Vaccinations

It’s been awhile on updates, but it’s basically because I am and feel pretty much healed. My blood work continues to indicate I’m healthy and no signs of any cancer.

Friday, I began the vaccination process with 5 shots. Some will need boosters in a few weeks. Others will follow at about two years post stem cell transplant. The joys of being “one and a half”.

I got to thinking about these immunizations. They are designed and given to prevent disease. They were thought up and designed by those much smarter than I am. They hurt when given.

What are you “taking” or doing to immunize yourself against sin? There are all kinds of Godly things you can take in- Godly books, music, TV shows and movies to name a few. If all you’re doing is “going to church”, then that’s like going to a foreign country plagued by malaria and taking a box of Kleenex to ward it off. That’s not a perfect analogy at all, but hopefully  you see my point. Church attendance is important, but it isn’t a “cure all” or the only spiritual food you should be taking in. Invest in your spiritual life or growth won’t happen.

God figured and planned all this out and He is a lot smarter than we are. We try and do things ourselves or even substitute things in His place. Simply follow His will, His plan and His ways for a life with less to worry about. We are like our kids at times. “You can’t tell me what to do” or “I think I know better” becomes the way we live our lives if we aren’t careful. Too many times people put (insert whatever you “love” doing the most) before God. Whether it’s family, work, hobbies or any other often good thing, if it takes your eyes off God, then you need to do some thinking about spiritual priorities.

Shots hurt. So does living a lifestyle in which we are trying to prevent the world/sin from taking hold in our lives. It can single us out. It can seem odd to others. It may cost of friends or times with them when the temptation is there and we skip an outing to not be tempted. Pain inflicted in training helps prepare one for the game/fight/race or whatever one is training for. The pain we may suffer in trying to vaccinate our lives from sin is useful and worth it to our spiritual health. 

I love those “Stay thirsty my friend” commercials, so “Stay spiritually healthy my friends” by vaccinating your life against sin.

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CR

April brought another biopsy several weeks ago. This one was under the research protocol. Last year, by now, I had worked my last day of work pre stem cell transplant. For the four days before hospitalization at Emory on May 9, I visited the Infusion Center each day and received an IV drug to help deal with mouth sores from the chemo I would soon get. May 9th, I checked into Emory and it would be my home for the next few weeks.

May 9th was a long day- a lot of anticipation of what chemo effects would be like and waiting to begin the chemo drip. May 10 was a rest day and then the 11th was my transplant- which unceremoniously was another IV drip and over with in probably 30 minutes. While not monumental in delivery, it made up for in its function to get me better in the long run. May 25, I “checked out” of Emory and into a nearby hotel for about another week until retuning home later in June.

My “blood marker” has been 0 three times now, but for my 1 year post stem cell transplant check up, guess what was called? You guessed it… another biopsy. It was scheduled for next Friday, but it was cancelled. The reason? The one from April showed CR. Complete Remission.

It’s one goal of treatment. It’s not a cure yet, but finding no myeloma is great milestone. Many thanks for the prayers, offers of and help offered and cards, notes and calls/texts. 

Fit For Duty

Being back to work with no restrictions has been great! What it really means is, obviously, I’m feeling much, much better. 

Friday, I was at Emory for my “every 28 days” visit, as my maintenance medicine gets replenished every 28 days. There is a Paraprotein Concentration marker, which is measured from lab work, which is my “marker” for the amount of Myleoma likely in my body. For me, this marker has very much mirrored the amounts detected by  each of the bone marrow biopsies I so much looked forward to each time.

Back in July 2017, around 2 months post stem cell transplant, my level was about 0.17. The end of October saw it around 0.1 and as of Frday it was 0.0. The PA said he’d expect my next biopsy to also be 0, but he wouldn’t put that in writing for me.

God has been good. This time last year, I was 2 months away from checking into Emory for almost a month. I’d never saw anyone close go through chemo, so I only had what I’d heard about it to base my assumptions of how bad it might be. There were a lot of unknowns. How bad would the chemo be? Would my hair fall out? Would it grow back? How long would I be out of work? 

God is good. I have my health. Even though each lab shows my white blood cell counts right at the low mark, I haven’t caught anything more annoying than a brief 24 hour stomach bug- even with a horrible flu season. God continues to be good.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been “in church.” I know the promises, the “right answers” and have heard thousands of times that God is good and faithful. It’s another thing to experience it, to live through it and see it firsthand. I’ve told people “God has this” but it’s another thing altogether to be in a situation where God did have it and “it” was yours. I’ve told others I’d pray for them. It’s another thing to know and appreciate firsthand that others were praying for me. My rubber had to meet the proverbial road.

God is good. He answers (not always the way we would expect it), He is faithful and He is present. Through every sickness, success, problem, solution, family squabble, desperate time or uneventful situation we encounter, He is constant. Do you see Him in the details? He’s there- with a doctor’s hand or a decision you make or in the gentle voice of a trusted friend. He’s there. He’s involved. He’s listening. He’s hoping. He’s there.

The Difference In A Year

One year ago yesterday (a Friday), I received a call during lunch, telling me I needed to be at Tanner ER right now. I’d recently had an MRI in a new machine, in which the decision had been made that when using the dye/contrast, to test all patients, not just high risk ones. I wasn’t a high risk one. The results were that my kidneys were in bad shape. I wound up being admitted for 3 days, getting 3 bags of blood, getting introduced to a lot of nurses, technicians and doctors as they took X-rays, drew blood, ran all kinds of tests and I had the joy of getting my first colonoscopy. I wasn’t losing blood, my marrow was overrun with Myeloma and couldn’t produce it right, but I hadn’t realized any of this. My legs, hips and back hurt and my ribs were popping out of place.

Saturday morning, Kelly had gone home to get clothes and try and rest a little while Jordan entertained (waited on) me. I was wanting to go home, as this hospital stay was getting in the way of my plans. Finally, after what was not my first, “Can’t I go home?”, I was told I had some kind of cancer. That’s a life changing statement. Even through the haze of a sedation, I heard that distinctly. No “What was that?”, no “Excuse me, I don’t think I heard you right….”, it was crystal clear.

The hospital stay that was in the way of plans was suddenly where I needed to be. No longer an obstacle but now a chance at recovery or treatment or living. Cancer. It takes so many. Now I was in its sights. At least I was where I’d get help, where I’d get answers. 

Later, I would learn the name “Multiple Myeloma.” I would physically suffer and need a walker to get around for awhile, then a cane and finally my own legs again. The chemo from Jan- Apr wasn’t too bad, with really no side effects. Prayers were lifted and answered. The stem cell transplant took place. Prayers continued to be lifted and answered. Most of May, I was at Emory and a hotel nearby Emory. That chemo treatment felt like it knocked the life out of me. The roughest days, I really don’t remember much, was another blessing. 

Through it all, it could have been worse. I’m alive. I was younger than most fighting Multiple Myeloma. I never broke any major bones, didn’t have other health issues to complicate my treatments. I didn’t suffer a lot of nausea during chemo. It could have been a long year of recovery but it seems to have passed quickly. I can see God’s hand all along the way when looking for them.

My labs continue to be good. White cells are still right at the lower end of the range they should be at, but not a problem. The last bone biopsy shows no myeloma through conventional tests, but the DNA of myeloma is still present when a more specific test is ran. The measure they use, is .07gm/DL which continues to fall. For reference, if my math and Google is correct, 1 deciliter is just over 3 ounces. So, only 0.07 of a gram is found in 3 ounces and there are 85 grams in a ounce. 85 x 3= 255 & .07 of 255 is 17.8 ounces. I think… Math and good looks are not my strongest assets.

In seeing His hands at work, I wasn’t necessarily always looking for them, but they were there. At other times I begged to see them or feel them. His hands, like the hospital, was where I needed to be. I couldn’t self-help my way out of this or wait till it got better.

You may feel like God is in your way of living how you want to life. If He’s in your way, it’s you that’s headed in the wrong direction. He is where you need to be.

Vaccine #2

I received the 2nd of 3 vaccines last Friday. My blood work continues to be good. While there are not that many major improvements or changes to keep you posted, I do continue to improve overall. So, the short and sweet of it, I’m better, but still not 100% yet….

October of last year is when I began having a lot of symptoms. It’s sort of surreal that I’m a year from the “beginning.” In the middle of the back pain, when ribs were moving/cracking and my hips were so bad, that pain is what finally prompted me to seek treatment. Everyone told me to see a doctor, but until the pain was bad enough, I put it off.

A lot of times, one has to hit bottom in order to fix an addiction or face a problem. For me, it was discomfort and pain. Through that pain, I wanted a doctor to treat and fix it. Once diagnosed, though shocked, I was somewhat relieved in the fact that at least there would be a treatment. An “end in sight” was better than living with pain.

A lot of people question “why?” or  want to find a reason or lesson learned for things like adversity, cancer or other issues one is going through. I know I’ve learned some things. I learned that all the lessons or advice I’d given over the years, to “trust God”, is easier to say than always do. I also found that the trust I placed in God was well placed. Did God use that pain to push my faith, to grow and develop it?  Sounds like the a lesson which might have been in the Bible.

I’ll leave you with a few questions and a statement. What do you need to learn? Are you at rock bottom? Are you at the beginning of an issue you’re facing? Are you so angry at God, you can’t step back and see what He’s trying to teach you? Go see the Doctor (God).

Vaccine 1

I received the first of 3 vaccine injections yesterday, along with another shot (1 of 12, given the day of the vaccine and 3 days  after each vaccine). The additional shot is the granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), which stimulates growth of (I think) white blood cells.

I’m now just over 4 months past my stem cell transplant and continuing to stay healthy. No head colds, flu or anything, thank goodness, other than dry skin. Revlimid is the culprit, I guess I’m more sensitive to it post transplant. I’m blessed by prayers and no other health issues to complicate my recovery. 

I was number 4 to sign up and be accepted into this research study, at Emory, which if you’re having trouble falling asleep, you can bookmark and read later. I am the first Emory patient to get this far. I guess that means the others already signed up haven’t progressed as well post transplant. The study will follow me for the next 2 years, so hopefully it will yield some good data for someone much smarter than I to process. 

Someone recently commented that I was a lot better than I was. How right they are. It seems forever ago that my back, ribs, hips and legs were hurting and that at times I could barely walk without pain. Ribs were “massaged” back into place in physical therapy and 4 ribs cracked (heard and felt) while hanging a few shirts in my closet. Then a walker and cane for awhile (so long dignity) to get around. Prayers all over the US, Indonesia and Nicaragua and probably others I didn’t know about were poured out and answered.

Looking back, I realized a peace, from the diagnosis and onward, that God was in control. I really never worried, was fearful or angry with God. I simply felt He was in control all along. I think He put the doctors in my treatment at the right times. His timing is amazing. Cancer is bad enough by itself, but at least I could somewhat “enjoy the ride” instead of having to drive too.

They say problems make you bitter or better. I’m not better (physically anyway) than I was before this jumped on me, but I’m not bitter either. I know I’ll be 100% sooner or later- I’m hoping sooner- so I’m good with that. I can’t control the disease, only my response to it. 

I almost forgot, the results of the PET scan shows no “metabolically active disease” and that’s what we want. I am thankful everyday for God’s healing, guidance and faithfulness.

For insomnia, the Research Study: https://apps.winshipcancer.emory.edu/clinicaltrials/Search/Details/BMT-CTN-1401

Maintenance Begins….

I’ve had several Emory visits lately, mostly related to the study, but today began the “maintenance phase.” 

This past Monday, I underwent a procedure, similar to the stem cell collection process, but to remove Dendritic cells this time. These dendritic cells will be used, along with marrow taken months ago, to create the vaccine. The biggest difference was 2 sharp needles in my arms and keeping my arms still for 4 hours. I keep telling myself it’s worth it…. I was very thankful Kelly was there to scratch all the itches. It’s amazing how you just take care of them without thinking until you can’t.

While there, we found out we had to return Tuesday for labs to make sure I was ok after Monday’s procedure and Wednesday for research tubes. We’d not been told about either but luckily were able to combine them both on Tuesday. Tuesday then turned into a longer than expected wait on lab results, but eventually got out of Emory. I will say things usually run smoothly there. Oh, labs were great!

Today, I thought was my 100 day check, but turns out it was scheduled for next week and today was just a research check. Next week was put off till the next research check, in September, so no long trips to Emory for awhile. The good news today is they now think I’ve got only appx. 2-3% of myeloma left. It might not even be that much…. If I can just get my bones repaired, I’ll be even better. My back really aches, but I know it’ll get 100% someday. If not for the over 2 hour wait for meds, today would have been even better, but at least I started my maintenance meds. 

The medicine prescribed today is what I took during the induction phase (Jan – Apr). I handled it well then and this dose is about 1/2 of that one, so I expect it to go well as well. My hair is coming back in (still grey and in the same places), I’m working, began teaching 5th grade boys at church and gained all my weight back (not as happy with this one). I’m blessed though and a lot better than the end of 2016, so I’m good!