Memo: Summer Update – August 2021

As some of you know, on August 23, April once again walked the gauntlet of breast cancer tests, enduring multiple pokes, odd tasting contrast drinks, and the rumblings of CT and bone scan machines. Thankfully the scans returned favorable results. According to April’s oncologist, the breast cancer tumors scattered throughout her breast, liver, and bones are stable. They have neither significantly shrunk nor grown since April. The scans reaffirm our anecdotal conclusion, that April’s chemotherapy regime has prevented her HER2- ER+ PR+ cancer from advancing further into her life. Today by God’s grace, she finds herself in a state of good health. God is good!

Until her next scans in December 21, April and I will attempt to live out the well-used 1939, British slogan: “Keep calm and carry on.” At times, keeping calm is easier said than done. The experience of watching a 38-year-old woman struggle with periodic bouts of chemo fatigue that causes her to curl up into a ball in her favorite chair proves difficult for all of us. If we allow the bad days to define or set the trajectory for our thought life, the skies over our souls do darken and our heart rates begin to increase. Thankfully, Jesus still reigns on high. When the knowledge of his love infused promises shapes our thoughts, the clouds part and the calm returns to our souls. Indeed, addressing the troubles of today through prayer while trusting the unknowns of tomorrow to the Lord never gets old. Pray that we will continually prefer the promises of God to the fears of today.

To maintain this season of physical calm, April’s oncologists has increased her Abraxane dosage by 20%. Lord willing, this drug increase will further strengthen April’s defenses against her ever-invasive breast cancer, keeping her safe until her next scans. Until then, she will carry on through another three cycles of chemotherapy. Each cycle consists of three weeks of chemo infusions followed by one off week.

The administration of April’s treatment has not radically changed. She still rides the same elevator to the second story infusion center and sits in the same oversized orange chairs as the drug flows into her blood stream. But the increased Abraxane dosage has already exasperated April’s side effects, reintroducing her to the sensations of pain, nausea, and neuropathy. Please pray that these side effects will ease and that her chemotherapy will prove effective for the next three months.

With our hope in Christ, we plan carry on for now. Even when April can barely walk, she keeps the laundry going, organizes photoshoots, and facilitates our kiddos back-to-school preparations. When having her good days, April reads stories, cooks meals, and keeps us with a sense of normalcy. On both her good days and her, she provides the other four with the organization we possess. The three amigos are both eagerly and apprehensively looking towards the new school year which will commence with our oldest two children at Fresta Valley Christian School. We remain ever thankful for our Fresta family. Lastly, I too carry on in the pulpit of Amissville Baptist Church with the help, care, and understanding of my fellow elders, deacons, and ABC members. With fits and starts and a good deal of grace, we are slowly starting to craft a new normal around April’s bad days that makes the most of her good days! We will drop another update in December. Until then, we hope to keep calm and carry on.

Thank you for loving us well!

Contact Info

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

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

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND

SUPPORT US AT PAYPAL: ID: PAWitkowski

Memo: April’s Summer Update – July 2021

April has improved over the last few weeks! She no longer counts nausea and pain pills as her close friends. For the first time since late April, she has been able to care for our three kiddos on her own. She and I praise God for the latest round of victories over her stage four breast cancer and for our friends and family that have rallied around us during these dark days.

What’s Going On?

But her journey to this point has proved difficult. The climb is not yet done. Like the mountain paths hidden in the depths of the Blue Ridge Mountains that fill the horizon outside our home, April’s chemotherapy path has been steep, narrow, and full of rocks and roots. As some of you know, she stumbled off the chemo path just days after beginning her new phase of treatment. The chemotherapy drug ambraxane depleted her white blood cell count, dooming her to a six-day hospital stay. Once recovered from her infection and being neutropenic, she began to climb again. She still felt the daily pains of nausea and exhaustion. But with each passing week, the intensity of those pains has lessened. The liver pain went from being an ever-present companion to being an occasional twinge that came and went with each chemo dose. Over the last two weeks, she has been able to catch glimpses of health’s glorious vistas.

Notwithstanding the good results, the climb still contains dangerous three week stretches associated with chemotherapy. After each dose, April experiences noticeable fatigue, loss of appetite, and some nausea for at least two to three days. After three doses of chemo, she takes a week off from her treatment bringing her monthly cycle to an end.

But even during this break, she can encounter rough terrain. A few weeks back while at Lake Michigan, April’s legs blistered after minimal sun exposure, revealing that she has developed photosensitivity, a complication of her medications. Now, she must avoid direct sunlight as she walks towards health.

Despite these challenges, April’s Doctors believe her treatment plan has been successful. Her blood work has revealed that her liver and bones contain fewer and fewer cancer cells. She will undergo a new set of scans in mid-August. The climb continues.

The climb’s challenges go beyond nausea and fatigue. As she attains health, April has endured the thunderstorms of hair loss, canceled plans, and changing family dynamics. These summer winds have snuck up on her soul and flooded it with the heavy rains of sorrow on multiple occasions. But through it all she has remained resilient ever committed to caring for me, her kiddos, and her church family.

How are We Doing?

Her doctors think April will be walking on the chemotherapy trail throughout 2021. What comes next, no one exactly knows. She and I will cross that bridge and decided upon the next treatment plan when we come to it.

After wrestling with Jesus’s words in his famed Sermon on the Mount, April and I have sought to focus t our gaze mostly upon the present. Matthew 6:34 states, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Though we like to think our plans and emotions can determine the future, we have come to the simple and yet profound realization that they do not. Our fears about death do not keep us alive. Our worries about trials do not make us more beautiful. And our what if scenarios with all their hypothetical contingencies don’t shape God’s plans for us.  As Jesus notes, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” When we live in the world of imaginary futures, we do harm to our souls.

When we live in the world of imaginary futures, we do harm to our souls.

This is not to say that we should not plan. April and I have delayed this blog in part for planning purposes. We wanted to determine our children’s destination for the 2021-2022 schoolyear (we decided to enroll them in Fresta Valley Christian School) before sitting down to the keyboard. Moreover, I think having health insurance is a good thing. But worrying about what happens if this treatment fails in five months is completely unprofitable. We could be hit by an asteroid tomorrow and never see five months from now. Though we tend to assume that the future is more tangible than the present, Jesus asserts the opposite. Today is our greatest reality. We will deal with tomorrow….well, tomorrow.

But we are not putting our heads in the sand. Rather by faith we trust in the goodness of God. He is the same today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow exactly who he is today. In other words, the God that has seen April through her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days will see her through tomorrow. He will be ever present with her and us regardless of whether she reaches new pinnacles of health or stumbles into another steep decline. He will see us through all our tomorrows and will be a present help even if tears rain down our faces. Since God will be there tomorrow, we allow him to deal with all those future worries. We cast our cares upon him for he cares for us!  

Admittedly, we are not great at holding our thoughts captive. Sometimes when life heats up, the thought vault in our heart cracks allowing thoughts to ooze past the door of wisdom and pool up in the valleys of despair, casting unnecessary shadows over otherwise good days. To be like Jesus, we must daily crucify our instinctive impulse to speculate about tomorrow, remembering that the God who clothes grass in glory also cares deeply about April and our family. We don’t always live in today; but when we do, joy and comfort abound. To be more like Jesus.

How to Pray

We ask you to pray for our hearts. Pray that we will focus upon today, keeping our thoughts away from unprofitable thoughts about tomorrow. Pray that God will give April the strength she needs to love others well when she has good days full of strength and bad days full of fatigue. Pray that God will extend April’s life. Lastly, please pray that God will save our three children.

Contact Info:

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

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

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND

SUPPORT US AT PAYPAL: ID: PAWitkowski

SCHEDULE A TIME TO HELP: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM

Memo: April’s No Good, Very Bad Week – May 2021.2

To borrow from one of April’s favorite children’s books, this last week has been a series of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. On Mother’s day evening, April’s pain and nausea which had receded the week before stormed back with a vengeance. She found herself once again bedridden, surviving off a diet of prescription pain pills and nausea pills. With her symptoms growing in intensity, her Inova team in cooperation with April’s UVA team concluded that April should no longer wait for the experimental LY drug to tackle her breast cancer tumors. On Tuesday May 4, 2021, April exited the EMBER study to begin phase 3 treatments at UVA. Sadly, the first round of chemotherapy went poorly. As the first drops of the Taxol drug touched April’s blood stream, she shot up in her chair with an allergic reaction that warranted the attention of her oncologist, a pharmacist, and four nurses. With her heart calmed and her breathing restored, April returned home Thursday night to once again battle nausea and pain. Her latest trip to the large orange chair situated between IV polls and blood pressure cuffs went much better. April assumed the second chemotherapy drug, Abraxane, without a major incident. However, she still had a significant battle with pain. Seemingly, the weekend has been content to stop at horrible, dispensing with the need for the other adjectives.

This week has borne an eerie resemblance to one of those adventure films where the heroine finds herself in a rickety, old minecart careening down the track towards a washed-out bridge. Though April has tried pretty much everything one could think of, enduring a lifetime of pokes, pricks, and side effects, the wobbly minecart has continued to move with such speed that the switch tracks, rail bumpers, and emergency breaks of the medical world have failed. She has flown through most of phase 2 treatment options and some of her phase 3 treatment options in the span of five days. By comparison, her phase 1 treatment plan lasted 22 months. Thankfully, the Abraxane promises to lock the wheels of this horrid minecart, sparking some flames of hope.

What’s Next

Over the next three weeks, the Abraxane chemotherapy drug should bring April’s free-falling descent to a stop. She should then be able to start inching her way back towards health over the next six to nine months. If all goes extremely well, she may even be able to reintegrate some of the phase 2 treatments options back into her regime. Though the outcome of this treatment will not be known for weeks, its side effects which include hair loss, a racing heart rate, and more nausea and fatigue have already begun to make themselves known. Until she starts that climb back to health, we will need round-the-clock help.

Though this week has been hard and more hard days lie ahead, we still remain hopeful that April’s treatment plan will once again offer us some nice, pleasant, quite good, and very excellent days.

How Are We Doing?

As April and I have rumbled through the last few days, we have shed many tears, grieving everything from the threat of hair loss to her increasing pain levels to the uncertainty of tomorrow. The days have been long and cruel. But our hope remains for our God remains on high.

Though we do not know why our sweet April suffers, we know these storms of affliction do not prove God’s displeasure or weakness. If anything, they prove the opposite. Steven, one of the original deacons, was stoned to death. The apostle Paul suffered through stonings, shipwreck, and imprisonment before being executed in Rome. The apostle Peter was crucified upside down. Thousands of early Christians were burned as garden torches and fed to lions in the Coliseum. Blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake.

While April will not know the dangers of typhoid fever nor the threats of cannibalistic tribes, her sufferings still make up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction (Col. 1:24). She battles breast cancer today for the purpose of evangelizing and training her children, encouraging her husband, and building up her earthly and local church families. Though she is confined to the ordinary grass lots of suburbia, she is still very much fulfilling the extraordinary calling of being a wife, mother, and sister in Christ. She has endured a lifetime of a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad days for Christ.

Though we wish April’s cancer gone 1000 times over and still plead with God for such an outcome, we know her pain and our pains have a divine purpose and legacy. It is this: “that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing (James 1:4).” Jesus overcame sin and death through suffering. Hardships do not disprove God’s love for us but rather reveal us to be at the center of it. Through sorrow, we find the joy of salvation and dispensations of even greater grace, love, and mercy. In time, these horrible, terrible, no good very bad days will reveal paths of gold. God has deemed us worthy to suffer. Oh, how precious is my dear, beloved April.

Thank You!

Thank you for the constant outpouring of prayer and support. We long ago lost track of all the well-deserved thank you notes that should have been sent. Thank you for extending us grace. We are forever thankful for our family, ABC church family, and friends.

Prayer Request

Please continue to pray for us and our family. Though God has been faithful this last week, we have been ever so weak.

Pray that God will bless this new line of treatment. Pray for God to alleviate April’s pain and nausea. Pray for me and April as we continue to assess and think through medical, parenting, and lifestyle options. Pray for God to use our suffering to advance our faith, to save our children, to care for our families, and to advance our Amissville Baptist Church family. Pray for all of us to know the comfort of our heavenly Father. Pray that we may be perfect and complete and lacking in nothing. Pray.

Contact Info:

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

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

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND

SUPPORT US AT PAYPAL: ID: PAWitkowski

SCHEDULE A TIME TO HELP: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM