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!

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

April’s Cancer Update: November 2021

As some of you know, I (April) went through my usual rigmarole of scans last week.  Shots of dye, drinks of contrast, and CT machines provide my doctors with data about the current state of my breast cancer tumors. Peter and I went into these scans expecting some dramatic or at least definitive results. After having punched my tumors with the full power of my chemo drugs, we thought the scans would report that my tumors had shrunk. Sadly, that was not the case. But my scans weren’t without some good news either.  There does not appear to be any new growth in my tumors.  The cancer cells also seem more inactive. This is positive news for sure. 

What’s Next  

My chemotherapy (Abraxane) has done as much as it can do to fight back my tumors. Now, we move into a maintenance mode. The goal is to stay on my current treatment as long as possible. Until those nasty cancer cells start growing again, we will use the chemo to hold them back.  My doctors project the chemo will be effective for about three to six more months. When the cancer morphs and starts growing again, then we will discuss and decide on a new treatment plan.

For now, I will continue to use the Abraxane in a decreased dose.  Instead of three weeks on, one week off, I will transition to taking chemo every other week. This has the benefit of less time in the Infusion Center as well as less side effects per week/month.

Chemotherapy has proven to be brutal at times for me.  In addition to losing all my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, there are the occasional fever and chills after the infusion, the constant stomach pains, the decreased appetite, the intense fatigue, and the neuropathy (losing feeling in my fingers and toes).  Some days these side effects are more than an annoyance and completely disruptive to my life. There is only so much that a person can push through. Over the last few weeks, I reach that point. Hopefully, a reduction in the Abraxane will increase my quality of life while still holding my cancer at bay.

How Are We Doing?

We walk a tightrope between the good and the bad. We remain hopeful in our God and continue to learn what it means to trust and rely on Him one day at a time. Yet we continue to grieve this incurable disease that has taken up residency in our lives. We can’t ignore the ways that it affects our day-to-day lives.

While we see the good news in these recent scans, we can’t help but still shed tears because the cancer is still in my body.  If we could will it away in our own strength, we certainly would have by now! Instead, I’m told my scans are increasingly difficult to read and interpret due to the scarring nature of the disease on my insides. 

So I try to focus on the positive aspects of less chemo in the coming days. Still, I know that I will dread Infusion Center building each time I pull into its parking lot.

The idea of better days ahead does not mean easy days. Forcing myself to eat my meals and struggling with the pain in my fingers while fixing my girls’ hair each morning may not go away. 

As thankful as I am for the makeup that enables me to draw on eyebrows, the flash lashes that replace my own and wigs that are stylish and complimentary, I miss my own hair and know I’m not getting it back anytime soon. I sometimes feel like cancer has taken away my youth and a sense of who I am, especially when I look in the mirror first thing in the morning.

On this tightrope that we find ourselves, I can confidently say that God has kept us from falling to the ground. We sway from side to side, but He is always there is steady us again. Our faith is not great and our emotions are tumultuous, but our God is good, powerful, and true. He loves me, Peter, Luke, Lily and Lacey. We are learning that His mercies really are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness!

How to Pray:

Please pray for God to heal me, to push back the cancer and to bless my treatments. Nothing is impossible with God.  

Pray that I will have the strength that I need each day to endure side effects and to accomplish the tasks that are before me, especially caring for the needs of my family.

Pray that we will experience the mercies of God afresh and that we will know the joy and peace of Christ even on the bad days.

Pray that God will increase our love for our three kiddos. Under the best of circumstances, parenting is no easy feat (much less in the midst of scans and trips to the infusion center).

Pray that God would redeem our three children. Of late some have expressed an increased interest in the gospel.

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: 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