The Threat of Liver Failure: April Update 5.25.22

Editors’ Note 5/27/22: Since the posting of this blog, April has undergone another paracentesis. Doctors have removed more than 7 liters/14 Lbs of fluid from April’s abdomen during the two procedures. And still her abdomen continues to swell. April returned home on May 27 because we can duplicate the care that she was receiving in the hospital through prescription medicines and outpatient paracentesis procedures. The days ahead will be long and hard. Their outcome is anything but certain. But April is home. We rejoice in small mercies.

The last few weeks have unnerved us.

What started as a race to avoid a week or two of inconvenient breast cancer symptoms has become a race for April’s very life.

Last Week

As many of you know, April went into the hospital on Monday, May 16 because of some slight bloating which evidence the very early stages of liver failure. The visit proved to be more precautionary than essential to her care. Given the slight deterioration of her liver and quality of life, her medical team decided to respond more aggressively to her new breast cancer growth. They abandoned the Xeloda chemo pill during that hospital stay and began giving her the IV Chemo drug gemcitabine. After her first receiving her first dose on Wednesday May 18, April was discharged from the hospital. We still believed we had an upper hand.

This Week and Today

By the following Sunday, May 22, I was sneaking out of church early and running April back to the ED because she had spiked a high fever. Guessing that she had an infection (a suspicion that was empirically proven today and that is being successfully treated), the ER doctor admitted her to the hospital on Sunday night. While receiving antibiotics for the infection, April’s abdomen continued to swell to the point that she took on the appearance of a full-term pregnant woman. The other day, a well-meaning cleaning lady clumsily asked April, “You, have baby?” We chuckled at the thought. But alas, she faces something far more serious. The abdominal swelling (which has caused her so much pain over the last 48 hrs.) and her high bilirubin numbers has indicated that her liver is failing and could fail.

Though the doctors can and have performed and will continue to perform a procedure called paracentesis which removed 3.25 liters of fluid from April’s body and reduced her level of discomfort on Tuesday, May 24, her abdomen has already returned to pregnancy size as of this writing of the post on Wednesday, May 25. To cure her liver and to reverses the symptoms associated with her poor liver function, her medical team must find a medication that will shrink her tumors and not further aggravate the compromise state of her liver. This afternoon, April switched to her third treatment plan in as many weeks and received the first dose of the chemotherapy drug Adriamycin (happily nicknamed the red devil). She will take the IV chemo drug weekly. If all goes well, her liver function will begin to improve over the next 2-3 weeks, and she should be discharged from the hospital this weekend. If her breast cancer tumors do not respond or do not respond quickly enough, her liver will fail. Her race will end.

Though the stakes have been raised, April possesses a great desire even in the midst of great pain to keep running this race. As she said earlier today, “I never thought I would say this, but I want to start chemo.” She wants to embrace drugs that will punish her stomach, cause hair loss, and possibly damage her heart. Though exhausted, scarred, and worn, onward she goes…onward all of us go along with her in hopes of a better tomorrow. And yet the reality of the moment is not lost on either of us. Either the chemo will destroy the tumors, or the tumors will destroy her liver. The next days and weeks will prove decisive.

How to pray

Our prayer today is simple, “Lord help us.” Pray for God to restore April’s liver. Pray for us, our children, and our families to find our hope in the things above….in the steadfast love and faithfulness of our God and father. The days are long, hard, and unsettling, yet are God is good, loving, and powerful. May God be merciful us.

Contact/Support Info

Please note, we long to responded to all texts and messages. But with the many challenges facing us, our responses will probably be increasingly slow.

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

New Growth: April’s Cancer Update 5.15.22

Editor’s Note 5.20.22:

(Since the posting of this blog on Sunday, April’s bilirubin numbers have increased and indicate her liver is slowly failing. Acting on an abundance of caution, her medical team admitted her to the hospital on 5/16. She left the hospital on Wednesday 5/18 after receiving Gemcitabine, an IV Chemo that packs more of a punch than Xeloda. We will visit with her medical team next week and post an update then, seeking to make sense of all that has happened this week.)

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

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