Fish Outta Water

I couldn’t sleep, and spent most of my night on the couch, partially sleeping, partially crying, and partially praying. So I decided to just come and study the Word for a few minutes before the sun comes up and the expectations of living take me over. I was thinking a lot last night about the disciples/apostles.

Of the three most prominent in my mind: Paul, a converted and murderously zealous legalist, was truly an example of God’s redemption, and of the fruits of the Spirit, namely longsuffering. Paul had a love for the Lord that is amazing, and a perseverance that was fierce. I love the way that Paul “processed”, and how evident he made that to us in his letters to the churches. John was a fisherman, gentle in nature, the “beloved” apostle who was the only of the 12 to witness our Lord’s crucifixion, the last apostle to die, and the one who ministers to us the depths of God’s love. Scripture from John was gleaned as our wedding message (“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”- 1 John 3:18), and it is a message I often still repeat in ministry to my children. But I think Peter is my favorite. Peter the fisherman. Peter the denying apostle, who although he denied the Lord three times, was also challenged by the resurrected Jesus in forgiveness to express his love for Him three times. Peter, the one who always spoke, even when better judgment may have made him more of a listener. Peter was so “raw” in his humanity, and Jesus so patient with him. Perhaps that is why I have such a fondness for the stories of Peter. I am so often reminded by the Holy Spirit of stories of Peter, and they comfort me in my own struggles. Last night the story of Jesus walking on the water came to my mind (Matt. 14:22-33). The story appears in 3 of the 4 gospels, but only Matthew records the following: “But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ ” (I found a highly recommended sermon by Charles Spurgeon that I won’t re-print in entirety because it may be too cumbersome, but if you desire to go deeper, here it is: )

Anyway, how much like Peter I am! I find it interesting that Peter asked the Lord to command him to come out of the boat and onto the water, and that it was ultimately the wind that blew off Peter’s faith. It is even more interesting to me that in the witness of the disciples, Jesus had calmed a ravenous storm on that same sea not too long before this incident. Do we forget that quickly? And then I was thinking about fish…..about how they react when they are either involuntarily plucked out of the water, or mistakenly jump out- they “flop”. We have a small koi pond in our yard, and our koi are very nervous at times. Sometimes they jerk themselves right out of the water, and more than once have failed to land back in. The immediate instinct is to begin flopping- I guess with intention of flopping back into the water. But really, this flopping appears to not be guided, but more panic-driven, so the fish ultimately is at the mercies of things beyond their control. Our fish have almost always flopped themselves farther away from the source of life, and one even died, as we found him the next day clear down on the street. I wonder if this is in our nature as well?

Speaking of koi- the City of Hope has a huge and beautiful Japanese garden with a delightful koi pond- even stocked with turtles! We met a friend there for lunch in between appointments, and her daughter really enjoyed feeding the koi. The entire campus, as they call it, covers acres, and boasts some of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen on hospital ground. As you walk into the main entrance the aroma from the large rose garden nearly lulls you back. While the gardens are glorious, our time in them had become somewhat depressing. Every bench, every landscape, every statue, every fountain, and several large walls, pushed forward plaques in memory of those who had died. The ridiculous thought darted through me- “if so many people die here, why would I want to come here for treatment?” It didn’t help that as we were on our way into the building for the appointment, there was a woman outside on the bench clutching a nurse and wailing a cry that could only indicate someone she deeply loved had just died in that hospital. It was a surreal moment, and one that made me sadly and quietly ask, “why do so many people have to die of cancer?”  Our appointment went well, and I am glad we went. I cried on the drive down, as I talked with Al about the possibilities, and I was afraid my emotions were so raw I would be a wreck! But, we had a time of prayer with my faithful friend before seeing the Dr., and I know many were also praying for me. I am certain that helped shore me up. I did cry briefly during the appointment, as he was going over the statistics. They were not a shock, as I was already familiar with them, and I expected he would do that only to demonstrate the “advantage” of going through with the treatment, but it was an overwhelming reminder of the gravity/precariousness of my health. I dried my tears, apologized for my minor display of emotion, and proceeded to boldly ask the questions I was there to have answered. I imagine it is incredibly hard to be an oncologist.

It’s interesting what you learn about yourself and others in times like this. People are afraid of death and afraid of young people with cancer. And doctors are shocked to find out that they’re not the only intelligent people on earth! After 2 appointments with Dr. Patel he offered me a job. He wanted to know my IQ. After about 20 seconds of questioning Dr. Somlo, he asked me where I work and what I do for a living. He seemed shocked that I came in with research articles from medical journals and a list of questions about them. In fact, I had an issue that he couldn’t address, and he had to go find the answer and come back into the room. I’m not boasting in pride….well maybe my boasting is a little fleshy. I’m boasting because it’s one of the few things I can share about this week that puts a smile on my face! Honestly, I took an online IQ test not too long ago, and scored a whole 81 (69 is cut-off for diagnosis of retardation and genius is in 140 range)!? Al and I have joked about that several times lately, so it’s only natural for me to want to share some of our recent humor too.

So…the appointment was good. Dr. Somlo has the most comforting, pale crystal blue eyes I have ever seen. But he had a hard time looking me in the eye. Don’t know where he’s from, but he’s not from here. He reports from his ongoing study that 65% of women with IBC who are treated are alive at five years, and 47% of women treated are “disease-free” at 5 years (not “cured”, but in remission). Only 1 woman died during treatment out of 120, and that was due to infection. City of Hope has an outstanding reputation for stem cell transplants. They practically pioneered the procedure. After getting the facts, it wasn’t as scary as it seems. I would continue with my current regimen, have the mastectomy/Hickman port/bone marrow test (in one surgery), then go to CofH for 20 days: 5 days to harvest my stem cells, plus 3 days in parsonage for high dose chemo, and 10+ days at the hospital in isolation to recover and receive my stem cells back. I then return home for a 2-3 week break, and go down to do it again. Then I will have about 6 weeks of radiation. Of course Dr. Somlo wants me for the trial, and recommends it, but is giving me 2 weeks to decide and get back with him so they can begin coordinating my care. Kaiser has approved the treatment, which is extremely expensive ($100,000+). At this point there’s no clear advantage to doing it. But there’s no clear disadvantage, other than that the chemo is so toxic to the heart and the damaged cells of the heart do not recover like the blood cells and other damaged cells do. So there is a weight on the scale, which is why I would even have to think about it. And, even if I agree, there’s still no guarantee I can be accepted, because the final approval depends on the outcomes of my tests after my current regimen. Some women with IBC actually have a progression of cancer during treatment, and end up with distant metastatic disease. This trial is only for Stage IIIb inflammatory breast cancer, so being a Stage IV would disqualify me, as would a variety of other things if not up to par. I will wait for a final decision until I see Dr. Patel next week to also discuss it with him and get his opinion on it. He has me for the remainder of my treatment, so has no vested interest. Since he has pioneered successful stem cell treatments locally at his facility, I suspect he will be enthusiastic about it.

The bad news to share is that my visibly cancerous lymph nodes have reflared. After the 2nd treatment they seemed to have shrunk, according to Dr. Patel. I don’t feel them regularly, because I am fearful my constant squishing them might cause a spread. But after the 3rd treatment I noticed some tenderness and swelling, and an exam by both Dr. Somlo and Dr. Patel’s NP indicated that my nodes are not any larger than when I was diagnosed, but are again at the same size. So there was a regression in response, but they won’t call it an increase of cancer, because the nodes remain the same or smaller than at diagnosis. By the 3rd treatment of Adriamycin it would be expected that they would be significantly smaller, if not completely shrunk. This could be a sign that the cancer cells have become resistant. So rather than get the 4th dose, as I was supposed to yesterday, they all agreed to just start me on the second phase of the chemo- the Taxotere. On one hand I am very sad and frightened by my apparent lack of response to the “red stuff”, and on the other hand I am relieved. I hear the Taxotere is not as bad to tolerate, and is proven to be more effective. My intuition kept warning me that the swelling I am having is not good, and that this last treatment of Adriamycin might push me over a dangerous edge. So, I have mixed emotions, and I’m trying to flop myself back into the water!

There’s been a lot of tension in the house lately. The enemy’s influence has come through careless words uttered by others a lot more in recent weeks. I would be inclined to wonder if it isn’t because I’m just more sensitive, and it probably is due to that. Jared’s been his usual self. He’s been going to a nearby church for daycare during the summer, but he’s decided he doesn’t like it. We’re back to trying to find a solution to get us to August 25th, when he starts 3rd grade. Justin’s been doing a bit better, but it is summer, and he’s away from the influence and temptation of his peers. He’s for the first time in a long time, declared a new career goal of being a firefighter. We’ve presented the possibility to him that he may join the fire explorers program, but he has to maintain a GPA, so that might give him incentive if he can hang on. So while Justin begins the climb, Amanda’s on the slippery down slope. The summer has meant more time with us, and an amplification of the family dynamics- and sibling tensions. She really needs prayer. We went to service Wednesday night, and I approached the children’s pastor for prayer. She spent a while talking with Amanda, and came to tell me Amanda had shared a lot about her fears about my cancer. I am so thankful that she was able to do that. I just pray her tolerance for frustration would increase, that she would learn to speak blessings and not curses, that she would grab hold of her thoughts and feelings before they grab her, and that she could be grateful and joyful. I tell her as a punishment I am going to purchase the Veggie Tales “Madam Blueberry” tape and force her to watch it every day! (If you don’t know, Madam Blueberry is a character who focuses so much on what she doesn’t have that she becomes “so blue she doesn’t know what to do”. She then gains temporary happiness as she shops for loads of junk. Then her tree house breaks from the weight of all the junk and she looses everything as it plops into the river. The singing message that the French peas, with their French accent, guide her to is that a “grateful heart is happy heart”. How very true! (Rent it if you haven’t seen it- it’s hilariously satirical and with a positive message).

As far as Al and I, we have moments. Most of them are aroused by outside issues. The core of our relationship, which I think is and will continue to be Jesus Christ, remains intact. It’s a strange thing how God brings us to trials, and along with that others’ faith is tested as well. We’re struggling to batten down those hatches, but we can’t shut everyone out or get through this alone either. Once in a while we get a knock, and we open the hatch long enough for someone to ask to join our inner sanctum we call “family”. And once in a while, while the hatch is still open, we walk out onto the waters to invite others who haven’t knocked to come in, but they decline the invitation. So we struggle to batten down once again, and that can be painful, but we’re getting to where we’re going regardless, so that’s the encouragement in it. We’re still all in the same boat….and we’re getting there!


In Jesus~


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