Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chemotherpay Treatment #5: A Happy Day

Well, once again our plans have changed. Thankfully this time the change is for the better!

I went in this morning for my fifth chemotherapy treatment. After waiting about an hour in the waiting room, we finally went back and met with my oncologist. He sat down and said, “Alright – what have you got for me?” meaning, “Is there anything we need to talk about before you have today’s treatment?” I began to go through the list of my list of questions, etc. One of the things that I brought up was the difficulty I have had throughout my chemotherapy treatment, particularly with my most recent treatment. I told him that it seemed like I was having a harder time with chemotherapy than most other people I have talked to. He reassured me saying that there was nothing wrong with me and that chemotherapy simply affects everyone differently. So we talked for a while about my side effects and managing the nausea. The next issue I brought up was the pain I had been having in my right arm where I usually get the IV for my chemo drugs. I told him it felt like my whole vein was bruised. He looked at it and said that the chemo drugs had essentially fried it. He was worried about that happening again, but did not want to put a port in for only two more treatments. He told me that I am one of the more challenging patients he has had because since the beginning of my chemotherapy treatment pretty much every thing that could go wrong has (allergic reactions, side-effects, fried veins, and the list goes on). So then he did an exam of my tumor and did not feel anything. He said, “Give me just a minute,” and called my surgeon.

Matt and I listened to his end of the conversation as he talked about my chemo treatments, my surgery plan, etc. Then he uttered some of the best words I have ever heard: “So what I am thinking I am going to do is not give her chemotherapy today. Let’s get an MRI done and move on to surgery.” I turned and looked at Matt with wide eyes of disbelief and excitement. I tried to contain my joy as he finished up the conversation. After he hung up he explained that between the apparent reduction of the tumor and the hard time I have had with my treatments that there was no pressing reason to do my last two treatments. Of course, he’s going to have me get an MRI to confirm that the tumor has decreased in size. But assuming it has, I will go ahead and plan for surgery before the end of February.

For my surgery I will head up to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina (about a three-hour drive from Savannah). The reason I will need to go to Charleston is that the surgery I am going to get is a relatively new breast reconstruction procedure that is not performed by any plastic surgeons in Savannah. In one six-hour surgery, I will have a double mastectomy, a biopsy of my sentinel lymph node, and reconstruction using my own abdominal tissue. I will have to stay in the hospital for about three days afterwards followed by a recovery time of about six weeks.

Obviously, I am very, very excited to not be sick and in bed tonight and am looking forward to getting on with my surgery. After so many weeks (and months) of chemo-related issues, I am thrilled by the prospect that progress really is being made. Lord willing, the MRI I get later this week will confirm my doctors belief that the tumor has almost disappeared and we can really move on. 

We would appreciate your continued prayers as we move forward into the new phase of this journey.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Children: A Heritage from the Lord

As Matt has already mentioned, my most recent chemotherapy treatment definitely took a toll on me. But God has blessed me tremendously by using this portion of my cancer journey to open my eyes to the blessings that I have in my children. Since I have not been feeling well we have spent most of our time at home. I have enjoyed watching them and playing with them. Yes, they require hard work, they fight, they make huge messes, they demand a lot, and let’s just be honest…they are just plain sinners! But they continually amaze me with how they show love, what they understand, how they make me (and each other) laugh, and what they say.

Lydia (3 and ½)
It has been neat to see Lydia grow in her understanding of her world and her God. For instance, she is rapidly picking up on the details of daily life. The other day I was on the phone with Matt and as I hung up Lydia said, “Was that Matt…I mean daddy?” Then she looked up from her toy she was playing with and said…”I’m texting!” Where did she learn about texting? J Lydia is also growing in her sensitivity to serious life issues. She is very aware of the fact that when I go to the doctors I am sick for many days afterwards. I have tried to let her know when that will happen so that she is not surprised. But she hasn’t quite figured out how long it will take for me to get better. The other day she asked me the other day if my hair would be back when I came home from the doctor. Best of all, Lydia is beginning to grasp the Gospel. Last week our family was sitting by the fire having devotions. We were reading the story of Nicodemus and how Jesus told him he must be born again. Matt and I noticed that Lydia’s attention was more focused than normal. Not only was she still and attentive to the story, but she asked a lot of questions about what it means to be born again. As he had done many times before, Matt explained that being born again means that Jesus gives you a new heart and that He lives in your new heart – forgiving you for your sin and helping you love and obey God. This time Lydia quickly asked if Jesus could come and live in her heart. It was amazing to sit there and watch – as if in slow motion – how God opened the eyes of her heart to the Gospel. Her faith is childlike, but in many ways that’s just how Jesus wants it: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Mark 10:15).”

Hudson (2)
Hudson is my comedian. I will be honest and say that he is quite a challenge for me. But I am slowly understanding how he understandings things and how I can relate to him and communicate with him more effectively.  I have been going over three key questions with Hudson.  Question #1: What is your name?  Question #2: How old are you?  Question #3: Who made you?  Sometimes when answering these questions his wires get a little crossed.  If I ask Hudson what is name is his response is, "God".  When I ask him how old he is, he responds, "Huson".  Then I will ask him who made him and he says, "two".   It gives him great joy to make me laugh. He loves to come and give hugs and kisses…especially to his brother Samuel. 

Samuel (3 months)
Samuel has brought me so much joy with his newfound smiling and laughing. He smiles all the time now and I hope that smile will not fade as he grows older. I am sure it will stick as long has he has Hudson as his brother. J  He loves to be entertained by his brother and sister. And loves to "talk" to me as I play with him. 

Facing this illness has made me want to appreciate the little things in life so much more.  God has graciously allowed me to do that with my kids. I pray for them evey day. I pray that they will have good relationships in their lives. I pray that they will love people and each other through their actions and their words. I pray for their health and safety. And most importantly, I pray that they will each grow to know and love their Savior Jesus Christ.

“Children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.”
Psalm 127:3 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Hardest Weeks

As you might have guessed from the lack of blog posts lately, the last few weeks have been both busy and hard for Erin. We had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's with family visiting us. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, the first week of January not only brought another round of chemotherapy, but also a revised (and more aggressive) plan for Erin's chemotherapy treatment. The doctors do believe the tumor is shrinking, but they still want to be sure to do everything in their power to make sure Erin is cancer free in 2011.

In many ways, I think the next six weeks could be the hardest weeks of Erin's cancer journey. Physically, Erin's body is growing increasingly weak. Chemotherapy has something of a cumulative effect on the body, making each new treatment harder to bear and recover from than the last. It is hard for Erin to not be able to do all of the things she wants to do and loves to do (especially caring for Lydia, Hudson, and baby Samuel). Emotionally, this period of Erin's journey has the potential to be somewhat disorienting. The doctors can hypothesize, but there is almost no way to know whether these treatments are really shrinking the tumor and preventing the spread of the cancer. For chemotherapy patients, it can be incredibly hard to submit to treatment after treatment with little or no knowledge of what is happening to the cancer. Imagine fighting in the front lines of a war day after day with no knowledge of whether your side is moving towards victory or defeat. The situation can be both confusing and discouraging.

All this is to say that I, as Erin's husband, feel she needs more prayer and encouragement during the next six weeks than before and (probably) than she will after these weeks are over. Please pray (1) that she will trust and hope in God's promises to her, (2) that God will give her the physical and emotional strength she needs to go through the coming weeks, and (3) that her chemotherapy treatment will be successful in eliminating the cancer. We have seen God answer countless prayers through this process already, and trust that He will be faithful to answer these as well.

Thank you all for praying for and caring for my precious wife (and children)!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Medical Update: Chemotherapy #4

Erin is deep in her post-chemotherapy slumber, so I thought I would take a few minutes to provide a medical update...

Erin went to her oncologist for her fourth chemotherapy treatment yesterday. After the difficult recovery process she had after her previous treatment, neither of us were looking forward to returning to begin that process once again. But as the fourth of her six treatments, at least this would be the beginning of the end of chemotherapy. As hard as the recovery might be, at least we would be able to see "the light at the end of the tunnel."

Well, that tunnel has gotten a bit longer. After consulting with a highly respected oncologist in Dallas, our doctor recommended three changes to Erin's chemotherapy plan:

1. That Erin change her "A-Class" drug from Epirubicin to Adriamycin. Both drugs perform the same essential function, but the Adriamycin is older and typically has more severe side-effects.
2. That Erin supplement her primary treatments of Cytoxin, 5FU, and Adriamycin with an additional dose of 5FU the week after the primary treatment. This is the least potent of the three drugs, so she should not experience too many side-effects, but it will mean an additional trip to the oncologist and a more prolonged recovery process.
3.That Erin extend her current chemotherapy cycle with an additional chemotherapy cycle of one drug, once a week, for twelve weeks. The drug she will take (Taxol) is usually fairly mild in terms of its side-effects, but this too means many more trips to the oncologist and a much longer chemotherapy process. We thought Erin would be totally done with chemotherapy on February 16th, but now she will not be done until May 18th.

It isn't necessarily rare for a cancer patient's chemotherapy plan to be adjusted as the treatment progresses. But it is hard to suddenly have your plan extended by three months. Emotionally, we were looking forward to being done with the difficulties of chemotherapy, but now we have to wait several more months for the end to come. Practically, we had already begun making plans for Erin's surgery (which I'll give an update on in a future post) in late-March and for some family vacation time this Spring and Summer. But now surgery will likely be in mid-June and our vacation plans are somewhat up in the air.

You would think that it would be a bit overwhelming to learn about so many changes all at once. For me (who, like any husband, does not enjoy watching his wife suffer), these changes could be really discouraging. And for Erin (who loves to be able to know and control her schedule well in advance), these changes could be just plain frustrating. But just as He did when we heard Erin's original diagnosis, God has provided both of us with a peace that literally passes understanding.

God was not surprised by these changes and His faithfulness and goodness towards us have not changed. He has planned this, and all things, for our good and His glory. Sure, we don't understand the details of how this will work out for our good (or why "our good" could not have been to never deal with cancer in the first place), but we trust Him as our perfectly wise and loving God. As we have said multiple times in the past three months, God has supplied, is supplying, and will continue to supply all of our needs in Christ Jesus our Lord (Philippians 4:19).

Speaking of God supplying our needs, I shouldn't end without mentioning that so far it looks like Erin is tolerating the side-effects of this treatment a bit better than last time. Please continue to pray that she would get the rest needs to make a good recovery before she heads back for her next treatment on Monday (1/10).

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:7