December 16, 2016
To my family, friends, and those whom I don’t know,
It is hard to put into words the strength, hope, love and community Hope and I have felt in light of your steadfast, earnest support and prayers. I have been informed by several sources that there are thousands of people I do not know who are concerned about and have prayed faithfully for me. To be honest, knowing this has been deeply humbling almost to the point of embarrassment. Surely, I have through, my brothers and sisters who don’t know me have better things to pray for than interceding for someone they don’t even know!! But, while I don’t think this is always the case, Hope and I have not been able to shake the conviction that four cancers hitting me at once were both a medical and spiritual-warfare issue. So I am even more grateful for your prayer support.
I have waited until the right time to give everyone an update about my situation, and now is that time. I will share the last 16 ½ months with you, not in strict chronological order, but cancer by cancer.
Prostate Cancer: August 3, 2015 I had a grueling 5-hour surgery to remove my prostate, half of which was filled with cancer. The doctors were very confident they got all the cancer and that none had penetrated outside the prostate wall. At my age, a typical PSA blood reading is around 4.6. After surgery, I got blood work every 3 months. My readings should have been around zero, and the first two were .04 and .03. But the next readings jumped to .21, and continued up to .51 by last July 2016. The Hopkins and Harvard websites say that anything equal to or above .21 is a pretty good indicator that the operation did not get all the cancer and that radiation or another intervention would be needed. My urologist and another consultant just did not believe my high PSAs were due to cancer. So we decided to get blood work in September and December of this year, and if the readings continued up, we would do radiation daily for 5 weeks as soon as my body healed of chemo (chemo cannot treat prostate cancer because the latter grows so slowly that the chemo cannot even “see” it). Well, in September, my reading jumped down about half (.29) and in early December (two weeks ago) it was .31. My urologist (and as a second opinion, my oncologist) both declared that these readings for the last year were a false alarm, not due to cancer, and I can do another blood sample in July! It seems likely, then, that all this time, recurring cancer has been on the table, but no longer. It is highly likely that I am prostate-cancer free. I should know for sure in July.
Colon Cancer: Around last January, I was feeling so weak, that I could not even pick up one of my grandchildren. My regular doctor ordered blood work for me and when I went to see him, he said he had never seen a patient with a lower red blood count. I was getting almost no oxygen in my heart, and he ordered me to rest, not walk up stairs, and do absolutely no exertion that raised my heartbeat. He also ordered me to have a colonoscopy and a scope to be put down my throat into my stomach to look around since he was sure my low count was due to internal bleeding. Sure enough, about three weeks later, I had the procedure and they discovered a massive tumor in my cecum (the end of the colon on one’s right side). Surgery was scheduled for April, and the doctor took out about 15 inches of my colon. The tumor involved 31 lymph nodes, but only one was cancerous, though there was some other early cancerous tissue in the tumor. The entire tumor was removed, but the cancerous node had penetrated my colon wall and that required me to do 6 months of chemotheraphy (12 rounds of treatment each lasting 2 weeks). Yesterday, I finished my last round!! I have an 80-85% chance of being cancer free, but my oncologist wants me to see a radiation oncologist just to play it safe. She does not think I will need radiation treatment (5 weeks, Monday-Friday each week), but she is trying to be thorough. So good news about the chemo being over and I’ll have to wait and see about the radiation.
A Bizarre, Rare, and Potentially Dangerous Skin Cancer: While all this was going on (my PSA was still rising and I was on chemo), my dermatologist discovered a lesion on the back of my left arm that looked suspicious to her. She biopsied it, but I never heard anything for two weeks until I was scheduled to see her again. When I saw her, she said that I had the most rare skin cancer, perhaps, in the world. None of the doctors she knew had ever heard of it; neither had she in 30 years of practice. None of the local labs could diagnose it, so the sample was sent to Harvard and UCLA. Both gave the same diagnosis: a sebaceous carcinoma that was likely the expression of an underlying Muir Torre Syndrome. Only around 1000 Americans have this. Given time, it can metastasize to other locations of the body and be lethal. The bad news was that it was at a place on my arm that I could not see, so I had no idea how long it had been there. So surgery was scheduled this last October (and I was given a 5 week break from chemo—3 weeks before and 2 weeks after surgery to ensure my immune system was in good shape). There was an 8’’ cut on my arm to reach clear borders, and a 4’’ cut under my arm to collect lymph nodes and fatty tissue. The good news: Everything was negative, no cancer has spread, and it is now completely gone!
Squamous Cell Cancer: This last October a very large growth appeared on my forehead. It turned out to be a squamous cell cancer. If it is removed early enough, it is easy to get. But if you wait too long, it can be lethal (one of my colleague’s father died of it). So I had an outpatient surgery done on it, and they got everything, so I am clear. I do, however, have a large hole in my forehead (yes, I do have a hole in my head) because the cancer was between a nickel and quarter in size) that the doctor decided to keep open. So I have worn a bandage for about two months, but as of now, I don’t wear one any longer, even though it will take another four months for the hole to look somewhat normal.
In this journey, God has been close. I have regularly felt his presence, which is not always the case when we suffer. I practiced forming the habit of living in the day and not going to the future and “what-if”ing. I expressed gratitude several times each day, had a period of contemplative prayer each morning and evening in which I quieted and centered my heart and sought to attach to Jesus. These, along with my daily awareness of your unselfish prayers have kept me in good spirits. From here, I wait to see about radiation, I get a PET scan every 6 months for two years and a colonoscopy each year from now on. These help determine if my cancer has come back. But my odds are good, my spirits are high, and my daily prayer is to finish and die well. Who could ask for more?
With deep gratitude,