Week 3 — Halfway

Halfway…boy it seems like we have a lot further to go than that some days, but today is halfway through this first run of chemo and radiation for Kerry. He has just finished 14 of 28 radiation treatments and week 3 of 6 on his chemo pump.

He is definitely starting to feel the effects of radiation this week. He’s wears out much more easily and takes a lot of naps. We are thankful he is still able to work5-6 hours a day before he goes to radiation. He’s had what was billed as “GI discomfort” in the list of side effects. I’ll let you fill in the blank about what all that entails, but it is certainly unpleasant. The chemo makes him nauseous and ruins his appetite.

So, I feed him what he will eat and ask him every day if anything sounds good for supper. He has been able to stomach pizza and ice cream lately so I’ve let Papa John cook more than I usually would and I keep the freezer stocked. I’ve said before this chemo is like morning sickness. All the yuck feelings and cravings for absolute junk. On the weekends when the chemo effects wane a bit, I try to shove in as many fruits and veggies as I can.

For now…we are thankful he’s made it halfway. Specific ways you can pray this week:

  • Continue to pray for limited side effects. Right now he is controlling them with over the counter meds. We are hopeful it won’t get much worse.
  • Moments of rest. He is able to nap and sleep well at night. We are thankful for that.
  • Kerry’s white blood cell count was a little low this last week. While the chemo he takes isn’t supposed to wipe out his immune system, it can lower his ability to fight infection. With 8 kids our home is a germ factory. So pray that he stays well.
  • Pray too for some friends of ours in Pueblo. They lost their sweet baby, August, through miscarriage earlier this month. We know the hurt and sadness they are feeling. Pray for her as she recovers physically and pray for their hearts as they grieve. They have been heavy on my mind.

I want to share a song that has been on my playlist this week. It’s a powerful reminder that God has a purpose for it all.

Awareness

I never thought I’d be advocating for “Awareness” for a disease. But here were are. It’s March. It’s colorectal cancer awareness month.

Kerry doesn’t fit the demographic for someone with colorectal cancer. We’ve been told more than once “You’re not the kind of guy we usually see coming in for treatment like this.” He has no family history of cancer…of any kind…at all. He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, is relatively active and overall healthy. So what gives? Honestly, we don’t spend a lot of time wondering why . We know that all things work out according to God’s perfect will so we take this as an opportunity. One that isn’t granted to everyone and one we pray we are faithful in.

Kerry never would have been diagnosed had he ignored the vague GI symptoms. He would have never been diagnosed if I wasn’t the naggy nurse I am. He would have never been diagnosed if his physician hadn’t listened to him. Huge shout out to Dr. Holdeman here. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that his doc didn’t just pass it off as something else without fully investigating. More than 65% of the people diagnosed under the age of 50 have to see more than one doctor before they’re taken seriously and screened. He never would have been diagnosed if fear or embarrassment of bowel prep and having a colonoscopy would have kept him from being screened.

I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of months about colorectal cancer. It’s the third most diagnosed cancer in the US and the second most deadly cancer in men and women combined. Survival rates are good when caught and treated early. 10% of the new onset cases are going to be in patients under the age of 50. That’s about 9,500 people each year.

So here I am jumping on the awareness band wagon. Don’t be ignore your symptoms, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor and be screened. Don’t assume you’re too young. And if you’re part of the over 50 crowd where screening is recommended…please do it. I can promise the bowel prep is way easier than treatment.

Week 2

Kerry just finished week 2 of chemo and radiation. Overall, it was a good week. The chemo really seems to affect his appetite and taste of food. Our biggest battle this week was finding something that sounded good to eat and getting him to eat it before it started sounding not so good. It’s tough to fight off nausea and keep food in your stomach when you don’t really want to eat anything at all.

We did find a couple of winners in the food category. Pizza always seems to sound good. Banana peppers…we also learned our boys also enjoy these. We’ve gone through more than a couple jars this week already! I made a vegan cauliflower/broccoli soup this last week that he was able to eat for more than one meal.

When Kerry was initially diagnosed we went to a mostly plant based diet without processed carbs or sugars. With his lack of appetite, there have been some days he’s just eaten whatever he could tolerate…plant based or not.

Radiation has gone well. Fatigue has been the biggest side effect there. The radiation oncologist said week 3 tends to be the week that things catch up with you. So we’re going into next week with a little trepidation, but also with the prayer that Kerry will continue to be minimally effected by the treatment and that he will continue to be able to work.

So prayer requests for this week:

  • That Kerry’s appetite would return.
  • Rest when he needs it and the wisdom to know when it’s time to take a break. Sometimes he pushes himself and then just drops at the end of the day.
  • Minimal side effects as we go through week 3 radiation.
  • Strength and stamina for the weeks ahead.

Week 1 Done

Kerry started his routine of chemo and radiation this week. Monday morning he had lab drawn and then we went to the infusion center. There he received steroids and anti-nausea meds before they started his chemo pump. He will be receiving the drug 5-FU. He then goes to radiation every afternoon at 2:30 in Wichita. His radiation takes around 15 minutes and then he’s on the way home.

This is the pump Kerry is connected to Monday-Friday. It delivers small amounts of medication over the course of the week.

So…how’d he do? Overall, ok. For the first time in his life he struggled with having an appetite. If he didn’t have food in his stomach he got nauseous but he didn’t want to eat anything. I told him “Sounds like morning sickness”. 🙂 The rest of the week we called it chemo morning sickness. After radiation he was mostly tired, but he was able to work every day this week from 6am to 1pm, then home and then to radiation at 2:30. They tell us the side effects of radiation really start to kick in around week 3 so we enjoy the good weeks while we can.

The biggest adjustment this week was being tethered to the pump. It’s amazing how short that 5ft tubing feels when you have to roll over in bed or shower with the pump hanging outside the curtain. Kerry does a lot of lifting and forklift/parts picker (please don’t ask me what that is) work at his job. Some of it requires him to wear a safety harness and lift above his head which was made more difficult this week. He said he wasn’t as fast as he usually is…and that was frustrating to him I think. We know that there may be a time in the coming weeks he won’t be able to work so for now, he is thankful he feels good enough to go.

Excited to be tether free this weekend!

He was looking forward to today though. This afternoon he got his pump off for the weekend. I think he was most excited about being able to hold the kids on his lap. When he is connected we have to be cognizant of the tubing, pump and port so snuggles have been limited this week. I wish I would have taken a picture with all the younger boys and Lily on his lap this evening. They were all happy (and crowded).

Today was also “Dress in Blue” day for colorectal cancer awareness month. I just have to say my work family and friends rocked it today! I loved seeing my Facebook feed full of pictures of you all wearing blue. I means so much to know that we have such a huge support system. We are ever grateful for the prayers and love we’ve been shown. If you missed it today, you can wear blue any time this month, post on social media with the #dressinblueday.

We are very blessed.

Next steps

This last week Kerry had his port a cath placed to be able to have easier lab draws and for the continuous chemo pump. He also had a head CT scan, PET scan and we met with the radiation oncologist and our regular oncologist again. It was a busy week and felt very long.

The port placement went well. He had an allergic reaction to the soap they used to clean his skin and broke out in hives. So we added that to his allergy list and gave benadryl until it cleared up. The port site seems to be healing well and he says it’s not near as sore as it had been. He went back to work on Wednesday without much trouble.

Kerry’s fancy port. It will allow for much easier access with labs, chemo and IV infusions. After multiple IV starts this week and lab draws, he’s thankful to have it.

Tuesday he had a PET scan and we met with the radiation oncologist. The worst part this week was waiting for the results from the head CT and PET scan. We didn’t get those until Thursday afternoon when we met with Dr. Mattar. The head CT was clear. The PET scan and chest CT from a few weeks ago showed a nodule in his left lung. Dr Mattar felt like it was likely benign, but they will be watching the spot closely and Kerry will have another CT scan in 3 months to monitor.

During his radiation oncology appointment we met with Dr. Rine. He spent lots of time with us answering questions and going over the recommended treatment plan. He was very straightfoward, honest and easy to talk to. They also marked Kerry for radiation and ran through the simulation of what radiation would look like. He got his first 3 tattoos (tiny freckle sized dots) on each hip and lower back to help align for treatment each week.

Thursday we met with Dr. Mattar, we were the last patients of the day. He joked with Kerry about our ‘notebook of questions’ and explained things very well. We have a treatment plan and will be starting that tomorrow (Monday). Dr. Mattar again went over risks and benefits as well as why this is the recommended course of treatment.

Kerry will work a half day Monday until 11. Then he will drive to Newton to have labs drawn and will get the chemo pump put on around noon. His first radiation treatment will be at 2:15 in Wichita. They say that the first couple of weeks aren’t bad, but week 3 the fatigue hits. Kerry is hoping to work as much as possible as long as he is able. Since he will do radiation every day during the week that means he will be working half days mostly. We are so very thankful that his job is willing to work with him and allow him to continue working.

Some specific ways you can pray for us and for Kerry:

  • First and foremost that we would glorify God in all things. Specifically that we would be sensitive to opportunities to share the gospel and the hope that we have in Christ with others. We have a unique opportunity in this, pray that we use it for His purpose.
  • That Kerry has minimal side effects during treatment. He is hoping to work throughout.
  • Pray for our children. That Kerry and I lead them well in times of stress and times of unknown outcomes. Pray that we remember and teach them that our hope does not lie in any medical treatment, diet or lifestyle change, but that our hope lies in Christ and Christ alone.
  • Healing. We ultimately pray for Kerry’s healing and that he will be granted many more years on earth without cancer. We trust that the Lord’s will will be done and even if He doesn’t heal Kerry…He is still good.

We thank you all for the prayers, meals, encouraging notes and acts of kindness you’ve shown to our family. We have been blessed beyond measure and we are thankful.


Waiting to meet with Dr. Rine (radiation oncologist).

A Lesson in Flexibility

So one of things I’ve learned as an adult (especially as a parent) is that it is important to stay flexible. Things, PLANS, change. I’m a planner by nature. I like to have a goal to work towards and accomplish. I like lists, I like crossing stuff off and I like feeling like I’m doing something other than spinning my wheels.

This week we met with the oncologist at the request of our surgeon. The PLAN was that Kerry would have surgery Monday and then we would consider a course of chemo after surgery if it was warranted. It really was supposed to be a meet and let’s talk about post-op appointment, but things change.

The MRI Kerry had last week showed that his tumor has grown through the muscle of his bowel up to the fat layer lining the outside of his bowel. This is not what we were expecting. It complicates the surgery. So no major bowel surgery on Monday.

Instead, our meet and greet with the oncologist turned into a meeting about chemo and radiation before surgery and a discussion about chemo after surgery for several months. We talked about getting a “port” (port a cath) to make venous access and chemo administration easier. There was discussion about radiation being used to help shrink the tumor to make surgery easier and the need to follow with chemo to kill any remaining or migrating cancer cells.

The treatment plan would look like this: Kerry would have a chemo infusion pump M-F with daily radiation treatments during the week. Both would be administered over the next 6 weeks, then surgery, then another 2-4 months of chemo. We are thankful Kerry’s work is willing to work with him since daily radiation in Wichita would significantly cut into his work day and having a port will limit his ability at work.

The oncologist would also like some additional scans. The type of cancer Kerry has metastasizes often to the brain and that’s the only part of his body he hasn’t had scanned yet. They would also like him to get a PET scan.

Needless to say it was overwhelming, disheartening and not at all what we wanted or planned on hearing. There are risks with chemo and radiation. There are risks not getting them too. It’s hard to know what to choose and what risks we’re willing to accept. We’ve looked in to some alternative treatments and some complementary treatments that could help with the side effects of chemo and radiation. I told our oncologist I want the best outcome with the least amount of collateral damage.

The oncologist was very kind and patient with us. He was willing to answer our questions and talk about options with us. He also made it clear that he felt strongly chemo and radiation were what Kerry should do. He said if it were him or his family, this is the course of treatment he would recommend for them.

We are praying for wisdom about what comes next. Our plan for this next week tentatively looks like a CT scan, blood work and port placement on Monday. PET scan and meet with the radiation doctor on Tuesday and chat with the oncologist on Thursday again.

Thank you to all who have reached out to us and who are praying. We are encouraged by those prayers and acts of kindness. We are thankful for the Lord’s daily provision of strength and love and the peace of knowing we are not walking this road alone. This cancer was not a surprise to God, though it was a surprise to us. We continue to pray for healing and wisdom in making decisions. We are ever grateful for His new mercies and grace.

Better than I deserve

“And when you ask me how I’m doing, I’m going to tell you that I’m better than I deserve. Because it’s true. I was a sinner destined for hell and God saw fit to save me. So anything and everything He gives me, including this, is already better than I deserve.”

Those were the words my husband used two weeks ago when he told our church family that he had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

The previous Thursday he’d had a colonoscopy because of some vague GI symptoms. We didn’t expect to find anything really, but rather checking off a box on the way to another diagnosis…but instead his doctor found a tumor. The biopsy showed the tumor was cancerous and that it hadn’t been completely removed.

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of appointments, body scans, more appointments and more scans. And lots and lots of prayer.

We meet with an oncologist this week to help determine next steps. The tumor location and growth pattern makes just removing part of his bowel a little tricky. Surgery is tentatively scheduled for Monday February 18 depending what the oncologist recommends. We are hoping that radiation or chemo won’t be necessary, but we are aware that’s a possibility.

While there has been a roller coaster of emotions, thoughts and “what if” scenarios. We rest in God’s sovereignty and that He knows the future and will see us through. There are times that we have been scared about what lies ahead and what a cancer diagnosis means for our family and life as we know it. However, we are at peace knowing that God, in His infinite wisdom has allowed our family to walk through this trial together. We trust that this is being used to refine us and shape us to be more Christlike.

We know that God is good regardless of the outcome and we have been given better than we deserve.