In the middle of March, I went back to Bryn Athyn / Huntingdon Valley to have my 3-month checkup (I’m living in Toronto now, working as assistant to the pastor – and I love it!). I got a CT scan and a PET scan, and both of them show that I’m still in remission! The future is a little complicated in terms of tests and things, since I’m in the middle of switching over from my American insurance to the Canadian government insurance, and I still haven’t figured out where I’ll be having the next few rounds of tests, where I’ll have my port taken out, etc. Hopefully all that will be resolved in the next couple of months. My doctor in the states said I could have my port taken out any time, so that will be nice. I’m meeting with my new family physician here for the first time on May 3rd, so hopefully then I’ll be able to figure out what I can have done here and what (if anything) needs to happen in the U.S. before the church switches me over to the Canadian health care system.
Wow – it’s been an unusually long time since I updated this blog, even for me. Sorry! I had my last treatment on December 1st. At the end of December I had a CT scan, which shows that the lymph nodes have not grown or shrunk since my last CT scan. My doctor says that this is a good thing – it means that probably all that’s left is scar tissue. I was a little worried because of a low white blood cell count, lower than it was two weeks after my final treatment, but the doctor said that this is normal – it just means that the Neulasta (the white blood cell boosting injection I got every treatment) was leaving my system, and my counts should be normal soon.
So, with that good news, I left for Canada on January 4th, and I am here now. I’m starting to get settled in, and I’m excited about my new role as assistant pastor. It’s really, really nice to have a consistent job, rather than odd-jobs here and there. I’m loving it.
As to this blog, I don’t know how much more I will be updating it. Hopefully not too often – no news is good news. I have a final round of tests at the end of March, and that should let us for sure that the treatments have worked – I’ll be sure to post that here.
Thanks again to all of you friends and family of mine – your support was and is awesome.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits.” (Psa 103:1-2)
Thanksgiving is here, and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt as much gratitude as I feel this year. I’m alive, and my cancer seems to be in remission. I have one treatment left, and then I’ll be able to move on to Toronto, to help serve the Olivet society.
I’m thankful to and thankful for the people who have dedicated their lives to researching cancer and seeking for a cure.
I’m thankful to and thankful for my primary care doctor, Dr. Pedicino, for taking my symptoms seriously, for reassuring me that if I had cancer it would still be treatable, for referring me to a great oncologist, and for checking up on me just to see how I was doing.
I’m thankful to and for my oncologist, Dr. Gharpure, for his expertise and for his humor and for saving my life.
I’m thankful to and for all the nurses and staff people at Abington Hematology and Oncology. I’m certainly not going to miss chemo, but I’m going to miss talking to them, their smiling faces, their friendliness.
I’m thankful to and thankful for my family. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for taking me to my chemo appointments and sitting with me. Thanks for taking care of me at home, and for putting up with my whining when I felt bad. Thanks to all my siblings for not letting me take myself too seriously, and thanks for letting me know that you really care (we know we care about each other even if, or maybe especially if, we show it mostly by mocking each other).
I’m thankful to and thankful for my friends. You’re awesome. Thanks for understanding when I didn’t feel well enough to do anything. Thanks for offering over and over again to do whatever I needed, and thanks for listening when I said that what I needed was to just be treated normally. Thanks for all the cancer jokes.
I’m thankful to and for all the people who care about me. There’s a lot more of you than I realized. I cannot believe how much love and support have been sent my way. I can’t even begin to express what it’s like to hear from so many people that they’re thinking about you and praying about you and caring about you. It almost makes getting cancer worth it (but not quite :-)). Thank you!
And thanks to the Lord, of course, the Source of all that love that was directed to me, the Source of the knowledge and wisdom that fought my cancer. I’m grateful for life – not just for “being alive” in this world, but for real life – for loving other people, for serving others, for playing, for rejoicing, for praising the Lord. And what an awesome gift to know that life is eternal. I’m grateful for eternal things: for love and wisdom, and for loving and wise people, who already seem to be angels.
9 treatments down, only 3 to go. I can see the end in sight, and it’s about time! The last few chemo Tuesdays have been pretty rough – I’ve felt pretty sick, and last week I threw up for the first time. I’m not feeling so great right now, but I took my anti-nausea medicine as soon as I got home (about 10 minutes ago), and I can take it again in 6 hours, so hopefully I’ll be OK this week.
On the upside, the doctor got back results from a CT scan and a pulmonary function test (PFT) that I got last week, and they’re both good. According to the CT scans the lymph nodes are continuing to shrink, which is a relief. I’ve been having a little bit of back pain the last few weeks, which was one of the major symptoms of lymphoma at the beginning, so I was a little worried that maybe the lymph nodes were growing again. The back pain is probably just caused by the Neulasta I’m taking, which grows white blood cells (and every shot of which, the doctor informed me today, costs $2,000).
I took a PFT before beginning chemo so that we could compare my lung function before to my lung function after, since one of the drugs I’m taking (Bleomycin) can cause lung damage. In a PFT, you sit in a little booth and they have you breathe into a tube in various fun ways, like with slow deep breaths, then short fast breaths, or hyperventilating breaths. Then you inhale some kind of medicine and do it again. My lung function before chemo was “super-normal” (I think because I have a freakishly large lung capacity), and apparently the results for my test last week were almost identical to those from before. So, Bleomycin does not seem to be killing my lungs.
I’m really looking forward to when I’m done chemo and can have more than one good week in a row – as I think I’ve mentioned before, it’s a little tiresome to get into the swing of things only to have that interrupted by several days of feeling kind of gross and tired. But looking back (and looking forward), I’ve been really lucky – almost every good week I’ve had something to do, usually preaching or high school chapel, and I’ve already got the next two weeks scheduled – high school chapel next week, Sunday Night Thing the week after that. I preached in Kempton on Sunday, and I loved it. They had Autumn Weekends after church, and so I got to eat delicious food in the company of a lot of really nice people. It was a great Sunday.
And today I was excited about “Abbey Road” being released for Beatles Rock Band. They hadn’t released it when Sylvia came over to play Rock Band at 10:30 this morning, so I put in Rock Band 2, only to discover that they just released 10 Queen songs, which are a heckuva lot of fun to play and sing. With those plus the new Beatles stuff, I think it’s going to be a fun, Rock Band-filled week.
I’m past the halfway point! I had my seventh round of chemo a week ago, and I’ve only got five more to go. It’s a good feeling. Side effects are still manageable, but I’m ready to be done. It’s pretty frustrating to feel great for a week, to get into the swing of writing sermons/answering emails/editing Office of Education material, then to feel too groggy and gross to do anything of much use for a week.
I’ve had enough treatments now that I can be pretty sure of how my chemo weeks will go. I get chemo on a Tuesday morning, and by Tuesday afternoon I feel sick to my stomach and have a bad taste in my mouth. Plus I feel uncomfortably warm, due to the steroids they give me to keep me from getting nauseous. Tuesday nights are the worst – they’re the only times when I’ve felt like I’m about to throw up.
Wednesday I usually get the hiccups, although for some inexplicable reason I didn’t after the fifth or sixth cycle (they were back for the seventh). I still feel a little gross in my stomach, and still feel a little too warm from the steroids. On top of that, I’m usually a little fuzzy-headed. And tired. The tiredness that comes from chemo is hard to describe. It’s an artificial tiredness, like someone’s pushing down on my eyelids – not just pushing down on my eyelids, but pushing the “sleep” button in my brain without a normal feeling of being tired. Actually, maybe that’s part of the fuzzy-headedness t00 – the feeling that someone’s pushing on my brain. Like I said, impossible to describe.
Thursdays I usually still feel a little gross, but they aren’t as bad as Wednesdays, and are often better than Fridays, actually. Friday is often a little worse than Thursday, with the sick feeling and bad taste in my mouth a little stronger. And Saturday is frustrating – I feel like it’s been long enough since my last treatment that I SHOULD feel better, but I don’t, and it irritates me. Sunday I can still feel some of the effects but they tend to diminish, and by Monday I usually feel fine.
As frustrating as the process is, I actually feel blessed that the symptoms are so mild. I get annoyed, but I don’t feel miserable. And I’m very grateful for the good weeks – I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through six months of this without any kind of respite. The great thing about those 8 or 9 days when I feel well is that it’s long enough that by the end of it the last treatment feels like a long time ago – it’s not like I get hit again right after starting to feel good.
I had my PET scan on Friday, and the doctor called me today with results. He told me that there was no activity in any of the lymph nodes – really good news. A PET scan works by having them inject a radioactive sugar into you. Cancer cells are particularly greedy, so when they see high activity on the scan it usually means cancer. I don’t know what no activity implies – to me it sounds like it means the cancer is gone, but it probably means that it’s shrunk and that the chemo is keeping it from being active. That’s something to ask my doctor. In any case, it’s very good news, and we’re going to stick to the schedule as planned since it seems to be working.
Sigh. As promised, I stink at updating blogs. Oh well – in this case, no news is good news. My hair still looks about the same as it did in the last post, so there’s a good chance I’ll keep most of it. And round 3 of chemo actually felt better than round 2. I just got round 4 this morning, and we’ll see how it goes. The hiccups are inevitable – they’ll start tonight and last all day tomorrow. I’ve discovered, though, that if I just let them happen for about 15 minutes then any of the usual techniques get rid of them for a little while, sometimes even a couple hours.
Yesterday I got a CT scan to see if my lymph nodes had gone down in size. The overall news is good: the lymph nodes have shrunk, which means the chemo is working. They haven’t gone down as much as we might have hoped, but Dr. Gharpure says some of the mass could easily be scar tissue. I’m getting a PET scan on Friday, and that will tell us where the cancer still is.
There’s not much more to report, other than that. I felt well enough last week to preach in Ivyland, and it felt great to be working on a sermon, and especially great to be serving real-life people again. I’ve been doing work revising Ager’s translation of True Christian Religion and answering emails for the office of outreach, but I’ve missed the human contact that to me is at the heart of being a minister. I’m preaching again at the contemporary service in BA in 2 weeks, and I’m really looking forward to that.
A couple of days ago when I was in the shower I ran my hand through my hair, and some hair came out and clung to my hand. It finally happened – I’ve started losing my hair. It doesn’t come out in big clumps or anything, just strands, and it hadn’t started being noticeable yet – but it was really annoying having hairs in my face on my pillow, so today I decided to buzz my head. I think I’ll keep losing more, but for now I’m happy with my hair – I’ve actually cut it this short before, so I just look like a high schooler again. Here are some before, during, and after pictures:
That’s from this morning, when I still had lots of hair. Lots of annoying, falling out hair.
That’s my dad shaving my head. The picture was his idea. I think I can safely say that no matter what else happens, my hair will not look this bad again.
And here’s how I look now – sleeker, faster, and with less hair in my mouth when I try to sleep.
Well, as predicted, I haven’t been updating this blog too frequently. In this case, no news is good news. I had a little bit of a sore throat the week after my first treatment, and I was a little tired for a few days, but I managed to avoid any of the nastier side effects, and last week I felt better than I have in months.
I got round 2 of chemo this morning, and it went well again. They did say that my white blood cells are lower than they should be, but I got a shot that should fix that. This afternoon I’ve felt a tiny bit sick, but nothing to worry about. So, everything’s going along as planned. I still have all my hair for now, but my balding doctor told me that if I still have more hair than he does next time I see him, he’s upping my dose of chemotherapy. (He was just kidding. Or so he claims…)
Last week I went to the lake with the family, and I had a great time. There’s one of the blessings coming out of having cancer – more time to spend with my family before heading up to Canada. We watched the 4th of July fireworks from out on the boat, which I missed last year due to being in Australia, and spent a lot of time just relaxing. This week is a work week (if I still feel up to it) – I’m slowly getting settled in my parents’ house, and I’m working part time for the Office of Outreach answering emails, as well as helping Heavenly Doctrines Publishing with reviewing the Ager translation of “True Christian Religion” for republishing. On Friday I leave for the shore, to my grandma’s house on Long Beach Island, my favorite place in the world.
One other little thing. I haven’t seen my primary doctor since I was diagnosed about a month ago – it’s all been my oncologist (plus the surgeon for my port). Today my doctor called just to see how I was doing and to let me know he was thinking of me. Little things like that blow me away. People are awesome, and the Lord is so good.
I got my first round of chemo yesterday, and it went really well. The whole process took about 3 hours, but it will be a lot shorter in the future, since for the first hour they had to inject me in my arm with one of the chemo drugs and wait an hour to see if I had an allergic reaction (I didn’t). After that, there were no problems at all. I was worried that it would hurt a lot when they stuck the IV needle into my port, since the area was still sore from having it put in on Monday, but it was no worse than having an IV needle stuck in my arm. I didn’t feel it at all after that, even when they were sending the chemicals through it.
So far, there have been no side effects, other than a tiny bit of light-headedness from time to time. I know that the side effects often don’t really start in earnest till the third or fourth day, so I’m assuming some are still coming, but it’s relieving that I’m not incapacitated by the chemo. Also, my back barely hurts at all today, which hasn’t happened without painkillers for several weeks. So maybe the drugs are already starting to work!
The one annoying thing is that the hiccups I woke up with after surgery keep coming back. I’ve read a few places online that after anesthesia they can last anywhere from 3 days to a week. The best method I know of for getting rid of them – exhaling, then drinking a whole glass of water from the opposite side of the glass – seems to work sometimes, but they always seem to come back eventually. Oh well, I shouldn’t complain – I think there are people who would love to have recurring hiccups as the only problem the day after chemo. And if the internet’s right, I should be fine in a day or two.