Wow, What A Difference A Day Can Make

Well, where to begin. For the last three weeks I have been under unusual stress. I had to up my medication because my anxiety level was through the roof. I had an imminent feeling that another shoe was fixing to drop. I knew I had a team of prayer warriors scattered across the US and some in Mexico. I knew that God was in the healing business. But I also knew that obedience to Him sometimes meant things that were less than pleasant to think about. Just ask Job. I knew from the time I was diagnosed that there was a real possibility that this cancer would punch my ticket. I had struggled through the realization that I would miss seeing my little girl get married, my son graduate from college, grandkids, the time I wanted to spend with Lori. I knew these things would be devastating to miss, but if that was what it took to be faithful to God I was prepared to miss those. God would have more amazing things for me.  And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 28:2 ESV

So, I have prayed for strength to be faithful to what God wanted me to do. I have asked others to pray the same prayer. Time after time I have talked about suffering well. I truly felt that is what God wanted me to. To be an example, a reflection, a way for others to see Christ through me and through this situation.

This week I went to CTCA for a PET scan and was truly expecting to hear that other shoe drop. I had heard it before. “Alan, this regimen is not working. As a matter of fact, the cancer is spreading.” I fully expected to hear it again. The PET scan was at 10:00AM and our ENT follow up was at 12:30PM. The PET scan, of course, went by uneventfully and then it was time to wait. I tried to not let Lori see what I going through. I was tied in knots. Almost in tears at times. As we waited on Dr. K., our ENT we chatted a little. When he came in it was obvious. He had a smile from ear to ear. Some of the “cancer” that had lit up on the April 4th PET scan was associated with the fistula that is on the left side of my neck. Since the fistula is healing, that activity was gone. However, the cancer on the right side of my neck was gone, too. The cancer on the carotid artery on the left was gone. The cancer behind my breast plate was gone. The cancer in my right lung was gone. The cancer in the lymph nodes under my arms is gone. I do have two light spaces, one on each side of my neck. The cancer is in an all out retreat and I could not be more ecstatic. The Great Physician (Jehovah Rapha) has shown His hand in my situation.

Honestly, coming from our ENT, Lori and I were a little skeptical about the news. Lori would ask about the cancer on a certain spot, he would grin and say “what cancer?” It was just so hard to believe. But after we met with Dr. D., the oncologist in for Dr. R., we felt so much more confident. She was able to pull up the April 4th PET scan and compare it directly to the PET scan from yesterday morning. The difference was unbelievable; undeniable; incontestable; incontrovertible. On April 4th I was lit up like a Christmas tree, yesterday you had to lean into the monitor to see the two little dots on the screen. She even mentioned removing my peg. Yahoo!!

I don’t really know what this means for us in the mid-term. However, short term, we stay on the Gemzar and Erbitux. Long term seems a lot brighter now than it did a few days ago. Next week we get to talk to Dr. R., our team leader. We will find out for sure then what the next few months will hold. Needless to say, it will have a completely different feel to it.

I woke up this morning and felt like crap. It was the most I have felt the side effects from this chemo regimen. But it means very little. I know the this is the “Kung Fu Chemo” we have been praying for. So when I feel the side effects, I know that the cancer is feeling it, too.

Lori and I at Sunset - 5th Floor

Lori and I at Sunset – 5th Floor

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 ESV

Thank you, Lord for the strength to remain steadfast. You have blessed me and my family beyond our wildest dreams. I pray for those that have seen You through Lori and I and through our circumstances. If I have planted a seed, I pray for someone Godly to water and harvest. As we continue to fight the cancer, please help us to continue to spread your Good News to those we meet, to share Your comfort with those that are hurting, and praise Your name with those who know You, trust You, and obey You. Lord, You know more than anyone my faults. Help me overcome those to be a better parent, husband, son, and friend.

Words from My Wife, My Friend, My Rock

Ok, Alan asked me to write about something for his blog so I thought I would give some insight into who he is. I have to apologize ahead of time for I’ve never been good at putting my thoughts & feelings into words but I will give it a try.

HOW WOULD I DESCRIBE ALAN: When I met Alan, I was so impressed at what a gentlemen he was. He has such a love for Christ and is strong in his faith. He has a very loving and caring heart that extends not just to his family but to others that he meets. He is a wonderful father and husband. He has inner strength that can come only from God. He is smart, articulate and has a great sense of humor. Always grateful for everything, never complains. He has an amazing ability to draw but doesn’t enjoy it, loves hockey, hunting with his buddies, and spending time with his family.

People ask me how can he remain so strong since he has been diagnosed with cancer, and the truth is, he depends on Christ to help him through each day to give him the strength to keep facing the challenges that lie before him. Deuteronomy 31:6 says “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I believe that this has been the most difficult time in my (our) life and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Watching someone you love sick and hurting and there is nothing that you can do to make it go away is the most helpless feeling. All the ups and downs and in-betweens can sometimes make you a little crazy. Having test and waiting on the results is so stressful wondering if this will be the chemo that works. He is in constant pain though those that cross his path would not know that. He always smiles when asked how he is doing and the usual fine, great, or good just rolls off the tip of his tongue. People think because of his cheery outlook that this cancer must not be that bad on him but I beg to differ. He has tumors in both sides of his neck that cause constant pain and that along with previous radiation has limited the mobility of his neck. Most nights he sleeps sitting up. Tumors pressing on his airway and esophagus that makes his voice hoarse and difficult to swallow but has learned not to panic with things don’t go down as they should. Intermittent bone pain in his jaw that can be excruciating that so far the doctors haven’t found medicine that completely takes away the pain and that’s just to name a few. My heart hurts for my husband having to go through this and yet he apologizes to me for putting me through it…bless him!

Going through something like this brings you even closer to God, depending on Him like never before. I know He is present in our lives, I feel Him with us and I put all my faith and trust in Him that no matter what He will always be right there beside us holding our hand telling us to lean on Him. I’ve never thought of myself as being very strong, able to handle situations like this very well. Some days I do well and then there are those days I just have to get on my knees and beg for strength because I don’t know how I will get through the day. It is great knowing that we have such an Awesome God that He is always there for us. Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Mark 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation. Alan told me in the beginning of being diagnosed that he wanted his walk with Christ to reflect through this trial and for God to get the glory. Alan, I feel with all my heart that you are a good and faithful servant. I have watched and listened to you tell others about what God is doing in your life and sharing His word wanting to win lost souls to Christ. You have been there to encourage others that are struggling, some with this dreaded disease, others with trials and adversities of their own. You have definitely let Christ shine through you to reach others by being an example of what a Christian should be.

I am so blessed to have you in my life, my husband and best friend. There is no where I would rather be than to be right here with you.

I love you…bunches…mean it!

With Friend Like This … (Another Surgery!)

Yesterday a good friend of mine and I were texting back and forth and he really touched a nerve. When God gives you friends like this you have to just stop and thank Him for providence. As it stood I was really nervous about an appointment that was coming up. I’m really getting tired of surgeries and that seems to be the only way to resolve the issue I am having with this fistula in my neck.

{Friend} Still headed for Newnan?

{Me} Yeah. Leave around 3:30. No appointments today but first appointment is 7:45am Monday morning.

{Friend} Good luck and drive safe. Prayers with you.

{Me} Thx bro. Meet with the plastic surgeon about this fistula Monday morning. Nervous about what he has to say about it. I’m really getting tired of surgeries.

{Friend} I know you are. On both counts. Won’t tell you not to be and wish I could lend you some strength or take some pain from you. I can tell you if you need somebody to yell at or about, I’m here and good at being yelled at.

{Me} Thx bro. You’re a real friend.

{Friend} Brother I try and good friends like you make it easy.

After my appointment this morning the news was as expected. I will have to have surgery to fix the fistula. The plastic surgeon usually works on breast reconstruction so he fluent in working around the pectoral muscle. They are going to take a small piece of skin, attached to a large portion of pectoral muscle, and tunnel it up from my chest all the way up to the left side of my neck. This will provide “virginal” (un-radiated) tissue with uncompromised blood flow to the fill in the fistula and the skin will give them something to close the fistula. Downside: some weakness will be apparent to begin with but can be overcome with rehab and physical therapy.

Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! 1 Chronicles 16:11 ESV

God is still in control even though this is not the path I wanted to have to follow. I ask that you pray for the things that my friend wants to share with me, Timing on this surgery is really sort of messed up due to Memorial Day so we hope we don’t have to wait as long as they are saying. Having an open fistula on your neck isn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Thank you for reading my blog. Not only is it great to have friends that will “lend you strength and take your pain”, it’s great to have friends that are concerned enough about you to read and keep up.

What does Suffer Well Mean?

I’m not trying to turn dark but I am trying to become realistic. Suffering well does not always mean everything is going hunky dory, it means that no matter what is is going on, good or bad, God still shines through the circumstance and others can still see God’s grace and glory reflected in my situation. This was pointed out to me this week by a great doctor whom I feel is turning into a really good friend. He assured me that in bringing out the truth of my situation, for good or bad, it would magnify God’s greatness in the situation. The past couple of weeks it would have been impossible to suffer well without the strength and wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit.

lion rampant 2

Too often I have noticed that I answer with the simple “fine” or “it’s going good” type answers when people ask how I am doing. This almost negates the fact that without God’s strength this week I don’t know if I could have made it through what I have been going through. Pain that is not well controlled, accompanied by depression because of the pain, run away anxiety about several issues that are pressing on me right now. When you add all that up and you can point to God’s hand moving mightily to help provide for expenses recently, it makes much more of an impact. I praise God for the doctors, nurses, and care givers that have bent over backwards to help me cope with the issues that I have been facing. I praise God for the strength to hold on during time when I am so very anxious about what is going to happen with this fistula and the plastic surgeon I have to meet with on Monday. I pray for courage as I face an upcoming PET scan in a few weeks. I know that the faith God has given me is enough to carry me through all of these. Not just carry me through but to sail through. I still feel as though I have nothing to fear, that the faith God has given me has been formed by fire, molded by trial, to be exactly what I need to face any challenge the enemy lays before me. God has done that for me and will do that for you when your time comes. Walk now as if you have everything you need to face down anything Satan can throw at you. Praise God for news that brings you closer to Christ and praise Him for news that allows you to enjoy His gift of life here for a while longer. You have everything you need, just as I. Like Dad said, I am lucky that I get to walk my faith. Well, you are lucky, too. Start walking your own faith. God has given you all you will need.

You Are Lucky, Son

Scottish-Lion-Rampant-and-Saltire-Flag“You are lucky, son.” For a brief moment I was speechless. I couldn’t believe the words that had just come out of my Dad’s mouth. We had just been discussing my diagnosis and how it was going to impact my life, along with everyone else (kids, Lori, Dad, Sally, everyone). After what seemed to be an eternity Dad continued, “Most people spend their life talking about their faith, but you are going to get to walk your faith.”

Those words dropped like a bomb. And he was right. It was very shortly after that I began to see God move in mighty ways in my life. From the way Lowe’s helped out beyond disability and returning to work, to my church family rallying around me like I had been the lost son, to the Ironmen stepping up with home projects, to special friends who make it clear by their steadfastness that I am loved and prayed for continuously. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love.

Since then I have been able to walk my faith. I have realized that God is in control of that faith. It is the same faith He gave at salvation. He has just molded it and shaped it into exactly what I need right now. Different circumstances would have required different tweaks to my faith. If I had come from a different background to this exact point, God would have had different tweaks to to make to my faith give me exactly what I need to make it through.

God has given all believers this same malleable faith. It is the “free gift” we are given. It is what allows us to believe in Christ and in turn seals our salvation in Him. But no matter what is going on in our lives, that mustard seed of faith is all we need. God can transform that into a mighty weapon to push Satan’s road blocks out of our path or it may be as simple as faith, if that is all you need. Regardless, God is gracious in the fact that from the time we become believers He has provided us with exactly what we need to cope with what lies in front of us.

Many times we reach a crossroads and are concerned if our prayer life, or if our faith is strong enough. I guess I have said all that to say this. Walk your faith. Understand that you have everything you need right now to handle whatever this world throws your way. God has gifted you with this most powerful gift of faith. If I could have walked my faith prior to being diagnosed with cancer, what could I have accomplished for the kingdom of Christ? So in the end Dad was right, I am very lucky to be able to walk my faith but you are just as lucky. If you can live your life with the realization that God has given you everything you need, you can walk your faith without having a life crisis hanging over your head. Get out and walk your faith and let the everyone see how God has prepared you for what ever the world may throw at you.

God bless!

PS. The rampant lion at the top has become an unofficial symbol for me. It means “deathless courage in battle” when used in association with family crests, etc … I have adopted it to remind me that I have a fight on my hands and with God being in control, all I have to do is be brave, be obedient and never stop fighting.

The Days of Diagnosis

As I sat in my general physician’s office parking lot these words came across the radio…

 

You must

You must think I’m strong

To give me what I’m going through
Well, forgive me

Forgive me if I’m wrong

But this looks like more than I can do

On my own

 

I had been to doctor’s office twice already about the ulcer on my tongue. I was sweating bullets. The first time I was there I had prayed, and prayed in the parking lot for this painful sore on my tongue to be nothing. I was elated when he said it was a mucosal ulcer, “don’t worry”. You should have seen me praising His name in the truck. I was elated. The second trip was similar but cautiously muted. But this time was different. After coping with it for a month, doing my own research, looking at pictures on Google, I had that gut feeling that it wasn’t going to be something simple.

I prayed to God that day that no matter what the results, that I was His, he was my salvation and I trusted Him completely. No matter what was to come, even if it was the worst of all possible options, I asked Him to give me the strength to suffer well.

The radio continued …

 

I know I’m not strong enough to be

Everything that I’m supposed to be

I give up

I’m not strong enough

Hands of mercy won’t you cover me

Lord right now I’m asking you to be

Strong enough

Strong enough

For the both of us

 

On that day I left the doctor’s office with just as many questions as I had going in. However, I did have one thing, an impromptu appointment with my ENT and was on my way straight to his office to let him take a look at it. The look on his face told me the whole story when he looked at the side of my tongue and said, “Alan, I’m going to have to get a biopsy of that. Have you got time for me to do it today?”

A few days later, Lori and I sat in the ENT’s office waiting on the doctor to let us know the results from the biopsy. Lori and I had prayed for good news, but when he walked in and said “Alan, I want you to know that I have been praying for you” I knew it wasn’t going our way. Squamous Cell Carcinoma on the base of my tongue. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, the whole nine yards. Lori and I took some time to dry our eyes and all I could think to tell her was that it was going to be OK, that God has always provided, He will continue to be merciful and we will continue to be faithful.

 

Well, maybe

Maybe that’s the point

To reach the point of giving up
Cause when I’m finally

Finally at rock bottom

Well, that’s when I start looking up

And reaching out

 

My mind flashes back to sitting in my truck at the general physician’s office. I had made God a promise that no matter the outcome that I was His, He was my salvation and most importantly, if this went bad I would need His strength to suffer well. That has stuck with me everyday since. To suffer well to me means to work hard to make it obvious to those around me that Christ is in my heart, God is in control and the Holy Spirit walks with me every step of the way.

 

I know I’m not strong enough to be

Everything that I’m supposed to be

I give up

I’m not strong enough

Hands of mercy won’t you cover me

Lord right now I’m asking you to be

Strong enough

Strong enough

Song: Strong Enough

Artist: Matthew West

May 3rd, 2013

Lori and I headed down to CTCA today for my 4th treatment of Gemzar and Erbitux. We left out a little early and got down there about 40 minutes ahead of schedule, they took us back immediately to draw labs, and Lori and I were thinking “this is great. We’ll get pushed through”. Wrong. The very next appointment was 15 minutes late and it went downhill from there. We ended up about 40 minutes late getting to chemotherapy. On the plus side, now that I have proven that I do not have infusion reactions, they are able to bump up the speed of the infusion. We dropped from 4.5 hours to 3.5 hours.

Oh well. It was overall still a very pleasant day. The people there are always nice and make every visit calm and pleasant.

The Same Boat I Was In …

A few weeks ago Lori and I met a couple (DI and CI) that were struggling along the path of cancer. He (DI) was the patient and and she (CI) was the faithful, always there caregiver. He was in the same boat I was in weeks before. His cancer is different and at a much different stage, however he had lost a lot of weight and was depressed and was exactly where I was about 6 weeks ago.

We talked to them in great detail about the way I had been and discussed the changes that had occurred since I had been prescribed Megace. A lot of prayers went his way this past week. God had really laid him on my heart and Lori and I discussed what we could do for them and how much we hoped for better days in his future. Lori bought a daily devotion that she has fallen in love with and left it at CTCA for them to get on their next visit. She is so thoughtful like that. I’m just not wired that way.

Flash forward to today (5/3/13) and guess who I find in Infusion. DI and CI. They were sitting in the “corner office” getting 2 units of blood. Apparently, his chemo is rough on the blood system. The good news is that he was smiling and felt like talking. The doctors have given him something to help with his appetite and it was working. He said he had gained two pounds and was eating everything he could get his hands on. I was so proud to see him feeling better. God has had His hands on him this past week and I hope and pray that this is a turning point for him.  He still has some side effects and still has a tough row to hoe, but now he will have the fuel to help him.

They are very sweet Christians from the east side of Atlanta out I-20. I don’t know how often our paths will cross, but I hope it is regular and often. God bless them and I ask you to pray for them earnestly. It was truly an inspiration to see him today and see the difference a week can make.