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Lance, Cancer and Great News

I have not been up for much reading during this whole process. I started reading Piper’s book on suffering but once the chemo started I soon lost any interest or ability to read. Not that I couldn’t read but that I have been so fatigued that doing anything at all seems too much. This changed a bit when one of my friends gave me Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, It’s Not About the Bike, My Journey Back to Life. As some of you might know, Lance himself suffered through testicular cancer and survived. He set up a foundation called LiveStrong that raises money to fight cancer.

All that to say, I have been reading his book on and off for a few weeks and it has been helpful. I have met many cancer survivors during this process but not with the same diagnosis or severity as mine. To read about Lance fighting cancer and winning has been a source of encouragement. The one thing I have definitely taken away from his book is that this battle is long and hard. He makes the statement that he wonders who the chemo will kill first, the cancer or himself. I wonder the same thing.

This week home from the hospital has been good, much better than last time, but I have been plagued by nausea and vomiting. My weight keeps dropping. I have lost almost 40 lbs since being diagnosed. Also, I am in a state of constant fatigue. I barely have the strength to go to the bathroom or make my doctor’s visits. I don’t say any of this as a way to complain. I want those who love and care for me to know how I am doing and how they can pray.

I wanted to make you aware of one huge answer to prayer. After looking at my blood test and my progress so far. They have decided to go from 4 chemotherapy cycles down to 3. That means in less than a month, I will be finished with chemo. The cancer is responding to the chemo and that means I will need one less cycle. Praise God for his kindness.

Keep praying for my recovery, my clots, my nausea and my fatigue.

 

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Be Encouraged

On Sunday, the doctor walked into my room and asked when I would like to go home. Despite the failed attempt to transition back home two weeks ago, I told the doc I would love to go home that day. We packed our stuff and headed home within a few hours. By most accounts I am doing well. The swelling is almost nonexistent, I am eating and all my blood counts are good. I am excited to be home but also a little fearful. When I am in the hospital and my health turns south, there are doctors and nurses to step in and help. At home my care is more limited. Pray my transition home goes smoothly, that I will sleep well at night and that we will find a healthy rhythm of life.

I finished up round 2 of chemo on Saturday which is a huge blessing. Now I am in the week post-chemo which is the hardest. It is during this week that I get sick with nausea, struggle to keep food down and feel weak physically. From these physical struggles I also get emotionally and spiritually discouraged. Fighting for hope and joy in the midst of these struggles seems almost impossible at times. During these times I have found several things to be encouraging.

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Two Down, Two To Go

It’s Saturday and around the hospital things seem to die down. There are fewer patients, the staff is more laid back and there seems to be on overall sense of rest around here. This last week has been one of steady progress, filled with more hope and lots of little graces. I have been walking a bit more, I am taking long rides in a wheelchair around the hospital and I am doing my best to stay out of the bed most of the day. Today is my last day of chemotherapy and though I am fighting some nausea, I have yet to vomit. This is a huge answer to prayer. The next 4 or 5 days could be the hardest. Pray that my nausea is minimal and that the side effects of chemo will be less than they were during round one.

Tonight they are putting me on a different blood thinner with the plan of sending us home in just a few days. We all know this did not go well last time but they are changing some of my medications this time. They have also highly encouraged me to slow down once I am at home. If you know me, slowing down can be hard. Pray with us that this time will be different. That I will be able to transition into home life with all its joys and challenges.

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Rough Road Ahead

The longer we go in this process, everyone (including me) begins to expect our journey of pain and suffering to get easier. It is a natural desire. You see your son, husband, friend or pastor suffer with cancer for weeks and months. You pray. You cry. You comfort. You long for healing. As the journey lengthens, so does your expectation that this will get easier. The hard truth is sometimes it just doesn’t. Sometimes the pain gets better for a time and then worse again. Sometimes the nausea just won’t go away and sometimes it is just hard to look on the bright side of things. You may have guessed it by now – this is Nathan writing and this is my story.

I am naturally a very upbeat, positive, ‘half-glass full” person. I always seem to be able to spin a positive side to situations, but my positive spirit has wavered in this journey. After thinking through where Sarah and I are right now, I feel it is unhelpful to put a positive spin on our story, when that is not what my heart feels. If you are reading this blog then clearly you love us, want the best for us and deserve the “unrated” version of life with cancer. So, here we go:

Life with cancer sucks – plain and simple. More than that, life with cancer and extreme blood clots can feel unbearable at times. When we started this whole process, I was obviously most concerned with fighting cancer. Now that I am almost six weeks in, it is the blood clots that are causing the most problems. Long story short: the largest tumor in my abdomen is pressing against the main vein that flows from my heart to my legs. This pressure has slowed blood flow and caused an unending series of blood clots throughout my legs. This is where my pain and lack of mobility are coming from. I say this to help everyone understand that we are battling two different problems here not just one. As you pray, please pray that God will fully heal me from these vicious blood clots.

We are back in the hospital. We were only home two days when I finally had to throw in the towel and return. While we were home, I began swelling again, fighting pain, fever and loss of mobility. We have been back in the hospital for five days now. I am feeling much better than I was at home. The swelling has gone down and the pain is controlled through medication but it would be a lie to say I was doing well. My spirits are down and my heart fights for joy when there seems to be none. I know God’s promises in the midst of all this. I know he is good and loves me but it’s hard to believe these things when I feel broken and beaten down day after day. It seems that just when I start to have relief in one area, I am crushed in another. Relief seems so distant. As you pray, pray that my heart would believe in and cherish God’s promises in the midst of my pain. Pray that my heart would echo the words of a song I have been singing the last few days, “Begone unbelief, My Savior is near,
And for my relief will surely appear:
By faith let me wrestle, with God in the storm…” (Begone Unbelief, Indelible Grace)

In all this I am still fighting but in different ways. I have learned that the battle with cancer and clots is not mine to fight. The battle belongs to the Lord. I am told to be still and the Lord will fight for me. What I am fighting for is a closeness and intimacy with God. Many days I feel hardened- like I am digging my heels in for survival. I fail to give my own fears and weakness to the Lord. I am fighting to believe that the plan God has for me is good. I know God’s plan is good because I know my God, but some days my belief wavers. I am fighting for joy – joy in the Lord, joy in friends, joy in our true home and a life that is greater than this one. Some days I wake up and seek God’s grace and other days I fight to even pray. Some days I enjoy visits from friends and other days I ask people to stay away. Some days I have hope and rejoice in what God is doing and other days I don’t.

I do not know what the road ahead looks like. What I do know is the God who loves me, cares for me, and longs for my good is on the road with me. In fact, He owns the road. He is ever-present and continues to be my companion on this road of suffering.

As you continue to pray for me, pray that I will constantly be reminded that God, the creator and sustainer of the world, the one who holds all things together by his power is the one who walks with me daily through my suffering. He is the one who has never failed in the past and who cannot fail in the future. “One thing God has spoken and two things have I heard. That you, O God are strong and that you, O God are loving.” Psalm 62:11

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Home Again

After one full month in the hospital, I was finally released yesterday at 4pm to go and enjoy home for a bit. It was a bit surreal to be leaving the hospital, detached from machines and not under the watchful eye of seven doctors and a host of nurses. To my disappointment however, coming home last night was not all I hoped it would be. Since being bed ridden for 10 days, I have been slow to get my strength back. I seem to be light headed a lot and limited in the amount I can walk. When coming home from the hospital, it took a ton more effort and energy than I had expected. By the time we had gotten home, cut my hair and taken a shower; I felt like I had just run a marathon. I was so exhausted that I had trouble sleeping last night and even struggled with anxiety, something I have never struggled with.

Today has been better. I took two naps to catch up on sleep, ate a full plate of Chinese food for lunch and spent an hour with my staff from church when they stopped by for a visit. I start my second round of chemotherapy this Monday. That gives me 4 more days before I dive back into the belly of the beast. Here are a few things you can be praying for:

  • Pray this round of chemo isn’t as bad as the first and that I will not get a nauseous as I did before.
  • Pray that Sarah and I find some sort of rhythm of life during the treatment process.
  • Pray that more of my strength comes back with each passing day and that the blood clots go away over time.
  • Pray for healing! Whether it is immediate or over the next two months through chemo treatment; pray I will have a full and complete recovery!
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My Simple Cry to God

It’s been a while since I sat down and wrote a post for our blog. Many times over the last several weeks Sarah has written our blogs as I have laid in bed and dictated my thoughts to her. It’s been a hard road over the last two weeks. My health dropped very quickly after three surgeries. I gained 40 pounds from the tremendous swelling in my legs, hips and torso. I was bed ridden for ten days, struggling to sit up or be mobile in any way. After just a few days of this, my emotions and spirit hit rock bottom and I had to fight very hard against absolute despair. I struggled to pray, read the Word or keep God at the forefront of my mind. In those dark and fearful moments, all I could do was cry out to God. “Help me Lord.” “Save me Lord.” “Please  give me Grace Lord.” Even though I have not been able to articulate my prayers or seek God through normal spiritual disciplines; I have learned that my weak and broken cries to God are just as pleasing to Him. My God saw me in my despair, He heard me and answered my prayer. These painful days have reminded me of God’s dealings with Israel in the Old Testament. Over and over again God’s people would cry out to God in their pain and despair, God heard them and He answered.

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” 
Exodus 2:23-25

In the midst of all this pain, I woke up yesterday and felt much better. My blood counts were up, the swelling was almost completely gone and my spirits were on the rebound. I stood up and moved to a chair in the room and was out of bed for over 8 hours. It may not sound like a big deal but yesterday’s events were a huge success! I am out of bed again today and plan to push myself a little farther. Physical therapy will come later and help me start to walk normally again. Pray that I will be able to get back on my feet and be ready for round two of chemotherapy in just 8 days.