Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Final Round - A Video Blog

Everything in me wants to believe that this was Steve's final round of chemotherapy.  Make no mistake, we want nothing more than to rest in the hope that this is the end of the most difficult, painful, and scary trial of our lives.  Steve will now transition to "maintenance therapy" as opposed to "chemotherapy."  In short, Steve's not off the hook yet. 

In two months he will begin receiving Rituxin only instead of the Rituxin plus the Chemo meds.  Over the next 2 years he will get a total of 12 doses of Rituxin, a mono-clonal antibody that attacks and wipes out the B-cells, to help prevent against any resurgence of lymphoma cancer cells growing in his body.  Steve will continue to receive the Rituxin through his port.  In essence, it is the same process of receiving the chemo-meds -- if you ask some oncologists they will tell you that it is still a form of chemotherapy. 

I thought it might be interesting to post some videos of Steve's chemotherapy.  Before Steve was diagnosed with Lymphoma, I really had no idea of what it was like for someone to get chemotherapy.  I hope that by posting these videos, viewers might not only learn more about chemotherapy, but they will also gain an appreciation for all that cancer patients go through, week after week...fighting, battling, and waging war against an unseen enemy that has invaded their bodies against their will.

The video doesn't show the needle that goes into Steve's port very well.  Here is a close up of the needle.  It is about an inch long and is as thick as a quilt needle.  Each time he goes in for chemotherapy, gets a blood draw, or receives hydration, his port has to be accessed.  I think folks might think that accessing a port is a pain-free process.  It is not.  The port makes it easier, but does not make it pain-free.  This is not a needle for wimps!  They don't call cancer patients "survivors" for nothing!  They are true warriors!

Here is a close up of Steve's port.  You can see the round port under the scar.  It sticks out about an inch from his chest.

This first video shows a nurse accessing Steve's port to prepare him for chemotherapy.  It shows her flushing the port with saline and then drawing blood.  The blood is tested in the lab to see if Steve's white blood cell count is high enough to receive the chemo.  On this day, his count was 4.5; just below normal range but high enough for chemo.

After running labs on his blood work, Steve meets with Dr. Liao for a quick check up.  Dr. Liao shares the results of the blood work and notifies us that Steve is clear for chemo.

Steve then goes back to the chemo room, finds a comfy leather recliner and sets himself up for a long day of chemo.  Here is a video of the chemo can see that it is a bustling place!  No shortage of cancer patients to treat, that is for sure!

The nurse then comes in and hooks him up to the pre-meds.  Since his port has already been accessed, he does not need to be stuck again.  She simply attaches the meds to the tubes that go into his port.  This is the same process that is done for each of the 3 chemo drugs he receives.  As you can see from the video, Steve is comfortable throughout this process and is able to carry on with conversations.  The pre-meds contain anti-nausea medication, Benedryl, and Prednisone. 

This process is repeated for each of the bags of chemo.  When one bag is emptied, another is connected.  After about 7 hours, his chemotherapy is done.  Steve likes to sleep throughout his chemo, so most of the time he looks like this..

After the chemo is finished, the nurse comes to de-port him, so to speak.  This is a relatively quick and painless process.  Much easier than the intial poke!

Two days after chemotherapy, Steve recieves a bag of fluids to prevent dehydration.  The fluids also contain anti-nausea medication to help him feel better through the chemo.  I did not get a video of him getting hooked up to the fluids, but it is the same process that is used when he gets the chemotherapy.  The needle is inserted to his port and then they hook him up to the bag of fluids. 

Here is a video of him getting de-ported and then receiving the first of a series of the Neupogen injections.  The Neupogen injections help him grow new white blood cells in his bone marrow.  Since the chemotherapy kills both the good and bad cells, the Neupogen helps him rebuild lost white blood cells so that his body will be able to fight infection during the treatment.  Steve usually gets 4 shots of Neupogen in the week following chemotherapy.

Steve has continued to prove himself to be a real fighter during these past 6 months.  Even on his lowest days, he has not missed one workout.  He has been eating healthy and staying spiritually strong by praying and reading the Bible everyday.  As you can see, he is a real champion!

Next week we will be going to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for a PET Scan coupled with a CT-Scan.  The scans will check to see if Steve has any more cancer in his body.  As I mentioned in my earlier blog, if any cancer is detected, he will receive another 6 months of chemo with a stem-cell transplantation. That is why we are praying and believing for a clean bill of health. Please partner with us to pray and believe for no cancer to be detected in the scans and for all cancer to be eliminated from his body.  Thank you, team Fox!

Jeremiah 33:6 'Behold, I will bring health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.

Isaiah 53:5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Land of the "What-Ifs" -- What We Can Control, We Do

Each chemotherapy treatment seems to have a cumulative effect. Steve's lows get lower, his energy drains more completely, and his overall state of well-being erodes exponentially along with his strength. Although the chemo cycle is much more predictable, it doesn't make it any easier. At one point I heard Steve say that if the lymphoma returned, he wasn't sure he could go through more chemo. Now I knew this wasn't true...he would do whatever he had to do to try to beat this cancer, but there was element of truth that could be detected in his voice. Chemotherapy sucks. It drains the life-blood right out of you, knocks you to the ground and continues to beat you when you are down. He now has 5 cycles down and only one more to go. We are nearly finished with phase one of his treatment.

Here's Steve doing his best to "sleep through" the chemo.
The headphones, ear plugs, and eye covers help him tune out to the seven hours of a slow drip.

Many people have told me they are amazed at how positive I have been throughout this whole ordeal. For the most part, work has been a great distraction. Since I work in two schools, the pace of my day is so fast, I rarely have time to think about anything but work. My faith, belief, and hope in our God, our Creator. and our great Healer causes me to go into autopilot mode. God has his hands on the controls and he is the one helping me stay on course.

But I am not going to lie...there are times when my imagination gets the best of me. When I allow my mind to think of a day when I will have to say good-bye to my best friend, husband, and lover. It only takes about a nano-second for my throat to tighten up, the tears to well-up and the liquid pain begin to roll down my cheeks. Steve will have his last regular dose of chemotherapy next Friday. Because of the risk of getting Lymphodema, he will not undergo radiation therapy. What if the six cycles of chemo didn't do the trick? What if it comes back or if it did not kill it all? What then? The what-ifs can become overwhelming. They are painful thoughts that I simply cannot bear to entertain. I do my best to not let my mind dwell on these thoughts...but I am not going to lie, they are real and they do frequent my mind more than they should.

We cannot control what will happen next. Like I said, our hope rest in Christ alone. We pray for nothing more than for a complete cure for Steve. Right now, we have very little that we can control. But what we can control. we do.

We met with a nutritionist who works exclusively with cancer patients. She told us about the Mediterranean diet -- a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. She told us how the more colorful and strong smelling the fruit or vegetable, the more cancer-fighting protection they provide. Some fruits and vegetables contain phylotoxins; they are able to even reduce the size of tumors present in your body. They boost your body's immune system and help fight cancer at the core. Like I said, we don't have any control over the unseen enemy that once invaded Steve's body, but we do have control over what we choose to put in our bodies. The food we eat has the ability to give us life or even take it away. We are working to embrace a plant-based diet, eliminate processed foods, and eat as many organic foods as possible. Making healthy choices in our diet helps me feel as if I am helping Steve in his fight against this cancer.

A few weeks after Steve's last Chemo, we will meet with Dr. Liao to go over our next steps. We are arranging a CT-Scan with contrast to happen a couple weeks after the chemo. Although Dr. Liao usually orders the scans from a local imaging company, I am not comfortable with a general lab being the ones to tell us whether or not Steve has any more cancer in his body. We have decided that Steve and I will travel to Seattle and get his scans done at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. They were the ones who accurately identified Steve's lymphoma -- they are the simply the best in the state. If anyone is going to ascertain whether the chemo was effective, it should be them.

Steve asked Dr. Liao what would happen if they found more tumors in his body. The answer was not what he wanted to hear. If the chemo did not kill all of the cancer, he would have to go through another six months of chemo-- but this time it will be even more lethal than the first. Instead of having chemo every three weeks, he will have it weekly. He then most likely undergo a stem cell transplantation at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Dr. Liao said that in this scenario, he probably wouldn't be able to work. Again, entertaining the "what-ifs" is dangerous. We choose life and not death -- we choose hope and not despair.  We choose faith over statistics; we choose to believe that our God is bigger than the "what-ifs;" Nothing is impossible...nothing.

Now is the time to increase our prayers and rally the warriors. We ask each and everyone of you who believes in God, to use what measure of faith you have to pray a complete and total healing for Steve. Pray that each and every cancerous cell will be eliminated from his body. Pray that he will be strong for his last chemotherapy. Pray that the scans will reveal a body free from tumors and cancer.

We know that the road ahead of us is still long and possibly treacherous, but our fate is in God's loving hands, in Him we place our trust. We will not live in the land of the "what-ifs," instead we will take possession of the land of faith, hope, and belief.