Our feet have touched the cool soft dirt of hope. This past Wednesday, June 19, April began her hormone therapy.
The preparation for this first day of battle has been vastly extensive, slowly hurried, and ever changing. We have talked with clinics in Virginia, Houston, New York, and Memphis. On multiple occasions, we prepared to head north or south with fully packed suitcases. Then the phone would ring and toss all our nicely folded plans across the floor. We would spend the next 24-48 hours pouring over new medical charts, praying, and rearranging tickets in preparation for a trip West or East. Then April’s phone would buzz again. After a few more conversations, our compass would reveal a completely new and unanticipated direction. Often what seemed a long shot on Monday would become our future on Wednesday and then would disappear from our plans on Thursday.
After three weeks rearranging and repacking, April and I found ourselves headed North to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. We grabbed tickets on a Thursday and arrived in Minnesota the following Monday.
The doctors and medical team at Mayo reviewed April’s medical records. They then performed a bone scan, a biopsy of the cancer in her bones, a genetic test, a CT scan, an X-ray, and multiple blood panels. After examining April’s medical history, the oncologist at Mayo reaffirmed April’s original diagnosis. April has hormone-receptor positive and HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer. The cancer began in her breast about a year ago and then spread (metastasized) throughout her bones. The cancer feeds off the estrogen and progesterone in April’s body. To fight the cancer, April will take pills to stop her body from producing the two hormones. If the pills are successful, April should live another five to six years. Though we were well acquainted with this information prior to our trip, we had hoped for brighter news.
Then the sliver of sunshine that we had been seeking appeared. After the initial review, the oncologist said April was a candidate for the Mayo Clinic Promise study. The observation study would provide April and her doctors with a detailed analysis of April’s tumors’ genetic sequencing for the purpose of, “developing personalized treatment approaches to improve patient outcomes.” In other words, the research team would chart the genetic makeup of April’s tumors for the purpose finding which drugs and treatments would best overcome her unique form of cancer and extend her life. To see April’s cancer in action, the researchers would attempt to grow and then kill April’s unique cancer cells in the laboratory. Though the Promise study does not promise a cure and anticipates of being of more value to the next generation of cancer patients than to April, it did offer April an unmatched level of care and provided us with a slim but very real chance of better treatment options going forward.
Impressed with the research plan and the culture of the Mayo Clinic, April agreed to participate in the study during our first day at the Mayo Clinic. She spent the next four days enduring a long battery of tests to ensure that she qualified for the Promise study.
This past Tuesday (6/18/19), April received the phone call! She was in! The next day, she swallowed her first hormone pill; she had officially begun the first leg of her cancer treatment.
After weeks of packing, unpacking, and repacking, we are overjoyed to be actively battling this horrible disease that has spread upwards to April’s skull and downwards to the top of her left leg.
Moreover, we also excited to be led by the best medical guides possible. We will be checking-in with the research team at Mayo every two months for the next six months to chart the growth of April’s cancer. Then, we will fly to Rochester every three months for the remainder of the study. The study will track April for up to seven years or until the hormone therapy fails and the cancer begins to grow afresh.
Admittedly, there is also a chance our time on this path could be short. Thirty percent of cancer patients who begin this trek encounter the rugged cliff of disappointment associated with the therapy’s failure within the first two months. Those patients who receive no benefit from the hormone therapy will return to home and head off in the direction of chemotherapy.
We do not know how rocky our path will be; we do not know how long we will be on the path.
But we know that our Lord is the good shepherd who leads us to green pastures. We have and will continue to appeal to our great shepherd for help and deliverance as we navigate this twisty path. Even if we encounter dead end after dead end and begin to inch closer towards the Valley of the Shadow of death, we will not lose hope. Our God promises to fight our enemies with his rod and to keep us close to his love with his staff.
Admittedly, the winds of circumstance and emotions regularly swirl around us and whisper thoughts of doom into our ears. At times, we listen to them and neglect the voice of our good Shepherd. Like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we begin to doubt the goodness of God. But then, we raise our head afresh and remember how our good Shepherd has proved himself over and over again, saving us from our sins, walking with us through the death of our son, and increasing our faith over these last weeks. Truly he is our comfort. Ultimately, we have nothing to fear for our spot in the house of the Lord is not in question. The love of our shepherd is not in doubt.
Moreover, we have everything to hope. God has not promised to heal April directly. Sadly, she is not mentioned by name in the Bible. (Luke, Lily, and I are…but that’s another matter and requires some really bad exegesis…anyway🤪) But, God has promised her and me and all his people that our cups will overflow. Our enemies, April’s cancer, will not have the last word. God tells us that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. He promises to do good for April and me. So we boldly ask God to heal April and to do the unexpected so that the whole world may know that our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is the one true God. We confidently ask God to be good to us for he has promised to be our Shepherd.
We have also seen God’s amazing goodness in the faces of our family and friends these last weeks. We have been overwhelmed by the ever-growing number of cards, texts, letters, emails, and Facebook messages. When the days have been dark, the news murky, and the path unclear, your messages full of prayers and Scripture have breathed hope into our souls. We may not have responded to every message and letter. But, we have read them (many more than once). We are thankful for the colorful signatures, the prayers of our former students, the empathy of our peers and the encouragement of those who have a year or two on us. We are thankful to have so many voices constantly reminding our spirits of God’s character!
We are also thankful for the many, many people who have sacrificed for us and our kiddos. Our families and friends have been the hands and feet of Jesus these last few weeks. You have watched our children, covered medical bills, cooked meals, secured hotel rooms, located medical records, and found rental cars. To borrow an expression from the great missionary William Cary, our families, our sweet Amissville Baptist Church Family, our kind friends in Eastman, GA, and our brothers and our sisters who reside everywhere from the Asia to South America have held the rope of ministry tightly as we waded into this trial. Thank you!
Please continue to hold the rope with us and as we continue down this path.
And please continue to pray.
Please pray for April’s healing. In about two months, we will know if the drugs have been effective. Pray that the next CT scans reveal a healing of supernatural proportions.
Pray for our faith. The days can be long and the news troubling. Pray that we will not trust feelings, hunches, or guesses but the character of God as revealed in the Word of God as walk into valleys and stumble over rocks.
Pray that God will bless our family as we seek to create a new normal that revolves around cheese-puffs, diapers, preschool, sermon prep, and cancer pills.
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can reach us via snail-mail at : P.O. Box 637/ Amissville, VA 20106
You are also welcome two reach out to the elders of Amissville Baptist Church, Mark Hockensmith and Bill Brown, at: 540-937-6159.
Though April and I welcome inquirers and emails, calls, and texts of support, they can be overwhelming at times. We appreciate your patience with our responses.
We plan to also keep posting updates here at witkowskiblog.com
Thank you for your love, prayers, and never-ending support.
Sustained By Grace Through Faith,
Peter & April