Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We Chose to Trust our Savior

Prepping for brain surgery in November of 2007
Let me ask you kind of a strange question. "Do you currently occupy an operational body?" Now I'm not saying, one that works perfectly! Adam and Eve kinda messed that up in the Garden years ago! No, I'm talking about a body, that for the most part, works as expected! Yeah, maybe it's a little beat up from wear and tear over the years, but overall very predictable! Well back in november of 2007, I found out how quickly mine could become unpredictable! Thankfully I also found out just how much I needed to rely on our Creator!

To drive home this point , let me share a small portion of my experiences over the past few years!

It was friday afternoon and I was reading meters in Destin, Florida for Gulf Power! I had read this particular route a hundred times, but halfway through my day, I began to notice a strange sensation on the right-side of my body!

My right-side is my dominate side! I write, I throw, I do everything with that side! But that day, it was slowing starting to ignore my instructions! The fingers on my right-hand, especially the thumb, felt heavier, moving as if in slow motion! So much so, that I was having a difficult time punching the correct buttons on my handheld computer! In addition my vision seemed to be playing tricks on me! Numbers on the screen would appear and reappear with the slightest shift of my head? Reading meters depends on accuracy and speed but both were lacking that day! My entire body felt extremely unbalanced! My stride was getting slower, wobbly and harder to take each step! I often describe it like watching a drunk guy stumble down the road, ironic since I don't drink! Doing simple things like jogging across a street or climbing a flight of stairs became all but impossible!

I was only 36 years old and had no clue what was behind these subtle changes? Emotions of confusion, anger, helplessness, frustration and fear were dominating my thoughts! I felt as if I was slowly losing a battle with an enemy I couldn't see! My faith was being tested, I felt very alone, clinging to God's promise that regardless of whether I felt his presence, he was still there and would never abandon me!

As the end of the day neared, I headed back to my truck! The realization that I was NOT going to finish my route had set in! The traffic on hwy 98 was heavy as usual, and that usually short drive back to FWB seemed to take forever! I probably shouldn't have been driving, but as you may be surprised to know, I'm stubburn! Thankfull to arrive back at the office, I didn't even mention my experience to my boss Ron. I was almost embarrassed, it didn't seem real? So I quietly dropped off my handheld and headed to the house (trailer), a place of safety where I could figure this thing out.

 Pulling into the grass (driveway) I attempted to justify my in-action by reassuring myself: "I'll be better monday, no need to panic". I knew God had control and I knew the importance of remaining strong and positive! I remember telling Becka, that I wasn't sure what it was, but speculating that maybe it was something simple like a pinched nerve! Over the weekend, I probably seemed like mentally I was miles away, my mind was in constant distraction! In retrospect I probably should have went to the emergency room, But instead I convinced myself and Becka to wait til monday! We certainly didn't need any more bills, so I promised, that if I didn't improve, I'd call the doctor!

 To be honest, I just wasn't ready to accept that it could be serious!

 Thankfully, God already knew the severity of what I was facing, preparing in the unseen, the weeks and months to come! Despite my stubborn spirit, he poured out his mercy on us anyway!

 Monday morning, things still had not improved! So I reluctantly made that call to Dr. Senachal, expecting, in a strange way hoping, he would be booked all week so I didn't have to face whatever this was.

Surprisingly, the secretary got me in immediately that morning! Dr. Senachal after a fairly quick evaluation, suspected something neurological not physical, was causing my symptoms. An MRI of my brain was needed to be sure. Waiting in the examination room for Dr Senachal to return with the details, I could see Becka's eye's starting to perspire, that concerned look on her face. I tried my best to distract us both with some idle humor, making light of the situation! While Becka was more focused reminding me that our amazing God was in control!

 The MRI followed early the next morning, lasting maybe 45 minutes! Rather unexpectedly, later that evening Dr Senachal called with the results! The report revealed an unknown mass (a tumor) located at the top of my brain stem! I'm not sure, I can describe how we felt hearing that news. The only word that keeps coming to mind is the word Devestating. Nothing that I had hoped it would be and everything I had feared! ...But as I had said before God was working behind the scenes on our behalf.

 Before Dr. Senachal's call that night, he had made arrangements with a neurologist! His instructions on his call to us were simple, we don't need an appointment, just show up at Dr. Feldman's office in the morning, he would be expecting us!

 Wednesday morning, the day before Thankgiving, we arrived early at Dr. Feldman's office! Instead of going right inside though, Becka and I instead sat in the car for several minutes! It was fairly quiet, not much was said outside of a prayer, reaffirming that it was all in God's hands and we were trusting him!

We had no idea just how much we were going to need that assurance as the days and events would unfold! I think we were still partially in a state of shock, a sort of disbelief that this was all really happening!

Following a short wait in the lobby, we were met by the nurse and taken into an examining room to wait for the doctor! I don't recall the nurses name but I do remember her bubbly personality! Her cheery attitude and words were both comforting and calming! I don't know if she knew what we were about to hear, but I am gratefull for her encouragement! She made a lasting impression that day!

Within a few minutes we met Dr. Feldman and then were invited to join him in his office. As we entered the room, you couldn't help but notice the wall covered with scans of my brain MRI from just 24 hours prior. There must of been 30 or 40 of them, each providing a detailed glimpse into God's amazing design! It was hard to grasp that was my brain!

Dr. Feldman took us straight to the scans giving a brief description of what we were seeing, the tumors location and then offering us a seat around his desk. Dr Feldman was surprisingly young. I never did inquire about his age, I was kind of pre-occupied, but I figured he was at most in his mid-40's. Sharp though and very relaxed.

Because the tumor was located on my brain stem and not the soft brain tissue, I wasn't experiencing the typical memory loss, slurred speech or headaches! Instead it seemed to be limited to interferring with nerve signals to my right-side, specifically the fingers, arm, leg and a few other areas like my vision and balance! Not a light issue, but trully a blessing in disguise.

The challenge was the sensitive location of the tumor made it simply too dangerous to remove without inflicting severe brain injury.

Even though it couldn't be fully removed, Dr Feldman still needed to perform a biopsy to determine if the tumor was malignant or benign and rate of growth! Unfortunately nothing could move forward without that information and It would need to be done as soon as possible! The preceedure would take a several hours and require the doctor blindly (aided by a computer) drilling down to retrieve a sample of the tumor! While fairly common, at least for brain surgery, it was still a very precise, delicate and dangerous proceedure! Definately not alot of room for error. I remember both Becka and I breaking down several times during that discussion, the weight of what we were facing felt overwhelming! Impossible to overcome!

Let's just say the statistics weren't in my favor, but then again "I'm NOT a statistic". Statistics are a measurement of past results and a "GUESS" on Future outcomes! ...and evidently (since i'm typing this) God still has a few things he wants to accomplish through me, for which I am Eternally Gratefull!

I'm not really sure what it was, but Dr Feldman instilled in me a confidence, when he mentioned a second opinion, I knew there was no need. Most people in that situation would have agreed that I probably should get a second opinion but I knew we could trust his judgement and that God had us right where we needed to be!

At one point in our conversation about what to expect, the risks of the biopsy, radiation and chemo treatment, I remember stating rather boldly and rather defiantly that, " I'm a Christian, I'm saved and while I know where I'm going when I'm done, I'm definately not ready to go yet!" 

As we left his office he gave us a final piece of advice. Keep a positive attitude, try not to think about the surgery, instead enjoy spending time with your family, eat some turkey and watch some football. Try to relax.

Becka and I a week or so after surgery Dec 2007
Becka during this whole ordeal, had a quiet comforting strength about her! I am so proud of how she handled things! She was suddenly faced with alot of uncertainty! Everything about our future was in question! On top of worrying about me, she found herself thrust into a leadership role in our marriage like never before! Yet she was so calm, so focused, handling all the appointments, all the prescriptions, calls to family and friends, handling the bills! I know it wasn't exactly how it appeared, I knew she was struggling to remain strong, but she wanted to do everything she could to make things easier for us, less stressfull! Becka has such a  servant heart for me, for others and expecially for God! I am so blessed God provided me a wife who stood along-side me in faith, trusting him, during that dark time of uncertainty! God was testing both of us in so many ways! But we knew from his Word that He would always be there with us!

After we left Dr Feldmans office that wednesday morning, we stopped by the pharmacy at CVS, I stayed in the car while Becka went in to fill my new prescriptions. As I sat there, I found myself struggling to call my mom in Atlanta with the news! I didn't know how to say it. When she answered, I could hardly get the words out of my mouth, the emotions, the tears overtaking me, my speach almost impossible to understand! My Mom upon hearing the distress in my voice, as you would expect a loving mother to do, promised to drop everything and reassured me she was on her way to help in whatever way she could!

Mom visiting just after surgery Dec 2007
There were so many things we didn't know yet, things that would be revealed from the surgery and the days to come, but It was comforting to know that we had an amazing family, amazing friends, expert doctors and an amazing God who loved us, who knew every hair on our head, every cell in our body! We knew that the God who created all things in 6 days could definately handle something so insignificant as a brain tumor! We just needed to trust that we were safe in his hands!

Monday came early, I don't even remember what time we arrived at the hospital! Seems like it was 4am or something? All I know is it was dark, cold and pouring rain! Despite the drearyness, I remember being fairly calm and actually relaxed, as if I was there for some routine appointment. Talking with staff all the way through the  X-rays, the Ct scan and even final prep for surgery, which I might add included shaving some spots on my head and glueing guides for the computer-aided drilling! The last thing I remember as they brought me into the operating room were hearing conversations of Doctors in the background, Dr Feldman greeting me and seeing upside down faces of the nurses as I drifted off from the anesthesia!

The surgery lasted several hours (I guess), but when I awoke, groggy and disoriented, it seemed like I had only been out for a few minutes! The large recovery room was extremely dark with a dim light off to my left in the distance, seeming to come from an exterior room. As my eyes struggled to adjust, a nurse and then Dr Feldman dropped in to check on me. He reassured me the surgery, as expected went well and that preparations were being made to transfer me to ICU for observation over the next 24 hours. So to just hangout for a few minutes. I don't remember exactly but I think I responded with something like "I wasn't going anywhere". Obviously confirming my sense of humor hadn't been removed during the surgery!

ICU was a unique experience, my little cubby-hole was dark and packed with a bed, tv and monitoring equipment, all seperated from the main area by a curtain that seemed to open quite frequently. Saying the room was small is an understatement, but It's not like Becka was going to be chasing me around the bed or anything! So it was fine! Even though it was only 24 hours, It seemed like I was in there for days. Sealed off from most interaction, I slept most of the time but remember still being very up beat, after-all just hours earlier someone had drilled down 3 or 4 inches into my skull and I was still alive. That's something to be upbeat about I guess. When I was awake, I was very conversational with the nurses that attended to me, every 30 min or so, checking vital signs, bringing medication, food etc. It struck me as funny that of all places, that in ICU, I was being fed cheese burgers, cheetos and soda, not bad for hospital food lol! Visitors were limited, Becka was able to come in for a few minutes and I think my mom came in as well but I'm not sure. Overnight, I do remember the idle chatter of the nursing staff coming from beyond the curtain. Kind like listening to General Hospital! lol

Dad and Donna visiting Feb/Mar 2008
Dad Passed May 2009
Tuesday afternoon they moved me to a regular private hospital "suite", with plenty of room for visitors and even my very own bathroom! Something well appreciated after the lack of "facilities" in ICU. My mood again was fairly positive and upbeat, afterall I was again seeing my Becka, my Mom and Paul. Along with the talk of going home the next day, I was starting to feel a little hope that things returning to normal. The events of the past week almost seemed surreal, life had been turned upside down and I was definately ready for it to be right-side up again. Unfortunately that cautious celebratory mood was about to be disrupted again.

The timeframe is a little sketchy but I remember at some point Dr.Feldman arriving and introducing us to a new team of doctors, Dr Hsiang a chemo doctor at Emerald coast cancer center and Dr Stevens from 21st century Oncology specializing in radiation. Dr Feldmans main job was basically over and so he was handing me over to the doctors in-charge of the next phase in my treatment. After a brief introduction, Dr Hsiang took the lead, His accent was so hard to understand. He spoke with rapid speed, lots of detail and statistics. I don't remember much of what he said, but it wasn't positive and wasn't filled with much hope! His personality and bed-side manner was very much the opposite of Dr Stevens of who I related more to! Especially since he was a graduate of University of Nebraska, which I found ironic. What I did understand from Dr Hsiang's talk was that the biopsy had revealed a grade 4 Glioblastoma brain tumor! A fast growing cancer which was statistically fatal. Without treatment I was looking at 2-6 months, with treatment maybe 18. Not a rosey picture! I'm glad I didn't believe in statistics, but still the news was devastating emotionally. I can't describe what it feels like to have people in authority positions, people who undesrtand the details of the situation more than you do, telling you there is little hope but they'll do do what they can. I am thankfull God had erased alot of those details from my memory, I'd rather not re-live that terrible event, but I do know the doctors were just presenting what was necessary to explain the severity and urgency of the challenge ahead. I don't envy the position they were in, having to deliver such news. Thankfully these doctors were not only there to reveal the results, they were there to provide a game-plan. As I have said many times earlier God was moving behind the scenes, providing the best doctors to handle my specific case. God had placed them there for a purpose, whether they knew it or not!

My last night in the hospital was a challenge to maintain that positive upbeat attitude, with the news of earlier! We had an abundance of support though. Becka of course was by my side all night, and having my Mom and Paul there brought tremendous comfort. Friends from all over the local area stopped in to offer their support. Blessing us in so many ways. Even a close friend I hadn't seen in several years, came to help! Someone who had been a great example to me of a christian man, husband and leader. The conversation I had with him that night helped to reaffirm where my faith and focus needed to be as I moved forward. God knew I needed that conversation.

The next day I would be released from the hospital and start a whole new chapter in this saga. One that would bring alot of struggle, physically but mostly emotion and spiritual! But it would also bring alot of opportunity with it! The chance to spend alot more time with Becka, to grow our relationship with each other and especialy with our God. It hasn't been easy and we are thankfull God placed so many people around us who were willing to be used by him to provide for us. There are so many stories of Love we were shown during that time that it would be impossible to mention them all in this post! We are truly blessed!

I know that as serious as this event was in our lives, it unfortunately is not all that uncommon. It happens in people's lives everyday! I know we made alot of mistakes, handled alot of things wrong. But there's one thing I know we did right. We chose to Trust a loving God, Our Creator, Our Savior, the one who sent his only Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins, a debt we could not pay and a gift we did not deserve! We Chose to Trust Him regarless of the outcome!

Knowing that God was real, personally involved and in complete control. Knowing that despite the outcome, He loved us and would never leave us, provided Becka and I the game-changing Faith and Trust we needed to overcome.


Without faith and trust in him, I wouldn't be here sharing this story almost 5 years later! Praise God! My most recent Brain MRI was May 11, 2012, Reports continue to show "No Evidence of Recurrent Tumor at this time" and have since 2009! Thank you for your prayers! God Bless!
Becka and I at HarborWalk in Destin 2010
Thank you Jesus! You are truly the God of second chances!

Some of the Scripture verses that sustained us! There are so many, but heres just few!

Genesis 1:1,27
Psalms 23:3, 46:1, 55:22, 62:6, 111:10, 120:1, 147:3-5, 150:6
Proverbs 3:5, 8:17, 10:27
Isaiah 41:10,13
Jeremiah 1:5, 17:7
Matthew 18:11
John 3:16, 10:10, 14:16
2 Corinthians 1:3-4, 5:7, 9:8
Galatians 6:9
Philippians 4:19
3 John 1:2
Hebrews 4:16, 11:1, 11:3

You get the idea, I could keep going for days! :-)