Cancer

This post is a record of the emails and posts from 2015 about the discovery and treatment of my colon cancer. As I write this, we thank God that I have been in remission for a little over a year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thanksgiving

This is the month when we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, and today for Marlene and me is a special day for giving thanks. We met with Dr. Batts, our oncologist, this morning for the results of my CT scan, which followed my final regimen of chemotherapy. His words included phrases like: “the scan showed nothing suspicious,” “there is no evidence of cancer,” and “the cancer is in remission.” We thank God for this good news and thank you for your prayers and other expressions of support.

The next steps are to get lab work done in three month intervals and have a CT scan in six months.

We share the following devotional from Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) as an expression of our thanksgiving.

“I will praise thee, O Lord.” 

Psalms 9:1

Praise should always follow answered prayer; as the mist of earth’s gratitude rises when the sun of heaven’s love warms the ground. Hath the Lord been gracious to thee, and inclined his ear to the voice of thy supplication? Then praise him as long as thou livest. Let the ripe fruit drop upon the fertile soil from which it drew its life. Deny not a song to him who hath answered thy prayer and given thee the desire of thy heart. To be silent over God’s mercies is to incur the guilt of ingratitude; it is to act as basely as the nine lepers, who after they had been cured of their leprosy, returned not to give thanks unto the healing Lord. To forget to praise God is to refuse to benefit ourselves; for praise, like prayer, is one great means of promoting the growth of the spiritual life. It helps to remove our burdens, to excite our hope, to increase our faith.

It is a healthful and invigorating exercise which quickens the pulse of the believer, and nerves him for fresh enterprises in his Master’s service. To bless God for mercies received is also the way to benefit our fellow-men; “the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.” Others who have been in like circumstances shall take comfort if we can say, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together; this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” Weak hearts will be strengthened, and drooping saints will be revived as they listen to our “songs of deliverance.” Their doubts and fears will be rebuked, as we teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. They too shall “sing in the ways of the Lord” when they hear us magnify his holy name. Praise is the most heavenly of Christian duties. The angels pray not, but they cease not to praise both day and night; and the redeemed, clothed in white robes, with palm-branches in their hands, are never weary of singing the new song, “Worthy is the Lamb.”

1) Psalm 34:2

2) Psalm 34:3, 6

3) Psalm 32:7

4) Psalm 138:5

5) Revelation 5:17

 

 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Blessings

I’ve been blessed by having two weeks off from chemotherapy treatments. And, they have been a great two weeks, especially the second week. There were very few side effects during the second week, only a little fatigue. During week two, we traveled to New Jersey for the wedding of our nephew Greg Braunius and to Chicago for a Commissioned Pastor Advisory Team meeting. In addition, my appetite has been good and I’ve been able to be active in some Church Leadership Center meetings and a variety of projects around the house.

While thankful for the blessings of travel and work, I’m especially blessed by a caring family, church, and medical community. Tomorrow begins what is planned to be the final three weeks of chemotherapy.  The chemo should be followed by a CT scan. Our hope is that the CT scan will show no evidence of cancer. I look forward to updating you in about four weeks.

The song “Blessings” by Laura Story has been good for me recently. The words are below. Click on the following link for the Youtube video. https://youtu.be/1CSVqHcdhXQ

We pray for blessings

We pray for peace

Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

We pray for healing, for prosperity

We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while, You hear each spoken need

Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom

Your voice to hear

And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near

We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love

As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

All the while, You hear each desperate plea

And long that we’d have faith to believe

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights

Are what it takes to know You’re near

And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us

When darkness seems to win

We know the pain reminds this heart

That this is not, this is not our home

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

And what if a thousand sleepless nights

Are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments

Or the aching of this life

Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy

And what if trials of this life

The rain, the storms, the hardest nights

Are Your mercies in disguise

 

 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Next Steps: From Glory to Glory

We had a consultation with Dr. Batts yesterday. This followed a week in which I was receiving hydration and potassium infusions every day, either at the Cancer Center or Holland Hospital. Our conversation with Dr. Batts focused on next steps for my cancer treatment. Because I was only able to tolerate 3 of the 6 scheduled chemo treatments, the final two treatments have been cancelled.

We will now take two weeks off for recuperation before resuming treatments: 3 weeks on, 2 weeks off, 3 weeks on. That tentative schedule begins on September 8 and ends on October 26.

The doctor said that he feels that Burt’s cancer was pretty aggressive, and without any further treatment it could easily recur. Hopefully, the next two weeks will result in increasing stamina and appetite, with lessening of the side effects of the latest chemo buildup.

That’s the latest at this point in our journey. We continue to be grateful for the medical community and the faith community, who are our staunch companions on the way! In fact, the level of care that I have been receiving has caused me to focus on the biblical phrase, “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The full Scripture verse reads, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Being hooked up to IV bags, pumps, and heart monitors does not seem very glorious. But there is even a beauty to the experiences of this life. There is a glory to cleanliness, compassionate nurses and doctors, caring family and friends, and treatments that fight sickness, brokenness, and discomfort.

There is great hope in knowing that this glory of the present is a foundation and preparation for an even greater glory that is to come. Though we may struggle with some aspects of the present, join me in celebrating lives that are moving from glory to glory.

 

 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Moving Forward With Confidence

This is a brief update to my last blog. That blog talked about dealing with conflicting recommendations from our medical oncologists. We have decided to move forward with the course prescribed by our local oncologist, Dr. Batts. This will involve weekly chemotherapy infusions for six weeks, then two weeks off, and then six more weekly treatments.

Even though there are pros and cons for differing approaches, we proceed with confidence. Note however, our hope and confidence transcends that which is offered by the medical community. Following is my paraphrase of the writing of Thomas a Kempis on the topic of confidence.

In you, O Lord God, I place my whole hope and refuge; on you I rest my suffering and sorrow; for I find my life to be frail and fragile; however, I continue to hold on to you.  

Many have offered to help: loyal friends, caring councilors, and compassionate pastors. However, unless you assist, help, strengthen, counsel, instruct, and guard; everyone’s good intentions will fall far short.


You, O Lord, are the culmination of all that is good, the height of life, the depth of all that can be spoken. To hope in you is my strongest comfort. 


To you, therefore, I lift up my eyes; in you, the Father of mercies, do I put my trust. Protect and keep me from the dangers, difficulties, and diseases of this corruptible life. 


By your grace, direct me along the way of hope and peace in this life and in the journey toward being at home with you in the place of everlasting brightness and joy.

 

 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Certainty of Uncertainty

Some may remember that today was our scheduled visit to the University of Michigan Cancer Center. We had appointments with two doctors. The first was with my surgeon, Dr. Nathan, for a one month surgery follow-up. The second was with Dr. Veenstra, a medical oncologist, to discuss chemotherapy options.

Dr. Nathan affirmed good progress with post-surgery healing. I can now drive, and I did so for most of the way home from Ann Arbor. I like being in the driver’s seat. It is necessary to wait the normal two more weeks before lifting objects over five pounds. In all areas of life, I like heavy lifting, and I look forward to the physical stuff.

Dr. Veenstra discussed chemotherapy options with us. She first reviewed the recommended approach of our Holland doctor, Dr. Batts. Then she laid out four different protocols and described the rationale for her own preference. Her approach seems more intense than that of Dr. Batts. Because of the differences between the two doctors, we need further discussion with Dr. Batts. I will update this blog after we meet with Dr. Batts on Monday.

Experiencing the differences between the two doctors has helped us to appreciate the importance of being able to live with uncertainty. The norm should be: accept uncertainty while being certain about who God is, who we are, and how we should live. There is strength for facing an uncertain future in the words of Jesus:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34 [NIV]).

 

 

Monday, June 22, 2015

I Don’t Care !?!

I don’t care. There seem to be experiences, feelings, and thoughts about which, to a degree, I don’t care…. and yet, at the same time, to a degree, I do care. And, there are moments when caring and not caring appear to be present, side by side, overlapped, and paradoxically integrated.

Before going further, the BIG news is that I was discharged from University of Michigan Hospital Cancer Center today. Whoo! Hoo! We left at around 11:30 AM and Marlene got us home by 2:30 PM. How sweet!

While the surgery was major (liver resection and gall bladder removal), God was with us in so many ways, making this an amazingly successful process. I am still in the early stages of recovery and ask for your continued prayers dealing with nausea, fatigue, and the return of normal digestive functions. Thank you for caring about these things as Marlene and I continue on this journey.

Now for a few thoughts about caring and not caring.

There were a couple of days when I felt so badly that I didn’t care that family members and work colleagues had driven three hours to visit me. I just wanted them to leave, and I told them so. How strange… not caring about the caring of caring family and friends. And yet, deep down, I did care but I couldn’t bring myself to accept their expressions of caring. Thank you, friends, for loving me in spite of my weakness.

Not caring, took on another face on Saturday night: this one was a beautiful and blessed surprise. I was walking the halls, doing my exercise laps. Off in the distance was the music of a group singing the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Was I imagining this? Was this the sound of Jesus calling me home? I had to know.

As I got closer to the music, it was coming from a patient’s room. About 10 individuals were squeezed in the room singing… nice looking people, men in suits and ties, women in finery. A young man (early 20’s) saw me, stepped out of the room, and said, “We sing to people. Would you like us to come and sing to you?”

This hit me like a tsunami. Of course I’d love you to sing for me. (Is the Pope Catholic?). Moments later they were in my room, singing “Great is they Faithfulness” and having a word of prayer. I cried a little, sang a little, and praised God a lot.

This is where the, “I don’t care” part comes in. On that Saturday night, I didn’t care about the denominational orientation of this group. Their historical, theological characteristics didn’t matter to me. All that mattered was that they loved Jesus and chose to minister to the sick through song and prayer. They were not like people in the churches that I’ve served and, you know, I don’t care.

 

 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

He Did Good

The doctor’s first words to Marlene and Stephen were, “He did good.”  We know that God guided the surgery and the “good” is also in response to the prayers of many.

The surgeon reported that the spot on the liver way very small, so small that he would have missed it if he hadn’t known it was there. The tissue surrounding the spot was all healthy, and an ultrasound of the liver and the rest of the abdomen revealed no additional concerns. The gall bladder was also removed. The previous colon incision showed no scar tissue to cause bowel blockage.

I am already up and walking and freely moving from bed to chair. Pain is very minimal. I am sleeping well and have started on clear liquids.

Many thanks for your continued encouragement and prayers. God did good.

 

 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ann Arbor and the Promised Land

We now have specific information about my upcoming surgery this coming Monday, the 15th. Our schedule looks like this:

11:30 AM – Check-in at the University of Michigan Cancer Center,

1:30 PM – Surgery for removal of spot on the liver and removal of the gall bladder.

This is a new experience for us. It feels very different to be going out of town for surgery. This is likely because of our lack of familiarity with Ann Arbor and being hours away from supportive family and friends. Our son Stephen will be in the waiting room with Marlene during the surgery. While I’m in the hospital, Marlene is staying at a nearby hotel that provides shuttle service to and from the Cancer Center.

When thinking about going to a new place, I am reminded of the story in Numbers 13. Moses sends twelve spies to explore the promised land of Canaan. When the spies return, all agree that it is a land of milk and honey, a beautiful and bountiful place. However, they are significantly divided in whether or not to possess the land.

Most of the spies said no: “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are… all the people we saw there are of great size… we seemed like grasshoppers” (31-33). Caleb said, yes we can, or in his words, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (30).

The story of the spies and the Promised Land reminds me that there are contrasting ways of viewing the challenges that are before us. We can approach these situations from the perspective of fear or of faith. We can see opposition or opportunity. Put me down as a faithful follower of Jesus who is looking forward to a new opportunity for healing and strength.

Many thanks to all who read this for your continued encouragement and prayers.

 

 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Working the Plan

This week involved two significant meetings with doctors. The first was on Tuesday, June 2 with Dr. Batts, our oncologist in Holland. We will not be doing anything further with chemotherapy until after liver surgery, and then it is anticipated that the chemo mixture will be adjusted.

The second meeting was yesterday, June 4 with Dr. Nathan, the surgeon at University of Michigan Cancer Center. We have scheduled surgery (removal of a small spot of colon cancer on the liver, as well as removal of the gall bladder) for Monday, June 15 at 10:45 am. This will involve a 5 -8 day stay at the hospital in Ann Arbor.

The plan between now and June 15 is for me to exercise, eat well, rest, and generally build up strength in preparation for the surgery. Talking about eating well, when in Ann Arbor, you should visit Zingermans Deli (422 Detroit Street). They have some of the world’s best sandwiches. We had a Ruben, described as “voted as best in the nation.” It is without peer.

It is wonderful to begin enjoying food again. My taste for Starbucks is also coming back (What would they do without me?!).

This blog seems to be lacking in drama. Perhaps my situation, at this stage, is referred to by the medical community as “unremarkable.” Nonetheless, what I am experiencing is remarkable. And it includes:
-A closer walk with God through Jesus Christ, the Great Physician.
-Deeper relationships with family and friends. Marlene and I celebrate our 49th anniversary on June 9. Our love for one another has grown in ways that were previously unimagined.
-Having a greater understanding of what it means to live one day at a time.
-Appreciation for colleagues who have stepped up to cover areas of responsibility with Church Leadership Center.
-Many evidences of progress and a plan, God willing, for becoming cancer free.

 

 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Up My Nose With A Rubber Hose

“Up My Nose With A Rubber Hose” is one way of thinking about this past week. A more medically correct phrase would be to say that I have been connected to a “nasal – gastric tube.” since Monday night.

Following is an overview of the last several weeks..
– a. Third chemo treatment was administered, May 4 – 6.
– b. When we went in for the fourth chemo treatment on May 18 – 20, I was severely dehydrated and had significant nausea issues. Chemo was cancelled, hydration administered, with directions for continuing hydration. The situation only got worse throughout the day.
– c. At 9:00 PM, Monday evening, the on-call Doctor told us to go directly to the Emergency Room of Holland Hospital. We were  immediately admitted, sent to intensive care, and fitted with a nasal – gastric tube. The tube rapidly released over 3 liters of fluid and I have remained connected.
– d. Since admission on May 18, I have been hooked up to hydration, nutriment, and other “meds in bags.”

Good progress has been made, overall. It is possible that I will have the nasal – gastric tube removed tomorrow and be released.

The next steps are for consultation with the liver surgeon on June 4 and surgery on June 15, both at U-M Cancer Center, Ann Arbor.

We are blessed by your prayers. Remember: The God of the mountains is also the God of the valleys!

 

Email of April 3, 2015

The email shares with family and friends that an MRI test identifies a liver spot. After a biopsy, the spot is found to be cancerous.

Email of March 17, 2015

Friends,
We met with my surgeon yesterday. While he affirmed that the surgery went well and I am making a strong and quick recovery, there is the matter of two of the lymph nodes being cancerous. His recommendation was that I see an oncologist. The oncologist had an opening this morning. So, we grabbed the appointment. The results are as follows.
Assuming that all of the cancer has been removed, the doctor would like to follow a plan that, as best as they can determine, ensures that I remain cancer free. If blood work results and a CT scan show that there is no other cancer, I will be on a 6-month chemotherapy regimen every two weeks for a total of 12 treatments starting on March 30. Each treatment will entail one 4-hour in-office treatment, followed by two days of infusion with a pump through a port at home. There is always uncertainty about side effects. We trust that they will be minimal.
 
I know that God has good things in store for the coming days, weeks, and months and am committed to living and serving faithfully and joyfully as the journey continues.
 
With thanksgiving,
Burt
Email of March 6, 2015
Friends,
Sincere thanks for your thoughts and prayers during my recent colon surgery. I have experienced God’s healing mercies throughout the process.
The surgery went well. They removed about a third of the colon and 26 related lymph nodes. Lab results show minimal evidence of cancer in the polyp and in two of the lymph nodes that were removed. We are grateful to have caught this development in the very early stages.
My digestive system is beginning to function as it should. It is anticipated that I will be discharged tomorrow, Saturday.
I look forward to phasing back into the fullness and richness of life and service.
With thanksgiving,
Burt

 

Email of January 26, 2015

My Colonoscopy Results

Sibs,

You may recall that I had a colonoscopy screening last week. Dr. Fletter discovered a polyp that was flat and too large to remove during the screening. He biopsied it and met with us this afternoon to discuss the results. It turns out that cancer cells were found to be in the polyp. Responding to this finding requires laparoscopic surgical to remove the polyp, along with a section of the colon. The intent is that if the cancer is spread beyond the polyp to the colon or lymph glands, it will be extracted.

We’ve scheduled the procedure for Tuesday, March 3. It will involve 3 – 5 days of hospitalization at Holland Hospital. Dr. Fletter does about 50 of these a year. We appreciate being able to have him as the surgeon.

Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. I am feeling good and plan to continue at full speed. Looking ahead, this does mean that we will not be as able to be as supportive of Dad during the week of March 2 – 7. And, Lord willing, we are still on schedule for enjoying a cruise with Stephen, Lisa, Petra, and James before the surgery (February 14 – 21).

In His hands,

Burt