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,

Memo: April’s Breast Cancer Third Update June 2019

breas-cancer-3Our feet have touched the cool soft dirt of hope. This past Wednesday, June 19, April began her hormone therapy.

The preparation for this first day of battle has been vastly extensive, slowly hurried, and ever changing. We have talked with clinics in Virginia, Houston, New York, and Memphis. On multiple occasions, we prepared to head north or south with fully packed suitcases. Then the phone would ring and toss all our nicely folded plans across the floor. We would spend the next 24-48 hours pouring over new medical charts, praying, and rearranging tickets in preparation for a trip West or East. Then April’s phone would buzz again. After a few more conversations, our compass would reveal a completely new and unanticipated direction. Often what seemed a long shot on Monday would become our future on Wednesday and then would disappear from our plans on Thursday.

After three weeks rearranging and repacking, April and I found ourselves headed North to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. We grabbed tickets on a Thursday and arrived in Minnesota the following Monday.

The doctors and medical team at Mayo reviewed April’s medical records. They then performed a bone scan, a biopsy of the cancer in her bones, a genetic test, a CT scan, an X-ray, and multiple blood panels. After examining April’s medical history, the oncologist at Mayo reaffirmed April’s original diagnosis. April has hormone-receptor positive and HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer. The cancer began in her breast about a year ago and then spread (metastasized) throughout her bones. The cancer feeds off the estrogen and progesterone in April’s body. To fight the cancer, April will take pills to stop her body from producing the two hormones. If the pills are successful, April should live another five to six years. Though we were well acquainted with this information prior to our trip, we had hoped for brighter news.

Then the sliver of sunshine that we had been seeking appeared. After the initial review, the oncologist said April was a candidate for the Mayo Clinic Promise study. The observation study would provide April and her doctors with a detailed analysis of April’s tumors’ genetic sequencing for the purpose of, “developing personalized treatment approaches to improve patient outcomes.” In other words, the research team would chart the genetic makeup of April’s tumors for the purpose finding which drugs and treatments would best overcome her unique form of cancer and extend her life. To see April’s cancer in action, the researchers would attempt to grow and then kill April’s unique cancer cells in the laboratory. Though the Promise study does not promise a cure and anticipates of being of more value to the next generation of cancer patients than to April, it did offer April an unmatched level of care and provided us with a slim but very real chance of better treatment options going forward.

Impressed with the research plan and the culture of the Mayo Clinic, April agreed to participate in the study during our first day at the Mayo Clinic. She spent the next four days enduring a long battery of tests to ensure that she qualified for the Promise study.

This past Tuesday (6/18/19), April received the phone call!  She was in! The next day, she swallowed her first hormone pill; she had officially begun the first leg of her cancer treatment.

After weeks of packing, unpacking, and repacking, we are overjoyed to be actively battling this horrible disease that has spread upwards to April’s skull and downwards to the top of her left leg.

Moreover, we also excited to be led by the best medical guides possible. We will be checking-in with the research team at Mayo every two months for the next six months to chart the growth of April’s cancer. Then, we will fly to Rochester every three months for the remainder of the study. The study will track April for up to seven years or until the hormone therapy fails and the cancer begins to grow afresh.

img-5216.jpgAdmittedly, there is also a chance our time on this path could be short. Thirty percent of cancer patients who begin this trek encounter the rugged cliff of disappointment associated with the therapy’s failure within the first two months. Those patients who receive no benefit from the hormone therapy will return to home and head off in the direction of chemotherapy.

We do not know how rocky our path will be; we do not know how long we will be on the path.

But we know that our Lord is the good shepherd who leads us to green pastures. We have and will continue to appeal to our great shepherd for help and deliverance as we navigate this twisty path. Even if we encounter dead end after dead end and begin to inch closer towards the Valley of the Shadow of death, we will not lose hope. Our God promises to fight our enemies with his rod and to keep us close to his love with his staff.

Admittedly, the winds of circumstance and emotions regularly swirl around us and whisper thoughts of doom into our ears. At times, we listen to them and neglect the voice of our good Shepherd. Like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we begin to doubt the goodness of God. But then, we raise our head afresh and remember how our good Shepherd has proved himself over and over again, saving us from our sins, walking with us through the death of our son, and increasing our faith over these last weeks. Truly he is our comfort. Ultimately, we have nothing to fear for our spot in the house of the Lord is not in question. The love of our shepherd is not in doubt.

Moreover, we have everything to hope. God has not promised to heal April directly. Sadly, she is not mentioned by name in the Bible. (Luke, Lily, and I are…but that’s another matter and requires some really bad exegesis…anyway🤪) But, God has promised her and me and all his people that our cups will overflow. Our enemies, April’s cancer, will not have the last word. God tells us that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. He promises to do good for April and me. So we boldly ask God to heal April and to do the unexpected so that the whole world may know that our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is the one true God. We confidently ask God to be good to us for he has promised to be our Shepherd.

We have also seen God’s amazing goodness in the faces of our family and friends these last weeks. We have been overwhelmed by the ever-growing number of cards, texts, letters, emails, and Facebook messages. When the days have been dark, the news murky, and the path unclear, your messages full of prayers and Scripture have breathed hope into our souls. We may not have responded to every message and letter. But, we have read them (many more than once). We are thankful for the colorful signatures, the prayers of our former students, the empathy of our peers and the encouragement of those who have a year or two on us. We are thankful to have so many voices constantly reminding our spirits of God’s character!

We are also thankful for the many, many people who have sacrificed for us and our kiddos. Our families and friends have been the hands and feet of Jesus these last few weeks. You have watched our children, covered medical bills, cooked meals, secured hotel rooms, located medical records, and found rental cars. To borrow an expression from the great missionary William Cary, our families, our sweet Amissville Baptist Church Family, our kind friends in Eastman, GA, and our brothers and our sisters who reside everywhere from the Asia to South America have held the rope of ministry tightly as we waded into this trial. Thank you!

Please continue to hold the rope with us and as we continue down this path.

And please continue to pray.

Please pray for April’s healing. In about two months, we will know if the drugs have been effective. Pray that the next CT scans reveal a healing of supernatural proportions.

Pray for our faith. The days can be long and the news troubling. Pray that we will not trust feelings, hunches, or guesses but the character of God as revealed in the Word of God as walk into valleys and stumble over rocks.

Pray that God will bless our family as we seek to create a new normal that revolves around cheese-puffs, diapers, preschool, sermon prep, and cancer pills.

 

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 & April