Okay. Most of you know this already, but I guess my references to the topic on this blog have been somewhat cryptic. So, here are the major points of the story as I know them to be.
Kendra and I observed our 15th anniversary in August by going on a little trip. The kids spent part of that time with her brother Danny (truly one of the best guys in the world) and part of the time with my folks who took them to Sea World. Now let me preface this by pointing out that my Dad is in great shape. At 76 he can do more pushups and probably more sit-ups than I. He works as hard now as he ever has. If six months ago anyone had expected him to go on a 20 mile hike he could have delivered. At Sea World, however, he could barely get around he was so worn out. He went to the doctor and a few weeks later they called saying he was severely anemic and needed a transfusion immediately. Dad has always been a skeptic and did not want their blood-bank blood and instead wanted 200 proof Val Juice. I have not been a blood donor in the past (something that has changed) so I had to be typed and screened. In fact, I left ACU Welcome Week chapel early one day after getting to sing with Brandon and Stephen to go to the blood center for that purpose. That delay may have been a great thing, however, because during that time my step-brother had a chance to review the results of the initial tests revealing the “anemia” and was disturbed by what he saw. He did not think it was anemia and thought Dad should get to a hematologist immediately. This was a great catch that bought us very valuable time that would otherwise have been wasted chasing the first and most severe in what has become a long line of either incorrect or uncertain diagnoses.
The hematologist agreed that what he saw was not consistent with anemia and instead felt with a 90% degree of certainty that we were looking at leukemia. (As alarming as that was to hear, I have learned once again that things like are relative and we would later come to hope for leukemia.) Word came back a week or two later, however, saying that it was, in fact, Stage Four T-Cell Lymphoma. Dad decided to go to M.D. Anderson for possible treatment and advice. At this point, however, he was cleared to go ahead with the blood transfusion to help with his red-cell count, which was dramatically low.
The expertise of those at M.D. Anderson, easily thought to be one of the top five cancer research and treatment centers in the world provided a glimmer of hope. To be honest, it was a little bit touch-and-go as to whether or not Dad would even agree to go there. His last memory of the place was from about 35 years ago when my Mom was there as a cancer patient. The surroundings were void of warmth and pleasantry and any good memories; Mom’s body succumbed to the disease. Take that into account combined with the fact that Dad has lost my sister Vicki to cancer as well and going through the individual hells each of them went through did not exactly make him eager to follow suit. Thankfully, however, he eventually agreed to go that route.
Family plans for Thanksgiving quickly switched to Abilene but beyond that we seemed a little paralyzed by the news. Except for Colleen, my step-mom. She charged on, shaking her fist at this un-seen enemy, volunteering for a tour of duty on the front lines of this battle and any to come in this war. I truly wish I had a more public forum than this blog to tell anyone who would listen just how thankful I am for her. She is fiercely loyal, frighteningly intelligent, unbelievably patient, and down-right classy. She just retired this summer from ACU (sorta) and has really thrown herself into this new role with an even greater degree of determination. She has been my conduit of information during their trips to Houston. She and her iPhone have served to be my eyes and ears to what’s going on when I can’t be present. She is awesome.
The next trip to M.D. Anderson was one wherein I thought we would learn the roadmap of treatments ahead and perhaps even begin those treatments. However, rather than treat him the doctors told him they were pretty sure it was not lymphoma but was instead leukemia (again). This was actually good news, though. Leukemia has a much better life expectancy and quality. It was encouraging although they said the strain he had was so rare they didn’t know much about it and would both treat and study him. Dad was told to say goodbye to the lymphoma specialist and report back in a week or two to the leukemia doctors. Then last Friday a somewhat disturbing call came in suggesting he should return and visit both. This odd sense of security that comes along with assumptions of mutual exclusivity seemed suddenly at risk. Could it actually be both?
Today the answer came during yet another trip to Houston. It was not leukemia. Lymphoma or some variation thereof is again the diagnosis du jour. While Colleen made it sound as though they still did not seem exactly confident in that, they do seem sure it is not leukemia. Whatever it is, I just want them to start treating him. Because this is what we know by the numbers:
It’s been eight weeks since this started.
He’s had at least three transfusions.
His red cell count continues to nose-dive; today down to 7.
There’ve been three trips to Houston, M.D. Anderson.
There will be 13 of us together for Thanksgiving. It should be 17 or 18, but stupid things can occur even in the oddest of times.
We are either on our 5th diagnosis or have returned to our 3rd.
Zero treatments have been administered.
And that’s it for now. Now you may understand why I have seemed a little moody or bitter lately. Why I am struggling to stay positive but still think it is important to try. Why I am disappointed in some people and so impressed with others. And why I’ll give some more updates later.