Great News!

After six bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments, I had a CAT scan last Friday so the doctors could see what the tumors were doing inside my pancreas and liver.  This afternoon, I received the results of the scan.

Getting these scans is a regular part of the big c treatment.  While undergoing chemotherapy, scans are typically done every three months.  If the disease goes into remission, scans are done every six months and then are continued once a year for a number of years until the patient is finally given the “all clear.”

These scans are usually very stressful on the patient because bad news…sometimes very bad news…is always an option.  You often hear of patients having trouble sleeping or even suffering from severe anxiety as CAT scans draw near as well as having to wait between the test and the result.

In all honesty, I have had a peace about my scan, mainly because I have been feeling so good and my tumor marker blood numbers have been dropping significantly.  I’ve also always tried to hold to the philosophy of not worrying about things that are beyond your control.

But I have to admit, this afternoon I developed a nervous stomach ache as I waited for the call from my oncologist, Dr. Allyson Ocean.

When the call came, Dr. Ocean said, “I definitely have good news for you, Jeff.  Your liver is getting better and your pancreas has gotten a lot better which almost never happens.”

The size of the tumor in my pancreas shrunk by more than 50% from 4.7 x 4.4 centimeters to 1.7 x 1.5 cm.  The tumor spots in my liver shrunk by about 25% with the largest two going from 6.6 to 5 cm and 6 to 4 cm.

Over the past three months, I have also been having blood drawn to get a “tumor marker” reading.  Those test results also indicate that very positive things are happening.

Jeff’s tumor marker numbers:

March 31st       564

April 16th        1,382 (the start of chemotherapy)

May 1st           1,772 (the big c was on the move in my body)

May 15th         1,195

May 29th            913

June 12th           504

June 26th           274 (an 80% decrease in just 8 weeks!)

Dr. Ocean, who has always been upfront and honest, told me this afternoon, “I’m not saying you’re going to still be here in 20 years but more than one year?  Yes for sure!  Only 20% of pancreatic patients live more than one year after diagnosis but I guarantee you’ll be in that 20% group.”

So where do we go from here?  I will undergo six more bi-weekly chemo treatments and then will have another CAT scan in late September.  The therapy is working so we’re sticking to it!

Right now, I’m just very thankful.  First, for the new chemo drugs that are giving pancreatic patients hope where there used to be none.  Secondly, I thank all of you “riders” who have been faithfully praying for me.  I know God is listening and answering those prayers.  And finally, I am thankful to Him for His faithfulness and loving kindness towards me and my family.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Why I don’t like bicycle helmets

I’m kidding right?  No one could possibly be against bicycle helmets.  Yes and no.  Yes, I’m sure if I was raising a child today they would wear a bicycle helmet….but no, I’ve never worn a bicycle helmet in my life and don’t intend to start now.

Here’s the deal.  In today’s world, parents go to great lengths to protect their children from any kind of harm…they want to eliminate any risk.  But is that really a good thing?

When I was a kid, we rode our bikes all over town (without helmets), we swam in sandpits, we played on jungle gyms, teeter totters, and merry-go-rounds with incredible centrifugal force that taught you to hold on as tight as possible or get thrown off.  Our playgrounds were covered in gravel.

But in our litigious world today, almost everything has been made much safer for kids to protect them, but more so to avoid lawsuits.

When Zach was just a baby, I would throw him high into the air and he would scream with delight.  It was thrilling, it built trust, it involved risk.  We knew every city park in Lincoln and his favorites were the ones with the fastest slides, the highest swings, and biggest jungle gyms.

We moved on to theme parks and became roller coaster aficionados.  We traveled a lot and Zach would research to find the biggest, fastest, tallest roller coasters that would send adrenaline rushing through our veins.  “Hands up?” became a regular question as we’d challenge ourselves to ride a new coaster without holding on.

Zach was a “climber” as a child.  It started with his crib and never stopped.  Trees were his favorite things to climb.  When he was just four, we moved to a house that had a big oak tree in the backyard and it became his personal playground.  At first, he needed a ladder to reach the lowest branch about eight feet off the ground.  But soon he learned to shinny up the trunk and he would spend hours up in that tree, most of the time 20 feet or more above the ground.

When Zach was about eight, I heard about a great climbing tree in Arbor State Park in Nebraska City.  They called it the “monkey tree” and rumor had it that you could climb up to 100 feet on the perfectly spaced branches of this grand old pine tree.

We made the 40-mile trek one morning and when Zach spotted the monkey tree he took off running and started his climb.  My plan had been to climb the tree with him but by the time I got to the tree, he was already 25 feet in the air.  I told him to be careful and take his time but he looked down and said “This is great, dad! It’s easy!” and he quickly ascended to a height of at least 75 feet.

I was petrified…as scared as I’ve ever been.  One slip…one mistake and I knew my little guy would fall to his death.  I tried to remain calm and yelled up  “Zach that’s far enough.”  He looked down and said “Dad I can go higher.”  Thankfully, he stopped and a couple of minutes later safely descended the monkey tree.

He wanted to climb it again with me, but I was still a nervous wreck and no way would I let him take that big of a risk again.  Over the next couple of years, Zach asked several times to go back so he could climb the monkey tree again, but we never did.  While I believe that risk taking is an important element in building confidence, common sense, and achievement, I also am unwilling to take risks where death or serious injury are a commonplace outcome.

Part of it is due to his personality, but I believe that Zach’s willingness to take risks is what made him a successful actor and now a successful businessman.  Zach started a cookie business in the most competitive and cut-throat town in the country, New York City.  He had no business experience, had never managed a staff, had no experience in the restaurant or food industry business.  Yet, he had a belief in himself and his product and is now a “star” on Broadway with Schmackary’s.

One of the things I like most about sports is that taking risks is such a big part of the athletic process.  Every time an athlete competes, he or she is taking a risk.  The bigger the stage…the higher the risk.  Every athlete knows that failure is a big part of competition.  It’s an old cliché, but it’s true that you learn more from defeat than from winning.

Taking calculated risks involves decision making, which leads to building confidence, which breeds success.  Fear can be a good thing, but overcoming our fears is what it takes to achieve greatness.

Our country was founded by risk takers.  Look at all the great achievements, victories, innovations, and architectural wonders in the United States.  Most happened because someone said, “we can do this” in the face of opposition.

To succeed in athletics…and in life…you have to be able to overcome obstacles and setbacks.

Death is the ultimate obstacle.  But it is part of the process of life and that’s why I’m determined to face it with optimism, realism, and hopefully, courage.

Medical/Personal Update:

Maria and I had a great nine days back home.  There truly is no place like Nebraska and it’s because the people are so great.  They care about others and are not afraid to show it by word and deed.

My favorite part of our trip was getting to meet the first great grandchild on my side of the family.  Jethro Carter is 15 months old and getting to read books to him and having him fall asleep on my chest was indeed priceless.

Reading to JethroSleeping with Jethro
Jethro Laughing

I bought Jethro the “See N Say” farmer animal sounds toy as well as the book “The Little Engine That Could”, two of Zach’s favorites as a child.  For his 2nd birthday, I think I’ll get Jethro a bicycle helmet.

Next Stop: Forgiveness…healing for the soul