Monday, November 11, 2013

Still in the Palm of His Hand

Still in the Palm of His Hand

As many of you know, we met with our oncologist on Friday to go over the results of the CT scan to see if the tumor is leaking fluid (remember the stick-a-needle-in-my-belly procedure?). Turns out that the CT scan revealed ... well ... no change. The tumor is still there, it hasn't moved or grown, my pancreas isn't inflamed ... in fact, it looks remarkably similar to the CT scan I took about a month ago. Which begs the question - where is the liquid coming from? Between Tuesday, when I had the paracentesis, and Friday, when we met with the doctor, my abdomen had filled up again.

The doctor thinks that the cancer may have spread to the peritoneum, which is a membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and damaged it enough to cause it to leak. It wouldn't be detectable by the CT scan; in truth, the only way to verify it is surgery. So, we're dropping one of the drugs in my chemotherapy regimen and adding a new one; one that was recently approved for pancreatic cancer patients. It's actually been around awhile, initially as a treatment for breast cancer, but has proven effective at pancreatic cancer as well.

As you read this, you might be thinking "this doesn't sound good" or you might be saddened at the prospect that the cancer might be spreading. You know, we spend a tremendous amount of time in our lives trying to avoid disappointment, tragedy and heartache. They are givens in this fallen world and, to a large extent, we do succeed at avoiding them. We try not to speed or text when we drive and we try to make wise choices. Still, the abundant life isn't defined by how well we avoid disappointment, tragedy and heartache; it's defined by how well we react to them. Instead of asking "What now, God?", the question I ask is "How might You be glorified when I'm at this breaking point?"

On Friday, we spent some 'hangout' time with my son and his wife. We haven't seen them in awhile because of the busyness of life but when he asked just to hang out, I realized how much I miss them and need to spend time with them. God has given me this son and this daughter and I will cherish the gifts He has given - for His Glory.

This Saturday, I did the benediction at a friend's wedding. The couple's children were there so the prayer was intended to include the family as a whole. Getting ready beforehand took both Gail and myself since my abdomen was in full distention and afterwards, I was physically exhausted but during the prayer, my voice was strong, the prayer was a little longer than your typical benediction and many commented on it during the reception. For His Glory.

After the wedding, I spoke with another long-time friend who I discipled back when I didn't know what discipleship was. He expressed his thanks for the impact I brought into his life. He's become a tremendous husband and dad ... there is hope ... even for Sooner fans. For His Glory.

Gail and I continue to be blessed by the generosity of friends; I am still surprised when unspoken needs are met with tangible gifts. For His Glory.
My mind now focuses on the upcoming expedition to Israel which I know will be physically taxing but spiritually uplifting. There is a medical component so I'll be surrounded by doctors and nurses. There is an evangelism component which I fully intend on participating ... at least for one day. My own doctor had no problem with me going into the emergency ward in Jerusalem if a paracentesis is needed; the medical facilities there are as good as in the States. God has laid it all out and allayed Gail's fears; this expedition will be for His Glory.

My cancer remains a poor excuse and a weak obstacle not to commit myself to the role He has given me in building His church. For His Glory.

Please pray that:
  • I continue to walk in truth; it brings Him joy;
  • the new drug that I'll be getting at 10:30 this morning will be effective;
  • the second paracentesis I'll be getting at 1:30 this afternoon will go well;
  • that Gail and I will be wise during some decisions we need to make;
  • that I remain in awe of what He has done through my family and my friends.

In the Palm of His Hand,

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

And I Thought I Was Having A Rough Time Of It

The more I watch Duck Dynasty, the more I appreciate the value of a dead squirrel. A squirrel had been teasing our dogs unmercifully, running along the top of the backyard fence causing all kinds of dog ruckus that, of course, feeds the neighborhood dogs. The squirrel wasn't running away ... just running around. There are fines in Richardson if I do the Uncle Si thing and catching it is not on my bucket list. ​One morning, though, our youngest dog, Momo, was trotting around in a big circle in the backyard ... with a dead squirrel in her mouth. The squirrel got careless or slipped or just got into the leaping reach of Momo. Never having done such a thing before, Momo didn't know quite what to do and trotting around with a squirrel seemed like the proper thing to do. As I focused on the now dead squirrel, my mind began to think "... and I thought I was having a rough time of it ..."

My Rough Time
I've developed a condition called ascites which is liquid that is leaking into my abdominal cavity. With nowhere to go, it's caused something called an abdominal distention where my belly is right around 4-5 times it's normal size. The abdominal distention has caused no end of problems - wearing most of my clothes is an effort of futility, swelling in my legs, ankles, feet which puts shoes in the same category as clothes, etc. The liquid is most likely coming from the tumor which indicates it may be growing. The only real treatment for folks with my type of cancer and the severity of the distention is paracentesis which basically means "stick-a-big-needle-in-your-stomach-and-remove-the-liquid". I'm scheduled for just such a procedure today at 11:30am. Tomorrow, I'll go in for a CAT scan to see if the scan can reveal anything new about the tumor, it's size and any other anomalies. Then, on Friday, we sit down with the doctor at 1:30pm and go over the results of everything. It may result in a change of the 'chemo-cocktail' but that's a bridge we'll cross in a few days. And, of course, this happens during what has to be the most dreary, cold and wet weeks we've had all year.

"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the one who made heaven and earth." PSALM 121:1-2.

That was my verse for the day. Seriously. I was reminded of Where and from Whom my help will come. And there's something about that kind of reminder that causes anxiety to diminish and peace to reign; causes my fears to weaken in the Light of His word. It's exactly the kind of reminder I need when faced with the prospects of a "stick-a-big-needle" procedure this afternoon.

Prayer Requests

  • That I would be an encouragement to the doctors and nurses (especially the one holding the needle) for the paracentesis this afternoon at 11:30am.
  • That the CAT scan on Wednesday will reveal what He wants us to know to make wise decisions.
  • That none of this will disrupt our plans to participate in an e3 expedition to Israel this December.
  • That I am ever aware of sufficiency in His grace, strength in His embrace, and comfort in His Word.
  • That His Peace and Presence overwhelms my fear and anxiety.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Context, Context, Context

He Really is in the Details

Thanks for all your prayers during my recent CAT » DOG «backwards» GOD scan (long story ... but kind of fun - ask me about it some time). We went over the results with our oncologist yesterday and ... well ... a little context first ...

Back on April 9, I was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. I had no idea what that was so I did the exact wrong thing - I googled it. I'm in the hospital with nurses and doctors all around me and I'm on my iPad googling "pancreatic cancer facts". There's a wealth of knowledge out there and almost none of it encouraging. Here's a few things I gleaned from various medical websites:
  • In the U.S. alone, over 37,000 are estimated to die of pancreatic cancer this year.
  • 50% will die within the first six months of diagnosis.
  • 74% will die within the first year of diagnosis.
  • 94% will die within the first five years of diagnosis.
  • Only 6% will survive more than five years.
Cheery, right? The biggest problem is that pancreatic cancer has very few symptoms and, by the time it's diagnosed, it's already spread to other organs. Steve Jobs lived eight years after his diagnosis because he had a rare form of pancreatic cancer that grew very slowly and was more easily treatable. Patrick Swayze lived 20 months after his diagnosis while Michael Landon only lived three.

Tomorrow will be a milestone of sorts — October 9 will be six months after my diagnosis. I'm still here and I'm still kicking. No, really; I'm kicking ... like waist-level high with a little help since my balance has gone out the window. Stop chuckling; I'm still a black belt.

With that context in mind (the cancer, not the kicking), you'll understand why our meeting with our oncologist was encouraging. My tumor is still there, it's still localized (hasn't spread anywhere) and it's still about the same size. One of the most common phrases throughout the report was "no significant change". And my tumor markers are the lowest they've been (45) since I was diagnosed. My lungs and liver are clear and the mass from the last scan has disappeared. The radiation therapy and the chemo therapies have pretty much stopped the cancer in it's tracks. In our hearts, we were hopeful for much more dramatic news (Tumor? What tumor?) but if I have to be treated with these same chemotherapies for next the 4½ years, I'll take that because then it's time to write a paper for oncology journals; my doctor said he'd help.

But here's the thing. Remember those stats earlier? Well, consider this:
  • 100% of those who surrender their lives to Him will come into His presence.
  • 100% of those who walk in truth cause joy in His heart.
  • 100% of those who are crucified in Him know it's not about dying but Who lives in us.
  • 100% of His promises are kept though not always in the way we want or expect.
  • 100% of those who believe know that in this world, we will have trials and sufferings; yet we are of good cheer because He has overcome the world.
I may be a part of both sets of statistics but only one really matters to me.

If you're praying -
  • Pray that He will continue to sustain me at work - I got a visit in my office today from an African pastor who really just wanted to thank those of us who work at the corporate headquarters for what we do. It's funny that he had no idea what my condition is but knew the exact right encouraging words to say.
  • Pray that He sends me better scuba gear - I often feel like the tasks and projects are carrying me under but instead of struggling to get my head above water, I think I just need better scuba gear (This is from the Stop Complaining And Work On A Solution department of my work ethic).
  • On Thursday, I have a phone interview with an Australian radio station about my I am Second film. I'm content with being officially the second film released even though I did the prototype; I'm content because, with I am Second, being first is not always a good thing. Plus, if he asks "So, what's been happening since you did that film?", we'll have a lot more to talk about.
  • Pray for Gail and I as we prepare for an e3 trip to Israel in December with Tom Doyle.
  • Thank Him for designing Man to make chocolate - it's the mini-sized things that brought smiles to the IT department today.
  • Thank Him for letting me look into the faces of my grandkids tonight.
Today is a good day.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

What about a DOG scan?

Diagnostic Optical Graphicplanar?

Have you ever wondered if people make up acronyms just to spell out their favorite words? Computer Assisted Tomography or Computed Tomography is commonly called a CAT scan. But what if you're a dog person? Couldn't we just call it a Diagnostic Optical Graphicplanar to make it a DOG scan and create a great new word (graphicplanar) for Words with Friends? It goes back to the old joke that a DOG says "You feed me, you shelter me, you pet me, you love me ... you must be God" while a CAT says "You feed me, you shelter me, you pet me, you love me ... I must be God!" (Many thanks to Bob Sjogren)

All this to say that I'm scheduled for a DOG (or CAT) scan today (10/4) at 4:00pm. 

In the palm of His Hands,

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Good News ... Bad News

Comparison Can Suck the Joy Right Out of the Day

Which do you want to hear first; the good news or the bad news? How you answer might reveal a little bit about yourself but what if you let someone else's good news become twisted in your ear to where it becomes bad news in your own life? That's when I learned that comparison can suck the joy right out of the day.

On Friday, I heard that someone became cancer free. Instead of rejoicing, I simply dwelt in the valley of Whys: Why does he get to have a surgery? Why not me? Have I not been faithful? Have I not been prayed? Why is my immediate future filled with chemo and more tests? Walking in this valley just got me angry; so much so that I began taking it out on other people. Finally, Gail enters the picture to find out what's wrong with me and the anger dissolved into tears. I hadn't fully realized it but Gail had already visited this particular valley on multiple occasions. By Prayer and Presence, she walked me right out of it. By being so focused on how He chose to heal someone else, I nearly missed all the ways He is moving in my life:
  • A buddy whose friendship I measure in decades arranged it so that I was able to preach my sermon on Resiliency: the Art of Bouncing Back at Prestonwood Baptist Church to their Singles department. If you've got 40 or so minutes free, click here to listen and let me know what you think.
  • Another buddy, also a decades long friendship, was up from Houston and took care of a number of honey-do tasks outside and inside the house.
  • Another friend, who I've gotten to know over the past few years, came over to mow my lawn. It wasn't the first time.
  • I got an email this week that a radio program in Australia wants to interview me about my I am Second film.
  • On Wednesday, I learned that my tumor marker was down to 45; the range for a person without cancer is 0-35.
  • For the last three weeks, I've actually gained weight. For the 10 or so weeks prior, I was losing 1-5 pounds every week.
  • Had lunch with a buddy who has a very intriguing idea for a book. I'm looking forward to contributing what I can.
  • Another friend and sushi-buddy was talking to his young son about me and his son was moved to write me a get well card and draw one of my favorite things in the world - sushi!

And the list goes on. By focusing on how He's moving in my life, I am aware of His Presence. And in His Presence … well, that's where I want to be.

For Prayer:
  • At 10am on Thursday, I'll be having an ultrasound on my legs. They're a little swollen and we just want to make sure there are no blood clots. At least the gel they use for the ultrasound is very warm.
  • Next week, I'll go in for a CT scan. It will give us an idea of whether this current round of chemotherapy is effective and if the tumor is shrinking.
  • My blood counts have been low so we've tweaked my chemo schedule to where I'm taking the infusion every other week. What this really means is that I only have to pay the co-pay 3 times every 6 weeks instead of 4; every little bit helps.

In the Palm of His Hands,

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Roller Coasters

Roller Coasters

I love roller coasters. Not in the same way I love my wife, of course, but there's something about the speed, being pushed into your seat, twisting rolls, huge drops that is just ... exhilarating. It always brings me to the summers of my youth, going to park after park in Southern California to ride old favorites as well as the newest and latest. There are times, however, when roller coasters are not nearly so much fun. These past couple of weeks have been a roller coaster of sorts; emotionally ... physically ... even spiritually.

Many of you know I had a procedure a couple of weeks ago to take a closer look at the tumor. We then met with the surgeon who confirmed the tumor was non-resectable - no operation. It was disappointing; we had hoped our surgeon would be able to do his thing and I'd be on a road to recovery instead of ... more of the same. That's when I realized that the most disappointing moments have been when things didn't happen when I thought they should. Thus, the seeds of a sermon on being resilient began to grow.

I preached that sermon last Sunday. When we reach a breaking point (or points), are we a resilient people? Will we be defined by the breaking point or by our response? We cannot change the cards He deals us; just how we play the hand.

We met with our regular oncologist on Tuesday to go over all the results. My tumor markers were zigging instead of zagging; three weeks ago, my markers shot from 61 to 91 (low number good, high number not so much) which is ... attention getting. The results of the most recent test weren't in yet but if my markers continued to rise, I'd go in for a CT scan and I'd be put on a more aggressive (and more debilitating) treatment.

Yesterday, I learned my markers are at 63. The phrase "Thank you Lord" was never uttered so quickly.

I know many of you are continuing to pray that tumor will be reduced enough for an operation and that God would heal me fully and completely, restoring me to good health. I covet those intercessory prayers and appreciate all who find the time to lift up me and my family. But, if you'll indulge me, I'm requesting that your prayers for me today would not be about Asking; instead, let them be about Praising:
  • Praise that the tumor is actually getting smaller. The latest scans show it went from 5cm to 4.8cm. Who knows? In 5-10 years, I may be called into that surgery I so very much wanted.
  • Praise that my grandkids (oblivious to the physical changes in me) smile brightly when they see me.
  • Praise that He's given me the energy to keep working. My job has a very real eternal perspective as well as a mundane technological one.
  • Praise that He is in His Heavens and He does what pleases Him.
  • Praise that it pleases Him to meet me in at my breaking point.
  • Praise that cancer is a poor obstacle and a lousy excuse not to conform to Him.

In the Palm of His Hands,

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pine-Sol® with a pleasant hint of cherry

Endoscopic resect-a-whatsis?

The last time I weighed 125 lbs, the wind was rushing through my hair as I ran the 120 yd high hurdles for my high school track team. I wasn't the best hurdler out there but did make it to State only to fall over the third hurdle in the finals.

I now weigh 125 lbs and wind does not rush through my hair; it blows the hair right off my head. Any sort of confrontation with a hurdle these days would result in complete victory for the inanimate object (I know, I know; as a black belt, I've taught many students to walk away from confrontation but hurdles don't hit back!).

So, I've started an appetite stimulant called megestrol or megace which tastes like ... you guessed it ... Pine-Sol® with a pleasant hint of cherry. You'd think that by the taste, it would have an opposite effect on the appetite but we'll know in a couple of days.

Many of you know my oncologist recommended that we talk to the surgical oncologist about the possibility of surgery even though the CT scan showed no change in the size of the tumor. We met with the surgeon and he didn't say "No; the tumor is unresectable." Resectable just means removable though I'm unsure why it's used instead of remove or removable. Maybe it's a doctor thing. Instead, the surgeon recommended something called an endoscopic ultrasound or EUS. It's an outpatient procedure that I've had twice already; this time, it will provide the surgeon with more information before he decides whether the tumor can be removed or not. (See? Isn't that clearer than 'tumor can be resected or not.'?).

So, on Monday, August 26 at 6am, I'll be at Medical Center Plano for the EUS procedure and expect to be home before noon. Once the anesthesia wears off, I should be good to go. Which is a good thing because on Sunday, September 1 at 10:30am, I'll be preaching at my home church. We'll take a biblical look at the Art of Bouncing Back which has to do with being resilient in times of trial - a topic that resonates with me.

"Without suffering, how can one know Joy?" This was a common argument I found during my study on Joy in March. It's a dualist thought like day/night, light/darkness, good/bad. But is it true? Instead of being two sides of the same coin, I think suffering (trial) and Joy are two totally different coins altogether. The Joy coin is that old JFK 50¢ piece or that silver dollar (the big ones, not the Susan B or Sacajawea ones) that you've kept around because they're a little unusual, can't be used in a vending machine and was probably given to you by your Dad or Grandpa. It sort of hangs around in your pocket and when you pull out the change to pay for something, it's the last one to go. Suffering is more like that proverbial bad penny that you found (or found you). It gets placed in the same pocket, jingles around with Joy for awhile but you can't wait to get rid of it. Sometimes it goes away, sometimes it doesn't. The funny thing, though, is that when you put the bad penny on the 50¢ piece, you still see the Joy. Reverse it and all you see is Joy. Can one know Joy without suffering? Yes, I believe so. But even in the midst of trial, Joy can make it's presence known. It's always been there; I just have to take it out, focus and remember. And the things that are bad in my life are brought into sharp relief compared to the One whom Joy is. The bad stuff is still there but so is He.

Baby Eva Update
She's beautiful! Everything progressing normally and she's still due for surgery next year. And she's beautiful!

In the Palm of His Hands,