2015 Reflection (12/17/2015 Update)

“God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. Selah”  Psalms 46:1-3 CEB

Year four of my fight with stage IV colon cancer is quickly coming to an end. As I look back on the numbers and reflect on the times I realize it has been quite a fight with several highs and lows. A marathon for sure.

My daughter Anna married CJ on July 4, 2015. That was definitely the high for the past year. My daughter Sarah announced her engagement to Matt this past year. They will be married on April 16, 2016. My daughter Alexis also announced her engagement to Evan. They will married on October 1, 2016.

When talking about the weddings with someone recently they mentioned the movie “Three Weddings and a Funeral.”

And I quickly responded “Yes, except the title has to be more like Three Weddings and NO Funeral.”

Three Weddings and No Funeral

Today is chemo treatment number 48 since beginning this battle. I have received seven different chemo drugs in differing mixes and concoctions along the way. I have endured seven surgeries. And have had countless doctor visits and procedures; including four colonoscopies, numerous CT, MRI, and PET Scans.

It has been an emotional roller coaster. There were very gloomy days. More than one “I-have-bad-news” phone calls from my doctor. Non-operable tumor diagnoses on two different occasions. An emergency room visit running a 103˚ fever. Even this year an unexpected spike in CEA causing a spike in anxiety as well.

There have been sad days. My father-in-law lost his battle with cancer. My Aunt Sonia dying from colon cancer. My cousin Taylor dying at age 14 from cancer. Countless people I have met in the Cancer Survivor Network (online support forum) losing their battles with cancer. Far too many people die from this terrible disease!

There have been highs as well. Non-operable tumors that became operable with chemo treatment. Successful surgeries. Successful chemo. REMISSION status! Many people in the online forum reporting long-term remission after a stage IV cancer diagnosis.

I couldn’t have endured this time without your support!

My wife Connie has been unbelievable; walking every step of this journey right by my side. She has lifted me up on more than one occasion. And her confidence and positive outlook has not waivered. She has assured me on more than one occasion that she knows I will survive this cancer. God has revealed his plan to her. And she won’t ever let me forget that the plan is for me to grow old with her.

My sister Mary has been with me every step of the way as well. She is the most amazing sister in the entire world. Her positive outlook has also lifted me up and given me strength on some very low days. She doesn’t think twice about giving her time to help. On many occasion she has picked me up at 6am to take me to UMHS for chemo. That may sound like a sacrifice but you need to know that she lives over two hours away from me. Yes, she leaves her house at 4am to drive to my house, only to continue the drive to Ann Arbor (another 1-1/2 hour ride), sit with me all day during chemo, and then drive me home.

My colleagues at work have proven more than amazing throughout this ordeal. They have raised up numerous prayers for my healing. And their understanding and generosity has been overwhelming. The day they brought boxes of delicious prepared meals warmed my heart more than they could know. And their hugs and kind and encouraging words have been well received.

My medical support team at UMHS are truly amazing.  Especially Dr. Krauss.  He has set a plan and we are working the plan.  And the plan is WORKING! God Bless UMHS medical team members. They are all dedicated and caring. I am truly grateful to have them helping me.

Many others have also supported me along this journey. And your kindness and support is truly appreciated. You have touched my heart!

Today I received another CEA of under 1.0. And looking back on the numbers we have definitely made progress in this fight:

2012 2013 2014 2015
Number of Surgeries 3 2 2 0
Number of Chemo Drugs 4 5 6 1
Number of Chemo Treatments 11 12 6 20
Average CEA 11.9 7.8 5.7 0.4
Work Days Missed 51 64 60 34

This past year bearing the best numbers!

  • No Surgeries in 2015!
  • Only one drug used!
  • Average CEA of Under 1.0!

When you factor life into the equation:

  • One daughter getting married this past July
  • One daughter completing her bachelor’s degree
  • Two daughter’s getting engaged
  • Two weddings being planned for April and October
  • Older son moving to Chicago
  • Younger son successfully completing his freshmen year and moving into sophomore status; along with playing football, baseball, basketball…

Well, we have had a one heck of a year; filled with love, life, and countless blessings! And we look forward to 2016 with hope and thankfulness overflowing in our hearts.

From the bottom of my heart.

THANK YOU for your prayers and support throughout this past year and prior years.

And thank you in advance for your continued prayers for a long remission and for a wonderful 2016.

May the good Lord shower you all with Love throughout this magical Christmas season. And May he lift your spirits and fill your hearts with joy. And may he bless you and your families with the most wonderful 2016.

Sincerely,

Philip


It’s a great day to have a great day!

Phil and ConnieScan results are ALL CLEAR and CEA level is once again under 1.0.

No Evidence of Disease (NED)!

Thank you all for joining us in prayers of thanksgiving and for your continued support. And thank You Jesus for this beautiful day.

God is good.

Love and Light to you  all,

Phil


It’s been a while since my last post (9/17/2015 Update)

Cartoon

Yesterday was a good day. Bryce played his fourth football game of the year. And the Marshall Redhawks JV team won another one! Way to Go Reedhawks! They have a 4.0 start this season.

The day started early, not unlike most chemo days. We woke up around 4am and jumped into the morning routine. Shower, dress, coffee, etc. We left the house at 5:30am and headed towards Ann Arbor. Blood draw at the cancer center was usual. We then walked over to the Bone Marrow center in Motts Children hospital (part of the massive UMHS complex). Because there were too many infusions scheduled they were redirecting overflow to Motts — and I guess I was in the “overflow.”

The experience at Motts was exactly the same as in the cancer center. Nurse: “Can you tell me your name and birthdate?” Me: “Yes, and I can tell you my MRN and CSN numbers as well if you like [smile].”  After four years I know the rituals all too well. They use your name, birthdate, and UMHS assigned IDs to verify that the treatment they are about to give me is the treatment intended for me. It is comforting to know that the probability of getting the wrong medication is systematically mitigated to nearly zero. I just hope that the doctors will know the “right” medication to give you, that will FOR SURE knock out cancer. Unfortunately we may have to wait a while for this.

One noteworthy difference about the infusion center in the Motts facility was that it was very quiet and calm. Which I did appreciate.

My Erbitux treatment #15 went as expected. The plan remains the same. Erbitux treatments for one year. So there are another ten treatments to go.

More than half way done with the plan! So far, SO GOOD!!!

And I’m managing quite well through the treatments. I have been feeling more fatigued after treatments (possibly a cumulative effect) but I’ll take fatigue over outright sick any day. And, if the chemo results in a long-term-remission than all the nasty side-effects were but a small price to pay!

The best news is that my last scans (done in June) were “all clear” and the CEA blood marker continues to come in at “under 1.0.”  As you experienced readers know, the CEA is a protein in our blood. Normal is under 3.0.  If this marker goes above 3.0 it is an indicator of colon cancer activity. So we relish the under 1.0 reports every time they come in.

I was still waiting for the CEA results from yesterday’s test. I usually receive the results the same day, via a text message from Pam (Dr. Krauss’ nurse practitioner). She forgot to text them yesterday but responded to my inquiry text message that she would let me know today. I fully expected the “under 1.0” text from her this morning.

When the caller ID showed that I was receiving a phone call from UMHS my heart quickly sank into my stomach. I don’t usually receive a call unless there’s bad news. I put my meeting on hold and accepted the call.

It was Kim from Dr. Krauss’ office. Dr. Krauss asked her to call and let me know that the CEA was normal (e.g. under 1.0).

I share this “long version” of the story so you can appreciate the trials of waiting for test results. I tell myself don’t worry. “God knows what the result is before the test is even taken.” I need not concern myself with worrying. However, the reality is that it is hard not to worry. And sometimes it’s scary when the phone rings…

My next scans are scheduled for Monday September 28. And I am hopeful that the scans will continue to show “all clear” as well.

Thank you all for your continued support and prayers. I am truly blessed to have so many wonderful and caring people praying on my behalf.

Thank You Jesus! For this awesome rainy morning. And for the wonderful souls you have brought into my day, my week, and my life. My time with all of them on this great earth is so amazing. I can’t thank you enough for the countless blessings. Thank you Jesus!

I hope your Friday is the best and this weekend is better than the best!

Sincerely,

Phil


Oh happy day!

Oh Happy Day

This morning started out gloomy. However, the sun is shining brightly for us now. I received updates from my doctor, from Friday’s tests.

The Thursday 6/25 8.0 CEA test was NOT confirmed. The Friday 6/26 retake came in as <1.0. This was the result we have received for some time now. This is the result that indicates NO CANCER. Furthermore the Scans are showing clear as well (e.g. no cancer). We are still waiting for the CT of the abdomen but the MRI and CT of Chest are showing ALL CLEAR. And my doctor expects that the CT of the abdomen will show clear as well, given these other results.

Who knows what the 8.0 CEA was? Maybe it was just a glitch? Maybe it was supposed to be 0.8 instead of 8.0? Whatever it was it sure sent us on an emotional rollercoaster ride. And it sure reminded me of how lucky I am to be NED (No Evidence of Disease). The remission continues! Praise the Lord, Halleluiah!

And THANK YOU for your many Prayers. You all are awesome prayer warriors. And I am so thankful to have you all praying with me.

Now we are looking forward to the Anna’s wedding and ready to truly celebrate! Thanks be to God!

Love and Light to each of you on this beautiful Monday!

Sincerely,

Philip


Bad News Today (06/25/2015 Update)

EmotionalRollercoasterMore prayers requested…

We’ve been in a very comfortable six month remission since my December 5th surgery. And today we hit a bump in the road. I went in this morning for another blood test and Erbitux chemotherapy treatment.  

We were all confident that I would receive another <1.0 CEA, just like the previous ten treatments. My wife was confident enough that she decided to work and let our son go with me to this treatment (this was the first doctor visit that she missed and the first visit that Bryce went ). My doctor was confident enough that he decided we can skip this treatment to let my face and chest heal a bit more from the Erbitux rash. This was a welcomed decision given my daughter Anna’s upcoming wedding on July 4th.

So I left my doctor’s office, happy that I had another break from chemo, and fully expecting a text message reporting my stable CEA level (my CEA test takes several hours to be processed so I usually get results later in the day, after the blood draw and after the doctor visit).

However, instead of the usual text message I received a call from Dr. Krauss. He quickly started with his too familiar opening “I’ve got bad news.

My CEA jumped to 8.0 in two weeks. This is not a good sign.

He continued, “It could be a false read.  However, I want to move your scans up sooner rather than later.” 

So now I’m going back to Ann Arbor tomorrow for a CT and MRI scan.

We need to stay focused on the upcoming wedding and try to choose to be happy and keep faith that this is all in the Lord’s hands.

Meanwhile, your prayers are formally requested once again.

And I know and appreciate (more than you know) that many of you have continued to pray for me and my family. Thank you so much.

Sincerely,

Philip


More Good News (4/30/15 Update)

Working while in the chemo chairHear all about it! More good news keeps coming in. Praise be to God!

Treatment 5 of Erbitux was completed on April 30, 2015. We also received the April 22 CT scan results.

The CT scan was ALL CLEAR

and

The CEA blood marker remained stable at “under 1”

Thank you all for your continued prayers. Thank you Jesus for continued good news!

The plan to receive Erbitux treatments every two weeks will continue as long as CEA levels stay low and scans remain clear. I’m scheduled for Erbitux treatment and CEA tests on 5/14, 5/28, 6/11, and 6/25. The next scan is also scheduled for 7/22.

While the Erbitux rash is a little irritating it is NOT intolerable. The best thing is I have energy and can even work while in the chemo chair. I do seem to get tired but heck, I can deal with that!

God willing we’ll keep hearing good news rolling forward!

Thank you for keeping us in your prayers and supporting us through this fight!

May you be showered in Love and Light as this spring unfolds!

Sincerely,

Phil


4/16/2015 Update

Last week we had a wonderful vacation. Tony, Bryce, Connie and I traveled to Boston to visit with Sarah and Matt. I skipped my last chemo treatment (which would have been on 4/2) as this conflicted with our vacation plans.

Our vacation was filled with activities and fun. We explored the Freedom trail sites over several days. We walked up 293 steps to the top of the Bunker Hill monument (a bit of an achievement for me). We toured Fenway Park (the oldest functioning major league park in America). We attended a Boston Bruins hockey game and Shear Madness play. We visited Salem MA and toured homes from the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s; including a 200 year old home from China. We also went on the Hocus Pocus walking tour and were both entertained and educated on the history in Salem. Including learning about the witch hangings in 1693. One of the highlights for us was Easter service at Matt and Sarah’s new church and Easter dinner with Matt’s family in Connecticut. It was truly an honor and blessing to spend this time with Matt and Sarah.

Thank you Jesus for giving us this wonderful vacation. We will remember it forever.

So this week it’s back to work, and today, it’s back to chemo. I can honestly say that I didn’t miss coming in for the normal chemo treatment. However, I’m now in the chair, receiving the Erbitux and wondering (worrying) if my CEA count remains low (blood draw was this morning but I usually won’t hear back until later today). Well, I suppose we’ll know soon enough. And as I have always said, we’ll all be fine no matter what the future holds.

The Erbitux rash had definitely diminished quite a bit over this break. However, it didn’t go away entirely. And now I’m sure it will be back with vengeance. The rash is very annoying to me; but it is a small price to pay if the treatment helps to beat this cancer!

April is a big month in our house as three of seven have birthdays this month. Connie’s birthday was on 4/2. Bryce will turn 15 on 4/27. And Sarah’s birthday is on 4/30. Happy April Birthdays family. I pray that your next year will be wonderful and your birthday wishes will all be fulfilled.

Thank you all for your prayers and continued support throughout this battle. Your prayers make a difference! And my family and I truly appreciate them and you.

Sending Blessings to you all today.

Sincerely,

Philip

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