The past few days have contained little victories that have been encouraging to us. Last week was a really hard week. We had hoped the surgery on Monday would help Nathan’s swelling but it seemed to have the opposite effect. His swelling got worse and moved from his legs to his abdomen so that his entire body from the chest down was swollen. He could not walk, stand, or get out of bed because of the swelling. Chemo started on Tuesday as a last resort to reduce the swelling and help with the blood clots. Chemo itself was not bad but each day that Nathan could not move became more emotionally difficult for him. Even things like reading or talking with friends were difficult because of the medications he was on.
Saturday was the last day of this round of chemo. Since then we have been experiencing small signs of progress that have been encouraging to both of us. Biggest encouragement is that his swelling has gone down quite a bit in the past couple of days. He was even able to stand up today for a minute. Another encouragement is that Nathan ate more today than he has in about a week. Eating and drinking has been a challenge. The combination of loss of appetite, nausea, and taste buds being affected by chemo has made eating difficult. We are striving for little goals these days. Siting up in bed, eating little bits of food, staying hydrated, etc…
Please continue to pray for God to heal Nathan’s body. Specifically that the swelling will go down, blood clots will clear out, and the cancer will melt away. Please also pray that we will find our hope in Christ alone. We need God to continue to give us strength to trust Him and persevere through the suffering ahead.
One of my fellow pastors came to visit me and asked, “How have you responded to God in the midst of all this?” It was a simple enough question but I found myself diving deep within my soul to find the answer. From the beginning I have seen God at work in all this. In the beginning I was able to see more clearly God’s purposes and ways He was working through this struggle. As this cancer has continued its destructive work in my body God’s purposes can be more difficult to see. My cries to God are not as finely articulated but my heart continues to cry out to Him. I have come to several conclusions about this thing called cancer. One might say that cancer is a gift, not a gift one receives in excitement or with great joy, but a gift that opens up doors of new opportunity. Now that I am three weeks into my cancer battle I think I can say that cancer is a gift. What do I do with such a gift? On some days it gives me fresh opportunities to see life in different ways. The coming of a new day, new interactions with people, new chances to proclaim truth and new opportunities. On other days cancer seems much less like an opportunity and more like a curse. Cancer has swollen my body to the point I cannot leave the bed. It has made me immobile. Daily I fight to have courage and joy in the midst of my pain. I know it seems like I am speaking out of both sides of my mouth but I think that is the conclusion I am coming to. Cancer is both a curse and an opportunity. Cancer is a curse in that it is killing me, draining my joy and making me believe lies. But it is also a real and genuine opportunity for me to place my hope and dependence upon Christ because He is all I have. There is no hope, nothing apart from Him. My heart cries out with the lamenter in Lamentations 3. The lamenter is broken and ravaged. As he feels hopeless and in despair, yet he can speak these words: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
As you journey with us in prayer through this struggle two things weigh heavy on my heart. One is that I would have a spirit of joy and hope every morning. That I would fight throughout the day to make God my refuge. Second, because the cancer has swollen parts of my body to a point where I am immobile and cannot get out of bed, pray that the chemo will shrink the tumors and return my body to normal. Pray the Lord will do this soon.
Day three of chemo. Week three in the hospital. We were initially admitted to the hospital for blood clots and cancer. In our minds cancer sounded much more insurmountable than blood clots. As the weeks have gone by that has changed dramatically. The cancer diagnosis has been described as very treatable and something we can overcome. The blood clots are feeling more and more serious. Nathan’s body is still very swollen. Everything in his body seems to be backed up from the clotting. The doctors all seem hopeful that by the end of this first round of chemo we will see improvement and we are praying hard to that end. Each round of chemo will last five days so this round began on Tuesday and will go through Saturday. Please pray we will see results of the chemo by this weekend.
Our hearts have wrestled with God over the past few days but as we face uncertainty and fears, He continues to be our refuge. In moments when we are scared or discouraged and don’t know what to pray, we find ourselves crying out to God asking Him for help and claiming His promises to us. One of the promises we have been repeating again and again is found in Psalm 46:1. “God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble.” In an earlier post I shared briefly that we have been reflecting on how God fought for the Israelites in the Old Testament. They would go out against ridiculous odds and come back victorious because God had fought the battle for them. Everyday I feel more powerless in this battle Nathan and I are facing. This story in 2 Chronicles has been an encouragement to me. King Jehoshaphat prayed to God, “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” God’s response: “Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf'” (2 Chronicles 20:12, 15, 17)
We have been so encouraged by your prayers. We feel supported and upheld by all of you who have chosen to pray with us for God’s glory and Nathan’s healing. Please continue to pray with us. The requests we mentioned in our last post “Chemo Begins” are what we are continuing to ask God for.
The next step in our cancer journey begins today. Surgery yesterday did not go very well. The blood flow is so restricted the doctor said there are not as many blood clots as he thought but the blood can just not flow the way it needs to. At this point Nathan is not getting better. The plan had been to start chemo therapy in two weeks so he could heal fully from the surgeries last week. Since he is not healing and getting better, the new plan is to begin chemo this afternoon. We are grateful for this decision and think it is the right thing to do. The past few days we feel like Nathan is just getting worse and the only way to begin getting better is to attack the source of all the problems.
Even though we are ready for chemo to begin and agree this is the best decision, there are obviously fears that come with beginning chemo therapy. Right now Nathan’s blood clots have no where to go. That is causing drastic swelling in his legs and abdomen but the blockage is also protecting him from having blood clots travel up to his heart or lungs. Nathan is also nervous about beginning chemo when he is not at full strength. We are trying to continually remind ourselves that God is the same today as He was weeks ago. We want to trust Him and look to Him alone as our source of strength and sustenance. As we strive to do that we are learning in new ways what it means to have your faith tested. Please pray with us that He will continue to draw us close to Himself. Our church began a sermon series on Job this past Sunday. I have been reflecting on the trials Job experienced and God’s clear reminder to Job that He has all of this in control.
Specific things to pray for us today:
- That we will see results from chemo quickly and it will help Nathan’s body begin to function normally again.
- That Nathan’s swelling will go down drastically. Right now he is extremely uncomfortable and cannot get out of bed.
- That the cancer would shrink quickly and open up the veins so blood can flow easily.
- As the blood veins open up the blood will flow but the blood clots will stay where they are.
- Nathan will have strength and energy to persevere.
- God will continue to sustain us and be our strength.
Yesterday we received some discouraging news. The news has progressively become worse today. Nathan had a necessary surgery on Tuesday but to perform the surgery he had to stop taking blood thinners for two days. During the course of those two days, being off of blood thinners and less active due to surgery, more blood clots developed. There have been clots in Nathan’s abdomen for weeks but now there are clots in both his legs. These clots are causing significant swelling and pain. Yesterday the doctor seemed hopeful the clots would improve in the next few days. Today he seems less confident of that. There is an operation that can be done to help with the clots but the doctor is not sure how effective it will be. He will not be able to perform the operation with all the tools he would normally use because Nathan had surgery so recently. The doctor says it is a little like performing the operation with one hand behind his back. This makes us nervous but the alternative seems unbearable. The amount of pain Nathan is in currently makes even walking a few feet incredibly difficult. Chemo will begin to shrink the masses in Nathan’s body that are restricting blood flow but since chemo will not start for two weeks it does not seem feasible for Nathan to function the next two weeks with the level of pain and discomfort he is currently experiencing. There are also risks of long-term damage the longer the swelling occurs. There is still a chance the swelling will go down over the weekend and the operation will not need to be done. We had hoped to go home from the hospital today but were told this morning that is not a good idea with the current status of the blood clots. The new plan is to stay here over the weekend and plan to have the operation for the blood clots on Monday around 1PM.
We would like to ask you to consider praying and fasting with us over this surgery. Our request is that you would consider fasting for lunch on Monday and praying for the following things:
- God will use the doctor’s hand to clean out all the new blood clots and even the old ones that he is saying will probably not respond to what he will do.
- There will not be any complications.
- There will not be any long-term implications from the blood clots.
Nathan keeps referring to this journey as a battle. We have been reminded this morning about the ways God took the Israelites to battle in the Old Testament. So many times they went to battle but did not actually fight because God fought for them. We are beginning to understand more clearly how much bigger this battle is than us. God is asking us to enter this battle but we are placing our trust and hope for victory in Him. I read this passage last night and it seemed so applicable to where we are right now. As we ask you to pray and fast for Nathan’s operation on Monday this passage feels appropriate to share. “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:8-12).
Update: Surgery went a little longer than expected. The doctor did his best to remove as many blood clots as possible but said it felt like the cancer was fighting against him. Blood flow is being restricted due to the cancer and this made the operation difficult. Sounds like fighting the cancer will have to be our next plan of attack for these blood clots. Increased blood flow is needed for them to improve.
Tonight, Nathan is really sore from the surgery and fighting off a fever. Chemo therapy is scheduled to begin two weeks from today but doctors were talking this morning about trying to begin chemo sooner. This sounds like a good plan to us right now. Please pray that the doctors will have wisdom tomorrow morning as they decide what the next step should be. They are considering sending us to the hospital at IU in Indianapolis to see the specialists in this field.
Thank you so much for your prayers today. We have been so encouraged by the number of people committing to pray for us and for those of you who specifically committed to pray and fast today at lunch. My heart gets fearful whenever they take Nathan away and today I felt great encouragement in knowing I had so many brothers and sisters in Christ who were praying with me right then that my husband would be okay. Thank you. Please continue to pray for us as this journey continues. We are so grateful for each one of you.
Today was a day with both disappointments and encouraging surprises. Tomorrow I’ll share more about the new challenges we are facing in our battle with cancer, but for today, let’s focus on what was encouraging. As most of you know, I love to read and have started a nice library during my time here in Louisville. Without doubt, one of my favorite authors is a pastor and theologian named John Piper. Dr. Piper writes on missions, theology and a host of other important issues that are facing the church today. Several books have made an impact on my life and ministry over the last 10 years including: Let the Nations be Glad, Desiring God and A Hunger for God. When I was admitted to the hospital over a week ago, I ask a friend to bring me one of Piper’s books called Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. This has been an intense read but one that has grown my heart and passion for God in the midst of suffering. The year after co-writing this book, John Piper was diagnosed with prostate cancer and added an appendix to the book entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” His ten simple observations have given me daily strength as he points me be back to God’s Word and my Savior who suffered so greatly. Over the last week, I have been sharing these truths along with a handful of Psalms, with those who visit me.
Here is the encouraging part of my day. This afternoon, two of my fellow pastors walked into my hospital room for a visit and with them came John Piper. I was floored! He was speaking at a conference here in the city and agreed to come see me in the hospital. We chatted for a time, talked about how the Lord was encouraging me and then he gathered everyone around me to pray. He prayed for God’s blessing in the midst of cancer, that I would suffer well and that God, through His grace, would allow me to fully defeat cancer. Thank you Pastor Daniel and Pastor Rob for this gift. Thank you John Piper for taking the time to bring me and my suffering before the Lord in prayer.
Our future feels like it is slowly becoming more clear. Doctors seem to be in consensus and wanting to move forward with treatment. Nathan had two operations on Tuesday morning that went well. The past few days have consisted of recovery and waiting for biopsy results. Yesterday we were told the biopsy came back negative. This does not mean Nathan does not have cancer. It means he has a rare kind of testicular cancer that is not actually in the testicle. So despite the negative biopsy the doctors are saying there are definitely cancer cells in Nathan’s body and through other tests they are confident it is testicular cancer. Because of other tests results doctors are planning to move forward with chemo in a few weeks.
The first step right now is for Nathan’s blood thinners to get regulated again. Blood thinners were stopped for surgery but were able to be started back today. Next step is to recover from the surgery and be as healthy as possible before beginning chemo. The doctors have scheduled chemo to begin in two weeks. The final step in this stage of cancer is to drive to Indiana for an appointment with the leading specialist in testicular cancer. He has been consulting on Nathan’s case from the beginning and our doctors want us to go see him before they continue to move forward with treatment. There is still a possibility of another biopsy but that process will be difficult and we have been hoping they can move forward without needing that additional step. The doctors in Indiana will make the final decision on that.
This week has proven to be harder than last week in many ways. The reality of what we are facing continues to sink in each day. As we face suffering we are feeling our brokenness and the brokenness of the world around us more intensely. Nathan has said often the past week that what we are facing right now is more real than what we experience normally. Sin and suffering are always very present but often we ignore their effects. The truth that this world is not the way it was intended to be is a very real truth for us right now. We feel the presence of sin and suffering very acutely. But praise God as suffering becomes more real so do the truths of His Word. The comfort and peace God gives are so much sweeter in the midst of our brokenness. This morning we are clinging to these words: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).
Thoughts as a wife: We all know to some degree that life is short and anything can happen, but isn’t it interesting how we don’t really think it will? I have been the guilty party in assuming most hard things will just pass me by. For example, your husband has cancer is not a statement I ever anticipated hearing. But…my husband does have cancer, so now what? Multiple times in the past month my mind has rushed to scenarios and possibilities that feel unbearable. In those moments I feel completely incapable of walking the road I fear might be placed in front of me. Life suddenly looks very different. Rather than looking forward to the future and what God has in store for us I have found myself afraid of what the future may hold.
As sickness and suffering have entered our life my mind has raced with thoughts and my heart has filled with emotions that I have not had to face before. In my brokenness God has been challenging me with a hard truth. Do I trust Him? The automatic response seems to be yes, but that question is harder to answer in the midst of suffering and fear. Trusting God does not feel as safe as it once did. As I trust God I find hope, but is my hope in God Himself or in something I am hoping God will do? God is asking me to place my hope in Him. Not in Nathan being healed or feeling better by a certain point, but in the God who created us, sustains us, loves us, and is accomplishing His good purposes on earth.
The hardest part of the past three weeks has been the unknowns. The initial diagnosis of testicular cancer felt pretty straightforward. We were told Nathan had extensive cancer but it was a very treatable type of cancer and doctors were assuring us he would be fine. As time progressed and the blood clots and swelling became worse the doctors stopped speaking with such confidence. Their conversations with us became full of possibilities and things we should hope for but not assurances of what would happen. In the face of unknowns God has asked me to examine where I am placing my hope. My hope is misplaced if I am hoping in Nathan getting better. My hope must be in God Himself.
I have found trusting God more difficult than it has ever been in this season. There is a fear that rises in my heart of what God might want to do and it makes me afraid to trust Him. As I face those fears I am realizing that even though I am afraid of what may come, if my hope is not in God I have nothing left to hope in. It is difficult to trust God in this season but I still know He is all I have to trust in. God is patiently letting me struggle with my fears and wrestle with who He is. God is lovingly sending His children to love on me and remind me of His Word. God is loving me in my weakness and keeping me from falling.
So many of you have been praying for us and we are seeing God answer those prayers. This week has continued to bring progress. Nathan stood up last night for about 10 minutes while we cut his hair. Yesterday he ate part of a milkshake and most of a hamburger. We are praying that he will gain endurance as he tries to get up a few times a day. We are also praying his appetite will grow and that he will be able to keep food down.