Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cancer is a teacher...


I remember the phone call we received almost two months ago (November 28, 2011).  It was the scariest thing to hear that your husband has stomach cancer (aka gastric cancer).  I felt this sudden rush of panic and horror.  My mind started to race…What is going to happen? Why him? How bad is it?  Is he going to live and for how long?  I cannot adequately describe the feelings of shock and fear.  I, like most everyone else, thought that cancer happened to other people.  While I am not the one with cancer, I most certainly did not expect my husband to get it. 

One of the first things I did was start to research stomach cancer on the internet (actually, the first thing I did was cry).  I could not believe what I was reading… According to the American Cancer Society, the overall 5-year survival rate for people with stomach cancer is 28%.  What? Are you kidding me?  Everything I read indicated one reason for the poor outcome is because most stomach cancers are found at an advanced stage (approximately 80% are found at stage IV). 

Fortunately for us, they got the  “testing” process rolling quickly.  We knew within two weeks of finding out that Paul had cancer, it had not metastasized.   However, we did discover, after the surgery, that it was more invasive in his stomach than originally thought.  This meant he would be staged as IIa  rather than 1b.  If you look at the statistics, there is less survival for IIa, but it is still considered curable/treatable.

The doctors originally thought that Paul got stomach cancer due to the Helicobacter Pylori bacteria he had a few years back.  It is known to cause cancer.  He was treated for it and appeared to have gotten rid of the nasty bug.   However, the type of cancer Paul has is linitis plastica, which is NOT caused by H-pylori.  His stomach cancer is a “rareish” form.  It could be genetic.  We will be investigating that further, so if it is, our children can also be tested.

I have come to the realization that statistics don’t necessarily mean much.  The statistics don’t take into account age, the will to live, and most likely other health problems that could affect outcome.   According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of people diagnosed with stomach cancer is about 70 years old.  They indicate that almost two thirds of the people with stomach cancer are 65 or older except for people with linitis plastica (this tends to affect the younger people).   While the statistics are grim for Paul, he was diagnosed at 51 years old; he has a huge will to live; and is otherwise very healthy!

I am not going to lie…cancer sucks!  It turns your life completely upside down.  The terror you feel when you hear that your loved one has cancer is something I never dreamed I would experience.   It is so very hard to watch the one you love so much, suffer so much…but…

Cancer can also be a blessing.  Cancer is a teacher.  It teaches you patience, love, compassion, humility, charity, gratitude, and many other things. 

One of the most important things that cancer is teaching us is to rely on our Heavenly Father.   We have had some very spiritual experiences while going through this trial.  I cannot adequately explain in it words, but I can actually “feel” the prayers of others.    It carries us through the tough times. 

We feel very blessed.  The love and support of our family and friends has been so amazing.  I received a phone call a few weeks back from a dear friend.  I was having a very tough day.  I felt like my faith was completely depleted.  I wanted to know why Paul had to suffer so much.   He had been throwing up non-stop for several days after his surgery to remove his stomach, and was so miserable.  Was God not listening to my prayers?  I felt like I was exerting all the faith necessary to heal my poor husband (not to mention all the faith and prayers of everyone around me).  She told me that I needed to remember, faith is believing in the process.   At first, I thought what does that mean.  I knew it sounded right.  I also knew there was something very profound in what she had just said.   The first thing I did when I got off the phone with my friend was drop to my knees and say another prayer (she told me she would do the same after we hung up the phone).  I immediately started to feel better.  Then, I felt like I wanted to research what my friend had said…So, I started to research it…

I found several articles that had a profound affect on me.  Here are links to two of the articles that really affected me:

As I read the message from Richard G. Scott, I felt as if he were talking directly to me.  When he said, "Even if you exercise your strongest faith, God will not always reward you immediately according to your desires. Rather, God will respond with what in His eternal plan is best for you. He loves you to a depth and completeness you cannot conceive of in your mortal state. Indeed, were you to know His entire plan, you would never ask for that which is contrary to it even though your feelings tempt you to do so. Sincere faith gives understanding and strength to accept the will of our Heavenly Father when it differs from our own. We can accept His will with peace and assurance, confident that His infinite wisdom surpasses our own ability to comprehend fully His plan as it unfolds a piece at a time," I knew that this was a direct answer to my prayer.  I was seriously wondering why my prayers had not been answered.  I now realize that what Paul has been enduring has been strengthening us both.  

While we were at Huntsman yesterday getting Paul's port placed, I was amazed at all the people with cancer.  As I looked around the waiting room I could see fear, sadness, love and compassion.  So many people, so many stories.  I had the opportunity to meet a woman from Montana named Sue.  Her husband was undergoing his fourth surgery due to throat cancer.  Paul and I had noticed them when we first got there.  He had a tracheotomy, and just plain looked miserable.  Paul and I agreed that you can always find someone who has it worse than you.  

Anyway, she told me that they had been in a motorcycle accident back in the 70's which had caused them both to lose a leg.  So, they both had a prosthetic leg.  She said other than that, they had both always been very healthy.  They discovered he had stage 4 throat cancer in 2010...long story short, he was still getting surgeries to try and improve his quality of life.  

As Sue and I sat and chatted, we discovered that although our husbands had different types of cancers, we still had similar issues to deal with.  Her husband was struggling with eating even though he still had his stomach.  It was very hard for him to swallow.  We shared ideas and thoughts...we discussed how much cancer changes your view on life...It was really nice to get to know her.

Before we had gone to Huntsman yesterday, I had been wishing Paul had a different type of cancer, with better statistics.  I was thinking it must be easier with other types of cancer... After going yesterday, I realized that it doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter what type of cancer he has or the statistics.  You will always find someone who you think has it better or find someone who has it worse.  What matters is how you deal with what you have been given.  Life is about finding joy in the journey, even when life gets tough.

As I am typing this, my poor husband has what we call "the gacks" (we learned that term from another cancer patient who, like Paul, had a gastrectomy).  Basically, the food gets stuck and doesn't want to go down.  Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to it.  He can eat something one day, and then the next it won't work.  He gets these lovely, huge, spit balls that he has to spit up and then he starts to make this "gacking" noise.  Usually, he ends up throwing up after all the heaving.  It is not a fun deal.  It makes him very tired.   It kind of reminds me when a cat gets a fur-ball stuck in its throat and is trying to get it out...

Some of our kids friends have been here when the "gacks" start.  They aren't quite sure what to make of it!  Obviously, I am not too concerned because I am still sitting here typing.  The first few times, it really freaked me out.  Now, I know he will work through it.   I still hate it when it happens, but I don't panic like I did.  I feel sorry for him!  I wish that he didn't get the "gacks"!

I have faith that Paul will be healed from this cancer.  I also know that it must be God's will.  I  know that I must remember to have faith in the process...Paul is going to start chemotherapy on Monday, January 30, 2012.   We have a rough road ahead of us.  I am not looking forward to it (obviously, he isn't either), but I know that we will learn something from the entire journey.  




2 comments:

  1. Sandra, I went to high school with Paul and have him in our prayers. You are both amazing and inspiring and reading this strengthens my testimony. Cancer is truly a roller coaster of emotions. Thanks for being brave enough to share your journey.

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    Replies
    1. We will keep you both in our prayers. Thanks for keeping us updated.
      As I read what you wrote today, it reminded me of the time when I found out that my husband had Kidney Cancer. I was sitting in the waiting room waiting for him to come back from giving them a urine sample, when I heard the nurse make several calls scheduling Mr. VanLeuven for a Brain Scan,and more Blood tests. The nurse didn't know that I was sitting in the waiting room listening to every word. She looked up and saw the look on my face, full of horror. We had six little kids. That was over 20 years ago.
      I have faith also, that in 20 years, all 4 of us will discuss this life's journey, and be so thankful for our wonderful husbands.

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