We have felt the love of God through you. And you have proved Proverbs 17:17 to us over and over. "A friend loves at all times." How blessed we are.
How about some history?
So, for those of you who are new to all of this, my dad was diagnosed with a gastro intestinal stromal tumor in 2001, my freshman year of college. (I know ya'll think my freshman year of college couldn't POSSIBLY have been 11 years ago but, trust me, it has... You are shocked, I know. It's all that Wal-Mart brand anti-wrinkle cream I've been using.)
The tumor was/is occupying an important "nether region" as Chaucer would say... I usually whisper when I say it… The tumor is in his rectum.
At the time, he was told that the only option was surgery to remove it, as these types of tumors don't respond to radiation and, to date, there was no FDA approved chemotherapy drug on the market. The surgery, however, would most likely leave my dad with a colostomy. Pause and google that if you don't know what it is because you won't understand any of the rest of this if you don't. (I'm being bossy. I know.) Okay, you back? Got the info? Now you see why an active, spritely, YOUNG 41 year old wouldn't be keen on the idea. SO. My dad started researching (did we even have the Internet back then?) and found that there was an experimental drug called Gleevec that was being developed and was having success fighting GIST tumors. Being the go-getter that he is, he got on the phone with a doctor in Philadelphia and learned about the trial. It was too expensive, though, and our insurance wouldn't cover it. Not willing to give up, Dad visited the Texas Cancer Center and met Dr. Spivey, a local oncologist who was successfully treating chronic miloidal lukemia patients with Gleevec. Dr. Spivey consulted with the doctor in Philly and, miraculously, agreed to prescribe Gleevec to my dad "off label". There are SO many awesome doctors in this story. It's pretty impressive. Just count em. And then go hug a doctor.
Anyway, naptime only lasts so long, ya'll. I gotta type fast.
So, for 8 glorious years, my dad had amazing success with Gleevec. He and his doctors agreed to leave the tumor in, provided that it remained stable (as in, no funny business) and didn't grow. It turns out, however, that our magnificent bodies learn to adapt and tumors apparently do the same. Gleevec stopped working. So he tried another drug that caused problems and finally got on Tasigna, another medicine that had been successful in treating GIST patients.
For the last 2-3 years, though, the symptoms have been harder to deal with. Pain, pain. A lot of pain. And the amazing thing about my Papa is that he never complains. You have to practically BEG him to tell you how he feels and, even then, he will downplay.
Something that is very interesting in all of this is the fact that I can relate. Remember that pesky little arterial rupture that happened to me when Laila was born? Well, all of the internal bleeding that happened as a result of that tear caused a softball sized hematoma to settle right at the base of my pelvis, just below my tail bone. So, for about 6 weeks, I had the unique opportunity of knowing almost exactly how my dad had felt for (at the time) 9 full years. Ya'll, let me just tell you, that junk HURT. And I cried (and screamed) every time I went to the bathroom and I sat down gingerly and I walked slowly... It was excruciating at times. And, I'll be honest about something. I was a hot mess.
My father has dealt with that kind of pain and discomfort for 10 years. With the most beautiful grace and dignity. Never asking why. Never shaking his fist at God. Continuing to serve and be a blessing to others. And inspiring me. Every day.
So, let's fast forward to last week. Papa had been having more pain in the last few weeks and more symptoms.... Shortness of breath, etc, so he saw his doctor in Denton. After some tests, Dr. Masciarelli told him that his red blood cell count was too low and that he needed (yet another) colonoscopy. That was scheduled for last Friday.
On Friday, at Denton Regional, Dr. Awan preformed the colonoscopy and found that the tumor had changed rather drastically. It appears to have grown, the texture of the surface has changed and it is now bleeding. He also found a bleeding ulcer in my dad's stomach (no doubt a result of the ibuprofen he takes to manage the tumor pain). Papa was bleeding internally from 2 places. Thus the low hemoglobin. He also had an unexplained fever. These findings turned what was supposed to be a routine colonoscopy outpatient procedure into an admittance to the hospital, close monitoring and a series of tests. The goal was to figure out the cause of the fever and to perform a CT scan and chest x-ray to determine whether the cancer cells had spread as a result of the bleeding tumor.
In all these years, we have been SO blessed that the tumor has not metastasized. That the cancer has not spread. Waiting overnight with him for that CT and the results was... allow me to over simplify... hard. HARD. For all of us.
How do you battle fear?
How do you reject it? Push it away? Give it no place? When what you are afraid of would break you in half, cause a part of you to die, utterly and completely change your life?
I think God understands our struggle with fear. He is, oh God, thank you, an empathetic High Priest, knowing our weakness and anointing us with grace when we fall short. I know that His grace is sufficient to cover my lack of faith in those early morning hours. In the battles I've fought deep in the dark places of my heart. Oh God, you are good. You are deeply loving and endlessly faithful.
There was no spread. Oh Hallelujah. Thank you, Jesus!
As far as the CT could tell, those evil cancer cells are still contained in this one area. They have not been allowed to attack the vital and precious organs that are dangerously near it. And, for that, we are... well, words cannot express... Grateful.
The tumor is still bleeding. The tumor is irrevocably changed. It seems that the grace period for my father to LIVE with this cancer inside has lifted and we are now talking about a life-changing surgery. His appointment at MD Anderson is Wednesday at 12:30. No doubt my parents and the doctors will discuss the removal of the tumor and all of the implications that come with it.
And I know that my father will face this meeting and these life changes with the same beautiful grace and dignity with which he has dealt with the past 10 year's challenges. I know he will. He will continue to inspire all of us in this way.
And he will know, again, what it is like to wake up without pain.
Thank you for caring. Thank you for walking with us on this journey. Thank you for loving us.