New Growth: April’s Cancer Update 5.15.22

Editors Note:

(Since the posting of this blog on Sunday, April’s bilirubin numbers have increased, resulting in her being hospitalized. As of 7:15AM on 5/17/22, we are still waiting for test results which will enable her medical team to decide what to do next. Her ability to begin the Xeloda depends on her liver numbers returning to safe levels. Please pray that the tests occur in a timely fashion and that her medical team can determine the right next steps.)

We do not like bad news. And yet it is once again our currency. April’s latest scans and blood tests reveal that her cancer has once again out maneuvered her treatment regimen and has begun to grow freely. To stunt this new growth, April will take a new chemotherapy pill at the beginning of next week.

What Happened?

As the pictures on our various social media platforms make clear, this news blindsided us. Though April has had a few bad days this past week, she had regained increase mobility and strength over the last few months. She has played chauffer to our kids, cooked meals, fixed hair, helped with homework, and done many of the things that give her and all of us a taste of what life was like before cancer invaded. Perhaps even more remarkably, April completed her main physical therapy goal of walking more than a mile at a historical site. A few weeks ago, she toured Jamestown, Yorktown, and Colonial Williamsburg like a pro. She never showed the signs of extreme exhaustion and fatigue that defined her while she was on her intravenous chemotherapy regime. Despite some digestive issues (which could be noticeable at times), April seemingly had reached one of those restful plateaus within her cancer journey.

Given our most recent experiences, both April and I anticipated that her May 3rd scans would bring tidings of health. But as we all now know; those scans and the ensuing blood work would cruelly shatter our expectations. First, the scans came back showing shadowy images which suggested that the breast cancer tumors in April’s breast and lymph nodes had grown, and that a new tumor had formed in the kidney closest to her liver. To bring clarity to these images, April’s Oncologist ordered new labs to be drawn. The results of her blood work which measure tumor markers and liver function revealed that the shadowy clouds in her scans are most likely not illusions but the very thing itself. If the cancer has not grown in the spots identified in the scans, it is growing somewhere with enough force to bring deadly harm. In short, the breast cancer cells that have brought so much harm to April’s body and our lives since 2019 have once again begun marching forward bent on even greater destruction.

Thankfully, the effects of this new invasion have only just begun to materialize. This week, April’s liver produced the first signs of abdominal swelling and pain. Though the threat of additional symptoms remains forever real, they have not yet arrivied. Seeking to begin the new treatment before those effects poke significant holes into April’s quality of life, her medical team decided that she should begin taking the drug Xeloda at the beginning of next week. If the drug works, April will take three pills twice a day for two weeks. She will then take a week off. The two weeks on and one week off cycle should be able to combat April’s cancer for the next 6-8 months.

How Are We Doing?

In one sense the news of tumor growth has not shocked us. Intellectually, we both know that April’s cancer will spread, and that each treatment has a limited shelf life determined by the genetic composition of April’s cancer. And yet in another sense, the news does carry with it a certain amount of shock value, forcing us once again to think about this evil disease and the fragileness of life. Moreover, transitions between treatments prove to be an unsettling experience. Neither the medicine’s effectiveness nor its side effects come with full prove guarantees. The first 2-4 weeks of these transitions often contain a series of surprises and unanticipated twists. Few of them are good. For example, one Xeloda’s more prominent side effects is hand and foot syndrome which produces large sores in one’s palms and the soles of their feet could. April could soon struggle to walk and do simple household tasks. Though expected, the transition between treatments wearies our souls. We’d rather not go through the process of deconstructing today’s normal for the purpose of constructing a new normal that promises to be at least a little more difficult than the one we just tore down. We dislike such devolution.

And yet we remain hopefully. From a medical standpoint, April still possesses many other treatment options. Though life may get harder faster than we had anticipate, this news does not point to the end of April’s life. Her overall outlook remains unchanged.

Most importantly, our God has not changed. We know from Psalm 86 that the effectiveness of our prayer comes not from our power to persuade but from our need. The psalmist writes, “Incline your ear O Lord and answer me for I am poor and needy.” Thankfully our God who controls the stars and determined the fate of the dinosaurs still cares deeply about April, having numbered every one of her regrowing hairs. At times this week, our hearts have been very low. And our souls have felt the stresses of the moment. But our God has remained forever great. There is no one like him among the gods. Thus, we turn to him afresh, trusting that he will help us and comfort us even when we feel surrounded by cancer. Our God is gracious and merciful today just as much as he was yesterday. We look to him for hope afresh.

Prayer Requests

As always, we invite you to pray for us. Pray that the new chemotherapy pills will shrink April’s breast cancer tumors. Pray that Xeloda will last the full 8 months. Pray that the drug takes effect before April’s new cancer symptoms settle in and that her side-effects will be minimal. Pray that the Xeloda pills provide April and me with a new normal that will allow her to freely walk, do housework, and homeschool our kiddos for at least one more semester. Pray for God to give us patience with our children when the days are long, and the cancer symptoms are present. And pray for God to bless us with the wisdom that we need to navigate these times of uncertainty that begin with April’s cancer’s and yet possess the power to shape most every aspect of our lives. Come talk to the God of mercies with us.

Thank you!

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An Appreciation of Mr. Sam Ruble

My first conversation with Mr. Sam Ruble revolved around the topic of cows and stoplights and how the cows outnumbered the people and the people the stoplights in Rappahannock county. In the four years since that first meaningful conversation, I have come to realize that our brother truly knows more than a thing or two about wrangling cows, taking down bucks, and rebuilding limbs. Sam knows the outdoors well, but he knows people even better. 

He knows how to make the forlorn and neglected feel welcome. He knows how to love those who have lost a loved one and readily sheds a tear here and there for the many fishing buddies, family members, and friends who have already transferred their membership to heaven. He also stands ready to rejoice with those who get good medical news or who take the first steps towards adulthood or career success. A large hug, a quick joke, and a warm smile are never more than a moment away. Our brother loves us well.

 I can say this as both his pastor and his friend. It was Sam who drove us around when April and I first came to the hills of Rappahannock county. It was Sam who took me on my first hospital visits. And it was Sam who helped my son catch his first fish and visited us when cancer raged in April’s body.  

In one sense, the loving character of our brother and of his bride, Mrs. Karen, needs no description. Without fail every new member going through our membership classes since I arrived has made reference to you guys. Some perspective members struggle to recall your name. But once they start talking about how this one slightly older couple welcomed their family the moment they walked in the door and how this couple was so nice, friendly, and kind, I need only say, “Oh, you mean Sam and Karen,” before I hear, “Yes that’s the couple, I really like them.” Sam and Karen, thank you for loving us well. 

I know that your love for us has cost you a few gray hairs. If nothing else my inability to spell your last name correctly in the bulletin and on official church documents has surely added at least one extra gray hair. 

You have also weathered some of the darker days of this congregation’s history. But instead of leaving, you both stood firm and do what you do best. You loved fiercely. You faithfully made phone call after phone call, brought meal after meal, pumped out water system after water system, visited member after member, and went to doctor’s appointment and after doctor’s appointment. Whenever the phone rang, you stood ready to serve. Undoubtedly, you earned some of your grey hairs at ABC. But these little reminders of times past are not a curse but a sweet blessing, a testimony of how well you have loved the men, women, and children of ABC. Proverbs 20:29 reminds us that,

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.

Sam and Karen we are thankful for those gray hairs that crown your head. I am here because you guys loved well. Pretty much everyone at ABC today and watching online is here because you loved the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. Thank you! 

Thank you for pressing on and for making the most those opportunities to do “good to everyone especially of the household of faith (Gal 6:9).” Sam and Karen as you look out on the congregation today full of happy faces, I believe you are seeing the first fruits of your labor. Our church is what it is today because hundreds of people have been able to identify you with the hands and feet of Jesus. Thank you!

Though Sam is stepping down from our deacon board today, I still affirm that he possesses the heart of a deacon. He has not grown weary either of us or of our great God. But our Lord has placed physical limitations on our brother that prevent him from continuing on as a deacon. No ministry is forever. We are all but stewards. We must all step aside at some point.  Brother you have steward your time on this deacon board well. You leave behind a legacy of care and compassion. We will miss you.  

Yet, we will not leave you adrift on the pond of boredom to watch the Sunset. God still has much for you to do and we will look forward to ministering beside you in the days ahead. The parameters of your service will change. But I fully expect you both to go on deaconing and serving the church until Jesus calls you up yonder. Sam, I also suspect you will rightfully be one of our deacons most trusted advisors in the days ahead as you know both this congregation and our Lord and savior well. As Paul told Timothy,

For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus (1 Tim 3:13).

Brother by God’s grace, you have achieved such a standing at ABC.

Thank you for standing firm in the faith. Thank you for loving my family well. Thank you for loving all of us well.  

Brother, there may be more cows than people and more people than spotlights in Rappahannock county, but I would be hard pressed to find either a cow, or stoplight or even another person who has loved us as well as you and Mrs. Karen have. 

Thank you, Sam and Karen for your 18 years of faithful ministry. May God bless you richly in the days ahead!

Why Did Jesus Stop Doing Miracles?

The story of how Jesus brought Jairus’s dead twelve-year-old daughter back to life resonates with our souls (Matt 9:18-23). The deep sorrow of associated with burying a child has few equals. It is a special kind of anguish that brutalizes the heart. What parent would not run to Jesus as Jairus did, longing to hear his child laugh again?

The story also presents us with a problem of eternal proportions: Where is Jesus now? What about today’s children who are wasting away in hospitals? Why does Jesus not come to our homes?

Since no Christian can see into the secret mind of God, we should not speculate about the intent of God’s secret will. We do not know it. We do not know why some live to 80 and others die at 8 weeks.

Why Jesus Left

But we do know why Jesus left earth. He could have set up a permanent health clinic in Judea and healed the sick without end. People today could still be talking of that time when Jesus spoke over Fred and his cancer disappeared. But they don’t because Jesus understood that such healings were temporary. Everyone whom Jesus healed in the New Testament has long since died. Had Jesus hung up a shingle and gone into the professional healing business, his ministry would have never ended. Such a healing ministry would have addressed the symptoms of humanity’s problem (though not in a universal since as Jesus was bound by the limits of time and space) without addressing the root cause of our problems: the curse of sin and death. In other words, Jesus goes and dies on the cross so that humanity can spend eternity in a world with no sin, death, and misery. The empty tomb addressed the root cause of all our problems. In short what is even greater than an extended life on earth is an eternity in heaven.

In 1929, the famous preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones reflect upon a similar dilemma when he had exchanged the doctor’s stethoscope for the pastor’s pulpit in 1925. People would have easily understood and celebrated Lloyd-Jones had he given up being a bookie to preach. But giving up medicine…surely the healing of the sick was a noble profession. Lloyd-Jones responded:

I want to heal souls. If a man has a diseased body and his soul is all right, he is all right to then end; but a man with a healthy body and a diseased soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face an eternity of hell…We have sometimes to give up those things which are good for that which is best of all – the joy of salvation.

Jesus no longer walks among us because he wanted to free us from the whole tragedy of death and dying once and for all. Because he died, we get to live forever without sickness. As Jesus tells us in John 14:3: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Jesus left to conquer sin and death for us.

Does God Still Heal?

Though Jesus ascended into heaven, Christians should continue to take their health concerns to Jesus. When their children feel the weight of illness, mom and dad should ask Jesus to heal their precious child for he instructed his followers to ask him to “Give us this day our daily bread.” No one can doubt that health proves to be one of our must urgent daily needs. God still dispenses the gifts of healing sometimes supernaturally and sometimes through normal medical means. Jesus still heals.  

What About My Loss?

But when he does not heal, we should not despair for as Jesus told Jairus and later those who mourned the death of Lazarus, death proves not to be the permanent end of human existence but rather to be a type of sleep, a transition to eternity (Matt 9: John 11. In other words, the goodness of God reigns even during and after death. The puritan, pastor John Flavel beautifully encapsulated Jesus’s sentiment when he wrote:

Look not upon the dead as a lost generation; think not that death has annihilated and utterly destroyed them. On no, they are not dead, but only asleep; and if asleep, they shall awake again. You do not…make outcries and lamentations for your children, and friends, when you find them asleep upon their beds. Why, death is but a longer sleep out of which they shall as surely awake as ever they did in the morning in this world.

The dead in Christ are not lost. The end goal of Jesus’s ministry was not an eternal life of misery here on earth but rather an eternal life of glory in the new heavens and the new earth. Those who trust in Jesus though they die reside with him forever.

As for those of us left behind, we too need not despair. The Jesus who responded kindly to the simple and slightly misinformed faith of a woman with the flow of blood who touched his clothes invites us to bring our problems to him. Even those who struggle with fear, anger, and fractured theology will find deliverance and life if they will but make Jesus the object of their faith. As the Puritan Richard Sibbs helpfully reminds us, “God can pick out sense out of the confused prayer (50).” No problem is too great for God and no amount of faith is too small. If we will but go to Jesus as Jairus did, he will come to our home and deliver us from our griefs and sorrows. Jesus reigns.  

Final Thoughts

Do not begrudge, Jesus for going back to heaven and removing the miracle shingle. In doing so, he did something far greater than extending our loved one’s life for a few years. He made it so we could all spend eternity with him in a world forever free from sin and death. God is Good. May God help us all trust him more.