Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: leukemia

Summer hibernation

Two weeks ago, we still occasionally ran the air conditioner to make the house comfortable. Now we use heaters in the morning to make it comfortable. We haven’t seen hummingbirds at our feeder for four days now. Blackbirds are gathering by the hundreds, sometimes perched all along the wires of the power lines. We hear a few sandhill cranes in the air as they fly down from their northern breeding areas. Combines can be heard from the grain fields all around us. The signs of the changing season are all around us.

Yet we are facing the coming of fall with more enthusiasm than we have for many years. You see, my wife had her last chemotherapy treatment just two days ago. Now the recovery can begin. The doctors have told us her leukemia has been beaten back, there are no remaining symptoms. All that remains is to recover from the drugs.

We went to Boston Pizza for dinner after her last treatment on Thursday, before the drugs began to distort her taste. She will have a few days of weariness, maybe a couple of weeks when things don’t taste right, some inflammation of the blood veins where the drugs were administered, plus the hidden danger of a weakened immune system.

Nevertheless, her energy level has increased towards the end of the last two cycles of treatment. She was going for two days of treatment at four-week intervals. She never felt seriously ill after the treatments, but the first two weeks after the treatments she did not have a lot of energy. Then the energy and enthusiasm would begin to increase up to the time of the next two days of treatments. Now there are no next treatments ahead of us.

It feels like we have spent spring and summer in hibernation. Now that fall and winter are ahead of us, we can wake up and learn to enjoy life once more. Rejoice with us!

Juggling jobs

I am getting old, I call myself semi-retired, but it seems that I have more demands on my time than ever before, and I’m not at all sure that I’m managing my time wisely.

I am a bookkeeper: A large part of my income is pension, but I still have five bookkeeping clients that I need to work for on a regular basis.

I am a member of the French editing committee of our church. This doesn’t take up a lot of time, but it is enjoyable and useful work. And I do get some payment for the time spent.

I am a writer: Besides this blog, and another one in French, I have other writing projects that are really important to me, but it is hard to find time for them.

I am a father and grandfather: At this stage that may mostly mean being a cheerleader. That means being there, paying attention. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of it.

I am a husband: My wife is going through chemo-therapy treatments for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I go with her to almost all her appointments. The treatments have worked, there are no more symptoms, but she still needs two more rounds of chem to keep it away as long as possible. Meanwhile, she needs a lot of rest and her resistance is low. One side benefit of the chemo is that it has pretty much eliminated her arthritis pain. I’m sure that is only temporary.

Monday was our 46th anniversary. To celebrate, I took her to our nearest town where one of the vets and her husband were doing a barbecue to raise money for their non-profit pet rescue organization. So we both had a hot dog, a can of pop and a cookie. I thought it was a good deal, Chris didn’t have to cook or do dishes and the money went to a good cause.

Yesterday we went out for a more formal meal at the Cave Restaurant in Saskatoon.

The sound of not so distant thunder

We are into the gloriously long days of a Saskatchewan summer, where the sun rises before 5:00 a.m. and doesn’t set until 9:30 p.m. Since we live on the flat, open prairie we have an extra three quarters of an hour of full daylight before sunrise and the same after sunset, giving us 18 hours of daylight. All living things thrive in a Saskatchewan summer – providing we get enough rain.

There has been sufficient rainfall this year, but not an abundance. It was time that a good shower would be refreshing, and the forecast has been promising rain for today. Earlier in the week there was mention of 30 – 45 mm. As the week went on that number diminished to 10 – 15. That would still have kept everything growthie and green, but we would have been hoping there would soon be another shower.

There were dark clouds rolling in this morning, with faint rumbles of distant thunder. At 9:00 the skies opened up and down came heavy rain, accompanied at first by pea-size hail. That first shower didn’t last long, but brought over 10 mm of rain. Some of my wife’s flowers look a little bedraggled from the hail, but no major damage was done and I expect they will look fine in a day or two.

The thunder and rain continued off and on for the remainder of the day. At one point, I was sitting here by the computer and I heard the snap of an electrical arc in the office, followed immediately by thunder outside. My wife was in the kitchen and heard the same sound in the living room, accompanied by a flash of light. Everything appears to be all right, but that is the closest we have been to a lightning strike for many years. We have had 23 mm so far and there may be a little yet to come.

Here on the flatlands we take the rain as it comes. God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. Sometimes we all have too much, sometimes not enough. People from elsewhere, and we have lived in many other places, may think this a harsh and barren land. Yet it is bursting with life, plant life, bird life, wildlife and human life.

On a different note, my wife and I began hearing the distant thunder of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia a few years ago. As time passed it became louder and louder. Chris began taking chemotherapy treatments a few months ago and two days ago the oncologist told us that she is now basically cancer free. The drugs have beaten the disease into remission.

Nevertheless, they want to continue the chemotherapy for three more rounds. The doctor explained it to us this way. If one in ten thousand of her white cells is a leukemia cell she will be well for a year or so. If they continue the treatments and knock that down to one cancer cell in a million she should have five or more years of good health.

Chris still has those remaining treatments to face, but she is feeling more energetic already and the threatening thunder of CLL has faded into the distance. You can read her side of the story here:  The ups and downs of life

We Bleed, All The Way Up

“We live in a disordered, chaotic, fractured, fallen world where the current of sin devours everything.” I love that phrase and it pretty much sums up the thoughts that were going through my mind today.

I was sitting with my wife as the chemotherapy drugs were dripping into her bloodstream and meditating on the twisted theology of well-meaning Christians who try to explain that God sends, or permits, cancer, leukemia and such things for His honour and glory. What I read in the Bible is that God created a paradise. When Adam sinned it opened the door for all manner of evil to enter this world and there has been warfare ever since between the forces of darkness and God’s true light.

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”

J.S. Park: Hospital Chaplain, Skeptical Christian

The patient really believed her cancer was somehow “God’s amazing plan for my life.” She went on to say the things I always hear: “He won’t give me more than I can handle. Thank God we caught it early. God is going to use this for my good.”

I get why we say these things, because we’re such creatures of story that we rush for coherence. But even when such theology is true, I want to tell her that it’s okay to say this whole ordeal is terrible and that it really hurts and that we live in a disordered, chaotic, fractured, fallen world where the current of sin devours everything, that bad things happen to model citizens, that nothing is as it’s meant to be, and the people who don’t catch the cancer early aren’t well enough to thank God for anything, and that not every pain is meant…

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Our life is changing

Wednesday evening I said good-bye to the members of the Toastmasters club that I have belonged to for two years. This morning my wife and I said good-bye to the Youth Sunday School class we have taught for the past six months. Today was my wife’s last day of work at the home for seniors where she has worked for almost eight and one half years.

Leaving the Youth class was a routine thing, teachers change every six months. We will still worship together, but I will miss the class times.

The other two events are not routine. My wife has CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia) and has been getting more fatigued with every passing month. She has appointments in March for a CT scan and another visit with her oncologist and we expect treatments to begin about a month from now. This should be good news, the oncologist says the treatments will lower her abnormal white cell count and increase her energy level. Good news or not, it is too much for her now to put in an occasional day’s work outside the home.

I feel the evening trips into the city for Toastmaster meetings don’t really fit with the way our spring and summer seems to be shaping up. I have learned much through Toastmaster and made good friends, but this is the end of going to the meetings.

The future is hidden from us. We are told that the chemotherapy that she will receive will not be as hard on her as the drugs she received 35 years ago. She came through that episode remarkably well. But now she is 35 years older. We want to go forward in the faith that is portrayed in the following lines from Minnie Louise Haskins:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than  light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me toward the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

Cancer Centre

My wife had her first visit at the Cancer Centre yesterday.

Now isn’t that a scary way of starting a conversation?  The visit really wasn’t so scary.

Let me start at the beginning.  Four months ago Chris decided that the tiredness she felt after a day’s work had to be due to something more than being somewhat overweight and out of shape.  She saw our family doctor and was sent for blood tests.  When he saw the results of those tests, the high white cell count caused him to immediately suspect that she had CLL – Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

At first, the mention of leukemia sent us into a panic.  Then I googled CLL and found that the word chronic means that people don’t die from it.    That brought a little relief, but there was still a lot of uncertainty as to what it means, and will mean, for Chris.

A suspicion of CLL is not a diagnosis.  Not too long ago the only way of obtaining a definite diagnosis was to take a bone marrow sample, not an enjoyable experience.  New technology allows doctors to examine the external shape of white blood cells to determine if they are normal or if they show the malformation that is characteristic of CLL.  Chris had that test and it was positive.

She has had x-rays and a CT scan that show no internal organs are affected.  She has had periodic blood tests and visits with a hematologist at Royal University Hospital.  He told her that the later tests show very little change from her first test, meaning that the CLL is progressing very slowly.

Now the hematologist at RUH has passed Chris’s file on to a hematologist at the Cancer Centre for ongoing monitoring.  The road from here looks like this: they will do periodic blood tests to monitor her condition.  The next test will be in three months and if it shows very little change the tests will be spaced out further.  In time, if the CLL causes further complications, chemotherapy will be necessary.  But this won’t be anything like the chemo that she had thirty years ago after she had cancer.  It will probably only involve taking pills, and will have very few side effects.

CLL is not curable, but it is treatable in its more advanced stages.  And the treatment is generally quite effective.

For the present, Chris is learning to live with CLL, pacing herself and accomplishing more than if she were to get frustrated and try to do more at one time than her body could cope with.  God has been good to us in times past, making a way for us in all the troubles we have faced, and we trust He will continue to do so,

Please don’t try to pressure us about Mexican doctors or miracle herbs

I haven’t been writing much lately, what with frequent trips to the city for medical appointments and dealing with the troubling news that has come from those appointments.  Now that things are beginning to settle down, I want to give a brief status report before I get back to writing about other things.

My wife appears to have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.  I say “appears” because we understand it would take a bone marrow test for a definitive diagnosis.  Nevertheless, the elevated white cell count and lymphocyte count are strongly indicative of CLL.  This was shocking news, but once we got over the shock we realized that the future doesn’t look all that bleak.  Many people live for 15, 20  or even 30 years with CLL and do not require drastic treatments.

In fact, it was rather a relief to have a name for the fatigue and other symptoms that Chris was experiencing.  She had felt that there must be something terribly wrong with her – she must be terribly out of condition, or sometimes she felt that she must be just plain lazy that she felt so weary after a day’s work.  Now that she knows that there really is something wrong with her, the guilt at least is gone.  She told me yesterday that the fatigue doesn’t necessarily correlate with the amount of work she does.  She spent several days working in the garden last week and felt fine afterwards.  Another time, after a fairly light day of work, she feels beat.

Chris had another form of cancer when she was 27.  We went to the elders of the church, they had an anointing and a prayer for healing, then counselled us to follow the doctor’s advice as to the form of treatment to be done.  She had surgery, followed by chemotherapy and remained healthy and cancer free up ‘til now.  Our daughter was eight years old back then.  She and her husband will soon celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary, their three oldest children will be 11, 9 and 7 this summer and the youngest will be three in fall.  We expect that Grandma will live to see them grow up, too.

We got another piece of advice 33 years ago, that I found quite troubling at the time.  A brother from another province heard of my wife’s cancer and sent a letter urgently advising me to take her to a certain doctor in Mexico.  The tone of the letter seemed to suggest that I would be negligent if I did not follow his advice.

Around the same time, a sister in Pennsylvania was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  She and her husband were new Christians with small children and everyone felt a great sympathy for them.  However, God granted this sister such a peace and joy in her suffering that she was a comfort and encouragement to all who came to comfort and encourage her.  We visited her twice, a year apart, and she told us the hardest thing to take was all the well-meaning brothers and sisters who came suggesting a miraculous herbal remedy for her cancer.  The suggested remedies were different, yet it appeared to her that each one proffering a remedy seemed to feel that if she did not take their suggested remedy it would be her fault if she died.

There was an anointing prayer for healing and fellow believers from far and wide continued to pray for her healing.  She underwent the best treatments available at the National Cancer Centre at Bethesda, Maryland.  She chose not to try any of the suggested herbal remedies and she did die.  But she died in peace.  Would it have helped her to put her faith in modern-day medicine men?  I really don’t believe it would have, more likely it would have led her to put her trust in something else than God.

I understand that many people do not agree with me in this.  But I hope that all will respect our wishes not to be showered with suggestions of miracle working Mexican physicians or herbal remedies.

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