Friday, July 12, 2013

v31 There is Always, Always Hope

"But what about Cancer cells?" Ryan asked Dr. Lim today before he had his 31st chemo infusion. "Do they eventually die?"

"Cancer cells can live for years," Dr. Lim replied.

Ryan constantly has these searching, burning questions swirling around in his brain. He scours the internet, reads many blogs, and does independent research to find the cure for his adenocarcinoma that just won't die. At least it isn't growing anymore, and hasn't been for a long time. There is a silver lining to the tumor cloud hanging over his head.

"So the chemo is just killing the new growth?" Ryan asked.

"Yes," Dr. Lim responded.

"But what about the old Cancer cells?" Ryan questioned.

Why aren't my original tumors going away? Why isn't God healing me yet?

Ryan read an article about fried nerves and tumors being kept alive in jars for 50 years, telling me about it on our hour long car trip home. He knows that I stopped reading about Cancer long ago because it just depresses me. But I find comfort in reading the stories of others who are walking (or did walk) a similar path as well as praying for their peace.

I found it difficult to respond to Ryan's banter as I conjured up images of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde laboratory, with a mad scientist rushing around tweaking a giant tub of goo with wires and colorful electrodes going every which direction. But eventually we talked enough that I learned some new things about neuropathy and nerves. Then there was a blog entry he enjoyed that addressed his very same conundrum, which you can find on the July 19th post here.

Ryan is my best friend and I want him to be completely healed, just as much as he does. But the grueling chemo schedule every other week wears on him, heavily. And the pain never fully goes away. He says he doesn't feel "normal" (i.e. like he felt before he had Cancer) except on some days for 20 minutes after he gets up, and then the feeling quickly dissipates, like morning fog.

Who wouldn't want Cancer to go away?

The Apostle Paul also had an affliction, but for a different reason than what Ryan is enduring. We may never know this side of heaven why Ryan has Stage 4 Stomach Cancer. Yet, Paul, like Ryan, clearly wanted his "thorn in the flesh" to be gone. Paul asked for God to take it away three times, but didn't complain anymore when God said no and pointed Paul to His grace, in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me,“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We don't know what the outcome is, but God is working in our lives and is teaching us about grace. Ryan and I are far from perfect but know we are loved by a perfect God.

Tonight, as the doubts about Talitha having Ryan as a Dad growing up and me having Ryan as my husband to grow old with attempt to wrap their dark and demented tendrils around our hearts and minds, we pray for God's grace to shine light on a seemingly dark situation.

There is always, always hope and it is to this hope, we cling.

Monday, July 1, 2013

v30 God is There for You

"I am back at the hospital and they are going to run some tests," I told Ryan on the phone. I lived in San Francisco at the time and I was glad to be attending a top rated school that had a connection to a top-rated hospital because I was very, very sick that day.

I knew it had come back.

A year before I was at UC San Francisco getting my doctorate in Medical Sociology, I was in-between jobs, trying to decide what to do with my life. I was working at UC Irvine in the Social Sciences Department and in the early morning hours on the first day I was supposed to start teaching my first class at the college level, I awoke from the worst pain I'd experienced in my life.

I called Ryan at four in the morning.

"Please pray for me," I said to him on the phone, barely able to stop myself from groaning in pain.

"You should go to the doctor," he said. "I'm going to come there to take you, myself."

"No, I bet it's just food poisoning or nervousness from teaching for the first time," I said. "I'm going to call in sick and then go see a doctor later today after sleeping it off."

Ryan prayed for me and then hung up the phone.

The pain continued but I went back to sleep anyway.

I went to the doctor later that day, and they said it was just irritable bowel syndrome and to take some pills. They wanted to have a follow up visit in five days, especially if I wasn't any better.

As the week wore on, I continued doing daily tasks, but much slower than normal.

The pain and the fever would come and go. Then my skin started turning yellow. And I had a general feeling of something being wrong.

I went back to see the doctor and told him the pills made my nose bleed, which was worse than the pain in my stomach. He told me to stop taking them and said I had irritable bowel syndrome too, that it should go away in a few days.

I left and it just got worse.

Ryan was over for the only time in that week and a half that I was able to go to the bathroom and it was the most intensely, excruciatingly painful experience of my life (and now that I've gone through childbirth - yes, it was worse than that!). He was horrified at the level of pain I was in and insisted that I go back to the doctor.

I didn't listen.

Finally, a week and a half later, after two doctors misdiagnosed me and the insistence of my boss and boyfriend, I allowed Ryan to drive me to the hospital for a doctor visit after he was done at work.

The pain was intense for the entire 45 minute drive and I was so sick and sweaty, that I don't remember how I made it into the office and had patience enough for pleasantries.

The doctor came into the room, took one look at me and knew there was something really wrong. He pressed on the right side of my abdomen and it sent me through the roof with pain.

He looked at me and said, "Someone must want you alive because your appendix burst, probably a week and a half ago and it's a miracle you're still here alive and walking around." Then he added, "If it wasn't so late, I would send you straight into surgery, but for now you will have to wait until 7 a.m."


As the fear washed over me, I was so glad Ryan was in the room, holding my hand. He stayed with me, sleeping in a chair, told the nurses in my room what happened and took care of me the whole time. My parents also flew down from northern California and helped take care of me too.

I was in the hospital for seven days because they had to completely open me up. My burst appendix had an abscess that caught all the toxins, but all the damage was laying on my small intestine, which is why I couldn't go to the bathroom. I thanked God for this third doctor who caught the problem and the surgeon who cut it out.

Ryan was there for every single day when they had to open up my wound and clean it out, to make sure it healed from the bottom to the top and stayed clean. He walked with me around the nurse's station several times a day because they told me that was the only way I would leave and heal faster. My parents took turns with him so he could go home and get some real sleep and he only left for a few hours, coming back with a dozen stunning pink roses.

My surgeon stopped in my room to tell me something important the day I left the hospital. "And about that small bowel obstruction you had," she said. "Five percent of patients have a problem with this issue."

I didn't want to hear what she had to say next, but she said it anyway.

"Of those five percent, two percent of those people need surgery again, due to adhesions," she continued. "But the problem with people who are prone to adhesions is that whenever you do surgery on them, they create more. And you could just need surgery once, or it could happen over and over again. Some people need surgery year after year, it just depends."

"How do you know if you're one of those people?" I asked.

"Oh, you'll know," she said, then left the room after I thanked her again for saving my life.

A year later, sitting in a hospital bed in the Emergency Room at UCSF hospital, I discovered I was one of those people my surgeon was talking about.

They told me it was food poisoning because I was vomiting. I said, "I've had this pain before, a year ago. They tried to tell me it was IBS. When the pain and vomiting continues tonight, what should I do?"

They told me I should come back.

Finally, after a sleepless night of nausea and some of the worst pain ever from another small bowel obstruction, I asked my poor roommate if she would drive me to the Emergency Room at five in the morning. Thankfully she did.

I called Ryan after getting to the ER and he dropped everything to drive straight up north five hundred miles to be with me because he didn't care about missing class. He was my knight in shining armor.

He told me I was the most important person to him and there was nowhere he would rather be than by my side when I was in trouble.

I fell in love with him all over again.

After four days in the hospital of doing nothing but vomiting my stomach acid and being a guinea pig for a number of tests, they finally saw the blockage on my fourth CT scan and I was in surgery a half hour later. The surgeon told me it took her three cuts and it was all fine again. I was walking around the nurse's station with Ryan holding my hand every step of the way a half hour after surgery. I was grateful my parents were there for me too.

I think back to my surgeries and Ryan's response to them and I wonder how I could do any less for him during his battle with Cancer. He dropped everything for me and we were only dating! I knew I couldn't let this one get away and his loving and loyal response to my illnesses just made me want to marry him that much faster!

I also think about how God responds to us in our times of need, as well. James 4:8a says:

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." 

When I called Ryan to tell him about my illness, he dropped everything and came close to be with me. This is a picture of how Jesus Christ is with us when we are in trouble. God tells us in His word that if we call on Him, He will be there, right near us. But the key is that we have our part to do, first.

Psalm 46:1 says:

"God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble."

Ryan and I believe in a God who has been very present in our lives over the past year and a half that Ryan has been diagnosed. Over half of Cancer patients diagnosed with Ryan's very illness die within 13 months of their diagnosis and Ryan is alive, doing well with his treatment that isn't intended to cure him, and is growing in his walk of faith after 16 months of being diagnosed with Stage 4 Stomach Cancer.

Yes, Ryan has more questions than answers, but God has been and continues to be there for him, every step of the way.

Are you or a loved one battling Cancer? Or do you or a loved one have a short-term illness like I did, that could be cut out and removed completely? Or perhaps you are dealing with an illness that causes a slow decline? Do you have questions about why this is happening to you or someone you love?

God is there for you. He will be there to put people in your life to answer your questions, even though sometimes the answer is: "I'm not telling, but I am here for you."

Do you have questions? Share them in a comment below.