Five of Six (10/30/2014 Update)

Knockout Cancer

Well, I think a short update is overdue as I have not posted over the past few treatments. As you know, I’m still battling this recurrence. The plan we created this past August was to receive six treatments of FOLFOXIRI/Bev and then reassess surgery. Today, nearly three years after hearing the “you have cancer” shocker, I started treatment five of six of this plan. Treatment six of six is scheduled for November 13.

This treatment started with a long day at UMHC in the infusion area. There I received avastin first, followed by irinotecan, then followed by leucovorin and oxaliplatin. After this I am hooked up to the 5-FU which I receive through continuous infusion over 48 hours. In between these drugs I receive steroids, nausea and anxiety medicine, and other medicines to help manage the side effects.

This day was rough. Feeling nauseated, eye twitching, weakness, cold sensitivity, headaches, teethe/gums hurting, sore skin sensitive to touch. But the symptoms dissipate and change over time. Right now I feel decent (you can only sleep so long). And eventually I will feel good again.

In addition to the treatment we also had a doctor visit today as well. Last Friday I went in for an MRI scan and a CT scan. And yesterday I had to make another trip back to UMHS for a re-take on the MRI scan. Anxiety is also a problem when it comes to scan time. Although I try to remain at peace, knowing that Jesus is walking this path with me, I have to admit to some worry. I think about the possibility of seeing more tumors or growth in the existing tumors. And what the options would be if this is the case…

Today we received the results from the scans. Dr. Krause said “a tie is better than a loss.” So after four completed treatments the cancer in my liver was unchanged. The good news in this report is that the cancer did not grow. And the best news is that there were no new tumors in any other organs.

The next steps were also discussed with Dr. Krauss today. I will meet with Dr. Knoll (surgeon) on Wednesday November 12. We will hear his opinion about surgery. If surgery is determined as the next step I will receive chemo treatment six of six and then begin recovery / preparation for surgery. That means I will get to feel good as I prep up for surgery. If surgery is not an option we will regroup and reassess.

Another option that we discussed with Dr. Krauss was pursuing a second opinion from MD Anderson in Austin Texas. This facility is known for aggressive and leading-edge liver surgery. They are also the number 2 overall cancer center in the USA. So especially if surgery is not something that we can go forward with at UMHS we will likely pursue this option.

Another bit of good news received today — the CEA dropped from 12 to 9 over the last two weeks. Given that the CEA has proven to be highly corellated with the cancer activity, this news gives us hope that the progressive treatment with this chemo is having a positive affect at killing the cancer cells. When I first started the treatment CEA dropped from 18 to 11. However the last three CEA levels were 12. So seeing it drop from 12 to 9 is a small victory for which we will give thanks to Jesus.

In addition to battling chemo we have had a lot going on these days…

Three weeks ago, my brother George came to visit. We did a few projects around the house and enjoyed our time together. Thank you George for visiting. You know I always Love when you come.

Two weeks ago my best friend Kathy came over and cooked up a storm. She is an excellent cook and she made meals for the entire week, including cooking a turkey. And it was delicious. Thank you Kathy for all the light and love you send our way every day!

Then, this past Sunday, we had Connie’s sister Cathy and her husband Scott come over. They too are excellent cooks and they treated us with cheerful company and delicious food. And again left overs for this past week were a delight. Thank you Cathy and Scott. We love when you visit and we loved the delicious meals you made.

In addition to that we successfully painted two bedrooms this past weekend. I’ve been working with Bryce trying to get his room setup “just perfect.” And the paint is done. Thank you C.J. for helping with this work.

Then we have the story about Bryce breaking another bone (third break since June). This time he had a compound fracture of his left middle finger. We were in the emergency room for four hours. Luckily it was reset without surgery and it is healing fast and well. Thank you Jesus for fixing these breaks.

Most of all — Thank You — for your continued prayers. Please know that your support is truly important to us. Knowing that you are lifting us up in prayer gives me hope that the Creator of all Creation, King of Kings, Lord of Lords will take mercy on us and allow me the time and opportunity to continue to support my wife and family and see them grow in God’s Love.

Whatever God’s plan I know it is the best plan and ultimately I pray that I can be a good servant as I live out my days on this great earth.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 NIV)

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26 NIV)

NOTE: If you are reading this via Facebook, please feel free to like as a way of praying with us for healing.


RIP Earl Duane Devault

 

Duane and Phil 2013-10-08

I’m now 4 days since FOLFOXIRI/bev treatment two of six (treatment #25 overall). This round was a lot better managed. I am now eating more and fatigue is waning. Diarrhea was not as bad and although nausea was an issue I seem to be beyond this as well. And as I previously reported, CEA dropped from 18 to 11, giving us encouragement that the poison is killing the cancer.

So, while things were looking up, well… On Monday we received word that my father-in-law passed away. Luckily we managed to squeeze several visits into the last couple months so at least we had a chance to spend some time with him before he passed. He was on hospice care for pancreatic cancer and we knew time with him was precious. Good-byes on each visit proved to be progressively harder to do. Although my father-in-law was 81 he was a very active person, up until his final days. And it was very sad to lose him at this time. He did live a wonderful life and his legacy will most certainly live on — through his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren… He will be dearly missed by many!

My first reaction to the news of his passing was to plan our trip for the funeral (which is on Friday). We discussed when to go with each child and we planned for how to best deal with my condition along the way. I was even considering “depends” as a precautionary measure given the symptoms I’ve been dealing with…

However my wife was concerned about me making the trip. Given low immunity, a ten hour road trip from Michigan to Tennessee, stopping at unknown gas stations along the way, with four kids, my wife, and me packed like sardines inside my truck…  Then sleeping in an unfamiliar location, being so far away from home, trying to eat smart in restaurants… Adding to that the emotional stress of the funeral, and being around many family and friends… All that while trying to recover from the chemo fatigue, diarrhea, and other symptoms.

The last words I heard from my father-in-law seemed to give perspective to the decision. As labor-day weekend came to a close it was time for us to return home. My wife, fourteen year old step son, and I said our final good-byes in the garage and then proceeded to walk to my truck. We paused in the street to wave good-bye one more time while choking back tears… Then we just stood there in the street with tears in our eyes while we watched Duane come down the driveway. He was rapidly pushing his walker over the cement cracks, over the curb, coming right up to us. He hugged us one more time. And as he hugs me, he told me in no uncertain terms “You get better!

He made his point. And my wife made her point. And now my family is there and I’m here.

I’m so sad that I’m not with them during this celebration of life and love. Even though I know it was the right decision I am still sad that I’m missing this time with my family.

Cancer has once again succeeded in steeling from me. Cancer seems to do that every chance it gets. Taking time away from watching my children in plays or sporting events, hanging out with friends at football or baseball games, productivity at work, home chores, playing golf, etc…. The collateral damage from battling cancer truly sucks!

So here I am feeling sad…  For my wife who lost her father. For my mother-in-law who lost her husband of 50+ years. For my step children who lost their Grandpa (he loved them so much). For me who can’t be with my family during this occasion…

I guess I will simply wipe away my tears and focus on resting, walking, recovering, working…  So I can be as ready as possible for round three next Thursday.

I will do a lot of praying and a little crying and suck-it-up as I focus on “getting better!”

Thank you all in advance for your support. Please send up prayers for my wife, children, and all of us as we grieve the loss of Duane.

Duane, I know you are now in a glorious place! Celebrating with the King of kings and all the angels in heaven! Praise be to God!

Love, light, hugs to you all!

Philip


Treatment 2 (09/19/2014 Update)

Buckle my shoe

One two buckle my shoe!

Well I started treatment two of six yesterday. And it was a long day. We left the house at 6am and didn’t return to the house until 5:40pm. And I think I laid down and fell fast asleep and didn’t wake up until a short time ago.

We are hoping to do better at managing symptoms this round. The doctor modified the anti-nausea medication I received during the infusion. I also received a shot of another anti-nausea medication shortly before leaving the infusion chair. That medication was more effective; however it causes drowsiness which partly explains the long sleep.

Because of that medication we chose (for the first time) to use a wheel chair to leave the hospital. However, the chair was only used to wheel out our computer bags (which each weigh over 30 lbs). I still managed to walk myself out of that place.  :-)

Treatment two will continue through Saturday (I will disconnect myself from the portable pump on Saturday). And this Monday I will inject myself for the first time at home with a post treatment shot. Last Monday we had to drive back into Ann Arbor to receive this injection. The excellent nurse practitioner at UMHS was able to work with the insurance company and get the prescription approved for a home injection (Thank you Kim). Saving us this trip is very appreciated.

So far, so good. I had to force myself to eat some breakfast today. Usually eating is not a problem for me but this chemo has robbed me of all appetite. And I have to force myself to drink liquids as well. I’m just hoping the anti-nausea medication helps me keep it down.

And the best news of all for me was the CEA level. Two weeks ago my CEA level had climbed to 18. We suspected it would continue to rise given the recurrent disease. However, the important news was that the CEA had dropped from 18 to 11 after treatment one. While this is not definitive it is an indicator that this regimen is working.

Also, the doctor reported that we will do four treatments (two more after this one) and then do a round of scans. We are hoping that the scans will give us more evidence that the treatment is succeeding. If things continue according to Dr. Krauss’ plan, I will likely have surgery sometime after treatment six.

And today I pray…

Thank you Lord for giving me this time on this great Earth. Thank you for giving me so many beautiful people to share my life with. Thank you for my wife and five beautiful children. Thank you my father and mother, and six siblings. Thank you for my wonderful extended family. Thank you for my career and so many supportive colleagues. Especially thank you for the Love you continue to bring into my amazing life.

Thank you for the giving us this wonderful sunny day today. Guide my decisions and actions today so that they may be pleasing to you. Teach me how to share the Love you have put into my heart so that others will experience what I have been lucky to know for so long.

This I ask through Jesus Christ, our Living Lord, King of kings.

 

Hugs to you all today! And thank you again for your warm wishes, positive thoughts, and countless prayers for my family and myself.

 

Sincerely,

Philip


Chemo III

Knockout CancerWe met with the surgeon at UMHS on 8/28. After a lengthy discussion with the surgeon we agreed with the recommendation to start chemotherapy and reassess surgery after treatment. The chemo will be used to kill/stop the cancer. After verifying that the treatments have been successful we will then do another liver resection. However, at this point the liver resection will be completed with a higher degree of confidence that the cancer is truly in remission!

So here we go again. Like a bad sequel I am here at UMHS once again receiving chemotherapy. We are hoping and praying that this will be THE episode where the antagonist is defeated! Where the opponent is knocked out for good!

I once read that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Well, luckily this chemo will be a little different than the first two cocktails. The first eleven chemotherapy treatments were labeled as FOLFOX. That regimen included 5-FU, leucovorin, and oxaliplatin. The next twelve treatments were FOLIRI + Erbitux. That regimen included 5-FU, leucovorin, irinotecan, and Erbitux.  This cocktail will include 5-FU, leucovorin, irinotecan, oxaliplatin, and avastin. This is nearly all the drugs previously received plus avastin. The latest studies have shown that adding avastin (aka bevacizumab) can increase the effectiveness of the other drugs. And we are hoping and praying that is precisely what will play out in my case.

Side effects. Of course there are side effects. You know the part of the commercial where they talk very fast? Or the very fine fine fine fine print? That is the downside of chemo. It comes along with baggage. And there lies the “battle.”

So, yes, I’m ready for the battle. I’ll surely endure these side effects. I say bring them on! I’ll fight with every ounce of energy I have.

To see the smile on a future grand-child’s face.

To walk my daughters down the aisle and give them to their future husbands.

To see my talented older son in his first Broadway performance.

To watch my younger son play sports, graduate, and grow.

To rock in a rocking chair with my wife.

 I will fight!

 

Father in Heaven, King of Kings,

Thank you for today. For a chance to fight. For the energy to fight. Thank you for the love you have surrounded me with. Thank you for all my beautiful family and friends. Thank you for the countless blessings you have bestowed on me. Thank you for giving me peace and strength and endurance. Amen.

And thank YOU for your continued support. And for your countless prayers for my family and me. Please know that I truly appreciate each of you.

Sincerely,

Philip

 


Sometimes you just have faith (08/18/2014 Update)

Sometimes

When I was first diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer a friend told me that I was now in a marathon. He advised me that there would be many challenges and I had to prepare for the long run. After six surgeries, 23 chemo treatments, countless tests, scans, and doctor visits (in a two year span)… Yes, it is a marathon! We were hoping I had crossed the finish line. But the race continues.

The scan results found three suspicious masses on my liver. I am now facing another reoccurrence of the cancer. The doctors are determining the best approach for this next battle. We are weighing pros and cons between a couple options. The first option (which we are leaning towards) will be surgery followed by intense chemo therapy. I will be undergoing a PET scan on Wednesday this week to determine if the three lesions found on the MRI are the only signs of cancer. Assuming the PET scan does not show any other evidence of cancer I will likely do the surgery soon and then follow-up with six treatments of intense chemotherapy. If the PET scan shows additional signs of cancer we will likely adjust the approach. In that case we would start with intense chemotherapy and reassess surgery after three treatments.

Both options will require intense chemotherapy. This chemo will include all the previous drugs, plus a new drug. It will be a double whammy. The hope is that this will make the difference in this war…

The good news is that there is still a chance for a complete remission! So once again we are asking for your prayers. For my family and me, my doctors, and all struggling with cancer (patients and support).

Father in Heaven, Thank you for gift of today on this great earth. And thank you for the gift of each other. Continue to teach us Father. Show us how to Love as you Love us. Give us strength to overcome the challenges in life. Guide is to increase our Faith so that we will always remain in you. Send us healing Lord so our ailments are removed. This we ask through Jesus Christ. Amen

I will keep my focus on Jesus. And ask him for the strength I need to continue this marathon. And I will remind myself that there is a plan. Albeit, one that we don’t understand right now. And sometimes, this time, I will simply keep the faith!

 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

Thank you in advance for all your prayers and support during these challenging days.

Sincerely,

Philip


July Update (07/15/2014)

20140715 CEA ClipMonitoring Update…

July 7 has come and passed and unfortunately my test has detected yet another increase in CEA level. The July 7 test shows CEA climbing from 2.0 to 3.0.

3.0 is still within normal range (0 to 3) however, two increases likely constitutes a trend. We are now officially concerned that this may be the beginning of a new metastasis – e.g. new tumor(s). Keep in mind that my CEA has been as high as 40 in the past so an upward trend to 3.0 may not be good but I have survived worse.

I will undergo three different scans in early August, including a CT, MRI, and PET scan. We will review the results of these scans with the doctor on Thursday, August 14.

What we are hoping for is:

  • Best case scenario: CEA drops and scans are all clear – E.g. no evidence of disease.
  • Second best scenario: If there is cancer we hope it will be isolated, detected via the scans, and be easily removed via surgery.

We won’t talk about other scenarios for now. Instead we will focus on praying for one of the above.

Until then your prayers are very much appreciated.

Love to you all!

Philip


06/05/2014 Update

Monitoring for cancer…

As you all may know, I’ve been in a remission since my last surgery on February 7. What that means is that there has been no evidence of cancer since this date.

What the doctor has done is monitor CEA levels monthly and perform scans every three months. I had a stretch of CEA results “under 1.0” and one set of scans with no evidence of disease.

I went in for the monthly CEA test today. And I was hoping to add one more “under 1.0” result to the list. Unfortunately the test came back as 2.0. While 2.0 is well within the normal range (0 to 3) it is actually the rising levels that is most concerning. The only thing to do for now is wait until next month and test the CEA once again. If the CEA rises a second time we will begin to do more aggressive scanning to see if there is evidence of cancer activity. A CEA lower than 2.0 is the result we are praying for.

My next CEA test is scheduled for July 7.

Your continued prayers for a sustained remission are appreciated.

Blessings to you all on this beautiful summer day.

Sincerely,

Philip


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