blogs title, is that I have graduated to quarterly scans.  Dr. Kauh feels comfortable enough with my health that he said I do not have to get scanned and checked again until April. Woo Hoo!

All of this is good news.  I’m sorry it took so long to share it.




Thank you.  Thank you to all of you who continue to read this blog and continue to share with me words of support.  Several people today wished me good luck for tomorrow out of the blue.  I could only smile knowing that, for some reason, they continue to come to the blog and check up on me.  I remain incredibly humbled by that fact; so thank you!

Tomorrow I visit with my oncologist to find out the results of my scans from last week.  I have been fortunate that I have not been terribly stressed about that fact until today.  As much as I try to convince myself that the scans will be yet again unchanged from last time, there is still the part of me that wonders if this is the time the shoe will drop.  Everyone tells me I look great (if not a little heavier than I would prefer).  I feel fine. But then I remember pancreatic cancer is called the silent killer because it is largely asymptomatic until it has advanced.

Some will say that the scan is only going to tell me what is already there.  While in the past this has helped somewhat, this time around, not so much.

Long time readers of the blog will know that I have tried to think of ways I could make a difference in the fight against pancreatic cancer.  In December I signed up to be a volunteer for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network as a survivor support provider.  Essentially, people who have been diagnosed with PC and their caregivers can contact the Patient and Liason Services (PALS) at PanCan and if they are interested, they can be given my number as someone who is a PC survivor.   If they want, they can call me and we can talk about what they are going through and I can be another form of social support for them.

I remember how comforting it was when I first went to the PC support group meetings at Emory.  Finally, I was able to talk to other people who have gone through (and survived) PC.  They understood the idiosyncrasies of my cancer.  This didn’t diminish the support folks who had experience with other types of cancer were able to provide me, but it was nice to talk with people with a similar frame of reference.  I hope that, being a survivor volunteer, I will be able to provide that kind of support to others.

I have to say, though, of all the material that I was sent as an orientation to the program, the hardest material dealt with hospice care.  In fact, I really only skimmed that material.  I may have to deal with hospice at some point in the future (preferably years and years from now), but I’m not at a point today where I am comfortable thinking about that eventuality.

Plans are moving along for TumorPalooza 2 — the venue is booked.  I’m working on some of the entertainment and thinking about the menu (last time we did crabs; this time we may do something similar).  Whatever the details, I can assure you that TP 2 will be a hell of a party (and the beer WILL work this time around).

I will be sure to post the results of my doctor’s visit as soon as possible tomorrow.  Be patient and thank you for your love and caring.


Welcome 2010

Well, here we are; the start of a new decade — and I’m STILL not dead yet.  :-)   As I thought about what to write, I decided I’d go back and see what I said this time last year.  I actually did reasonably well on some (and well, not so much on others).  Last year I resolved to exercise more (did that for much of the year); focus on the present (better at this at different parts of the year); take 1 picture a day (yeah, well, um…this would be the ‘not so much’ resolution); and be more productive at work (I think I was somewhat successful here, but certainly more room for improvement for 2010).

My final resolution was to live life to the fullest, taking pleasure in the little things in life.  I also said I wanted to spend as little time as possible thinking about my cancer.  Although, I was not actively thinking about my cancer a lot of the time in 2009, it was also there in the back of my mind.  People would ask how I’m doing, I would say I feel fine, but… always acknowledging the uncertainty of the future.  Interestingly, as I thought less and less about my cancer, I also lost site of the “little miracles” of every day life. For better or worse, I returned to looking at life as I did prior to cancer — still happy to be cancer free, but less willing to dismiss the everyday annoyances we experience.  That’s something I would like to work on in 2010 — to avoid letting minor annoyances influence my day.

One way I am going to investigate doing this is to talk with my oncologist about changing my medication.  When I was first diagnosed, I experienced quite a bit of (understandable) anxiety.  During the last 2-3 months, I have found that I have been “out of sorts” and not feeling like myself more often than not.  Sometimes, this manifested as feelings of blueness, others with feelings of anxiety.  All this to say, that next week, I’m going to talk with my oncologist about adjusting my medication to help with these fluctuations.

My continued good health notwithstanding, I hope that 2010 is a year of improvement (over 2009) for me and my family.  I will say that I have been enjoying thinking about and beginning to plan TumorPalooza 2 (August 14, 2010).  More info forthcoming.

I will not state any resolutions this year (though, I do have several that I will attempt).  I wish everyone a very happy New Year and that 2010 is a year of health, happiness, and good will for all of you.

Warmest Regards,