The C Word
Back in June, we moved our little family of six from Provo, Utah, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for my husband’s new job. Allen had recently graduated with his MBA from Brigham Young University and he and I both were ready to start life in the real world again. Just a few weeks before moving, we left our older three kids with family, took our three month-old baby girl with us, and went on a short homefinding trip. We were blessed to find a home that was just perfect for our family’s needs and left feeling like we may have found our “home” in Louisiana. It was nerve wracking to even think about buying a home, but we felt like this was the Lord’s plan for us so we started on the paperwork. You could safely say that our life was filled with many emotions during this transition. We felt excited, anxious, guided, nervous, happy, stressed, and fearful. I’ll always remember one specific night when both of us were so overwhelmed, we just cried it out together.
A few weeks, one moving truck, and a couple airplanes later, we were starting our adventures in the deep south far away from family. While in the process of closing on our first home, we stayed in an apartment temporarily. We were starting to feel more settled into life: work routines, family routines, adjusting to the weather, navigating through the city, etc. One morning, Allen and I were getting ready for the day when he stopped me in the bathroom to tell me about something he had noticed recently. There was a small knot on his neck neatly tucked into his collar bone. He said it didn’t hurt and that he’d probably wait to see if it went away. Since he had experienced swelling in his chest the summer before and the doctor’s recommendation was to wait it out, I didn’t think much of it and agreed he could just wait to see if the swelling went down.
Fast forward three weeks and we were into our new home. Life continued on. Work continued on. The weeks continued to pass us by and we talked about Allen’s neck on a few occasions, but for the most part we just enjoyed our day to day routines. Finances, a broken dryer, and other things surfaced to the front of our minds and we allowed ourselves to focus on those challenges.
At the end of August, I talked to Allen again about setting up a doctor’s appointment to have them examine his neck. The swelling was still there; in fact, the lump looked more obvious than before. He wasn’t ready to do that just yet for his own reasons. Just a week or so later, however, all of that changed. A lady from work, Gale, who helps run the plant and has treated Allen like family, mentioned the lump on his neck and told him to go and get it checked out. She was the second person from work to point it out to him, so it grabbed his attention. We had a long chat about everything that evening, even calling up Allen’s mom to talk to her and cry about all of the different stresses that seemed so big at the time. She urged Allen to go and have his neck checked out asap. We followed her counsel and called the next morning to set up an appointment with an ENT. They were able to give us an appointment for that same afternoon.
We met with the ENT and told him why we were there. He examined Allen’s neck while Evan played with the little ambulance and fire truck toys there in the office. I remember hearing the word lymphoma and feeling uneasy but not too surprised; in the few minutes I had spent researching swollen lymphnodes, I had learned that no pain associated with the lump was a bad sign. We discussed outcomes, options and “next steps” knowing all along that there was no diagnosis but certainly a fair chance we could be facing cancer.
The doctor did an in-office biopsy on Allen’s neck by inserting a needle into the lump and removing a sample of the cells. He sent the sample along to the pathologist and ordered a CT scan for Allen to complete the following day. He told us that after the CT scan on Allen’s neck, he would be sending us over to a head and neck surgeon from Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. We were grateful to be working with such capable doctors and moving along quickly in the diagnostic process.
Friday’s CT scan was fairly quick. I met Allen there with our two youngest kids and waited for him to complete the scan. He was in and out in about 30 minutes. We drove to Chick-fil-a afterward to let Evan enjoy the kids’ area while Allen and I talked about all that was going on. It’s funny how certain things stick out to you. Those are the things I want to hold on to.
We didn’t hear back about any test results until we met with the head and neck surgeon the following Tuesday. I had arranged for our kids to be picked up from school and watched by some friends nearby, so it was just Allen, me, and little Raegan at the doctor appointment. We sat in a mostly empty waiting room for about an hour before we could meet with the doctor. Sitting there, we both felt like we didn’t fit in. It felt bizarre to be waiting for potentially life-changing news in a small, quiet waiting room as older people filtered in and out of their appointments. We just felt out of place. “Allen is only 29. Cancer is a scary word. What are we doing here?”
The nurse called us back for Allen’s appointment and got everything ready for us to meet with the doctor. He came in several minutes later with three younger students and again, we rehearsed all of the details for why we were there. Both Allen and I were anticipating the results from the CT scan and biopsy. The doctor went over the pathologist’s findings from the biopsy: malignant cells, favoring carcinoma. Allen had cancer. We didn’t break down right there, we just tried to understand what was going on. Over the weekend we had considered that Allen may have lymphoma and studied up on what that meant, treatment, and survival rates. We were ready to accept that Allen may have cancer, but we hadn’t considered that it may be a cancer other than lymphoma and that our search for answers wouldn’t be completed that day. After talking with the doctor for several minutes, we understood that the doctors felt like the lump on Allen’s neck was not the only site of cancer but was rather an off-shoot of cancer that originated somewhere else in his body. They wanted us to meet with a radiologist the following day and have him schedule a full-body PET/CT scan to try and discover where the cancer could be originating from. As the appointment came to a close, Allen and I started to feel the reality of what we had just heard and Allen’s eyes filled with tears. I kept reassuring him that everything was going to be okay. We had a good cry together and tried to understand what all of this really meant for our family.
It felt surreal: leaving the doctor’s office, walking back to the parking garage, driving home to pick up our kids. Everything had changed for us in that one little “c” word, but nothing had changed at the same time. We were just driving down the freeway to pick up our kids, help them with homework, eat dinner, read scriptures, and get them to bed. Everyone else in the world was continuing on with their daily routines. It was just another day to them. I remember feeling that same way almost seven years ago when our oldest son, Benson, was born. As we sat there in the hospital holding our newborn son, we watched all of the cars drive down the street and I said, “Isn’t it crazy how our lives have changed so much by all of this, but everyone else is continuing on as if it’s just another day?” Now that feeling was resurfacing but under very different circumstances. It would all be okay, though. It just had to be.
After meeting with the head and neck surgeon and learning that Allen did have cancer, we were given an appointment with the radiologist for the following day. We went to the cancer center and entered a waiting room with several other people. They were all waiting for their radiation treatments. Most everyone in the room was much older and looked fairly sick. I don’t think we had felt so out of place until that moment. It just didn’t feel real. How could we belong here when Allen felt just fine? The doctors were saying cancer, but it was so hard to accept the truth.
The nurse called us back to a consultation room and spoke with us about how radiation would work, how often the treatments would be, and potential side effects. It was almost assumed that radiation would be a part of our treatment, but we didn’t even know which type of cancer we were dealing with yet. We listened, asked questions, and then waited to speak with the radiologist.
The doctor came in to meet with us. We rehearsed why we were here, from the tenderness in Allen’s chest last summer to the lump in his neck this summer. He asked questions and did his own examination. We felt confident that he would be a great doctor, just like the many others we had consulted with. He had studied at M.D. Anderson, which we had heard so many great things about, and agreed that we could certainly receive a 2nd opinion there if we’d like to once we received a diagnosis. He ordered a PET/CT scan to determine where the cancer was originating from and arranged for us to meet with the oncologist after that.
Allen, Evan, Raegan and I went to the imaging center for Allen’s PET/CT scan a couple days later. The kids and I learned to navigate our way around the hospital and found some water features outside to keep “us” entertained. 🙂 We left the hospital feeling one step closer to getting our answer.
Monday rolled around and we went to meet the oncologist (this doctor is over chemotherapy treatments). He informed us that the PET/CT scan showed no signs of cancer in any organs, which was a huge blessing, but there was a second large mass behind the abdomen in Allen’s lower back (11 cm, on the right side). He asked us to describe any symptoms and started to piece everything together: chest tenderness last summer, one large mass in the lymph nodes behind the abdomen, and another large mass in the lymph nodes of the lower neck. All of these signs pointed to testicular cancer. The chest tenderness Allen experienced last summer (July 2013) may have been the start of his cancer since testicular cancer can produce hCG in men– the same hormone produced in pregnant women. The locations of the large masses were also in line with testicular cancer as it follows a very particular pattern when spreading in the body. We were fortunate to have the cancer skip Allen’s lungs before spreading to the neck. The doctor explained how this type of cancer is very curable, which was a relief to us, but it’s always different to hear that you’re “lucky” to have any type of cancer. He wanted to send Allen for a second biopsy on his neck and an ultrasound to confirm a diagnosis. Before we left, the nurse drew Allen’s blood. I’m not sure if there’s anything he hates more than needles. Often times he faints or gets close to fainting, so I always make a point to warn the nurse. That’s just something we’re going to have to get used to during this process.
One way we’ve seen the Lord’s hand in all of this is that our sweet baby Raegan is here with us. Testicular cancer can cause infertility. From what we’ve read, only 1 in 4 men with testicular cancer are fertile and undergoing chemotherapy treatments can cause infertility as well. Knowing this now, we can see that baby Rae was meant to be in our family right now. Last summer, we were living in New Jersey while Allen completed an internship for his MBA. We had three kids at the time (Benson, 5; Katelyn, 3; and Evan, 1) and I didn’t feel ready to have a fourth. Then out of the blue, I felt the strongest impression that we were supposed to try and have another baby. I had never felt so sure of a prompting. We were able to get pregnant right away and shortly thereafter, Allen started to feel some swollen glands behind his nipples that caused some concern. He visited a doctor and had some screenings done, but nothing signaled cancer at the time. Now we can see that the Lord knew what was to come and was helping us complete our little family. We’ve felt for a while now that these four kids, as sweet as they are– and I’m being serious about that, are about all we can handle! This just confirms that our family is complete. Raegan’s the sweet little sister we hoped Katelyn would have and has daddy’s blue eyes. We love her so much!
The second biopsy and ultrasound were completed just two days later. Allen will tell you that the biopsy was brutal. Seeing that we had a free weekend and would likely begin treatments soon, we arranged for the doctor to call us with the biopsy and ultrasound results and we took our first weekend trip to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It was a nice escape from reality, but didn’t go exactly as planned since most of our kids were sick and Katelyn ended up in the hospital with respiratory problems. We loved the beaches, though, and the moments when we could all be together.
The oncologist called me on Friday to discuss the results and since Allen was at the hospital with Katelyn, we conferenced him in to hear the diagnosis. The doctor confirmed that Allen did have testicular cancer and would need to undergo a surgery and then begin chemotherapy treatments. We asked him several questions and thanked him before getting off the call. Now that we knew what we were dealing with, we could begin taking steps in the right direction to fight this cancer, conquer it, and return to normal life. It was a blessing to have an answer and a promising outcome.
Throughout this experience, we have felt the Lord watching out for us and comforting us. He has placed people in our lives that have helped without being asked. He has allowed us to be humbled as we’ve received service from friends who we’ve known for only a few short months. I can already see how this experience with cancer is teaching me to serve and love better than I have in my life. I’m hoping to write several blog entries about what I’m learning through this process and how it’s truly refining me and molding me into a better person.
I love my Heavenly Father and know without a doubt that He is aware of me. He knows and loves each one of us. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ, and am beginning to understand more intimately that He has felt our pains, sorrows, loneliness, hopelessness, and despair while suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. He knows all that we are experiencing and has felt all that we feel. He is our dearest friend. I’m so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life. It buoys me up and gives me hope that all will be right as His will is done. My hope is to always turn to Him– during times that are difficult and discouraging, easy and joyful and everything in between– so I can draw nearer to Him in my life and become the person He knows I can be. I love my family, my Savior, my Heavenly Father, and the life I’ve been given. I’m grateful He will be with us every step of the way as we face this new trial.
After coming back from Florida, and knowing the diagnosis, we had a few steps to complete before finalizing Allen’s treatment plan and undergoing chemotherapy. The first step was to meet with the urologist and schedule a surgery. We met with the doctor on a Tuesday and Allen had surgery two days later. He was able to come home the same day and recover over the weekend before meeting with the oncologist again to set up a treatment plan. The oncologist laid out the following treatment plan:
- First week: Chemotherapy daily (Mon-Fri) for approx 3-4 hours
- Second week: Chemotherapy 1 day
- Third week: Chemotherapy 1 day
- Repeat this cycle 4 times for a total of 12 weeks
These chemotherapy treatments were scheduled to start the following Monday (October 6) and if all went as planned and stayed on schedule, they would be completed two days before Christmas. The doctor explained Allen’s staging (stage 3b) and that we were in the intermediate risk zone because his hCG levels were fairly high (22,000… or about 8 weeks pregnant, lol). Even in the intermediate risk zone, the doctor told us that we should expect Allen’s hCG levels to begin dropping with the chemo treatments and both masses to go away completely. We discussed the types of medications that would be used during treatments and how that may affect Allen, and we also discussed what would happen at the end of all of this… If the PET/CT scan comes back clear and both masses are completely gone, Allen will be cancer free and we can return to living a simple, normal life. This is what the doctors expect will happen. If, for some reason, the PET/CT scan comes back clear but some of the masses remain in the neck and/or abdomen, those will have to be surgically removed to get rid of teratoma that could potentially be remaining in the masses. We do not hope for surgery since there are major arteries and nerves in those areas that make it difficult to perform surgery. The last scenario is that the PET/CT scan comes back showing that some cancer still remains. At that point, we would need to do an additional 6 weeks of treatment to try and get rid of the cancer completely.
After we had all of our questions answered, we set up an appointment to meet with the nurse the following day and then headed over to another area of the hospital where Allen was scheduled to have a breathing test. (It’s harder than it sounds, lol!) We were glad to leave the hospital and return home that day. The chemotherapy treatments were starting sooner than we had planned, but we were anxious to get the ball rolling and start fighting this thing.
Allen was still recovering from his surgery at this point and his back pain really started to intensify over the next few days. He said it was the first time he could really feel the cancer affecting him and invading his body. We were hoping he would be able to return to work for a few days before his treatments started, but he was in so much pain that he had to mostly stay at home and work from there.
Just as if the Lord had planned it that way, General Conference was the weekend between Allen’s recovery from surgery and the beginning of his chemo treatments. We were really looking forward to being enlightened and uplifted! Our kids were excited to listen and watch with us as we turned on the TV to hear the words of our prophet, President Monson, and many other inspired leaders. I really felt the Lord’s love for me as I tried to help the kids listen and understand the messages that were being given about our Savior and becoming more like Him. It was a stressful weekend because Allen was in so much pain and really couldn’t help very much, but it was also rewarding to feel like I was trying my best to listen and help my children listen. I love going back to the talks from General Conference and listening to them or reading each of them before the next session of General Conference. It really is a blessing in my life and helps me understand ways that I can become better and find strength to endure whatever trials the Lord may give me.
Since moving to Louisiana, far, far away from family, I can see how the Lord is blessing us by placing amazing people in our path. We have had so many friends reach out to us and support us in so many ways! One of these amazing people is my sweet friend, Jennifer. We were talking on the phone and fell into deep conversation as we usually do (I love her for that!). She has experienced her own heartache and her own set of trials, just as all of us have. I expressed to her my concern for my kids. I didn’t want them to see me sad and discouraged or overwhelmed and stressed. I wanted to preserve their childhood as much as possible and allow them to just be kids through all of this! But she was wise enough to help me see that I cannot carry that heavy load. It is wonderful for me to try and be upbeat and keep their lives free from sadness as much as possible, but there are going to be times when I can’t cover up the truth and the difficulty of the situation, and that is just fine. This experience is not just for me. It is not something that only I am supposed to grow from, but my kids are also supposed to grow from it as well. I am grateful that she helped me see the benefit that will come to them as they are shaped and molded by this trial in their life. Heavenly Father knows what they need and how they will learn and grow from watching their daddy battle cancer.
I’m so grateful for my family. I have the sweetest kids who are so aware of me and what I’m feeling. They are sensitive and kind hearted. I know that all of us will grow stronger through this if we continue to be faithful and lean on our Savior for support, comfort, peace, and love. He is the one who has felt our pains, sorrows, sicknesses, and griefs.
Chemo // First Week
Sheesh. Where do I start? Chemo is brutal. We’re one week down and still feeling like we have so much ahead of us. The first few days were manageable with some nausea and tiredness, but nothing prepared us for how things would turn so quickly after that. But let’s start at the beginning of the week.
Allen and I took our two oldest kids to school on Monday morning and then dropped off Evan and Raegan at a friend’s house. (We’ve been blessed with amazing friends here in Louisiana! I don’t know what we’d do without them.) On the way down to the cancer center, Allen was pretty nervous. We were both feeling anxious because we didn’t know what his treatment would be like. We arrived and checked in with the receptionist, then waited until the nurse called us back.
We followed her into a large treatment area with rows of cubicles where patients were sitting in recliners and receiving their treatments. The nurse told Allen he could sit down and that she would be back in a minute to give him an IV. I could tell he didn’t want to sit down. Allen doesn’t do well with needles, but even more than that I don’t think either one of us wanted to admit something was really wrong and commit to the hard road ahead. I told him he didn’t have to sit down yet. Once he was ready, he took a seat and we just looked at each other and started to cry. I’ll never ever forget that moment. It was defining for us. I can’t put into words all that we felt or why that moment was so important for us, but it still gives me strength to think back on it. We’re in this journey together.
The day was spent with Allen hooked up to an IV and receiving bags of fluid for his chemotherapy treatment. Volunteers came by asking if we’d like a snack or drink. I hope I’ll get to volunteer at a cancer center one day. We were there for about 5 hours that day.
Tuesday was similar except Allen was able to leave in his IV for the week and just go get hooked up to his chemo fluids. No needles? That was a relief! Everything was taking a bit longer, however, since they needed to administer a new chemo drug to Allen and then monitor him for breathing issues before giving him the rest of that particular medicine. He responded normally, but we were set back quite a bit between waiting to see how he’d respond and waiting for the pharmacist to bring down the remaining chemo drug. It was looking like we wouldn’t finish until 4:00 or 4:30pm that day.
We had another friend watching Evan and Raegan at home, but the kids were fighting colds and I was worried about Raegan’s secretions thickening again. She had been in the hospital with respiratory issues over Easter weekend after aspirating on her thick mucus. After that, they diagnosed her with human metapnuemovirus, or hMPV (which is similar to RSV), and she earned herself a 4 or 5 day hospital stay. We did not want that happening again. I decided to leave Allen at his treatment to finish up while I returned home to feed Raegan and pick up Benson and Katelyn from school before going down and picking up Allen. It was a LONG day, but we returned home to dinner left by our friends. That was a huge blessing for our family! At this point in the treatment, Allen was feeling nauseous and a little tired at times, but he was still making himself eat and everything was going pretty well.
Wednesday was different because Allen drove down to his treatment all by himself so I could stay with Evan and Raegan. The doctor had said that might be a possibility, and on this particular day he was able to do that. I was hesitant to have him go alone, but he woke up feeling pretty strongly that I should stay with Rae so she could eat more frequently. His treatment was shorter that day and I was glad to see him home by 2:00pm. He was pretty tired and went back to rest in bed.
All of us were looking forward to Thursday because that’s when Allen’s parents would be flying in. The kids were feeling quite a bit better and I wasn’t so sure that Allen should go to treatment by himself, but he went ahead and drove himself to treatment that morning. I called another friend and she came to stay with our youngest two kids for a few hours so I could go sit with him and just be there. It was another short treatment day, so we came home and Allen rested most of the evening.
By Thursday night, Allen was feeling awful. You could say that was perfect timing or horrible timing since his parents were flying in that night. For me, it was a huge blessing! They swooped in and lifted everyone’s spirits. The kids were so excited to see Grandma and Grandpa, and Allen was able to sit and talk with them for a couple of hours. I was glad to see him smiling and showing a little bit of energy.
But it was Thursday night that Allen started to have some gastrointestinal issues. He felt a lot of tightness in his abdomen, heartburn, bloating/gas, and diarrhea. There just wasn’t anything we could do to help him feel comfortable. Allen’s parents went with him to his chemo treatment on Friday and the nurses told him some OTC medications we could use to try and get his side effects under control. I called the nurse before closing time on Friday and talked with her about hydration and what we could do to help him. By Friday night, Allen started throwing up. He had only done this once so far, and the doctors told him that he shouldn’t be vomiting, even though he may feel like he wants to most of the time. We initially linked it to one anti-nausea medication and called the doctor to see what we should do. He told us to switch to another anti-nausea medication and also gave us advice on some of the other GI issues Allen was dealing with. The entire weekend, Allen was struggling with keeping foods in him. He couldn’t stay hydrated or keep food or fluids in him for more than a couple of hours. It was completely miserable for him, and watching him struggle was really hard.In one week, he lost about 15 pounds. We were definitely worried and tried everything to get him to eat and keep liquids in him. It was a struggle.
It was a huge blessing to have Allen’s parents there to play with the kids and take them on adventures. They took them to a parade on Friday, a slushie date Friday night, some Saturday bike rides and pool time, and of course lots of craft and wrestling time. They were a huge emotional support for all of us as well, and they helped keep the house running and let me have two free hands to do anything I needed to to take care of Allen. That meant lots of trips to the pharmacy, phone calls to the doctor, and running around the house. I really do feel like they were there at one of the most crucial times and would recommend that anyone else facing chemotherapy treatments should try to have family or friends lined up to help during the beginning of treatments when they’re trying to figure out how to counter the side effects of their treatment. It was so helpful to have our family’s help that first weekend.
We also had the support of our friends and the members of our church. They helped give Allen a blessing on Friday night when things were really tough on Allen, and they brought the sacrament to our home on Sunday and checked in on us daily. We’re so grateful to be here in Louisiana with so many people helping us, showing their concern, and cheering us on!
We’re on to week two now and meeting with the doctor to see how we can resolve Allen’s GI issues and get his energy back. I’m sure we’ll get it all figured out, and I’m planning to write about it as soon as I can. We’ve had a lot of prayers and miracles along the way. Feeling encouraged and ready to face the next few weeks!
We have been amazed by the amount of support and love shown to us by family, friends, and even strangers over the last several weeks. Thank you! Thank you for giving us strength and encouragement! Thank you for offering to help, sending sweet emails and texts, and checking in on us. We have needed it and you have all blessed our lives!
We’ve felt The Lord giving us strength through your prayers. Thank you for praying for us, fasting for our family, and adding our names to the temple prayer roll. I know we’re on several prayer chains of friends of other faiths as well and we feel blessed to know so many Christ-loving people.
Allen’s mom, Mary, was inspired to put together a fasting schedule after hearing of this idea from a friend. She told us that another family had fasted 40 days by giving each person a day to fast for their family member, and it strengthened them through their trial. She thought it would be a wonderful experience to do something similar for us and have someone fasting each day until Allen completes his treatments. We were humbled by this sweet idea and she has been coordinating a fasting schedule since Allen’s chemo treatments began on October 6. I can already tell you that it has strengthened not only our faith and our family, but our relationships as we’ve seen the selfless sacrifice of others on our behalf. Thank you for your kindness and love! We are so blessed to have your friendship. Each one of you is dear to us! If you want to be included in the fast Mary is coordinating, just send us a quick email through the contact page on this website and she’ll be in touch with you.
My sweet little Katelyn has an undeniable testimony of prayer. Just tonight she prayed half a dozen times for Heavenly Father to help her be brave and not feel so much pain as I helped clean out a scrape on her lip. She is a great example to me of pure faith in Jesus Christ and is often the one to remind us that we need to stop and pray when we need help.
I have a testimony of prayer. Even in my weak moments when I’m discouraged and feel like what’s being asked of us is too hard, I know He is there and truly understands. He will buoy us up.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
He does not always take away the difficult load we are asked to bear, but He does help us carry it. He can ease our burdens and make them light. All He asks is that we turn to Him, have faith in Him, and do our part. I know this is true for all of us no matter what we are facing. He loves us and is reaching out to help us. I know He will strengthen us as we pray to Him and ask for His divine help.
Chemo // Week Two
Our schedule for week two included going to the cancer center on Tuesday for bloodwork, a doctor appointment, and a chemo treatment. Allen was not improving by Monday and we were in contact with the doctor and nurse to try and figure out how to prevent weight loss and keep foods down. Overall, he lost about 20 pounds and was looking pretty terrible. He was still nauseated constantly and we were nervous about getting him down to his appointment. When we arrived on Tuesday, he was completely dehydrated and couldn’t walk on his own because of fatigue. I pushed him around in a wheelchair. It was so crazy to see him looking the worst out of anyone there that day. The needles were a struggle because of dehydration, but they were able to take his blood and sent us along to meet with the doctor.
When we met with our oncologist, he struggled to know why Allen was having such severe reactions to the chemotherapy. If things didn’t improve, they would modify his treatment in the coming weeks. We asked questions about how to treat his side effects and felt prepared to treat things at home and see if Allen could feel somewhat normal again. The doctor wanted to see us again two days later to monitor Allen’s improvement. Allen had his chemotherapy treatment afterward and they also filled him up with saline. He was looking and feeling much better once he was hydrated again!
There wasn’t a lot of improvement in the next day, so we called our doctor to see if there were other options for getting his GI issues under control. They wondered about an infection and wanted to run some tests on him the next day when we came to the appointment. We went to the appointment and they ran tests, then sent us upstairs for some more saline to hydrate him. This was one of the hardest things for Allen. The nurses were trying their best to give him an IV, but since he was so dehydrated they had to try three times before getting a good line. I felt so helpless watching him as he sat there, squeezing my hand while he faced one of his biggest fears over and over again. It was painful and I knew that. It’s never easy to watch someone you love suffer through something like that, even when you know it’s going to be okay.
We went home that day and waited to hear the results for the doctor. Sure enough, Allen had a bacterial infection called C. diff that was causing so many of the problems he was having! We were relieved to know there was an antibiotic he could take that would help rid his body of the bacteria. And it was so nice to feel like maybe we would be able to handle his next chemotherapy treatments and manage his side effects when there wasn’t a bacterial infection coming into play! That helped eliminate some of the discouragement we felt after trying our best to keep food in him and retain calories, but seeing him suffer and lose so much weight.
After taking just one or two of the new antibiotics, Allen was starting to feel better. It was night and day! I couldn’t believe how the C. diff was causing so many of the complications! Allen started to gain weight and felt like he could eat more, sit outside with us, and read books to the kids. It was amazing having him back! 🙂 He was even able to go to church with us on Sunday and watch Benson and Katelyn in their primary’s musical program, which was so sweet! We love those kids! It felt great just to be together a little more as a family. Allen continued to improve over the weekend, and we were so encouraged and ready to take on the next week’s treatment. Heavenly Father had blessed us for sure, and we were grateful for Allen’s recovered energy and health! Thank you all for praying and fasting for us! I know that has made a really big difference.
Chemo // Week Three
Monday night of week three was a fun night! The bishop’s family came over to mow our yard and pull weeds, etc. They are some of the sweetest people we’ve met here and are dear friends! We also had another family stop by to help us with the ants that were trying to take over our yard despite our repeated visits by “the bug man.” We ended up chatting outside and enjoying their friendship for a while. It was so nice to have that time together and to feel their love for us through their service. We’ve been so blessed to be here and can see that the Lord had a hand in where we ended up after graduate school.
By Tuesday of the third week, Allen was feeling leaps and bounds better than he had a week before! He was walking in for his bloodwork, doctor appointment, and chemotherapy. Everyone at the clinic was starting to become family, and they each commented on how much better he was looking and how happy they were to see him feeling better! When we met with our oncologist, he told us he couldn’t figure out how Allen got C. diff, but he was so happy to know that the problems Allen experienced weren’t coming from the chemo treatments alone. It didn’t really add up in his mind that Allen would be reacting in such an extreme way, so we were all glad to hear that the next treatment week shouldn’t be as brutal as the first. Yay!
Allen’s veins were easier to place an IV in and his treatment for Tuesday was just one drip bag of chemo. We were able to go home and enjoy most of the week together as Allen kept improving, having more cravings, and gaining energy and weight! Some of the funny things he started craving were hot dogs and tuna sandwiches. We decided it was because of the pickles/relish. 🙂 Pretty funny!
It was Wednesday that took us by surprise. Allen went to lay down and rest for a few minutes, but instead he came back into the living room with his pillow. It was covered in hair. The doctor had told us that Allen would start to lose his hair around the third week of chemo treatments, but it was so ironic that right when Allen was starting to feel better the cancer was reminding us that it was there. Neither of us knew what to expect with his hair loss– if it would come out gradually or all at once– so I was surprised when he called me into the bathroom a little frightened because it was coming out in clumps. He would lightly tug on a section of hair and every strand would come out. It was hard for him. Not so much the visual appearance, but the emotional aspect. He decided to take control and shave his head. I think he looks handsome. 🙂
I picked up the kids from school and prepped them for seeing Dad since he looked different. The first response I had from Benson after I told them we shaved off Dad’s hair was, “I wonder what he’s going to be for Halloween now!” He wasn’t phased at all by the news. Katelyn’s school had been talking about bullying, so Katelyn said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I won’t say anything to make Dad feel bad about losing his hair.” I love my kids. They are all so sweet and kind. We decided to make a quick trip to the store to buy Allen a couple of hats just in case. Allen was surprised and liked the gesture, but I learned that hats with snap closures are not the best idea for bald heads. Flex fit it is! 😉
By Thursday, Allen was feeling so good that we ventured out and ran a couple of errands. Of course we had to get a hot dog at Costco. Mmm… jk. Not my fave. But it was the first semi-normal day we had had in a long time and it felt great!
I’m pretty sure our outing on Thursday wiped Allen out, because Friday was another low-energy day and he ended up taking a 3+ hour nap that afternoon. I decided to pick the kids up from school and take them to a park nearby. We had some friends meet us there and it was so nice to just let the kids play while we chatted, looked for tadpoles (which turned out to be minnows… haha!), and just spent a couple hours enjoying the beautiful outside weather. We’ve meet some wonderful families here and have made lifelong friends! It’s been such a blessing for us.
We weren’t sure how Saturday would go, but Allen ended up feeling really good again! We spent the morning cleaning the house and then Allen took Bens and Kate for a little outing while Ev and Rae napped. Once they came home, we all got dressed up for that night’s Halloween Trunk or Treat being put on by our church. It was being held at a church that’s a little over an hour away from our home in a small Mississippi town. We stopped by a local discount store to snag some last-minute wigs and were on our way! The whole night was a lot of fun and the kids had a blast between the candy, carnival games, and bounce house. We had the cutest Lightning McQueen, Ariel, and Luigi. Plus an impromptu wig-wearing Baby Rae. They were wiped out by the end of the night and, as it goes sometimes when schedules are completely thrown off, I had a night full of interruptions as the kids all took turns waking me up! Grumpy mom. Lol! Allen was able to go with all of us to church again and was set apart for his new calling as the assistant executive secretary. It was a good weekend!
We’re optimistic that this next set of treatments will go much more smoothly than the first! I’m grateful for the good moments we have together when life just feels normal and balanced as a family. We’re so blessed to have each other and I’m reminded of that in both the good times and when times are just chaotic and unbalanced. I’m starting to understand President Uchtdorf’s talk he gave about gratitude. Gratitude really isn’t about being grateful for things, or only when things are going well. It’s about having an attitude of gratitude throughout your life and in any circumstance. I’m grateful for the growth and learning that’s coming from this trial in our lives. I love and appreciate Allen more than I did before, and I am grateful for the people who have taught me through their service and friendship. I’m learning how to reach out by seeing the ways others have reached out to us, and maybe I wouldn’t have been as bold before or would have held back because I didn’t know what to say or how to help. But now I understand that just doing something means a lot. Thank you for being there for us and showing us that you care! We’ve felt so much love and support throughout this journey!
It’s been too long since I last wrote an update! You know, I really did have the best intentions when I set up this blog. 🙂 Allen’s chemotherapy was comparable to a roller coaster. He’d feel okay during the first half of his long treatment week and then by the end of that week, he wasn’t feeling too well (low energy, major food aversions, nausea, etc). Then toward the end of his second week, he’d start to improve and would feel almost normal by the time the third week was over and the cycle started all over again. In all, he did 4 cycles (3 weeks each) of chemo. The third cycle was probably the hardest emotionally, and the last long week (week 10) felt like a huge accomplishment once it was completed! Allen’s parents were visiting us when he finished that week so they went with him to treatment and he and I cried together once he came home. It felt so incredibly good to be past the “hardest” part of chemo. I’ll never forget that moment. He is so incredibly strong.
Allen’s last day of chemo was just two days before Christmas – December 23. What an amazing gift! 🙂 We had an incredible Christmas with our kids and my mom visiting. A few days later, my sister came into town to see us and then we were able to see Allen’s brother and his family after that! It was a great holiday for us!
Allen had his final CT scan a couple days before the New Year. They scanned everything from his brain to his pelvis. The next day, we met with the doctor and learned that everything in his scan was clear! Yay! That was a huge blessing. We were still waiting to hear his tumor marker numbers from blood work that had been done, but they were so low the time before that the doctor was confident Allen had beat cancer. We were so happy about that! The only piece of news we didn’t hope to hear was that the masses in his back and neck were still there. They had gone down in size considerably but were still large enough to require surgery. We knew this could be a possibility but were praying that if it was the Lord’s plan, the masses would be completely gone and we wouldn’t have to face the surgery. Sometimes our plan is not the Lord’s plan, and the only thing we can do is face it in faith.
Allen’s surgery is now scheduled for February 18. Our oncologist discussed with us the delicacy of the surgery, specifically with the removal of the mass in Allen’s back. Not only is it a difficult place to access, but there is a cluster of nerves right in that area that only a specialized surgeon should even attempt to navigate. Our oncologist recommended two medical centers that specialize in RPLND surgeries and we selected Indiana University where one of the world’s top RPLND surgeons is on staff. We were able to secure him as our surgeon and feel great about our decision! He has requested that a specialized head and neck surgeon perform the surgery simultaneously so both can focus on what they do best- one on the neck and the other on the back. We really do feel at peace when we think about what good hands we’re in! Of course we’re nervous about the surgery and don’t like to think about it too much, but we know it will all work out! Allen’s recovery will be about 5 days in the hospital and then another 4-5 weeks at home. We’re hopeful that this surgery will be the last big hurdle for us to clear before Allen is in recession. If they do discover any active cancer cells during the surgery, however, that will mean 6 more weeks of chemotherapy. Honestly, that doesn’t sound like something we’re up for right now. It’s been crazy hard to go through all of this already, but I know it’s the Lord’s will and it is making us stronger. I’ve never felt so many emotions, ups and downs- and I’ve probably never depended on the Lord and His earthly angels so much. We’ve been blessed with so much support from family and friends, it’s incredibly humbling. I’ve learned so much from their love and service.
Thank you for praying for us. There are times when I haven’t had the energy to get up and do what needed to be done, but somehow I did it. And other times when I felt like crying or falling apart but somehow kept it together. I know it’s because of the strength we’ve received from your prayers, love, and concern. We’re so blessed to have crossed paths with so many amazing people! To some it may seem crazy that we’ve moved around so much and are far away from family, but we’re learning a lot about ourselves and are growing closer as a family. And all the while, we get to meet some fantastic friends in each place that we live!
I know my Savior loves me and knows what I’m going through. He knows Allen and my kids. He knows each one of us! I truly would feel hopeless and lost if I didn’t know the purpose of life and have a testimony of why I am here and why we go through trials. I love listening to the words of our prophet, President Monson, who truly is a messenger of Jesus Christ. When I listen to the words of the prophet and apostles during General Conference, I can feel the spirit testify to me that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s church on the earth today. It’s such a blessing to me to know that and to be fortified through their messages of faith and hope. The Lord loves each one of us and knows us. He wants to bless us have us return to live with Him someday. I’m grateful for His life, example, and ultimate sacrifice. I’m so grateful that we can grow closer to Him as we lean on Him and learn from Him. I hope I can share His message with those I know who are searching for truth and have a desire to know of His love for them personally! I’m happy to answer any questions of those who aren’t familiar with my faith, so please don’t be shy! You can see I’m not too shy about sharing my feelings and beliefs. Thank you for being a friend to me and to Allen! We’re so grateful for you!
Today was the big day! Allen went into surgery this morning at 9:00 am and finished around 3:30 pm. The first doctor operated on Allen’s abdominal area for the RPLND surgery that removed the first tumor. The second doctor operated on Allen’s neck/shoulder area to remove the second tumor. We had concerns about possible nerve damage to these areas, but from the doctors’ reports, it looks like everything will be okay! I feel so incredibly grateful for these doctors, for prayer and fasting, for a loving Heavenly Father who knows each of us personally and what we’re going through, for amazingly supportive family and friends, for the medical research and discoveries that have been made in the last 30 years that now give a high survival rate to testicular cancer patients… the list could go on and on!
To keep myself busy in the waiting room, I was practicing my hand lettering and came up with this…
The thought kept entering my mind over and over again. “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)
Each one of us experiences heartache and uncertainty at times. It’s a part of our personal trials and testing. We experience times when we feel anxious and vulnerable… times when we have to cope with the unknown and wait for the Lord’s time and will to become our own. It’s during these times (and always, really) that we need to put faith as our highest priority. God is in control. Be still, have faith, and know that truth for yourself.
I want to give this printable to you as a freebie- the first freebie on my site! You can download the mint, peach, or black + white version in a 5×7 on my freebie page here.
Print it out and give it to a friend who is struggling, or print it out and frame it as a reminder to lean on our Heavenly Father at all times. He truly knows you and me, and He is in control. He can make more of us than we could have ever imagined for ourselves! I know that. Today I am so grateful for the power of prayer and the knowledge that God is in control.
You guys! A couple things worth celebrating today…
First, and obviously the most important… Allen is cancer free! After 6 months of craziness, we are beyond excited to hear the news!! What a huge blessing for our family. Thank you, thank you for all of your prayers!
Second… I’ve started focusing on my new styled stock photography business a lot more lately, had my first Etsy sale a few days ago, and have just hit 100 followers on Instagram! Woohoo!! Not a huge milestone, especially considering the last business I started and how well it’s continuing to do with my friend, Shan, running it, but it is definitely something I want to celebrate! So… thank you for wanting to follow along on this new business venture! To celebrate, I designed this fun 8×10 printable that you can download, print, and enjoy! I truly am the luckiest.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!!
FREE PRINTABLE 8X10 “I AM THE LUCKIEST”
DOWNLOAD ON OUR FREEBIES PAGE HERE.