As I sit here with my sweet wife Kim at the MD Anderson Cancer center in Houston, awaiting an appointment with a doctor of internal medicine, Kim commented that it might be helpful to document the history of our battle with cancer. So here goes:
April 11, 2013: after having some strange GI symptoms for several weeks, I went in for a colonoscopy. I was then 43, and we were expecting nothing. Unfortunately, they discovered a walnut sized tumor in my sigmoid colon.
A CT scan showed what appeared to be 1 enlarged lymph node but not much else, so our oncologist was thinking I was probably stage IIc or IIIa.
April 25, 2013: had colon resection to remove the tumor at St Mary’s hospital in Athens. Pathology showed that 13 of the 18 lymph nodes that were removed during surgery were positive for cancer. I was diagnosed as having Stage IIIc adenocarcinoma.
Mid-May 2013, we had our first visit to MD Anderson to get second opinion on treatment options and to establish a relationship there.
At the end of May 2013, I began 6 months of chemotherapy with the FOLFOX regimen. The powerful agent in this protocol is Oxaliplatin, good at killing cancer cells but can also cause permanent neuropathy (tingling numbness in feet and hands). I continue to have neuropathy to this day, although it did get better with time.
September 2013: CT scan showed that I had no sign of cancer!
October 25, 2013: last round of chemo. I was a free man!
April 25, 2014: a follow-up CT scan showed a new node, about 1.5 cm outside of my rectum. It is assumed that this is a blood borne metastasis.
May 2014: we returned to MD Anderson to confirm that the spot was cancerous and for treatment options. A PET scan showed positive lymph nodes outside of the pelvic area, one as distant as my collar bone (lymphadenopathy). The diagnosis is that I have chronic colorectal cancer and will be on some sort of treatment the rest of my life.
Mid-May 2014, began 2nd round of chemotherapy using the FOLFIRI+Avastin protocol, primary agent is Irinotican.
Aug 2014: returned to MD Anderson for follow-up. Tests show the tumor has shrunk and lymphadenopathy had resolved (no longer metabolically active). Oncologist Dr Garrett suggests switching to maintenance treatment (no Irinotican)
Aug 2014 – April 2015: chemo every two weeks.
April/May: began having GI symptoms again.
June 2015: excruciating abdominal pain and bloating lead me to the ER in Athens. CT scan at hospital suggests that my colon is almost 100% blocked. This was then confirmed by colonoscopy.
June 14, 2015: had temporary ileostomy installed to bypass blocked colon.
July-Aug 2015: had 28 radiation treatments to attempt to shrink/kill the abdominal tumor prior to forthcoming surgery.
Oct 2015: returned to MD Anderson for surgery to remove tumor. Unfortunately, a PET scan showed the lymphadenopathy had returned, so they had to scrap surgery. Also learned my oncologist had left MD Anderson.
Returned to Athens and began FOLFIRI+Avastin chemotherapy again.
December 2015: PET scan shows cancer again responding to treatment. Most of lymphadenopathy had resolved, 2 other nodes in the peri-aortic area had shrunk and were not significantly active. Unfortunately, the cancer in my pelvis is still active, even after radiation.
New year’s eve 2015: began urinating blood. After a week of this, a trip to a urologist in Athens showed what appeared to be cancer involvement with my bladder. This was confirmed by pathology. The urologist stopped the bleeding.
Late January: returned to MD Anderson to meet with surgeon and new oncologist for options. The surgeon, John Skibber, still believes that surgery is best option for me. Surgery date set for April 14.
Feb 2016: CT scan showed continued response to treatment. Abdominal tumors (it was determined that there are actually 2 close together) are mostly stable and the peri-aortic lymph nodes had shrunk a bit more.
March 28 – April 1: I’m here to meet with internal medicine and urologist and to get a PET scan to make sure the lymphatic cancer cells are still inactive…
So what has sustained us thorough this battle? What has enabled me to continue to find joy? Hope. And faith.
Jesus says in John 16:7 “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, he will come to you”. This Helper is the spirit of Christ, and he has strengthened me and given me peace to persevere. My body aches to be healed by the hand of Christ, but His spirit is doing a work in me and those around me that is far better than I can imagine.
Jesus also says in Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Christ’s church is often called His body, and in some mysterious way it is. And through the church, be it members of my local church, Resurrection Presbyterian, or through friends from our school from other churches, my family and I have been loved deeply. I, in turn, have sought to love and serve others, albeit very imperfectly. It is by serving and being served, in the act of following Christ, that life has true meaning and purpose. Thus with every new day we can rejoice together in our many blessings, even as we share in each other’s sufferings.
The future of my health, as in all things in this physical world, is uncertain. But our hope is in the certainty that Christ has defeated death and has promised us eternal life.
Please realize that I continually forget this. As I write, I remember and choose to believe.