HopeDecember 07, 2018
We are to place our hope not on what our eyes tell us—that is too often hopeless—and we are to place our faith in God. When the clouds gather, we are to gather to Him. When faced with a choice between letting the clouds obscure Him or letting Him obscure the clouds, we are to choose the latter. Not to do so is to overestimate our problems and to underestimate our God. (C. Tiegreen)
I was supposed to have my post-chemotherapy CT scan of the neck, chest and upper abdomen on the 19th of November, 2 weeks after my sixth chemotherapy session, but I had it earlier because on the 12th, I was admitted to the hospital due to chest pain.
In the wee hours of that Monday, I had excruciating pain on my entire chest radiating to my shoulders. I had 2 doses of Algesia and a dose of Arcoxia—these are pain relievers—before finally going to the Emergency Room (ER). There, my pain was tolerable. I thought and hoped that it was just exertional pain from my attempt of doing some light exercises—and I mean very light because I’m easily fatigued; as in just walking back and forth in the hallway while alternately raising my arms—a few days ago. The ER resident ran some tests and the results of my blood works were relatively okay. Still, I was admitted and scheduled for the scans that evening.
The following day, my oncologist visited me in the morning and told me the initial reading of my scans:
- Bilateral pulmonary nodules or the metastases on my lungs are no longer evident. Praise God!
- The tumor recurrence on my mediastinum is still there, with no significant change in size. It may not have shrunk but on a positive note, it did not grow! Also, it may represent post-treatment fibrosis or scarring, which can be confirmed through a PET scan, which my oncologist suggest I have after radiation therapy. Yes, I am referred to a radiation oncologist to try to shrink that tumor and kill remaining cancer cells.
- Extensive thrombosis—the formation of blood clots—and total occlusion of my superior mediastinal vessels remain evident. Well, I have my oral anticoagulant for that and if I have to take it for a lifetime, so be it. But, do you know how amazing our bodies are? Because I have these blockages, my body developed collateral veins which facilitate alternative circulation. There are actually visible veins all over my torso. Hence, instead of constantly worrying over these clots and blockages, I’d rather be always grateful on how God meticulously and wonderfully designed our bodies and pray that these collateral veins will keep my blood flowing.
- Pericardial effusion or the accumulation of excess fluid surrounding my heart is noted. Echocardiogram was ordered to further evaluate this.
Now, here is when I got scared. In the initial reading, the radiology resident saw an increased density on the T10-T12 level of my spine. The radiology consultant saw this but explained that this is unusual for bone metastases in thymic cancer because it usually is lytic—lesions that destroy bone material—and not blastic—lesions that fill the bone with extra cells. I reminded my oncologist that my second CT scan when I was still in Cagayan de Oro prior to chemotherapy showed increased density on the T2-T4 level of my spine and were worrisome for metastases; hence I am confused with this development. My oncologist recommended I undergo bone scintigraphy to confirm this and so I was scheduled on the next available slot the following week.
After the visit of my oncologist, I cried to my mother. I was so scared and overwhelmed with the possibility of bone metastases! Did the six sessions of chemotherapy not work? But, it should have; the lung metastases are gone and the tumor did not grow. It was hard for me to celebrate these graces because all I could think of was the disease progressing. My faith and hope were wavering. I was so emotionally distraught that it made my mother cry as well. I hate you, cancer.
In the afternoon, the radiation oncology resident visited me. He explained a little about radiation therapy. I asked if it can target the metastases on my spine. He answered, “Yes it can. But, about that, the department did not call it. They’re not convinced that it’s bone metastases. In fact, in the final reading, it says that the bone is unremarkable.” Unbelievable! The Lord Jesus Christ once again showed me His power and sovereignty! I still had to undergo bone scintigraphy but my hope was renewed.
The next day, my cardiologist visited me. He told me that the echocardiogram showed minimal pericardial effusion and that no intervention is needed. Praise God! Hence, my pain was not cardiac in origin. He was convinced that it was bone metastases. But, I was not discouraged because before he came, I read the Word that day.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
My cardiologist asked me if I already had a heart-to-heart talk with my oncologist. I answered that we already had. He asked, “So is the treatment goal palliative or curative?” I answered, “Palliative.” He then went on telling me how I should be doing my bucket list already. I was appalled but thought that maybe he really just want me to enjoy life. Before he left, he told me that he admires my optimism. He added that others would be asking for divine intervention. Well, I answered, “Me too, Doc.”
When the fellow of my oncologist visited me that evening, I told her the encounter with my cardiologist and shared that I feel judged for still seeking treatment in spite of my diagnosis and prognosis. She said, “Our credo is to cure sometimes, to extend life often, and to comfort always. We do not want to take away hope from our patients especially when that is all that is left to them.” When my oncologist visited me the following morning and I talked to her about this, she said, “With palliative treatment, we want to take control of the disease. You are not dying.” I know that death is inevitable for everyone but I get what my oncologist meant, hence I continue to hold on to my faith.
Prior to discharge, I asked to have a Complete Blood Count as prompted by my mother. Mothers really have some powerful instincts. The result revealed low blood counts so my discharge was cancelled and I spent 5 more days in the hospital. I was injected with Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factor to increase my white blood cell count and was transfused with a bag of blood.
On the 16th of November, I underwent bone scintigraphy because there was an earlier available slot. The experience was different from a CT scan. It is definitely not for the claustrophobic. I had to be strapped on and to lie down for approximately an hour. A part of the machine rotates closely to the body. I was scared it will fall on me when it came really close to my face! On the same day, I received a good news. My brother passed his board exam. Thank You, Lord!
On the 19th of November, I was finally discharged from the hospital.
On the 22nd of November, I had loose bowel movement and was vomiting. Then, I suddenly felt cold and dizzy. I was so scared that I would pass out! My father hurriedly brought me to the ER. The resident recognized me and was not pleased that I was sick again. I was not pleased as well! I was sick of being sick and finding myself in the hospital! I told the resident that I don’t want to be admitted and that I’ll only have intravenous hydration. She said that it depends on my laboratory result. While I was at the ER, my sister claimed the result of my bone scintigraphy. It read, “No definite evidence of bone metastasis on whole body planar and head to above-the-knee SPECT imaging.” Praise You, Lord Jesus Christ! It actually brought me and my father to tears. And, the grace of God did not stop there. My blood work was relatively okay so I was able to go home after adequate hydration.
The following day, I had to go back to the hospital to meet my radiation oncologist. After the consultation, I took a photo with the large Christmas tree in the lobby as I bid the hospital goodbye because I can finally go home to Cagayan de Oro! The planning and the radiation therapy itself will be on January 2019.
After 5 months of staying in Manila, living from one box (rented unit) to another (hospital room), I am so excited to go home to the life in the province even just for a little while and spend the holidays with family and friends! This Christmas is surely different because I acquired a deeper appreciation for life, love, and faith.
This Christmas, I am more grateful. This Christmas, I treasure hope. Jesus Christ is the face of hope and I will fix my eyes on Him.
Have a merry Christmas, everyone!