No. of Recommendations: 102
Greetings, all, I’ve been away from the boards for a wonderful reason, and then a not so wonderful one.

The good news: a nearly 3 week trip to Israel from mid-June to early July. My parents had been wanting to take the family for, oh, only about 20 years and finally all of us were able to go at the same time. There were 6 of us traveling: my parents, twin brothers, my fiancé and me. I had no expectations for this journey apart from making my parents happy to be part of it, but BOY OH BOY was I ever unprepared for the endless awe and amazement I felt every single day at all we saw, did and learned. My parents had been there 3 times earlier (and my dad had made a separate trip on his own – he volunteered for 3 weeks in a factory on a kibbutz as a part of a philanthropic mission) and they were eager for us to experience their own awe and pride. We had a guide who took us all over the country in his van and who was literally our own personal historian. Every day was chock-a-block full of sights, activities, things to learn – we went on an archeological dig, climbed 1200 feet to Masada, planted trees, went under Jerusalem in tunnels, traveled to Tel Aviv, Caesarea, Haifa (the Baha’i gardens are jaw-dropping), Tiberius, the Galilee and the Golan Heights, then on to Jerusalem (had a private tour of the Hadassah Hospital and the Chagall windows; stunning) and finally the Dead Sea region. My dad, who is almost 79, is extremely fit and practically ageless – our guide who had been many years in the Israeli army was asking how old my father was and remarking on what a fine specimen of health he is and how the guide hoped he’d be half as active when he reached my dad’s age. Indeed, my dad was first to the top at Masada and first in line as we snaked our way under Israel through tunnels and caves. So it’s easy to believe that he likes to travel in a take-no-prisoners, if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium style that left the rest of us initially a little breathless but the farther along we got in this journey, the more and more passion it stirred up and we were right there with him starting our days every day by 8am and not stopping till early evening for all the astonishing history we were taking part in discovering for ourselves, from museums to temples to Roman ruins and example after example after example of human enlightenment, betterment, spirituality, endeavor. I truly had no idea of the scale and the scope until I was there and experienced it for myself. An epic journey for our whole family, and a gift beyond measure.

The gift also was about what I did *not* know before going (for it very well would have kept me from taking full part in the often very physically demanding activities we did). The not so good news: I’d been having some nighttime back pain for about 18 months that woke me up from sleep but once I was up and about during the day, the pain went away completely so I did not think too much of it. I thought I might have had a small slipped disk or that I was having some bony changes of age (I’m nearly 52 so I’m allowed to have a little arthritis of my vertebra) – something that maybe some physical therapy could handle, if I could ever make the time to go. I finally asked an orthopedic spine colleague about it and he had me come see him in the office, pronounced my physical exam normal and suggested that I get an MRI of my back just to be sure it was indeed as minor as we thought it was. On my return from Israel I had a few days before I had to return to work and was able to get the MRI done. To both of our shock, it was NOT normal and I have since had a more confirmatory MRI that demonstrates a tumor next to my spinal cord. Thank heavens it appears to be benign but this is still a very big deal. It is around T8 and T9 in my thoracic spine, in the front (harder to access) and has compressed the cord so severely that if it had happened quickly I would be paraplegic. It looks like either a meningioma or a schwannoma – a fairly rare circumstance, incidence about 3-4 million per year. Clearly not in the realm of an orthopedic surgeon – I have now been to two neurosurgeons and have spoken with a third and the result is that I will now have to undergo an extensive neurosurgery, presently scheduled for August 18th, and I will be out of work for a minimum of 2 months. And the most sobering realization is that there is a small but very real risk of paraplegia as the outcome, even if the surgeon does everything right. Apparently this has been silently expanding for some time, maybe 3 or more years, and causing no symptoms at all until it became sizeable enough to impinge on a nerve root. As one of the neurosurgeons has put it: “the spine can’t take a joke” – so a space-occupying lesion, even if benign, is a serious matter indeed inside the spinal cord. My practice knows and is rallying behind me – they are scrambling to hire someone to cover me because doing what I do for our hospital patients on top of what they do for our office patients cannot be absorbed for an 8-week interval. It’s pretty apparent that I’ve been indispensable and here is exactly where that is not exactly a blessing. I gave them a month’s notice of these developments but it is anybody’s guess whether I can actually wait until August 18th. Though since I am essentially still fine during the day, I am still working until then.

The diagnosis is still surreal to me and is now turning my world inside out. From having a little (though accelerating) nocturnal back pain to learning all within the past 3 weeks that I have a (out-of-the-blue) tumor(!) that needs to come out neurosurgically(!!!) and that the outcome could change my life for the worse vs for the better is practically unfathomable. But I am holding up okay so far. All I can say is I could not be more grateful for the marvelous journey my family just shared and I will be drawing a lot of strength from those rich memories. I also know how much strength there is to draw from right here at the Fool and I know your words of comfort, optimism and support will mean the world.

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