Yesterday I enjoyed an afternoon of blood tests, CT scan, and a visit with my new oncologist. Here is the bottom line. There has been no significant change in my cancer – no growth, no spread. No reduction, either – at least not anything that the radiologist and oncologist consider “significant”. They say my tumors have “stabilized”. That is a good thing.
I will start immunotherapy tomorrow, in addition to prayer, intercession, “body ministry”, and diet.
The doc was pleased, and even surprised that there had been no growth. He thought the report was a terrific report. I am pleased, too. I believe prayer has helped, and that healing has begun. When you turn a train that is going in the wrong direction, it takes a bit of time and power to slow it down and stop it before you can turn it where you want it to go. Maybe that is simplistic. But that is what seems to be happening in my body right now.
PROGRESS? YOU TELL ME:
The largest tumor is in my right lung, and is currently 5cm. In April, I had a CT scan that reported it as 5.5cm. In May I had a PET scan that showed it had grown to 6.5cm. But my doc is saying there is not much change. Here is why. My first CT scan was done by another radiologist on older equipment and without dye because the nurse could not find a vein after 7 sticks. (Ouch!) The PET scan was done by yet another radiologist, and he reportedly measures tumors differently than the other two. The radiologist yesterday was using new equipment, and dye (only 2 sticks this time). So my doc says that he can’t compare the three scans. In fact, my previous oncologist (the one I fired), didn’t bother saving the PET scan to my medical record. So all they have is a written summary report. (In some countries, your entire medical record is on a chip that you carry with you, and any physician can read it anywhere. America, we are behind!)
In a process that has been layer upon layer of bad news, I am pleased that someone with good equipment said today that my biggest tumor was only 5cm and is not growing…stable. I call that progress. What do you think. My response is that “God answers prayer.”
This is still fairly new science. It is a systemic approach that is designed to super-charge your own immune system to fight the cancer.
I have many hard tumors. Oncology does not recognize cures for hard tumors with medical interventions. However, many people are cured. The numbers being cured are much higher than they were 4 years ago mostly due to advances and the growing use of immunotherapy.
They will give me 2 drugs, Opdivo and Yervo, once every 3 weeks for 4 treatments. About 30% of people taking this cocktail experience side effects. The most common side effects are diarrhea and/or tiredness. When someone experiences those (usually around week 7), they give them prednisone, which almost always eliminates the side effects.
After my 4th treatment with both drugs, they will drop the Yervo, and just give me Opdivo once every 4 weeks for up to two years (assuming I respond well). Less than 15% of patients experience side effects from Opdivo. The treatments are given through an IV, and take about 30 minutes. Most people drive themselves to the clinic, take their treatment, and then drive themselves to work. That seems very livable to me.
Approximately 40% of patients respond well to this treatment plan. Tumors shrink or disappear, and they live longer. The data is not solid because the treatment is so new. 60% don’t respond well, or at all. My doc thinks I have a better than 40% chance of responding because 1) I am still asymptomatic and strong; 2) my plant-based diet is helping; and 3) I have PDL-1 genetic markers for my cancer mutation, which tends to indicate a higher chance of positive response.
WHERE IS MY FAITH?
Medicine is science, but not exact science. I am learning that trusting in medicine takes a great deal of faith – faith in people I don’t know, in stuff I don’t understand, and in data that seems wonky. Heck, they can’t even compare CT scans, and have incomplete data on me from scans I have had within the past 3 months. That doesn’t build a lot of confidence. One of my closest friends told me today that I had a lot of faith. I don’t. I certainly don’t have enough faith to trust medicine for my healing!
I am taking the medical intervention, not because I trust medicine, or my doctor, or the tumor board, or the process, or the 60 times people have told me about Jimmy Carter having what I have. I am doing immunotherapy because I have peace in my heart about doing this. I believe that this is one tool that God may use to heal me. Or not. But I have peace that this is what He wants to do with His cancer. (Remember, it was His before it was mine, and once they found it in my body I have given it back to Him.)
I don’t trust the diet either. I think it is good for me, though. It makes food be what it should be in my life, and nothing more. I plan to remain a plant-eater. I feel better. I am losing a little weight in a healthy way. I think it is a sustainable way to live. I don’t love BBQ more than I love not having any more stints. I may eat a piece of pizza, or even a burger at some point. I told Vic Sunday night that I wanted a burger, so we jumped in the car to go to Hueys (arguably the best basic burger on the planet). But when we got close I realized that I really didn’t want to eat red meat. It didn’t sound good anymore. What I really wanted was fries. So we ended up at a place called Soul Fish, where I ordered a blackened redfish sandwich. Two bites in, and I didn’t want any more bread. I did eat the fish and fries - and the lettuce and tomatoes. But I don’t want it again, not for a while. I cheated by eating fish! That is transformation!
I trust God. I am asking for Him to lead me - by joy and peace. A mentor shared amazing stories of his time as a missionary in Uganda during the Edi Amin years, and how time after time the Holy Spirit would direct him miraculously to avoid certain death. I asked him how he learned to recognize the Spirit’s leading in his life so clearly. He said, “Let the peace of God rule your heart, son. Have you never read your Bible?”
I have learned from personal experience and from observation of hundreds of parishoners that one should never make decisions based on fear. It almost never turns out well. We should stop, wait, and find the peace of God. “Let the peace of God rule (direct, govern) your heart (your desire, your passion, your will).” I am not taking immunotherapy because I am afraid God might not heal me. I am not juicing 5# of carrots a day, eating raw garlic, and chewing…chewing…chewing kale and spinach for lunch and dinner because I am afraid that if I eat a Big Mac I will die of cancer. You cannot add a hair to your head, nor a day to your life. Neither can doctors, nor diets. But God can. And He often does when we ask him. The Bible has many stories about God extending people’s lives. I am doing the immunotherapy and the diet from a place of peace and joy, trusting God that this is how He is leading me. I know Him. We have history.
So in the peace of God, coupled with His joy, I am drinking juice, eating salads, taking immunotherapy, and asking for people to continue to intercede for me, lay hands on me and pray for my Father to heal me in the name of Jesus. I am asking God for 7 years of cancer-free, fruitful ministry. I realize that my deliverance will come because people like you have prayed on my behalf. I am learning to receive and to be grateful. I am grateful for your prayers and for the encouragement that so many have been to me.
In His peace,