A brief history of (my) cancer

From my journal entries… Today I had my last chemo-radiation treatment for cancer! After my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in April 2017, the chemo regimen began in early May through end of June; then there were the 28 radiation treatments plus chemo by pill from early July until today, August 11. The treatments have taken their toll, as they should, with the main effects being fatigue and loss of appetite. Scans and surgery await next month…

I’m thinking that I should have gained some deep theological insight in order to show the positive spiritual impact of this trial; something that would produce awe and wonder because of its depth and profundity.  Unfortunately, nothing… Nada…zilch. I just want to sleep and forget all of this. I just want to be back to normal and yet I know that I will never be normal again. This mortal life will have changed forever and I will be living on the edge of eternity…

I should be feeling stronger everyday as I prepare for surgery mid-September, but I’m feeling worse and worse. I have spiked a fever of 103F and we are heading to the ER. I will now spend 5 days in the hospital while the doctors figure out that I have a liver infection most likely caused by all of the poison I have taken into my system through my treatments. They lance the infection and determine the bacteria and send me home with drainage tubes and instructions for my wife to push the antibiotic through me every day using my port and draining my Liver drain. All of this will delay surgery until mid- October…

The infection has been dealt with and I am cleared for surgery. The doctor wants me to gain weight in order to prepare for surgery scheduled for October 18, my oldest daughter’s birthday. It’s ironic that I have spent most of my adult life trying to lose weight; now I have orders to gain it… I feel good for the first time in 5 months. Can’t I continue like this? No, you wuss- you have cancer inside of you and it needs to come out and the only way is through the knife…

The day of surgery arrives and I scrub myself down before we head to the hospital. Will I return to sleep in my bed again or will this be it?  My son and his wife are there to meet us before they go to work. Hugs all around. We are ushered into a small cubicle and the curtain is drawn while I scrub down again and put on my gown and my street clothes in plastic bags. My brother-in-law and another couple show up and pray with Gloria and me. The anesthesiologist comes in and explains things and starts an IV. I say good bye as they wheel me out and I don’t remember anymore. Some friends came and sat with Gloria in the waiting room and …wait.

Ten or more hours later I wake up in ICU and see my son’s face with a smile on it. I am clear-headed enough to ask if they had to replace the portal vein. They report the surgery went well and that I should rest. I am parched but not allowed to have water. However, my wife gives me ice chips. I crave more and more, even at night when I am alone I constantly suck on ice chips…

A week later I am home, sutures still in and eating very little. I develop a blood clot in the leg from which they took a vein for the resection of the portal vein. I am put on blood thinner which I have to self inject every morning and evening. Together with my daily insulin injection, my tummy looks like a war zone of black and blue marks. I am also wearing a compression stocking and keeping my leg elevated…

My sutures are now out but still a little sore at the incision site. My leg is still swollen. I am trying to exercise but I have little stamina. I cannot sleep at night for more than 2-3 hrs at a time. Awake usually between 3-5 am to have some tea and bowl of oatmeal and have my devotions after I take my blood sugar reading and take my insulin and blood thinner. Then I dose from 5-8 am…

I am still trying to figure out my diet since 18 inches of my small intestine has been removed as well as a portion of my stomach and my gall bladder. I have lots of gas (you probably did not need to know that) and have just been prescribed with enzyme pills to help me in my digestion…

I just went to the oncologist who wants me to have 6 more chemo treatments. I was initially disappointed… Although they believe they got the cancer and the lymph nodes are clean, this chemo is part of the protocol. The doc explained that unlike the six hour sessions that I had before, these will be once a week for 1/2 hr, with a week off  between session 3 and 4. We will start in Dec and finish the end of January so hopefully I can still work…

Here I am, it’s December 20 and I am sitting in an oncology unit at the hospital while chemo is being infused through my port. I feel it; my fingers are already tingling and I’m a bit chilled. It is over and I drive myself home.

And so the story continues and the questions remain. They think they got it all, but who knows. How long do I really have? God alone knows. What I do know with certainty, and this is my de profundis,  that there has not been one millisecond of time throughout all of this in which God has not been present- he is the great Emmanuel!  I have never felt nor have I once believed that I am being punished for past sins.  And this certainty has translated itself into a fearless dependency that can honestly proclaim “for me to live is Christ and to die gain.”

One more thought in reference to the well-meaning way people have responded to my situation. These responses have ranged all the way from thinking I’m some kind of hero to feeling sorry for me. I can honestly respond by saying: “Don’t think I am some kind of hero or saint for going through this. I am still very much a sinner relying on the grace of God and the work of Christ to save me. And don’t feel sorry for me. I would rather be going through this than facing the issues you are facing. The real issue for both of us is that we are trusting in our Heavenly Father and are convinced that nothing comes to us which has not first passed through our Father’s hand.”

9 thoughts on “A brief history of (my) cancer

  1. Sandra L Latch

    Thank you for sharing what you have been going through. I can’t say I know what it is like to deal with cancer. I Praise God he is bringing you and your family through this. I praise God you know God’s truth and are living i as in James 1:2-4 and Romans 8:28. We love both of you and your family. What a blessing you & Gloria have been in our life.

  2. Wes Ross

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks so much for sharing this report. I can relate to so much of what you have written. I, too, have been struggling with a different form of cancer. Three years ago I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – a cancer of the bone marrow. Usually, it is not discovered until it has eaten holes in your bones and they begin to crack or break. In my case, however, I did not have any of the usual symptoms except a sky-high protein level in my blood. The upper level of normal is 340 and mine was 2600 at that time. When a PET scan showed that there were no cracks or holes in my bones, they labeled my myeloma to be “smoldering” and just decided to keep a close watch on it.

    After returning from my last time co-hosting the BICS Israel trip in 2016, my protein level had gone up to 5300, so the docs decided that it was time for treatment. For the rest of 2016, I took a daily chemo pill, had weekly and then every-other-week chemo injections, along with a heavy steroid. In my case, it was the steroid that seemed to mess up my sleep (similar to your report.) Initially, the treatments seemed to greatly improve my lab numbers, but then they stopped working. From the outset, I have been a patient at Dana Farber in Boston (in addition to my local oncologist) and there, I was given a wonderful young doctor who is a believer. He actually prays for me at the end of every appointment. (He attends Park Street Church.)

    When my initial treatment failed, Dr. Laubach (at DF) put me on a newer, more experimental chemo pill (Pomalyst) along with a weekly 6-hour infusion of a human antibody that somehow targets the myeloma cells, and, of course, more of the dreaded massive steroids. Thankfully, this treatment has been more effective for me and in October, I went into the hospital in Boston to have a stem cell transplant (18 days). They harvested my own stem cells and reintroduced them after a massive blast of chemo. After the transplant, I came home under strict home quarantine for three months. The chemo total;;y wiped out my immune system rendering ineffective any vaccinations that I have ever had in my life. I cannot begin to be revaccinated until 9 months after transplant. Any time I leave the house, I have to wear a mask and rubber gloves and anyone who visits me has to do the same. My magic day is January 12 – 100 days after transplant. At that point, the restrictions will be relaxed – both house and dietary. Until then, I cannot eat anything that has been prepared outside of the house.

    So far, I have responded well to the transplant and my numbers are very good. After Jan 12, I will be put on a maintenance treatment – that involves a daily chemo pill (a lower dose), continued infusions, and steroids, but I hope to be able to return to my duties at Hope Church and BICS at that point. I am also scheduled for cataract surgery on Jan 24 and Feb 8 (both eyes). Apparently, the steroids have caused my cataracts to grow quicker than usual and my vision is quite poor. But I am hopeful that the cataract surgery will improve things dramatically – we’ll see… (no pun intended). Lord willing, I will be leading another hymnology tour to the UK next fall and I hope to cohost the BICS Israel trip in March of 2019 (my 15th time).

    I had a pacemaker installed two years ago and, of course, that has been a factor in the chemo treatments, too. I’m just falling apart! I have had great health all of my life until this last 3 years. But I can honestly say, (like you) I have not been tempted to say “Why me?” Instead, I have thought, “Why not me?” Having ministered to sp many folks over the years that have had terrible illness – many much worse than mine – I now can empathize in a different way than before.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing your cancer journey. I have added you to my prayer list and I hope that you will keep us posted from time to time how you are doing. (Sorry this is so long.) Thanks again for your many years of tremendous service at BICS – we are grateful!

    God bless you, Dave,
    Wes

    1. wes, I didn’t see your message before today. Just in time to pray for you before your released from house arrest! I’m so sorry that you have to go through this but this has been the path of discipleship for you. I marvel that God has us walk this path now after most of our ministry lives are in the past. Maybe there is more he wants to accomplish with us. As an aside, I also have developed cataracts and will get them attended to over the next couple of months as I finish chemo. Blessings my dear brother. You will be in my prayers.

      Dave

  3. Elizabeth Threadgill

    Dave, I just keep thinking after reading this with my eyes furrowed and wincing through your emotional and physical rollercoaster for this past year is what you said to all of us on Sunday-“It is in the darkness that the light shines the brightest.” Thank you for your complete and utter honesty Dave.  As gut wrenching it is to hear the reality of a cancer patient, you have touched the lives of so many on all different levels.  If not before you had cancer, then certainly after.  For me it was both before and after. E

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