Holy Week

 

With another hospital admission at the start of Holy Week, there was a chance that Theresa would not be home in time for Pascha.  On Thursday night, the doctors said they were planning on discharging her on Good Friday.

After the Divine Liturgy on Holy Thursday, Fr. Rankin and I went up to see Theresa around 9:30PM.  It was time to take my black cassock for a spin and see if it would get me past security and the 8PM closing time!  (I figured, if they wanted to see clergy credentials, I’d show them my FBI credentials instead!) We came up to her room, both dressed in black and she said “A little dramatic tonight I see.”  At least she still has a sense of humor.
12931118_10154585424311686_820289718251461401_nI got a text message from her Friday afternoon to call.  When I did, she told me that they were not going to be releasing her.  They did a final blood test and found abnormal liver numbers.  They said this could be one of two things, a blockage in the bile duct or a tumor in the pancreas causing the bile duct to dilate.  They did an MRI and found a mass in the pancreas.

The GI doctors came to visit and said that they had two options to fix the issue.  First, they would insert a stent into the bile duct to try and force it open.  If successful, the fluids could drain from the liver and return the liver functions to normal.  If the stent was not successful, they would need to insert a drainage tube, bypassing the bile duct.  They said this was not an emergency situation and that it could wait until Monday.

They gave Theresa the option to discharge Friday night and return for outpatient procedure on Monday.  She chose the wiser option and decided to stay in the hospital until the procedure was finished.

On Sunday, after the Matins and Divine Liturgy, Ryan, Mom and I brought the Pascha basket to the hospital for Theresa to enjoy the fruits of the feast.  Without prompting, Ryan hopped up on the bed and enjoyed some more ham and chocolate with his Mom.

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Before we left for church, he took the $5 he had gotten in one of the Easter eggs and said that he was going to buy his Mom some chocolate to enjoy.  I’m so impressed with him and the caring spirit he has been showing.

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Today, they did the procedure with endoscope. As they were positioning her for the procedure, they said they normally did the procedure with the patient on their stomach, but due to her bone lesions in the femur, they would be doing the procedure with her lying on her back.  This was the first we had heard about lesions in the femur.   Ugh.

Theresa got back to her room around 3:30PM and told me that they were successful in getting the stent into the bile duct.  It looks like they will be discharging her tomorrow.

 

Tough Questions

When Theresa went to the ER on Monday 3/21, we knew they were planning on admitting her to the hospital for an unknown number of days.  I decided to not tell Ryan until I got home that night and had Nana tell him Mom was at the doctor for tests.

I went to see Theresa around 4PM and found her hooked up to another IV; another set of pain medicines.  All of this was starting to wear on her and she told me how difficult it was to see her Aunt/Uncle leave and that she broke down while talking to her Uncle.  She said we did everything we were supposed to do and yet here we are.  She said that she didn’t want to do this anymore.  I didn’t push her; I just let her vent her feelings. As it was getting close to 7PM, I left to get home to talk to Ryan.

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Before I got home, I sent a text message to Fr. Rankin letting him know that Theresa was back in the hospital and relaying her comment about not wanting to do this anymore.  As soon as I walked in the door, Ryan asked where his Mom was.  I told him she was going to be in the hospital for a few days and he dropped his head.  I asked him to come in and talk with me for a bit.

All day long I knew that I was going to have a conversation with him about Theresa and had it all ready in my head.  I asked him how he thought Mom was doing and he gave me the so-so hand sign.  I asked for more details and he said she’s been sleeping alot and her back has been hurting.  I asked him if he remembered a few weeks ago when we told him the cancer was back and he said yes.  I told him that it had spread to a few other areas, the spine and liver.  Before I could get the next word out, he looked at me and asked, “Is Mom going to die?”  That was not something I was expecting so early in the conversation and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about sidestepping that question or using some generic line that we are all going to die some day.  I took a few seconds to gather myself and told him, yes there is a chance that  Mom might die from this.  The look on his face and the tears that came out cut to the bone.

I let him curl up on my lap and cry for several minutes.  I told him that this was something that was not going to happen today, tomorrow, next week or next month.  I explained that the doctors are doing everything they can and that many people who have the same disease as Mom have been fighting and living for years.  Some people for 20+, some for 10+, some for 5+ and yet others who don’t get that far.  He asked me what was the percentage chance that Mom will die and I had to explain that we don’t know and there was no way to make that guess.  He asked if he could go and visit his Mom the next day.  He said, I’m not going to take any books or electronics, I just want to lay down next to her and talk.  We made plans to have him come to my office after school and He and I would go visit. We talked about how we can not change the past, we can not predict the future, but we can live each day to the fullest.  I told him it was fine to be sad, mad, confused…any number of emotions.  I also told him that it was fine to be happy and laugh when things happen during the day that make him happy.  He smiled and said he would.

As he was falling asleep, he reminded me that for all the adult questions he asked, he is still a 10 year old boy.  He analogized that Mom’s fight was like a wrestling match, Mom vs. Cancer.  And we are the spectators watching the wrestling match take place.  I said yep, and just like any wrestling match our favorite wrestler will have some good rounds and some bad rounds, but we will always cheer for them.  He smiled and said, yes and she won’t give up on us.

On my way to work on Tuesday, I called Theresa to let her know about my conversation with Ryan so that she would be ready for the questions he was sure to ask her.  I found out that Fr. Rankin had visited her Monday night and had a blunt conversation with her.  Father said that there might come a time in the future when she has to make a hard decision to stop or continue treatment, but now is not that time.  There are still many treatment options to pursue and that she needed to fight the fight.  She told me that she needed to hear that.  Thank you for good and holy priests.

Ryan and I got to her room while she was away for treatment and when she returned to her room, he did as he said and climbed up in bed and talked to her.  And just like we expected, he told her that I said there was a chance she might die.  In the moments that came after that question I saw the incredible strength that my wife has. She gave her answer with a strong and confident voice and it had to be very comforting for Ryan to hear the confidence in her voice.  We stayed for a bit before we made our way home.  Before we left, Ryan wanted a few pictures to be taken.  As he was saying goodnight, he told Theresa that cancer patients in the hospital who have someone pray for them are more likely to get out of the hospital than those who don’t have someone to pray for them.  He said it’s probably because God knows that a person who is being prayed for is loved and makes them better.  While his theology may not be textbook, his spirit is strong!  DSC_1241_DxODSC_1242_DxO When we got home and he was getting into bed, he said his night prayers and without prompting, added a beautiful petition for the health of his Mom that would make St. John Chrysostom proud!  I know it made his Dad proud.  I posted these pictures to my Facebook account and one of the comments came from my brother John.  He posted the picture below that he put on my Mom’s facebook page when she started her treatment for ovarian cancer in 2014.  He said that number 1 on that list was evidenced by Ryan and his Mama tonight!  Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!10600360_10208907491233429_8967509459011058704_n

 

 

Home, yet going back

The doctors gave Theresa the OK to return home on Friday, March 11th.  They sent her home with new prescriptions and new ways to treat the wound she has.

While she was waiting on a room in the ER, she complained that the stretcher was causing her back to hurt.  This continued once she got up to her room.  It seemed like heat would help reduce the pain, but it still hurt pretty bad.

On Wednesday, March 16th, the pain was incredibly bad and even the Oxycodone was not doing much to mask it.

The next chemotherapy treatment and meeting with the Oncologist was on Thursday, March 17th.  The regular Oncologist was sick so we met with another doctor.  She ordered a lower back MRI to see what was causing the pain and that test was done that evening.

On Friday, Theresa got a call from the substitute oncologist who said that there were numerous lesions on the spine and hips and made a quick referral to a Radiation Oncologist.  That appointment took place Friday afternoon.

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The Radiation Oncologist decided it was best to have Theresa go to the ER for a full spine MRI that will be used to create a map of where the radiation is directed.   The goal is to reduce/eliminate the lesions to reduce the pain they are causing.  More likely than not, this will require time in the hospital.  She wanted Theresa to go to the ER on Friday, but her Aunt/Uncle from Illinois were coming to visit over the weekend, so Theresa said no.  This is happening on Monday, March 21.

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Akathistos Saturday

“Is any one among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is any cheerful?  Let him sing praise.  Is any among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” – James 5:13-15

 

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In the Eastern Church, the 5th Saturday of the Great Fast is known as Akathistos Saturday.  My parish sang the Akathist to the Holy Theotokos and held an anointing of the sick afterwards.  I watched as people came forward for the anointing and when it came time to watch my wife go forward, I had tears in my eyes.  And I wasn’t the only one.

Why?  Because three days ago she ended up going to the ER for the round of confusion that happened on Tuesday and she was admitted to the hospital for a battery of tests.  They did blood tests, brain scans, MRI’s, ultrasounds and many visits from doctors and medical students.  In the end, all of the testing didn’t provide any definitive answers.  They were able to rule out some things, but their final report was the confusion was probably caused by an underlying infection, made worse by dehydration and improper nutrition and chased by too much Oxycontin in her system.

They sent her home with 28 days of antibiotics, a much lower dose of Oxycontin and instructions to follow up with the Oncologist.  As I have written about in a previous post, the new treatment plan is a drug called Navelbine and the first two times she received that drug, the area where the cancer is was hurting after the treatment.

The surgical oncology team that came to see her looked at a very nasty looking wound that had the internal medicine doctors thinking infection.  The surgery team said it wasn’t infection; it was dead cancer cells.  Again, I choose to believe that Navelbine is doing its job and killing the cancer.

 

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As part of the anointing, our parish priest gave a short homily regarding the sacrament.  He quoted James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”  If the prayer of a righteous man has great power, how much more power and effect does prayer from the Holy Theotokos have on our behalf?  I had a long conversation with my spiritual advisor on Tuesday, right before all things broke loose.  He said to me, “You are receiving an education in pastoral theology in this journey that no seminary could every provide you.”  I choose to believe there is a Divine plan in all of this and that wherever the road takes us, it is for the sanctification of soul and body, both mine and hers.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

Confusion and Delay

SVYesterday, Theresa left home at 12:30PM to work in the parish finance office.  She called home around 5:00PM to let Mom know that she was going to be late.  At 7:30PM, I sent her a text asking if she was planning on coming home tonight?  She responded a few minutes later with a text that said “Seriously exhausted on 291”.  My response was huh?

I figured she was on her way home on I-19 and that Siri had autocorrected the text from I19 to 291.  Around 8:00PM, Theresa called saying that she was lost and didn’t know which way to go to get home.  She said I just passed a sign for Ft. Huachuca/Sierra Vista.  When she said that I realized that the 291 she mentioned was milepost 291.  I had her pull off the road and turn on the GPS with our home address.  I heard it in the background ding and say the estimated travel time was 1 hour.

She had gone 50 miles East of our home.  Having made the drive to Sierra Vista many times, I knew there was a truck stop just off the interstate.  I had her pull into there and wait for me to drive and pick her up.  There was no way I wanted her trying to drive home.  So, we put Ryan in the backseat and drove to the Loves truck stop.  When I got there, she seemed to be a bit dazed and confused.  We drove home and she went to bed.

At 4:00Am, her alarm went off which indicated it was medicine time.  She went into the bathroom to take the medicine.  Almost 50 minutes later, I noticed the light was still on and she was asleep in the bathroom.  I let her stay there, figuring at least she was sleeping.  When I got up at 6:30 to get ready for work, she was taking a shower.  I joked, so you decided to sleep on the toilet last night.  She didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.

We have an appointment with the oncologist tomorrow and this will be something new to report on.

Panagia Pantanassa

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On Sunday, one of the families at our parish gave us the icon you see in the bottom of the picture.  The icon is titled Panagia Pantanassa.  This icon is a representation of the miraculous icon of the Theotokos held at the Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos, Greece.  The holy icon was brought to Mt. Athos by elder Joseph from Nea Skete. The first record of the icon’s healing came from elder Joseph.  One day a young man from Cyprus went to visit and entered into the church.  At that point, the elder witnessed a glowing light radiating from the face of the Theotokos and an invisible power pushed the young man to the ground.  When he recovered from his fall, he began to repent and weep and confessed that he did not believe and was a participant in the black arts.  He changed his life and became an Orthodox Christian.

The icon is also know for working many miracles, especially healing people with cancer.  There are many recent records of people who have been healed from cancer after participating in the Supplicatory Canon to the Pantanassa at the monastery.  There are 13 odes that are sung as part of the Akathist.  From Kontakion 9 and the Ikos:

All angelic and human nature was amazed at the greatness of Thine incomprehensible Incaration, O Word.  Gazing with wonder before this great mystery of piety, with fear and trembling we thankfully cry out to Thee:

Rejoice, constant Preserver of healthy children. Rejoice, Bearer of health to the sick. Rejoice, Healing of ailing children. Rejoice,  Mother of suffering youths.  Rejoice, Thou who dost raise up those cast down upon the bed of sickness. Rejoice, Comfort of those held by the fear of death. Rejoice, Thou who dost heed men’s weeping.  Rejoice, Thou who dost regard our moaning.  Rejoice, Suffuser of earthly pains with heavenly joy. Rejoice, supernatural Patience of the tempest tossed.  Rejoice, Thou who preparest joy for those who weep.  Rejoice, Thou who provided the meek with wings of prayer.

On Saturday March 12, the entire Akathist will be sung in the church followed by the solemn anointing of the sick for all in the parish.   Lord, enlighten us, With Your precepts that can guide our lives, and with Your arm most powerful Grant to us Your peace, O You Who are the Friend of all.  Clouds of trials now have surrounded me and I’m afraid, O most Praised hasten to my aid, You who carried Him Who is our salvation cause and hope.  I lie now in great pain and sorrow, and there is no healing at all for my body.  Except for you, Who alone gave birth for us, to the Word the great price for creation all, of your goodness Pantanassa, From my sadness and sicknesses raise me.  Through the prayers and intercession of the Holy Theotokos, O Savior save us.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

 

Rejoice, constant Preserver of healthy children.
Rejoice, Bearer of health to the sick.
Rejoic