September 29th and where we are today.

I’m sure lots of families have interesting numerology milestones in their family but I feel like we have a LOT of interesting coincidences. My favorite is that my birthday is 2 days before my dad’s and Whitney’s is two days after Brad’s. I love that they can share the Virgo daughter/daddy birthday bond and celebrate every year together. Some other fun facts…my sister, Jessica and brother, Kyle were born on the same day 3 years apart and are 13 and 16 years younger than me. Even though we didn’t really grow up together and started our real life relationships after they had both graduated, we are just as close as my sister Marci who I grew up with. Sadly Marci and I were separated quite a bit after I graduated when she was 12 so similarly our strongest part of our relationship started after she was a grown up and graduated.

Carter was born 4 days before Brad’s mom’s birthday and Whitney was born 4 days before Brad’s dad’s Birthday. While we planned having them the timing was just a coincidence. Our first baby was due the day before my sister Marci’s birthday. So that brings me to my thought process I had today about the fateful September 29th.

Brad and I went on our first date which was a “Date Dash” in October 1989. He had seen me and my bestie, Kelli, in a grocery store and was with our guy friend from HS who said he knew me and could introduce us. The Date Dash came up and we were set up. It was a blind date for me so when we met I was glad Chris picked well and must have paid attention to my “type” in high school. Brad was tall, cute and funny. We had fun dancing and a little underage drinking and I even got a kiss goodnight. We continued to be party friends but since I was a freshman and he was a pledge at Pi Kappa Alpha we both wanted to just have fun and not start anything serious. We went on dates throughout that school year and when Spring came we were both kind of sad we’d be apart over the Summer but planned on staying in touch. He wrote me funny letters and it was almost impossible to call because I was at camp and only had a pay phone to use. Do you remember how hard it was to call long distance back in the day???? So we wrote letters and when we got back to school he invited me over to his fraternity to catch up. I was so busy with my first year in the sorority house that I didn’t really have much time to hang out but we both settled back into school. My sorority had a party on September 29th, 1990 so I invited my party buddy Brad so we could finally spend some time together. The details are fuzzy but I remember an awkward conversation at The Wheel about becoming boyfriend-girlfriend and being exclusive. I think he started to not like me going to other fraternity parties and let his guard down so we could actually date for real. We were both very guarded in the dating department so we had to break each other’s walls down during those dating years.

Brad and I celebrated 9/29 as our dating anniversary the rest of college and after I graduated we ended up moving in together and had to live in a little town called Spring Hill, KS near my new job. We saved money by living together which was somewhat scandalous (haha!) but necessary since we were poor and just starting out. After a successful run at the Miami County Republic selling advertising and enjoying the old school way of producing newspapers I dipped my toe in the big city job market (found an ad in the newspaper) and landed a job at the Kansas City Business Journal. We were moving back to the city and needless to say I was getting restless with our status and had kind of given up on getting engaged. I started my new job on 9/4/94 and we headed to Vail, Co over Labor Day weekend for a friend’s wedding. On the way up the mountain Brad FINALLY proposed on 9/6/94! He did a great job, the ring was perfect, setting was amazing at a restaurant overlooking Denver. That was my first indication of how Brad ticks. He likes to surprise me and does things on his time table. He has told me NO many times over the years then surprised me with what I wanted or wanted to do. ❤️

So fast forward to 1998. We decided to start trying to have babies, I had wanted to wait but decided I didn’t know how easy or hard it would be and moved up our timeline. We had some medical delays and had to wait a little longer but the first month we got the green light to start trying we got pregnant! We were excited but so blissfully naive. We weren’t going to find out the sex so when we went in for our 20 week sonogram we brought my besties, Julie and Erin and used Julie’s giant old school video camera to capture the moment. The tech was really quiet, we were looking at the baby’s profile, cute button nose, chubby tummy and he looked perfect to us. The tech kept pushing on my tummy to get the baby to move around and I finally asked if something was wrong. She kind of mumbled, I started crying, my friends left the room in disbelief and we were told to go over to our Midwife’s office nearby. Before she turned off the machine I asked her if we could know the sex. It was a boy, we later nicknamed him Tyler. Our baby’s brain didn’t develop past his brain stem and was diagnosed with anencephaly. While I felt a little movement during my pregnancy I would learn how different that was with my future pregnancies. I had a dull uneasiness during those 20 weeks and that day I realized why. I didn’t feel comfortable sending my maternity letter out to clients and hadn’t planned any showers, my intuition was right. Our Midwife connected us with a wonderful doctor who would perform the DNC. I was thankful I didn’t have to get induced or have a c-section. So on September 29th, 1998 our baby boy went to heaven. It was 8 years to the day that we decided to “officially date.” I remember wondering what those little college kids would think about this huge heartbreak if they knew what was coming.

Our broken hearts were healed on baby Tyler’s due date February 17, 1999 with the wonderful news that we were pregnant again with Carter. We were comforted by the extra sonograms we had with the rest of our pregnancies and found out the sex each time. No more surprises! Every year I honor Tyler by thinking about him on 9/29 and the kids talk about their big brother in heaven. They understand the order of things and that if he survived maybe we wouldn’t have each of them as they are now. I’ve also talked to Russell about how he could be that lost baby and might have gotten tired of missing out. Who knows but with each healthy baby we felt immeasurably blessed! They are so perfect and bring us such joy in their own and very different ways!

So our next encounter with 9/29 was my first colonoscopy. I had pain and unexplained bleeding that led me to an emergency colonoscopy. I was 38. I had 4 polyps removed and was so thankful for my symptoms and doctor’s swift actions. I had follow up colonoscopies and paid $1000s of dollars for them to make sure I was free of any additional pre-cancerous polyps. That was 2009 after too many deaths in our life so a cancer scare was very terrifying.

I’m sure there are other 9/29s that are notable but the most recent, 9/29/18 was THE turning point in our lives. After a month and a half of being sick, losing 30 pounds and having pain in his stomach Brad was diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to his liver. After two full exams in the ER and a Primary Doctor I found online after getting told numerous offices weren’t accepting new patients. He had a month of tests and finally an ultrasound that showed lesions on his liver. The doctors didn’t notice is enlarged liver during either of his two physical exams.  Our oncologist told us it was enlarged at least double the size and extended 4 inches under his rib cage.  This was causing his cough that he had for over a month and caused him to not be able to say a full sentence without coughing.  I still don’t understand why a doctor didn’t notice that int he beginning and START with the liver tests. But I am thankful his Primary kept searching and discovered the colon tumor in a CT scan and confirmed the metastasis to the liver. His ultrasound was on his 48th birthday 9/11/18 and his diagnosis was on September 14th. We were in shock and had a lot of phone calls to make. I told my boss I would have to be at a lot of doctor appointments and needed flexibility to figure out what was going to happen next. Against Brad’s privacy wishes I reached out to a friend to see if he had any “INs” with KU Med. I needed action fast and wanted him to see an oncologist immediately. That night, Brad after the CT scan revelation, went with Russell to his soccer game and I went to Whitney’s football game at South. I felt like a zombie. I floated through the night.  I watched Whitney on the sidelines smiling so big and my heart broke.  I knew she’d be crushed by the news we had to tell the kids the next day. I had a busy morning planned getting Whitney from her parade to Lawrence for Carter’s first Family Day at KU. Brad and I had agreed we would tell the kids while we were all together as a family. Whitney and Russell had watched Brad decline so fast and get super skinny. We all knew something bad was going on.  The cough wouldn’t go away, he laid around a lot and that just was never him.  He didn’t take naps and had fevers every day around 1pm.  He would shake under a big blanket until it broke.  When the fevers started I knew it was cancer.  Carter was blissfully oblivious and we all protected his ability to enjoy his freshman year and not have any of the stress we were feeling at home. We were also still getting used to being a family of 4 most of the time so being the FamBam 5 was always very special.  I got all of us some little thread bracelets with a little silver coin to symbolize our unity in the situation even if we weren’t all together all the time. Brad’s is bigger and has a coin that symbolizes Serenity. He has worn it every day since. So….on August 15th, 2018 we dropped our oldest Son off at college at KU and on September 15th, 2018 we had to deliver the heartbreaking news that their dad had cancer and would start fighting it immediately. It sucked. I learned to compartmentalize my life with cancer and everything else. I encouraged the kids to keep their grades up so they wouldn’t add that kind of stress on top of worrying about their dad. It was bumpy at times but all 3 ended the year reaching their academic goals and will head into next year with the ability to cope while keeping everything in check.

We got home from Family Day and I got the number I needed to call Monday morning. By the time I got to work that Monday the KU Med Nurse Navigator had all of Brad’s files, was coordinating biopsies, a colonoscopy and helping us pick an oncologist. I was so thankful the ball was in their court (KU reference intended) and on September 29, 2018 my husband had biopsies done on his liver to scientifically determine he has Stage 4 colon cancer metastatic to his liver. That day sucked, he couldn’t eat forever, the process was slow m, the medical waiting room before surgery was so frigid and his patience was beyond tested. Honestly, the rest of everything has been way more pleasant than that experience and I won’t mention the hospital but it wasn’t KU Med and their billing has been the most messed up of them all.  I’ve been strong, I’ve been a disaster and I have no choice so I just plow through and keep things going. I’ve battled with a lot of doctors offices over miscoded invoices and billing mistakes. It’s my least favorite thing but I’ve learned a lot and am less emotional about it. It usually works out in the end.

Today he had his second Y90 procedure which is really cool science involving shooting the tumors in his liver with radiation beads that choke off the blood supply and dose them with radiation. It is an outpatient procedure done in 3 parts-> mapping and test run -> right side which is the hardest as it is 2/3 of the liver -> then the left side which ended up taking twice as long because of the anatomy and they had to basically do the whole thing twice in two spots because if the arteries. So far the pain isn’t as bad as last time so we are thankful that. Dr. Collins and his nurse Elizabeth said their goodbyes and wished us well. It’s weird…you establish a relationship and trust then they are done with their part and say goodbye. All we know is there will be a scan in two months and a visit with Dr. Pendergrass at some point. While it is SO nice to have a lot of normal feeling days it is weird to not be so closely watched. It has felt like the stress level has been dialed way back enjoying the non-treatment weeks.

We would love your continued prayers for God’s grace to continue to guide and lift us up. We feel happy as a family of 5 and are cherishing this Summer all together ❤️

Science is Cool

We met with Dr. Zachary Collins on Friday and really liked him. He is an Intravenous Radiologist and will be doing Brad’s next treatment. He will perform Y90 which involves a long mapping procedure on Monday 5/6 then a first treatment on 5/13. It will involve anesthesia for a test run and they block an artery that leads out to other organs. He will have to lie flat a lot and get imaging done so they know where to shoot the radiation. It is delivered in little beads that cuts off the blood supply to the tumor and the radiation is then distributed over 2.5 days. I’m sure a Google search describes it better but that’s the process in a nutshell.

The most important part of our meeting was Brad asked about life expectancy. He has looked at stats online and heard the words “this is non curative” but hasn’t asked THE Question. The doctor said this will add 6-12 months to 5 years and said we just don’t know. He was pretty bummed out but I told him we don’t know what things will look like after the procedure. While the amount of cancer in his liver has always been the biggest obstacle we’ve seen progress in shrinking it. Clearly he has lived a long time with a lot of cancer being in his liver so really we are beating it back with any treatments possible. It can be compared to heart disease…you just keep treating it and trying to be as healthy as possible. What we DO know is he feels really good. I told him to focus on how he feels each day and as long as we can keep doing things to prolong how he feels now then it is successful. He was SO sick when we started so in comparison the chemo has already given him his health back.

Our Spring has still been chilly so he has enjoyed the cold sensitivity fading. He is hoping for his taste buds to rebound and neuropathy in his hands and feet to fade. With this new treatment and plan he will only have a few dates on the calendar and the rest of the Summer should just be filled with baseball and soccer! Hopefully we will get some Lake days in there too! I had expressed to our oncologist that we just really wanted him to be as well as he can this Summer. While medically it was time to switch it up I think Dr. Pendergrass took that into consideration and I SO appreciate that.

Cheers to a good Summer and prayers requested for the kids as they work hard to finish the school year strong. Please pray for our mental strength, Brad’s physical strength to endure this new treatment and don’t take a minute for granted! Every day is a gift!

I’ll close with some fun pics of the kids doing their thing 💙💗💙

Plot Twist, trying something new

Brad Update:

Doctor is stopping chemo. He said the progress has leveled off and wants to try radiation beads (Y90) in his liver. Upon review of the MRI he is still not a candidate for surgery. We are waiting for a call from hospital to get him scheduled for the beads which is two out patient procedures 4-6 weeks apart. They do one lobe in the liver at a time. At about 6 weeks after the 2nd one they’ll scan and see how things look. We are celebrating getting rid of chemo symptoms for a nice little stretch. Please pray for his hands and feet to recover from neuropathy (numbness) and his taste buds to return along with his appetite. Down the road we could restart chemo but for now they are focused on targeting the liver and continue to make progress. Of course all of this will be scheduled around baseball and soccer. We have 3 out of town weekend trips for soccer in a row then 3 in June so we don’t have time for cancer!

We had an amazing Easter weekend celebrating Russell’s confirmation! We are beyond blessed, beyond proud of these brave kids of ours and focusing on positive aspects of this journey while asking God to show us his plan and help us be obedient in trusting him fully.

T-minus one week to go

*edited

I’m adding this link to a talk by Melody Ross.  God led me to her classes 9 years ago when I was in the darkest hole EVER and her Brave Girls Club literally saved me!  I did an art therapy class and it filled up my emptiness and helped me to find myself again.  ANYWAY, I seek her out because everything she creates is GOLD!  It is unique, it is therapeutic and really helps no matter what mind space I’m in.  Look around her YouTube channel and watch what looks interesting, I am listening to this one today to help ward off my pre-chemo and pre-doctor appt anxiety.  Thank God it is Easter weekend so I can just float around in my faith with everyone and try to push out that anxious feeling that creeps in.  https://youtu.be/YhstYz9_6xY

The reason this blog was abandoned was because of my crazy kid schedule and remains true! Brad is feeling good, bloodwork has been good. His colonoscopy was awesome with no evidence of tumor and he will have an MRI of his liver on 4/18 to get better picture of how it’s looking. We are hella busy with all the kids stuff…baseball, soccer, prom, KU events…no time for cancer actually! Prayers would be much appreciated for Russell as we celebrate his confirmation this weekend and for our appt on 4/22! Happy Easter! He is Risen and never forget God has an amazing plan for you! ❤️

Cruise Control with a few Pot Holes

Last Spring Break Hurrah watching the Jayhawks

Happy Spring everyone! Woah we’ve had a doozy of a Winter and are so ready for warm weather! We had a relaxing Spring Break which started at the Sky’s cabin and ended with a FamBam Jayhawk adventure. Thanks to generous friends I had my own Spring Break in New York City and I have to say my first trip could never be duplicated! It was unreal! We’ve been so fortunate to be gifted some really big gifts since Brad’s diagnosis and this is definitely one for the record books! I came home filled up and ready to take in our notoriously busy Spring/Summer and a big appt with our Doctor.

Scans always trigger stress…it just does…we tell ourselves there isn’t anything major that will happen because we know they are just to check on success and that has been consistent with every follow up scan.  Brad’s CT showed continued shrinkage in his liver which is always great news.  They decided to do a colonoscopy to get a better look at the origin tumor and it literally has melted to a normal looking colon texture.  So wild and wonderful!

On 3/25/18 we met with Dr. Pendergrass and he is very happy with how things are progressing and responding but did say that liver is the issue and ordered a MRI to get a better look at where the tumors are and if there is becoming an option for surgery.  The challenge is they can’t just pluck out all of them and there are in both sides so they can’t just but off the spot.  The great thing is that if the colon tumor melted as it did these tumors could keep shrinking as well.  We are ONLY 6 months in from diagnosis as of 3/25 and 4/3 from first chemo treatment.  That is so early in cancer treatment and Brad has really come so far.  He is pretty much on cruise control for the next 3 treatments and we will meet after the MRI to see what he thinks about that.  We moved treatment to Mondays which worked out pretty well so far.

Seems like each month brings new side effects and this month we’ve been dealing with adjustments to the diabetes diagnosis and meds.  Brad’s bloodsugar dropped to what is a more healthy level but he felt bad which is a strange catch 22.  So really what the goal is to manage it and bring it down but not get too strict.  He needs a certain amount of carbs to help cushion all the meds he’s taking and will hopefully get used to the ups and downs of that blood sugar.  What is the STRANGEST thing is this man was walking around with a liver that filled his chest… full of lime size tumors, blood pressure at stroke level in the 190s, pre-diabetic blood sugar and walked around like everything was fine until out of the blue he started feeling bad.  His weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and blood work across the board is looking so good but obviously with all the meds, chemo and everything going on in his 6 foot test tube body he doesn’t always feel all that great.  I just wonder…is it mind over matter?  He believed everything was fine and blew off any symptoms he felt and never complained, always gets up early…I call him the robot because he just doesn’t slow down very often.  He has a very strong ability to ignore anything that is off but seems like blood sugar is one that hits him pretty hard. This weekend was rougher on him but it was ok because baseball got snowed out and cancelled so we had a slower weekend with time to get organized, clean up the house and get rested. He felt pretty puny on Sunday so I declared it a recliner day for him to relax.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  We are gearing up for some crazy calendar juggling and ALL the family is coming for Easter to celebrate Russell’s Confirmation. I’m super duper excited!  I LOVE when all of my siblings, cuzzies plus all of the kids’ grandparents can be together at the same time. What a huge blessing!  I am beyond grateful for all of them setting aside their own crazy schedules to gather together.  It will be a glorious Easter celebration!

Sidenote–we survived another Touch of Silver Dance Team tryout week for Whitney.  It is always so stressful because we want all of the girls we know trying out for the first time to make it but it is a very competitive squad.  Some made it, others didn’t.  We are excited to get the new season started and it will be kicked off next Tuesday.  Senior year for Whitney is coming in hot!

Russell’s baseball team won their first tournament of the season by a long shot so we are officially bumped back up to AAA.  We have a great team, great kids, great parents, I’m so excited for the season!  There were a few kids including Russell with some doubts about their abilities going into the season and the big success erased any doubt and really bonded the team together.  Brad and Russell were in their element and I absolutely enjoyed watching them enjoy every second.  It was cold but honestly I don’t even remember that part.  Hoping for gorgeous weather the rest of the way!

Prayer requests:

Carter has been struggling with stress at school.  I’ve been trying to help him get some extra help to get over the hump but Lord Jesus I hate to see him stressed out! Please lift him up.

Brad has some nagging symptoms that have cracked his armor.  Please pray for these to resolve and for him to feel tip top shape and feel as good as his blood work has been showing on paper.

Whitney and Russell need some extra luck and prayers to finish strong with their grades.  They have some high 80s which they know drives mom crazy!  If you are gonna get an 88 you might as well get a 90!  Am I right?!?  I know they are both trying so I don’t bug them too much.  Whitney has her Proms to distract and Russell has practice or a church event every day with no breaks so he’s a busy guy.

Brad and I can both use prayers for our focused and successful results at work.  Both of us are so busy but being in sales means we are always playing the odds to be successful and going into the busy Summer we are hoping to celebrate our successes.

Above all we feel so much love, we have been given some incredible gifts over the last six months to help us keep life as normal as possible and for that we can never say enough thank yous.  My recent New York trip was a trip of a lifetime with my HS bestie and while I was tentatively nervous it was the most amazing time spent! Her husband was so generous to give us the opportunity to enjoy the city and each other.  I still can’t believe it really happened! I walked in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade as the FIRST THING I DID on my first day! I mean who does that besides Ferris Bueller?!?! Oh and then followed it up with the Big East championship at Madison Square Garden! I mean holy wow!

 

Focus on Happy and please forgive my Mood Swings

We met with Big Nanner today, Brad’s beloved Nurse Practitioner.  She almost mesmerizes him with her excitement that he forgets to listen to what she says.  Her enthusiasm gives us comfort and she is so positive in her praise for great blood work, says he looks good, she confirms the fact that he “feels fine.”  Today opened the door to changing things up so that he can feel as good as possible.  For instance, he’s had hand and foot pain that we’ve narrowed down to being from the 5 FU and not neuropathy.  She gave him a cream and cut back on the 5FU dose by 10%.  She also said this symptom will get worse when it warms up which sounds kind of serious since baseball and soccer seasons are fast approaching.  She told him he doesn’t have to power through this stuff, there are ways to make him feel better!  yay! Praise Jesus!  This is what I’ve been wanting to discuss for awhile without being perceived as “giving up.”  So thank you to everyone who prayed for what was on my heart the last month…quality of life vs fighting hard.

As for the scans, there has been additional shrinking of the masses in his liver so the chemo is working.  There are still too many to narrow down to the option of surgery and would only consider that if there were a few that were growing really big and they needed to be removed.  Now it seems like they are just kind of there like a heart disease or some other kind of chronic disease that you manage.  His blood counts are great in every area and we are just getting started to monitor his glucose. Brad is having a colonoscopy next Tuesday to get a better look at the colon tumor and decide if it makes sense to remove it.  What people keep asking and pushing for surgery don’t consider is the science behind cancer surgery.  It is all about margins, pre and post conditions of the organ you are cutting on and what else is in the body.  There has to be a means to an end and if it is cutting to be cutting I’m definitely not on board. {I don’t for one second think our doctors cut to cut but I get the question of “what about surgery” and that isn’t my favorite option}  The doctors would also weigh the risk of 6 weeks off chemo to prepare for the surgery.  When Brad missed his chemo in December he started to feel “cancery” and *seemed* to be heading back down the path he was on when first diagnosed–weak and sickly.  The thought of leaving his body unarmed to be attacked by the cancer without any chemo for six weeks scares me.  Secondly,  what does cutting a piece of his colon out mean.  Will it mean a colostomy bag?  Will it mean him in the hospital for awhile then bedrest missing his favorite season of the year?  Could it mean other things will come up and be more problems to deal with?  Our doctor and team will evaluate his overall health and if it will improve post-surgery.  I’m not even close to being medically trained/educated but I’m here to tell you Brad Woods does not want and part of any of that!  The man doesn’t even want to commit to a Halloween costume that he can’t immediately take off.  He does not want to LOOK, FEEL or ACT different.  His current health is good, he’s managing his side effects, blood pressure is so much better and our new adventure of diabetes is starting.  His blood work looks good, he feels good, he can sleep away a lot of the side effects.  I have faith God and the doctors will figure out his path and I’m voting for a Hard No! haha!  I think you all know where I stand.

Who knew Cancer lingo had some PC to go with it? I’m learning that “you look good” is an interesting comment. It kind of has a back handed tone of insinuating the treatment must not be that bad…impaired to others who look very sick. “You can beat this” “fight the battle” “how many more treatments” are all hard phrases to process when your cancer was deemed inoperable and incurable at the start. Anything can happen and we will always keep hope alive but it’s just tough for those concepts to be considered the only success. For people trying to live a “normal” life during treatment of Stage 4 cancer the battles daily are much more real. Brad worked 45 hours this week and 5 were unpaid to try and serve his mortgage customers. That was a huge victory the week of chemo! News of tumors shrinking by a centimeter is a big win 5 month into treatment. Winning a battle with insurance to process one EFFing claim so our prescriptions will be free/covered…now that’s a win! Making it through an entire weekend of a Dance State Competition without having to say no and stay in the hotel is a victory. Sometimes being cancer free isn’t really the focus or at least not the daily focus. There are weeks where we both don’t have a single bit of energy left to empty the dishwasher or make a sandwich. Brad says he is “real tough” and he is getting tougher by the week.

Thank you for your prayers. They mean a lot!

My heart today

I see you smile and your true joy.

Your bright face in the morning gives me hope.

I see the tear roll down your face and I sink.

What are you thinking boy?

Are you tired of this battle God has given you?

I see our children happy and am relieved.

We can do this somehow.

What is going on in there boy?

What are you thinking about?

I forgot you had cancer and it was bliss.

I feel so strong

And then I fall apart.

What if I can’t do this?

What if you leave without me?

Well I will figure it out, don’t worry.

I’ll make it work somehow.

Out of the blue our angels step in.

Literally when I feel like I’m going to burst.

They show up and take off that rock that makes me feel like I can’t breathe.

I see the separation of realities, yours and ours.

I’ll fight what you are fighting our whole lives.

What are you thinking boy?

Are you tired of this battle God has given you?

If you leave I’ll love them double for you.

I’ll never let you down.

I’ll never let them down.