Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Eet eez NOT ah toomah" - Gov. Arnie Schwarzenegger

Of course this is something I never expected would happen to me. A mild but constant headache, forgetting a few names and words. Neither of these directly drove me past my typical (male?) resistance to seeking medical help. But as time went on, more words and names were dropped and my stress and anxiety grew. I was in charge of a few projects at work, and felt like I was barely keeping up with the subjects I was discussing with co-workers. Slowly I started to expose my situation to a few friends and family. The response was generally optimistic - don't we all forget words as we get older, and maybe it's worse for you because of anxiety? I should interject now to say that nobody should feel any guilt for those conversations! However, a co-worker and friend reminded me of a friend of his who had similar issues and discovered its cause was "the toomah". Somehow I managed to dismiss that possibility within minutes.

When my amazing "freighbor" heard me talk about my concern, she insisted I go see a doctor. My regular doctor was on vacation, and the doctor I went to see tried to convince me that the headache was due to allergies. And the wordloss? It's natural when you get older!

Except by this time I was forgetting names like "Joe Biden" (who I worked for during the election), the names of the Beatles, and the name of the movie "Saturday Night Fever". That last one should've convinced me something was really wrong.

One week later, at work, my day rapidly collapsed. I had 3 meetings in a row involving actual thinking and discussion, and I could barely keep up. My feeling of mental weakness in the conversations added to my anxiety. In the late afternoon I tried laying down to calm myself, but it didn't seem to help at all. Eventually I called a super amazing friend, let's call her "H-Lo", to ask her for help. During the conversation I completely broke down, and she told me that since she was headed near my company for a class she's taking, she would stop by to chat for a bit. She also called me on the way down to calm me down and let me know she was headed over. When she got here, I walked out to meet her, and when I got to her car, I broke down again. She "suggested" that maybe we should go to the hospital to have me checked out. She even countered my resistance to that by telling me it's no big deal. They'll check me out and if there's nothing to worry about, they can refer me to a therapist instead. I found out later that her instincts were incredible. She had essentially decided that she was going to be taking me to the hospital before she even left San Francisco. She even called a friend of hers, Shannon, to find out how to get to the Stanford Hospital (incidentally, Shannon has also been an incredible source of info to help find the best possible doctors to try to contact). She "suggested" taking me to the hospital, in spite of my mild resistance.

My medical plan is through Kaiser, so we headed to the ER in Redwood City. The whole time I questioned if it made sense to be there, and she continued to reassure me that at the very least I'll get all the physical stuff checked out, and if it's nothing, then I'll know. I was set up for checking my heart rate and getting a CAT scan. It was the CAT scan that first identified the tumor. They then sent me in for a MRI to determine whether I needed surgery that night or could wait until the next morning. In the meantime, H-Lo was investigating the likely surgeon to make sure staying here was the best option. It turned out that Kaiser RC has a fairly well known and solid neuroscience department with excellent doctors. And the surgeon I was assigned to, Dr. William Sheridan, is the head of the department. Amazingly, Kaiser RC was probably a better choice than Stanford in this case

The ER doc came by again to see how I was feeling, and he showed us the MRI image. That was quite a shock. The tumor was about 5 cm, and it looked like it was pushing some of the left brain over to the right. I only mention this so that I can now use it as an excuse for anything I said or did prior to that period that people might have found offensive or idiotic....

The rest of the night was clearly intense. I needed to call my family and friends, and in the meantime, H-Lo continued to aggressively manage the care that Kaiser was going to give me. She ended up staying with me that night, and the next morning the rest of the adventure began.
I want to thank (publically) my wonderful family and friends who all stepped out at the time and since to help me move forward to the best treatment, and of course everyone who has simply shot me a line or a card. That alone keeps me sane and motivated (no comment from those who disagree about my sanity). I will try to keep this up to date with where things stand and where they are going.

Fingers are crossed.


  1. Eric, thank you for sharing this experience with us. My fingers are crossed in solidarity ;)


  2. Thank you for sharing this incredibly personal story. You sound so upbeat- full of wonder, gratitude and forgiveness- and still keep a self-deprecating sense of humor. It's a comfort to know that you are in the care of loving family, supportive friends, and really competent doctors.

    I, of course, couldn't tell that anything was amiss because you corrected those first grade math tests with such authority and flare!

    Sharing your story maps out some really cogent advice. I think that it's a natural response to try to dissipate concern by chalking symptoms up to benign causes- like aging (a'zif 40 is like, old). But if those symptoms are enough to extract a major stress response, then it's time to reconsider. Sounds like it's also a good idea to befriend a really qualified advocate and wise freighbor!

    Fingers and toes crossed.

  3. Logan:

    I am just catching up on your story. It looks like we are both Kaiser Redwood City ilk!

    I saw your comment on my blog and realized you saw my Logan shout-out. Just to be clear (so you don't think I am stalking you) I was referring to my 'ol buddy Logan Whitehurst who succumbed to a brain stem glioma in 2006 (about two years before my diagnoses).

    However, now that I know of you, my shout outs are Logan-squared.

    Your friend,