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

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CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

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April’s February 2022 Cancer Update

April and I arrived at last Wednesday’s juncture worn out like a pair of well-trod shoes. The last few months of chemotherapy treatments have extracted a toll on April’s body and on the souls of our entire family. Though we long for rest, the results of Aprils latest scans revealed the need for a new treatment plan…for more action.

What’s Next

According to April’s UVA team, her breast cancer has managed to squeeze past the safeguards provided by her chemotherapy regimen. It has made noticeable gains in the lymph nodes around her breast. A combination of scans and blood work also strongly suggests that April’s ER+ PR+ and HER2- cancer cells have also started to rebuild themselves within her breast and bones. Thankfully, the tumors in April’s liver remain stable. No new tumors have reached her lungs. Because the cancer has not penetrated her vital organs, the side effects of the new breast cancer growth remain minimal. But as we learned last spring, her cancer will not play nice for long. Last March, April came far too close to the edge of ruin. As the windshield wipers aimlessly swept back and forth on February 3, 2022 following the conversation with April’s UVA oncologists, we determined to do our best to avoid another debacle similar to the one of last March.

Over the past week April and I have repeatedly talked through the various treatment options with April’s UVA and Mayo oncologists, exploring both the standard of care path and the experimental treatment path. Choosing the right way forward has proved difficult for all the paths lead into dense woods with undiscernible futures. Because oncologists have only used hormonal therapies for a little over five years, little data exists regarding what doctors should do after treatments like Ibrance and Letrozole cease to work. With each change in treatment, the discussion moves from estimates and scientific studies to guestimates and anecdotal reflections. After weighing the few things that we could measure such as the physical effects travel against the backdrop of educated guesses, April and I decided to embark upon a standard treatment path composed of two drugs, Fluvestrant and Abemaciclib. The first consists of a shot administered monthly and the second a pill taken twice daily. Together, the drugs promise to keep April’s cancer at bay for another five months. They also threaten only mild side effects such as stomach issues, headaches, and some soreness at the injection locations. In short, the new treatment plan promises to work as well as the chemotherapy but with less side effects.

Though our shoes our worn, we hope this new path will lead us to a period of relative rest.

Reflections

That said, we continue to live in a world of varying shades of uncertainty. The path forward could twist this way or that with little warning. Though we remain confident in our choice, our hope resides not in the path but in the Lord above.

In many ways, our spiritual journey remains centered upon truths we have shared before. Suffering whether cancer or otherwise is the typical lot of the believer. Though April’s youth makes her illness less common and her suffering and that of our family more intense than others, the suffering itself is not an oddity. Jesus declared in Matthew 7:24-27 that the storms of affliction would crash against all of us. Or as James the brother of Jesus says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the test of your faith produces steadfastness.” Because we know our suffering is not beyond the knowledge of God, we also know that our God can see us through this time. We do not know where April’s cancer battle will take us. But we do know that we do not have to worry about tomorrow for the God who cares for the lilies of the field cares for us. He will see us through today and tomorrow. Our heavenly Father knows all that we need. When we remember this, we have great hope. When we forget the love of God and gaze only upon the path, we fear everything from the next turn in the treatment path to what a nurse might think of us. The battle forever and always begins and ends not with our circumstances but with our heart. Oh for more steadfastness.

Prayer

  • Pray that the new medicine would hold the breast cancer at bay for the next 5-6 months.
  • Pray that our weariness would be replaced with faith that would lead to steadfastness.
  • Pray for God to grant us the wisdom needed to determine our children’s educational future.
  • Pray for God to give us straight paths and provide for us the best housing arrangements.
  • Pray for our children to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
  • Pray would be obedient in the mundane stresses of life.

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

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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.

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