Day 1,214

I haven’t written here in a while, and Amy’s been getting on me about putting up a post to give folks an update. So, this is that, plus a random thought or two.

For those who haven’t heard, my final bone marrow biopsy came back clean. I remain in remission with no sign of leukemia anywhere to be found. This is obviously the news we were hoping for, and although it was expected, it still brought us great joy. I’m done with treatment, and am now simply being monitored instead. I go in for check-ups every six weeks, which is a far better schedule than the twice-weekly trips to the clinic I had to maintain previously. With chemo behind us, my immune system has returned to normal, and we’ve been taken off all the restrictions that the disease placed us under for the last six months.

Since the clean biopsy came back, we’ve resumed lives that resemble what we were doing before the cancer showed up – working on the house, spending time with friends, trying new foods, and planning some travels around the country. It’s been fun to be “normal” again. In fact, part of the reason that I haven’t written here is that my life hasn’t been all that exciting the last few weeks. Not exciting is actually pretty great for us.

But, at the same time, our life hasn’t completely gone back to what it was pre-cancer. As much as we’re focused on living out the rest of our lives with the belief that the leukemia will not return, the specter of that possibility looms. I know that it can sound like a lack of faith to acknowledge the potential for the cancer to return, but I don’t equate faith with burying our heads in the sand. And so, for now, we struggle to reconcile our belief for healing with the understanding that this journey is not yet over, and it is possible that at some point in the next five years, the leukemia could return. We don’t believe it will, but we also know that faith is not a bulletproof vest. Faith in a loving, healing savior does not exclude us from mortality, nor does it ensure that we will never suffer hardship. Indeed, perhaps no two men in the Bible suffered more than Job and Jesus – the former was said to be “blameless” and “upright”, while the other was the sinless son of God. Both tasted pain, suffering, and death. Despite my faith in a God who is for me and hates cancer more than any of us, I cannot sit here and say that I know for a fact that it won’t return.

But I can say what Job said – “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him.”

If the leukemia comes back, I will trust in his goodness. If it doesn’t, I will trust in his goodness. My belief in the love of my Father for me is simply not connected to my medical situation. Or any circumstance. There is nothing that can happen to me here on earth that will sway me from my conviction that He is undeniably and completely for me. My faith is not in his ability to heal, but in his never-ending love for me as his son.

I’ve struggled the last few weeks with the idea of promises, because I don’t feel like I have a concrete guarantee from the Lord that this battle is over. I have faith that it is, and I am living my life with the expectation of not dying any time soon, but I can’t say that I know that for a fact. In fact, what I’ve found in scripture is the suggestion that I not spend too much time trying to figure out what the future has.

Matthew 6:34 – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.”

The last 10 verses of Matthew 6 are essentially an exhortation to believe in the Lord’s provision and a reminder that we simply are not in control of what the future brings. I’m not in control of whether or not the leukemia comes back. I’m not in control over how long I’m going to live. I am, however, in control of how I spend the days I do have, and I’ve chosen to live them in faith, believing in the goodness of my savior.

What does that look like practically? A lot like my life pre-cancer, but just with a bit more conviction. So, for 2012 (and hopefully beyond), Amy and I are going to live our lives to the fullest. We’re going skiing in Colorado in a few weeks, and then we’re traveling to Maryland to spend time with friends and family. In March, I’m going to spend 10 days in Arizona hanging out with my coworkers and watching a lot of baseball. And, during the times when we are home, we’ll be investing in people, building relationships, and making sure that we enjoy every day. Despite the seemingly ever-present shadow of leukemia’s potential return, we do not have to live under that shadow – we will simply live next to it, not letting it affect our faith or our decisions.

Psalm 23:5 – “You prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemy.”

This is our life now. We have a present enemy, and for the next few years, we know that he’s going to continually offer us the opportunity to be afraid, to worry, to have anxiety about the future. And yet, in his presence, we have the opportunity to dine with the creator. This is what we’re going to choose to do. The enemy can sit there and watch us enjoy the presence of our father. He can’t take that from us, even with his cloud of what-ifs hanging around.

The next verse, by the way:

Psalm 23:6 – “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I’m hoping my life has a lot more days. I’m planning on living a long time. But, no matter how many days I have, they will all be filled with goodness and lovingkindness. That’s a promise I am standing on.

So, onward we go to make the most of what we have, even if we don’t know exactly what that is. As part of our journey, Amy and I (joined by four of her co-workers and one of their husbands) have decided to join with Team in Training, a fundraising arm of the Leuekemia and Lymphoma Society. The seven of us have formed “Team Dave”, and will be participating in The Flying Pig marathon (or, in our case, half-marathon – I don’t even like driving 26 miles) in May. Our fundraising goal as a team is to raise just over $16,000 for blood cancer research. The advances in medicine over the last fifty years are staggering, and are directly responsible for me still being alive and able to write this post. But, there is more to be done and a cure to be found, and so the seven of us are running for the cause. If you would like to support us, you can follow the link to Team Dave and donate through the website – LLS will send you a receipt that you can use for a tax deduction, but more importantly, you may very well help save someone’s life. Those who have given to this research before us have a hand in keeping me alive, and I’m eternally grateful for everyone who has contributed to removing leukemia’s ability to act as a death sentence. I am proud to now be joined by six amazing people who will also sacrifice their time and energy to help ensure that the grip of blood cancer on future generations is weakened even further. I’m not interested in manipulating you out of your money, so I’ll just say this – your donations will save lives. There are few better ways to use our money than to help others in need, and money for research is a need. Consider giving and consider joining with the Team in Training in your area to help raise funds for a cure.

Thank you all for your tremendous support over the last six months. It has meant the world to Amy and I, and we can’t express our gratitude enough. We look forward to thanking many of you in person over the coming years.

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Day 1,192

The day of Dave’s last bone marrow biopsy is quickly approaching, and although I expect the results to reveal that the cancer is gone, there remains an unsettled feeling, a lingering nugget of fear. I spend my days working with cancer patients, but everything is different when that cancer patient is none other than your husband – the man you love. I have been struggling with the remaining question of how we are to live going forward. Often my patients come in with terrible anxiety, stricken with fear of their cancer returning, and at times with the risk of the cancer coming back being so small that compassion fails me. Yet, in this moment I have a new understanding. How do you go on living life after you have just lived in the face of death and have overcame? How do you plan for the future when the future is not promised? But then I think, is the future ever really promised here on earth? Accidents happen every day. Lives can be here today and gone tomorrow. Every day is a gift.

The past cannot be re-lived. The future is unknown. In my questioning, my answer comes in a simple reminder that the weapon to overcome is living in the present. What does today hold? Mystery. The depth of the love of God that I have not yet fully understood. Grace. Promise. And for Dave and I, snuggles on the couch, exploring new flavors in the kitchen, doing small projects around our beautiful home – adding the finishing touches. Laughing until it hurts with great friends when we are overtired on a Saturday night. Worshiping with every breath this God who has graciously given us life.

I believe there will be a tomorrow, but today, I will embrace today.

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Day 1,175

I’ll be home for Christmas. Actually, I’m home now, as we got released this morning. Thanks for all the prayers and well-wishes.

The bone marrow biopsy is scheduled for January 10th. So, we’re about two weeks away from being done with the treatment part of this process. Looking forward to having it behind me…

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Day 1,172

Our week of excitement continues. No, I didn’t pass out again, but on Saturday night, I did manage the combination of getting really cold and spiking a fever very quickly – symptoms that require admission to the hospital for further evaluation, as they can be signs of an infection that could lead to serious complications. So, just a few minutes after it officially became Sunday, we packed up our stuff and headed back to The Resort at Wake Forest Baptist.

After an overly long admission process – why, exactly, is it important to confirm the correct mailing address for my emergency contact? Are you going to let them know there’s something wrong with a telegram? Shouldn’t the words “emergency contact” rule out the postal system as a means of communication to begin with? – we made our way up to Ardmore tower. And then the sticking began. Two needles to the chest to access my portacath, then a needle in each arm to draw peripheral blood samples to confirm that the infection isn’t from the portacath itself. When combined with the clinic visits on Tuesday and Friday and the ER trip on Thursday, that brought my total count to seven needle sticks in six days. Needless to say, I’m ready to be done with people shoving sharp objects into my skin.

The fever finally broke mid-morning on Sunday, and thankfully has stayed away over the last 24 hours or so. Unfortunately, the blood draws showed that my immune system is still on vacation, and my blood cell counts haven’t started to climb at all. We’re now on Day 21 since I began my last round of chemo, and my counts have usually recovered by Day 22 or so, but it looks like they’re going to be slower to come back this time around. The general plan sounds like it may be to keep me here until my neutorphil count reaches 500, meaning I’d have enough infection fighters to keep any future fevers at bay, but that timeframe might keep me here the rest of the week, and potentially even leave me in the hospital through Christmas. Needless to say, that’s not really my preferred option, so I’m going to ask them to take my desires into consideration and send me home in the next few days. My argument is that they were okay with me being at home with no neutrophils last week, so they should be okay with that same situation this week. We live close enough to the hospital where we can always come back if another fever sets in. We’ll see if logic and reason can overcome the medical proclivity to never take any risks, however.

So, that’s basically the story from here. I’m going to attempt to talk my way out of here soon, but unless I can channel my inner car salesman, I’m probably stuck back in the hospital for a little while.

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Day 1,169

Whack! Thud! Bang! “Oh $!*&”. That was the soundtrack being played at 3:30 in the morning yesterday at Haus Cameron, as I decided that our life needed a little extra excitement. The solution to our boredom? Pass out, hit the hardwoods with a loud crash, and then act unresponsive as Amy tries to wake me back up. Okay, so it wasn’t really acting, and I can’t say too much more about what happened because I legitimately don’t remember anything between hitting the ground the first time and when Amy said she caught me on my second fall after I tried to get up, telling her the whole time that I was okay.

She understandably didn’t take my word for it and decided to call 911. A few minutes later, EMS rolled up and determined that it was unlikely that I had suffered a seizure (Amy’s first concern), but since I couldn’t say for sure whether I hit my head when I fell or not, it was probably in our best interests to go to the ER and get a CT scan of my head. See, when you have no platelets, your blood is unable to clot, so even the smallest cut or bruise can cause significant blood flow, and blood flowing into the brain is not something you really want. Thankfully, the test results showed no reason to be concerned, and as best as I can remember, I landed on my shoulder.

So, the whole event ended up being a lot like Las Vegas – all flash and no substance. We’ve run through a battery of tests the last few days, and all seems to be pretty well at this point. Wednesday’s fever is gone, and besides some sniffles and a dry cough, I feel better than I did earlier in the week. Today’s blood cell count revealed that my neutrophils have gone from 0 to 30 in the last 24 hours (normal is ~1,500, for context), so hopefully by early next week I’ll have enough of those guys to fight off further infections and stay on my feet.

We did get some good news today, however, as Dr. Powell informed us that we’re nearly finished with this twice-weekly check-up schedule. Once my counts return next week, they’ll give me a couple of weeks away from the clinic, and then bring me in for a final bone marrow biopsy in early January. Assuming that one comes back clean, then we’ll go into maintenance scheduling, with visits only required once every 4-6 weeks to confirm that the leukemia hasn’t returned.

As long as I can stay on my feet and not put any more scares into Amy, we’re getting close to being able to live a semi-normal life again. We still have a few years before we can really say that this journey is likely behind us, but we’ve made it through most of the challenging parts of this tunnel, and there is light up ahead. It’s just a really long tunnel.

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Day 1,157

Medical update: So I am sitting in Dave’s hospital room and they just took down his last chemotherapy bag! WOOOOHOOOO!!! He is a trooper. His counts will drop in about 7 days (when we pray he doesn’t get an infection) and once they recover he will have a repeat bone marrow biopsy. If his bone marrow biopsy confirms that he is still in remission then we just move into surveillance mode.

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Day 1,147

And so I’ve now finished 30 years of life. This past one probably won’t go down as my favorite year ever, but it was the year in which I learned conclusively that I have the best friends and family anyone could ever ask for. That doesn’t even begin to tell the story, actually. Ephesians 3:20 probably sums it up the best:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

More than we can ask or imagine. If I had to describe the last year of my life, I don’t think I could pick a more appropriate phrase. Getting cancer at age 30 isn’t something I ever imagined (and certainly didn’t ask for), but that’s not the thing that stands out as exceptionally above and beyond what was reasonable to expect – the remarkable outpouring of love from all of you, that’s what is more than what I could have asked for or imagined.

I’ve jokingly referred to myself as the world’s luckiest cancer patient, but I could say it with a straight face too. I look around at the people in my life and am amazed at the quality of individuals with which I’ve been lucky enough to associate. I have truly amazing friends, and have learned this year just how deep their friendship actually is. I have a family that can only be described as eclectic but is also fantastic and have brightened many days with their kind words. I have a job that lets me wander downstairs in a pair of shorts and write about something I’m passionate about, and a boss whose generosity apparently knows no bounds. I have a wife who is so amazing that attempting to write about how great she is would require the innovation of new words, because the current ones simply aren’t adequate for the job.

I’m typing this on a beautiful new couch that we were able to find at a massive discount (to the surprise of absolutely no one, I’m sure), staring at this ridiculous house we stumbled into, and knowing that when I wake up in the morning, I have a day of celebration to look forward to. But, really, every day is now a celebration, because I’ve come to realize that even getting cancer has only served to make my life better. Everything really does work together for our good, even annoying things like leukemia.

My official stance on my 31st birthday is that it’s not a big deal, because I’m planning on having a bunch more of these. But, I’d be lying if I said this one won’t be special, because this is the one where I get to say thanks to everyone who has made me realize just how lucky I am. To all of you, my deepest thanks. You are all the gift that I received this year, and I couldn’t have asked for a better present.

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Day 1,132

Since it has been a few weeks since we last posted, we have a few medical updates for you. Dave’s last round of chemotherapy went well, two hour eye drops and all. He didn’t find much time to blog during his inpatient stay, as he was focused on baseball and trying to get some sleep. His hospital stay was followed by a week long visit from his brother, which was great fun. The only other time I have gotten to meet him was the week of our wedding, so it was nice to get to spend some time with my brother-in-law. While Jeremy was in town we also were blessed with a visit from Dave’s Aunt Daisy, Uncle Bo, and Aunt Mary which led to a night filled with laughter, great company, and great food. I must say I knew I was getting an amazing husband when I married Dave, but I didn’t realize I was going to inherit an amazing family as well.

We have now successfully made it through Dave’s house arrest when his counts drop and his risk of infection is high. We stayed out of the hospital and his counts recovered nicely, leukemia free, and he now has 3 weeks of freedom before his last and final round of treatment. And another piece of good news came today when Dave had a repeat CT scan of his lungs to monitor the fungal pneumonia- final report: near complete resolution! Woohoo.

We are so close to being finished now that I feel like I can see the finish line. It is still a distance away but within view, and even though we are weary there is an excitement to finish this part of the journey strong. We know it is not the end of the race, but it is the end of this chapter of the journey. Next year will bring lots of trips to the Cancer Center for blood work and monitoring but we are at peace that the Lord is always going to be for us no matter what life throws at us and we are standing in faith that this remission will be permanent.

My heart is full!

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Day 1,103

Today brings round three of chemotherapy treatments, and boy am I excited about it. Okay, you’re right, I’m not excited about it at all. I’ll get my first treatment tonight at 9 pm, which is also when the every-two-hour eyedrops begin again. Man, are those awesome. I sympathize greatly with all women who have had to get up every couple of hours to tend to their newborns, though at least you have something (usually) adorable to hold – I just get a nurse of varying degrees of attractiveness, and if I tried to hold him/her, I’d likely get arrested and have an angry wife to deal with.

The one upside to this hospital stay is that there’s supposed to be a decent amount of baseball for me to watch. Unfortunately, the Texas Rangers are threatening to end the American League Championship Series pretty quickly, so I’m going to need Detroit to buck up and make this thing go six or seven games. If Texas wins today and tomorrow, I’ll be stuck watching Golden Girls. Go Tigers.

In other news, my brother is making a trip out to North Carolina next week, and it will be fun having him around. His only previous trip to Winston was for our wedding, so we might just ask a bunch of you to rent tuxedos and come hang out in order to make him feel comfortable. I’ll have to run that by Amy first, though – don’t show up uninvited in a tuxedo until you get the okay.

I’ll close with a quick hair update. It’s kind-of sort-of growing back, and it’s now reached the “13-year-old’s mustache” level of thickness, but there’s enough there that I was able to convince Amy that I don’t look so horrible that she needs to shave it off immediately. We’re going to try and power through and hope it starts growing out a bit thicker as we go forward, though we’ve also been told that this chemotherapy regimen will probably slow it down. If that does happen, my guess is that Amy will eventually break down and demand that we shave it back to nothingness. She’s started to like the no-hair look, but she’s not such a big fan of this in-between stage. Thankfully, I have my winning personality to fall back on during these times when my ravishing good looks fail me.

More delirious sleep-deprived writing coming tomorrow. I can feel your excitement growing from here.

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Day 1,094

Medical update: I’m still in remission.

Now that we got that out of the way, I want to ramble for a little bit. A few weeks ago, someone sent me a message, noting that they were inspired by the courage I was showing through this whole ordeal. Since then, I’ve been pondering what that word really means. To me, courage has always been something of an action, generally performed in a life threatening situation. A soldier charging into an open field to rescue his friend who is taking fire – that’s courage. Police and firemen going into the World Trade towers to rescue as many people as they could – that was courage. Put simply, I’ve always believed that courage basically equated to risking your life to save someone else’s.

In reality, though, that’s more like heroism. And this person didn’t remark about how they were inspired by my heroic acts (spoiler alert: I haven’t done any), but instead how they were inspired by my courage. My natural reaction was to just defer, to point out that I hadn’t actually done anything courageous, but then I realized that I probably didn’t have a strong objection to their compliment when I didn’t even really understand what the word meant.

So, I’ve been thinking about courage – what it is, what it looks like, and whether I’ve actually shown any. And then this morning, it hit me; courage is a mentality, not an action. Seriously, here’s the definition of the word from Merriam-Webster:

Courage, noun: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

The actions that we generally consider courageous are simply evidence of a decision that was already made in advance. Those actions aren’t courage, but instead, the natural result of someone who possesses courage being put into that situation. They already had courage – the dangerous or difficult situation just gave us all a stage in which to see what was already inside of them.

This revelation helped me understand why someone could genuinely be inspired by “my courage” when, in reality, I haven’t really done anything. In my specific situation, I got a crappy medical diagnosis, cried for a bit, and then went on with my life. Besides the semi-weekly trips to the hospital and the wonderful medicines I’m inhaling, I’m not doing anything different now than I was prior to acquiring leukemia. But, in that normalcy, there is evidence of courage. I’m not trying to extoll my own virtues here, but look back at that dictionary definition of the courage again – mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Amy and I made the decision to persevere through a difficult season, and while we might not have been getting shot at, Merriam-Webster tells us that was evidence of courage.

Seeing courage this way was actually pretty freeing. I’ve often wondered how I would respond if I was put into a stressful situation where critical decisions had to be made quickly – I’m more of a sit back and analyze everything kind of guy – and yet, I wanted to be a person who would have courage when necessary. But, now, I’m realizing that courage isn’t a spontaneous decision to put your life on the line, but instead, it’s simply setting in your mind that, no matter what comes at you, you will keep putting one foot in front of the other.

That’s all Amy and I have done. From even before the diagnosis, we had determined that our circumstances wouldn’t stop us from advancing forward. They might change our path, but we were never going to give up on our hopes and dreams, regardless of what life threw our way. Before today, I wouldn’t have considered that courage, but I’m realizing that it is, and that we’re all owners of courage.

If you got out of bed today, you have courage. If you have kept living when life got hard, you have courage. If you have refused to give into fear, you have courage. We all have courage inside of us, and we activate it by putting one foot in front of the other. Do that enough times, and you’ll be amazed where you end up.

And now, seeing it in this light, it is I who am inspired. I can say with confidence that I have courage – and so do you.

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