Infusion #17

On Friday, February 20, the home health care nurse arrived at our house to disconnect the “fanny-pack” pump which completed Lois’ 17th infusion of Chemo drugs. Of course, that all started on Wednesday at the University Hospital in Iowa City where Lois received three doses of drugs before they hooked up the 46 hour drip. The lab work was encouraging! The CEA tumor maker did not go up but decreased by one point. That is another answer to prayer. We continue to pray that the liver numbers will improve although Lois is not experiencing any negative symptoms from the less than optimum liver function.

Lois is doing exceptionally well. She deals with the “chemo cold,” the need for more sleep, and is careful about pacing herself. If you were to observe her from day-to-day for a week, you would most likely conclude that Lois is not limited by the cancer or the treatments. She spends a lot of time with our six grandkids, cleans, does laundry, cooks – all the things she loves to do. Although cancer has impacted her life, she has not stopped living!

Keep Your Eyes on Jesus

When I was in 5th, 6th, & 7th grade my Dad was Dean of Students at Bryan College in Dayton, TN and, to supplement his meager income, he pastored a rural church about 30 minutes away. It was a country church with humble Tennessee mountain people who loved Jesus. I still remember being in their homes: no TV’s; simple wooden furniture, if there was an upholstered chair it was reserved for the guests; and a small coal stove in each room. Many of the homes had no indoor plumbing but had a two-hole outhouse in the backyard with a Sears & Roebuck catalog sitting on a shelf! I think one of the reasons those people loved Jesus so fully, and had such an impact on my life, is because they had so few “things” to distract them.

In our second year at that church tragedy struck one of the families. Dwight’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. Everyone was stunned. Here was a young mother with five children (the oldest was younger than me) and she had a death sentence. Cancer. In 1965 there wasn’t much that could be done. In a matter of weeks she was dead.

Three things stand out in my memory. One was that the family – the husband and his oldest son – dug the grave and then covered the casket when the service was over. Some may think that was cruel work but I disagree. The sweat and tears that went into the digging of the grave provided an outlet for the physical work of mourning. Much of what we do today when death occurs denies the need to physically express our grief.

The second thing I remember is from the memorial service – Dad didn’t call them funerals and they were not held at funeral homes but in the church – and the many individuals who stood to their feet to share memories about the deceased. Some stories brought tears, some laughter but each recollection helped us celebrate the life that was now gone.

The third memory always brings tears to my eyes. At the close of the memorial service, Dad led in the benediction and thought the service was over. It was not. Dwight, the newly widowed husband walked up to the pulpit and with a clear, strong voice, overflowing with confidence and hope, led us in singing, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be, when we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.” There are five stanzas in that great gospel song and we sang every one. There wasn’t a dry eye anywhere. There wasn’t a hopeless heart to be found.

No matter what pain or hardship you now face; no matter what has happened in your past; the fear of the future, or the biting criticism of the last phone call; in spite of the financial pressures that grow greater every day: Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Do the physical work of mourning for past sin. Tell stories to each other about God’s faithfulness. Remind one another that God is always trustworthy. Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Jesus is the beginning and the end. He is the living reminder of the Father’s love for you. Don’t lose hope. Don’t allow all the “stuff” of this life to become a distraction.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.

We Only Want Good Gifts

We were sitting in a restaurant and midway through our meal the wait staff pulled three tables together and seated a large family next to us. It was easy to guess that there were grandparents, their two daughters and six children all under the age of 12. They were loud and disorganized but not obnoxious.

When their food arrived, we were impressed as one of the moms quieted everyone, had them hold hands and proceeded to pray. Her prayer was memorable: “Dear God,” she prayed, “bless this food we are about to eat. Bless us each one. We need your blessing. You know we are really good people. We need good gifts from you, God. We only want good gifts. Please send us good things. ”

When she said, “Amen,” I sat there with mixed emotions.

I was proud of this mom for praying before a meal in a public place with a table full of kids. But I wondered what god she was praying to.

Have we forgotten the opening sentence of the first chapter of Rick Warren’s runaway bestselling book? “It’s not about you.”

Or, even more seriously, have we dismissed Jesus’ words? "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

The prayer is frighteningly selfish. Is God some kind of genie in a bottle that we can use to get whatever we wish for? Is God like Santa Clause who will deliver a nice present if we are good enough? Is prayer an exercise where we come to God with a list of everything we want and hope he will give us some of it? Should we treat prayer as if it’s some sort of lottery – maybe if we pray earnestly enough and ask for a long list of items, God might give us some of it, but only if he picks our number?

This must be the god of the little trinity – me, myself and I – but not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of the manger, the cross and the empty tomb. The God of the ages, history’s maker, compels us to look beyond ourselves, to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” Micah 6:8

Now, before my voice mail and email are jammed with frustration, let’s make this clear: Jesus’ example of prayer teaches us to pray for essential needs – “give us this day our daily bread.” I can recall times – some recently – when I prayed for basics like gas money, groceries, and the payment of utility bills. And God faithfully provided.

James makes it very clear that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17) and we should recognize that He is a great giver. After all, He gave us the greatest gift in His Son, Jesus Christ. Do we really need more than that?

Should the primary focus of prayer – any prayer at any time – be what I want? When and where do we pray for understanding in the middle of pain and hardship? Or do we just pray that the hurt will be taken away?

There are scores of substantial examples to be followed when we pray. Here are two:

John the Baptist, who said, “He (Jesus) must become greater. I must become less.” John 3:30

Jesus prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39)

How arrogant of us to pray for only for our own personal benefit! How sad that so many have such an undeveloped and mistaken understanding of God that they would pray, “You know we are really good people. We need good gifts from you, God. We only want good gifts. Please send us good things. ”

I recall hearing Jim Cymbala say, “We often make the mistake of praying for the presence of God’s blessings when what we really need is the blessing of God’s Presence.”

Infusion #16

Yesterday, February 4, 2009, we spent 9 hours at the University Hospital. We took care of the check-in process at 6:30 and Lois started drinking the “glow juice” for the CT Scan about 6:45. By 8:30 the CT Scan was done and we began waiting to get blood drawn (they use Lois’ port) for the lab work. We met with Dr. Halfdanarson , the attending Oncologist we have been working with since June, and learned the CT Scan didn’t reveal much to him. The radiology team will look at the scan and finalize a report within the next 3-4 weeks and could come to a different conclusion.

Lois’ CEA number went up again. (CEA stands for Carcinoembryonic Antigen and is a type of protein molecule that can be found in many different cells of the body, but is typically associated with certain cancers.) The CEA number has gone from 4.8 in November, to 7.9 on December 24, 10.1 on January 21, and yesterday was 15.1. This indicates that cancer is growing somewhere – the logical conclusion is the liver – but we don’t know for sure.

We made no changes in the Chemo “cocktail.” There just isn’t enough data to make decisions. The Infusion Center was busy and we didn’t get the drips started until almost noon. Lois had her “fanny pack pump” hooked up and we left about 3:30 to drive home. Lois is tired and the neuropathy in her hands and feet is there all the time; she has the “chemo cold” – lots of sinus drainage, but those continue to be the extent of her reactions to the drugs. We are very thankful for this and recognize God’s generous gift of grace in this area.

Dr. Halfdanarson placed Lois in a new study which involves taking some of the frozen tissue from the tumor they removed last May and sending it to a lab in California. They grow cultures and then test different Chemo drugs to determine reactions and efficacy. We should start seeing information from that study in 6-8 weeks and may make adjustments to the Chemo “cocktail” based on that data.

The Oncology team and Infusion Center staff assure us we are doing everything possible to try to stay ahead of the cancer. Living in the ambiguity of knowing that cancer is on the move in Lois’ body but not being able to do anything about it –yet – is difficult. “But we trust in you, O Lord; we say, ‘You are our God.’ Our times are in your hands . . . “ (Ps 31:14-15)

Thanks for your continued love and prayer.