Monday, October 16, 2017

Update 10/16/2017 -- A Little Longer Before Chemo

It has been a long 17 days since surgery.  We praise God that the surgeon was able to get everything and we praise God for the rapid healing that Julie experienced through the point of being discharged 10 days ago.  However, we have had some setbacks since getting home.  She developed a UTI and was proactively put on a very strong broad antibiotic, which caused major stomach issues, which is not good with some of the work she had done to her.  To make matters worse, the UTI she had turned out to be resistant to that particular antibiotic.  All of this led to her losing too much liquid and we ended up going to the ER a few days ago to get her checked out and re-hydrated.  She is now on a new antibiotic that seems to be working on the UTI and is much milder.  She is still having side-effects, but not as pronounced and bearable.  She began to progress in her healing again until Friday.

On Friday, we spent 9 hours at the hospital for post-surgery visits.  She had her follow-up with the surgeon's team, which removed the staples.  She then had to receive 2 units of blood because her hemoglobin was remaining low (it was low all along, so this was not a surprise).  She then had to get 4 immunizations because she no longer has a spleen.  We are not sure which of these (or most likely a combination of these), but it set her back again to more new pain in new areas.  The past 2 days have been pretty bad in the pain category for her.....  

Today, we had a "normal" chemo day scheduled with the Oncologist hoping to be able to start chemo.  They did blood work and then had the appointment with Dr. Colon (the Oncologist).  Her blood counts are all looking good and based on that alone she could have had chemo today.  However, Dr. Colon feels like (and we agree!) that she needs another week to continue to heal from surgery before starting chemo because healing will come much slower once chemo is started.  Based on all of this, unless there are any major setbacks, we will resume the last 9 weeks of chemo next Monday and repeat every Monday until done.  We did get a little concerned when we saw the blood-work because the CA-125 number was up, but Dr. Colon assures us that it is normal for it to do that when you have surgery.  He said people that don't have any cancer will have a higher CA-125 after a surgery and it wasn't anything to be concerned about.  He feels real good about where we are in the treatment process.

Some specific prayer points:
  • For relief of some back pain Julie is having -- most likely where the epidural was given and because she is having to lay on her back so much.
  • For relief of the new pains in her abdomen that we think is caused by new stretching since the staples were removed.
  • For her appetite to be increased and for her to be able to retain liquids.
  • For the overall healing of her body in preparation for the next half of chemo.
  • For the chemo to finish doing what it needs to do.
  • For Julie's emotional outlook.  She has had some pretty emotional times over everything that was done during surgery and some of the adjustments that are mostly temporary.  Of course, a lot of this is due to hormonal changes with the hormone producing parts being removed, but there are some other things that she is struggling with as well.
  • For protection against infections -- her immune system will always be less now without a spleen and once she starts chemo, it will make it weaker again.
  • For Sara's school -- her Hope Grant/Scholarship is at risk since we (not her) moved out of state.  Thankfully, we have a great State Representative in GA that is working on her behalf to get an exception due to the circumstances.
  • For ministry decisions that have to be made -- it is complex and involves a number of people and situations -- for now just pray as several people have decisions to make and we all want a clear direction from God to stay in His will.  The ministry in Honduras will continue -- we are just trying to figure out exactly what that looks like going forward and it is impacted not just by our circumstances, but also changing circumstances in Honduras.
  • For some unspoken requests for others close to us that I cannot disclose -- God will know who you are praying for :)
With Love,
Ben

Thursday, October 5, 2017

We are Home

Julie continued to stay ahead of schedule on her recovery of the surgery so she was discharged this afternoon and we are home at her cousin's in Jacksonville.  She is scheduled to return next Friday (13th) to have the staples removed as well as to receive some immunizations required now that she doesn't have a spleen.  Dr. Robertson believes that as healthy as Julie is other than the cancer that she may be ready to begin the last 9 weeks of chemo on Friday, October 20th.  Dr Robertson attributed Julie's rapid recovery of such an extensive surgery as her young age, good health, and "the good Lord looking out for you."  We think it was more of the last than anything and God honoring the many prayers of his children all over that have been and continue to pray for us.

On a different note, I have a minor outpatient eye surgery as a glaucoma preventative on Friday, October 13th.  We have someone that is going to come stay with Julie while I am gone and get her to her follow up appointment to have the staples removed and the immunizations.  The eye surgeon tells me that since I am only having one eye done that I can drive myself and it won't be a problem, but Julie wants me to have someone go with me, so if any of you men have the day off on Friday, October 13th and feel like riding to Glennville and back with me that day please let me know.  I do not yet know the time -- just the day.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Update on Surgery

Throughout the day of surgery and the first couple of days afterwards I was posting updates on Facebook, but I realized today that the Facebook prioritization system caused many of you to miss some of the updates.  Therefore, so everybody is up to date I will provide a total summary here from the day of surgery through today.

When the hospital called on Thursday (9/28) to give us the surgery time, they told us to check in at the hospital at 10:00am and that we would be Dr. Robertson's 3rd and last surgery of the day (the other 2 were predictable out-patient surgeries).  We arrived on time on Friday and she was taken back and changed clothes and got all hooked up with IVs, etc.  Dr. Robertson came by around 11:30am and went over the surgery again and explained that he wanted Julie to be his last surgery so he could take whatever time he needed to make sure he got all of the cancer -- he was preparing us for a long surgery, but we didn't realize how long (neither did he).  Around noon, they took Julie back to the OR to begin to clean her and prepare her for surgery and to begin anesthesia.  At 1:55pm, we receive a call in the waiting room from the OR that actual surgery had just begun.  We didn't receive any more information until around 9:00pm when the receptionist was leaving for the day and called the OR and they confirmed that she was still in surgery and that Dr. Robertson would come talk to us as soon as he was finished.  Around 9:30pm, Dr. Robertson came out and briefed us on the surgery and said that his team was completing the installation of the J trap drains, and sewing her up and would be moving her to ICU and that we should go to the ICU waiting room and wait for them to let us know when she was in ICU and what the procedure would be for when we could see her, etc.  Based on what Dr. Robertson had said he had done in the surgery and the time of the day it was, we assumed we would not get to see her, but would just get information.  At around 11:30pm, the ICU nurse came out and said she was awake and asking for us.  It turns out she had arrived in the ICU not long after Dr. Robertson had talked with us, but they had spent 2 hours trying to stabilize her vital signs.  Mayo allowed Betty (a close friend and nurse) to spend the night with her in the ICU, which is absolutely unheard of in most hospitals.

Dr. Robertson had previously had Julie sign the consent of treatment, which had a fairly long list of possible things he could have to do in surgery (even though he didn't expect to do them all), and then a catch-all of "and anything else I have to do to get all of the cancer and to keep you alive."  Without going into all of the details of what was done during the surgery, I will just say that I think there was only one thing on his fairly-exhaustive list that he didn't have to do and he did have to do one that was in the "whatever is necessary......." catch-all clause.  During the 7 1/2 hour surgery, Julie lost 3 liters of blood and was given 8 units plus platelets, and blood volume builder (I don't know the technical name of it).  The most important thing about the surgery though is that Dr. Robertson was able to achieve the R0 resection, which is a technical way of saying that he was able to find and remove all of the cancer that was large enough to be seen with the naked eye.  There are no more tumors or cancer deposits, but there are still cancer cells, which is why she has to have 9 more weeks of  chemo before they scan to see if she is in remission.

Julie stayed in ICU about 21 hours.  About 16 hours after arriving in the ICU, they had her standing up and moving her to a recliner chair, but it was a very difficult move and it was all Julie could do to stand for the few minutes it took them to move the bed and put the chair behind her.  After getting in a regular room late Saturday afternoon, they worked further to get her up and walking.  On Sunday, she walked down the hall three times and on Monday she walked the full "block" around our part of the floor of the hospital and then walked 2 more times with a regular walker instead of the platform walker.  As of tonight (10/2/2017), she has had most of the tubes, etc. removed.  This afternoon was the first she was able to eat or drink anything other than a very limited number of ice chips.  All of her digestive system finally started working again today, which made today the most difficult day because suddenly gases and digestive juices are flowing through a very raw digestive system that has been cut on, pulled on, poked on sewed on, etc.  The doctors are very happy with her progress, but she has a long way to go.

I think my Facebook posts have confused a few people a little as I have chosen to emphasize the positive more than the negative.  The positive is that it was a successful surgery in that they were able to remove the cancer.  It is also positive that each time I have reported something it was a normal step in recovery that occurred either on a normal schedule or ahead of schedule.  This means when I say she is doing "great" it means she is on a normal recovery schedule or better.  However, my positive comments do not mean she is without pain or that there is anything about this that was easy or will be easy.  Recovery was originally anticipated to be 4 to 6 weeks, but now just one part of it is typically 8 to 10 weeks without the delay in healing caused by chemo, which has to be restarted at some point.  My positive comments does not mean she isn't on an emotional roller-coaster of having to learn to deal with the realities of some of the things she will now have to deal with as a result of some of the things that had to be done in surgery and of having to take longer to recover.  When I am positive in my comments, I am giving God the praise He is due for the work He has done and continues to do to her body and I am not dwelling on the things that we will have to deal with or the difficulties and adjustments she and I both have to make.

We don't know yet how long we will be in the hospital.  Dr. Robertson had told us Friday night after the surgery to expect at least 10 days.  After we leave the hospital we should have a home health nurse come to the house every 3 to 5 days for some length of time.  As of right now, I really cannot leave the room for more than a couple of minutes unless somebody else is here with her.  This means that I am coordinating with close friends and family that are wanting to visit to have them come on different days so they won't overwhelm her with too much at once and also so that they can stay with her long enough for me to go get a shower and grab a bite to eat each afternoon or evening.  We also do not yet know when chemo will begin again -- it was originally scheduled for 10/16, but that was "iffy" anyway as it was originally based on a 9/25 surgery date and Dr. Colon had already said it was possible we would have to push it back a week.  However, pushing it back one week was not assuming such a difficult surgery to heal from so we will have to wait and see.

We thank you for your prayers and messages of encouragement.  Julie is not quite in the frame of mind to be on Facebook yet, so please give her grace if you are messaging her there.

Ben

Friday, September 8, 2017

Update: 9/08/2017 Chemo Day

So let's just put the jump up and down info. out there first--I get to have chemo today.  My white blood count numbers were actually UP today.  Yall--say what????  The doctors were a little surprised.  Now--not like amazingly higher--but higher is higher and usually they get lower every week.

Next on the list of great news--my CA125 is down to 68.  Normal range for this cancer marker is 38 and lower.  So while it does NOT mean I am cancer free it sure indicates this chemo is working.  Which is a good thing--great thing actually.

Things to pray about--I am still nuetropenic.  My numbers were up, but not good enough to get out of this stage.  AND I have a slight ear infection coupled with a swollen lymph node  in my neck.  Pray that I am healed from this.

Surgery has been moved from Monday, September 25th to Friday, September 29th.  The hospital had a conflict with the doctors' schedule.  So no biggie, just a few extra days to build up my immune system.

Please pray for my new friend "Frances".  She is here getting chemo and needs our prayers.  Pray for God to strenghthen her physically and emotionally.

Pray for our families and all of the people who are facing the storm, Irma.  We are going to my mom and dad's to ride out the storm.  Unless there is a mandatory evacuation.

I am so thankful to be finishing up this part of the chemo.  Pray for the cancer to stop growing these weeks I am off of chemo while my body heals from chemo and prepares for surgery and then heals from chemo.  Pray for all the tests, nurses and doctors involved in the surgery.

Lastly,  let me just give a BIG THANKS to everyone that has helped our family.  We are thankful for the words of encouragement. all the emails and texts, for the financial help, and for all the time and effort that has been carried out for fundraisers.  God is Good!

We just keep walking this road that is so unknown to us, so unfamiliar to us.  It's weird to me that having a port is normal, being a baldy is normal (however, the plus is less time to get dressed), and going to all these appointments is normal.  I listened to a guy this week who has been in remission for 14 years from Colon cancer.  He said ,"my life is now broken into 2 parts--Before Cancer and After Cancer."  There are days I totally get that.  Almost everyday actually.  But everyday I have to get up just like you do and choose to "do" life to the best of my ability even if that simply means I lie there and rest.

Love and hugs, 

Julie

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Future plans and Surgery Date: Update 8/29/17

We met with our gynecology surgeon today.  He walked into our room, introduced himself, and said, "Thank you for the work you do for our Lord in Honduras.  I'm sorry we are having to meet for these reasons."  What a great first impression he made with us.

He then started asking a LOT of questions, and then after an exam he started giving us the details of the surgery.  So I'm going to try to explain what was explained to me:

My surgery is scheduled for Monday, September 25th.  I will remain in the hospital anywhere from 2 to 6 days depending on what all they have to do once they get inside.

He did tell me that it was his job to remove all of the cancer.  He said he would be very thorough and the surgery would be anywhere between 2 - 6 hours or longer if needed.  He will be doing a complete hysterectomy, removal of some lymphnodes, removal of all the tumors, he would then check my entire small intestines for tumors, my colon for tumors, and anywhere the tumors were close to would be checked for tumors and possible removal of any areas affeced.  I will have an incision from my pelvis to my abdomen.  So we are looking at a pretty big surgery.  But--praise the Lord these doctors are skilled in these areas.  He said he would have whatever doctor that might be necessary to assist available to be ready to assist if necessary.  He kept reinforcing that total removal is the goal.  

I feel good about the surgery, and I'm looking forward to the cancer being gone from my body.  But I know this will be a big recovery.  As I said this morning--this is no surprise to God!  He knew all of this was coming.

After the surgery, the plan is to give my body 2 weeks to recover and then have 9 more treatments of chemo.  After that we will see what happens.

One of my favorite Bible verses was the Verse of the Day today. In Deuteronomy 31:8 it says, "The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed."

How you can pray specifically:

1) I have 2 more chemo treatments before surgery.  This week and September 8th.  Please pray for my body to have the numbers to be able to have chemo because then the surgery will have to be delayed.  

2) Please pray for my body to be ready for surgery.  I will have 2 weeks of no chemo after the 8th to prepare for surgery.  My numbers will have to be strong for that also.  Pray that my body will fight.

3) Pray for the doctor(s) to be able to find and remove all the cancer from my body.  We are believing in a cure!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Living Life to the Fullest--8/22/17 Update

Yesterday was full of fun pictures posted by friends and family all focused on the eclipse--and we tried to see it also, but our south Georgia weather just did not cooperate.  Our family watched it on TV.

But yesterday also marked the day that my sweet sister-in-law Lisa went to live with Jesus in Heaven.  I've thought about her so many times over the last five years.  One of my favorite things she did was to "Live Life to the Fullest" and in doing so she inspired me many times to try to do the same.

Ben and I have spoken in those quiet moments about her 45 years she was given.  How we would try to live our lives that would bring the most glory to God because-- wonder if we only got 45 years to live.  In fact, I'd say Lisa's years of life on this Earth had such an impact on me, that when God called us to go to Honduras--there wasn't much hesitation.  Living life to the fullest is not necessarily the life you thought you might live, but it is an amazing journey.

And now--"Living life to the Fullest" with stage 4 Ovarian cancer is a new adventure.  Something God reminded me of yesterday is that my joy in this journey doesn't come in the circumstances, but in Him.  I am getting to see God work in this unbelievable way that if I wasn't going through this cancer journey I'd be missing all of these intricate experiences that God has set in place.  People literally all over the world are praying for my healing, and giving sacrificially for our expenses.  We feel the prayers, and we know God is at work to bring good in this situation.  There is great joy in knowing that God cares for me that much!  And there is great joy for me in knowing that God cares for you that much!

There is Joy--not in the tiredness, or the itchy rash, nor in the chemo brain fog that makes me forget.  But there is joy in the fact that God is behind the scenes providing me with places to rest, medicine for the rash, and well laughter when I can't even remember a simple word.

Every day we have a choice--a choice to Live Life to the Fullest, or a choice to live life defeated.

I believe Lisa is watching from Heaven, cheering us on, and encouraging us to be adventurous.  And Jesus is right there beside her saying, "Go ahead--you can do it!"

Chemo Update:  My CA125 numbers dropped to 248 on last Friday.  Woohoo!  The chemo is working!  I did develop a nasty rash that was keeping me scratching, but thankfully the doctors gave me steroids and the rash has dried up.

Friday, August 11, 2017

8/11/17 Update -- PET Scan Results and Biopsy

Praising God this morning!  The Pet Scan did not show the cancer in any "new" places.  Only in the same areas that we have previously been told about.  Stop right now and let's give a little shout out!!!

The biopsy confirmed that we definitely have ovarian type cancer.

The only changes we will be making will be the change of our team.  They are switching us to an GYN Oncologist, so that we will be with a team that specializes in GYN treatment.

We will be sad because we like our team, but we realize that our treatment will need to be specific for this type of cancer.

Thanks for your continued prayer and support!  God is at work!

Please pray specifically that the cancer stays contained and continues to shrink!

Oh Yes--I almost forgot.  My CA125 is down to 310.  It keeps falling!  Another praise!