The Long Goodbye

Throughout the early morning of Monday, April 18, I stayed awake most of the night.  After everyone had left, Theresa’s breathing had become labored and irregular and there were periods of time when she would stop breathing for up to 20 seconds.  I finally fell asleep around 4am and was awake again at 6am.  Because of what the hospice nurse told me, I decided to keep Ryan home from school.  I had him go in and talk to his Mom when he got out of bed.  I told him she wouldn’t be able to respond and answer but that she was able to hear everything he said.  I told him to tell her everything he wanted to tell her and he asked if she was going to die today.  I told him there was a good chance that today would be the day and he poured his heart out to her.

Around 8:45am, I realized that I had forgotten to return a call to one of Theresa’s aunts who had called Sunday night.  When I called her, I told her what was happening and she asked if she could talk to Theresa.  I put the phone on speakerphone and Rose said her goodbyes to her niece.  Around 9:15am, I had Mom come in to help me change Theresa’s clothes.  I got behind her and sat her up so we could change her top.  As Mom was putting the new top on, I heard a gasp and then silence.  We finished putting on her top and laid her back down on the bed.  I felt for a pulse and listened for breathing but there was none.  At 9:20AM, my beautiful, precious wife took her last breath as I was sitting behind her and holding her in my arms.

I had Mom get the phone to call Fr. Rankin while I went and talked to Ryan.  He was playing on his computer and I told him that his Mom had died.  There was a look of shock on his face and I walked him back to see his Mom.  Wfe talked for a few minutes about how it happened and he wanted to leave the room.  While I was talking to Ryan, Mom made a call to Fr. Rankin to let him know that Theresa had died.  He picked up his phone just as he was about to ring the doorbell at our house.  Later in the day, Father said that all morning long he had a stirring and felt that he needed to get down to our house.    We went back to the room and prayed the final prayers for Theresa.  Afterwards, we called the hospice nurse to come out and start the process of having Theresa taken away by the mortuary.

There were several members of our parish who came by to see Theresa and take care of things that needed to be taken care of.  While I was looking through readings for the Divine Liturgy, Megan and Father took care of cleaning up the bedroom, stripping the bedding, gathering all of Theresa’s things that were on the dresser and nightstand and boxing them up.  After everyone left, I was shocked to see how much they had done.  After the mortuary arrived and prepared to remove Theresa, they brought her out into the front room in front of our icon wall.  There, we all sang the Panachida for Theresa and sang the beautiful hymn Eternal Memory as they took Theresa out of our house for the final time.  After they left, we all kneeled down and prayed the Rosary for Theresa.  To Mark, Brett and Megan, I am forever grateful to you for your presence with me on Monday.  You may remember the wedding that I attended on Saturday and served at.  Megan and Brett were that couple.  On the third day of their newly married life, they spent it in service to my family.  And Mark took time off from his job in service to my family.  This speaks volumes about the character and Christian love our parish family has for each other.

DSC_1086_DxO

Before Father left on Sunday, we talked about arrangements for the funeral and burial.  I told him I had an appointment with Brings on Tuesday.  He said he would take care of this and made calls to various mortuaries.  On Tuesday, Father and I met with the people from Brings to finalize everything and set the dates.  The Parastas on Wednesday, April 20th and the Divine Liturgy on April 21st.  I set a time with Brings on Wednesday at 4:00pm to see Theresa before she was brought to the church to begin to process of giving her back to the Lord. On my way to the 4:00pm appointment, my mind was flooded with memories of our time together.  We had known each other since 1986 and began dating in 1987.  At 4:00pm, I arrived at Brings and they took me into the chapel for some time alone with her.  She looked so much better than she did over the past 2 weeks.  I quietly sang the Little Panachida for her and left to go to the church.  When Brings arrived at St. Melany, Father and I met with the funeral director to discuss how things were going to flow.  I wanted the services to be traditional, meaning the casket would be open and Theresa would face the Royal Doors.  Once we had all the details set, it was time for people to arrive and begin the Parastas.

The church was close to full for the Parastas and it was a beautiful service.  Father gave a nice homily and hinted at pieces to come during the Divine Liturgy the next day.  For her Parastas, Theresa had two priests, two deacons and an altar server.  My biggest concern was the well-being of Ryan during all of this.  After Theresa died at home, he did not want to stay in our house, ride in her car and he said he did not want to attend her funeral.  We had many long talks about these feelings and I told him that he was going to attend the services and that I wanted him to see his Mom one more time. His biggest fear was breaking down and crying in front of people, so at the end of the Parastas when most of the church had cleared out, he came up and prayed for his Mom as he looked at her peaceful expression.  Throughout the Parastas, he needed to leave the church several times as he was getting emotional.  One of his friends from school, a little girl name Breelyn, told my niece that she would take care of him and she walked out to him and put her arm around him and said it would be ok.

DSC_1342

On Thursday, I went to the church a few hours before the Divine Liturgy was to begin. We left Theresa in the church overnight and Brings had already arrived and opened the casket.  Again, I spent a few minutes alone with her and reflected on our 28 years together.  I had managed to maintain an even-keel throughout the week, but the finality of the day was difficult for me.  I printed out the readings and made arrangements for my good friend Robert to chant them.  About 10 minutes before the start of the liturgy was the first time I saw the church and again it was overwhelming.  There were so many of my coworkers in attendance that they filled half of the church.  There were friends and past coworkers of Theresa, as well as most of my parish family.  The church was full, with people filling the choir loft and spilling out into the narthex.  The Divine Liturgy was transcendent and powerful.  Serving that Liturgy were two deacons, Father Deacon Michael Sullivan and Father Deacon James Danovich, as well as my parish priest Father Rankin.  The Divine Liturgy comes fully-alive with a deacon and is awe-inspiring with two.  Again, I am forever grateful for their presence and participation during the Parastas and Divine Liturgy.  It was a beautiful Divine Liturgy for my beautiful wife.  The readings chosen were:

Wisdom of Solomon 4:7-14

But the righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest.  For old age is not honored for length of time, nor measured by number of years;  but understanding is gray hair for men, and a blameless life is ripe old age.  There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners he was taken up.  He was caught up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul.  For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good,  and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.  Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years;  for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness.

2 Timothy 4:1-2; 6-8

 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching  For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing

After everyone made their way out of the church, we were left with my family, Theresa’s Aunt Angela, Uncle Mike and Father Rankin.  I looked upon my wife one last time, kissing the blessing cross she held in her hands since 9:25am on Monday and kissed her hands one final time.  After everyone had their chance to say goodbye, we had the casket closed and carried her out of the church.  Outside were many of my co-workers who immediately went silent and watched as we carried her casket to the waiting hearse.  We lifted her into the hearse, slid the casket it and they closed the door.  My brother John and I shared a moment, I turned and walked back into the church.  The finality of this got to me and the tears began to flow. Afterwards,  I went into the parish hall to celebrate the life of my loving wife.

13040842_10154648336661686_3512423061363014352_o 13029701_10154648336616686_8729202522068579192_o 13072653_10154648336566686_5543519861434960623_o 13086741_10154648336481686_6354230346760334463_o 13086840_10154648336486686_122174992870578498_o

After we got home, my wonderful sister-in-law Suzanna took the time to fill out the thank-you cards for all of the cards, food and other items people gave to us this past week.  On Friday, she and my mom spent several hours cleaning out the closet and putting Theresa’s clothing in bags to donate or give away.  Having spent a part of tonight cleaning out the bathroom closet and nightstand, I am forever grateful to them for doing this.

We are planning on placing Theresa in the columbarium located at our Eparchy’s Cathedral, St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Phoenix 40 days after her falling asleep in the Lord.

There were so many kind words, emails, phone calls, text messages and instant messages from people all of the country.  I share words from one of the emails I received from a priest in Pittsburgh who taught me Byzantine Spirituality the past year.  He wrote:

“…There are some journeys in life, Patrick, that we must walk alone.  And this is one of them for you.  Others may offer their support, their prayers and their help in many wonderful ways, but, at the end of the day, it is a journey that only you can walk.  No one can enter that sacred place that defined your relationship with Theresa.  And, no one can ever take it away from you either.  Please treasure that sacred place as Theresa’s lasting gift to you.”

Christ is Risen!

Indeed He is Risen!

I Have Fought The Good Fight

 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” 2Timothy 4:7-8

dormition02

It has only been three days since the decision to enter into palliative care was made and many emotional events have transpired.  On Friday I told the people at work what was happening which lead to many conversations.  Like any difficult task, the more you work on it the easier it becomes.  By the end of the day, I wasn’t feeling like tears were going to come at any moment when someone asked what was happening.

On Saturday, a beautiful young couple at church was crowned and married.  If you don’t know what I mean by crowned, think My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  I served on the altar for their marriage and there were several times that I thought I might end up coming apart.  One of the lines from the processional psalms reads, “May you see your children’s children”.  And during the dance of Isaiah “And you, O Bride, be magnified as was Sarah, and rejoiced as was Rebecca, and increased as Rachel, being glad in your husband.”  But even with those lines that had me sad, it was impossible not to be overjoyed at the beginning of married life for the new couple.  The church was full, the families were so happy and the liturgy was incredible.  In the receiving line, the bride said that she was praying for Theresa and my family.  For me, all I could do was give her a smile because the words escaped me at that moment.

This morning, Ryan asked me if the doctors had given a percentage whether or not his Mom would “make it”.  I told him they did not and he asked what I thought was going to happen.  I turned the question around and asked for his thoughts.  He said he didn’t think she was going to make it.  We had a heartfelt talk after that and for a boy who doesn’t like to talk about his feelings, he was very open today.  He said that it wasn’t fair and that for ten years Mom was the best Mom ever.  He also said that he wanted her to see him graduate from college, start an engineering company, get married and have children. He said if he had known she was going to die, he would have spent all of his time with her.  We talked about that a lot and I told him that he wouldn’t have done that because his Mom wouldn’t have wanted that for him.  He asked if he could stay with her this morning and spend some time together.  I told him yes and he wanted to read some scripture to her.  I suggested Psalm 22 and 23 as starting points and he was reading them to her when I left for church.

This morning, Fr. Rankin made an announcement about our decision to the gathered church.  He mentioned that the Divine Liturgy was for the deceased relatives of one of the parish members.  After that he said that we are also mindful of the wonderful Sacrament of Baptism that was celebrated the previous week and that we are also mindful of the fulfillment of the Baptismal Promise, eternal life in the Kingdom, that Theresa is moving towards.  After the Divine Liturgy, I had so many conversations with friends and my parish family about this.  The suddenness of Theresa’s decline has many people sad and at a loss for words.

We had planned on having the hospice nurse come on Monday April 18 to complete the paperwork, conduct an initial screening and start the process.  But, Theresa is unable to move out of the bed anymore.  I walked her to the bathroom, but she ended up sitting down on the floor.  I had to lift her under her arms and body drag her back to the bed.  I know the pain of this had to be intense and I knew it was time to get the hospice people out tonight.   She is also unable to swallow her medicine and we need the liquid morphine.  The nurse signed us up and completed her initial screening of Theresa.  She asked to talk outside of the room and told us that she believes it will be just a few days, possibly hours before Theresa is gone.

Theresa had several visitors today.  Our good friends, the Way family, came by with all of their 8 children.  They spent some time with Theresa and took all of the kids back to see her.  She may not be able to communicate anymore, but her eyes fixated on the kids.  Two of whom are her god-children.  They chanted some prayer and sang the hymn of victory, Christ is Risen from the dead!  While they were in singing to Theresa, Father Andriy Chirovsky and his wife Halyna came by to visit.  They said they were going to bring us dinner and did they ever.  I think they brought half of Costco with them!  It was so generous and kind of them to do so.  Fr. Andriy and Halyna spent some time in quiet prayer with Theresa and celebrated the anointing of the sick.

Finally, Fr. Rankin came by tonight to pray with Theresa, bring Holy Communion and he spent some time alone with her to prepare her for the next journey she is about to begin.  During some time alone with Theresa today I told her the she was about the meet Christ and The Theotokos face to face and that she would be free of all the pain and participate in the never ending liturgy with all the angels and saints.  There were tears rolling down her face.  I believe she is ready to start that journey.

 

Christ is Risen!

Jesus, I Trust In You

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”  Jeremiah 29:11

There are some days that you will remember until your time on earth is done.  Theresa and I have had many of those days, such as :

  • 10/17/87 –Our First Date
  • 4/28/95 – Our Marriage
  • 4/15/03 – The day she said go ahead & apply for the FBI
  • 9/8/03 – The day my Dad fell asleep in the Lord
  • 5/20/05 – The day she told me she was pregnant with Ryan
  • 1/24/06 – The day Ryan came into our life
  • 4/27/13 – The day we switched our church sui juris to the Byzantine   Ruthenians
  • 6/10/15 – The day we heard those words, It is an aggressive cancer
  • 8/6/15 – The first day of chemotherapy
  • 2/9/16 – The day we heard those words, the cancer has recurred and spread to distant organs.

DSC_1286-Edit

April 14, 2016 is another day to add to that list of days I’ll carry with me forever.  Today was the day we met with Dr. Chalasani to discuss the path forward.  As I wrote about in my previous post, things have been rough around our house with Theresa being in pain, not eating and sleeping most of the day.  A couple days ago I asked Theresa what she wanted to do with regards to her treatment, but she wasn’t ready to talk about it.

This morning as we were getting ready to leave I told her we were going to her blood draw, appointment with the oncologist and potentially to have a chemotherapy infusion.  I asked again what she wanted to do and I told her that I was concerned about her ability to withstand more chemotherapy, but that I would support her decision either way.  She slept for most of the drive and at 9:00AM, we were back to a room to see Dr. Chalasani.

Since UMC is a teaching facility, a medical student came in to ask some questions about how Theresa was feeling, what concerns we have and any questions for the doctor.  Afterwards, the doctor came in and started to talk to Theresa and she picked up quickly that something was not right; that Theresa was having cognitive issues and couldn’t process thoughts and get the words out.  She asked how long that had been happening and noted that it wasn’t that way when she met with us on 4/5/16.  Dr. Chalasani asked what we were hoping would happen with the treatment plan that was presented back in February when we learned of the metastatic diagnosis.  Theresa couldn’t put words to her thoughts.  I answered that question by saying I had hoped that treatment would halt the progression and possibly reduce the size of the tumor.  I said I knew that eventually the disease would win, but I had hoped for time to get Ryan through school before it was over.  I ended by saying that this was before the rapid increase in pain and physical decline of the past 3 weeks.

Dr. Chalasani said that she wanted to order a MRI of the brain to see if there were lesions that had developed.  And then she asked Theresa what she wanted to do, continue chemotherapy or not.  Theresa processed that question for a bit and eventually shook her head no.  And then she said that she just wanted to go home.  With that, she showed the mental toughness that many lack. She made the decision that was best for her well-being, both physically and spiritually.   We met with a social worker who talked about hospice care and made arrangements for the hospice nurse to come visit us at home.  And with that, we got in the car and drove home.

Tonight, Fr. Rankin came by to bring communion to Theresa, to pray with the family and to start preparing Theresa to move from anxiety to peace with all that was to happen.  He spent some one on one time with her and said that the Father would not be ready to call her home if he hadn’t already thought about a plan for providing for Ryan and I.  He ended with telling her that the Father knows she can do more for Ryan and I in the Kingdom than she can right now in her physical sickness.

Before sitting down with Theresa, Father and I spoke about the decision and he remarked about a program he had watched earlier in the day about a young Catholic couple with young kids.  The wife was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer on Easter but found the strength to tell her husband that they would still celebrate Easter because Jesus still rose, so we will trust.  I smiled and said that I know that story well.  I read it one night in a hotel room in Virginia and that I ended up staying up until 4AM reading their posts. The wife, Angela Faddis was born on my birthday and died on Theresa’s birthday in 2012.  It was another reminder of what we needed to do.

Pascha-Icon

For the 6 weeks of Pascha, the standard greeting in the Eastern church is “Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!”  Like Angela Faddis said, “Jesus still rose, so we will trust”

Christ is Risen!

Indeed He is Risen!

 

Storm Clouds

It has been a rough week for all of us.  After we met with the oncologist on April 5, we came home and Theresa crawled into bed.  For the next 7 days, I can count less than 10 times that she got out of bed and came out of our bedroom.  The pain is so bad and she is constantly tired.

On top of the pain, she has had little appetite and has consumed less food in 7 days than Ryan does in 1.  And he’s not exactly a big eater.  On Friday, April 8, Theresa ate some yogurt in the morning and 2 chicken nuggets that night.  She didn’t eat anything again until Sunday, when she agreed to eat a little applesauce.  She had 3 bites and put it down saying it didn’t taste good.  I got her to drink a bottle of Ensure in the afternoon and another bottle at dinner time.  I have a picture of Ryan and Theresa in her hospital bed from 3 weeks ago on my computer desktop.  I compared that picture from 21 days ago to how she looks today.  It is so surreal to see the physical decline in so little time.  I struggled with putting these pictures in this post, but decided to insert them to show just how much change has happened in the past few weeks.

DSC_1241_DxO 20160412_185813-resize

Another development that took place over the week was the Theresa had periods of irrational speech and thoughts.  On Saturday I told her that we may need to look at a feeding tube to get nutrition into her body.  A few hours later she asked about feeding and I thought she was asking about a feeding tube.  She looked out the window and asked if the horses were still feeding.  The problem being, we don’t have any horses.  On Monday, Ryan went back to see his Mom when he got home from school and he called out for Nana.  When my Mom got back to the room, Ryan said he didn’t understand what Theresa was asking him for.  Mom asked her what she needed and she said “Make sure you cook Uncle John’s hamburger well done”.  When I got home, she asked if the bathroom remodel was done yet, even though there is no remodeling going on. What I don’t know is if this is being caused by lack of nutrition, medicine or lesions spreading to the brain.

I sent an email to the oncologist on Monday asking about options for nutrition, be that some bland diet or even a feeding tube.  I just don’t know what the right path is regarding this. I’m told that the body may not be capable of handling nutrition and it can make matters worse.

I need to rely on the medical professionals for their assessment, but right now they are not on the top of my friends list.  The health care network Theresa uses keeps all of her records in an electronic format called MyChart.  When I logged onto their site to send the email, I saw some records but there were many missing.  I figured out that you had to select a section to bring in hospital records.  I downloaded all of these records and spent some time reviewing them.

What I found was disturbing to me.  I am her husband and yet I had to read about many things in her downloaded medical chart.  From an MRI done on her abdomen:  At least 5 hepatic metastases with the largest measuring 5.6cm progressed since prior PET/CT; Extensive diffuse osseous metastases through the imaged axial and proximal appendicular skeleton; Bilateral femoral neck metastases are present; Redemonstration of extensive left breast tumor extending to the skin and extending posterior through the left chest wall and abutting the pericardium; Suspected peritoneal carcinomatosis due to thickening observed in the MRI.

From a Total Spine MRI: Diffuse osseous metastatic disease, involving the vertebral bodies and posterior elements most notably within the lower thoracic and lumbar spine; Multilevel thoracic spondylosis and degenerative changes of the lumbar spine.

Is it any wonder why my wife is in so much pain?  The known extent of the metastatic disease was shocking to me.  They hide behind HIPPA and patient privacy laws to keep from telling the family what is truly going on.  Several years ago, we completed an estate plan along with medical power of attorneys for each of us.  I reviewed this tonight with my attorney and he agreed that given the amount of morphine she is on together with the periods of irrational speech that I have every right to demand that all discussions/decisions must go through me as her appointed attorney.  It was a moment of relief that we have the proper documents in place, but also a moment of profound sadness and fear.  Am I the one who is going to have to decide to continue or stop a treatment?  Am I the one who is going to have to decide to have a feeding tube inserted or not?

I had stopped by the parish today to return something and several of the workers asked about Theresa.  When I told them what was happening, Fr. Rankin said that he would stop by tonight. I told him that several people have asked me about healing for Theresa and if I believed God could heal her.  My answer has been the same to all who ask.  Yes, I believe that can happen.  But I also point out that in most of the healings demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels, he preceded the bodily healing by healing their soul.  The bodily healing was more for the benefit of the crowd gathered.  I told him that I wanted more than anything for her complete restoration to health.  But, my priorities right now are to make sure she is prepared spiritually for the future and to help Ryan prepare for things that are to come.

When Fr. Rankin arrived, we prayed with Theresa and he anointed her.  As he was leaving, he told me that he asked Theresa if she was at peace and at peace with leaving her family.  She shook her head no.  He said our job was to ease her anxiety and fears about the path ahead and move her to being at peace with what the future holds.  I’ve said it before, but thank you God for good and holy priests.

I know many people are praying for Theresa and for her family.  I am profoundly grateful for that.  Please pray for peace of mind for Theresa and understanding for Ryan.

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

 

 

 

Suffering and Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

Over the past few months I have had plenty of conversations about what is happening to Theresa and have had many people express different perspectives such as:

“I get so mad, because she is so young and with Ryan being so young…”

“As you know, God could heal her right now if He wanted, we don’t understand the plan…”

“It makes me angry to see bad things happening to such a good person when there are so many people bad people seeming to have not a care in the world”

 

I truly appreciate everyone’s perspective and can identify with all of them.  One of the things that has come out of this journey is that I have a greater understanding of suffering in the life of an orthodox Christian.  While I grew up a Latin rite Catholic, I never really understood the perspective of redemptive suffering.  I’ve had some people tell me that we should offer up our suffering in line with St. Paul writing to the Colossians:  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church…”.

crucifixion

Others have mentioned gazing upon a crucifix and pondering the immensity of what Christ endured for our salvation.  In this pondering, we realize that His outstretched arms are an invitation to unite with Him in His suffering.  We are to take the suffering as it occurs and offer it up for a specific intention (“Use this pain, Lord, for the salvation of my brother…”).  I have a deep respect for those who hold to the perspective of redemptive suffering, but it is not a perspective that I share.

Over the past ten years, my theology, faith and spirituality have taken a sharp turn towards the East.  I am grateful for this shift in my theology.  I am blessed to have a wonderful spiritual director and priest who guides me along the right path.   And with all that has happened with my wife’s health over the past year, I am thankful when I reflect on things over the past ten years that have prepared me for the current journey that I am on.

The Eastern Christian perspective on suffering is that there are generally three sources of suffering in this world: suffering from the persecution of others in body and soul, suffering from sickness and disease, and suffering in spirit because of the sins of the world.  There are only two possible ways to deal with such sufferings.  Either one humbly accepts them and transforms them into the way of salvation for oneself and others; or one is defeated by them with rebellion and rejection, and so “curses God and dies” both physically and for eternity in the age to come (cf. Job 2:9-10).  The spiritual person, when suffering in the flesh, uses his afflictions to be set free from sin, and to be made “perfect through suffering” like Jesus himself (Heb 2:10).  He knows that as his “outer nature is wasting away” he is being born into the Kingdom of God if he suffers in and with Jesus the Lord.

More relevant to me personally is in a very real sense the most grievous suffering of all is not in the flesh but the spirit.  In this journey, this is the suffering that I bear, while Theresa deals with the flesh and spirit.  This is the suffering that torments the soul when, by the grace of God and in the light of Christ, the spiritual person sees the utter futility, ugliness and pettiness of sin which is destroying men made in the image of God. The spiritual person, according to the measure of grace given by God, participates spiritually in the agony of Christ.  It is the greatest suffering of the saints, more unbearable than any external persecution or bodily disease.  It is the torment of the soul over the utter foolishness of sin.

Several years ago, I went to a Carmelite parish for confession and had the opportunity to speak to a very wise Carmelite priest.  He heard my confession, pondered it for a moment and said the following to me:  “God forgives always, man forgives sometimes, but nature never forgives;  do you understand that?”  At that time, I didn’t think much about his words but they came flooding back to me when we heard that Theresa’s cancer had recurred and spread.  And it was in that moment that the words of the Anaphora of St. Basil rang true regarding why bad things happen to good people:  “When You created man and had fashioned him from the dust of the earth and had honored him as your own image, O God, You set him in the midst of a bountiful paradise, promising him life eternal and the enjoyment of everlasting good things by keeping your commandments.  But when he disobeyed You, the true God Who had created him, and was led astray by the deceit of the serpent, he was made subject to death through his own transgressions…..”Since sin entered the world through a man and death through sin, so your Only-begotten Son was well-pleased to be born of a woman, the Holy Theotokos.”  “He gave Himself as a ransom to death by which we were held captive, having been sold into slavery by sin.  He descended into the realm of death through the Cross, that He might fill all things with Himself.  He loosed the sorrow of death and rose again from the dead on the third day, for it was not possible that the Author of Life should be conquered by corruption.  He made a way to the resurrection of the dead for all flesh.”

Pascha-Icon

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Because of free will, which was used to transgress the first commandment (but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die).  With that first transgression sin entered into the world through a man and death through sin.  When we sin and ask for forgiveness, God always grants forgiveness, while our fellow men sometimes grant it.  However, no amount of contrition or repentance can make nature change.  We live in a world of sin and death, physical and spiritual.  The work of Jesus on the Cross was not to eliminate sin and physical death.  Rather, it was to free us from death’s despair and open to us the gates of paradise.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus encounters a man who was sick for thirty-eight years lying near the pool called Beth-zatha, which had five porticoes.  Jesus asks the man if he wanted to be healed and the man replied: “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.”  Jesus tells the man to rise, take up your pallet and walk and at once the man was healed.  Yet, Jesus warns the man saying “See you are well!  Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.”  It’s hard to imagine with our human understanding what could be worse than spending thirty-eight years lying sick, more likely than not in his own waste and stench.  Yet, Jesus says that something worse can befall him.  It is in this that I see what is important in our journey on the earth.  We are not made for this world but made for eternity in the Kingdom.

After Divine Liturgy on Holy Thursday, my spiritual advisor gave me a bible and said it was an old priest tradition to start at the 17th Chapter of John and read until the end of the Gospel of John on Holy Thursday.  Chapter 17 starts with the high priestly prayer of Jesus.  “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth”.

Do I believe that God could restore Theresa completely?  Yes.  Do I pray for this to happen?  Yes, if it His will.  Do I believe that what is happening to her physically/spiritually and spiritually to Ryan, Mom and I is for the sanctification of our soul and body?  Absolutely.  We will not know what spiritual benefit this situation has provided to us and others who are on the journey with us until the veil is lifted and we find ourselves in the Kingdom.  Until that time, I will continue to humbly accept whatever comes my way and transform that into the way of salvation for myself and for others.

Christos Anesti!

Alithos Anesti!

The Narrow Path

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few…(Mt 7:13-14)

Today was the final day of radiation treatments for the metastatic lesions found in Theresa’s spine and femur. They provided her with a flower and certificate of completion. I smiled at the flower and was happy that this particular regimen is finished. I try not to get too excited when something goes well, as well as not getting too sad when things aren’t going well. It’s one way to maintain some sense of control and sanity.

20160405_155238

In the afternoon, we met with Dr. Pavani Chalasani, the oncologist who is taking over treatment for Theresa while her original oncologist recovers from an illness. Dr. Chalasani provided some direction on how we should go forward. The new drug regimen is the use of Gemcitabine and Cisplatin. On day one, both drugs will be administered. One week later, a dose of Gemcitabine will be administered and will be followed up the next day by a Neulasta injection. This treatment will start on April 14th. The schedule has a week break between rounds which means there will be no treatment administered during the week of our 21st wedding anniversary!

The combination of Gecitabine and Cisplatin was a clinical trial that took place around 2007-2008. It was developed to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer who had been pretreated with anthracycline and taxane (ACT). The ACT treatment was the original one prescribed and taken during 2015. One study showed a partial response in 29% of patients and a stable response in 39% of the patients. The plan is to revisit the treatment after 2 cycles to assess how things are going.

The other thing put forward by Dr. Chalasani was to take part in a clinical trial that is ongoing which uses an immunotherapy regimen that targets a protein on white blood cells called PD-1. PD-1 normally maintains the balance of the immune system by shutting it down at the right time. Some cancers take advantage of this mechanism by expressing PD-L1, enabling them to escape attack by the body’s white blood cells. The immunotherapy regimen works by blocking PD-1, enhancing the body’s ability to detect and destroy cancer cells. The doctor wants very much to explore clinical trials as this cancer has not responded to the normal drug treatments.

Interestingly, this clinical trial mirrors one that a Diaconate classmate forwarded to me back in March. He is a PhD drug researcher and suggested looking up this treatment. We are going to pursue enrollment in the trial as we need to think outside of the box. I am not a doctor, but I am a well trained investigator and interrogator. One of my skills is to read between the lines at what is being said and look for elements of the truth that may be lurking between those lines. I get the sense that the Gemcitabine/Cisplatin regimen will be the last “normal” regimen we try if it does not work. More than likely, any future treatment regimen will be clinical trials.

I’ve been telling those who ask for an update on Theresa that we really need some wins in the fight. We’ve been fighting bad news/setbacks since November and it seems to be everywhere present and has been winning every battle. I’m tired of playing defense. Let’s go offensive and win a few battles! My quote from Matthew is clearly taken out of context from it original scriptural meaning, but it is fitting. This path we are on is narrow and hard, but it is the only one that can lead to life.

Χριστός ἀνέστη!
Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!