The Face of Cancer

breast-cancer

“You look good”

I appreciate the compliment; I’m glad that the signs my disease and of the emotional turmoil within do not reach the surface of my face.

Yet those who live in close proximity to me and those who have visited our home over the last few months have seen what the pictures on social media cannot convey. My church family has also been a constant source of comfort as they walk with our family through this trial week in and week out. They have watched me barely walk into church and have observed me leave worship early because of my pain. And, they have witnessed the good days in between, learning in many ways how to judge how I am feeling. Their sensitivity and love is such a blessing.

I can’t begin to show how grateful I am for those who are praying for me (literally all over the world!). Certainly an extension of the grace of God is the undeserved friendship and care of so many. How truly blessed I am that the Lord would put it on the heart of so many to pray for me, my family and my healing.

When I was first diagnosed, I entered into a type of shock. The diagnosis still is so much to process. It has felt like learning a new language, one that I really didn’t want to learn. I had no idea that there were different types of breast cancer and very little knowledge of current treatments. All the words sounded unfamiliar. My ignorance produced fear. But one morning I remember waking up and the Lord allowing me to realize that though I may know nothing about breast cancer, I hadn’t lost all I knew about Him. Now was the time to stand firm on all I did know. That has been an anchor in my rough seas.

IMG_1621I credit my husband for orchestrating the wonderful health care I am receiving. He immediately set to researching all he could about my disease and those working in the medical field to treat it. He learned to speak the language faster than I did and still knows it better than I do. When I could have just shut down, he worked to keep us moving. Because of him I am in a research study at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and go out for scans and tests every few months. I am being observed and learning much more about my cancer because of participating in this study. I also receive great local care through the University of Virginia’s breast cancer specialists in Charlottesville. It was here that I had my recent surgery to remove my ovaries.

I have a notebook full of medical information that I have accumulated from all my doctor visits since May. Having a serious, incurable disease also requires a lot of organization. Test results, medications, appointments and the like force me to continue to engage my new way of life. I can’t ignore or escape it.

October is breast cancer awareness month. While I understand the intent, I have tried to avoid all displays of the pink ribbon and paraphernalia. My personal battle is still so raw and fresh that I don’t want to associate with yet another reminder. Perhaps I will feel differently next year.

Many people have asked about what our children know. They know Mommy has cancer which they understand as very bad germs inside of me. Each night at bedtime, we pray for God to take Mommy’s cancer away. Our 3-year-old has volunteered to people that “Mommy has cancer in her back!”

I can’t begin to list or describe all the ways big and small that cancer has affected our little family. This is the area that brings me most often to tears and my greatest source of anguish. I pray daily and fervently for my children’s salvation. My greatest desire is to live to see them firmly established in the truth. This trial isn’t just mine, it is our whole family’s. God allowed me to have cancer. God allowed my children’s mommy is have cancer. God allowed my husband’s wife to have cancer. It is hard, painful and scary. Yet our hope remains in God. That He will bring good out of this evil.

The opposite of fear is trust. I continue to fail to trust Him and let fear overwhelm me. I have many times fallen into despair. But God has not left me.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 26:3

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,”

Psalm 46:1-2

“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”.. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:27, 31

How many times does the Bible tell us to trust God and not be afraid? He has never failed us. He has and always will take care of His children.

I will have more scans in a few days. I am tempted to fear and doubt. But ultimately I know that my life is in God’s Hands. I should focus on my devotion to such a good and gracious Father. He deserves my undivided heart and adoration (Psalm 86:11-12).

Like so many others with similar and yet different stories, I am the face of cancer. But more than what my face looks like, it matters where my face is looking. I must now and always turn my face in the direction of Christ. I know that when I “look full in His wonderful face, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” I want to reflect back what I see in Him.

I don’t know what my scans will show next week. I hope for good news. Over the last two weeks, I have had more consecutive good days with minimal back pain than I have enjoyed since before my diagnosis six months ago. I am so thankful and pray that is a good sign of my treatment working. Yet I want my heart prepared to rest and trust in Jesus no matter what is reported.

Will you please continue to pray for me? Pray for my heart to remain steadfast while also petitioning the Great Healer for my health to be restored?

Memo: April’s Breast Cancer August 2019 Update

IMG-0355A touch of hope has returned to the sails of our souls this afternoon.

As April and I accessed the waves of pain and doubt that violently rocked her soul these past few weeks, we began to fear that her voyage to health would soon break against the rocks of failure. On Saturday, August 3, 2019, an MRI revealed that the storm that enveloped her body had grown in both size and location. Seeking to clarify the shape and intensity of April’s cancer, the medical team at Mayo performed both a CT Scan and a bone scan yesterday, August 13, 2019.

Those tests renewed our hope in her current treatment plan, revealing both good and bad news. The tumors in her lymph nodes appear to have shrunk a few millimeters, some of her bones have grown stronger, and some of tumors in her pelvis have decreased in size. Conversely, the scans revealed that the spots in her liver have grown slightly and are indeed cancerous, that some of the tumors in her back, hips, and chest have increased a millimeter or two, and that three potentially cancerous spots have appeared next to her lungs. In short, some tumors have decrease a have few percentage points and some have grown between 1% to 5%. Essentially, the tests reveal that April’s cancer formation has shifted little since our last Mayo visit in June. For the treatment to be considered a failure, the cancer has to grow by 20% or more. This afternoon April is sailing a safe distance from that rock of disaster.

Though we and our doctors wished April’s cancer had decreased in both size and intensity over the past two months, the report of an essentially unaltered storm offers us more medical hope than when we began the day. Her hormone treatment could still be working. The drugs power her body to health require time to beat down the winds and waves of her aggressive disease.

For the next two months, April will continue to battle against the winds of her cancer with the help of the hormone blocking pills. In October, we will head back to Mayo for another round of tests to see if her cancer has grown or shrunk. The additional eight weeks should definitively answer the question of whether or not the hormone treatment will meaningfully aid April in her quest for health.

April has defined today as being a “gray-day.” Going back to May 17, all previous major scans had contained only the black discouraging news of metastatic cancer and tumor growth. In a little yet very meaningful way, this gray report has pushed the needle a mark more towards hope. We are thankful for this success.

We thank you for joining with us in prayer these past few days.  Going forward, we hope and pray that we will have some days of gloriously clear, and bright news.

IMG-5716Before her next trip to Minnesota in October, April will see a radiologist. Her Mayo and UVA doctors believe localized radiation should prevent additional bouts of intense back and leg pain. She will also have an outpatient surgery to remove her ovaries to ensure that her body will no longer produce estrogen and progesterone.

April and I have found living life in two-month increments to be taxing. The tests she endures are physically and emotionally exhausting. As our five-year-old said the other day, “I don’t like cancer.”

As we seek to keep our hearts from being tossed by every wind and wave of medical news, we ask God to help us to see with eternal vision. In Mathew 8:26, Jesus rebukes the disciples for having, “little faith” because they saw the world through only their physical eyes. They were consumed with the waves instead of their powerful savior. They should have known (and we should know) that Jesus is far more real and powerful than any storm. Jesus is our salvation and our guarantee that all of our life is under God’s all powerful, all wise, and all good care. Because Jesus reigns,  we have no reason to be afraid even if our boat is swamped by the waves of cancer. We pray and ask you to pray for us that the eternal realities of our savior and of our salvation will be more real to us than the medical images we can see and touch.

We thank you for joining with us in prayer over the last few days. Please keep praying for April’s healing. Your notes and messages have been a blessing to our souls as we geared up for and walked through this last series of tests and doctor’s visits. Thank you.

We hope to have more good news to share with you in two months.

 

Contact Info:

Email us at: biblefighter@gmail.com 

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.

GOFundMe Page

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 and April

Memo: April’s Breast Cancer Update (4)

update-4

We have reached cruising altitude for April’s treatment plan. And the wheels of decision-making have retracted into the hull of the plane with a solid thump. Though she is soaring safely through the clouds of pills and test, April and I still do not know where and when this particular leg of her hormone-based-treatment flight will end.

We wish we knew the particulars and details of all that was going on in April’s body. We desperately want to be able to speak authoritatively about all that is happening on the ground. But, we can see only vaguely from our vantage point. And the doctors with their sophisticated radars and instruments can only offer conclusions clouded by uncertainty, promising time will reveal more information.

Admittedly, we still intimately interact with the cancer as if we were still on the runway. We are struck by days of turbulence that bounce April against the ceiling of the plane. When the pain shoots through April’s hips, chest, and legs, she struggles to shuffle from her bed to the chair. The routine trip up and down our staircase becomes exhausting. And when the air is smooth and conveying rays of sunshine, April can tackle laundry, wrestle our kiddos into bed, and make the occasional trip to the store, catching a glimpse of life before cancer. Life appears to be a constantly changing paradigm.

As we fly in and out of the rough skies of her treatment, we attempt to take the thirty-thousand-foot view. We know that a week of bad days and the occasional day of pain do not mean her treatment has failed. And, we also are slow to assume that a great week or two equals a complete healing. We are attempting to guard are hearts and emotions from being tossed to and fro by every change in the wind’s direction.

ScanWe imperfectly look at her cancer landscape from high above. From thirty thousand feet, we are able to piece together what all the days, weeks, and months mean. As we look over all the plains of normalcy, the valleys of sorrow, and the mountains of success, we can begin to draw some general conclusions. The combination of April’s last weeks of activity and her medical reports that tell of good blood counts, softer tumors, and limited side effects indicate that her treatment is working in some measure.

During the week of August 18th, we will descend out of the clouds to detailed understanding of where the cancer treatments have taken April. April will spend two days that week at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester learning the results of her latest scans, blood work, and bone biopsy. After that visit, we will be able to provide our friends and family with a more detailed picture of how April is responding to her treatment and comment about the next stop on her flight plan.

Though we do not know our destination, we do know our pilot. We know Christ reigns supreme and is working all things together for our good.

And we know that he is accessible. April and I have spent many hours on this flight talking with him. In June, the elders of Amissville Baptist Church and I prayed for April. We lived out James 4:14-15 which states,

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

We sought to encourage April in her faith, anointing her with oil, laying hands on her, and asking God to heal her and to sustain her and our little family.

April also hosted a prayer time with over 25 ladies from our church in July. They praised God for his goodness, love, and sovereignty. And then, the ladies implored Jesus to heal April. We truly take comfort in the verse 16 of James 5 which states, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Though, we do not know exactly how God works through prayer, we know he works through the pleadings of his people. We have been meditating and praying through Psalm 86 the past couple of weeks. We know that we are poor and needy and that nothing special resides in us. We are prone to fear, exhaustion, and complaining. Even our eternal righteousness is a gift of the Lord. We relate to Psalm 86 when it states, “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me for I am poor and needy.” Yet, we call out to our divine captain,

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you…In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.

Though we lack surety in our flight plan, we have full confidence in our savior.

 

Pray

Please keep praying with us these next several weeks!

  1. We have asked for God to “Show me [April] a sign of your favor.” We ask you to join us in asking God to shrink April’s cancer to such an extent that the doctors are without explanation so that God will be glorified.
  2.  We also ask for you to pray for our hearts. Pray for April and I to find our joy and confidence in Christ. And pray that our joy and confidence will open doors for the spread of the gospel. Long nights, cranky kids, and ever-changing medical, personal, and family expectations threaten our joy at times. As my favorite preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “A miserable Christian is…a contradiction in terms.” We want to avoid being that contradiction. We are asking God to “unite my heart to fear your name” and give thanks to Him “with my whole heart.” We desire to collaborate with the gospel even during the toughest seasons of turbulence!
  3. And please pray for our God to allow April to see our kiddos firmly established in the faith. Above all else, April desires for Luke, Lily and Lacey to repent of their sins, embrace Christ, and walk in holiness before the end of her life.

Thankfulness

We are deeply thankful for all the people on the ground who have loved and cared for us and who continue to care for us during this flight! Thank you for standing by us on the bad days and the good days.

We are thankful for April’s doctors and medical teams who have been forever gracious and kind though we have often switched seats, bumped into the carts of medical protocol, and have had schedules fall out of the overhead bins.

We are thankful for our families who have sacrificed their time and schedules to help us load our bags for everyday life and recharge our hearts so that our kids can have a semblance of normalcy. Three small children do not make for orderly trays in upright positions, but loving hearts have brought peace in the midst of our chaos.

We are thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ who have seemingly done it all, even pulling the plane onto the tarmac through sheer muscle power. You all have prayed for us, written to us, cried with us, sat with our sick kids, driven hours to encourage us, brought us meals, paid our bills, and covered our responsibilities at ABC. When the days have been particularly bumpy and the view outside our windows has been dark, your letters and kindness have warmed our hearts. There are few greater comforts than knowing that those with whom you have labored with for the gospel are praying for you.

Truly, we have the best family, church family, and Christian community our souls could desire. We have seen the mercy of God in your words, hugs, and actions! We love you!

Thank you for flying with us through this time!

 

Contact Info:

Email us at: biblefighter@gmail.com 

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.

GOFundMe Page

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,