Memo: Phase 2 Treatment Plan – April 2021

We had to move. That was the message delivered to us on March 17, 2021 by April’s Mayo Clinic oncologist. April’s stage four breast cancer had leapt over the protective walls of her phase one treatment and had spread to her liver and lungs. Because the cancer only manifested itself through small amounts of fatigue, April and I had not anticipated the coming news. Still, we needed to move and move quickly. Here is why:

Why the Move?

The first phase of April’s cancer treatment attempted to starve April’s breast cancer to death. Because her cancer is hormone based (ER+ PR+ HER2-), her doctors sought to eliminate most of April’s hormone supply through the removal of her ovaries. Though this surgery significantly lowered the amounts of estrogen and progesterone pumping through April’s body, small amounts of the hormones still moved about her blood stream, providing her cancer with a meager supply of food. To keep the cancer molecules from eating, April took two pills, Letrozole and Ibrance. They were designed to plug up the cancer’s receptors or mouths.

ER+ PR+ HER- Cancer Cells

For the past 22 months, the phase one treatment plan proved effective. Lacking the ability to consume April’s hormones, the cancer cells began to shrink and eventually stabilize. April regained both energy and mobility.

Though April had begun to push the cancer out of her body, her cancers cells did not give up the fight. As soon as the Letrozole and Ibrance fenced the breast cancer off from April’s hormones, the cells began rummaging through April’s body in search of a new food source. Looking back through April’s blood counts and scans, her Doctors think her cancer could have found its new food source by November 2020. As the cancer cells grew in strength and size, they began to once again travel up and down April’s blood stream, forming the tumors in April’s liver and lungs that appeared on her March 2021 scans. The mutated cells have also begun to reinvigorate the old tumors, teaching them how to adapt to the new food source. In short, April’s phase one medications can no longer stop her breast cancer from growing. If April does not move onto a new treatment plan, her breast cancer will take over her body.        

What’s Next?

After consulting with April’s UVA and Mayo medical teams, we decided to drive past the standard of care option usually tied to phase two treatments and explore experimental treatment options.

Though turn-key ready, most of the houses in the phase two neighborhood house patients for an average occupancy of six months. If April and I decided to relocate her into the Faslodex treatment plan for example, she would most likely have to move to a new treatment plan before the end of 2021. Though we are thankful for the advances in the standard of care options, we dislike discussing turnaround times of less than a year.  

Thankfully, we were not alone in our assessment. April’s Mayo and UVA teams encouraged us to pursue other options. Over the last three weeks, April and I have been exploring clinical trials located at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, the Dana-Farber Cancer institute in Boston, and the Inova Schar Cancer Center in Fairfax. After many conversations with medical teams far and near, we decided to relocate April’s breast cancer fight to the Inova Schar Cancer Center. Here, April will participate in the EMBER study. This trial hopes to effectively starve April’s cancer for two years through the administration of two new pills that will plug both the hormone receptors and the newly developed receptors, fencing the cancer off from both its old and new food sources. This trial offers the same potential benefits as the trials at the Mayo Clinic with the advantage of being only 60 miles from our home as opposed to 1060 miles. If for some reason, the new drug proves ineffective, we can always transition back to the standard of care options. With the blessing and full support of April’s Mayo and UVA teams, we began switching April’s care to Inova this past Monday, signing paperwork, and initiating a new set of scans and tests.

What Does this Mean?

In much the same way a family must adjust when moving to a new home, April and I must learn how to navigate a new hospital system and must develop relationships with a new set of doctors and nurses while keeping in contact with April’s teams at Mayo and UVA. We also must adjust to a new treatment regimen. By the end of the month, April will begin to take two new pills, the experimental drug, LY, and another drug that will be determined in accordance with a test being run on her liver cells as I type. When April starts taking the new pills, she will go through several weeks of intense observation. She will continue to undergo bone scans, MRI’s, and CT scans to determine whether the new treatment is effective. In addition to the normal tests, she will also have to undergo brain MRIs, EKGs, and frequent blood draws. Once in the study for three months, the frequency of appointments and tests will normalize to a slower pace. If all goes well, we hope to have all the boxes unpacked and to be fully settled into a new rhythm of life by this August or September.

How Are We Doing?

We are praying. Over the last few weeks, April and I have shed tears. We have mourned how quickly the first line of treatment ended. We have mourned that we must leave that which is comfortable and transition to that which is new. And, we mourn the less than enthusiastic treatment outcomes that are often associated with phase two breast cancer treatments. The whole situation is distressing.

Thankfully, the Bible exists for times such as this. In Psalm 4, David proclaims our hope when he says, “You have given me relief when I was in distress.” In verse 3 David goes on to note that, “the Lord hears when I call to him.” Knowing that God hears us, we take our concerns to him asking him to gift us a great new medical team that will provide the best possible care for April. We also ask you to join us in praying that the treatment proves effective for years to come.

Lastly, we ask that you pray for our souls during this transition. Pray that our ponderings upon April’s cancer will lead us away from anger and despair to worship and trust in the Lord. Pray that we will be able to say along with David, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” We do not know why April’s breast cancer has progressed as it has. We do not know why she lacks health while others thrive. But this we do know; we do not have to fear tomorrow because the God Who reigns loves us and hears us. As the Psalmists says in verse 8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” At times resting in the Lord proves difficult for our hearts are weak. But our God is faithful and not put off by our frailty. He came, lived, died, and resurrected because he knew our frailty and loves us still. Pray that we will learn to live in his joy and sleep in His peace.

Thank You!

Thank you for keeping up with our story, for praying for us, and for meeting our earthly needs! When recount all that our family, our church family, and our friends have done over the last few years, our hearts overflow with gratitude. Thank you!

Contact Info:

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

SNAIL-MAIL AT : P.O. BOX 637/ AMISSVILLE, VA 20106

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND (GOFUNDME.COM)

Why Questions Don’t Threaten Jesus On Easter

God is not threatened by our questions, doubts, and critical spirit. From the moment Jesus said, “Repent and believe for the kingdom of God is at hand,” people placed his life under the microscope of suspicion. The miracle of the resurrection proved no exception to this rule.

Is the Resurrection Real?

No one in the ancient world thought Jesus would conquer the grave. Though we should commend the women who first arrived at the tomb for their expression of faith that first Easter morning, we should still note they arrived expecting to find a bloodied and decaying body. Luke 24:1 reported that the women walked to the tomb with “the spices they had prepared.” When they went and told the fearful disciples that Jesus was alive after encountering angels and the risen Jesus, the eleven friends of Jesus said the women’s account was “an idle tale (Lk 24:11). Though Jesus had spent much of his public ministry discussing his upcoming death and resurrection, no one believed God’s Word. Rather, they believed because they saw the empty tomb and the Jesus’s “hands and his feet.” The facts of the first Easter were historically verified Because they disciples doubted the possibility of the resurrection. The old preacher J.C. Ryle hit the easter egg on the head when he wrote,

The unbelief of the apostles is one of the strongest evidences that Jesus rose from the dead. If the disciples were at first so backward to believe our Lord’s resurrection and were at last so thoroughly persuaded of its truth that they preached it everywhere, Christ must have been risen from the dead.

If God can overcome the doubts of the apostles, he will not feel threatened by your doubts and concerns. I invite you to bring them to the tomb. Wrestle with the narratives found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Search for Jesus’s body. Look at the historical evidence in favor of the resurrection. Test and see if a man bloodied by a flogging, crucifixion, and a spear wound could remove a massive tombstone and overpower a Roman guard. Examine whether 500 people could hallucinate. See if the disciples had the weapons and skills necessary to steal the body. Come investigate the resurrection.

A Miracle Worth Believing

But do not stop there. Do not nominally agree with the miracle and then go on attempting to overcome the shame in your heart and that nagging fear of death that blinks in the back corner of your soul like a smoke detector with a low battery. You may smoother it with the pillow of good works and you may close the doors of religion behind you seeking acceptance, but death’s warning still beeps.

Instead, join the disciples and the women of the first Easter morning and believe in Jesus. Jesus explains the purpose of Easter in Luke 24:46-47 when he says,

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

We fear death for we know we are not perfect. Though we make peace with our faults, we know in our heart of hearts that God does not. And we cannot rest peacefully at night not because of what our parents told us but because our hearts condemn us. Though we may have done many things right, we have all told a white lie, sent an angry text, or posted something on social media that we later had to remove. We have all messed up our lives, our world, and offend our neighbors.

God must deal with us. A God who sweeps sin under the rug like a parent who refuses to recognize the crimes of their drug addicted kid, pretending they have done nothing wrong, cannot be a good God. God must deal with our sin if he is good and loving.That dealing with sin results in our death.

But on the cross, Jesus dies. His gives blood, his life source, for our souls so that we might live. Jesus who was both fully God and fully man and who spent his life sharing truth, healing the sick, loving the oppressed, opposing demons, and feeding the hungry died upon the cross for our sins. This is the good news of the gospel. This is the news that should warm our hearts this Easter morning. Jesus who said he could deliver us from sin and death made good on his promise. The tomb is empty Jesus. All who believe on Jesus though they die, they too will be resurrected to eternal life. Jesus paid it all.

Conclusion

If you have questions about Easter, Jesus, and the Bible, I encourage you to bring them with to the tomb located in the gospels. Jesus is not threatened or put off by your doubts any more than he was stunted by the worries and unbelief of his followers that first Easter morning. He can withstand your questions. But I will warn you in advance, that your investigation may not go as planned. As the angels told the women that first Easter morning, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but he is risen!”

Christ the Lord is Risen Today!

Happy Easter!

We Don’t Have to Surrender

On December 22, 1944, the 101st airborne division which had distinguished itself when it dropped behind German lines to help secure the beaches of Normandy found itself once again surrounded by its foes. Five days earlier, the battle worn soldiers had rushed to the front lines to support their fellow Americans. But as they secured the town of Bastogne, the Americans on their left and right flank stumbled backwards under the weight of the German panzer tanks. The 101st airborne was now an island located in sea of Nazi grey.

Wanting to avoid a drawn-out siege that would claim the lives of countless soldiers, the German commander in the area requested a ceasefire. He handed the Americans a letter that asked for their surrender. The note declared, “The fortune of war is changing…The battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne.” When the American commander, general McAuliffe, saw the note, he laughed, exclaiming “Aw nuts.” For the next several minutes, McAuliffe and his staff discussed the possibility of surrender. But the commanders could not reconcile themselves to the idea. They knew the mighty American War machine lay only miles away. Patton’s 9th army had already begun to mobilize. Though their situation remained dire, victory also seemed sure. The question for McAuliffe and his staff was this: “What do we tell the Germans?” They discussed their options. McAuliffe then scribbled his message down on a piece of paper and sent it back to the Germans. When they opened the envelope, they found only one word: “Nuts.”

When Christians awake to find their souls surrounded by temptations, they too can resist the call to surrender to sin and death for they serve a God far mightier than Patton’s 9th army. Because Jesus has triumphed over Satan in Matthew 4:1-11, all who follow Jesus should expect to gain victory over their temptations.

Why Matthew’s Not a How-To-Guide

At times, Christians have treated Matthew 4:1-11 as a how-to-guide for overcoming temptation. This advice turns the quotation of Scripture and the declaration, “Be Gone Satan” into a one size fits all solution for all temptations. However, a quick scan of the Bible reveals this understanding of temptation to be incomplete. Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife when she propositioned him. In Ephesians 4, Paul instructs those who are tempted to steal to work with their hands. We should reference and quote Scripture when Satan comes knocking. But we do not have to stop here. We should go beyond these steps and make use of all of Scripture when battling temptation.

Matthew is not providing us with the exclusive guide to overcoming temptation. He is showing us that Jesus is the new Adam and the new Israel who will finally defeat sin and death. Because Jesus resisted the devil in the wilderness and then died and rose again, his people can resist the Devil as well by through Jesus. Our savior gloriously declared, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Those who have been made righteous by the blood of Christ no longer have to surrender when Satan calls them to lust after the flesh, to test God, and to worship that which is not God.

Jesus’s and Our Victory Over Temptations

After living forty days without food, Jesus had become well acquainted with hunger pains. Seizing upon this moment of human frailty, Satan strikes, calling Jesus to “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan implores Jesus to find fulfillment in doing that which comes naturally and easily. He had already snagged Adam and Eve with appeals to their fleshly lusts. Genesis 6:6 reports that Eve ate the fruit in part because it was “a delight to the eyes.” The nation of Israel repeatedly surrendered to Satan’s demands and rebelled against God when they lacked food and water.

But Jesus does not fall. He reminds Satan that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4).” Jesus resists the urge to just do it, to be himself, and to surrender to the needs of the moment because he knows that life comes not through self-fulfillment but through obedience to the Word of God. Because Jesus resisted Satan, those who follow the Christ no longer must surrender to the flesh. Jesus will provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).

But Satan is not easily put off. He regroups and challenges Jesus to prove his divinity by throwing himself off the temple mount. Jesus should be able to survive the five plus story fall because God had promised to protect him. Historians believe Satan is tapping into the culture of Jesus’s day. Supposedly, Simeon the Magician and others who had claimed to be the Messiah had thrown themselves off the temple to prove their divinity. Suffice it to say, their movements ended the moment these men hit the ground.

But Jesus does not test God. He rebukes Satan declaring: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test (Matt. 4:7).” Because Jesus refuses to put test God, his children also do not have to test their Father. We do not have to buy a house that we cannot afford and then challenge God to increase our paycheck. We do not have to quit our job to pursue the mission field apart from the blessing of our church and wise counsel, challenging God to get us to Africa. We do not have to divorce our spouse to follow our true love, demanding that God shepherd our kids and bank accounts through the process. Jesus refused to test God. We too can resist this temptation.

Lastly, Satan asks Jesus to worship him. Satan knows something of what the cross will cost Jesus. He offers another way, a plan B. In Matthew 26:42, Jesus prays, “My father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will but as you will.” In exchange for worship, Satan will give Jesus his kingdom. Jesus once again defeats Satan. He declares, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve (Matt 4:10).” Though his adherence to the Father will cost Jesus everything, he still worships the Father for he is God.

Though Jesus resisted the Devil, he still repeatedly calls the people of God to worship that which is not God. He calls them to the occult and to witchcraft. But more importantly, he calls them to worship that which is not God: good grades, wealth, popularity, sex, children, work, and a host of other things which are not inherently bad. He encourages us to set aside God and to worship that which will really make us happy. And at times, the offer does come with benefits. The greatest threat to the church member’s faith is not that he or she will worship sports or their career and find financial. The great danger is that false worship will lead to earthly success. Satan can hand out gifts to those who turn their back on God. But such presents always lead to death. As Jesus notes in Matthew 16:26:

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Life exists not in things or experiences. It exists in Jesus. Resist the temptation to worship that which is not God.

Jesus vanquished the Devil. If we stand with our savior, we too can resist the devil and will watch him flee. We do not have to surrender.

Conclusion

We should not despair when we awake to find ourselves surrounded by temptation. Jesus will rescue his people like the 9th Army came to the 82nd Airborne’s aid. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

When Satan calls us to surrender to temptation, we should take our cue from the 101st Airborne and respond, “Nuts.”

The victory is ours!