Half-Way!

Hello!

Today ended my second cycle, marking the half-way point to being done with this craziness! So far, not much is different than expected. The fatigue hits me pretty hard during the end of the week, and my appetite is pretty much gone, but aside from that, all is well. Except, my hair situation!

No Hair!But, amazingly, I still have my eyebrows! So I’m very grateful for that! Using lots, and lots of sunscreen these days! By the way, that’s only a difference of 8 days!

I hope everybody has an amazing weekend!

Mark

And There It Goes…

…my hair, that is!

Hello! Last week I started loosing my hair. It pretty much started exactly when my oncologist said it would (Day 17). I first noticed it when I tried pulling some from my head it it worked! Fortunately, I keep my head pretty closely shaved, but you can for sure tell it’s starting to go on its own. I’m honestly starting to look like I have a case of scurvy (you can look…seriously…I don’t mind). But, there is an upside to all this! I’ve noticed that (1) the haircut I got a few weeks back is lasting way longer than usual, and (2) I’m not having to shave as often because it’s not growing back as quickly as it usually does. To me, those are two bonus items that make it all worth it! The one downside is that Alex is constantly trying to mess with my eyebrows…the only area that I don’t really want to loose!

This week I start my second cycle of chemo. By all accounts, this week should be worse than my first week. So, if you try to get in contact with me, and I’m slow to respond, I’m probably just taking a nap!

I’d like to ask everybody a favor. If you don’t mind, I’d love it if you shifted your thoughts and prayers a few different directions this week. First, for Samantha, that she has an amazing week and that she is able to be at school every single day, feeling absolutely wonderful, loved, and being able to do all the things a teenager should be doing! Second, for my brother, Scott, who is facing some health issues himself. That his insurance approves the necessary tests quickly, and that they yield the results that help define the perfect treatment regime to help get him healthy again. Third, for Michelle, that she feels amazing this week as well, that she feels rested, and that she gets a break from all the medical junk that she has to deal with on a weekly basis. And finally, for Alex, that he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, that he feels empowered in every aspect of his life, that he has laser like focus on the things that are important in his day, and that he knows he’s loved tremendously!

I hope everybody has an amazing, healthy week! We can’t thank you enough for the continued prayers, thoughts, gift cards, and general well wishes. You are all an amazing family to us!

Mark

Week One…Done!

Hello!

Well, chemo week one of twelve is now history! Overall, I’m feeling super fatigued, weak, bloated (gained 5 pounds of what better be fluids!), but not a single bit nauseous. I think I’m basically experiencing the traditional effects of the treatment, so I’m going to say that all is going as expected.

I met with my radiation oncologist today to discuss the delay in getting that started. He said that this sort of chemo would heighten the effects of the radiation in such a way that it would not be good for my body at all. He doesn’t know of any literature that suggests doing the chemo and radiation in tandem was a good idea. I was fully prepared to convince him otherwise, that I could handle them both, but I decided to heed is professional advice. So, we’ll look at starting it up about 6-8 weeks after chemo is done (probably in July).

We want to thank everybody who visited us, prayed for us, thought about us, and did some very cool things for us! Thank you for the visits at chemo, the food brought there and to our home, the gift certificates, the offers for assistance (rides, etc), and to the person or persons who did that thing for us at AZ Oncology…we can’t thank you enough! We love you all, and are so blessed to be able to call you our friends and family!

While it has been a tough week, we’ve seen God’s hand in quite a bit of it. One of Samantha’s doctors called out of the blue (literally minutes after a prayer request was sent) and set in motion some things that would otherwise take months to get done. I’m tolerating my treatment as well as expected, and we’re about to celebrate Easter!

We hope everybody has an amazing Easter weekend!

Off to take a nap! 😉

Mark

Day Two Update

Hello,

Thought I’d post a quick Day Two update on my chemo! Yesterday, Day 1 (obviously!), I received the full gauntlet of “Carboplatin + Etoposide” as was scheduled. The whole thing was kind of interesting. When I arrived at the chemo area, the nurses had to do a ton of research to ensure that I was getting the treatment they thought I should! The reason for that is because the treatment I’m getting is not typical for colon cancer patients, but more for lung cancer patients. After some very thorough research, they started my day off with three different anti-nausea drugs! I’ll admit that had me a bit concerned. But, after all was said and done, I finished a very long day feeling tired but not nauseous. No neuropathy (which is to be expected), and just some fatigue. So far so good!

Today I received just the Etoposide meds, and no anti-nausea drugs. The day was much shorted, and I’m doing great!

Tomorrow is another Etoposide treatment, then Neulasta on Friday, and then I’m off cycle for two weeks.

They did say that I would loose hair this time around. But, that’s not really an issue for me.

Thank you very much to those who have visited and/or brought me and the family food! You are all amazing friends! And thank you to my awesome family for traveling this road with me with so much strength and love. You guys are the best!

Have a great day!

Mark

Chemo, Take Two

Hello,

Last week Michelle and I met with Dr. Rosenberg to discuss my chemo plans. I knew something was afoot because earlier that day my radiation guy’s assistant called and left me a message letting me know that my planning session in two weeks was cancelled, but that he still wanted to see me. I was hoping that meant no radiation at all! But, that was not the case.

Michelle and I spent a good hour with Dr. Rosenberg listening to what he had to say, and peppering him with questions. The short of it is this:

  • I have/had a “unique” form of colon cancer that doesn’t act like traditional colon cancer. He basically figured this out when he sent my tumors from the two surgeries back to pathology for more analysis, and got some information he didn’t have before. The good news is that they were the same both times. The “bad” news is, that because they don’t act like traditional colon cancer, my first chemo treatment – the 5FU minus the Oxaliplatin (if you recall it gave me neuropathy) – isn’t very effective against what I have/had.
  • “My” cancer acts more like small cell cancer, which is typically found in areas like the lungs. That being the case, the chemotherapy that we’re going to be using is called “Carboplatin + Etoposide,” and it has a 50 – 85% effective rate against small cell cancer.
  • However…despite the fact that it is so effective against “traditional” small cell cancer, because my situation is unique, the actual cure percentage for people like me is less understood. But, he’s estimating it at better than 50% for sure (of course, that’s just saying it may or may not!).
  • The side effects I’ll likely experience this round are fatigue (worse than the first time), hair loss, and a decrease in my red/white blood cell counts, as well as platelets. We’ll be monitoring those closely. It’s unlikely there will be any neuropathy or cold intolerance this time, and nausea isn’t a problem because of the anti-nausea drugs they give at the same time.
  • I’ll be doing four three week cycles, for a total of 12 weeks of chemo. It will be one week on, with two weeks off. The “on” week will entail three visits to Arizona Oncology for chemo drugs, and a fourth visit for a shot of Neulasta, which helps keep my white blood cell counts up. So, a Monday thru Thursday regimen every three weeks.
  • Here’s the kicker – after chemo is done, they still want me to do radiation. That will be five weeks of radiation every day (Monday – Friday). Fortunately it’s only like a 15 minute session, but I’ll spend more time driving there than actually getting treatment! We’ll probably start this sometime in June or July.

That, then, is everything in a nutshell. I start my treatment next Tuesday, 3/22. I was going to start on Monday, but it’s Michelle and my anniversary, so we figured we’d go ahead and celebrate while we can!

I’m not planning on doing a blow-by-blow account of my experience like I did last time, unless I feel that what I have to say could potentially help somebody else going through the same thing. So, the old saying, “no news is good news” will be in play during the course of my treatment. If you don’t hear anything, you can assume that all is well!

Our family thanks for you for all the support everybody has given us as we continue to battle this and the many other health issues we’re experiencing! Your thoughts, prayers, visits, gift cards, meals, rides for the kids, and everything else means a ton to us! We truly love you all!

Have an amazing week!

Mark

Double Shot Of Fun!

Good Evening!

Had my oncologist appointment today, and the verdict was as expected: the cancer has returned. Total bummer, but not unexpected news. As I mentioned before, my surgeon did get all the suspect nodes out, including an additional one that was hiding, so, again, I’m theoretically “cancer free.”

A few things are going to happen before we settle on a treatment. If you recall, way back in 2014 when this all started happening, I basically had two different cancers. So, my doctor is requesting some additional pathology work done on that 2014 sample and the one from last week to determine exactly which of the cancers we’re dealing with. But, regardless, it looks like I’m in for a two-fer: radiation and chemotherapy.

The radiation is for making sure everything is destroyed in the local area of the nodes. Had it not returned to a place that it previously existed, my doctor might not be recommending this course. But, it did, so here we are. I meet with a radiation doc this Friday, and we’ll figure out a plan. From what I’m told, we’re looking at possibly 4-6 weeks of radiation treatment every day. Fortunately, each treatment, I’m told, is only like 15 minutes. But, again, we’ll know more soon.

The chemo is for hitting the cancer systemically again…trying to get the bugger wherever it might be hiding. My previous chemo treatment was for the same purpose, but didn’t seem to do the trick. So, we try something new.

For what it’s worth, my doctor can’t think of another case he’s had where cancer has returned like this before. So, I’m pretty unique! And, in somewhat uncharted waters.

That pretty much sums it up! I’ll fill in the details as they become more clear to us. We appreciate all the thoughts, prayers, dinners, gift cards, and love that has come our way!

Mark

Some Good News!

Good Afternoon!

Michelle got her biopsy results today, and she came back all clear! That’s a very direct answer to prayer, so we appreciate everybody who spent time praying for that result. God is good!

I’m meeting with my oncologist on Monday to see the results of my biopsies. I think we know what they’ll be, but hopefully the chemo will be easy peasy. But, you never know…they could just come back clear as well! Stranger things have happened. For the moment, I’m healing well and slowly getting back to normal activities.

Many thanks to everybody for meals, smoothies, prayers, thoughts, calls and social media comments. We love you all very much!

The Flemings

Well, That Was Fun!

Just a quick update to let everybody know that both Michelle and I are done with our surgeries and back home resting! Each procedure went well, and now we just wait for our biopsy results so we can meet with our doctors. How crazy is it that two people in the same house have surgeries in less than 12 hours!

We want to thank everybody for their prayers, thoughts, well wishes and help in pulling this all off. Thank you to those who visited us at the hospital, even if we didn’t get to see you, and to those who helped with the kids and all the driving that needed to be done. We love you all tremendously! God is good!

We’ll of course update everybody with results when we know them!

Have an awesome week!

Mark and Michelle

 



The Surgery 411

Hello,

Michelle and I met with my surgeon today – the same one that’s done my previous two operations – and we now now just slightly more than we did going in!

The gist of it is this: there are two nodes that need to be removed, and she knows pretty much where they are, but their exact location she can’t know until she gets in and can see for herself. PET scans are only so good! Her intent is to go in laproscopically and remove the nodes but, when she gets in, she may have to bail on that method depending on their placement. And if she has to bail, then the alternate method is to go in through the abdomen with a standard incision. It appears that they’re very close to the artery that supplies the small intestine and if she finds them attached to that, she won’t be able to excise them at all. That would mean something like radiation treatment. But, again, she can’t know until she crawls inside!

Best case scenario, the procedure takes about 45 minutes and I’m home that same day. Worst case, it takes longer, involves an incision in my abdomen, and I’m in the hospital for a couple days while they make sure everything starts up again.

Let’s all pray for the best case to be the real case!

They’ll be calling me in the next few days to schedule the procedure. But it won’t happen until at least the first week of March.

Good news is that she’s cleared me to resume all my activities…including riding a bike! Just in time for the awesome weather!

Mark

February Update

Grab a cup of coffee…got lots to talk about today! This is largely written by Michelle, with some stuff from Mark as well.

Many of you have so kindly been asking how Samantha (and our family) have been doing these past few weeks and so we thought it best to make a new post.

As some of you know, Samantha has been in and out of the Emergency Room as well as a 3 day stay in the hospital this past month. After this past year of stomach, head and other various physical problems, over Christmas Samantha was diagnosed with a Dysautonomic condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (http://www.dysautonomiainternational.org/page.php?ID=34) (ironically, after 10 years of struggle Michelle, too, was diagnosed by Mayo Clinic with a similar condition last November). Samantha experienced a significant flare up in January resulting in increased tachycardia/blood pressure issues, a month long migraine type headache as well as chronic nausea and light headedness along with a host of other issues. This has been very debilitating at times, and we are working with 4 different doctors to try to come up with a treatment plan. This condition has many girls her age bed ridden. While Samantha has been very strong during this, she had just started up at her new school and has had to miss a great deal of days so naturally this has been very discouraging and frustrating, not to mention exhausting. Her symptoms can wax and wane depending on various factors, many of which we have no control over. We are so grateful to each of you for your prayers, visits and encouragement you have given us over this time. What an incredible blessing her school, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, has also been and we are so grateful for her teachers and the administration for how they have supported and worked with us.

As if that weren’t enough in and of itself, I had my 3 month oncology checkup last week, and it looks like the cancer may have returned. My initial CT scan showed an area of lymph nodes that concerned the PA, and it was followed up with a PET scan that confirmed something is up in that region (near where my original cancerous nodes were located). It “appears” that two lymph nodes may be cancerous (they’re “lighting up”), but we can’t know for sure until a biopsy is done. And, because there’s no real easy way to do a biopsy of these nodes, another round of surgery is needed to remove them completely (and then check them out).  I meet with my surgeon, Dr. Schluender this Wednesday to understand more about the operation and to schedule it as well. Suffice to say, my oncologist wants it done sooner than later (like real soon!), so that could happen before the end of the month. Jeesh! Successful removal of the lymph nodes…or whatever turns out needs to be removed…will likely be followed up with some sort of chemotherapy. The doctor thinks it could be a pill version of chemo, but he’s uncertain until he knows exactly what we’re dealing with this time.

This all comes at a time when our family is deep in the valley of uncertainty in so many areas. Michelle continues to struggle with her health but has been referred to a surgeon that may have a procedure which could help her chronic nausea and possibly even get her eating a bit more types of food! While we are grateful for this hopeful news, she faces another issue which came very unexpectedly. After a breast biopsy, she was diagnosed with atypical ductal hyperplasia and will be undergoing surgery in March to remove the tissue around the hyperplasia for further testing. With a significant family history of breast cancer, the doctor will closely monitor this and may perhaps treat things a bit more aggressively.

We also are seeing how these past couple of years are taking a significant toll on Alex emotionally. He is our quiet, brave warrior who puts on such a strong front, but, that front has been shattered and the true impact of all of this is now coming to full light. We are trying to deal with some very difficult issues with him that come not only with being a 13 year old boy but entrenched in a very stressful family situation on top of it. Much prayer, discernment and faith is needed for us to help him deal with all of this.

While we would love to tell you we are handling all of this with grace and poise, we are now truly feeling the full impact of these past few years on our family – emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. It’s a mess. We’re a mess. We have days where we feel the peace, hope and mercy of our very faithful God and then there are the dark days where we beg for mercy and rest but instead feel filled with despair and exhaustion. We desperately cling to the promises of God, especially Romans 8:28…

And we know that in all things God works
for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.

We can’t see it a lot of the days. Many days, as it is for all you too, it’s just a struggle to get through each moment. But God, in all of His goodness and mercy, gives us strength beyond our own. He shows us some majestic glimpses into His perfect plan and allows us to be a part of helping to share with others the comfort, hope and mercy He has shown us. This world is not all there is and it certainly is not about us or what we are going through. The sufferings of today are nothing compared to the promise of the eternal life we have with Him in paradise and we want everyone we know to experience that hope too.

As we go through these next few months, we are facing many difficult decisions. The financial ramifications of this have been devastating. Emotionally, we all struggle with leaning into each other when none of us have the strength to give any more. Physically, we are completely worn out. But God in all of his goodness has given us the most amazing support network, which we continue to be so incredibly blessed to have. Our family, friends, and church are truly life giving to us and have come along side us in prayer, support and very tangible help in more ways than we can count. Samantha and Alex’s school, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy has been so incredibly supportive, kind and understanding. That in and of itself blesses us every day. Many of you have designated your state tax funds to the kids for their school (see previous blog post) and because of your support in this way, the kids are able to receive this amazing education. My employer, IBM, has been beyond amazing, giving me the time I need to recover, and continuing to provide an amazing job with great people that I absolutely love! I feel incredibly blessed to be part of the FlashSystem team.

Sorry that was so long but there was much to catch you all up on. Thanks so much for your unending support. Our family is so blessed by each one of you and we continue to hope we can, in turn, bless you the way you have blessed us. There is still so much joy that we see and so many blessings being poured out.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
YET – I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Have an amazing week!

Mark and Michelle