A bad news, good news story you must read to the end. The past month has been a rollercoaster ride. I opted to wait until we had solid plans before sharing.
God is Good All the Time…All the Time, God is Good.
In early April, I was feeling worn down and tired. When I visited my oncologist, I asked to have my scans completed a few weeks early. I feared that the metastases in my liver were growing again.
Good news: Turns out I was tired due to one of the medications I take being out of balance. A simple change in medications and I am feeling much better.
When the scan results of April 24th returned, I was NOT “unremarkable.” Instead, the report summary read, “slight interval progression of hepatic metastases.” One of my metastases had decided it was time to grow. While disappointing, this was not unexpected. Dr. Saroha had always been clear that in his opinion, it was not a matter of if this would happen, but when it would happen.
Specifically, the report read:
“Between 10 and 20 metastatic lesions as before. No new lesions identified. In the right lobe posterior segment, a poorly defined mixed solid and cystic lesion measures 4.1 x 2.9 cm on series 20 image 27. Previously, this measured 2.3 x 1.8 cm on series 18 image 32.”
At first blush, this may seem like bad news. It is important to bear in mind that my original scan results from May of 2016 read “the liver is replaced by innumerable metastases.”
Armed with the new scan results, it was now time to come up with a treatment plan. My oncologist worked to get me a referral to the radiology department. In the past, my cancer was so widespread that the radiologists have refused to meet with me. In May of 2016, I had cancer in my colon and “innumerable” lesions on my liver. We needed a treatment that would target the entire body, chemotherapy was the best tool available. When I started treatment again in February 2018, my colon was clear but there were still too many lesions on my liver for a targeted treatment such as radiation. Chemotherapy was once again the only option.
A LARGER TEAM
Nancy and I waited patiently to see if this time would be any different, would the radiologists be willing to meet with me? Three weeks ago, I met with Dr. Soulen, an expert in interventional radiology. We talked over multiple radiation options. In the middle of our conversation, he said, “If you were one of my family members, you would not be here with me, I would have you meet with a surgeon.” He went on to explain that anything he did using radiation would be palliative care while a surgeon could potentially offer a cure.
A week or so later, Nancy and I met with Dr. Roses. It was a great visit. We talked about different surgical options and weighed risk vs. reward. In the end, we passed on surgery for now. The amount of chemotherapy I have had has most likely damaged my liver. While the liver is regenerative, there is no guarantee that my chemo laced liver would behave normally. At one point during our conversation, I laughed and said, “So what you are telling me is that the chemotherapy that has saved my life is now the thing which is keeping me from having surgery and being totally cured?” Dr. Roses smiled and said, “That is correct, and yes, you better believe that chemotherapy saved your life.” He then pulled up scans from May of 2016 and compared them with my most recent scans. The images tell an amazing story. My once cancer-ridden liver is looking much better these days.
To be clear, these specialists will NOT be replacing Dr. Saroha. Adding them to the team means that we can call upon their insight, expertise, advice as needed while we move forward.
In the end, we opted to have radiation treatment with Dr. Soulen. On June 4th I will undergo an outpatient Microwave Ablation (MWA). MWA is considered palliative care. Palliative care is “specialized health care focused on improving quality of life for people living with serious illness and their families.”1 While this is still only palliative care, it is a one-day outpatient treatment with limited recovery time vs. six or seven months worth of chemotherapy treatments.
I will be under slight sedation while they use imaging to guide two probes (like knitting needles) into the base of my growing metastases. Once correctly placed they will use microwave energy to kill it. If all goes well I should be home in time for dinner.
We can go back and redo this MWA multiple times should we need to.
This has been a crazy month or so. The rollercoaster of emotions has been rocking and rolling all over the place. Disappointment that the cancer is growing. Hopeful that we could speak with a radiologist. Even more hopeful when there was the talk of surgery and a cure. Discouraged that surgery is not an option at this time. Eagerly anticipating my radiation treatment on June 4th.
Amidst all of the emotions, there has been a strange sense of peace. Some of that comes from experience. Nancy and I have traveled this road before. We are learning how to manage our expectations as we hear options and make treatment plans.
The majority of our peace comes from the fact that we have witnessed God’s faithfulness over the past three years. God’s faithfulness amidst the darkest of moments and those times which make our hearts sing with joy.
A FINAL WORD
I have struggled to write this post. It has been in various forms of completion for about five days now.
While I am filled with joy at what this news means for my future there are a few things which give me pause…
- As I think about what God is doing in my life right now I cannot help but think of those for whom the news is not as positive. I have been in treatment for three years. There are people I used to see around the oncologist’s office who are no longer there. During these past three years, I have walked with families as they said goodbye to loved ones battling cancer. As I look out over the congregation on Sunday morning there are husbands, wives, sons, and daughters whose loved one lost a battle against cancer. I wonder, “Why am I receiving this blessing?”
During the past three years, I have heard of people whose cancer went into remission or was cured. While I would rejoice with and for them there would sometimes be a voice that would speak from within me that would ask, “Why am I not experiencing the same blessing?” There is a part of me that hesitates to share good news because I do not want to cause angst for those struggling with their own illness or the difficult journey of a loved one.
- Finally, I do not think we always talk about blessing such as this in the healthiest of ways. To be clear, I have done nothing to deserve the good news I am currently hearing from the doctors. I am a weak, fallen, sin-filled human being who is struggling to follow the leading of God each and every day. I fail miserably. When we hear of blessings such as this and use phrases such as “praise God,” or “God answers prayer” what we are really saying is that what we are seeing take place is what we wanted to see happen. Would we be as quick to say, “Praise God” if I was writing to share that I was entering hospice care? God would be no less worthy of praise.
What do others hear when we use language such as “Praise God” or “God answers prayer” when we are receiving the outcome we desire? What do we communicate when we say “God answers prayer” in a situation such as this? How are those words heard by someone who prayed for healing in the life of a loved one, only to watch them pass away? Words are important, how we use them matters.
We are to praise God in times of joy and seasons of mourning. I guess what I am trying to say is that we ought to be sensitive to the way in which we speak and how what we say is heard by those who are traveling a different journey.
MORE THAN OKAY
For those who have been wondering why the blog has been quiet. I am okay. I am actually much better than okay. For the past three weeks I have been getting more exercise and am fighting to eat better.
When I first heard the cancer was growing again I was about ready to give up. I started to entertain thoughts of taking disability and spending the remainder of my life writing. Radiation offered a different path and a hope that I previously dared not dream about. Meeting with a surgeon opens even greater doors that are still available should my liver demonstrate that it is, in fact, healthy and strong. Something about those glimmers of hope, combined with some time spent at the Jesuit Center have infused me with an energy that once shaped every day of my life.
God is Good All the Time; All the Time God is Good…and Worthy to Be Praised!
1 Center to Advance Palliative Care, https://www.capc.org/about/palliative-care, (accessed 23 May 2019)
To get a copy of The Journey Continues you may visit the book’s website or any online retailer. The Journey Continues is the story of how God met me in the midst of a stage IV colon cancer diagnosis and helped me find peace and purpose.