Saturday, October 25, 2008

Continuing the Journey

To quote the prophet Jerry Garcia, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” I visited the oncologist on Thursday to get the results of the tests done as follow-up to the autologous stem cell transplant. The level of the immunoglobulins in my blood and urine, the protein markers that indicate the presence of the cancer, were all either normal or low. There was also no indication of the cancer in my bone marrow. So all that has transpired over the past year, all of the tests, the chemotherapy, the transplant itself, have done what they were intended to do. As my doctor said, this cancer, in the technical term used, is in complete remission. I can’t describe how I felt when I heard those words. Though I was always confident this would happen, the fear that things would go wrong was always there. I felt a combination of joy and relief, and gratitude to God. The new goal is to avoid remission within the first six months. The oncologist said this would be, I couldn’t keep up with how many times he said bad. Obviously relapse this soon would lead to a poor prognosis. The longer I go without relapsing, the better the chances of fighting off the cancer are. So now I will see the oncologist every three months for tests, blood and urine, to check for those protein markers, to make sure they remain low or normal. The journey is not over, but so far the journey has been successful. The only other problem I face now is the loss of the antibodies that had been in my immune system. The oncologist said that I am like a baby, and I will catch everything going around until I develop new antibodies. I also must be immunized again. Starting next Feb. I must get all of the vaccinations we received as children, polio, measles, etc. That’s ok, like the loss of my hair it’s a small price to pay for remission. Thanks be to God for this outcome.
Deacon John
Oct. 25, 2008
St. Peregrine, Pray for Us

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Still Learning

Since coming home I have felt pretty good, and I think I began to believe I was invincible. I am learning, however that there is a difference between recovered and recovering. I went back to work last week, and despite being urged to work only part time, I stubbornly worked full days. On Sunday of this week I served at Mass in my parish, worked a half day at my job, where I led a prayer service, then that evening conducted a meeting of deacons in the region I represent on the Archdiocesan Deacon Council. I must admit that by Sunday night I was tired. Late that evening I got sick, really sick. I began running a low grade temperature, felt totally drained, and Monday morning simply could not get out of bed. It finally occurred to me that maybe I was doing a little too much. OK, maybe a lot too much. I do believe God sent me a message. No matter how good I may feel, I am not completely recovered. That will take time, and I must allow for that time. After all that has happened, I guess I still need to learn patience. Maybe one of these days the message will finally sink in.
Deacon John
Oct. 22, 2008
St. Peregrine, Pray for us

Friday, October 17, 2008

The End of the Beginning

One year ago this month, in Oct. of 2007, I noticed a growth at the end of my sternum, right in the middle of my chest. At first it was small, so I thought I could simply wait until my next physical to have it checked out. Probably just a cyst, right? Before the month ended this anomalous spot grew exponentially, reaching the size of a baseball. Obviously this could not wait, so I went to the doctor and thus began a series of tests that eventually led to a diagnosis. On Dec. 7 of 2007 I went to my doctor and she finally told me that the growth was indeed cancer. She sent me to an oncologist who diagnosed this cancer as Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the blood. I was told that this disease is incurable, but treatable. The course of treatment prescribed was an autologous stem cell transplant, a procedure that would use stem cells from my own blood to replace my immune system after course of chemotherapy destroyed the cancer cells and everything else as well. This treatment required travel, so my wife and I chose to have this done in Chicago, at the University Of Chicago Medical Center, which specializes in treating Multiple Myeloma. After several rounds of chemotherapy here in Louisville, and after a few setbacks, the transplant finally occurred on Aug. 25 this year. I spent three weeks in the hospital, sometimes quite sick, but most often not feeling too bad. After being released from the hospital we spent two more weeks in Chicago until we were released to return to Louisville, where final follow up tests have been conducted. The last blood test in Chicago showed no signs of the proteins produced when the cancer is present. Tests done here in Louisville have produced the same result. One of the tests done just this past Tuesday was another bone marrow biopsy. The last one, done before the transplant, showed no sign of the cancer in my bone marrow. My oncologist said that barring any strange result in this last test, it is fair to say that this cancer is in remission. I firmly believe that God led me to the right doctors, the right hospital, and the right treatment. I am thankful to our gracious God for this outcome, but I also know that remission does not mean cured. There is no cure. But there was, and is, treatment and hope. I know this journey is not over, that this is in reality the beginning of a new journey, a new life, a life for which I am grateful. I understand how great a gift this is. May God continue to guide me as I use this great gift, and may I be smart enough to listen.
Deacon John
Oct 17, 2008
St. Peregrine. Pray for us

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Home at Last

We finally got to come home to Louisville last Wednesday, Sept. 24. I probably should have written sooner, but I have spent the past week just basking in the joy of being home. There are more tests to be done here in Louisville, but the last blood tests done in Chicago were quite encouraging. If all the other tests are as encouraging, then it may be that the transplant has worked and the cancer is in remission. I understand that although this has been a long journey, it is not yet complete. I do believe that God has been guiding me on this journey, leading me to the best place for treatment. I do understand that although remission may have been achieved, the threat of this cancer has not gone away. I will live with this threat for the rest of my life. I can live with this because I know that God is with me on this journey and in this struggle. My trust is and must always be in God. Only then can I make this journey, without (much) fear. Thank you for your prayers, they have been felt.
Deacon John
Feast of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Doctor of the Church
Oct. 1, 2009

Light Show

I am not, nor have I ever tried to be, a poet. I have never written poetry before. This started to come to me in the hospital, while I was still wondering about the efficacy of the transplant. I finally finished it and wrote it down a couple of weeks ago, and I just now got the nerve to post it for the world to see.

Light Show
Dark hospital bed,
alone, lying cold,
wondering if I
will ever grow old

enough to know why
this is happening
to me

Hard hospital bed,
awake, lying cold
no revealation;
then realization
that I will grow old

enough when I grow
into the warm, soft
Light of the One who
made me

Deacon John
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross