Monday, February 20, 2012

Prayer - walking & talking with God

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

Since my journey began, prayer has played an important role in my life.  Not that my prayer life was unimportant before, but now my communication with God involves more time and more people; people literally around the world.

Prayer is a sign of how much energy one has for God and the energy one has for God is one way to measure how much one knows God.  Knowing God for a Christian is a life-long study and continues for eternity.  And prayer is one way to get to know God better.  In fact, our prayer life and what goes on in our hearts is the measure of our knowledge or lack thereof of God.

As mentioned previously, talking with God (prayer) has understandably increased in recent weeks and my relationship with Him has grown as well.  I have learned that He wants me to rely upon Him more and more and less and less upon myself.  In fact, He has brought me face to face with a fact that most Christians know intellectually, but, if truth be known, many have not put into actual practice in their daily lives, namely, that He, God, is in complete control of everything in and about our lives and the sooner we admit this and turn over complete control of our lives to Him, the better off and happier we will be.

God wants what is best for us and knows better what is best for us now and in the future because He knew us before we were even formed and possesses total knowledge of the future.  He is Omniscient.   He can see around the corners of our lives - we can't.  We are foolish to think we are in control when we don't even know what will happen in the next second let alone next hour, day, week, month, etc.  I certainly didn't see my current situation coming, but God did and had certain events and people lined up to take particular actions at specified times which resulted in the cancer being caught early and appropriate treatment being started.

People have been very faithful in their intercessory prayers for me for which I am most thankful.  Especially comforting has been the number of people praying and their locations.  My local church, Mona Shores Baptist Church, is praying for me daily as are friends and relatives.  Via social media, churches in other venues are praying for me as well.  One such example is Blythefield Baptist Church in Rockford, Michigan which is the sending church of our middle son, Jeff, and his family who are missionaries at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, East Africa.  Other RVA missionaries and staff whom we met while visiting and teaching there are praying also.

One particular prayer group bears mention.  Relatively recently, our missionary son, Jeff, brought to our attention that the mother of one of the Kenyan nationals employed at RVA needed a kidney transplant.  While teaching at RVA, my husband, Greg, and I had met this woman's son whose name was also Geoffrey (obviously, different spelling).  Our church's Mission Team became involved because Greg is the Deacon of Missions.  The church and specific members of the congregation donated money toward the transplant surgery and flight to South Africa where the surgery took place.  In addition, prayers were said for Geoffrey's mom.  I am pleased to say that the surgery was successful and Geoffrey's mother is home in Kenya recovery nicely.  Praise God!   As a result of this contact, Geoffrey, his family, and his church are now praying for me.  God brings Christians from around the world closer together through prayer.

And is prayer working, some might ask?  Allow me to share my recent visit to the Nephrologist and subsequent blood test results and you be the judge.   The Nephrologist whom I first met here in Muskegon where my journey began wanted to see me and go over recent tests concerning my kidneys. I had been praying that the results would be good.  In fact, I talked with God about my kidneys returning to norm functioning status.  The Nephrologist told Greg and me that my test results were very good.  My Creatine level which measures the amount of proteins in my kidneys had fallen from a high of 7.8 (signifying my kidneys were only functions at 5%) to 2.0 which was close to normal.  I commented to him that by the next time he saw me, my Creatine would be down to normal.  He responded that my kidneys may never be down to normal again, but could remain at their current level of functioning which would be ok.  We made an appointment to see him on April 9.

The next day I was due for a routine blood test to monitor all kinds of chemical levels in my blood.  The test was in the morning.  A copy of the results was supplied to me in the afternoon.  The Creatine level had...FALLEN!  Fallen to 1.6.   Normal range is 0.7 - 1.4.  Thank you, God!  The test indicated that the BUN (blood, urea, nitrogen) level in my kidneys had fallen from a high of 30 to 24.  Normal BUN range is 8 - 21.  Approaching normal there as well, Praise the LORD!  Needless to say God and I are still discussing my kidney functioning.

What important lesson can one learn from this experience?  Allow me to quote from an article  in WORLD Magazine, February 2012 issue, written by Andree Seu:  "I can do nothing to direct my path or to ensure my own well-being or prosperity or happiness, because I cannot see around corners;  therefore, I will obey the Holy Spirit all my life."

Until next time, my journey continues...



"I can do nothing to direct my path or to ensure my own well-being or prosperity or happiness, because I cannot see around corners;
therefore, I will obey the Holy Spirit all my life."

Monday, February 13, 2012

God, let's talk...

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

Choices.  We make choices everyday:  when to get up;  what to wear;  where to eat breakfast;   who to see;  how to respond to situations that confront us.  Situations such as sudden illness.  Illness such as cancer;  the big "C".  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  (Psa. 22:1)  That is one reaction a person could choose when confronted with a "bummer" disease diagnosis.  But would that be a fair choice?  Has one really been forsaken by God when something unfortunate happens?  After all as the ancients stated,  "We live in a fallen world."  As my husband has often said,  "God never promised us a rose garden."  Being a Christian is no "slam dunk" guarantee that bad things will not happen to good people.

My choice of responses to this surprise crisis of health was to turn toward God rather than away.  After all, long before I became a Christian, God ..."formed my inward parts;...(He) wove me in my mother's womb....I (was) fearfully and wonderfully made; frame was not hidden from (Him)...(His) eyes (saw) my unformed substance;...And in (His) book were all written the days that were ordained for me.  When as yet there was not one of them."  (Psa. 139: 13-16)  Imagine!  Before any of my days even began, God knew the very day I would be diagnosed with cancer.  He knew!  He knew!  Would he forsake me now?  When I became a Christian;  when I turned over my life to Him,  I trusted my eternal soul to Him.  To quote David Roper, "can (I) not entrust (my) present circumstances to Him?"  Yes!!!
"...those wait for the LORD Will gain new strength;  They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary."  (Isa. 40: 31)

As I think back on the days and weeks before my cancer diagnosis, God had actually prepared me for the day, although I was not aware of His preparations.  In August of 2010, while the Sunday school classes took the month off, several of us met during the Sunday school hour to memorize Psalm 19.
The class was led by Chris Clor, a devout Christian lady, who issued a challenge to us in the church to come together for 4 weeks and memorize God's word.  By "arranging" for me to learn this Psalm by heart God was "setting the stage" for an upcoming scene in my life.  This Psalm reminded me that everyday God is active in our world and in our lives.  "The heavens are telling of the glory of God;  And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands."  (Psa. 19:1)   Then God further evoked important and compelling characteristics of His:  "The law of the LORD is perfect,...;  The testimony of the LORD is sure,...;  The precepts of the LORD are right,...;  The commandment of the LORD is pure,...The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;  The judgments of the LORD are true;..."  (Psa. 19:7-9)  And God concluded the Psalm by encouraging me that He, my LORD, was "my rock and my Redeemer."  (Psa. 19:14)

Several days prior to my hospitalization, God spoke to our visitation pastor, Pastor Andy, and directed him to preach concerning Psalm 139.  Pastor Andy using this Psalm for his sermon topic was no coincidence.  God wanted to reinforce in my heart and mind three of His attributes that I now know are critical to our relationship during these times.   Pastor Andy emphasised God's Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence.  My LORD wanted to remind me that He has perfect knowledge of all things past, present, and future.  That He is everywhere, always.  And He is all powerful;  He created everyone.  God reminded me that " (His) hand will lead me, And (His) right hand will lay hold of me."  (Psa. 139:10)

And finally, to further help me grow closer to Him and fully realize that He is in total of control of my situation,  God guided a committee in our church to decide that our Sunday morning adult bible class should study Chip Ingram's book, God as He longs for you to see Him.  The purpose of the course is to better understand "seven attributes of God: His goodness, sovereignty, holiness, wisdom, justice, love, and faithfulness.  (We'll) see God in a whole new light.  It will change the way (we) pray, the way (we) live, and the way (we) think about the world around (us)."  God wants me to gain deeper knowledge of Him so that I may have a better understanding of the "what" and the "why" of my current circumstances.  He wants me to know that He is on this journey with me.  He wants me to realize that "(He) is the one who goes ahead of (me);  He will be with (me).  He will not fail (me) or forsake (me)."  (Deut. 31:8)

I invite you to join me on this journey.  Come with me as God and I talk while He directs my steps.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Journey begins....

My journey began a couple weeks ago.  I had been ill with a stomach bug of some sort.  For about a week each day's main activity involved a couch, a blanket, and a couple pillows.  Our daughter-in-law in Hudsonville finally suggested I see our primary care physician to determine if I had something contagious.  I was scheduled to babysit for her and neither she nor her 3 daughters and our son had getting sick on their day planners.

Dr. Tweston-O'Toole, our PCP, suggested that I did have a stomach bug which was "going around".   But just to be sure there wasn't more, he ordered a full blood panel.  I returned from my appointment and resumed my daily position - prone on the couch under a blanket.

The next day, a Thursday, I felt better so I decided to see my sister in Grand Haven.  My husband, Greg, and I had just walked out the door on our way to the car when my cell phone rang at 12:20 p.m.  The caller was from Dr. Tweston-O'Toole's office.  Blood test results indicated my kidneys were only functioning at 10% capability and the Dr. wanted me to go to hospital emergency within two hours.  Of course that gave us enough time to visit my sister and get to emergency by 2:20 p.m.

Once in Mercy Hospital's emergency my life as I knew it began to change.  I was soon attached to a fluid bag and pole who would become my "best buddies" over the next seven days.   PA Tenbrink was the first of what soon was to be a list of 16 doctors and PA's to see me over the coming week.  He informed me that at the moment I was being treated for sever dehydration and that I was going to be admitted to the hospital at the very least overnight.  Over the next 5 hours ( remember this was emergency and I didn't have a knife sticking out of me) I saw a Nephrologist (kidney doctor), three Internal Medicine doctors, and one Emergency Medicine doctor.  Not to mention numerous RN's and Phlebotomists.  I was finally transferred to a room by 8:20 p.m.

Unfortunately, I was not able to get very comfortable.  Not just because my roommate happened to be a "groaner", but because so many hospital staff kept visiting my room for "vitals" and blood samples.  Fortunately, I was distracted from my discomfort by numerous visitors - family, friends, and pastor.  As evening came I attempted to get some sleep.  My slumber was interrupted  numerous times by the "groaner", "vitals", and blood sample takers who I really believe revealed fangs when they smiled.  (These visions may have been due to lack of sleep, however.)  Friday came with more visitors, doctors of Nephrology and Internal Medicine dropping by, and hospital staff performing their assorted tasks.  Greg was about to leave to sell basketball tickets at Muskegon High School for two evening games when Dr. Staniforth, a Nephrologist, came into my room to issue a startling revelation.

He revealed that the profusion of blood tests had revealed the cause for my kidney malfunction.  A proliferation of proteins in my blood stream had clogged my kidneys making them similar to a clogged oil filter.   The possible cause - Cancer- the big "C".  More specifically a blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma.  Dr. Staniforth was so sure of his suspicions that he had contacted a Pathologist to come to my room to conduct a bone marrow biopsy to determine if indeed I had Multiple Myeloma.   Before Dr. Shireman, the Pathologist, arrived to take a sample of my bone marrow, Dr. Katherine Alquire, Oncologist/Hemotologist, entered my room and announced that I would be transferred within the hour to St. Mary's Hospital, Lack's Cancer Center in Grand Rapids.  She had already contacted her partner there, Dr. Thomas Gribbin, and he had a room ready for me.

Events were unfolding at a dizzying pace.  As Greg and I were processing the declaration of possible cancer we were introduced to another medical process that would be performed on me at St. Mary's.  Since my kidneys were near failure mode due to the overabundance of proteins in my blood, the offending proteins had to be removed.  This would be accomplished through a process called Plasmpheresis in which my plasma is pumped through a machine which separates out the protein clogged plasma and replaces it with clean plasma.  The protein laden plasma is collected in a large, plastic bag and later burned in a biohazard incinerator.  The procedure would be done once a day for 5 days after which I could be discharged to go home and begin chemotherapy should the biopsy indicate what the doctors suspected - namely Multiple Myeloma.

The machine used for Plasmapheresis
As I was attempting to process this information overload, Dr. Shireman came in to perform the bone marrow biopsy in my room.  He explained in detail the precedure then deadened the needle entry point.  As he went deeper into my
left pelvic region, injecting anesthetic as he went, the bone was finally reached.  This, too, he deadened.  Then he began to push the needle into the bone.  I felt no pain, just a feeling of pressure as he pushed the biopsy needle deeper.  Soon he reached the bone and began to suction the bone marrow into the syringe.  At this point I experienced what to me felt like an electric shock as the suctioning process continued.  Soon the procedure was completed and my bone marrow was on the way for testing.  The results would be ready in about 4 days.  After the bone biopsy, I was informed that I would be transported to St. Mary's by ambulance within the hour.  While I was waiting, Greg and I decided that he would go home and come to see my Saturday in Grand Rapids.  He waited with me until the ambulance crew arrived to transport me to GR.  After I was wrapped cocoon-like in blankets and strapped onto the gurney, we bid adieu until the morrow.

The bottles contain the good plasma to put
back into my body.  The long, plastic bag
contains the bad protein laden plasma which
will later by destroyed.

The St. Mary's staff could not have been nicer upon my arrival.  They tucked me into bed and let me sleep uninterrupted for the night.  However, reality returned Saturday morning when Sherry came into my room to cheerfully arouse 5:30 in the morning!!!  Today would begin my Plasmapheresis treatments.  But not until I would have every bone in my body X-rayed.  Because ab-normal plasma cells called myeloma cells collect in the bone marrow, they may damage the solid part of the bone.  When myeloma cells gather in several bones, the disease is called Multiple Myeloma.  Hence, the X-rays to determine if this was the situation in my case.

Greg arrived at the hospital in the late morning and we strategized.  We decided the best course of action would be that he would return home that night to Muskegon and attend church Sunday morning.  He would then return to the hospital that afternoon with clothes and pajamas and spend the remaining days with me as my room had a hide-a-bed.  Actually, my room was quite nice; more like a good sized hotel room with couch, recliner, small round table with two chairs, flat screen TV on the wall, and bathroom with shower.  And no roommate! (Other than my husband).  Dr. Gribbin, Oncologist partner to Dr. Alguire, came to see me and further explained the Plasmapheresis procedure which I would undergo for the next five days, one hour per day.   The usual course of treatment was 1 to 5 days.  Dr. Gribbin felt that 5 days would do the trick for me and my kidneys would be back to functioning normally.  However, before I could begin my treatments, a vascular catheter would have to be inserted into the vein near my right neck to facilitate connection to the Apheresis machine.

This is the Vascular Catheter
I was taken to a lower floor of the hospital into a sterile environment where an Interventional Radiologist inserted the vath/cath.  Upon returning to my room, I rested the remainder of Saturday afternoon.  That evening I received my first Plasmapheresis treatment which lasted about 1 hour.  I was restricted to my bed, but other than that, I was free to do what I wanted such as eat, read, knit, watch TV, have visitors, etc.

After 2 days, Dr. Byron Slayton, a Nephrologist, came to my room to announce that my kidneys were responding positively to the treatments.  He believed that after 3 more treatments (3 days) I should be able to return home.  That was great news and helped relieve some of the anxiety I was experiencing.  I shared the positive prognosis with visitors and staff who came to see me.  We all celebrated!  Greg and I discovered that on the fifth floor (one above mine) there was a walking area.  My last two days at St. Mary's, we walked laps and even enjoyed some time in the sun outside in an open area on the 5th floor.

 In the picture at the left, I am not wearing plaster casts on my arms.  Rather both of my arms are wrapped in warm towels in an effort to bring my veins closer to the surface in order for the Phlebotomists to have an easier time drawing blood needed for the many monitoring tests during my Plasmapheresis.  My poor arms felt like pin cushions and my inner elbows were black and blue from all the poking and jabbing by needles.  But all the blood draws were necessary to determine if the Plasmapheresis sessions were working.  And they were!  Dr. Slayton visited two more times and each time said that he didn't have much to say which meant that he had good news and I should be released on Wednesday, six days after I had first been admitted at Mercy Hospital in Muskegon.  Greg and I smiled at this wonderful announcement and praised God.

In the meantime, Dr. Gribbin paid a visit on Tuesday to let us know that the bone marrow biopsy confirmed all the doctors' suspicions - I had Multiple Myeloma; not curable; but treatable.

 Pictured at right is one of my RN's, Jason, dressed in a "Hazmat" like suit with double gloves in preparation to give me my first chemotherapy injection.  This is the one time during my entire hospitalization that my anxiety level peaked at a high level.  When I asked Jason why he was dressed this way he responded because he was giving me a chemo shot and had to protect himself from getting the drug spilled on him.  I thought, "wait a minute!"  You are about to put this drug in me and yet this stuff is so "dangerous" that you have to wear a "Hazmat" type suit for the injection.  Greg later read on the internet that OHSA was responsible for Jason having to dress this way.  Since chemotherapy drugs kill human cells and can harm chromosomes, they are thus labeled "dangerous" drugs requiring those working with them to dress accordingly to protect themselves from harm.   I have since had additional injections here in Muskegon at the Johnson Family Cancer Center.  The lab staff there do not dress in "Hazmat" garb, but rather wear the normal white lab coats and use gloves when giving the injections.  Needless to say I am much more comfortable with my chemotherapy injections now.

I was released as planned on Wednesday afternoon, the first of February.  Greg and I stopped in Hudsonville to surprise our 3 granddaughters.  From there we traveled to my sister's house in Grand Haven and had coffee.  Returning home, we unpacked our belongings and settled down to catch our breath and begin to "debrief" ourselves concerning the life changing week we had just experienced.  In my next posting I'll discuss our interactions with God during this time.

Until then, I remain firmly "In His Grip".  Louise