Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Scan Results

Well once again I find myself having not written in a long time... I write completely from my heart and it's very difficult for me to put finger to keyboard when I'm hurting or really dealing with something. Needless to say, over the past weeks, I've dealt with a lot. I've had doctors tell me I may only have months to live; I've been on and come down off of some really strong medications; my immune system took a dive; not to mention I went through a good couple weeks of really wrestling with the potential imminence of my own death. To sum up the last several weeks, I've questioned my faith, eternity, God's plan for my life... and I've struggled through some of the worst fear, anxiety, and depression I've ever faced in my life.

Yet here I stand. God has been so faithful to me through it all. He's put on flesh and a voice every single day through friends, email devos, his Word... all sorts of things. I don't deserve his lovingkindess, but he seems to want to lavish it on me every day. He has walked with me through this dark time and has brought me to a bit of a better place emotionally (at least for now). He has given me a bunch of Scripture to hold onto like Philippians 4:6-7 - "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hears and your minds in Christ Jesus" (trust me, that passage really works!). He has proven himself and his promises to be true. For all these things I am thankful.

However, that does not mean that he has answered all my prayers the way I've wanted them answered. God certainly seems to have a plan of his own for my life these days. Case in point - I got my scan results today. Simply put, it's not good. Here's the story as it stands now:

I did respond quite well to the full head radiation. The MRI showed that the swelling in my head went down considerably and the tumors pretty much all shrunk in size by about half leaving me just barely eligible for a localized head radiation treatment that we were hoping to do. Unfortunately, we will not be moving forward with that right now because of the results of the CAT scan. Since I haven't been doing chemo for several months, the cancer has come back in my torso aggressively. It has spread throughout my lungs again and it has also now spread into my liver quite significantly as well.

Since I'm experiencing some reasonable pain in my back now from the size of the tumors in my lungs, my doctors have opted to start off with a three-week round of radiation to my lungs to try to shrink the larger tumors down to make me more comfortable. Then, it's back to chemo... just about the last thing in the world that I could want to do! We have to try to see if we can get the cancer in my lungs and liver under control before we can worry about the cancer that spread to my head. We have to deal with what's actively growing first. Now, there's a reasonable chance that the cancer in my head may continue to shrink over the coming month or two as the effects of the full head radiation linger. However, there's still a small chance that it may also start to grow again as well. I just have to wait and see.

To be honest, right now I feel like it's totally hopeless. My cancer is so aggressive that it seems like as soon as we leave one area go for the shortest time it just comes right back and ravages my body! However, I know one thing to be true... "Nothing is impossible with God!" (Luke 1:37) Please continue to pray with me for full healing this side of heaven... and pray for my heart - that I will accept with faith and joy whatever plan God has for my life... no matter what.

I'll leave you with a song that I've been holding onto today:

Faithful by Steven Curtis Chapman

I am broken, I am bleeding
I am scared and I'm confused
but You are faithful
Yes, You are faithful

I am weary, unbelieving
God, please help my unbelief!
Cuz You are faithful, yes You are faithful

I will proclaim it to the world
I will declare it to my heart
I'll sing it when the sun is shining
I will scream it in the dark!

You are faithful, You are faithful
When you give and when you take away
Even then still Your name is faithful
You are faithful!
And with everything inside of my I am choosing to believe
You are faithful.

I am waiting for the rescue that I know is sure to come
Cuz You are faithful, yes You are faithful
I've dropped anchor in Your promises and I am holding on
Cuz You are faithful, God You are faithful

I will proclaim it to the world
I will declare it to my heart
I'll sing it when the sun is shining
I will scream it in the dark!

You are faithful, You are faithful
When You give and when you take away
Even then still Your name is faithful
You are faithful!
And with everything inside of me I am choosing to believe
You are faithful

When I cannot have the answers that I'm wanting to demand
I'll remember You are God and everything is in Your hands
With Your hands you hold the sun, the moon, the stars up in the sky
For the sake of love, You hung Your own Son on the cross to die...

You are faithful, yes You are faithful
When You give and when You take away
Even then great is Your faithfulness, great is Your faithfulness!

And with everything inside of me I am choosing to believe
You're faithful...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Small Lesson Learned in the Midst of a Big Week

Coming home from the hospital is always a whirlwind in and of itself for me... let alone transitioning into life and treatment on new (and very strong) medications... and we won't even mention beginning the process of sorting through all that last week brought to the table. I'm exhausted, but I'm ok. God is good and he has been with me every step of the way so far. I don't expect that to change. But so much else has...

There is already so much to write. I'm just not quite up to it as of yet. I will be sharing more as I'm able... so please be patient with me. Just know that for now, God is with me, I am ok, and I just need some time.

That said, let me leave you with a simple, yet profound lesson I learned as I walked through the events of the last couple weeks:

"Never put off until tomorrow what is on your heart to share with someone today."

I quickly learned how much of everything gets stripped away when you think you won't have much time left to share with people what's really boiled down to importance in your heart. There really are precious few things in this life... and they really are precious.

If you love someone, tell them.
If you're happy they're next to you, share that with them.
If they've made a difference in your life, let them know how.

Take a moment to look for these things amidst your day. They're right there. They always have been. We just manage to overlook them too often in the midst of our busyness and focus on other things. Look for those things that really matter to you. Ponder them and point them out. You never know what an amazing impact you'll have on a person's heart and life when you do... Take it from someone who knows.

"Never put off until tomorrow what is on your heart to share with someone today."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A New Development

I'm writing from the hospital because there has been some misinformation going out about what has developed in my disease and prognosis over this week and I would like to clarify the matter directly.

During the holidays, I began to develop some significant headaches. After coming into the hospital for my regularly scheduled radiation on Monday, I was sent to the ER and given a CAT Scan to try to determine the cause of my headaches. That scan showed signs of metastatic disease in my brain, which means that the uterine cancer I was originally diagnosed with has spread into my head. This, obviously, is very bad news. This isn't a bump in the road. It's a major and very unexpected glitch in my journey. I was so close to finishing radiation and looking forward to remission... and now, yet again, we are realizing just how very aggressive my cancer is. It is rare for uterine cancer to spread beyond the pelvic area and mine has. It is even more rare that it would spread into the brain and mine has. I cannot deny that this is a very serious turn for the worse.

My gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Silver has made it clear that the average oncologist that he could consult to look at my case would determine based on statistics alone that I likely only have a few months to live. HOWEVER, Dr. Silver has been my primary doctor from the beginning of my treatment and does not believe this to be the case. Already, I have faced several obstacles in my diagnosis and treatment that I should not have been able to overcome. Yet, here I stand. Dr. Silver is hopeful that because of my young age and good health we have reason to expect that I will be able to continue on with an aggressive treatment plan.

For now, the plan is for me to continue on to finish pelvic radiation as planned and as of this week, I have begun full head radiation as well. Our goal remains the same... to try to get me into remission. Haiti is now completely out of the picture for me, however, as I cannot take a break in my now-continued radiation treatments.

I greatly appreciate your continued prayers and expressions of love through this difficult time. We serve a great God who still has a purpose and plan in all of this!

Monday, December 7, 2009

For today

For today, all I can do is be thankful that I don't have to do chemo this week...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Lamentation

"I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light;

Indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding,
He dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help.
He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
They mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

For his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
Therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."

~ Lamentations 3:1-26

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Be Strong and Courageous

I woke up this morning very much so still processing the news from my last appointment. Again, it's going to take a while...

Then I got an email from a dear friend, which ended with the exhortation, "be strong and courageous." That immediately drove me to the book of Joshua, chapter one to be exact. After Moses died, Joshua took on the responsibility of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. It was a big task, way bigger than Joshua was feeling prepared for, I'm sure - but the Lord knew that and yet he still called him to it.

What's encouraging about this story is how many times Joshua was challenged to be strong and courageous. Four different times in his calling he was reminded to be strong and courageous. He must have really needed to hear that, don't you think? The thing that struck me upon my reading of this passage in the context of what I'm facing is the reason why God called him to be strong and courageous... because the Lord his God was going to be with him wherever he went!

That nearly drove me to tears. God encouraged Joshua with the truth that he would be with him throughout his journey, no matter how unprepared he felt... no matter how scary or difficult it might have been. He didn't have to be terrified. He didn't have to be discouraged. Whatever his calling would bring, God would be right there with him to see him through it.

As much as I'd like to opt out of the journey that's ahead of me, I know that I don't have to be terrified and I don't have to be discouraged either... because God will be with me wherever this life may take me.

So with that thought in mind, I put my feet to the floor this morning determined to face at least this set of twenty four hours with faith in the fact that God has a purpose for me in this day and with appreciation for the fact that I even have this day. It doesn't mean that my life has suddenly become all sunshine and roses. I'm still wrestling with some really tough things. I just got the reminder I needed the most this morning... God will be with me through it all!

Joshua 1:9 - "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Life is a Mist - An Update

I finished my second round of chemo and had another scan recently. I got the results yesterday and as always, it was a mixed bag.

Overall, my doctor is really thrilled with my progress - Let's start with that.

This scan showed that there is still no visible cancer in my abdomen. Even better, it showed that all the nodules in my lungs, with one exception, have completely disappeared! The one nodule that is there is about 8 mm and my doctor thinks that there's a chance it may not even be cancerous. We're going to wait until my next scan and see how it looks at that time. If it's grown, then it's definitely cancer and we'll absolutely have to talk about more chemo after radiation. As it stands now, we may still consider some chemo after radiation anyway. I'll just have to wait and see what my doctor decides when we get to that point.

In addition to that one nodule in my lung, a new abnormal spot showed up in my right groin. My doctor said that it doesn't make any sense that new cancer would show up in that location at this point, so he's thinking that it may not be cancer related at all. Again, we're going to wait until my next scan and see what it looks like at that time to determine if it's anything that we need to address. For now, I'm cleared to start radiation next week.

So, again, my doctor is really pleased with these latest results overall.

Now with the end of treatment becoming more and more of a possibility for me in the coming months, I had some additional questions that needed some answering. Those answers brought some sobering truths to light.

Allow me to let you in on the conversation that ensued yesterday between me and my doctor. The following are the questions I asked and a summary of the answers I received:

1) How many women diagnosed with uterine cancer are stage 4?

A very low percentage... less than 10%.

2) Of that number of women diagnosed with stage 4 uterine cancer, how many go into remission?

Almost none.

3) Early in my treatment plan, we had discussed the statistics that I'm facing with this diagnosis. I have a 15-20% chance of surviving past five years. Does that statistic change if I go into remission?

No. So few women with stage 4 uterine cancer go into remission that there simply aren't statistics out there for that... so the reality remains the same - a 15-20% five year survival rate. However, I don't like to consider statistics that much because each individual case is so unique.

4) If I go into remission and then my cancer returns, is it true that it will be even more aggressive than before?

No, that's a misnomer. When cancer returns, in time it becomes more and more resilient to treatment. That's what makes people think it's more "aggressive". It's not really that, it's just that it eventually doesn't respond to treatment as well.

5) If I go into remission and then my cancer returns, does that automatically mean more surgery for me?

No. For you, in fact, it most likely won't mean surgery unless we find a mass that is particularly resectable. In your case, you'll most likely be looking at more chemotherapy.

Then the conversation got really... let's say, interesting. My doctor began to explain something to me that I wasn't altogether prepared to hear. It seems that my cancer is so aggressive and advanced that I should expect it to return in the future. It may be ten months or it may be ten years - there's no way of knowing. That's why we'll be doing regular check-ups all the time. The reality I have to accept is that I have a chronic disease that I'll be dealing with for the rest of my life - however long that may be. He said I'll be in and out of treatment from here forward. Our goal will be to keep me out of treatment more than I'm in treatment. However, the reality is that at some point, the cancer will return and be resilient to treatment and we'll eventually have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

Sigh... I've often joked that I have to remember that there is a light at the end of this tunnel... I just hope that it's not an oncoming freight train! As I sat looking into the confident and comforting eyes of my doctor trying to absorb all this new news, I still couldn't shake the feeling that for now the light seems much more like a freight train than ever before. I mean, what a paradigm shift! It seems far too often that I have to wrap my head around a little more of the reality of just how severe my cancer is. I knew that I'd have to learn to live with the "what if" questions for the rest of my life. I just wasn't expecting to be told in so many words that I can expect to die from this disease barring some other odd thing happening.

To be honest, In some small way I'm glad to have a framework with which to face the future. In a strange way, it's easier than facing the unknowns and questions. I'm also glad that I can feel secure in my eternity! It's such a comfort to know that I'm facing something better than this life after I die. It's all the stuff in between that I've still got to sort out. For now, I'm trying to push another reality to the front of my mind. You see, as much as it's true that I can expect my cancer to come back, it's just as true that I have beaten the odds in spectacular fashion so far! I attribute that unequivocally to the prayer of God's people and the power of his hand in my life. God has done a miraculous work in my body through the wisdom of my doctor and the advances of medical technology. It is in the face of the bleakest of circumstances that God has always worked the most amazingly, so there's no reason to lose hope that he will continue to work wonders in my future.

I know that, either way, my life is merely "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14). In fact, this is true of all our lives. Each day is a gift, not a guarantee. Tomorrow is promised to none of us. It's just that we do such a good job of pushing that reality aside. For me, there can no longer be any more pushing aside. From here on in, I have to find a way to live comfortably in the reality of my mortality and the fragility of my life. Psalm 139:16 says, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." I know God has a plan for my life, no matter how long or difficult it may be. He knows the number of my days and he has a purpose for each of them. Here's the thing, though... some days, God's truths, like this one, are a tremendous comfort to me; some days, I still have to convince myself of them. Today is definitely a convincing sort of day.

I know one thing for sure: It's going to take some time for me to process all this and shift into a new framework of thinking. For now, I'm just trying to breathe...