Journey with cancer 17 Feb 2013 – chain reactions

I’m still rejoicing in Tuesday’s amazing news of my cancer shrinking. This has renewed my commitment to persevering with the chemo. Why else would I submit to being poisoned every three weeks, AND pay thousands each time for the privilege?

Digital Sphygmomanometer-500x500But Wednesday gave me a sober reminder that there are other costs. I stopped by a National Heart Foundation stall and let them take my blood pressure. I’m not sure who got the bigger shock – them or me? It was 180 over 106. This was off their charts and they told me I was high risk for a stroke or heart attack. Thanks guys! I checked it again at home. It wasn’t quite as bad, but still serious. I’ve been checking each day since and it’s not good.

I think it’s easy to explain. I don’t think it’s lifestyle or diet. It’s almost certainly the chemo, specifically the Avastin. So we may need to make a choice. Give up the Avastin or introduce new drugs to reduce the blood pressure. When the chemo is shrinking the cancer, I don’t feel like messing with the chemo cocktail. But I don’t want a stroke either, so I may have to take on another drug, and live with its side effects and repercussions.

There’s nothing simple about this cancer journey. If you pray, please ask God to grant us and the specialists wisdom to know how best to proceed. Please ask him to protect me from harm caused by high blood pressure. And please ask him to help me not be anxious, but to keep trusting him in all things.

Thanks,

Macca

Journey with cancer 13 Feb 2013 – surprisingly good news

It’s been some time since I posted on the progress of the cancer. I guess there hasn’t been much to report. October was the last time I had a scan. The cancer had been stable. I’d been feeling fairly well. In fact, for two or three cycles, the chemo hadn’t knocked me round too badly and I’d only been bed-ridden for a day or two.

During the summer months I’d enjoyed some wonderful relaxing time with the family. We’d been camping at Burrill, enjoying the surf, catching some fish, chilling out in the hammocks, chatting round the campfire, learning to cook cakes in my ‘Shuttle Chef’. I stopped reading books for a while, slowed down on the blogging, played a bit of real life scrabble, and slept lots. We spent a couple of awesome weeks in Sydney house-sitting for friends. During this time I learned to ride a stand-up paddleboard (sort of), helped the kids to learn to wakeboard while I had heaps of fun driving the zodiac on Sydney Harbour. I didn’t even have to interrupt the Sydney holiday because we were able to arrange chemo in Sydney. Then, another week or so camping in Burrill. I had long walks on the beach, caught some salmon, flathead and whiting, cooked some more cakes, and even went out in the surf. For the first time in two years I went out on my bodyboard and caught some decent waves. It was exhilarating! Who would have thought a year ago?! Mind you, I suffered the next two days, as my ankles swelled up in such pain that I could barely walk. But, it was worth it!

Now I’m back at work. I’ve re-joined the team that I built, but in a new role, with new patterns, new responsibilities, and new challenges ahead. I will need to be disciplined in getting rest, taking time off, tuning out from the demands of ministry, saying ‘no’ to opportunities, and staying focused. But I’m excited at the possibilities.

marble-in-hand-cmykOn Monday I had a CT scan to check what was happening with the cancer. I must admit, that I’d been expecting this scan to show growth. It’s over a year now since I began chemo and it’s unusual for people with my cancer to show no progression for this long on this treatment. But, it’s not about statistics. Everyone is unique. And my results stunned everyone. Fiona rang for the results yesterday and we celebrated them over dinner. The tumour had shrunk again. After being stable for months, it had shrunk from 12mm to 7mm! Awesome! I’ve gone from having a marble inside me to having a pea!

peaThe oncologist this morning was smiling! In fact, he was pretty chirpy. They just don’t expect to see further shrinkage once things have plateaued on maintenance therapy. Plus, the neuropathy seems under control. So much to be thankful for.

A miracle? Yes, it is really. I’m not healed, but I’ve been healing in so many ways, and that is very encouraging. Why is this? The right drugs? It seems so. The combination of Alimta and Avastin isn’t that common, but in my case it’s proved to be very effective. It justifies the huge costs of the treatment. Is it good food, reasonable exercise, de-stressing and refocusing on life? I’m sure this has helped. And what about prayer? Can my improved condition be linked to the prayers of so many (I believe hundreds of people) praying regularly for me? I believe it can. I don’t know why, but it’s the mercy of God that I’m where I am today, and I thank him for listening to the pleas of so many. If you pray, please join me in praising God for his kindness and please keep asking him to shrink this cancer to oblivion!

My heart was heavy

Today I had my 16th chemo visit for the year. This time it was a sobering experience.

It started well with a ‘chat’ with the parking inspectors about my last visit to the hospital! There were a few comments about my Mo for Movember. I asked the three girls beside me, who were visiting a patient, if they were doing Movember too! And they were! One had already raised over $1100. No they didn’t have facial hair on their upper lip – they each had cute mo-shaped earings. 🙂 I chatted with the nurses about a letter for the parking inspectors, about my first ever mouth ulcers, and about how I planned to have a treatment in Sydney in January. I got hooked up to the drugs and tried to connect my iPad to the new WiFi.

Then I began to notice some upsetting things happening around me. There was a patient who seemed to be quietly sobbing as a nurse consoled her. I thought I heard someone speak about what was happening with her dog. There was a young woman, who didn’t seem much older than 20, confidently having her treatment. Why so young?

But it was the conversation that I couldn’t help overhearing from the other side of the room, that disturbed me most. The man was very frail, in his late 70s I’d guess. His wife sat beside him. The nurses discussed the need to work out a treatment strategy with the doctors. It seemed he had a serious infection – one that he’d had before – and they were working out the treatment strategy. This was decision time for the man.

The conversation went something like this…

“Is there light at the end of the tunnel?” the patient asked.

“Not for the cancer.” replied a nurse. “But there is for the _____itis. We can treat that. We can improve your quality of life.”

“What life?” he said. “This isn’t living. It’s just agony. I can’t do anything. I don’t want to have more treatment.”

“And you don’t have to.” said the nurse. “It’s up to you. It’s your decision. We respect whatever decision you make.”

“I don’t want to have any more treatment!” he protested. “I’m just prolonging the inevitable.”

“It’s your decision. You have the right to choose.” said the nurse.

His wife seemed anxious, “But think of all we’ve been through. Now’s not the time to make the decision. Why don’t we treat the infection and then you can decide.”

The nurse agreed that it wasn’t the time to make such huge decisions, but the patient seemed to have made up his mind. “There’s no point.” he said. “I want to go home.”

“And you can go home,” said the nurse. “But don’t think that just because you told us today that you didn’t want to do anything, that you can’t change your mind tomorrow. You can change your mind any time. And when you get home ring palliative care right away. Right away, okay!”

“We will.” said his wife.

And they left.

This really was a life and death experience, I was witnessing. It was so hard for him. So hard for his wife. I found it hard. I wanted to go to him and talk about life and death and hope and God. But they were gone and I was hooked up in my chair. My heart was heavy. I prayed for them. Then I turned on Eva and closed my eyes.

As I reflect on this again, these words come to mind:

11 “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?
What prospects, that I should be patient?
12 Do I have the strength of stone?
Is my flesh bronze?
13 Do I have any power to help myself,
now that success has been driven from me?  (Job 6:11-13)

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,
and they come to an end without hope.
Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again.
The eye that now sees me will see me no longer;
you will look for me, but I will be no more.
As a cloud vanishes and is gone,
so one who goes down to the grave does not return.
10 He will never come to his house again;
his place will know him no more.  (Job 7:6-10)

Job, too, despaired of his life. I hope that he, and the man and wife in the chemo ward today, know these words of comfort and hope. They’re true for all who will turn to God and trust him. He’s the God who raised Jesus Christ as Lord:

4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
(2 Corinthians 4:18-5:5)

Journey with cancer 13 Nov 2012 – best week yet

Dear friends and family

Just wanted to share with you briefly about my reaction to the chemo in the past week. There was nothing much different about it, other than getting booked for parking in the wrong place! I was more relaxed this time and succeeded in falling asleep while the poison went in. Prayer, breathing and music all did their job!

A typical post-chemo week involves getting pretty sick sometime in the first 2 days, going downhill for a few more, and getting back to equilibrium somewhere between days 6 and 10. This one was different. Monday, chemo, visiting a wonderful prem baby survivor in NICU, meeting to discuss Shine a light on lung cancer vigil, before having a friend for dinner. Tuesday, I read and wrote all day. Wednesday, I was out and about, doing some writing, and spending time catching up with my father. Thursday, I read Chappo’s book, wrote a review, and had a couple of meetings. Friday, was active. Saturday, I spent the day looking at trailers and thinking about camping, wrote my 100th blog post, and had a great night out with friends. Sunday, went to church, had an old buddy to lunch, and taught a mate how to drive his new espresso machine. Monday, more reading, writing, staff meetings, shopping, people to dinner, family counseling afterwards. Today…

Over a week since chemo and I haven’t been bed-ridden at all! That’s a record! Feeling a bit off – yes. Toxic cloud – yes. Digestion problems – yes. Aches and pains – yes. Chemo brain – oh yes. But otherwise, normal. I probably could have been at work! Wow. Thank you God! What a treat! Grace, Fiona and I all wondered if they’d given me the wrong chemo or the wrong dosage. 🙂 This cancer journey is anything but predictable. It has its stresses and challenges, big time! What happened this time is no guarantee of what’s ahead, but I’ll rejoice in the good times of this past week, and give praise to God for his kindness.

And by the way, if you know our good mate, John Chapman, please pray for him. I understand he’s been in ICU for a few days and isn’t doing too well.

With love,

Dave

Journey with cancer 31 Oct 2012 – no change

Dear family and friends

Good news. Scans yesterday revealed no change to the cancer. The primary tumour remains only 12mm across and there’s been no spread. It’s been this way now for four to five months. So things are stable, the chemo seems to be working, and God is giving me more days. Thank you God! And thank you to all of you for your prayers and well wishes.

Fiona rang me yesterday with the results and I immediately felt lighter and brighter. In fact, some of the pain I’d been experiencing in my chest began to dissipate. I need to remember that there seems to be chemo-induced pain at the same time each cycle, and that I tend to get anxious. I’ve been challenged to complain less, remember the patterns, trust God with my experiences, and not get over-alarmed or alarm others. I need to remember the words of Scripture…

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  (1 Peter 5:6-7)

The pain and discomfort I’d been feeling in my feet and hands has also subsided. I’ve been taking daily cymbalta (antidepressant) tablets for the past 6 weeks and no longer experience any of the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. This is another answer to the prayers of many, and I’m very thankful because it means that I’m able to get about, go for long walks, and exercise. Thank you God!

Looking ahead this means that my 3 weekly life rhythm will likely continue for the next two to three months or more. We will juggle things over Christmas, aim to get some time away with family, and gear up for the year ahead. We’re hoping to be able to make some decisions about work and ministry options for 2013 and this is a massive answer to prayer. Ten months ago, the prospects for 2013 weren’t even being considered! Thank you God! And once again, thank you for your love and support. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. Thank you for sharing our journeying, and please keep hanging in there with us.

With love,

Dave (and Fiona)

Don’t panic – breathe!

Let me ask you, who willingly chooses to drink poison?

I do! Once every three weeks. Mind you, I’d prefer another option. I’m longing for that elusive targeted thereapy. But if it’s a choice between controlling the cancer or being controlled by the cancer, then I’ll take the poison. Having now spent nine months in regular chemo, you’d think that I’d be pretty cool with it by now. I know roughly what’s coming. There aren’t too many surprises. Well, at least there weren’t until last time.

As the chemo flowed into my veins, I found myself tensing up. My heart rate increased and my breathing laboured. I just wanted to pull out the tubes, get free and run out of there. The treatment only takes a couple of hours, but suddenly that seemed like a lifetime. I felt trapped and I started to panic. I knew it wasn’t rational, but it was real nonetheless and I needed to deal with it. So here’s what I did – three things:

  1. Prayed. Dear God, please help me. I’m not handling this. Please help me relax.
  2. Breathed. I concentrated on controlling my breathing so as to calm myself down.
  3. Listened to music. I put in my headphones and distracted myself with some James Morrison and Eva Cassidy.

I have a hunch, based on what others going through chemo have experienced, that this might not be the last time I’m tempted to panic. So I’ll keep talking to God about it, I’ll keep breathing, and I’ll make sure the iPod is charged.