Thursday, July 19, 2012

Days +19 - +23 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

My apologies for the lack of updates for the past few days, but I was quite busy recovering.  I've been enjoying eating more and varied food without stomach upset.  That has been a definite PLUS!  Being able to enjoy sustenance is something we take for granted.  I have been thanking the LORD everyday since Sunday, the 8th of July, for being able to eat without repercussions.

Since consuming 3 squares per day, I have been gaining strength and stamina.  I've went out, on my own, to Kohl's for a brief shopping trip.  Nothing like venturing out to a clothing store to motivate a woman to get well quickly.  I've also been to the pool with the grandchildren several times, not to swim, but to watch them do so.  Getting some sun and fresh air has done wonders for my spirits and  my recovering health.

Tuesday, the 17,  another motivating goal was achieved.  I welcomed my "Kenya" kids home.  Greg left early that morning and drove in the Pilot hauling our oldest son, Kurt's, covered trailer to Chicago.  He arrived shortly after the kids' plane landed and waited a little over an hour while they cleared customs.  Homeland Security lived up to its questionable reputation by making them all wait in a room for about 20 minutes, then asking them why they were out of the U.S. for four years.  Jeff was so tempted to say, "We got a great rate on our hotel room.", but contained himself and answered that they were missionaries.  The response, "Oh.  OK.  You can go."  Welcome to America!

Little Ian's first words to his grandpa were,  "Grandpa, can we go swimming in your pool?"  They all arrived home about 4:30 in the afternoon and were in the pool by 5:00.  On Wednesday they spent about 5 hours in the pool.  As usual, they were in Grandma, and Grandpa's bed by 5:30 each of the two mornings they spent here.  Great to have them home.  Today, Thursday, they travelled to Rockford and moved into the house which will be their home for the coming year.

While they were doing that, Greg and I travelled to Detroit for my appointment with Dr. V.  The meeting went very well.  All good news.  First, he said all my numbers were good.  As far as he is concerned, my cancer is in REMISSION.  PRAISE and GLORY to GOD!!!  He then said he wanted us to pay attention to the following info.  A blind study was conducted in which some test subjects received no maintenance chemo after their Multiple Myeloma was in remission and other test subjects were given a low dose regimen of the chemo drug Revlimid.  Those given the Revlimid experienced a longer live span than did those not taking the Revlimid.  The only risk in taking the maintenance Revlimid was developing some form of cancer involving the head.  However, Dr. V. said the risk was minimal and, as Greg said,   "The longer anyone lives, the greater the risks of dying from something."  I told Dr. V. that I would take the Revlimid.  He agreed with my choice as this was his choice and recommendation for me also.  The chance of me experiencing a blood clot again from the Revlimid is minimal for two reasons:  1.  The dosage will be much smaller with the maintenance dose;  plus I would be taking an adult aspirin daily as well which would mitigate the development of clots.  2.  I would not be taking any steroids this time with the Revlimid which would not tend to cause clots.

I will start the maintenance regimen around the time I meet again with him in September.  I will then have another appointment with him in December.  After that I'll see him in June of '13 and then annually every June.  After our discussion was over, Dr. V. gave me a hug and wished me well.  He also said I could now go out in public using common sense precautions against exposure to germs.  Look out world, here I come!!.  Praise the LORD!!!

As I am feeling great and progressing well, I will not be blogging every other day as I have been doing.  I will write another post shortly after the 24th of September when I will have met with Dr. V and start my Revlimid regimen.  Thank you all who have kept up with my blog and I have greatly appreciated your interest and prayers.  Please continue to keep me in your prayers as I continue my recovery and also continue to praise God for all He has done and will continue to do in my life.  He has indeed directed my steps throughout this journey and will continue to do so as I remain In His Grip.


Next post:  September 24, 2012

Grandma and Seth

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Days +17 & +18 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Praise the LORD, I achieved a goal!  Saturday, Greg and I attended a baptism in Lake Michigan.  One of the granddaughters of good friends, Bruce and Mary, told her parents that she wanted to be baptized by her father in Lake Michigan.  We felt honored to be invited to this special event.  Therefore, I wanted to be recovered enough to attend.  Thankfully, God had in His plan that I would be recovered enough to watch the baptism.  The ceremony went well and a young lady publicly announced her love for Christ and symbolically exhibited her life reborn.

Another waypoint was also marked on my journey of recovery.  What waypoint?  I asked Greg to remove from each bathroom an "urp" bucket.  I no longer need those items, thank the LORD.  This was a good psychological point to achieve.  I now am confident that what I eat will agree with me.

I am gradually adding activities to my recovery repertoire.  Yesterday I vacuumed the pool..  Not a hard task, but something I could do which got me outside in the fresh and hot air.  My stamina is not what it used to be, but that will improve with time.  In the meantime, I trust God for his leading and count my blessings each and every day.

Next:  Days +19 & +20 of recovery

Friday, July 13, 2012

Days +15 & +16 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Wednesday and Thursday have been positive days of recovery.  Food is tasting better and is staying down.  I'm slowly expanding my meal choices.  But food remains home cooked.  No restaurant visits yet.  That is a bit farther out in the future.  When I do venture into a restaurant, buffet food is out.   My doctors have said that due to my immune system being compromised for awhile, food which has been standing out, as is the case in buffets, is out.  Too much exposure to the possibility of contamination with germs.  A person with a healthy immune system can handle food which wasn't fully protected by the "sneeze" shield (think about that buffet fans), but I can't.  Also, any beef I consume must be fully cooked, no "pink" allowed.

Our grandkids have been over to swim and while I am not allowed into the pool yet, I have sat by the pool to watch the kids swim.  And since the water has been 88 and above, Greg has been swimming with them.  Sitting outside has done wonders for my attitude and I praise God for his wonderful creation.

Thursday I felt good enough to give two haircuts:  one to Greg and another to our good friend Dan.  Starting to resume familiar activities again is a good point to reach in my recovery.  The one thing about which I must be careful is not to rush the recovery process.  Patience is a virtue during the next days, weeks, and months.

I have a goal to achieve during the next couple of days.  In my next entry, I'll let you know whether I reached that goal.  Until then, I remain "In His Grip".

Next:  Days +17 & +18 of recovery

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Days +13 & +14 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Sunday marked my "turn around" day.  I felt quite good;  my appetite was good;  my stomach was active in a positive way.  I even went for a walk with Greg.  However, I may have bitten off more than I could chew concerning the walk.  We strolled, round trip, 6 blocks.  When we arrived home, I immediately hit the couch and took a nap.

Monday, my appetite remained good, but my stomach was debating whether to forgo its past rebellion or persist in resisting food.  The debate continued for the day, but I still was able to eat and everything stayed where it belonged.

Tuesday was a more active day.  We drove to Hage's, a local Christian store.  I did venture inside.  The only other person in there was the clerk.  So my exposure to possible germs was minimal.  Our next stop was Di's Hallmark.  Here, because more people could be there, I remained in the car while Greg went in.  Our last stop was Meijer.  Here, I also stayed in the car because I would be exposed to way too many people in that store.  Leaving there, Greg asked if I felt up to trying one of my favorite drinks from McDonald's, an iced mocha.  I said, "Sure."  Happily, the drink did not cause any gastrointestinal rebellion.  That evening I expanded my cuisine choices by eating pork chops, red skin potatoes (skin removed), and dinner roll.  The meal was delicious and my stomach did not ask me to review my dinner choice.  Yes, I do believe I have reached a "turn around" point in my recovery.  Praise the LORD!

My doctor said to measure my progress weekly, rather than daily.  I can safely say that this current week is much better than last week.  God is good!

Next:  Days +15 & +16 of recovery

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Days +11 & +12 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Saturday was another backward step day.  Food didn't look that appetizing and later in the day my stomach decided to remove the small amount of food I did eat during the day.  After that I felt a little better, but rather tired.  I've had to add another pill to my collection.  This one is for a yeast infection that has appeared in my mouth.  Dr. Alguire said not to panic or worry.  This is not uncommon during the recovery period.  Chemo kills fast growing cells, i.e. cancer cells, and cells in the mouth are also fast growing. Chemo is not discriminating when killing cells and a lot of collateral damage occurs such as in the mouth and stomach.  The new pill is an antibiotic aimed at removing the yeast problem.

Now today, Sunday, has been a "2 steps forward" day.  Food has looked better to me and I have eaten some of the foods which seem to agree with my stomach such as bananas, chicken soup, and crackers.  Daring additions have included orange jello and two pieces of Lee's Famous Receipe chicken which was supplied by Tom and Lois from church.  So far, so good.  Time will tell.  Tomorrow, Monday, marks my first, official week at home.  My doctor said to make week-long comparisons as to my progress.  So, tomorrow I'll make my first assessment.

An added goal this week in addition to holding down what I eat is to get up and move around more.  Greg has already offered me the opportunity to ride the lawn tractor to cut the grass rather than using a push mower.  He's so-o-o-o thoughtful.  As I eat more food, hopefully, I'll become more active.  I am praying for progress and trusting in God's leading.

To be continued...Days +13 &  +14 of recovery

Friday, July 6, 2012

Days +9 & +10 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Saw my local oncologist, Dr. Alguire, today.  She said I looked good even though today has been one of those "1 step back" days.  The nausea was a bit more bothersome and diarrhea reared its ugly head again.  I still managed to eat some food.  I mentioned all this to Dr. Alguire.  She said this pattern is not unexpected.   She suggested the best thing to do is check my progress, not daily, since there would be a tendency to take 2 steps forward and 1 step back; but rather, do weekly comparisons.  I would notice weekly improvement despite some days seemingly being a retreat rather than an advance.  I'm going to take this advice and see how everything goes.

Blood tests showed my numbers continue to improve.  I just wish I felt as good as I appear on paper.

People continue to supply meals for us.  Today Arnie and Linda brought chicken noodle soup which has been agreeing with my stomach.  Scott and Lisa and the grandkids came over to swim.  Pizza was ordered, but I have learned my lesson and I abstained.  However, the bread sticks really looked good and I was tempted to try a small piece with just a hint of sauce.  My conscience, Greg, reminded me that I would be paying for such an indiscretion for the next several days.  I took his advice, too.

Pastor Andy and his wife, Donna, came for a short visit this afternoon.  We chatted a while and before they left we had prayer together.  I have grown to appreciate the power of prayer and the number of people who I know are praying for me.  I realize I am not alone as I continue on my journey of recovery.  Not only am I accompanied by all those praying for me, I am also accompanied by God.  With prayers to encourage and sustain me and God to lead and comfort me, I truly feel blessed.

Next:  Recovery Days +11 & +12  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Days +7 & +8 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Nausea has been a persistent "thorn" for me since I began the recovery process.  Since I am not eating all that much, my strength is really low.  I do sleep quite well at night and rest most of the day.   And I am experimenting with various foods to discover which ones will agree with my stomach.

Well, today, July 4th, may be the day marking a turn around in my battle with nausea.  All the food which I put into my mouth and subsequently found its way into my stomach has stayed in place.  Not that I haven't had any nausea feelings.  After I took my potassium pill and then ate a little, my stomach did attempt a small rebellion, but nothing came of the effort.  I have to work out a time frame between taking my pills and then eating.

The food I am eating is very bland.  Thus far, homemade apple sauce (made in Lisa's home), mashed potatoes (which came in supper sent from our good friend, Joetta), oyster crackers, and chicken & stars soup (yep, kids soup) have stayed in place.  I'll continue with these items and add other food choices as my stomach improves and my strength increases.  The process will be slow.  Slower than I want, but God is in control and I'll have to learn patience.

Our church has assigned various members to provide dinners for us over the next few days.  Joetta provided the meal for last night; Bruce and Mary brought food tonight; and Bob and Kathy are supplying supper for tomorrow night.  We certainly appreciate the kindness, love, and support represented by all these meals.  Greg is especially appreciative as he does not cook and I'm not up to cooking anything yet.  The food comes hot and since Greg does know how to operate a microwave, he'll be in seventh heaven since he loves eating left-overs.

I pray that today is indeed a giant step forward in my recovery process.  I realize that there will be steps forward and some back.  But I look to more of the former and few of the latter.  The main focus for me is that I have faith and trust God as He directs my steps.

Next:  Days +9 & +10 of recovery

Monday, July 2, 2012

Day +6 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9


Next:  Days +7 & +8 of recovery

Days +4 & +5 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

My apologies to all.  Last night Greg and I watched two DVD movies and when I woke up, the time was for me to go to bed which I did.  Hence, no blog posting.  Sorry about that.

For the weekend I decided to start the BRAT diet.  For those uninitiated, this means I began eating bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast.  This comes as a highly recommended food group when one's stomach is not feeling the best.  After experimentation I am just eating the BAT diet.  Seems the rice, at this time, irritates my tummy.  Greg, however, says the rice is ok.  The problem lies with the small amount of butter I asked him to add to the white rice to produce a little flavor.  Greg insists the butter produced more than a little flavor.  Maybe he's right.  So for now, rice is off the list, but the remaining ingredients appear to be agreeing with my stomach.

My appointment with Dr. V. is at 1:00 this afternoon.  I will know my day's destination - home or Colleen's - after meeting with him.  I have plans where I want to be at day's end, but I do acknowledge that God directs my steps.  He knows best and He is in control.  However, I still hope and pray to be home in Muskegon today.

The drum roll please...

Next entry:  Muskegon or Bust!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day +3 of recovery

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Good news - bad news...or...maybe I should have skipped that piece of pizza.

Yesterday, Thursday, I awoke and felt the best I have in a long while.  I even felt energetic enough to iron my Chemo Quilt.  Colleen and the girls arrived safely in the late afternoon.  However, their luggage did not.  They had flown Air Canada and the airline didn't really know where all their suitcases were at the moment, but their world-wide lost luggage system would find the missing pieces and restore them posthaste.  (interpretation:  hopefully the luggage is somewhere on the planet and you'll get it before everything inside becomes antiquated.)

Last night Colleen ordered Jets Pizza over the internet for delivery.  That sounded good to me so when it arrived I decided to try a piece.  This morning when I awoke my stomach and bowels were in rebellion.  I have not had the best of days.  When I saw the doctor this afternoon for my scheduled appointment, he explained that the chemo has probably made my stomach temporarily lactose intolerant which means that the pizza was a poor food choice for me.  So I got the bad news.  I have to stay around for the weekend to see if my stomach and bowels will behave.  I'm taking Imodium AD every six hours and Ativan for nausea every six hours for the next two and 1/2 days.  On Monday I am scheduled to meet with Dr. V at 1:00 to see how I am doing.  If well, then I can probably go home.  If not, then maybe reentry into the hospital to find out what is going on.

There is good news, however.  My numbers are really good.  WBC:  6.6 (right in the middle of the normal range);  Hemoglobin:  10.6 (still going up);  and Platelets:  78 (also still going up).  Praise the LORD!!

I'm going to have to remain patient and slowly acclimate my stomach to normal food again.  In the meantime, I'll eat cheerios, bananas, crackers,  anything bland that my tummy will tolerate.  One nurse told me the time frame for my stomach to accept my former dietary choices could be 3 months or more. I must be patient which is so-o-o-o-o not my personality.  God is leading and teaching me throughout this journey.  I must learn to follow and obey.  He has reasons for all He does even if I don't always understand.

I will close on a positive note.  Air Canada found all the luggage and is delivering it tonight.  (In fact, the 3 duffels have arrived as I "speak".)    Indeed, God has everything under control.

Next:  Days +4 & +5 of recovery

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day +1 out of hospital

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

What a joy to sleep late this morning.  No 4:30 a.m. vitals reading and blood draw.  Still woke up a few times at night though.  Am drinking quite a bit of liquid during the day per doctor's orders and what goes in must come out - day and night.   Felt great being able to shower without my IV bag/pump pole tethered to me.  Still am feeling a bit fatigued and did rest/sleep quite a bit during the morning hours.  My appetite still is not what it used to be.  The doctors said that food won't be on the top of my things- to-do list for quite a while yet.  The chemo does quite a number on the taste buds so the flavor of foods could take up to 3 months to return.  Rough way to go on a diet, but the outcome might be worth it.

My sister, Lois, and good friend, Mary, drove over from Grand Haven/North Muskegon for a visit.  We spent most of the afternoon talking and playing cards.  Fun to see them.  After they left I stretched out on the couch and fell asleep for awhile as Greg drove to a Meijer a few miles away to pick up the last of my prescriptions.  Have a few pills to take over the next several days and weeks.  I don't like pills, but I dislike being attached to an IV pole even more, so I will put up with gulping a few pills/day.

Tomorrow Colleen and her two daughters arrive here from Cairo, Egypt.  Will be fun to see them.  The pool is filled and warmed for them so they can go swimming.  The temp is forecast to be in the triple digits tomorrow, so I am sure a dip in the pool will be enjoyable.   I am not supposed to swim in pools for awhile, but, fortunately, the house is air conditioned.

Even though I've slept quite a bit today, I'm getting ready to hit the hay for tonight.  I'll write more tomorrow concerning my stem cell recovery journey.  I praise God and continue to follow in His steps.

Next:  Day +2 of recovery

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day +12

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

And the winner is---Dr. Ayash & colleagues!!  The radiologist had insisted that the 2 sets of X-rays indicated a nodule;  pneumonia.  Dr. Ayash had just as affirmatively insisted that what was showing was a rib.  To break the stalemate, a CAT scan was ordered yesterday.  The results were known today.  Yep, you guessed it...a rib.  I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a rib than pneumonia.  Besides, a rib is much more functional.  (Didn't God do something special with a rib?)

That problem having been solved, the decision was made to DISCHARGE! me today.  I am now resting comfortably at Colleen's sans Picc line.  For the first time since June 14 I'll be able to sleep all night without disruption.  No vitals;  no medications;  no blood draws.  Just glorious, restful, uninterrupted sleep.  Early on in my hospital stay a nurse said,  "You want sleep?  Go home!"  Hospitals are not places of rest.  That being said, I did receive fantastic care from dedicated, loving people who made me feel as comfortable as possible.  The entire staff from house keeping to doctors were as friendly as could be.  When I left, more than one staffer invited us to come back as visitors to say "Hi" and let everyone know how I was doing.  I'm scheduled for a clinic appointment on Friday.  I think we'll stop upstairs to say "Hello".

My numbers for today were great.  WBC:  6.6 (normal range is 3.5 - 10.6);  Hemoglobin:  8.8;  and Platelets:  15.  Friday more blood will be drawn and we'll see how the numbers are then.

God has been so faithful and good throughout my cancer journey.  I have grown closer to Him and He to me.  I know as I continue my recovery and make plans for the future that He will be directing my steps.  I have complete confidence and trust in His guidance.  I give Him all the glory for what He has done in my life thus far.  I am His child and feel completely "In His grip".

Next:  First full day out of the hospital.

Pumping me full of energy to finish my quilt

The completed Chemo Quilt

Monday, June 25, 2012

Day +11

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Greg left early this morning for Colleen's because the pool man was scheduled to come open the pool between 9:30 and 10:00.  Good thing he left shortly after 8:00.  The pool guys were there at 9:35.  Greg called and said the pool is open; is being filled; and the heater is on so it will be warm when Colleen arrives later this week.

In the meantime, two visitors arrived unannounced.  Surprise!  Surprise!  My brother, Howie, and his wife, Audrey, drove up from Tennessee to say "Hi!"  Greg knew they were coming but said nothing because they wanted to surprise me.  Had a fun time talking with them for most of the day.  They left mid-afternoon.  Howie has to be to work tomorrow night.  They picked a good day because I am feeling much better.

My numbers help explain why I am feeling good.  My WBC:  2.2 (normal range starts at 3.5);  Hemoglobin:  8.4 (a tick up);  and Platelets:  12.  Woo!  Hoo!  Come on stem cells!!  Praise God for His grand design and wonderful creation!!!

A nurse practitioner came into my room this morning and said I would probably be discharged this afternoon.  So soon?!  Wow!  Relax, this joy and jubilation was short-lived.  Dr. Ayash arrived and said there was a disagreement between she & her colleagues, and the radiologist regarding what my 2 sets of X-rays showed.  The radiologist insists the X-rays indicate the presence of pneumonia.  Dr. Ayash and team don't see these indications reading the same X-rays.  So, how to solve this professional dispute?  I was scheduled for a CAT scan, the results of which will be available tomorrow.  In any event, Dr. Ayash believes I'll be able to go home (to Colleen's) tomorrow.  If pneumonia is present, I'll be released with an antibiotic to take.  I have to return 3 days later anyway and another look can be taken if necessary.  Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to this medical debate:  Dr. "A" vs. The Radiologist.  Who do you think is right?

Tomorrow:  Exciting Day  +12

Doing today what I love doing

Feeling good working on my "Chemo" quilt

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day +10

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Today we celebrated two events.  Number 1:  my WBC continued going up.  Praise the LORD!  And Greg celebrated his 66th birthday.  We even had a small party with ice cream and cake.  Last week Sunday when good friends, Kathy and Bob visited, they brought with them a pound cake for the purpose of celebrating today.  Then this morning my cousin Barb called and said she and her husband Keith were in Livonia visiting their daughter and son-in-law, Betsy and Guillermo and they wanted to come visit.  We said certainly;   we've love to have them.  Upon arrival we broke out the cake and some ice cream cups which Louise had ordered with a few of her meals.  A fun time was had by all.

My numbers for today:  WBC:  0.5 (still going up!);  Hemoglobin:  8.3 ( still above 8);  and Platelets:  15 (after the infusion of yesterday).  I did feel better today and walked 16 laps (1 mile).  My biking was interrupted by our visitors so I only rode 2 kilometers instead of my planned 10.  Sure felt good to be out and about for awhile.  Only experienced one bout of nausea today.  This should continually improve as my WBC climbs.  I'm ascending out of the low, wet zone of the high wire to use Nik Wallenda and his Niagara Falls tight rope walk as an example.  My strength and health should improve on a daily basis.

A second chest X-ray was ordered today as the first one taken earlier this week suggested something suspicious.  The new X-ray showed a small amount of fluid in each lung, but not enough to have any affect on my heart or lungs.  I have no temperature suggesting no infection and my lungs sound clear when the nurses listen with their stethoscopes.  We'll wait and see what Dr. Ayash has to say when she visits tomorrow.  I'm not worried;  God is in control.

The third weekend is coming.  And Dr. Ayash said this is the weekend when she becomes crabby.  So we are looking forward to my being discharged this week,  the LORD willing.

Next:  Day +11

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day +9

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Same-o-same-o in the nausea department.  But I'm still able to take nourishment (cheerios & frozen Orange juice).  My throat is still a bit sore, nothing that I can't handle.  Dr. Ayash says at this point in time my throat shouldn't get any more sore.  The new development today involves my hair.  Yesterday,  deposits were made in the shower.  And my pillow case was getting furrier and furrier.  So I decided to be proactive and shave off my hair.  The nurse brought clippers with various attachments and, for the first time, I applied the cutting tools to my own head.  Greg assisted, especially in the final stage.  Now I really look like I've had chemo treatments.  The good news:  my hair will grow back.  God even provided for this development in His grand design.  In the meantime, I have a choice of how I want to appear depending upon the event I'm attending.  For around the house, I can choose the "sans" hair look.  For stepping out casually, I can wear a cut cap I have.  And for more formal activities, I have my cranial prosthesis which looks almost like my normal hair.  Fun to have choices!

My numbers for Day +9 are as follows:  WBC:  0.2 (starting to go up!);  Hemoglobin:  8.8 (no infusion needed yet);  and Platelets:  8 (received an infusion today because the number fell below 10).  I slept quite a bit today, but that is mostly a reaction to the low hemoglobin numbers according to my nurse friend, Mary.  Dr. Ayash said that so far everything happening is expected and according to the "text book".  Around Monday, my WBC should start kicking upward and I will begin to feel better as stem cells begin repairing the damage in my stomach alleviating the nausea.  Better times are coming, thank you, God!

Last evening while Greg and I were walking our laps, a Code Blue was called for the room kiddy corner across from the nurses's station from us.  We had to modify our route as there were people crowded into that room in addition to running into and out of it.  The patient had trouble breathing most of the day and the difficulty manifested into an emergency shortly after dinner time.  He was transferred to ICU where he remains today.  We did find out he is doing better today, praise the LORD.  Underlying health problems led to this difficulty and was not the result of his transplant procedure.

Tomorrow:  Day  +10

Being proactive with my hair

Around the house look

The casual look

For those more formal occasions

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day +8

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs  16:9

Early this morning I began a fever of 38.8 C.  This is the equivalent of 101.8 F.  Blood was drawn to be cultures in the lab.  Later in the morning I was given a chest X-ray to check on the possibility of pneumonia.  X-ray results were negative.  Early culture readings proved negative, but they will be allowed to grow an additional 5 days to make sure no bacterial infections are present.   In the meantime, I have been put on antibiotics as a precaution.  My latest temp. reading was 38.1 C. which is 100.5 F.  This development is not unexpected.  The grafting of new cells in my body causes such a fever to develop.

The next couple of days will probably mark the ending of my valley walk to which I referred yesterday.  My nausea persists;  my sore throat remains about the same as to level of discomfort;  I expect the antibiotics to keep the fever under control;  and I expect further developments to be under God's control for "...He is with me;  His rod and staff they comfort me."  Psalm 23:4.

Today's numbers are:  WBC:  0.1 (for a 3rd day);  Hemoglobin:  8.8;  and Platelets:  22.  Within the next couple of days, the WBC should start to go up.  For the Hemoglobin a reading of 8 or lower will trigger an infusion.  A 10 or lower reading for Platelets will also trigger an infusion.  Infusions are not unexpected and are part of the process.  Just depends upon the person.

Today was a day of rest for me.  Dr. Ayash said that I have been doing wonderful as far as exercising is concerned and if I wanted to take a day off from walking and biking I could do so.  I decided to take the doctor's advice.  I look forward to the days ahead without fear because God has made me;  I am one of His, a sheep of his pasture.  I am thankful to Him and bless His name.  He is good;  His mercy is everlasting;  and His truth endures to all generations.  (Psalm 100: 3-5).

Next:  Day  +9

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day +7

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Nausea and I are still not getting along.  This is actually a mind game.  A recent article in USA TODAY documented a medical study which revealed that a particular drug used in the treatment of mental illness had a positive affect on chemo patients in reducing nausea.  The reason for this is that the queasiness resulting from chemo does not originate in the stomach, but in a portion of the brain which sends signals to the stomach instructing it to forcefully expel its contents.  The psychotic drug under investigation was designed to go to that portion of the brain to counteract some other psychological malfunctions and was discovered to also have a calming affect on nausea.  Unfortunately, this is America and, therefore, more years of investigation and trial studies will be necessary before this drug is released to the market at an exorbitant cost to insurance companies.  (The high cost being the result of  years of investigation and trial studies.)  In the meantime, I and my brain battle my stomach with the stomach winning many battles.  But I am determined, with God's help, to win the war!

Numbers for today are as expected according to my attending medical personnel:  WBC:  0.1;  Hemoglobin:  9.2;  and Platelets 52.  Tonight will be day #2 for the Neupogen.  Unfortunately, this shot cannot be given through my Picc line.  However, there are three sights which can be alternated for the injections:  stomach, arm, and thigh.  Last night was my arm.  Tonight I think I will choose my thigh.

A new, expected side effect has reared its head today and that is a sore throat.  The severity of this irritant varies with individuals.  Right now, my throat feels like a mild soreness.  Cool items such as water and ice cream sooth the irritation.

I am at a point in the stem cell process that can best be described as walking through a valley.  If any of you saw last week on ABC TV the stuntman, Nik Wallenda, walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope, then you saw a manifestation of my journey.  As Mr. Wallenda walked the 1800 feet, he proceeded down the wire as it sagged due to the extreme length of the cable.  At the mid-point of his walk, he was moving along the "wet zone", that relatively, short section of the wire at its lowest point and soaked by the mist of the falls.  Past that he began ascending the cable to his destination and safety.  Well, I'm in that "wet zone", the valley of my journey.  For the next few days, I may experience additional side effects.  However, once through the valley, I will begin to climb up and out to health and restoration.   Just as Nik Wallenda kept his focus on the cable in front of him as well as his destination, I, too, am focusing on my end point of this current journey.  And just as Nik Wallenda did, I am praying every step of the way.  Nik said as he walked he had a peace about him which he attributed to his faith in Jesus.  I, also, am experiencing that peace as I continue my "walk".  Jesus said to his disciples as He left earth:  "Peace I leave with you;  my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."  John 14:27

Tomorrow:  Day  +8

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day +6

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Nausea remains a problem yet.  Today my stomach rebelled twice, but I still managed to get some food down there just to show it who is boss.  Dr. Ayash says this is an expected side effect and ordered a steroid for me tonight.  She said the majority of people who receive this steroid experience relief from the nausea.  I pray that I'm a part of that majority.

My numbers for today are:  WBC:  0.1 (can't get much lower);  Hemoglobin:  9.2;  and Platelets:  76 (trombones).  Neupogen begins tonight.  This drug will coax the dormant stem cells out of my bone marrow into my bloodstream when they will become the various cells which are low in number.  By Day +10 my WBC should start rebounding and I'll begin to feel better.  God's design of our bodies certainly is amazing and wonderful is it not?

Sleeping alone tonight.  Greg left this afternoon for Colleen's.  He'll be getting gas for the car and doing our laundry so we have enough clothes for another week.  He plans to return early so he can get a good  space in the parking garage.

Hopefully, I'll get a good night's sleep because the steroid I'm receiving has sleeplessness as a side effect.  If I'm not dealing with one side effect, I'm experiencing another.  But I'm not complaining.  God   has a plan for my life; this is part of it; and, most importantly, He is in control.  He's directing my steps and I am glad for that.

Next...Day  +7

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day +5

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.   Proverbs 16:9

Today has been a lazy day.  I awoke after a good night's sleep and immediately felt queasy.  However, this time I requested anti-nausea medicine which kept my stomach tamed.  I did not eat anything big such as pancakes, sausage, or bacon and eggs.  But I was able to keep down Honey Nut Cheerios, some fresh fruit, a frozen lemon ice, half a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, and the rest of my cinnamon crunch bagel.  Not a dietician's delight diet, but at least some sustenance.  Any supplements on which I'm short such as Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium can be given to me via my Picc line.  I've walked 1/2 of my 16 laps thus far and soon Greg and I will walk the remaining 1/2 mile.

Dr. Ayash visited today and said I looked good and my numbers were good also.  For those keeping track, here are my numbers for today:  WBC:  0.2;  Hemoglobin:  9.4 (holding at this point for a second day which is good news) and Platelets:  107.  My WBC are at probably their lowest point which explains the nausea and fatigue.  Tomorrrow, Wednesday, Day  +6, I start receiving Neupogen injections which will stimulate the now dormant stem cells to come out of the bone marrow, look around and determine to become WBC's, Hemoglobin, and Platelets.  On or about Day +10, my WBC should start to noticeably increase which will result in me starting to feel better.

Thank you all who are praying for us.  Greg and I can feel and see your prayers working on a daily basis.  I know that having specific items for which to pray helps those who are praying, so here is a short list for your prayer checklist:  1) end to nausea  2) no sores in mouth or throat  3) no hair loss  4)  positive response to Neupogen injections with resultant increase of WBC count  5)  discharge from Karmonos sometime next week (before Dr. Ayash gets crabby)  6) continued praise and thanks to God for His guidance, protection, healing, and loving presence throughout my cancer journey.

 I pray and expect this whole experience to bring great glory to God.

Tomorrow...Day  +6

Monday, June 18, 2012

Day +4

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.   Proverbs 16:9

My numbers continue to drop, as they should.  Today's numbers:  WBC:  0.6;  Hemoglobin:  9.4;  and Platelets:  135.  The WBC is in the expected low range.  On Wednesday, the Neupogen will be started to encourage the creation of white blood cells.  After that the WBC should start going up.  This upward trend will be carefully monitored and will determine how soon I am discharged.  The Hemoglobin is behaving well also.  If you remember, I blogged earlier that should the Hemoglobin number drop below 8, then I would receive a blood transfusion.  In addition I mentioned yesterday the numbers of Saturday were incorrect.  As a result of that, I had two blood draws yesterday, one at 6:30 a.m. and another at 1:05 p.m.  Since the a.m. numbers are the ones being recorded, I reported those.  However, the Hemoglobin number was 9.2 at 1:05 p.m., lower than the reported 6:30 a.m. number of 9.8.  Now, my Hemoglobin today was 9.4, an up-tick of .2.  This is good.  If this number holds above 8.0 - no blood transfusion.  The Platelets for today were 135.  As long as this number remains above 10.0, I won't need an infusion of those either.  My uniquely, God-designed body is responding well to the chemo.  Praise God!

My nausea still persists.  Just one incident per day, however.  A new treatment protocol was started today.  Before each meal, I will be given a dosage (1 pill) of Ativan to combat the queasy feeling.  Will let you know how this regimen works.  The medical staff again said not to worry, because this is a normal side-effect to the chemo, especially as my WBC count goes down so low.  They said I shouldn't be surprised if for the next few days I feel a bit yucky.  (Yup, that's an official medical term).

We brought our computers, iPhones, and iPad, plus books and DVD's to help pass the time.  But last night we had some unexpected entertainment.  An abandoned building a block west of us caught fire.  We had a ringside seat as we watched from our window seven Detroit Fire Department units put out the fire.  Nothing huge, but exciting to witness nevertheless.

Next post:   Day +5

Abandoned building catches fire a block west of Karmanos.

Ladder unit responds to the fire.

Detroit fire units successfully squelch the fire.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Day +3

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.   Proverbs 16:9

Exercise went well today.  Managed another 16 laps (1mile equivalent) and 10 km. on the exercise bike.  Slept well last night.  Then the food came...."Clean up on aisle 7!"  Managed to hold down most of breakfast, but dinner time was another story.  The trigger today may have been the chocolate Ensure or the iced mocha coffee from Wendy's.  Perhaps too much cold for the ole tummy.  On the positive side, we got a new visitor's chair for the room out of the incident.  The chair is blue and goes better with the room decor.

There was a SNAFU with yesterday's labs and resultant numbers.  For those unfamiliar with the acronym "SNAFU":  Situation Normal-All Fouled Up.  Those numbers recorded in yesterday's blog were apparently incorrect as today's numbers went "up" by comparison.  Of course, this shouldn't happen.  So the blood tests were repeated later today and the results posted.  Here are the correct counts for today, Day +3:  WBC:  1.4;  Hemoglobin:  9.8;  and Platelets:  142.  The nurse said these counts are what would be expected at this point in time.  Let's pray the lab techs are more accurate and careful in the future.

The attending doctor from the stem cell transplant team is Dr. Ayash.  She visited today and mentioned that she will be here three weeks.  She "warned" us (with a smile on her face) that she usually gets crabby by the 3rd weekend.  Thus, our goal is be discharged between the 2nd and 3rd weekend.  Please keep that time frame in your prayers.

Had visitors this afternoon.  Kathy Porter and her physician husband, Bob, stopped by after being in Ann Arbor to see Bob's aunt.  They drove through several downpours and construction delays, but arrived safely.  Was fun talking with them and we enjoyed their company and gift of two Panera Bread cinnamon crunch bagels.  Contrary to popular belief, I am NOT in isolation or quarantine during my stay here at Karmanos.  The only restriction on visitors is that they must be healthy.  Are there any restrictions?  Yes, no pets or flowers in the rooms.

A closing thought for today.  God has placed wonderful doctors, nurses, and other staff persons in our lives during this time.  They are caring, friendly, and dedicated to their work.  We see on a daily basis how God is in control.

Next...Day +4

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Day +2

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.   Proverbs 16:9

Just finished riding the exercise bike for 10 Km. (6.2 mi).  Walked 1 mile and biked the equivalent of 1.25 miles during the day.  Exercise is important for recovery during this process and praise God, I'm feeling good enough for physical activity.

Had just one nauseous moment.  Lunch was brought and as the turkey sandwich approached my mouth, my mind took umbrage and enlisted the assistance of my stomach at expressing displeasure concerning this diet choice.  But I persevered and managed to complete most of my lunch and later dinner selections.

Regarding the other unpleasant side effect, Immodium has been added to my pharmacy list.  This appears to be having its expected affect.

My numbers on Day +2 are:  WBC:  0.5;  Hemoglobin:  8.4;  and Platelets:  48.  These lower readings are expected and welcome.  The WBC will remain extremely low for the next four days.  On the 6th day Neupogen will be injected encouraging the development of WBC and bringing their count up.  If and when my Hemoglobin falls below 8.0, I'll be given a blood transfusion which is not an unexpected consequence of this procedure.  Should my Platelets fall below 10.0, I will also receive an infusion of these as well.  Since my WBC are so low, Greg and I have to be sure to wash our hands frequently with both soap and antibacterial liquid to help prevent exposure to germs and resultant infections.  Any visitors during this period must be healthy.

As I think about what is happening within my body I am reminded of Psalm 139:14.  "I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."  Thank you, God!

Next...Day +3

Friday, June 15, 2012

Day +1

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.   Proverbs 16:9

Just completed my dinner.  Today has been marked by walking my suggested 16 laps which equates to 1 mile.  I've enjoyed several naps and worked on a knitting project.  In between, a little bit of TV viewing helped pass the time as well as talking on the phone with well-wishers and FaceTime with grandkids.

Side effects continue.  The thought of breakfast this A.M. caused my mind to send a message to my stomach resulting in a negative response.  However, since my brain is involved in the process, this is a "mind over matter" situation.   The remaining day's meals were eaten very slowly giving my stomach time to mull over what to do with the new contents and telling to my mind to leave the "stuff" in there.  So  far, this plan is working.

The "other end" is a different story.  Have made a few trips to the bathroom in "urgency" mode today.  The Nurse Practioner, Katherine, says this is an expected reaction to the preservative used and injected with the stem cells.  Will be a welcome relief when the preservative has completely exited my body.

My new counts were posted this morning.  I asked which are the main ones to monitor.  They are:
white blood cells (WBC), Hemoglobin, and Platelets.  Day 0 (Thursday) provided the baseline for the counts.  So the starting numbers are as follows:  WBC:  3.9; Hemoglobin:  11.0; and Platelets:  233.
Today's (Day +1) counts are:  WBC:  3.0;  Hemoglobin:  10.7; and Platelets:  206.  For the next several days, these counts ARE supposed to go down.  Along about days 6, 7, or 8 the counts should bottom out and then start to climb.  I'll be posting my numbers each day so you can track my downward trend (supposed to happen) and my upward trend (will happen, LORD willing).

Prior to Greg and me going for a few more laps before retiring for the night, I'd like to quote from an e-mail which we received from our good friend, Dr. Tim Mead, serving in Al Ain, UAE as a medical missionary.  He writes an excellent report to supporters, friends, and others weekly.  The portion I have chosen to quote applies directly to what I and others with cancer are experiencing.

"All people live life sometimes finding our expectations unmet and our plans changed.  We can easily become bitter and feel we deserve better.  Although trials are never fun at the time, I think back and realize that because of the tough times I am a different person.  Trials, big or small, will either build your character or send you into bitterness and despair.  Your attitude is critical. (emphasis is mine)  I need to constantly remind myself to start each day in thanks knowing I do not travel life alone.  I live and travel Life in His Grip..."

Next:  Day +2

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day 0

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.    Proverbs 16:9

Thursday, June 14, 2012;  Stem Cell Transplant Day;  Day 0 of the countdown.  A three member transplant team oversaw the reintroduction of 1/2 the number of my stem cells which were collected on Tuesday of this week.  About two and 1/2 small bags of my preserved stem cells were injected into my Picc Line utilizing a large syringe.  The cell/preservative mix looked like a red slushy or V8 juice.  While one syringe full was being injected, a lab tech extracted another syringe full from a small IV bag which minutes earlier had been frozen.  The three stem cell bags were placed in a warming machine which was brought to my room.  The third member of the team, a RN, monitored my vitals during the procedure.  The whole process took less than 1/2 an hour.  So...a half of my harvested stem cells are now back in my body and the remaining collected stem cells will remain frozen in the unlikely event I have to undergo another transplant sometime in the future.

In the meantime...the chemo in my system continues to track down and annihilate unwelcome cancer cells.  The newly injected stem cells float through my body via my blood stream and find their way into my bone marrow where they will mature for the next several days.  During this maturation process, my white blood cell count as well as my red blood cell and platelet counts will drop.  After about 5 to 7 days of falling counts, the process reverses as the matured stem cells leave the bone marrow to become new, healthy white, red and platelet cells.  This rebuilding process lasts about another 5 to 7 days.  The chemo has, meanwhile, completed its killing spree leaving dead cancer cells to be flushed out by my body.

Typically, days 6, 7, and 8 is the time I will feel the least well as my counts reach their lowest.  On day 6, Neupogen shots begin again for about the next 6 days to encourage the production of white blood cells.  As my counts of red and white blood cells and platelet cells rise, I will feel better and better.  A chart has been affixed to a white board in my room to record the down and up progress of my cell counts.  Over the next several days, I will blog daily the progress of my cell counts and the resulting bodily responses.  Thus far, I have experienced minimum side effects.  This morning, before eating anything, I drank a glass of ice water.  Unfortunately, the water returned right away via the same route it took to enter my body.  But, this has been the only negative bodily response thus far.

God has indeed been good during this journey.  Thinking about what is now happening in my body and how these stem cells will know what cells to become as they mature reveals to me the fantastic plan God had as He designed this wonderful universe of which we and our Earth are a part.

"...And we, out of all creation, became His prized possession."  James 1:18

Next:  Day +1

Louise in her "single" double-sized room.

Aaron prepares stem cells for injection.

Drawing warmed stem cells into syringe.

Melissa injects stem cells into Louise.

Laurie-Anne monitors vitals.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chemo !

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.   Proverbs 16:9

Monday, Greg and I returned to the Barbara Ann Karmonos Cancer Center in Detroit.  I was scheduled for the insertion of a Picc line at 10:00 in the morning followed by an appointment with Dr. V at 1:00 in the afternoon.  Both events occurred, but not at the times listed.  One thing I have learned throughout this whole process is to have patience.  Activities do happen, but usually not at the times listed or planned.  Thank you, God. for teaching me to slow down and wait.  Everything does not need to happen "here and now".  I should enjoy each day You provide me and count my daily blessings.

Tuesday, we returned to Karmonos for my scheduled chemo infusion.  This appointment was "at the crack of dawn" - 7:00 a.m.  I think we arrived before the sun was awake to begin its day.  Not being a morning person, as is Greg, any time before 9:00 a.m. is too early for me.  We experienced another "1st" for us as we arrived and checked in.  We were directed from the lobby of the recently opened Dresner Family Center (our first "1st") to the brand new infusion center which opened its doors yesterday.  In fact, I was very possibly the first person to receive a chemo infusion in the new center.

The process began with an infusion of anti-nausea fluids.  While I was being hydrated, the pharmacy mixed up a small batch of my chemo drug, Melphalan.  After a couple hours, the drug was delivered to my room and attached to my infusion rig.  As Melphalan is light sensitive, a black shroud was hung over the pint bottle which was filled only 1/3 full of the chemo.  This was worth about $6,000.00.  The actual chemo infusion lasted about 1/2 hour with another 3 hours of hydration.  During the whole process I was encouraged to do one of my favorite past times:  eat ice chips.  Since the Melphalan attacks fast growing cells such as those of the hair and the mouth, ice chips stimulate the mouth cells to close up and prevent the absorption of the chemo.  At the time of this posting, I have experienced no nausea or vomiting and my appetite is intact.  In fact, I ate the lunch supplied by the hospital and survived.  Actually, the food was quite tasty, especially the chicken.

I have been supplied with three anti-nausea meds:  Zofran and Compazine (to be taken daily) and Ativan (to be taken as needed).  These are designed to keep my stomach happy as the Melphalan does its job of killing cancer cells and other fast reproducing cells.  In the meantime, I'm to return Wednesday morning to receive another 3 hours of hydration and then come back on Thursday to be admitted to the hospital for observation about the next 1 and 1/2 weeks.

Thursday, I'll begin daily postings to chronicle my progress and that of any side effects.  Until then, my journey continues with God's leading.

Saline - left.  Shrouded Melphalan - right.
Receiving my Chemo.


Here I am back at Colleen's after my chemo doing what I enjoy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Harvest

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

I'm lying is a hospital bed, IV lines in both arms while a machine to my right takes blood from my body; removes stem cells; and returns the red, life sustaining fluid to me.  As the machine whirrs away, a nurse is asking questions and filling out a form.  As I reply "NO" to inquiries such as "Do you have any pain?", "Do you have any nausea or vomiting?", "Are you constipated?",  "Are you fatigued?" she looks up from the paperwork and says, "Why are you here?".

I am "here" because, living in a "Fallen" world, I''m experiencing cancer.  A journey I did not expect while planning my life; but a journey whose steps are directed by my God.  Because God is leading me through this dark valley and knows the outcome of this trip, I have chosen to put my complete faith in Him.  Even though I don't know or understand all the twists and turns of this safari, Gods knows and I trust Him...with my life.  Since the beginning of this adventure, I have witnessed God at work.  At His direction, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff have sprung into action utilizing their skills, training, and intellect to diagnose and implement treatment in an extremely timely manner.  And because of the prayers of family, friends, churches, and strangers literally around the world, I have been able to respond to my treatments in an atypical manner.

For reasons known only fully to Him,  God has blessed me with exceptional responses to treatment protocols since the beginning.  My early regimen of Velcade and Revlimid did not result in the usual physical responses of the human body to these chemo drugs.  Nausea and vomiting did not make an appearance.  In fact, these two unpleasant side effects have yet to rear their ugly heads, praise the LORD!  Neuropathy has manifested itself as a result of the Velcade, but not to the extent of being debilitating and currently is manageable using Gabapentin.  The Revlimid caused some pretty painful headaches and was replaced with Cytoxin which caused no unwelcome side effects.

My lack of side effects to treatment caused me to question the effectiveness of the preliminary protocol for the harvesting of my stem cells.  I had to inject myself with 600 mcg. of Neupogen twice a day beginnng Thursday, May 31 and ending Monday, June 4.  That's four shots per day plus two per day (morning and night) of Lovenox which replaces the Coumadin.  The Neupogen is designed to stimulate my bone marrow to produce sufficient number of stem cells prior to harvesting.  I was told to expect the Neupogen to possibly cause nausea and vomiting, extreme fatigue, and bone pain.  When I didn't experience any of these downsides to the drug, I began to question whether the Neupogen was working.  But when I remembered  that I and many others were praying that side effects would not be a problem, I knew that God was listening and responding to everyone's prayer.  Thank you, LORD!!

Harvest day was Monday.  We arrived at the Karmonos Cancer Center early, 7:15 a.m., and had blood work drawn.  We had to wait a little over two hours, for tests to be run that would determine if the Neupogen had done its work.  We finally received word that results showed I had enough stem cells floating around so I could be hooked up to the machine which would capture these little guys.  Getting two IV lines into my arms and connected to the pheresis machine took a bit of time.  But at 11:30 the procedure was underway.

The process required that I keep both arms extended at my sides, so at lunch time (the hospital supplied a sack lunch), Greg had to feed me.   When my nose itched, Greg had to help me scratch.  He said he was drawing the line at picking my nose, however.  (He said,  "You can pick your friends.  You can pick your nose.  But you can't pick your friend's nose.")  Finally, the procedure was completed at about 3:15 p.m.  I was untethered from the machine.  The nurse said that a determination would be made by the lab whether enough stem cells had been harvested.  If not enough were obtained, we would have to return on Tuesday and undergo this process again although I wouldn't have to undergo the preliminary blood test.  I could go on the machine immediately upon arrival.  The lab would call me before 5:30 p.m.

We returned to Colleen's house to await the call.  At 5:10 the lab phoned.  They threw out numbers I didn't understand, but Praise God!, these were numbers we wanted to hear.  The lab tech said that the number needed had to fall within a range between 2 and 5.  My number was 8.3!!  More than enough for two transplants!!!  Prayers had be answered.  Once again God had blessed me.  We return to Karmonos next week where my frozen stem cells will be reintroduced into my body after a treatment of chemo kills all my white blood cells.  Then the stem cells, by God's great design, will grow into new white blood cells and my immune system will be reborn and, the LORD willing, the cancer will be in remission.  I look forward to this future trusting God and His plans.

                                                   "I know who holds the future,
                                                    And I know who holds my hand;
                                                   With God things don't just happen --
                                                   Everything by Him is planned."         A. Smith

Left arm is the return line.  Right arm (covered)
is the output line.  Couldn't move from this
position from 11:30 to 3:15.
Praise the LORD enough stem cells were
harvested the first time!

Next entry:  The Transplant.     The journey continues....


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My journey continues - Phase ll

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.    Proverbs 16:9

Phase I is complete.  My chemo treatments of Velcade and dexamethasone ( a steroid) plus Cytoxin have ended.  I praise and thank God that I have come through this initial treatment phase with minimal side effects.  Neuropathy in my feet has been the only significant side effect I've experienced and this has been mitigated by a drug called Gabapentin.  The LORD has indeed been good to me the past four months.  He has demonstrated continually these past weeks that He is in control and even though I don't always understand, He is working events for my good and the good of others.  (Romans 8:28)

Tuesday, the 29th, Greg and I travelled to Karmonos Cancer Ctr. for my appointment with Dr. Vorivit Ratanatharathorn.  The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the results of the tests through which I had recently gone in an effort to determine the effectiveness of the chemo treatments on my Multiple Myeloma and to explain the stem cell transplant procedure scheduled to begin shortly.  Dr. "V", as he is normally called at Karmonos, was upbeat and optimistic concerning my test results and said the amount of proteins in my blood created by the cancer had been reduced 75% due to the chemo drugs regimen.  A 100% reduction would have indicated a state of remission.  He didn't really expect that to happen.  In fact, when we first consulted with him, he had indicated a 50% to  60% reduction in proteins would be necessary to consider stem cell transplantation.  Since my reduction numbers were 15% to 25% higher, he was very satisfied and we began discussing details of such a transplant process.

We had been told that we would have to secure housing in the area for a portion of my treatment protocol.  However, we were thrown a curve ball when my Stem Cell Coordinator sent us preliminary paper work which included a high-lighted sentence indicating that my health insurance would not pay for lodging.  As throughout this journey, God demonstrated that He was in control.  We received a call from my niece, Colleen, who lives with her family in Cairo, Egypt.  She had heard through the family "grapevine" that we would need to secure a temporary place to stay while we were in Detroit.  She and her husband had purchased a home which "just happened" to be 30 minutes away from the Karmonos Cancer Center and we were welcomed to stay there.  As this blog entry is being written we are staying in their house.  And a beautiful home this is.  God not only provided, but He added extra blessings to His provision.  Thank you, LORD!

Tomorrow, Thursday, we return to the Karmonos Center and I pick up two prescriptions which I will take in preparation for my stem cell transplant.  Unfortunately, these drugs are not administered orally.  Rather, they enter my body via a needle.  Yep, an injection; a shot.  And administered by whom?  You guessed correctly...ME!  Since you are on a roll, would you like to "hazard" a guess as to how many injections per day?  I'll save you a "shot in the dark" and reveal the number...SIX!  That's right...three in the morning and three at night.  These injections are two of Neupogen and one of Lovenox.  Neupogen is the drug administered to "attract" my stem cells out of my bone marrow into my blood stream.  The Lovenox is a replacement for my Coumadin pills.  All the shots work best if administered into my stomach.  I have given myself Lovenox injections before so turning my stomach into a pin cushion will not be a new experience.

I'll be able to return home after picking up the prescriptions and return to Karmonos on Monday, June 4th for the purpose of pheresis, the procedure of extracting my stem cells from my bloodstream via a special machine.  The process is not unlike the plasma pheresis which I underwent at St. Mary's Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids at the beginning of this whole God-led journey.  However, this time rather than employing a vascular catheter, the veins in each arm will be used necessitating the extension of both arms for the duration of the procedure...4 to 6 hours.  This means that knitting, playing cards, eating a meal are out of the question.   However, I can watch TV or view a DVD or listen to an audio book and talk to Greg to pass the time.  Shortly after the conclusion of the process I'll be told if enough stem cells have been harvested.  If not, the procedure will be repeated the next day.  And, if necessary, a third day.  But no more than that.  Normally,  one 4 to 6 hour sitting is sufficient.  We can then return home for a few days returning the 11th to meet with Dr. "V" again followed by two days of chemo and IV infusions and then admission to the hospital for the transplant.

The really good news in all this is that my stay in the hospital will only be two weeks-roughly through the 28th of June and then I'll be discharged to go home.  That's right - HOME!  No need to hang around town for another two weeks.  I'll just have to take common sense precautions to prevent unwanted exposure to potential infection causing agents.  Furthermore, Dr. "V" said that as long as Jeff, Joyellen, and the kids were healthy, he saw no reason for me not going to meet them at the airport in Chicago when they arrive home from Kenya for their year long home assignment.  And I could start my re-immunization process after 6 months, not the 12 months we had been told by others.  Re-immunization must occur because the chemo used in the stem cell process destroys my immune system including all the immunizations I have ever had.

The first part of my journey with God had been a blessing and a learning experience.  From an initial response of "Why me?" to the present admonition of "Lead me LORD and I will follow",  He has been faithful and loving throughout Phase I.  Should I expect anything less during Phase II?  I have learned to "Commit 'my' way to LORD".  (Psalm 37:5)  A devotional I read during May of this year said the the word "commit" means "to roll".  Bible teacher Herbert Lockyear, Sr. has said, quote:  "'Roll thy way upon the Lord,' as one who lays upon the shoulders of one stronger than himself a burden which he is not able to bear.'"  Verse 5 additionally says to "Trust also in Him." This I have done and intend to continue.  As I enter Phase II of my journey, I'm reminded of these words of Thiesen which appeared in one of my devotionals:

                                               As I walk along life's pathways,
                                               Though the way I cannot see,
                                               I shall follow in His footsteps,
                                               For He has a plan for me.

As the journey continues, join me for my next steps...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Phase I completed; Phase II begins

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Several weeks ago, Greg and I travelled to Detroit to meet with members of a stem cell transplant team at the Barbara Ann Karmonos Cancer Center.  We left at the "crack" of dawn in order to arrive for my 9:00 A.M. appointment.  The Center is currently in the process of remodeling and we met with staff members in a "state-of-the-art" second floor section that had just opened two weeks prior to our visit.  The floor above us housed all the doctors' offices and the two floors above that held all the research facilities.

The doctor assigned to my case is from Thailand.  His name is Voravit Ratanatharathorn.  (Don't even try.}  Just refer to him as Dr. "R".  He was a very friendly man with a good sense of humor.  He sympathized with my desire to have the stem cell transplant as soon as possible as our middle son and his family are scheduled to come home for a year from the missionary field in Kenya the middle of July.  Dr. "R" said,  "So you are thinking you'd like to be home before the 4th of July, yes?"  "Yes!"  I replied.  He thought such a plan was doable.  We left for home with a potential time frame in the minds of all.

I've now finished the 1st phase of my chemo treatments.  Five cycles of Velcade have been completed.  Velcade is a chemo drug that initially was introduced into a patient via IV (infusion).  Approximately nine months prior to my being diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, Velcade was "ok'd" to be given as a shot.
The shot form dramatically reduced one of the most common side effects of the drug - peripheral neuropathy.  This is namely a sense of numbness or tingling feeling in the arms, legs, feet, and fingers.  In conjunction with the Velcade, I also took a steroid called Dexamethasone.  Side effects of this drug include flushed and puffy cheeks and a jittery feeling in the hands and fingers.  I did not escape the infusion of a chemo drug, however.  Because of bothersome side effects suspected of being caused by Revlimid, I was put on Cytoxan.  This drug is infused, the IV drip taking one hour to complete.  The final drug of this first regimen was Zometa.  This chemical is designed to build up my bones.  Zometa is also infused, the drip taking half an hour and occurring once a month.

Currently, I'm going through the testing portion of the prelims leading to the stem cell transplant.  I've already had an echo-cardiogram, chest X-ray, and full bone scan (all the bones in my body are X-rayed.)  After getting approval from Delta Dental Insurance, I have had my teeth cleaned earlier than routinely scheduled.  This week I'm scheduled for a pulmonary test and an EKG.  And next week I'll have a bone marrow biopsy.  (That will be the only test that will hurt a bit.)

Received a call from the Karmonos Cancer Center yesterday.  I'm scheduled for a consultation with Dr. "R" to discuss my test results and make future plans.  This appointment is at noon so we won't have to get up so early to make the 3 hour drive.  I'm thinking positively and planning on this meeting leading to a scheduled transplant next month.  The procedure will require Greg and me to be in Detroit for about a month:  2 weeks at the Center and 2 weeks close-by to monitor the beginning stage of my recovery process.  God's hand is in this process as well.  Recently, we received a call from our niece in Cairo, Egypt.  Last year she and her husband purchased a house in the Detroit area 23 minutes from the Karmonos Cancer Center.  They were calling to tell us that we could stay at their house during the stem cell transplant recovery time.  Not only would this save us temporary lodging expenses, but also Priority Health Insurance would not have to pay for any of our living expenses.  That should make them happy.  :)

I have been praising God concerning how well the past three months have gone.  Despite all the toxic chemicals entering my body and doing their deadly work on the cancer, collateral damage has been minimal.  I've experienced relatively mild side-effects.  The most persistent residual effects of the chemo treatments have been headaches, eye problems, and neuropathy.  A call to my Oncologist, Dr. Alguire, concerning the neuropathy resulted in a prescription for Gabapentin which is routinely prescribed to treat peripheral neuropathy.  The neuropathy may never disappear 100%, but the nerve endings affected should improve now that the chemo is no longer entering my body.  I visited our Ophthalmologist regarding my eyes.  After examining them, he pronounced that I had "Chemo Eyes".  That is, the chemo has adversely affected my eyes which also resulted in the headaches.  As with the neuropathy, the "C.E.'s" will not go away 100% at this time.  But a prescription of Fluorometholone (eye drops) will alleviate the problem 80%.

As I look back over the last 3 months, I see God working in all things.  He has shown His love and faithfullness every step of the way.  Is this the path I would have chosen for myself?  Obviously, not.  But I am not in control of my life;  God is.  He knows and sees all from beginning to end.  For reasons totally unknown to me, He is leading me along this path for reasons only He knows.  This journey is part of His plan for my life.  I admit that obedience is not easy.  I am human.  I want some control, but I also know that God wants what is best for me.  I don't pretend to fully understand how what is currently happening to me is "best" for me, but I choose to trust God's leading.  As I pray daily;  read my Bible regularly;  and engage in devotional readings everyday, God communicates to me and provides me comfort and courage.  I also realize that prayers from family, friends, and people world wide have contributed greatly to this positive first phase of my journey.  To all of you known and unknown, I thank you will all my heart.  Please continue your prayers.

I conclude this entry with the following poem from one of my recent devotions:

                                        He does not lead me year by year,
                                        Nor even day by day.
                                        But step by step my path unfolds;
                                        My LORD directs my way.

My journey  Transplant plans.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

...side steps

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

My apologies to all for the tardiness of this new blog post.  However, the remaining days of the month of March have been quite an adventure.   God has allowed a lot of events into my life these past weeks to challenge my faith, question my resolve to trust Him in everything, and cause me to entertain thoughts regarding His wisdom concerning my life.

The side steps, as I will call them, began with me contracting a case of Shingles.  Shingles are related to the Chicken Pox, a childhood disease with which most of my readers are, I'm sure, well acquainted.  However, when an adult experiences this Chicken Pox relative, the results are not good.  Shingles can be very painful; encircle the body; and appear in the most awkward and embarrassing locations upon the human anatomy.  Fortunately, or should I say through God's providence, Greg and I had the Shingles vaccine some years ago.  Now, this shot does not prevent one from getting Shingles, but the vaccination does limit the disease's impact and scope.  So I experienced no pain, just minor itching and physical evidence of the Shingles was restricted to a couple small spots in the middle of my lower back.  I thought contacting my Oncologist would be a prudent act, so I did.

I was prescribed an antibiotic to combat the Shingles and proceeded to take the first dose before going to bed.  During the night I developed "the mother" of all headaches.  I don't believe I have ever experienced a more throbbing, continuous pain in my head.  "Migraine" would not be an accurate, descriptive term for the hurt I was having.  I got up in the morning; put a cool wash cloth on my forehead; and lay down on the couch with my eyes closed.  I also made an executive decision.  I would take no more of the antibiotic pills.  My Shingles were minor compared to this headache and if the pills were causing the head pain, I would willingly take my chances and fight the Shingles without assistance from the antibiotic.

The headache gradually dissipated during the day and I was finally able to formulate coherent thoughts unaccompanied by pain.   As the next day I was scheduled for routine lab tests and a scheduled visit with my Oncologist, I determined to mention the disturbing side effect of the prescribed antibiotic.  During my appointment, I dutifully described the agonizing head pain I had experienced upon taking the antibiotic employing appropriate facial expressions calculated to demonstrate the "on a scale of one to ten, my pain being 12" level of discomfort I had endured.   With a "I feel your pain" look of sympathy, my Oncologist prescribed another antibiotic which I took that night and awoke the next morning with a...RASH!!

My body was peppered with red, somewhat itchy, splotches from the waist up.  I looked in the mirror and patiently waited for the boils to appear.  I had read the book of Job.  When this whole journey had begun, I resolved to trust God and faithfully rest in His wisdom.  I turned over complete control of the situation to Him.  Now, as I watched my face join the rest of my upper body in a red glow, I wondered if, perhaps, I should quietly regain control of my life for just a little while; at least until this current situation cleared up.  I wrestled with this control issue for a while.  Finally, I decided to leave everything in God's hands.  Everything, that is, except the new antibiotic.  I made another executive decision to quit taking the new pills for the Shingles.  After all, hadn't God directed Greg and me to get the Shingles vaccine?  He knew then that what was happening now would occur.  Obviously, He knew the vaccine would work.  And hadn't I decided to trust in His wisdom?  So, no more antibiotic.  The vaccine would do its job.

A few days later as my faith was being confirmed by the lessening of the Shingles, I noticed that my right ankle was a bit swollen.  Again, by God's timing, I had another routine lab appointment scheduled for the next day during which I mentioned the swollen ankle to my Infusionist, Jan.  She informed my Oncologist of this new development.  I was subsequently informed to go across the parking lot to the hospital where personel in the "Imaging Lab" would be waiting to conduct an ultrasound of my leg and ankle.  Greg drove over and dropped me off at the appropriate entrance and then parked the car.  Together we found our way to the imaging lab.  I registered and soon was escorted back for an ultrasound.  Imagine Greg's surprise when I returned to the waiting a wheelchair.  Seems the ultrasound had detected a blood clot behind my right knee and down the back of my right leg.  Another drug was now added to my regiment - Coumadin.

As of this posting, I'm still on the Coumadin. My ankle has returned to normal. The Shingles have healed.  The rash is gone completely.  My faith, trust, and belief in God's wisdom are still strong and intact.  No trip is without its surprises, dangers, and side adventures.  My journey is no exception.  Yet, throughout this odyssey I am reminded of I Thessalonians 5: 16 - 18  "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

In my next posting, I will talk about our trip to Detroit in preparation for a Stem Cell transplant.  Until then, my journey continues...