Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Rough Road

Dennis Update

Dennis is about a 12 days out of radiation.  He continues to struggle with fatigue, walking and word finding.  We saw the doctor on Tuesday because he was not feeling good and felt like each day was getting worse rather than better.  The doctor told us that he was just to the point where the impact of the last radiation treatment was beginning to subside and he should see improvements in the days ahead.  However, he also told us not to expect improvements on a daily basis.  They will be very gradual and more noticeable when looking back over a week or more.  Dennis will see the doctor again on July 18th.  If he is not getting around easier by then, he will consider physical therapy to help Dennis build back some strength.

On Wednesday Dennis starting having a lot of pain in his back.  By Thursday afternoon he was very uncomfortable.  We decided he needed to see a doctor so we headed to the ER.  After blood work and x-rays they ruled out the scary stuff like pneumonia or spread of the cancer into his spine.  It is most likely a pulled muscle so we have been diligent about using pain medications and that is keeping the pain under control. 

11th Anniversary

Today is our 11th anniversary.  We have been so blessed to share these years together.  I am amazed at all the blessings we have seen in these 11 years.  Here are just a few memories of those 11 years.  
Our wedding day.

Honeymoon - Nova Scotia

First Anniversary - San Francisco

Vacation - across the street from the Corn Palace

Dennis in Arizona

Ellen feeding a tiger in Arizona

Nashville, TN

Outside the Forbidden City in Beijing with Francis, Tracy and Ping

Our first family picture

Family Picture - 2013

Monday, June 16, 2014

Radiation is what?

Dennis finished the last of his 27 radiation treatments today!  We are so glad these are done.  They have really taken a toll on Dennis' stamina and on his ability to come up with words from time to time.  Although we are rejoicing that this stage is done, it has been an emotionally trying day as well.

This second round of radiation was something we have always kept as a last resort or at least for nearing the end of the options.  We knew going into it that it would be tough and that with radiation, good brain cells are also destroyed in the process.  What we didn't know is which functions might potentially be affected by this.  We still don't know that.  Radiation continues to work for awhile but at the same time swelling starts going down.  The bottom line is until some time has passed we won't know what long-term impact this last round of radiation has had.  This is also true in determining if the tumor is under control.  He will have an MRI in several months that will give us a better idea of what impact the radiation had on the tumor.

In addition, we had discussions with his doctor today that are hard.  There is no way in knowing when this tumor will start growing again.  Usually the doctor told us that they see regrowth in 6 months to 2 years but that they see people with shorter or longer time frames.  As hard as that is to hear, we also need to hear it in order to be prepared.  The doctor did tell us that when they feel they have done all they can, he will be open with us about that but that it is important to start thinking about options such as hospice so that when it is needed we will have plans in place.  He was very clear in saying that he is not saying that he thinks Dennis has less than 6 months which is what most people think of when they hear hospice.  He has no way of knowing at this point and wants us prepared.

We continue to seek God's direction in all of this.  We know and believe He is fully able to heal and restore Dennis completely. The only question is if it will be here or in eternity.  We will trust Him in what He is doing and that it is all in His plan for all of our lives.  We will live and enjoy whatever time we have left together. We know one day we will all be reunited in Heaven where there will be no more disease or death.

Please keep praying for us as we make this journey together.
  • Pray for Dennis' strength to return and for his word finding challenges to go away.
  • Pray for complete healing and restoration - God is able!
  • Pray for us to have peace during the days ahead.
  • Pray for wisdom for us and the doctors as we make decisions moving forward.
  • Pray for the MRI in two months to show that the tumor is under control. 
Dennis and Brooklyn on Father's Day

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June 11, 2012 - Two Years Ago...

Two years ago Dennis and I said good-bye as they wheeled him into the operating room to remove the tumor on his brain.  There were a lot of unknowns that day.  We wondered what they would find and if it would be cancer.  We wondered if surgery would cause life altering changes to his overall abilities.  We knew there was the possibility that he would lose the ability to speak.  I remember wondering if that final "I love you" he said as they wheeled him off to surgery would be the last time I heard it.  I headed to the waiting area where friends and family waited with me throughout the procedure.  Updates came and we waited some more.  Finally he was out of surgery and doing well.  In the hours ahead I heard his voice again.  In fact, around 2 in the morning he wanted gum.  So, after checking with his nurse and getting the OK to give him some, I searched the hospital for gum.  Mission accomplished - the canteen is open late at night.

In the days ahead, Dennis improved.  We waited on pathology reports, praying the news would be that the growth was benign or at least a treatable cancer but the news came that he had a glioblastoma multiform (GBM) a very aggressive cancer and so our journey of two years began.  We learned that survival rates for this cancer average about 14-16 months but here we are, two years later.  We have learned a whole new vocabulary about radiation, chemotherapy, trail programs...(so far he has been in four different trials) and the list goes on.  We have met some incredible people along the way.  Lori Hayes, his nurse, is amazing at arranging all the details and helping us understand all that is going on.  Dr. Robins has been leading the fight with this cancer and being Dennis' advocate in getting into trials that could help him.  Dr. Howard is Dennis' radiation oncologist who actually pioneered the radiation Dennis is doing right now.  In the past, it was impossible to do a second round of radiation to the brain.

In addition to the medical team, we have been blessed by so many people both near and far in our lives.  We have never felt alone in this journey as so many of you have upheld us in prayer and supported us in our needs.  We don't know what we would do without you.

We have seen God work in so many ways.  Just in the last two days we have had amazing things happen just when we needed them that only God could orchestrate.  I have to share these with you.

Brooklyn and I took a quick trip to Colorado for a wedding this weekend.  On Sunday we were heading back home and kept hitting flight delays.  After being on a plane, pushing out and then having to pull back in and get off of the plane for mechanical issues, the gate agent came over to me and asked us our last names.  She did not tell us why.  It was evident very soon however when I received a text message from our airline that my flight number changed and where the plane was leaving from.  The gate agent had booked us onto the few remaining seats on the last flight home.  Shortly after this, she announced the flight was cancelled and told everyone to head to customer service.  Amazing.  

Tonight Dennis was having rough night. He is so exhausted and was wondering if he could even finish the last of his radiation.  He has four sessions left.  We were discussing the options and if he should talk to the doctor about the risks of not completing it.  At this point the phone rang.  It was a friend from church that was calling.  He had Dennis on his heart and wanted to be an encouragement.  He shared Isaiah 43:1-4a with me:

But now, this is what the Lord says—

    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you.

It was just what we needed to hear.  Yes, God is with Dennis as he walks through this trial and it will not overwhelm because God loves us!  

So, we have reached the two year mark.  It has been a tough two years.  But it has also been an amazing two years.  I don't know of any other time we have seen God's hand so clearly in our lives.  He has allowed this time in our lives for a purpose even though it makes no sense to us.  When Dennis was in the emergency room the day they found his tumor, his comment to me was, "God can be glorified in this."  That is still our prayer - May God be glorified.