Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Forgiveness

Today I am touched by Matthew West's song "Forgiveness." I watched his video about a woman who not only forgave the drunk driver that killed her daughter and her friend, but then worked through the court to cut his sentence in half after she forgave him to his face (see http://www.matthewwest.com to view the video).  This woman, Lisa, goes around the country giving speeches about the detrimental effects of drunk driving and knew that the man who killed her daughter was the missing piece to her speeches. When he gets out of jail in November 2013, he will accompany her to reach out to people so they do not drink and drive. He knows the power of forgiveness because he learned it from an experience where he couldn't forgive himself.

But what if there is no person to forgive? What if, as in Ryan's case, someone is ill and you are very angry at the circumstances? Much like the man who took away Lisa's daughter permanently, there is no one who can apologize for Ryan's Cancer and then take it away. There is no magic wand, pill or words to just make it go away, no dream to wake up from. Cancer is an inconvenience on everyone's life, a life threatening irritant that gets under your skin that leaves you raw. Vacations are planned around doctor's orders about whether or not you can handle the germs in an airplane or the demands on your body. Work schedules and social outings are planned around your chemo treatments. Chemo schedules are planned around your blood counts. Life expectancy is planned around God's timing but it is not our place to know what tomorrow will bring. The future is a big unknown.

So then where does forgiveness fit when you have a million questions about your future? What if the person you love more than anyone you have ever loved before lives with chemo treatments the rest of their lives? How long would you want to endure the days of infusion, then the time afterwards of feeling sick, tired and drained of the vigor that a healthy life has to offer? What if the person you love more than anyone you have loved before dies, even if they tried every treatment or alternative medicine offered? How can you cope with either option of a life filled with chemo treatment, alternative medicines, or a void where life once was if a miraculous healing does not take place?

The only place for forgiveness is found at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, a son that was taken by death from his father like Lisa lost her daughter. Except the death of Jesus was planned because he took on the sins (or wrongdoing) of each of us so that we could be forgiven of every sin we ever committed. Illness does not always originate directly from our sin, but Jesus knows how to heal every single sickness on this earth. Resting in the fact that God is good all the time, and works together all things for those who love him is where we can hold onto forgiveness for circumstances like Cancer that are out of our control. I really want my circumstances to change, but even if they don't, I know I can have peace from the creator of the universe who taught me the true meaning of forgiveness amidst the most dire circumstances of all.

Monday, July 30, 2012

God brought me diapers

Ever since Ryan got Cancer, I have just wanted to feel "normal" again. I have wanted to wake up on a typical day with thoughts about what we would do that day. I wanted to decide about having cheerios or a granola bar for breakfast. I wanted think about nothing more than that. These mundane thoughts about simple things are what I miss with the Cancer cloud looming large around our family. Yesterday, for a brief while, it happened.

I woke up as though there was no Cancer. It just felt good to snuggle on my husband and think about nothing. I walked Bean around the block and thought about life as though Ryan was not sick. We went to church as though we were a typical family doing what God calls us to do in "not forsaking the meeting of the brethren." I was able to really focus in on the message Pastor Jack was delivering and not cry when he talked about being taken home to heaven. We had a lovely lunch with Ryan's brother Dustin and his new bride Sarah, gushing about Talitha's first bites of pureed food while catching them up on two weeks' worth of photos, even though we said we would "never be those parents who forced other people to look at a million pictures of our kid." I was even grumpy about my change in plans that day, a change that meant I was not able to get diapers. Thanks be to God that I am not typically grumpy about schedule changes and am much more flexible than I used to be.

In between all these "normal" activities, I had thoughts about Ryan's Cancer and I was happy to just process them briefly and file them away. I lived in that dream world for a short period of time, but I realized the selfishness of my desires and the Cancer came back in full view. Ryan's illness has changed me in ways I had not even realized until it felt like before he got sick, making me think about just how different my thoughts are throughout the day. Instead of worrying about when our house projects would be done and what else we could work on, we have been blessed by people from our church donating their time and talents to help us in God's timing. Instead of just enjoying music and lyrics that speak to my circumstances, I have heard prayers for Ryan's healing from the members of bands I hear on the radio. Instead of just focusing on trying to get everyone I can think of to pray for Ryan's complete healing, I have learned about so many people who are effected by Cancer, a widow who now has Cancer herself, bald headed children who lie in hospital beds instead of playing outside with their friends, and friends who have lost their spouses to the very disease my spouse currently has.  Instead of praying repetitive prayers that have no heart behind them, I have learned from the prayer warriors I have met that "the prayers of a righteous man avail much" and pray fervently for the widows we know to be comforted, for my family's and friends' marriages to be strengthened, for their children to be obedient and kind, for their relationship with God to blossom, and their struggles with finances to cease. Instead of knowing that God is good all the time and being satisfied with a relationship at arm's length, I know for a fact that "He who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever." Instead of being sad that we cannot spend as much time with friends as we used to, I am grateful for the time I have with them. I do not want to go back to "normal" anymore because it is through this trial that Ryan and I have become closer to each other and closer to God than either of us ever imagined possible. Anyway, I know that Ryan is not able to put Cancer out of his mind and I want to be his partner in this journey, not just stick my head in the sand and pretend everything is okay.

Recently I would ask Ryan what he was reading on his smartphone or thinking about, and he would respond "Cancer." So it wasn't really gone, it was just that I felt good enough to cope with our circumstances better than many days up to that point. To hear him say that he has a constant reminder because of the pain in his side (a "thorn in the flesh" I think), his bloated tummy or his back pain makes me so sad and wonder what the future will hold. Yet I think about the blessings that have been poured out onto our family, and have become especially thankful for each day I get with Ryan.

Yesterday after Dustin and Sarah left, a friend from church whom I had just met delivered some things she thought we might need given our circumstances. Her eight year old son made a beautiful get well card for Ryan and she brought me diapers! God has this thing about timing and I was so grateful for her and Him. He knew I needed fellowship AND diapers and He provided for me in His timing.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Prayer Requests

Here's how you can help pray for us:


  • Ryan would like to continue to work part-time (or as close to full time as possible) so that I can stay home and take care of him and the baby. 



  • Please pray for his coworkers, especially Nathan, who have to work harder since he is not able to always be there.



  • Please pray blessings for Pastor Jack Hibbs and all the staff and volunteers at Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills (http://www.calvarycch.org). We are blessed by their ministry and grateful for the men and women at our home church. 



  • We would like to get plugged in at Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills and would love prayers for meeting some new friends when the Men's and Women's Bible studies start up in September, 2012.



  • Please pray for Biblical wisdom and strength in their marriage for Pastor Bill Heydorn and his wife Michelle at our Wednesday night Married Couples Bible Study, FUSE (http://www.marriageisawesome.com).



  •  Pray for us to follow Dave Ramsey's (http://www.daveramsey.com) Financial Peace University plan, stick to our budget and get out of credit card debt ASAP. 



  • We need to save up for Ryan's annual deductible for next year (Ryan's Dad paid for this year, Praise God!) and a blue 2007 Honda Odyssey minivan so Ryan doesn't have to drive his '71 Datsun stationwagon as his daily commuter car.

  • Please pray for us to be good witnesses for God, especially for our unsaved friends and family members and others we meet who have Cancer.



  • We would love to hear that you are praying for us! If you want to send us a card to encourage us, books by Christian authors, or baby clothes/diapers/toys for Talitha, please contact us at: 


Ryan and Anna Waters
c/o Robin Knapp
Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills
4201 Eucalyptus Ave.
Chino Hills, CA 91710
Phone: 909-303-7100


  • Most importantly, I ask for your constant prayers for Ryan's complete healing from Stomach Cancer - we are all praying for a miracle. 


God bless you!!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Good News

We had a lot of people praying for Ryan and we want to thank you for that! Praise God for Dr. Lim's faith in God because he believes the Cancer will shrink.

Today, 7/24/12, we went to see Dr. Lim with high expectations of either shrinking tumors or a miraculous healing. We did not get our miracle yet, but we did receive news that Ryan's Cancer is not spreading, nor has it increased in size from the baseline CT scan on 3/15/12. So it is virtually at a standstill (some of the Lymph Nodes grew by 0.4 inches from the last CT scan on 5/21/12, but were not bigger than they were at the beginning of the year). Dr. Lim told us that for some people it takes a long time to get to the point where the actively growing Cancer becomes dormant, but for Ryan it only took two months. He said some people on his study live 3-4 years this way.

We asked about the possibility of Ryan getting off the chemo in 3-4 years and what might happen then. He said that the Cancer could remain dormant, or it could become active again without the study drug (Everolimus). He believes that the study drug, in addition to the 5F-U and the Folfox chemo regiment is the combination of medications that is keeping the Cancer at bay. When we brought up the point that Ryan wanted to be done with chemo, as we were sure most of his patients wanted, Dr. Lim came back with, "Trust in the Lord." I said I'd been praying and that verse in Proverbs 3:5-6 kept coming up:"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Dr. Lim reminded Ryan that the report was good and told him to "keep his chin up."

Although we were hoping for a miracle, we were pretty happy with good news instead. Please continue to pray for Ryan's total healing and that the Cancer continues to shrink, as it did on the 5/21/12 CT scan. I will keep you updated as to Ryan's chemo schedule and reactions to it. Unfortunately he could not get chemo today (including the research study drug, Everolimus) because his blood platelet count was too low. It was 99, just one point lower than they wanted. We were disappointed about that because we know the chemo is working, but they want to make sure to do everything safely. We will go back to City of Hope next week on Tuesday and try again!

Speaking of good news, if you do not already know the good news of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, please pray this prayer: "Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I know that You died for my sins and want to turn away from my sins (all the bad stuff I have done) and towards You instead. Please accept my humble apologies for what I have done wrong and how I have turned away from You in the past. I want to be Your child for all of eternity and know that by praying this prayer acknowledging Your Son Jesus Christ as my Lord, You will accept me into heaven when I die. I know nothing else will save me or get me to heaven - not good deeds, being a good person, or working my way into heaven. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen." If you prayed that prayer for the first time, please post a comment onto this message and email me or call/text me. I can tell you more about getting plugged into a church and your new life with Jesus Christ as your Lord.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hope

I started this blog to shine God's glory through our lives during the recent trial we have been facing with Ryan's Stage 4 Stomach Cancer. So many friends and family members have lavished love upon us in the form of prayers, well wishes and hope for a future that includes Ryan in it. We are all praying for a miracle.

Ryan and I both would love to see many unsaved family members and friends become saved through this trial - but ask that you specifically pray for Mark, Renee, and Renee's two children Gavin and Tristen. Ryan says it would be worth his life if even one person becomes saved from learning about his circumstances and the faith that has given him hope through this difficult season. He is hoping that God does not have to take him to heaven during his 36th year on Earth in order to do this, but is willing to go if it means that he will be able to see the people he has been praying for come to faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

Please continue to pray that the tumors shrink, and that this progress shows on our upcoming CT scan on 7/23/12 at 1:30 p.m. Please pray for peace to cover our family when we find out the results on Tuesday at 11 a.m. from Dr. Lim.

Lastly, can you please pass this blog along to anyone you know who prays to the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ, our Lord? Please share my link on your Facebook page or email a link to the friends that you email. We are so grateful for all of your heartfelt prayers.

In Him,
Ryan, Anna & Baby Talitha

The First Hospital Stay

Ryan received chemo throughout the month of April with very few side effects and had the uncanny ability to work regular hours at work. It was as though he was almost back to normal! He had an appetite again and started regaining the weight he lost during the diagnosis process. But after Talitha's Baby Dedication and his brother's wedding, Ryan was pooped! Unfortunately he never recovered from his chemo (Round 5) that week.

Dr. Lim gave him Round 6 on May 22nd, which was an awesome day. We found out from his CT scan the day before that his tumors were shrinking (some of them 60%!) and that the chemo was working. We were so thankful to God for the blessing He gave us. But after Ryan received chemo that week, it was clear that this time was different. He developed mouth sores right away and was extremely tired, requiring excessive amounts of sleep. He had learned to manage the nausea and was not sick to his stomach, but the mouth sores prevented him from eating food because it hurt him to chew anything or have it touch the roof of his mouth. Then they spread and made his gums raw and his bottom lip started to swell and bleed. By the end of the second week after chemo was administered he had a fever, which is when I called City of Hope to see what we should do. "Come into the ETC (Urgent Care)," they said.

It was 8 o'clock on Thursday night, 5/31/12 by the time we got there. Around 10 p.m. the doctor (the same one from the first time he was in the ETC for his first severe side effect) told me they were going to admit him into the hospital, so I should go home. I asked if the nursing staff would watch Talitha while I went to talk to him about it and all of the nurses scrubbed their hands and jumped at the chance to watch the baby while I talked to Ryan. He was not happy and refused to go to the hospital because he wanted to manage it at home. He did not think the mouth sores warranted hospitalization. He wanted to receive the antibiotics in the ETC and then go home to sleep in his own bed. We were there until 1:30 a.m., which got us home at 2:30 a.m. It was a good thing that Talitha had a regular bedtime and was able to fall asleep around 11:30 p.m. just like she did at home. We were exhausted, but able to honor Ryan's request.

The next day he woke up feeling pretty good until noon. The antibiotics wore off and the prescription that was sent to our pharmacy didn't have what Ryan needed. His fever spiked worse than it had the day before and he relented, so I drove him back to City of Hope to stay in the hospital. I called Pastor Lin at Calvary Chapel Chino Hills and he was able to make a hospital visit the next day! That was a nice surprise.

When I went to visit him on Saturday June 2 (courtesy of Nathan & Kara watching Tayley for 20 minutes while I went into his room) he said he was bored and looked great! I could not believe how much better he got from receiving antibiotics and learning how to manage his mouth and lip sores. He was eating a lot of different kinds of soft foods as well, and that made me very happy.

The next day's visit was even better. Our friends Kevin and Lindsay drove with me this time and they made the brilliant suggestion of having Ryan come out and visit with everyone. Ryan's former coworker Nick stopped by with Nathan too and I could tell that even though he said he didn't "need" visitors, that he was feeling the love with all of us there for him.

Ryan was in the hospital for four days and left feeling so much better than when he arrived. I was so grateful to God for the doctors and staff who figured out that Ryan's fever was caused by his mouth sores. It was such a relief that they were able to alleviate his pain and help him heal dramatically in such a short period of time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Talitha's Baby Dedication



The beautiful part about having a child is dedicating her to the Lord. Ryan's brother Dustin got married the weekend we dedicated Talitha, so most of Ryan's family members from northern California and Oregon were in town. My parents drove down from northern California as well, so it was a really good turn out. We also had some family friend, Linda Hall and Nathan & Kara Norris support us too! We dedicated her on Mother's Day, 5/13/12 at Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills by Pastor Jack Hibbs.


Chemo Isn't for Sissies

"Was it already the end of March?" I thought to myself as we walked into the lobby of City of Hope to check Ryan in for his first round of Chemo. March 27th! I had all kinds of expectations from the first appointment and thought that day would be smooth as silk. Well, unfortunately it was not the case.

March 27th finally arrived and we were relieved and excited that he would finally receive his first chemo treatment. Ryan checked in and got his blood test done, then we went up to see Dr. Lim and Eloise. We expected everything to go by the book when the unexpected happened. Ryan's blood count was too low for him to receive chemo without a blood transfusion! We were so shocked by this that it blindsided us. We had no idea that would ever happen and both felt very strange about Ryan receiving other people's blood. I offered to give blood, but we were not the same type so it did not matter, plus they had a protocol about blood donations and do not do it directly from someone anymore. His count was at 8.1, where 7.0 would put him in the hospital for too little blood in his system! Ryan did not have a choice, and we knew we were in good hands so decided to go for it. Ryan had just enough time to get both a transfusion that day and the chemo, but they warned us it would be a long day and it was! We got to City of Hope at 9 a.m. and did not leave until 9 p.m.! I was able to stay with him with the baby in Phase 1 that day, but that was the only time I have been allowed to be in the room with him with our baby when he received treatments. It was even more helpful that his friend Pete stopped by to spend time with him because the Lord restored their broken friendship through this trial. Ryan was encouraged by the moral support, even though he says he doesn't "need" it.

Ryan's chemo was a very simple process. First, he was hooked up through his port with a line that connected to an infusion of a number of drugs. Ryan was told that he could not touch or drink anything cold, due to a reaction caused from one of the chemo drugs, Oxaliplatin. He would receive that first, along with some Benedryl, Ativan, and antibiotics for a total of two hours. Then, once the drugs were infused, he would be hooked to a pump which would infuse him with the 5-FU (or Florouracil) for 46 hours. The pump was a black rectangular plastic device that puts a small dose of the 5-FU into his blood stream at regular intervals. It looked like he was wearing a small carrying case about a foot wide and six inches tall on his pants at waist level. His line was long enough so that he would be able to shower and put the case in a safe place, as well as sleep with it near the bed, he just had to be careful not to pull the line or kink the tubing. But it was taped pretty well to his port, so it was really not an issue. As soon as his pump was ready, we went home.

The two nights he had the pump were very rough for both of us. Emotionally, it exhausted me that he slept in another room. But the baby was sleeping in our room and he could not get a good night of sleep with her there. I cried a lot that first night, probably more out of feeling sorry for myself than anything. Ryan woke up feeling okay the next day and went to work. But that night he came home feeling terrible. He threw up and had terrible stomach pain, which caused him to take some strong pain medication. That whole night he just kept getting worse and worse in spite of my prayers. He just wanted to be left alone and that bothered me too. I wanted to comfort him and help, but he just wanted sleep.

We went to City of Hope on Thursday and he got the pump removed. He was in the most amount of pain I have ever seen him in. He suggested that we go home and I suggested that he go back and get help to manage his pain better. We got into a small argument over it. He said to just let him get some air, so we sat in some wheelchairs with blue seats in the parking lot with the baby in her carseat. He was doubled over in pain, so visibly distraught and I felt so helpless! I finally talked him into letting me call the nurses in Phase 1 and when I called, they suggested that we go over to ETC (which was like an Urgent Care) and check him in there. When we went to ETC, they wouldn't allow me to go in with the baby, so I had to wait in a chair in a nearby hallway. When the doctor came out two hours later she said they were ordering a number of tests in order to find out what was wrong, including an x-ray. When the results came back, she told me he was severely constipated. Dr. Lim and Eloise had warned us about this side effect from the pain medication, yet Ryan had not taken enough precautions to combat it. We learned from that experience and from that day on, he has never had another issue with this highly preventable side effect. Whew! The nurses and doctors in ETC fixed him up so that he was so much more relaxed and comfortable by the time we were able to go home.

When we got home that night, it was the first night I put the baby in her own room. I figured it was worth it to help Ryan sleep well through the night. Surprisingly, she ended up sleeping the whole night through (for 5 straight hours) and she has not woken in the middle of the night since then. Although he slept a lot and just felt "off" the week after his first round of chemo, we knew what chemo would be like and that knowledge was invaluable. I never wanted to sleep apart from Ryan like that and we agreed that the baby being in her own room made a huge difference for our sleep, especially for him.

Overall, that first round of chemo was so rough that I could not imagine putting him through that every other week for years on end. I told him I wouldn't blame him if he didn't want to do it anymore and he said, "Sweetie pie, I just threw up a few times and got constipated. It's not so bad." This gave me hope that he would be willing to endure the tough stuff in order to survive. And I had hope that the next round of chemo would be much less painful if we managed his pain and tummy troubles well, covered by the prayers of others.

Our Baby Girl's Birth Story

At church on Sunday 2/26/12, I felt led to pray a lot about the baby and my impending due date. Ryan and I decided that day to ask my awesome doctor, Dr. Linzey, about inducing labor. I had my 39 week check up on 2/27/12 and he said that it could cause me to have a c-section, but that was the only added risk. I told him it was fine and he prayed with me, then told me they would expect me in five hours. Yikes! I had five hours to get everything ready and I needed 25! Ryan was still asleep because he was so tired most days and had a hard time being awake. I got him up at 2 p.m. and he was able to drive our dog Bean to Riverwalk Pet Resort before going with me to the hospital.

We arrived at St. Joseph's Hospital an hour late after scarfing down dinner at Chick-Fil-A and they started to induce me at 9:40 p.m. I was so excited I could barely sleep. Dr. Linzey was kind enough to ask the Labor and Delivery staff to provide Ryan with a recliner so he could be more comfortable because he knew about Ryan's diagnosis. I received more pills at 1:40 a.m. and 5:40 a.m. By 9:30 a.m. on 2/28/12 I was awoken by a woman pressing her face against my cheek and hugging me. "Good morning," I said, a little bewildered. "You have a divine appointment today," she said. "Who are you?" I asked. "My name is Diana and I will be your nurse today. My husband had Cancer too and I will share our story with you throughout the day. First let me pray for you!" And she did.




She got permission to get me breakfast and although I didn't have permission, I ate lunch too. I was a naughty patient! My water was broken for me at noon by Dr. Linzey and I really hoped I would have my baby delivered by him. Diana took very good care of me, including ordering me an epidural before I asked for one. Her rationale was that she wanted me to continue to like her by the afternoon.

We laughed a lot that day and I was so blessed by her presence. Ryan and I both asked a lot of questions and felt a new peace about the journey God was taking us on. Although she explained that her husband passed away, she had a peace that was unmistakable. I knew Jesus was at work in her life.

I did not progress as well as the doctors wanted me to and by 10:30 p.m. it was clear that I was getting a fever and the baby was starting to get stressed out. "We are going to have to do a c-section," Dr. Sheen said. I wanted a second opinion! Well, what I really wanted was to get out of childbirth altogether because it scared me worse than anything had before. As soon as he left the room I started vomiting. I was so worried about Ryan's oncology appointments and pain medications from having a c-section and not being able to breastfeed. But Ryan was there every step of the way, holding my hand and taking pictures of my fetal-monitor to show people the spikes on the tape when I threw up. I love him and his sense of humor!

I actually don't remember Talitha's birth (on 2/29/12 at 1:15 a.m.) because they gave me so much medication for the c-section, they knocked me out. I was so anxious and so worried that I am glad I was not coherent in some regards but am so sad I did not get to see the look on Ryan's face when he saw his daughter for the first time. He tells me that when they put her in his arms he did not know what to do. But it sounds like he did just fine! He held her while waiting for me to wake up. And when I did he said, "You have a daughter!" And I thought to myself, "I have a daughter? Someone gave me a daughter?" And then I realized I'd given birth! I held Talitha for the first time and it was the most amazing feeling ever. The best part was that Ryan and I were there together.


Talitha Rose and Mommy,
only a few hours old







Talitha and Daddy
For the next five days, Ryan and I were in St. Joseph's Hospital of Orange, getting cared for by amazing doctors and nursing staff while getting to know our daughter together. It was extremely joyous, a time that we bonded unlike ever before. But I noticed that Ryan was just as weak as me, even though I had surgery and he had not. I prayed that his oncology appointments scheduled for 3/6 and 3/8 would happen quickly, it would be clear which hospital he should go to and the doctors would get him treated so he could feel better and be healed. So many friends and family members visited us briefly in the hospital, yet it was all Ryan could do to stay awake. He and I slept most of the time we did not have visitors. His back pain was intense and he was very uncomfortable. I knew when we got home it would be a new reality - living with Ryan having Cancer and raising a new baby. I prayed that God would give us the tools to learn about both avenues well and would put people in our lives to help us. He has answered that prayer beyond anything I could have hoped for.

Leaving as a family of 3 on Sunday, 3/4/12







Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is it time for Chemo yet?



From that initial appointment introducing us to City of Hope in general and specifically Dr. Lim, we had many appointments to further investigate Ryan's case. Not even a week after Ryan's initial appointment, he had to get another blood test and have a portacath inserted into his chest, near his right shoulder. During the preparation for the surgery, the doctor showed Ryan and I (Tayley too, but she was sleeping) the amazing piece of technology that would save him from losing the precious veins in his arms from the poisonous chemotherapy drugs that would be pumped into him every other week. The portacath or "port," a small circular purple titanium device no bigger than your thumbnail, was very fascinating to look at. It was almost as though he would have a little bumpy thimble under the surface of his skin. The doctor doing the brief surgery told us it would be very routine and that Ryan would be able to talk to everyone in the room while the port was being placed near his clavicle. The catheter would be attached to his vena cava vein, a major artery that pumps blood from the brain down to the heart - Ryan was happy it wasn't pumping it the other way around! Everything went well and Ryan had to wear a big bandage for a few days while it healed.

Two days later, on March 15th, he had to have another blood test, a urine test, an EKG, and a CT scan. Ryan was beginning to tire from all the poking and prodding, but wanted treatment and a reversal of the Cancer. That particular blood test revealed that Ryan was even more anemic at this point, and they would have to do an additional endoscopy in order to find out the origins of his bleeding and we would need to wait another week to schedule this, pushing his chemo back two weeks. I think it was then that we reached our breaking point.




During the day we remained strong, in spite of the impending endoscopy. We would go to City of Hope or be on the phone with Eloise regarding appointments or follow ups for Ryan. The baby needed her follow up appointments too because she was already two weeks old and we had to see her amazing pediatrician Dr. Hill. She is also a believer and told us she would pray for Ryan's healing too. We had meetings with Kevin Fehrmann, an awesome lawyer (another believer) we knew personally to draw up a trust/will, Larry Martinez, a mortgage financial guru to refinance our house and were waiting to hear back from our life insurance broker to see if we could raise our policy amount which did not happen. We realized our messy financial situation could be corrected and found a desire to grow up, mature, and start getting out of debt and saving money. Yes, my Mom taught me all the principles of how to save and not use credit cards unless you pay them off, but I did not listen to Mom's advice and that got us into financial trouble from the start of our marriage. Regardless of our situation, however, we were blessed with a financial gift of our entire year's medical deductible paid by Ryan's father because he said he did not want us to have only more thing to worry about this year. This generous gift allowed us to keep our home and our sanity through the fog of trying to raise a newborn while going to the hospital almost daily for awhile. But then, there were the nights.




It was during the night time hours that we had the most amount of difficulty coping with our present situation. Both of us would lie awake, wondering about the uncertainty of our future together, of Ryan's ability to remain a steadfast husband and an amazing Dad, of our ability to get out of debt and start saving for our future medical and living expenses, whether Ryan would continue to be well enough to work and provide for us or whether I should work, and then there was the issue of who would raise the baby, especially if Ryan was that sick. It had taken me five years to get pregnant through In-Vitro Fertilization and that was only via various surgeries due to all my medical complications, a process that taught me the reasons why it could not happen naturally. During those years of trying, we both agreed I would be primarily responsible for raising kids if God blessed us with them, but we never factored in Cancer, let alone Stage 4 Stomach Cancer. My part-time teaching job at Alcott Elementary School was an awesome place to work before I went on maternity leave but the circumstances were so different than when I first started the school year. Thankfully I was able to go on a leave of absence for the rest of the year in order to deal with all of the things going on in our lives, which would give me time to think about the next steps. We knew that things were so uncertain about the future that it left this nagging feeling of discomfort that neither of us could shake. It just kept bringing us back to the Scripture in James 4:13-15 that says, "Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;" whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." "If the Lord wills, we shall live," is what I repeated in my mind. I kept praying, "Lord, let it be Your will that Ryan lives." It is an awful and wonderful place to be when you do not know what tomorrow will bring. Unfortunately, my weak faith led me to despair in my not-knowing rather than trusting in the God who had brought us through everything thus far. But Ryan had a different outlook.




It was Ryan's weak faith that brought us into this trial, he said. "Lord, give me whatever it takes to keep me close to You," he prayed during Summer 2011. Let us just say that Ryan and I both have never been closer to the Lord, and have never evaluated our lives, marriage, and hope for the future more intensely than during the past three months. He got what he prayed for, and what is interesting about his prayer is that it led me to keep close to God too. I searched my heart for the reasons why I had not remained close to God in the past few years and realized I was spiritually lazy; Ryan says he felt spiritually lazy too. During the month of March, I realized I made the excuse I was "too busy" to read my Bible daily and pray, but when this next endoscopy came into view, I realized that most other things in my life did not matter to me nearly as much as spending time with my God, and my family and friends.




It was during March that our family and friends drew very close to us in ways that I could never have imagined, which eased the night time aches. So many people visited me in the hospital when the baby was born, showering us with love, quality time, prayers and practical gifts for the baby. But it did not stop there! Ryan's Mom came to stay with us for the first two weeks after Talitha was born, preparing meals and easing the burdens of everyday living. She listened to us, cared for us, and helped us through such a difficult time in both of our lives. After she left, my parents came to visit too, getting to spend some quality time with their very first grandchild. Or course Ryan got some hobby time in with my Dad and my Mom and I had some Starbucks conversations too. And then there were the friends who organized a two week time period of a meal a day! It was like Christmas for weeks on end! We were able to visit with friends in person and I did not have to cook for an entire month! All of the friends and coworkers that came over brought such yummy food that I now have a recipe box that is bursting with new ideas. We were covered in prayer by every visitor as well, which was so humbling and soothing to our souls. We needed the intense love that we received and continue to be so grateful to the people in our lives for their love and prayers, especially for Ryan's healing.




The prayers for healing continued during Ryan's third endoscopy on the early morning hours of March 23 and we realized that his life was waning. His blood count was dropping and he could barely eat anything anymore without discomfort. He never complained about pain, just a dull ache in his lower back and the inability to eat anything but very small amounts of food. He lost 25 pounds in two months and I was scared about his health. But the Lord was faithful to put people in our lives to comfort us and the results from the endoscopy came back really positive. To put it in blunt terms, the doctor said he essentially "cauterized the heck out of his tumor." We just couldn't wait for the chemo to begin the following Tuesday.



Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Meeting the Oncology Doctors

Our first Oncology appointment was at a local hospital. It was such a depressing experience that is not really worth re-living. However, the experience did teach us lessons about health and healing.

We arrived quite early to our appointment on March 6. I was surprised at how well my pain medication was doing its job and did not feel any pain from the car ride. Ryan and I were apprehensive, but hopeful that we would get some answers.

When we got into the office, we were ushered into a small, sterile white room. It really was not big enough for more than three people, even though many more people were crammed in there throughout our two hour ordeal. The first of the myriad of clinicians to greet us was a beautiful and articulate Psychologist who clearly had the gift of compassion. We both discussed the order of the clinicians after our appointment and said we should have run when they sent in a Psychologist first! She was there to hear our story and support us throughout our appointment. We started to talk to her about the events that led us to that office, when the Surgical Oncologist and two other doctors (who briefly introduced themselves) came into the room. The Psychologist left but she really should have stayed to teach the others about how to talk to people.

One of the other two clinicians in the room started asking Ryan about his case history. Ryan said he'd sent them the paperwork in advance so they could review his file but it was clear that they had not reviewed it. The male clinician was abrupt and biting in his speech, cutting me off when I asked questions or added to Ryan's commentary. The woman with him never said a word, and I believe she was probably a doctor in training. His questions were routine and we wanted to tell them our story too, but he just said, "I cannot talk and read this at the same time. You will have to wait until I finish reading to speak." Wow! I could not believe how much this man lacked tact and bedside manner! I have only been treated so poorly a few times in my life but at least this time I had the Lord with me, so I simply prayed for him (and for me to be polite!).

The Surgical Oncologist was a tall, dark and slender woman with a lot of head knowledge and little bedside manner. She drew a picture of a stomach and talked about the location of Ryan's lesion and how there was just no way to perform surgery on him. Basically, she said that they would review Ryan's case before a board of doctors and decide what they could do since surgery was not an option. It sounded like she doubted they could do anything for Ryan. I asked her how long Ryan had to live. She asked, "Do you really want to know?" I said, "Yes." She said, "Months or years." I said, "Let's start with years. Are we talking 20? 5?" She said, "Let's start with five. Five, no - Two - well, I am not the one who decides how long people live." I instantly started crying and put my face in my hands. I was so grateful the baby was asleep during this entire conversation and just wanted to grab my family and leave. Ryan put his arm around me. I was devastated by the lack of hope in this woman, a doctor whom we came to in order to help Ryan live! I wanted to run away and take a shower to cleanse myself from the hopelessness within those clinical, cold walls. She eventually left and guess who came back?! The Psychologist! We finished our story with her and she gave us her card and tried to solicit business from us. We smiled politely but both knew we would NEVER go back there again.

We went home that day to find Ryan's Mom visibly upset in our backyard. Ryan said, "You called her and told her, didn't you?" I said, "No, I was with you the whole time!!!" She knew in her heart just how horrible the appointment went. We all cried together, and hoped for a much better appointment at City of Hope in two days.

On March 8, 2012, we found a place of hope. At City of Hope we were greeted at the door by Donna who came to meet us before we could step foot on the campus. Donna was a lovely seasoned woman with short brown hair and a smile that made you feel welcome. She guided us to an office where we checked in with a woman who said Ryan's case had been approved and that they would officially accept him as a patient. Donna walked us around the labyrinth of City of Hope and I hoped I would be able to find my way back to the car that day! I was so glad for a friendly face, who apparently looked like Ryan's Grandmother Mimi, and a person who wanted to smile because they loved their job.It was a night and day difference!

We were taken to get Ryan's bloodwork done, sign him up for a research study, and to finally meet his doctor. Dr. Lim was a thin man with very few words. We seemed to have so much to ask him and he answered us so briefly and generally that neither of us were satisfied. But I believe that is exactly what we needed at the time because the more we read online before going to that appointment, the more scared and uncertain we became. Dr. Lim brought us back to the reality that we do not know whether the chemo regiment will produce side effects and if it did, how those side effects would effect Ryan specifically. He would not (and still will not) put a time limit on Ryan's life either, which is awesome. The only way Dr. Lim addressed this point was to say, "I have patients on this chemo regiment for two years, some for fours. You are young, Ryan. You'll be fine. You can handle it. Now, if you were here 25 years ago, I would have shaken your hand and said, "I'm sorry." But now, they have things that work, like 5F-u. And if this one doesn't work, we have another one."

There were a few steps that would need to take place before Ryan would receive chemotherapy treatment. But for us, that treatment could not come soon enough. Ryan's back was really hurting him and he was so unbelievably tired all the time. Dr. Lim was kind enough to prescribe something stronger than the Tylenol that Ryan was taking at the maximum daily dose. I was grateful for this because it was hurting me to see how much he needed to take, in order to not feel pain.

We were also privileged to meet Eloise at that time. Eloise was the Research Study Nurse who has been a tremendous blessing in our lives. She explained the Research Study Chemotherapy medication (Everalimus) that Ryan chose to take and all the paperwork that goes along with it. She is our contact person whenever we need help discussing any issues with the doctor. And she was kind enough to give Talitha a little Hello Kitty lamb for Easter too!

Ryan and I left with more than prescription slips in our hands that day. We left with a clinical hope we did not have from the time of his diagnosis, beyond the hope we already have in Jesus Christ, our Lord. It was so encouraging to walk outside towards our car (yes, we found it) and see the quote "THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE" engraved on a wall with some pink Impatiens decorating it. We sat at the fountain with a man and a woman holding up a baby, looked around at the amazing landscaping, and just quietly thanked God for all He was doing in our lives. He led us to that place of hope, and we prayed for a miracle from that place of miracles.


Monday, July 16, 2012

We'd only just begun...


Hello friends,

If you are reading this, it is because I am asking for prayers. Can you please pass along our story to your church and/or your praying friends?

Our Story

In October of 2011, my 35 year old husband Ryan started having back pain and tiredness. I was five months pregnant at the time. We thought his fatigue was due to driving his older car to Taft and back daily (3 hours one way) for a few months. Then in December it got worse. During our Christmas Eve Party, Ryan left our guests in the early evening in order to go to sleep. He did not get up for a week, except for the necessities. I finally convinced him to go to the doctor on 12/30/11. By this point I was seven months pregnant.

Dr. Christensen (a believer) ordered some tests - a blood test, an ultrasound, and a urinalysis. The blood test results showed that Ryan was anemic (i.e. bleeding internally), but was only a point away from normal, and had nothing else medically wrong according to the urinalysis. The ultrasound (performed on 1/17/12) showed a "shadow" of a tumor, but would have to be investigated further. With all of his other symptoms, like his fatigue and back pain, his doctor followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit and referred him to a specialist.

Ryan went to the Gastroenterologist who wanted to do a CT scan after an Endoscopy. Although Ryan complained about our extremely high deductible, the doctor (also a believer) insisted on doing these tests. We scheduled the Endoscopy for the third week in January.

January 24, 2012 was a day that rocked our world. After the doctor was done with the procedure I was allowed to go see Ryan in recovery. Dr. Choi came out of the operating room and shared results that shocked me. He found a mass in Ryan's stomach and esophagus. He showed me pictures of this bloody mass that I never wanted to see present in my husband. The first person I wanted to lean on for support was Ryan, but he was so inundated with medications that he did not remember anything from one minute to the next and tried very hard to crack jokes and be funny. I asked the doctor if it was Cancer and he said he, "Biopsied the heck out of it" and that we would know in a week. By this point, in addition to the fatigue and anemia, Ryan had a hard time eating food and could only eat a little bit at a time. He was losing weight.

We prayed very hard that week, especially with our married couple's Bible Study FUSE at Crossroads Church in Corona. They prayed over Ryan and we felt very loved. Ironically, a man at FUSE announced he had stomach cancer and they prayed for him. We hoped we were not in the same boat and praised God for what He was doing in our lives. We shed many tears thinking that the end of our marriage and Ryan's life could be right around the corner. I was eight months pregnant and very scared I would be alone in raising our daughter.

Fifteen days after my baby shower,  the results came back negative for Cancer and we were SO relieved. We realized we really needed to make arrangements on paper and called our lawyer for a will to be set up, tried to get more life insurance through our broker, and refinanced our home with our loan broker. We were unsuccessful in adding to our life insurance, but very quickly got everything else in order.

Right before we received the results from the biopsy, Ryan had his CT Scan on 1/30/12, and we had to wait another week! We were on pins and needles. It was like, hurry up and WAIT. I was excited about the baby coming but scared about Ryan's symptoms and increasing tiredness.  I asked for prayers related to a clear diagnosis so we could get Ryan treated. I just wanted answers.

February 8, 2012 was a depressing day. We met with Dr. Choi, the GI doctor and he went over all of the results, starting from the beginning. I was somewhat rude because I wanted him to get to what he discovered with Ryan's CT scan, but in retrospect I realized he wanted to break the news to us gently. He said, "The CT Scan results show your lymph nodes are all enlarged, indicative of lymphoma." "When your lymph nodes are 1 cm, that indicates severe infection, but yours are 3 cm," he said. There it was again: Cancer. We left his office with more questions than answers. We wanted to know when it started, how it started, whether that was really what was wrong or was there something else. Dr. Choi had questions too, which is why he referred us to a specialist at UC Irvine in order to biopsy the lymph nodes through the stomach lining, as well as biopsy the stomach mass (or lesion, as they called it) to see what was happening. I got an appointment lined up for February 17.

The Sunday before the Endoscopy, we went to church at Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills. We had only been going there a short while from some recommendations from Ryan's colleagues. I had been spiritually dry since moving to Corona and not being fed by a Pastor that teaches the word of God book by book.It was that Sunday that I realized this was our home church. I was really sad because all of the songs were about going home to be with Jesus in heaven and I did not want to think of Ryan leaving me so soon. But I was comforted by the message that Pastor Jack Hibbs delivered and knew everything would be okay.

I kind of knew what to expect based on the first endoscopy and I was grateful for that. Ryan and I asked a lot of people to pray for us and I know they did because I felt a lot of peace that morning. When Ryan was taken in, he got prepped for the procedure and I was very nervous because I knew I would be finding out the results without him. He would lose his short term memory due to the medications again, and it was hard to think about that part of it, so I just prayed for good news. Lymphoma had a really low mortality rate and was easily treatable. So many people lived successfully with it. Besides, our next door neighbor had Stage 4 Lymphoma and he was in his FIFTH year of life after chemo! We had hope living right next door, so we were hopeful that even if that was the diagnosis, it could still mean Ryan lived a long and full life with the baby and me. 

The very professional doctor came out and reassured us. He was wearing a suit and tie instead of a white coat and had a bedside manner that you could only dream about. He said he had 20 years of experience and Ryan looked nothing like the patients he had seen with Stomach Cancer. Besides, he didn't fit the profile. He thought for sure it would be Lymphoma and that was such an easy Cancer to treat. "If you could choose which Cancer to get, that would be the one to pick!" he said and smiled at us. I wished he was right. 

Ryan was wheeled away after I kissed him goodbye and I went outside and talked to his Mom. She was so hopeful too, especially considering what Ryan's doctor had just said. She had some great advice about not worrying, and just taking it one step at a time. She wanted me to wait to see what the results were, rather than "what if" myself to death, mulling over how he had already lost 25 pounds in two and a half months. I need to learn how to trust God more and worry less and she was very good at reminding me of what God's word says. An hour passed by so slowly and I just wanted to know. But part of me wishes I could go back to the not knowing and live in that realm a little longer.

I was called in when Ryan was done. He was "loopy" but seemed really coherent. I wish that was really the case because he sure had me fooled - all 8 times I explained everything to him throughout the day! Ha! The joke was on me! The doctor had a strange expression on his face and cut straight to the point. "Your husband has Stomach Cancer and it has spread everywhere," he said. All I could respond with was, "But I am nine months pregnant!" Then I remembered what he had said an hour ago. "I thought you said you were sure it was Lymphoma," I suggested, trying to bargain with the diagnosis. "What about that?" "Well," he said, "I made sure to go to the lab and see the results myself. This is a strange thing, something I have never seen before. It doesn't make sense and I cannot explain it," he said. "We will know the stage in a week because they need to run more tests in the lab." He excused himself and then the nurses told me I had a little bit of time but asked me to go get my car to take Ryan home. I held my emotions inside long enough to eat something because I hadn't eaten lunch. I bought a chocolate chip muffin and stared at a couple who were making googly eyes at each other. "What about me, God?" I asked Him. "The man I chose to love is being taken from me and I cannot do anything about it!" I went to my car and called my mother. After I told her what the doctors said I cried harder than I ever have in my life. "I do not want to lose my husband, I don't want him to die," I repeated over and over again. I went to pick Ryan up after wiping away my tears. I have never felt worse, ever. It is a gut-wrenching sadness that could have taken over if I let it. Thankfully, God replaced my sadness with peace and hope in Him.

On my last day of work before maternity leave started, 2/24/12 Ryan called me. He told me that the doctor had just called him and told him it was Stage 4. I had a sick feeling in my stomach and I allowed the prayers kick in so I would not fall apart. I talked to a few coworkers who comforted me a bit, which was very helpful because my work baby shower was in 10 minutes. God knew what He was doing with the timing of everything because even though I was sad about Ryan, I was very excited to be celebrating the birth of the child we had together. God wiped away my tears and replaced them with hugs, smiles, prayers, well wishes and awesome chocolate cake. I felt very loved by my coworkers and appreciated my job a lot, even though I was uncertain about the future.