We’re Done!

Greetings to all our dear ones!

Life has been very busy as of late, and I just haven’t had time to sit down and write this update, but, finally, here it is!  I wanted to let you all know that Michael is doing great.  As I posted previously, the past few weeks have been another part of this amazing journey we have been on and Michael continues to be just that.

Our one piece of great news is that we’re done!  So, what does that mean?  Well, for the past two years and two months, Michael has been under the care of our local Hematologist/Oncologist, Dr. Dharmen Patel.  I write about him in the book.  He has been wonderful.  Dr. P. is direct and calls things as he sees them.  Our family doctor told us once that our small to mid-sized town is very fortunate to have him here.  For us, another benefit is that he is close friends with Dr. Savani, Michael’s primary doctor at Vanderbilt, as well as several of the other doctors involved in the Stem Cell Transplant Department.  When Michael had his seizures that became a very valuable resource because it was Dr. P. who was able to get in touch with Dr. Savani and arrange for him to be airlifted to Vanderbilt.

Dr. P. was the first one to sense that Michael had MDS (Myleo Dysplastic Syndrome).  When he referred Michael to Vanderbilt in August, 2013, he was certain of that diagnosis.  And, it turned out he was right.  Dr. P. treated Michael prior to and after the transplant.  He treated him for the lymphoma and for the infusions Michael needed when his white blood cell count tanked.  He has been supportive and helpful, and has become somewhat of a friend.

So, when Michael went in to see him last Tuesday, 10/20, after talking with him and examining him, Dr. P turned and said, “Do you really need to see me anymore?  You are doing great.  Your counts (blood test CBC results) are doing great and higher than they were even when I first saw you.  Your WBC count has come up to normal which means you are no longer at such a risk for infection.  Your hair is growing back, your skin is pink again, your energy level is obviously back to normal and you aren’t having any problems.  You have fully recovered from the stroke.  I can’t think of anything you need me for.”  At that point, I had tears in my eyes because I realized what he was saying; Michael is doing so well, that he no longer needs to see Dr. P. for anything.  He was releasing him from his care.  Michael glibly replied, “Well, that’s fine with me.  I hope I never see you again!”  Of course, Dr. P. didn’t take that offensively.  He understood fully what Michael was saying.  The next time we see him, it will be as a friend, not as Michael’s doctor.

So, another milestone has been passed in Michael’s treatment and recovery.  Another chapter of the book of the last two years + of our lives has closed.  What an incredible blessing!

How is he doing?  Well, Dr. P. properly assessed Michael’s current health.  He’s doing great.  He’s back to work with the blessing of all of his doctors at Vanderbilt and Dr. P. here.  We had reason to question whether or not that was the right decision recently and had really good and lengthy discussions with the Vanderbilt medical team including Dr. Savani.  There had been some question, at least in my mind, whether or not Michael should be working fulltime.  Dr. Savani called us last week in response to a message asking that and we had a great discussion with him.  He reviewed where Michael’s health was at right now.  He’s off immunosuppression.  His WBC count is returning to normal (finally!) which means he has protection from the risk of infection.  He recovered from the stroke faster than anyone expected, although Dr. Savani also said he wasn’t surprised by that based on Michael’s history.  He is feeling great.  He told Michael that if he wanted to work fulltime or at all, he saw no reason that he shouldn’t.  That was such confirmation!  We also had the same discussion about stress and working with the Neurology team several days prior to that. That conversation was also a blessing.  Michael was told about what he needed to do to prevent stress from being a factor; things like eating healthy foods, not working 12-15 hours per day, getting adequate rest, etc.  And then, a very interesting thing was said about the fact that for many people, not working is more stressful than working.  Boy, does that fit Michael to a ‘t’!  Every time the subject of not returning to work comes up his countenance just falls and he gets so bummed out.  That in and of itself was a revelation, at least for me, because I have never heard that before.  The truth of the matter is that Michael just loves doing dentistry.  It gives him great joy because he loves to help people.  It’s just the way God created him and dentistry keeps his mind active and allows him to do just that.  In many ways, for him, it’s a stress-reliever, not a stress- producer, and, should it ever become the latter, well, he can walk away or retire, but, he sure isn’t ready to do that at this point.

In light of all of this we are so blessed. Actually in every way we are!  God has shown us some incredible things lately.  We have had some times of turmoil and uncertainty about the future, and yet, God in His infinite grace and mercy has met us right at the throne of grace as we have turned our faces to Him.  I love how He tells us in Hebrews 4:16 that He has made that provision for us:

16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

 Oh, what blessed and comforting words those are!  I have found myself going to that throne several times in the past week or so with deep need for God’s grace and direction.  And, when I have, He has answered my prayers and filled my heart with gratitude and understanding.  He has confirmed for us that we are on the right track and that we need to go forward not in fear but in faith.  Of course, it sure helps when you have the blessing and support of your doctors as you do so.  It is also apparent that God has allowed us to have such great doctors in order to accomplish His purposes and we know that God is in the business of so doing, now don’t we?

Michael is back to work fulltime and thoroughly enjoying it.  It put the spring back in his step and the joy and fun of working back in his life.  For me, it has made a pretty significant change because he still isn’t allowed to drive until March 26, so, I have become the primary driver, and I’m the one of the two of us who doesn’t enjoy driving.  It was so cute a couple of days ago.  Michael kindly asked me if anyone had ever taught me how to drive on the interstate and no one ever really has.  So, we are going to begin driving instruction.  Perhaps when the six months is up I will be a more confident driver.  God can work all things to good, maybe even that, right?

We so appreciate your prayers and encouragement.  I have spoken to several dear friends asking for godly counsel in the past couple of weeks and shared our prayer needs and I have been humbled and overwhelmed at the response.  It’s such a blessing to be in the family of Christ, especially when we consider what we deserve and how God loves us anyway.

Thanks for sharing this journey with us and for caring enough to keep praying for us.  Please pray for me to have courage in driving and for Michael to continue to do well in his recovery.  We do have winter weather coming on and I am definitely a ‘weather driving wimp’ when it comes to that.  At the same time, this is not a chore or a trial for me.  I do it with joy.  I have the luxury of being mostly retired, and 5 more months is nothing but a blip on the radar screen of life.  It will be over before we know it and I consider it a privilege to do something that is investing in my precious husband’s joy in life.

Dr. P. told us that he calls Michael his ‘Miracle Man Patient’.  That is so true, but, it would not have been so without the intervention and protective hand of God on him and we truly know that.  I don’t think any of this could have gone as well as it has without God’s healing touch or the way He created Michael to have that determination to overcome this and to return to a normal life.  My husband is an amazing man.  His way of dealing with all of this has been an incredible witness to me and to many others.

We do so hope you are well today.  Please let us know if we can pray for you.  As always, you are in our hearts, ever near and ever dear.

Love,

Michael and Jan

 

 

 

 

The Journey Continues

Good Morning, Dears,

It’s a beautiful, early Fall morning.  We do hope this finds you doing well and enjoying the first days of the change of seasons.  We’ve had quite a bit of rain here in the past 24 hours and anyone who knows anything about Fall color in these parts says it’s going to be beautiful this year.  Usually around the 2nd and 3rd week of October is the prettiest and I am looking forward to it.

So many people are praying for us and more are asking for details. If you haven’t read the post prior to this one, please do because rather than repeat what I’ve said there, I’m going to move on.

After the Lumbar Puncture last week, Michael continued to have headaches which is a normal and expected aftereffect from the procedure.  Then, on Friday afternoon he noticed that he was having some trouble holding onto an instrument with his left hand.  He told me Friday night that he could pet Polly but he couldn’t feel her fur.  However, again, our new and ever-changing normal didn’t alert him at all that these could be symptoms of a stroke.  He has experienced much in the way of joint and muscle aches, pains and stiffness and also has muscle and joint pain in that shoulder which the doctors told him was most likely related to chemo he had earlier this year. However, this sensation in his hand and headache continued into Saturday morning.  Around 6:45 a.m. he went to lay down on the bed.  I was walking out of the bedroom and heard a thud, wheeled around to see that he was no longer on the bed and discovered him on the floor having a seizure.

He was taken by ambulance to Johnson City Medical Center where he had a second seizure and then a decision was made to airlift him to Vanderbilt.  Jon, Tim and I took off shortly after by car and arrived a couple of hours after he did.

Many tests were done and we learned the following morning that he had a stroke.  It was a different kind of stroke; a ‘venus’ stroke, meaning it happened in a vein, which is far less common.  The doctors were concerned that the clot that had caused the stroke could bleed into his brain, so, they moved him to the Neurology ICU.  Turns out, incidentally, he got the best and largest room in the entire floor!  Thanks, God!

Several teams of people became involved in Michael’s care, which always seems to happen.  We had the Neurology team ( a first), his Stem Cell Doctors, and the Infectious Disease team as well.  Now, let me tell you, these are some brilliant folks and we were privileged to meet some of them.  And, as has happened always at Vanderbilt, he received excellent care.

And, also as always, Michael was not normal.  If you have read the book, you know that I say several times how I wished he could just have been boring.  Nope; not this time either!  There are a few reasons I say that, but rather than go into all those details, just trust me on this one.

By day 2, tests revealed that things seemed to be progressing nicely.  CT scans showed no additional bleeding from the clot.  He had been started on blood thinners by Saturday night, and anti-seizure meds as well.  The million dollar question for everyone was why the clot happened and why it happened where it did.  Even as of now, no one seems to know for sure.  I continued to ask the question related to my own personal theory which was could it have been the lumbar puncture?  Early on the answers I got were negative, but, I kept asking.  Then, yesterday, the Neurology team came in and had done some homework and found reported cases of exactly that.  Those cases are rare, but, they have been reported, and, as I reminded them, nothing with Michael has been normal which did at least get some smiles.

Some other possible reasons floating out there are the fact that transplant patients have a small number of higher risk for clotting and stroke than the general population.  Another theory is that it is possible his donor had a genetic propensity for clotting and stroke.  The bottom line is that, regardless of the cause, the treatment would still be the same.

By Monday, they had decreased the frequency of monitoring Michael.  He was in good spirits, he wasn’t having any further complications.  That was a blessing.  By yesterday, his left hand had showed some very marginal improvement and no further symptoms had occurred.  I think everyone was a bit amazed by how well he was doing; enough so that they said we could go home, and  I was amazed by that.  Everyone was also very pleased and perhaps even a bit surprised, that all the tests and scans that were done turned out negative, including all the ones from the Lumbar Puncture.  Woohoo, God!  A couple of the people involved have read the book, and they didn’t seem quite as surprised as the rest.

So, we left Vanderbilt yesterday around 6 and made it home in just over 4 hours with me driving at night which I don’t like, in intermittent rain, which I REALLY don’t like and long distance which is normally difficult for me.  However, we prayed before we started; many folks joined us, and God kept me alert and gave me a peace the entire way home.  We only stopped once for gas and didn’t stop to eat.  I drove; Michael slept,  and we made it.

I said so often on the Caring Bridge blog how we realized that our lives have changed.  Once again, we are in that place where things aren’t the same as they were even a week ago.  We don’t know exactly what the future holds for Michael, but, we do know a few things that will have to be different, the biggest one of which is that he is not going to be able to drive for awhile.  That’s going to be very hard for him (and for me for that matter!), and, until his hand has fully recovered, he won’t be able to work, and that is if it fully recovers, and even then, he may not be able to.  That is a hard place to be, and those lifestyle changes and adjustments for the future are going to take him time to process.

It’s so hard to change, isn’t it?  I must admit that last Saturday morning was scary.  I had never seen anyone have a stroke before.  I just kept praying over him and kept talking to him.  I contacted Tim and Jon kept me on the phone until the ambulance arrived.  Both of them were such an incredible help and blessing to me at that time, as they always are.

Lately, the Lord keeps taking me to Psalm 1.  Now, I know why:

Psalm 1

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

I have put an emphasis in italics of the verses that have so ministered to me in the last couple of weeks and how this Psalm did so in the past few days.  I love the Fernando Ortega song that is based on this Psalm.

What, however, does it mean to ‘prosper’ in v. 3?  Does it mean that if we simply believe in God that we can have anything and everything we want?  I really like the way Pritchard defines that:

“They prosper in the sense that no matter what happens, they find strength for the day and hope in the midst of the hardest difficulties. They bring forth godly fruit in good times and bad times. Why? Because they are planted deep in the good soil and their roots reach out to the water of the Word of God. Finding constant nourishment therein, they can face whatever life throws at them.”

This isn’t a material or worldly prosperity, it’s a spiritul one.  And that has such rich application for us right now.  We all have choices in life, especially when it comes to viewing our present circumstances.  We can choose to dwell in all the difficulties we are faced with.  For Michael, it would be what he can’t do, what he has to do; what he feels like has been taken from him.  Or, we can choose to dwell on the things we can be thankful for.  For us those things are the fact that this was such a small stroke and his recovery, while not over yet, has progressed rapidly.  I am so very thankful that Michael didn’t lose cognitive ability.  He’s alive; He can look at me, talk to me, and give me a kiss.  He can walk around.  One has only to walk around the ward of the hospital floor we were on and look in the rooms to see how very blessed we are.

And, even so, once again, our Lord has been merciful and gracious towards us.  The doctors, once again, are amazed at Michael.  For him to have gone through yet another complication, survived, and have the ability to move on is nothing short of another one of God’s miracles.

Right before we got to Vanderbilt Saturday afternoon, Jon and Tim ran into the Starbucks just down the street from the hospital.  As I sat in the car, I noticed a small flock of birds busy flittering about.  I rolled down my window and enjoyed the show, and, as I did, the old hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow” came to my mind and I found myself softly singing it.  I love that hymn.  “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me”.  God was indeed watching and watching over Michael through all of this.  We are so grateful for the ‘could have been worse but wasn’t’, once again.

We would covet your prayers as Michael adjusts to these new changes and restrictions, and wisdom for the decisions he and we must make for the future.  Please also pray for healing for Michael.  He still has the headaches and is very tired.

As always, you are in our hearts, ever near and ever dear.

With love,

Michael and Jan

Life after a Stem Cell Transplant

Happy Fall!  I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Life has been busy with gardening and perserving summer produce. I’ve had to buy more canning jars to hold the wonderful abundance of tomatoes the Lord has blessed us with!

I’m sure you’d all like to know how Michael is doing. He’s been doing really well. Getting back to life as normal after a bone marrow stem cell transplant has continued to be full of challenges, but, he has weathered them all with that same German dogged determination that saw him through during the most difficult times of his recovery.

A few months ago he complained of some mild headaches. Well, as you can imagine, that sent everyone into a tizzy because of the toxoplasmosis issues that were first diagnosed as a result of the awful and debilitating headaches he had at that time. These were not like that, but, still, erring on the side of caution, all his Vanderbilt doctors ordered a barrage of tests. After all the results came back normal, everyone relaxed a bit.

Most recently, he had a routine visit and brain MRI a few weeks ago, and there seems to be a new lesion of some sort. So, earler this week we made the trek back to Vanderbilt for a lumbar puncture. While we don’t have all the results back yet, so far everything has been normal which is what he’s been expecting and I have been praying for.

Getting that call from Vanderbilt saying they believe there is a new lesion on Michael’s brain was quite unsettling. It was a hard day for both of us. It’s easy to get discouraged and think that sometimes it seems like all this never ends. However, at those times during which the circumstances of our lives seem overwhelming, and even during those ‘meltdown moments’, God seems most mighty. The verse that comes to mind is written by Paul, an incredible example of a man who went through trials: “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Oh, the wonderful, all-encompassing grace of God! How it breathes peace and new life to our hearts.

We all strive to get to that place where God’s grace is all we need and how we so often deny our weaknesses because of those things that seem important that really aren’t. If we could just be more transparent so that God’s grace would suffice to the point of shining through us into the darkness of this world. What a rich place that is.

One other thing I have learned recently when faced with yet another series of questions about Michael’s health is a true statement I read somewhere: don’t borrow trouble before it comes. Wise advice.

Wishing you all a wonderful Fall,
Michael and Jan

The Lord’s Plans

Hello, Dear Ones,

Greetings!  I thought I’d update you as to what’s happening in our lives.  First, let me say all glory to God that Michael is doing really well!  We are so thankful!  These days, all we have to do is look back one year ago just about any day to see that he has improved 100% and that is such a blessing.

We have our next appointment at Vanderbilt on Sept. 4.  Michael will get all his childhood immunizations, begin his hepatitis series, get a brain MRI and another bone marrow biopsy.  It’s going to be a busy day!  However, we are hoping that, upon receiving the MRI results, the ID doctor will decide to either take him off of or greatly decrease the dosage of the medicine he’s taking for the toxoplasmosis.  He’s been on it for almost a year now and that’s a long time, and the last scan and blood work showed that there is no active toxoplasmosis.  We are praying for good results from the MRI, so, please join us in that.

He will have also completed the last of the 4 infusions that were planned to help boost his immune system.  His WBC has struggled it’s way back to normal due to the meds he’s still taking.  But, the great news is that at his last visit to our local Dr., his WBC was only 1 point below normal and that was the day of the infusion in the prep labs, so, that’s really wonderful.  That result indicated that his immune system is beginning to do that on its own and that was very exciting.

The Book Launch & Signing Party was yesterday and it went quite well.  We had a number of folks drop by including some of Michael’s long time patients who had seen the article in the newspaper.  He was so tickled to see each and every one of them.  It meant a lot to him that they would take time to come down and share their Sunday afternoon with him.  He also was asked to sign many books and he was so blessed by that.

Today, while I was in town, Michael got one of those calls from a dear patient of his; an elderly woman who has recently gotten news that she now has the same diagnosis he had; MDS.  Unfortunately, she is not a candidate for a transplant due to her age and other health factors.  One of her friends came  to the party and bought a book for her.  She had already read the whole thing and called to let us know how much it meant to her and how much it encouraged her.  Michael teared up when he talked to her and I cried when he related the conversation to me.  That’s really what this is all about and why I wrote the book.  I have prayed that the Lord would use it and it is such an encouragement to hear when He does.  Every time we hear how it has touched someone, it makes all that we put into it worthwhile.

At this point, the doctors have told Michael he is able to resume life as normal.  I can’t tell you what a blessing it was to hear that a couple of months ago.  He was so excited!  For the past few months, though, we have been in the ‘valley of indecision’.  I’m sure each and every one of you can understand that because you have undoubtedly experienced that as well.  We have been praying about what God’s next step for us is and have been considering many things.  We sure don’t want to get ahead of whatever His plan is for our lives.  So many things are rolling around in our minds, but so far, nothing has rolled into our hearts with enough degree of certainty that we know it’s right.

I have trouble sometimes being patient.  Do you?  It’s hard to wait on the Lord.  It can be unsettling not knowing what the future holds.  We’ve had much experience along those lines in the past couple of years. Things and circumstances change.  Life is fluid, no matter how much we think have it planned out.  Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.”  Psalm 33:10-11 says, ” 10 The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever,the plans of His heart from generation to generation.”  How true that is!  I love the way this reads in ‘Desiring God’:
The point of these verses is that both men and God take counsel and both plan. But in the end it is not the counsel and plans of men that are established, but of God’s. It is all-important to realize that God plans the world and he plans churches and he plans lives—and his plans succeed. His plans take precedence over our plans. Our plans have significance and durability to the degree that God plans for our plans to be significant and durable. God is the all-important reality in planning from beginning to end. God’s will is for that to be known, to be explicit, to be admired and enjoyed.

If we could just get that, how much easier life would be.   Sometimes it seems as though our fingers are glued to those plans of ours and God has to pry them off, one at a time.  It’s difficult to go through that, isn’t it?  We’ve all been there at some point or another.  It’s easier to have a pity party and ask those ‘why’ questions.  You know the ones; ‘why, God?’, ‘why, me’?  ‘why not…’, ‘why this…’?  ‘why, why, why, and woe, woe, woe…’.  All of that can cause us to have those unsettled and insecure feelings.  What we are learning, though, is that only in trusting God fully so that His plans and our plans are in sync will we find peace as we go through that process.   We’re not always there.  As I said, despite everything we’ve been through, we’re still learning.  However, the one thing we can have peace in knowing is that no matter what is happening in our lives,  HIs desire and HIS plans for us are good and for our good. We just have to get on board and ride that train until its final destination.

I was talking to a dear friend a few days ago who just lost her husband to cancer.  She was telling me what I have been told by so many other people that no matter how much you expect a loved one to die, there is really still no way to prepare yourself for it.  Those words rang so true because they apply to just about any situation in life.  No matter how much we think we are prepared for something, so often we find the opposite is true.  Even so, we can all be encouraged.  I love how Jesus tells us in John 16:33, ” These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”   Yes, He has, and in Him, so have we.  That, my dears, is what can help us get through each and every day.

We do so hope you are well and experiencing joy in your life.  Don’t forget to visit our new website and check in there as you have here to see how we are doing. And, we would so appreciate your continued prayers for us as we go forward into the future in faith.

With much love,
Michael and Jan

Such a blessing!

We are beginning to receive a few book reviews and comments from folks and we are so delighted to know that the book is making a difference.  Here is a new review we just received:

“A true (recent) heartfelt story loaded with inspiration of our friends real life walk of faith They endured more than you could imagine. One trial after another, only to get another. God’s work was nothing short of a miracle. So blessed to have them in our lives. You will love this book!”

Our thanks to Darleen B. for taking the time to post it!

New this week:

We met with Velma Southerland from our local paper, The Greeneville Sun, yesterday.  It sounds like there will be some article in the paper tomorrow or so about the book and the Book Launch Party on Sunday.  Woohoo!  The word is slowly getting out!

 

Welcome to our new website!

Welcome to our new website!  We’re so glad you decided to visit us today and do hope you will be blessed.  This site is where we will be posting updates about how Michael is doing after his bone marrow stem cell transplant as well as information about upcoming events and happenings.

For those of you who have come over from our Caring Bridge blog, we’re glad you’re here!  You have been so faithful to follow us and encourage us through your prayers and posts.  If you haven’t read the Caring Bridge blogs to date, they are still available at www.caringbridge.org/visit/michaelsjourney2

We are excited to announce that “More than 100 Days, a Stem Cell Transplant Journey of Faith” is now in print.  You can order it from Amazon through the link on our home page.  You can also order it from Barnes and Noble, or, if you would like an autographed copy, you may order it directly from us by filling out the ‘contact Jan’ information and including that you would like an autographed copy on the comments section.  We will try to get your order processed within 24 hours after we make payment arrangements.

Galatians 6:2 tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”.  It is our hope and prayer that this website, just like the book, will be an encouragement to you.  It is our purpose to serve and honor God in all we do, and, if we can be a tool that He uses in His toolchest to do so, well, what better blessing is there?

We want to hear from you as well.  Please let us know how we can be praying for you. If you would like your comments about the book to be posted in our Book Reviews section on this website, please let us know through the ‘contact Jan’ .  I would be thrilled to post them.  Be sure to let me know if we have your permission to do so and whether or not you would like your name to be printed.

You can also contact us by email:  jan@morethan100days.com  or michael@100days.com.  Our phone number is (423)525-9047.

Again, thanks for spending some time with us!

With much love,

Jan