Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010: Full Of Mercy!

"As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy." James 5:11

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010: A Thought From...


"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" Proverbs 3:34


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010: Heads or Tails

Two treatments done ~ only twenty five more to go! As I was walking out of the clinic after today's treatment I could feel my mood starting to go down. Although there is no pain involved (other than the instant headache I get when the mask is strapped on) I feel very vulnerable and trapped on the table.

I have been able to get through that time by repeating over and over in my head "be still and know that I am God". When the verse first came into my head I had to laugh ~ be still? Like I have a choice! After it kept running through my mind though I tuned into the second half ~ know that I am God. We already "know" that but to focus on those words gave me a sense of peace and comfort.

I was not a big fan of the staff that latch me down to the table and tell me not to move. When I thought of the words "be still" as coming from God it was much easier to accept. It wasn't medical people telling me what to do but God simply asking that I remain still, focus on Him and know that He will take care of everything.

It's amazing how we can go from feeling God's peace and trusting Him to a pity party that focuses on everything that has gone wrong, can go wrong or may go wrong. I was feeling good as I walked out of the clinic but before I got to my van I was down already. I was thinking of all the negatives. As soon as I started the van up the song Jesus Calling was playing and this line grabbed my attention . . .

You see there’s always another story, another side to every coin
And how you see your circumstance is all about a choice.

I can choose to focus on the unknowns and fears that cancer brings or I can flip that coin over and count my blessings ~ it's my choice. I love the chorus of Jesus calling . . .

When you see the rushing wind, feel the pouring rain
Hear the thunder now as the clouds roll in.
You’re blinded by the lightning
Do you also hear that still, small voice saying
It’s okay, you’re not alone,
You may be scared to death but I won’t let you go.
You may think the sky above is falling
But can you hear Jesus calling?

I can hear Him calling . . . when I make the choice to listen. He's in the music, in the scriptures, in my head and most importantly in my heart.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010: That Wasn't So Bad

When we first heard that I would need to do radiation I was thinking "no big deal ~ much easier than chemo". I felt pretty good about it, was glad there wasn't any needles or major side effects involved and was very excited that it would be much easier than chemo! As the time got closer though my nerves started to kick in. It wasn't so scary when it was weeks off but when I went in and had the "mask" made it started to become more real to me. This past weekend I started wanting to just stay home and by Sunday I didn't really want to get out from under the covers. If I don't acknowledge it then it's not really happening, right? I did my best to pretend that it wasn't happening today but eventually the time came for me to leave.

During my treatments I am alone in a great big room laying on a skinny metal table with my head strapped down (thanks to my lovely mask). The people working with me are right outside the room and there is a video camera in the room with me so they can see me and hear me the entire time. It's a weird feeling being strapped to a table, all alone, while a huge machine moves around my head making strange noises. I'm sure by the end of the 5 1/2 weeks I will be used to it but right now ~ it's weird.

Today was my first actual treatment. They were right ~ it didn't hurt and I feel fine. I met with the oncologist afterwards and he felt the tumors in my neck. I told him that I thought they had gotten bigger since I was initially seen a couple weeks ago. He told me that is normal but when he felt my neck he said that he didn't think they were very big which was a comforting thought. Within a few weeks I should start to feel them shrinking. I guess it takes that long for the cells to start to break up from the radiation.

I'm not a fan of radiation treatments or the idea of going every Monday-Friday for the next 5 1/2 weeks but now that the first treatment is behind me I am not near as anxious as I was.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NASB)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010: It's Not Fair

If you are a parent you have more than likely heard the phrase "it's not fair" from your children. If they are anything like our kids you've probably heard it in the last week!

I could easily say "it's not fair!" with all we have gone through the past three years. I’m sure I have said it many times already. After reading the book The Hole in our Gospel though, I have an entirely different perspective of fairness. Life is not fair in many countries and some places it is just downright awful. We've all seen the pictures of the starving children on tv asking for our help. I'll be honest - I have to change the channel because it tears my heart apart to see that.

I can't believe how easy it is for us to "look the other way". The book is filled with statistics that were shocking to me. Did you know that if you make more than $50,000 per year you make more than 99% of the people in the world? I realize I may sound naive but I had no idea of the level of poverty in the world.

The book also has personal stories that made me sick to my stomach to read. I was heartbroken for them and so angry that things like that could happen in our world. This book has made me realize that not only to I need to do more ~ it is my responsibility to do more.

I have noticed little things lately in life. As I stood in the shower the other day I was watching all the water going down the drain. There are people (quite often children) that have to walk miles every day just go get water or even worse, the only water that they have access to is contaminated. To compare it in Holland terms - it would be like drinking the water in Lake Macatawa (or Lake Macatoilet as we to call it). As I throw away yet another container of leftovers that has turned into a science experiment on how quickly mold can grow I think of the children that go a week without eating.

I was shoveling the heavy wet snow from the end of our driveway a few days ago and was thinking about how much work it was and that I didn't think I would be able to finish when I had the thought - there are children that do physical labor harder than this all day every day! And they don’t go inside when they are done to take some ibuprofen, make something warm to drink and then sit with their feet up.

I tend to get overwhelmed with big problems. I can only see the "big picture" sometimes and figure that the small contribution that I could do wouldn't make a difference so I don't do anything. A parable was told in the book about a man who came across tens of thousands of starfish that had been washed up on the beach. He realized that they would all die and in despair he sat down in the sand holding his head in his hands. As he looked up he saw a man in the distance that was throwing the starfish back into the ocean one by one. He went over to ask him what he was doing to which the man replied "saving the starfish". The overwhelmed man said "don't you see - there are tens of thousands of starfish - nothing you do will make a difference". The man didn't respond but simply bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it in the lake. He then smiled at the man saying "it made a difference to that one"

I have been praying recently that I would be able to learn how to be content in all situations. The stories that I read have given me a huge appreciation for what we do have. Even on our worst days here it is still a walk in the park compared to the horrible things that go on in our world. Dealing with cancer stinks big time but we have doctors to take care of us and insurance to help pay for it. When our basement flooded last year I was so frustrated and thought “what else can go wrong?” but in reality our unfinished basement with a cement floor, trim pulled off and drywall soft enough to poke a hole through it is still bigger and safer than the “houses” so many people in far away countries live in. And that is only one floor of our house!

If you haven’t read the book A Hole in our Gospel I would highly recommend it. It doesn’t hold anything back and there are stories that will make you sick but it will also give you hope. It will change your perspective on life and help you realize just how fortunate we are. It will make you want to make a difference.

On Valentine’s Day three years ago I wrote these words:

Together with all of us (and we are a mighty team!) praying boldly we will all win this battle and it is going to change all of us. I have seen amazing changes in many people close to me and have heard of many others. God is working through me and through all of you and together we are going to turn many more sheep into God’s pasture! Isn’t that amazing! What an honor! I know together we can do it. Please hold everyone up in prayer and encourage them. I have never really been a very "open" person before but I am changing. It is so important to encourage one another as the bible says. Let God’s light beam through all of us and just imagine how bright this world will be!!!!

I believed that three years ago and I still believe it today.

On a completely separate note ~ I am going in later this afternoon for “films” which I believe is something like a ct scan and I will have this done once a week. We’ll have visual proof with this as we see the tumors get smaller and smaller! My radiation treatments start on Monday. I’m not exactly looking forward to it but in reality I am so fortunate to have access to such advanced technology. In other countries children watch their parents become very sick without so much as a doctor to help them. They take care of them until they pass away and then they become the head of the household. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must be like.

I'll end this post with a verse that was in the book that really got my attention~

And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You'll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you've piled up is judgment. All the workers you've exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You've looted the earth and lived it up. But all you'll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you've done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it. James 5:1-6 (The Message)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010: Who Was That Masked Woman?

Today wasn't really what I was expecting. I thought they had said something about a "map" and figured that was to map out where the radiation needed to go. They must have been saying "mask" because I had my own personal mask made today.

The mask is a white plastic mesh that they soak in warm water to soften it. They put it on me and molded it to my face and after a couple minutes it hardened. They used a permanent marker to mark where my eyes and nose were which at times went through to my face. When they took the mask off it looked like a toddler had been coloring on my face. Add the fact that the wet mask plastered my bangs to my forehead and I was feeling quite lovely. The best part was they waited until the end of my appointment to take a picture of me. I'm thinking it was for blackmailing purposes.

After they cut out a circle for my eyes and nose they put the mask back on me and latched it on to the table so that it holds my head perfectly still with my chin lifted up high. It's important that the they radiate the exact same place every time so the mask pins my head to the table so tight I can't move it at all. I tried not to think about it (or the fact that my nose was itchy) and I was okay.

It doesn't end there though. I now have three permanent tattoos! They are about the size of a freckle are are black. They do this to line the lasers up to the exact same place every time. It felt like a really big bee sting when they did it. I never understood why people got tattoos and after having only three pokes with the needle I really can't understand why anyone would put themselves through that pain!

I will go in next week Friday (the 22nd) for a couple more scans and then begin treatment on Monday (the 25th). I will go at the same time every day (Monday-Friday) for five to six weeks. Right now the only time available is at 5:00 p.m. Hopefully in a couple weeks something else will open up (when someone else finishes up their treatment plan). I will also be meeting with the oncologist there once a week. I think this will be my home away from home for a while!

I did some research online and found a picture that will give you an idea of what my mask is like.

When I'm done with my treatments I get to keep this mask. I'm thinking there is a potential Spiderman costume here . . . . .

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010: A New Game Plan

Today's appointment went great! Every single person we met there was very nice. The doctor checked the usual spots for lymph nodes on me and he didn't find any that caused suspicion (other than the one in my neck). I will be going back tomorrow afternoon for a simulation. I think it is basically a "dry run" for treatment. They will map out where they will focus the radiation on.

My side effects should be very minimal and won't start for a few weeks. The said I may have fatigue but it won't be anywhere near as bad as the chemo fatigue. I may also have redness, dryness, itchiness and some pain on the spot that is being radiated (not sure if that is even a word!).

The plan is to go Monday-Friday for 5-6 weeks. It should only take about 20 minutes or so every day. If everything goes well tomorrow they are hoping to start treatments next week already.

I never thought I would be excited about radiation! But compared to the chemo that they were going to start me on this will be a walk in the park. Yes, it will be a pain having to go there every day for five weeks but it's only a couple miles away, painless and no needles!! Yea!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010: Radioactive

I am meeting with a radiology oncologist tomorrow afternoon. I couldn't believe how soon they were able to get me in. Not only that but my appointment is in Holland! Yea!!! I am going to LAROC (Lakeshore Area Radiation Oncology Center) which is only a few miles from our house. If we decide to do radiation rather than chemo I would be able to receive treatments there. That was a wonderful surprise. I never thought I would be this excited to meet with an oncologist!

The appointment will take a couple hours. I'm sure there is tons of paperwork to fill out and it sounds like we need to meet with a few different people. I'm sure it will be information overload but Brian will be coming along to help me absorb it all.

I think a lot of people that read our blog also read my sister & brother-in-law's blog. If you haven't, we have a link on the right side of our blog. My brother-in-law is in the advanced stages of ALS right now. This disease is one of the most horrible, awful diseases in the world but they have used it to bring God glory. Please keep their family in your prayers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Rest of the Story

I used to love listening to Paul Harvey's "and now for the rest of the story...". When I think of how old I'm getting I get...well...depressed. :) But that depressed is not the same as what we're talking about here. So here is the rest of my story.

What changed for me? I had a loving wife that gently kept pushing. She never gave up. When she e-mailed me that article at work I just sat in my chair numb. I thought to myself "I could have written this article". I read and re-read it. "How could I have been so stubborn?!" I thought to myself. God really does work in mysterious ways!

I laughed when I read the one comment from a couple days ago "I hate to tell you but I told you so." Yeah, I think many people were trying to tell me. I was just too stubborn to admit it. After all, I never thought about hurting myself so I couldn't be depressed, right?! That's what depression is, isn't it?

That can't be further from the truth. Sure, suicide can be the end result of serious depression, but suicide happens in severe cases of depression. Because you've never thought about hurting yourself doesn't mean that you may not be depressed. Any of those symptoms in that article are symptoms of depression. Untreated depression can have very serious consequences...and possibly even suicide.

Now I think about depression this way: When do you start taking a decongestant or Motrin? after you have a full blown sinus infection? No! First the sniffles, then a minor sore throat. Now you think to yourself "I better take some zinc to start fighting this cold now". You don't wait until you have a stuffed nose, cough, sore throat, sneezes and a major sinus headache before you do anything, right? So why wouldn't you talk to your doctor if you have just a few of those symptoms listed in that article. By the time you wait until you have all the symptoms it may be too late! Now just because you have one or some of those symptoms doesn't mean you're suffering from depression. But, they are all signs. Your body's way of signaling that there may be something wrong. Everyone is unique. How depression affects me will be different than how will affect the next guy. Etc., etc. The key is listen! Listen to your spouse. Listen to your loved ones. Listen to your body. If someone is telling you that you may be suffering from depression TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR!

I waited too long. The fatigue I had 24 hours a day was unbearable. I had isolated myself and gave up all of my favorite hobbies. The same day Kristi sent me that e-mail I didn't wait on calling my doctor. I called him right away. I called Kristi and told her "get the name of that shrink and make me an appointment". I was willing to go, but I didn't want to talk to anyone so she made me the appointment for me. It's a man thing. :)

I came home from work that night (it was a Friday) and I was pumped. For the first time in years things were starting to make sense. That weekend I was flying high all weekend. The next week I saw a psychologist, then a psychiatrist and started taking an antidepressant. My plan was to throw everything at it. Why not? I couldn't possibly feel any worse so it was worth the try. I can't explain how excited I was (and am).

After 2 weeks of being on the antidepressant I definitely started noticing a difference. I was less tired throughout the day. That was the biggest factor for me. After 3 weeks the change was unmistakable. I called my doctor and asked him to up my dose. I've been on this current dose for about 3 weeks now and have met with my psychologist twice and a psychiatrist once. I am still a little tired during the day but not nearly like I was. My psychiatrist said it may take 8-12 weeks to realize the full benefit of the antidepressant - but it's already working!

Not only is the fatigue getting better, I'm actually getting my spark back to start up some home improvement projects again and this past week I made it to the gym twice and didn't dread it. I actually wanted to go work out!

Looking back, I can't believe how sneaky that depression was and how it took over my life, little by little. It was so subtle how it came on. I've always considered myself a pretty reasonable, intelligent person - that's why I figured it couldn't be depression. I would know it if I was depressed. Looking back I couldn't have been more wrong.

My point in making this post and "coming out" is to educate people about depression. Many people suffer unnecessarily from depression but let it go untreated because they, like me, think they can "just deal with it" or refuse to believe they can be suffering from depression. The solution lies with your pride, your "manhood" (unless you're a woman), your willingness to admit that there may be something wrong. Once you admit that, it's one easy phone call to your doctor. Make an appointment and talk it over with him. It's a very simple appointment with life changing/altering/improving benefits. Your doctor will know. Think about it, for once you can go to the doctor and he won't even prick you with a needle, he won't probe in areas that weren't made for probing, he won't stick anything down your throat. Nope, just a few simple questions. It's completely pain-free. Wow, I sound like an infomercial. But that's how passionate I've become about this. If Oprah calls tomorrow I'll be there!

I could go on and on but I think you get the point by now. Just know that without your prayers and God's guiding this family, we couldn't make it through this storm. We do believe that God is leading us and whatever the outcome, we know it was His Will that is done - not ours.

Kristi will probably update tonight or tomorrow. She had a much better day yesterday and today.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Well, I'm sorry to say this, but after we discussed it some more, we decided that it would be best for us to see your comments first before posting. I hope this doesn't deter people from leaving comments. We will continue to post most (nearly all) of the comments - even ones we don't necessarily agree with. The ones we will delete will be the vulgar ones or the ones with hateful intentions.

We didn't want to get to this point, but we felt that it would be best. (If you don't know what I'm talking about right now read the next post). The comment was so vulgar Kristi even made me clean up my post after I made the post (twice). I was just so mad. But...part of the growing process I guess. :)

We decided this because we know that our friends' kids (and ours) read our blog. We feel it's important you can trust that our blog will be a safe place for your older kids to go. Thanks for understanding.

Caution to parents

OK, so here's why parents should be very careful about letting their children surf the net unsupervised. A blog like this you would think would be pretty innocent. Sure, from time to time we get comments we don't necessarily agree with. But hey, that goes with the territory. If you're going to go public with your journey you have to expect that some people will be critical. That goes with the territory. You have to take the good with the bad. We accept that. Like I said before, we really don't want to get into screening comments. We appreciate most of them and like to share them all. We're not going to be like some cable channels and only air the comments we agree with. We share them all. Well, mostly all. The only ones we really delete are the vulgar ones. We had another one tonight. It was very graphic in nature and had nothing to do with the blog. Now why would someone smear a blog with a comment like that is beyond me. Bored, lonely, searching, etc. are some adjectives that come to mind. Someone that is lost maybe. Anyway, since we know this blog is read by some of our friends' kids we did delete that comment. But a warning to parents: even an innocent site like this is subject to some temporary content like that. We will delete it as fast as we can. Like I said, if it's a difference of opinion or a critical comment of our blog...don't have an issue with that. We like the differing opinions. Some are very interesting and are thought provokers. But the ones that are just vulgar and have no purpose...if you see one, please e-mail us. We will delete them. Sorry if you saw that one tonight. Kristi deleted it as soon as she saw it...but copied and pasted it into Microsoft Word so I could read it. As if we don't have enough to deal with...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010: Your Will Be Done

We had a comment on Brian's last post that mentioned his update "Let Your Will Be Done". Before I had read that I had already decided on the title for this post. The other post was almost exactly one year ago today. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Just over three years ago I asked God to "break me". I wanted to grow in my relationship with Him and be able to experience the amazing trust that I had seen in people that were going through life changing experiences. As we were singing the song 'Holiness" in church I still remember the line "brokenness is what you want from me". That was my prayer. It wasn't very long after praying that when I was diagnosed. Be careful what you pray for!

Earlier this week as I was processing the news we got on Monday the rest of the song 'Holiness' ran through my head . . .

So, take my heart and form it.
Take my mind and transform it.
Take my will and conform it.
To Yours, to Yours, oh, Lord

He has formed my heart and transformed my mind but my will . . . nope, I hadn't let that go yet. I was so angry after we talked to the doctor on Monday and actually questioned God. I couldn't believe that after all the signs we have seen along the way that I would beat this cancer we would now get this blow. I remember thinking "are you kidding me"? Later I realized that I had questioned the God of the universe, the one who created the world, the one who placed all the stars in the sky and the one who knows the number of hairs I have on my head.

I refused to believe this news though. I decided that I was going to beat this cancer once and for all and prove that doctor wrong. I just assumed that was what God was planning for me. I couldn't stand the thought of our children growing up without their mom. I told God that I would continue fighting this cancer but that He can't have my kids - I can't give them up. After a lot of praying, bible reading, listening to God and talking to Brian I realized how selfish this was. Did I seriously think that I could do a better job raising my kids than God could? Didn't I believe that He would take care of my family after I was gone? After a lot of going back and forth with God (hoping for a comprise) I agreed with tears streaming down my face that our children are His. They were always His.

I also struggled with the thought of dying and heaven. What is heaven really like? What happens when we die? How will I die? The process of dying scares me more than anything else. I had to give up trying to control this too. I asked God to take my will and conform it to His. It wasn't easy but once I let go of my stubbornness and gave up control I had peace. I haven't had a continuous peace - I still have my fears and questions but ultimately I know that He knows what is best for me no matter what that may be.

I am still praying for a miracle but more importantly I know whatever happens - God is in control.

Proverbs 16:9
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9

My doctor called me this afternoon. He wants us to meet with a radiation oncologist to talk about radiation as opposed to chemo. With radiation I won't lose my hair and it won't damage my bone marrow like chemo does. Radiation comes with its own kind of side effects though. They are going to call on Monday to let us know when the appointment is. In the meantime he said to cancel my chemo that was planned for next Tuesday (did a happy dance after hearing that!). We will meet with this doctor and decide whether we should return to chemo or start radiation. Well - we will plan our course with God determining our steps.

Brian is out tonight with some friends so he'll update tomorrow night with the rest of his journey through depression. It is so wonderful to see him doing projects again and not wanting to sleep all the time. I'm so proud of him for being willing to share this on the blog and so happy to have him back!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010: How Depressing

Did you read that last article? If not, please do before reading this post. I highlighted in red and made bold one specific line. Kristi sent this article to me one day while I was at work. Wow, talk about getting hit in the head with a 2x4. That one line "I'm not depressed, I just don't care" became my mantra for the past year or so. And I had myself convinced that was the truth. Just like that article indicates, my depression too came on gradually. As I look back at the past 2 years I can start connecting the dots. I didn't wake up one day and say "golly, I'm really depressed today". I have to give Kristi credit. She has been telling me for 2 years that I'm probably depressed. She convinced me 2 and a half years ago to go see a counselor. I have to admit...I wasn't a willing participant. My poor attitude coupled with someone I didn't 'click' with did not help the whole psychotherapy field. In fact, it reinforced my feelings for that profession. So after just a few visits I quit going and said I was "all better".

That was the summer of 2007. Not a good summer. Well, as most of you know, our cancer story didn't end there. Nope, it kept on going. We had signs here and there that things were looking better, but those glimpses of hope were often followed shortly thereafter by bad news of some sort. Over the next 2 years we had many highs and lows. We describe it as our emotional roller coaster that never ends.

Slowly, ever so slowly, little by little, over the course of that 2 years things started to gradually change for me:

* My sleeping became worse - mainly insomnia or waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning and not falling back to sleep. I related my sleep issues to stress and sleep apnea (I'll get in to the sleep apnea in a bit). This drove me to seeking different sleeping pills (prescribed by my doctor).

* I started losing interest in things I used to enjoy. I have always been a self proclaimed 'home improvement nut'. I loved doing home improvement projects of any kind. Sometimes I would change things 'just because'. I loved landscaping. I loved running and working out. I loved to tinker in the garage. I loved to empty out cupboards and reorganize them. I could never sit still. I was always doing something...and enjoying it! Well, slowly I started losing interest in these things. One by one, not all at once. Gradually over a couple years I stopped doing all of those. Kristi recognized this and although she enjoyed having me around more (OK, so sometimes I would go a little overboard on my projects and completely immerse myself in them), she knew something was wrong. She would drop little hints here and there, and eventually the little hints became less and less subtle. "Um, honey, you really need to get help - you're depressed!" And of course I would reply "I'm not depressed, I just don't care anymore, seriously". I had myself convinced.

* Then I started losing interest in hanging out with my friends. I preferred to be alone. I convinced myself I just needed quiet time. After all, I was too tired to go out. I would make excuses why I couldn't come over or go skiing. Before you know it, I wasn't doing anything. Again, none of this happened over night - it was a gradual pull-away.

* Low sex drive? Na, not going there - TMI. Ewe.

* Irritable/agitated?! Kristi said some days she felt like she had to walk around like on egg shells. I would blame my bad mood on a "messy" house. The house would be perfectly clean except for one bag of chips left out by the kids, for example. So what do I do? I pick up the bag of chips like a football and drop kick it across the room...chips exploding everywhere. That's a normal reaction, isn't it?! Yup, perfectly acceptable behavior. NOT. I was also grumpy all the time with the kids - just attributed that to their age and me being a man (cold hearted).

* Forgetfulness/difficulty concentrating? Yup. I used to say "if my head weren't attached to my shoulders I would leave the house without it".

* Menstrual problems? Well, they haven't been too bad.

* Fatigue - YA! This was my biggest issue. There were days where it was extremely difficult to get out of bed. Again, this got worse slowly as time went on. The last 3 or 4 months of 2009 pretty much every holiday or vacation day or weekend I would just stay in bed. I was getting increasingly frustrated with my doctor why he couldn't "fix" me. He did all the appropriate blood work, I had a stress test at the hospital, I tried different meds and nothing helped. He too tried telling me it could be depression. "Na, men don't get depressed." I convinced myself it was my sleep apnea. I was diagnosed with moderately severe sleep apnea in 2005. On and off I have been using a CPAP machine to sleep. If sleep apnea goes untreated it can lead to serious issues later in life. So I really need to use the CPAP machine (it keeps my throat open so I don't stop breathing in my sleep). The mask is very uncomfortable. Imagine trying to fall asleep with 2 thumbs stuck up your nose with a vacuum hose stuck to those that runs to a machine blowing air up your nostrils. That describes my mask, seriously! Sure enough, every night I would wake up (from my Ambien induced sleep) and rip off the CPAP mask. So I attributed my fatigue to my lack of using the CPAP machine.

* Suicidal thoughts? No. I never have considered hurting myself. But, if depression goes undiagnosed and gets serious enough it can eventually lead to those thoughts. I used to think 'how could someone ever kill themselves?!' Well, guess I understand. Although I never had those thoughts, look how all of these things happened gradually. I have no doubt that in time I could have gotten that bad if I didn't seek help. I understand completely now.

See how I made excuses for everything?! In my mind everything was justified. All the excuses were legitimate and the fact that all of these things were gradual made the idea of depression foreign to me. Depression comes on in an instant, doesn't it? That's what I thought. When Kristi sent me that article it was like "wow! Slap me on the face and call me Gumby."

So what changed? Sorry, tune in this weekend for part 2. I will tell you about how I came to realize I was depressed and what I'm doing about it. But now I need to get the kids ready for bed...Kristi is not feeling well so she went up to our room to read and rest.

An update on Kristi: well, she has been a bit down the past day and a half. I think this week is all catching up to her. She's been thinking a lot about dying yesterday and today. The kids have also been asking questions. The tumor in her neck is also getting's tripled in size in the past week and it's quite sore. So, just a lot on her mind. I'm trying to keep her distracted by talking about anything but cancer as much as possible. We usually talk about 'it' every night before bed. Until then I'm just trying to keep her distracted. You can help too! If you happen to see her at church or at school, don't mention the "c" word! If you take the vowels out, CaNCeR is a 4 letter word and it's not polite to say 4 letter words. Thanks for helping. So many emotions. So many tears. So many prayers around this house lately.

Thank you for praying for this family. We are very humbled and grateful by the outpouring of love everyone has shown us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Could You Be Depressed and Not Know It?

By Jenny Stamos Kovacs

"Could you be depressed and not know it?" This sounds like a ridiculous question. After all, wouldn't you know if you were depressed? Possibly not. Depression can take hold gradually, without a person realizing that depressive thoughts and feelings are increasingly dominating their perspective - and their life.

Many people assume that depression is easily identifiable, manifesting itself as persistent sadness that doesn't lift. In fact, symptoms of depression can take a variety of forms. Chances are that if you are reading this article, you have the feeling that something isn't quite right. You may find that you are tired all the time, and all you want to do is sleep. Depression can also trigger insomnia, forgetfulness, and an inability to take pleasure in normal activities. According to Eve Wood, MD, "People often say, 'I'm not depressed; I just don't care', but that indifference can signal depression." It turns out that excessive fatigue, insomnia, and joylessness can all be symptoms of depression.

As subtle and confusing as signs of depression can sometimes be, it's important to remember that depression is a serious illness that can cramp lives, cast a shadow over families, and even lead to suicide. A growing body of research has documented the serious and chronic effects of depression on the human brain - effects that can make a person susceptible to future incidents of depression and misdiagnosis of depression is high. The good news is that depression can be effectively treated.

Symptoms of Depression:
* Changes in weight, sleep or appetite: These signs of depression can be confusing because depending on the individual, they can take very different forms. Some depressed individuals want to sleep all the time, for example, while others may experience insomnia.
* Physical symptoms of depression that won't go away, like fatigue, headaches, back aches, digestive disorders, chronic pain, or menstrual problems
* Anxiety
* Agitation, irritability
* Forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating
* Low sex drive
* Pessimistic or hopeless outlook on life: While there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the future, a depressed person is more apt to dwell on negative events and be unable to find anything to be happy about.
* Feelings of guilt or helplessness
* General apathy and lack of interest or pleasure in customary activities
* Thoughts of suicide

Experts say that certain behaviors can also be a sign of underlying depression. "People often engage in behaviors that signal "masked depression," says psychologist Lara Honos-Webb, PhD, author of Listening to Depression. Compulsive shopping, working, eating, or drinking alcohol can be signs of depression -- particularly when one feels empty or anxious when they're not participating in these activities.

What Are the Causes of Depression?
Experts say that depression is caused by an interaction of genetic factors and real life triggers. Because depression often runs in families, experts believe that genetic factors make some people more vulnerable to than others, because of their individual brain chemistry.

Depression triggers can include:
* Situational factors: Major problems and life crises -- a romantic break-up, job loss, or the death of a loved one, for example -- are often the immediate, most obvious causes of depression. But ongoing life challenges like poverty, unemployment, and social isolation, as well as childhood trauma, also put people at higher risk for depression.
* Medical factors: Chronic pain or illness can lead to depression. Certain medical conditions -- including hypothyroidism, cancer, and hepatitis -- can cause depression. Nutritional deficiencies and some medications are culprits as well. Therefore, it's important that treatment for depression include a medical evaluation.
* Stress: A connection between chronic stress and depression has been established and could explain why stressful life situations, like poverty and unemployment, put people at far higher risk for depression.

Treatment for Depression:
According to depression experts at the American Psychological Association, you should seek treatment for depression if it persists for more than two weeks -- particularly if your depression is severe enough to interfere with normal life activities. If you suspect that you are depressed, talk to your physician, who can rule out physical causes and refer you to a mental health professional.

Experts now understand that depression has to do with shifts in brain chemistry, so a piece of the treatment puzzle involves re-balancing chemicals, Wood says. But it doesn't have to involve medication. The best treatment for your symptoms depends on your individual story, she says; whether you've been depressed before, and whether your symptoms keep you in bed all day or simply sap your energy. So try to describe your history and symptoms as precisely as possible when you speak to your physician and psychotherapist.

Treatment for depression usually involves psychotherapy, antidepressants, or both, according to Susan G. Kornstein, MD, a professor in Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Medicine. Experts now believe that a combination of both is most effective. There is evidence that in many cases, psychotherapy works as well as antidepressants do, and there are no side effects, according to Whiffen. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) for example, focuses on improving the patient's relationships to help reduce depressive symptoms.

For many people, antidepressants are very effective in treating depression, particularly when depression is severe or persistent. We don't completely understand how antidepressants work, but we do know that they readjust the balance in brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. There are currently many different types of antidepressants on the market, so be sure to work with a psychiatrist who can help you find the medication that is most effective for you.

To read the entire article, go to:

Brian will share some of his story tomorrow regarding his dealing face to face with depression.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2009: Bittersweet

Today was a good day. I went to church where I work in the nursery during Coffee Break and got my baby fix and also got to hang out with my friend that works in there as well. There is just the two of us and the most babies we have had is three. Good food, great friend and three adorable babies - it's rough but someone has to do it!

I think I was quite guarded today and wouldn't let my armor down. I didn't want to cry because if even one tear slips then I will start sobbing. Sheryl was awesome - she let me have a "normal" hour of catching up and just talking about things other than cancer.

I was afraid to look people in their eyes because I see the pity, fear and sadness in them. I was hugged many times and found out that a lot of people didn't sleep very well last night after reading the update. I'm thinking we could fill a swimming pool with all the tears that have been shed.

I talked to my nurse today and my first round of chemo is next week Tuesday. We decided to do treatment every three weeks rather than a weekly treatment. If this becomes physically too difficult for me we will switch to the weekly routine.

I was reading back in the blog to last year and the first couple of treatments didn't really cause any problems but by the third round a cumulative effect had built up and I wasn't doing so well. I will be getting all three of those doses at once next week. I just found out today that my hair will fall out with this chemo. I can't believe I have to go through that again. At least this time I know what to expect and I still have my hats and scarves.

Okay, enough thinking about that - it will be 2 to 3 weeks before that happens. Won't do me any good to dwell on it now. I will end this post with a letter that Ashley wrote tonight . . . . .

Thank you???

Hi Cancer, how are you? Where are you? oh wait, you're in my mom. I have probably asked this before but, why are you in her? She already has other things to deal with, but then of course, you had to come along and cause bad things. You may think it’s funny but I’m not laughing, no one is laughing. Yet, some how, part of my body want’s to say thank you, thank you for bringing us closer to God. Before you came, we were just a family who went to Church, and all of that but now, we are Praising God all of the time! We are not a family who just goes to Church every Sunday because we have to but because we want to and because we want to glorify Christ in any way we can! I know that in this little “speech” I said things that you did not not want to hear, like when I said Thank you. You wanted to hear, grrrrrrrrr. No, I am not that kind of person, I am a person who fights, who sets a goal and accomplishes it, I AM A PERSON WHO WILL NOT STOP FIGHTING THIS BATTLE!!! Same for my mom, she will not stop fighting! She is a person who fight’s, sets goals and accomplishes them and a person who will NOT stop fighting you no matter what you do to her! So step away from her, in the future, I see a miracle! I know that God has wonderful plans for my mom and that he will take care of her! Like my mom has said before,................SHE HAS GOT A STORY TO TELL! I’m just guessing here but, I think it will be a pretty good story! (just kidding, I am not guessing, I know that it will be a great story)! SO GET AWAY CANCER AND NEVER COME BACK!

Written by Ashley Rogalske, a person who does not give up!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010: An Uphill Battle that We WILL Win!

I know there are a lot of you out there that have been anxiously waiting for this update. Sorry this took so long but we needed to make some phone calls and talk to the kids before we got the word out. You've probably figured out by now that we did not receive very good news. Dr. Downey actually confirmed some of our worst fears today.

We were able to make it out of the room and the building with minimal tears but completely lost it when we got in the van. Brian and I just held each other sobbing and trying to absorb the shock.

The results from the biopsy confirmed that the cancer has metastasized. This is not a good word to hear. It means that the cancer is still attacking and it is branching out. Right now, he believes it is confined in the area where they removed some lymph nodes because that was the only area that lit up on the PET scan, but it could be in other lymph nodes as well.

The next typical spot it would head for would be my lungs. He gave us some warning signs to watch for and so far I don't have any of them. Also, my CA125 level went up to 192.

I will be starting chemo again next week. It is the same chemo that I did last January which seemed to be quite effective with minimal side effects. They sent the tumor for testing to find out what chemo would be most effective but those results will probably not be in for a couple weeks yet.

Dr. Downey told us today that he does not believe that my cancer is curable. He mentioned this before but also said it was treatable then. We asked him straight out today what he believes my prognosis is. I'm sure this will be difficult to read as it is very difficult to type. He doesn't believe that I will make it another 5 years.

This kicked us in the gut and knocked us down. I don't remember feeling such fear and helplessness before. This is the kind of thing that happens to other people. Not to our family. It was a quiet ride home.

All this being said . . . I am still going to win this battle! When we first got into the van after the news the song "I Can Only Imagine" was playing. I wanted to scream. Why? Why after all these signs that I was going to win would this happen? I felt like this song was confirming my fears.

As we left the parking lot "Jesus Calling" was playing. I heard the words "you may think the sky above is falling, but can you hear Jesus calling?" At this point I was afraid that was confirming that Jesus was calling me through the first song and saying that I would not need to "only imagine" anymore.

The next song I heard was "He is Mighty to Save". That one caught me off guard. Mighty to save? A weight started to lift off my shoulders at this point. Right after the song the dj was talking about how God uses scriptures and songs to speak to us. He said sometimes when we're not paying attention He will just keep sending messages to us until we listen. At this point I started crying again but tears of joy. The last song was Mighty To Save.

I started to think back. Was the song I Can Only Imagine playing because He was telling me that I still at this point will only be able to imagine? Then the song Jesus Calling . . . was He getting my attention at that point to remind me that He is mighty to save?

Could it be that we will have that miracle that I need? Was God telling me this? I only know that I felt a huge weight lifted and I had a peace that I never thought I would have again. The last song I heard was "Until The Whole World Hears" - these are the lyrics

Ready yourselves, ready yourselves
Let us shine the light of Jesus in the darkest night.
Ready yourselves, ready yourselves
May the powers of darkness tremble as our praises rise.
Until the whole world hears Lord we are calling out.
Lifting up Your name for all to hear the sound.
Like voices in the wilderness we're crying out
as the day draws near we'll sing until the whole world hears . . .

The poem that I posted this morning just came to me. I wasn't even thinking about it. He said "your faith has made you well, now get out there - you've got a story to tell!". What power that would be to tell the world about how God helped us beat all the odds and survive this cancer. Now that's a story to tell!

This has lifted a huge weight from me. We are still mad, in shock, disappointed, numb and emotionally drained but these songs give me hope. Those songs weren't just a coincidence. We are still planning on chemo and doing everything in our power to kick this cancer's butt. Ultimately it's in God's hands.

We have talked to the kids which was very hard. They are aware that we need a miracle. They are also aware that miracles can happen. I don't think that they really want to talk about it yet with a lot of people so if you see them, please just give them a hug or a smile or talk about the Tigers :)

We enjoyed a quiet night at home tonight. Friends brought supper for us tonight and it was delicious! The friend that wached Emily for us today brought her back with a loaf of pumpkin bread - yummy too! We've enjoyed a "normal" night together as a family. We even got a game of Apples to Apples in. The little details of life seem to be jumping out to me now.

I will beat this cancer. I still have kids to raise and a husband to grow old with. And I have a story to tell.

Monday, January 4, 2010: A Story to Tell

I will beat this cancer - oh yes I will.
It won't be from chemo or a magic pill.
God told me "your faith has made you well;
now get out there - you've got a story to tell"!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010: Twas the Night Before . . .

Twas the night before the appointment and all through the house,
the anxiety was increasing - not because of a mouse.
The appointment tomorrow will give us some news
we're praying that it won't have us singing the blues.

What will he say, what will we find out?
This doctor is known to have lots of doubt.
They talk about statistics but we trust in God.
He can do anything with simply a nod.

The purpose of everything is to glorify Him
even if the results are disappointing and grim.
We try so hard to figure things out
but He has the plan - of this there's no doubt.

We can worry and stress about what we may hear
but God simply tells us - be still and draw near.
We trust in God's plan, whatever it may be
but we're praying to hear "she is now cancer free!"

I'll admit it - I'm scared - of what we may hear
He'll give us the details and confirm our worst fears.
There is no point in stressing about what tomorrow may bring
because all of that worrying won't change a thing.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12