If I Ever Get Cancer

I’ve decided that imagining what you’ll do when/if you or a loved one gets cancer is a lot like imagining what you’ll be like as a parent before you have kids. You’re pretty sure you have it all figured out until it happens and then you realize you know nothing.

That’s how this has been for us. Before Kerry was diagnosed we would sometimes talk about “If I ever get cancer…” and about how we’d approach treatment and appointments. We thought we had it figured out. We were sure neither of us would ever have chemo or radiation. We reasoned, if cancer is caused by cells that are overgrowing and not able to be regulated by the immune system, then you “beef up” the immune system and it will be able to conquer the cancer right? Build up the troops so to speak and the troops will win the war.

We read books, watched documentaries and research lots before we decided to go with traditional treatment along with some complementary treatments. So what is it that made us decide to ‘poison’ his body with chemo and radiation? Honestly…it’s what we felt the most peace with. We prayed a lot for wisdom and discernment.

When we researched and talked to other care providers, we couldn’t find a single one who was willing to operate and take the tumor out without chemo and radiation first. Not one. We found ones that would support us through chemo and radiation with complementary therapies. We found ones who told us alternative treatments were junk and it was asking for a death sentence and we found ones that were more middle ground.

I’m a pretty crunchy person and I am a nurse. I’ve had most of my babies at home. I use a lot of complementary and alternative methods for ailments. Yet….my kids also go to the doctor, get most of their vaccines and vitamin K at birth I just heard my crunchy friends gasp.

I know there is merit to both approaches to health. I believe it’s vital to fuel your body with nutrients, vitamins and non-crap food. I also know that there is value in western medicine, antibiotics and traditional approaches to care.

We made the choice that we could live with and that felt the best at the time. We have re-evaluated at each step if this was still the path we wanted to be on.

We asked LOTS of questions of our oncologists. In fact, the medical oncologist we see jokes with us about our ‘question notebook’ and Kerry’s cancer folder that contains all of his meds, appointments, procedures and lab values. Complete with color coded, labeled tabs…all chronologically in order of course. We’ve been up front with Kerry’s doctors about our desire to incorporate complementary therapies in with his chemo and radiation. And our oncologist is okay with that. He’s been blunt with us about not throwing out the baby with the bathwater and encourages us to still use the traditional approach. He has shared studies and is willing to look at the ones we’ve brought to the table.

So earlier this year, every week Kerry would go to get his chemo pump and every day he went to radiation. I fed him fruits and veggies and vitamins to ‘beef up the troops’.

Tomorrow, he goes again for chemo. We will again incorporate the complementary therapies we’ve carefully researched. I’ll try to give him as much healthy fuel and supplements he can handle. Ultimately, we put all of our trust, not in the supplements and therapy, but in God. We pray for His will to be accomplished in it all.

Together we pray for God’s healing hand in it all. We trust that regardless of the outcome or therapy we choose, God will be glorified in the life we live. He is our healer, our protector and the reason we have any hope at all.

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Blood clots, back to work and Chemo round #2

It’s been a busy few weeks. At Kerry’s 10 day post op appointment with the surgeon he casually mentioned some lower leg pain he’d been having. The blood vessel in his left lower leg was a bit swollen, sore and hard to the touch. His surgeon felt like it was probably just an inflamed blood vessel, but ordered a ultrasound of his leg just as a precaution. The ultrasound revealed a blood clot behind Kerry’s RIGHT knee and inflammation and irritation in his lower left leg. We promptly got a prescription for a fancy new (and very expensive) anticoagulant drug called Xarelto.

We saw his primary doc the next day. I’m just going to say…we are so thankful for Dr. Holdeman. He was the one who listened to Kerry’s complaints early on and ordered the colonoscopy even thought Kerry didn’t “fit the profile”. His proactive approach allowed an early diagnosis for us. Dr. Holdeman had already talked to our surgeon and oncologist (who was on vacation in the Middle East) by the time we had our appointment. Kerry will continue on the Xarelto for at least the next 6 months. Having cancer and treatment can increase your risk for DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and Kerry has had a DVT previously when he fractured his knee. The anticoagulant adds a layer of complication further down the road when it’s time for his reconnect surgery, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get there.

The cool thing about Xarelto is that there are no lab values to be checked. When he had his DVT previously, he was getting injections in his abdomen twice a day and then having daily lab draws while we got to therapeutic levels. This time it is as easy as taking a pill twice a day and living life. We’re thankful it’s one less thing to track and so far it seems to be working well without major side effects.

Another milestone for Kerry this week was going back to work. He started back partial days on Monday and has been gradually increasing his time each day. He’s still on weight restriction for the next several weeks but he said it’s felt good to be back, even on light duty.

Next week clean up chemo starts. We’ve debated a lot about whether he should even do it or if we should delay the chemo until after they reconnect his ostomy. The thought of a chemo pump and the ileostomy can be a bit daunting and wearing on you. And quite frankly…Kerry is more than ready to be done with the ostomy. It inhibits his movement and ability to do his job and just life in general. We have yet to find the right products, “method” of taping or whatever to help make him feel like he can do normal activities. So adding chemo on top of that is not something he’s super thrilled about. However, we’ve talked a lot with our doctors and have been doing research on our own. For now, the plan is clean up chemo first and then the ileosotmy take down after that. We are hoping by Thanksgiving to have everything reconnected.

Even in light of the ostomy and the blood clots we have so much to be thankful for. God has been gracious to us. He is using this time to refine us and bring about change within our lives to shape us to be more like Christ. We are learning lessons of humbleness, kindness, patience, tolerance, compassion and so many more.

Some ways you can pray for us as we prepare for the next steps:

  • Pray that we can be a light to others in the face of adversity and uncertainty. We have been given a rare opportunity, pray that we use it wisely.
  • Pray for Kerry as he learns to live life with his ostomy. It’s a challenge.
  • Pray for minimal side effects from the chemo. This next round has the reputation for being particularly brutal. Pray that God would protect his fingers and toes from neuropathy and the rest of his body from cold sensitivity.
  • Pray for our children. It’s stressful for them too. Pray that they will see God’s faithfulness in trial. Pray that we will guide them and disciple them to see Jesus. Pray for those that don’t yet know Christ as their Savior. That they would come to a saving faith.
  • Pray for our docs, nurses and other care providers. We are thankful for them. Pray that they will have times of rest, for wisdom and grace with their patients. Pray also for their families. We know there is much sacrifice when they are caring for others.

Thank you all for the prayers. Our family has been so blessed by each note, text or word of encouragement.

Psalm 86:12 I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify Your name forever.

The other side

Here we are, on the other side of Kerry’s surgery. We are learning a new normal for our family.

His surgery went well overall. It was longer than expected and let me tell you…as the one in the waiting room…it felt like eternity. I had been calm and collected leading up to the surgery until that morning when we pulled out of our driveway. It gravity of the surgery became heavier than it had been previously.

I was so thankful for my friends working in the OR and taking care of Kerry. It was easier to see him wheeled out knowing who was caring for him. The surgery itself took about 6 hours and was a bit more complicated than the surgeon initially expected. He said it was the lowest anterior (front) resection (removing) they’ve ever done. The doctor said he felt like we made the right decision to go ahead with surgery because of how the tumor had grown and that it was through the wall of the colon when he removed it. Kerry spent the first couple of days in ICU for closer monitoring and came home on Sunday this last week.

He is finding a new normal with the ileostomy (lay terms=poop bag). We have to be careful of the foods he eats, especially here at first, to keep from causing a blockage. It’s a mental adjustment for him too. There are things that you just don’t think of until you have an ostomy. The plan is that he will have this temporarily while his colon heals from the surgery and while he does clean up chemo. The goal will then be to “reconnect” again in 6-8 months (hopefully before then end of 2019).

He had 19 lymph nodes and removed bowel section were sent to pathology. We met with our oncologist yesterday. He was happy (and very shocked) to report that all 19 lymph nodes were clear and that it looks like the entirety of the tumor was removed with surgery. To say we were elated would be an understatement. The oncologist said more than once he was surprised at the response to the chemo and radiation. He still recommends clean up chemo for 4 months (probably starting in July) because the tumor was through the bowel wall and the risk of spreading was still there.

Kerry’s journey is far from over and we have a hill to climb yet, but for now, we take a breath and thank God for wonderful friends and miraculous answered prayers.

Psalm 5:11 English Standard Version (ESV)

11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
    let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may exult in you.

Surgery tomorrow

Here we sit on the eve of Kerry’s surgery. Thankful for all those praying for us tonight. Early last week Kerry had a procedure to view and mark the tumor site. He also had a CT scan to make sure that there were no new tumors in his chest, abdomen and pelvis. A huge praise that everything looks stable and no tumors were seen. The spot on his lung was unchanged, this is excellent news!

His white and neutrophil counts had been pretty low the last couple of weeks. The big concern here would be infection and slow healing. His lab draw this week showed those values increased…another answer to prayer!

So all of this means surgery is a go for tomorrow. He’s spent the day doing ALL the things needed to prep a gut for surgery. You can imagine just how pleasant that has been. He’s kind of a pro at the bowel prep stuff so he has been able to avoid the wretched headache from dehydration this time.

He will check in tomorrow at 11:30 for surgery to begin at 1:30pm. The surgeon told us to anticipate 4 1/2- 5 hours for surgery. The hope is that the surgeon will be able to complete everything laproscopically. The surgeon did say that his tumor is about as low as possible for it to be able to be done with the laproscope, so if he doesn’t feel like he will be able to do as good of a job with the robot as he could do with his hands, then he will open Kerry up to get a better angle and access. We are obviously hoping that robot assist laproscopic surgery will be possible as it means an easier recovery time for Kerry.

Kerry will have an ileostomy as part of his surgery. When tissue has been radiated, it takes longer and can be more difficult to heal. He will have the ileostomy while he is on clean up chemo and for a couple of months after before they will attempt a reversal. This gives the colon the maximum amount of time to heal. Assuming all goes as planned (and honestly what does?) we anticipate reversal surgery in late fall or so.

We anticipate a hospital stay through the weekend or so and then home Sunday or Monday assuming all goes well. We have been so very well cared for by the nurses and doctors caring for him. We are thankful for their kindness and compassion. I am grateful that some of nurses scrubbing in tomorrow are friends and people I used to work with when I was on the floor. It makes my heart rest a bit easier knowing who is keeping an eye on him tomorrow.

Tonight as we go to bed, we are praying for those nurses and doctors in charge of Kerry tomorrow. We pray for skillful hands, wisdom and no complications. We pray for no complications, a smooth recovery and that there will be no evidence of cancer cells anywhere else in his body. We also pray for grandparents who are helping take care of the kiddos so that I can be with Kerry while he is in surgery and the hospital.

Though we may be a bit anxious for tomorrow, we know that God is in control. He knows the outcome of all of this and we pray that He will be glorified in all things. May we be faithful to share the HOPE we have with all those we meet on this journey. God is good and we are blessed.

Psalm 56:10-11

In God, whose word I praise. In the Lord, whose word I praise. In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid.

This month

This month is a big one. It’s hard not to approach with a bit of trepidation. We’ve been enjoying the last few weeks. Kerry has felt “almost normal” and we’ve enjoyed life not revolving around appointments, chemo and radiation. It’s been a sweet spot for all of us. So as we head into tomorrow and the weeks ahead, we take a collective deep breath, pray continually and take the next step together.

Tomorrow (5/6) Kerry has a procedure to mark his tumor site so that it will be easily visible when they do surgery laproscopically later this month. The procedure is outpatient and should be relatively straightforward. It can be likened to a tattoo on the inside of colon (sounds comfortable huh). It will allow the tumor site to be seen from the outside of the colon (intestine) in the abdomen. It will make surgery easier in a couple weeks. Our ‘wildest dreams’ prayer is that the site looks normal and they cancel the whole surgery because they can’t find evidence of the tumor ever existing. If that’s not the case, we know that God is still good and He will carry us through the what lies ahead.

Thursday (5/9) he has a repeat CT scan of his chest, abdomen and pelvis. This is to check on the spot in his lungs (they felt it was benign previously) and ensure there are no new tumors since his last scan in January.

Kerry has been having weekly labs drawn and the last couple of weeks his white blood cell count has been low. Normal is 4.5-6 and Kerry’s have been between 2 and 2.5 the last two weeks. His neutrophils are still on the low end of normal but not low enough for the oncologist to be concerned yet. As a nurse though, I know that the lower his white count is, it increases the risk of infection, illness and lengthens healing time. We are praying that his white count comes up over the next week or two before surgery.

Surgery is tentatively scheduled for Thursday May 16. Honestly, I’ve struggled with anxiety thinking of the extensiveness of this surgery, the recovery and watching my husband go through it all. I have been leaning heavy on a scripture I memorized when we were walking through the loss of Knox and our first daughter Lily Faith. I still have the note card I wrote this verse on and tucked into my apron pocket to pull out when worry and fear would overcome me. Tomorrow and in the weeks that come that notecard will be tucked into my pocket again.

Philippians 4:6-7 English Standard Version (ESV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I am so thankful that I have the assurance of God’s peace and calm when I am worried. God loves Kerry more than I do. He sees the big picture and I trust that God, in His sovereignty, will do what is best for us. I know that regardless of what lies ahead…He is with us and will see us through to the other side.

Suffering and the Gospel

I am sharing this week, something Kerry shared with our congregation a few weeks ago at a special Lament service we had. It was an opportunity to worship God and His goodness in times of sorrow, difficulty and illness. We were able to come together as a body to pray, sing, read scripture and worship. These were the words that Kerry read as he shared the beauty of the gospel in the midst of suffering. We are ever grateful to God for His grace and the HOPE we have in Him regardless of our earthly circumstances and suffering.

Suffering and the Gospel of Jesus Christ – March 31, 2019

         Suffering is something that every person will go through in their life. If you have people in your life that you care about or if you interact with people on a regular basis, you will encounter suffering. I don’t see anyone really denying that suffering is present in this world. We’ve all be touched by it. I want to briefly address suffering Scripturally.

         The suffering in this world is a result of evil entering this world in Adam’s sin. We can say that suffering is a result of sin. We can say, in a sense, that suffering itself is a judgement upon sin. I am not trying to make a correlation between a specific sin and a specific disease here. That isn’t the case. Suffering in this world can include persecution, sickness, disease of all types, birth defects, cancers, the effects of aging, and even death. John Piper explains it this way based on Romans 8, “God subjected the world to physical futility and misery to make a point about moral and spiritual reality” (Lessons from a Hospital Bed, p. 63, see also Don’t Waste Your Cancer). Piper goes on regarding physical suffering, “this physical pain points to how ugly sin is” (p. 64). We must confess with God’s Word that suffering comes by the will of God. The Bible affirms God’s sovereignty in everything, including suffering. (Isa. 45:7).

          We read in Romans (8:18) “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Or in 2 Corinthians (4:17) suffering is referred to as “a light momentary affliction.” Or in James (1:2) we read, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” How is it that in the Bible we get suffering that is “not worth comparing”, “a light momentary affliction”, or be joyful when we suffer? How are we to be joyful when the pain is horrible, and death is approaching?

          God has given us the answer in His word. God uses suffering in the life of a believer to conform them into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). In James we are told that the testing of our faith through suffering leads to us becoming more like Christ. But Scripturally, how does this take place in a believer?

          Looking at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 gives us further understanding. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 English Standard Version (ESV)

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

This tells all believers how we should view suffering in our own life. Outer vs. Inner difference. Our inner self can be renewed even while the outer is wasting away. In verse 17, we see a crucial truth; our current suffering is light and temporary, but our future glory is weighty and eternal. As believers, our viewpoint should consider the great difference in degree and duration.  The future glory is so great in degree that by comparison any current suffering is to be thought of as light. Our current suffering may last decades in this life, but by comparison we have a hope of future glory that for all eternity. Verse 18 goes on to remind us that we must not focus on the things of this world that are quickly passing away, but that the unseen things that last eternally matter most.

Suffering does not automatically result in glory for everyone, but suffering does produce a greater glory and Christlikeness for all believers who, by the grace of God, respond rightly to suffering. We respond rightly to suffering when:

  • We focus on the eternal and not the temporary.
  • We focus on spiritual health, not just physical healing.
  • We seek comfort and find hope from “the God of all comfort”, not from medicine to ease our symptoms.
  • We allow the Lord to remove idols and crutches through the times of suffering.
  • We go to the “throne of grace” “to help in time of need.”
  • We allow suffering to turn our attention and affections off the things of this world.
  • We cling to the Lord as our only hope.

I say our only hope, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims to be The only hope. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is this. The Gospel first is News, it is a proclamation of the Good News of what God has already done by the person and work of Jesus Christ for all who believe in Him. The Good News is so good because you first understand the bad news – that you are sinner by nature and who has in thought, word, and deed rebelled against an infinitely holy, righteous, and just God who must punish evil. That is the bad news that makes the Good News so good. God, in his great love and grace sent His Son Jesus to live a sinless life that no one else could live. Jesus lived, suffered, and was tempted as other people, but kept perfectly God’s law. Jesus came as the image of the invisible God, and He was rejected. He was crucified, dying the death that you deserved. On Jesus, the wrath of God was poured out for all who would ever believe in Him. Jesus died for our sins, He was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. And He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. God will either justly punish sinners in hell or the punishment for sinners has been completed at the cross of Jesus Christ. John 3:16

     This is why our only hope that we cling to is the Good news of Jesus Christ. This is why we believe that suffering in this life is not the worst thing that can happen to us. Being told we have cancer is not the worst news we can receive, we’ve already received the worst news ever. We were once told that we are sinners who rightly deserve the just wrath of God in hell. We no longer saw or see disease and physical suffering as our greatest problem, but our greatest problem was us…our sinfulness. But God did for us what we could not do for ourselves in saving us from the wrath of God.

This is why when we encounter suffering in our life, we need not respond as the world responds. When we are told we have cancer or even that death is approaching, we need not live or die as those who have no hope. We can face suffering humbly trusting that God in His wisdom and power will do what is good and right. Even if that good does not involve healing, we have a certain hope in Jesus Christ and the glory that lies ahead for all eternity.

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.

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.