My Brother In Chemo…Literally!

Hello,

This evening I’d like to introduce you to Paul Fleming, my half-brother on my dad’s side who lives in Barcelona, Spain. He was very recently diagnosed with lymphoma in his small intestine, and last week he started his rounds of chemo and radiation to deal with it. So, two brothers literally going through cancer treatment at the same time!

Paul has a DEEP faith in the Lord, and has for a long time…longer than me for sure! But he can absolutely use the same amount of prayer that I have received during my treatments. So I would like to ask that you include Paul in your prayers when you are praying for me. Pray for a quick recovery, tolerance for the treatment, and continued faith in the Lord. I’m sure that he’ll beat this just as I do!

Please also pray for his family – his mother and sister (Michelle, who is also my half-sister, and lives in Seattle), and all the people who are behind him in this new trial.

Many thanks! I love you all!

Mark

Links Of Hope #6

Hello!

I hope everybody had a great weekend, and are looking towards a great week! I had a very productive time in Houston (worked about 56 hours in 4.5 days) last week, and a nice relaxing weekend!

Today starts my new chemo regimen of three weeks on and one week off, for a four week cycle. No more pump! We also got hit with our bill for chemo today…wow! No idea how we’re going to swing it all, but we trust that God will provide! The ladies in the finance department are both Christian women, and we had a nice talk with them. They rock!

Today’s Link of Hope from the Vonk family is super cute as ever! It’s Isaiah 40:31.

It reads:

31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

This is particularly relevant today because I’ve been experiencing a lot of muscle weakness in my legs and chest lately. I actually took quite a tumble in Houston while trying to step up on a 2 foot wall on my way back to my hotel – something I’ve done tons of times in my life without any issues! I know it’ll all go away once chemo is done, and I trust the Lord to continue to give us strength to make it through the treatments and the financial challenges.

Here’s how things are going today:

12 Noon : Done! Heading out to lunch with Susan and her husband. Many thanks to Hannah Mason for graciously offering to bring me some Boba Tea!

11:30AMish : Got a visit from a fellow Buzztouch user, Susan Metoxen! It was great catching up with her and getting some geek talk in. I also finally got the treatment rolling, so 90 minutes until we can call it a day…and I WON’T be leaving with a pump! Yeah baby!

11:10AM : Still waiting to start tx!

10:20AMish : Back in the treatment area to get hooked up, labs done, and start treatment. At the time of this writing, I’m still waiting for labs, but I am hooked up to the IV and ready to go!

10:00AMish : Went back and chatted with Karen like we usually do. Mentioned all the things that have been going one, but no huge concerns to speak of. So far, despite the fatigue, muscle weakness, and some potential residual neuropathy, I feel like I’m doing outstanding!

9:25AM : Arrived a few minutes late…not a big deal. Checked in, started my assessment of how I’m doing, and then got called back to the finance department to deal with payment, since we haven’t met out deductible yet. While it was less than we thought it was, it’s still quite a hefty payment. We’re certainly going to have to trust God in how this will all get paid for!

The reference on my shirt is 2 Timothy 4:7, which states:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

This is my goal…faith to the very end!

Photo Jan 26, 10 30 15 AM

 

Worship Music Rocks!

I’m in Houston this week for work, and traveled on Sunday to get here. It was a direct flight, which was nice, as it gave me a solid two hours to listen to music and contemplate life while being situated right next to the stinky lavatory on the plane. I thought about a lot of stuff, and literally came to tears many times. And I listened to a lot of worship music, which I really like. There were a few songs in particular that I wanted to share, in case you haven’t already heard them. The lyrics of many worship songs often really speak to me, and sometimes it’s not an easy message!

The first song I’ll present is from Alex’s Spotify playlist, and is called Fix My Eyes by For King and Country. I love this song because I think it speaks to how we as Christians, and even as humans in general, should approach life. Here are some of the lyrics:

Love like I’m not scared
Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another
Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones
Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle
Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on You
On You

I learned the lines and talked the talk
(Everybody knows it, everybody knows it)
But the road less traveled is hard to walk
(Everybody knows it, everybody knows)
It takes a soldier
Who knows his orders
To walk the walk I’m supposed to walk,

That last three lines are a kicker for me, and it’s probably the hardest thing in the world. I often feel like I know what God is calling me to do, but for whatever reason…fear, pride, who knows…I don’t do what I know I’m supposed to do. But I’m working on it. But the first set of lyrics…that’s basic humanity in my opinion.

Here’s the official audio “video” of the song :

The next song I really liked on my flight was from Samantha’s Spotify playlist, and it’s called Brokenness Aside from All Sons & Daughters. Basically, I just like the message, the harmonies, and the music. Here’s their official video:

The next song comes again from Alex’s playlist. It’s How He Loves by The David Crowder Band. The passion in this song gets me every time. Here’s the official video:

That’s it for now. I hope you enjoy these selections. They give me lots to think about, and speak to me in many ways. I hope the same is true for you.

Mark

Seven Down!

Got my pump disconnected today, so we’re officially done with 7 of 12 chemo treatments! Over half way done now!

Despite the lack of the Oxaliplatin, this treatment was a bit rough. I experienced more fatigue than usual, and basically had the runs for three days (yeah, TMI, I know). My tongue is starting to get a bit raw again, which happens near the end of the treatment each time. And my taste buds are still shot…everything is so bland tasting. The worst thing, I think, and my family would agree, was a huge increase in irritability and general grumpiness. I truly hate that side effect.

Michelle’s nephew, Luke, has a theory about my chemo treatments. He reasons that since so many super hero’s become such as a result of exposure to some toxic substance – like Spiderman getting bit by a radioactive spider or the Hulk being exposed to radiation – I’m going to turn into a mega super hero because I’m getting the toxic stuff injected directly into me! Sounds like a cool theory! Unfortunately, I think this week I was turned into Super Grumpy Man!

This treatment marks the last time I get hooked up to the pump…yay! Starting with the next round, I’ll be on a four week cycle – three on and one off. Each week I have to come in for a two hour IV session. Hopefully this will reduce my grumpiness a bit. it’s going to interfere with travel, but I think it’ll beat having the pump. We shall see.

I hope everybody is having a great week!

Mark

Links Of Hope #5

Hello!

Today begins my 7th of 12 treatments. I’m looking at this at the start of the downhill part of this, strictly in terms of the number of treatments left. To me, the end is in sight!

Today is also the fifth Links Of Hope from the Vonk family. As usual, we have a very cute link of the paper chain to share:

The verse is Psalm 41:2-3, and it is as follows (including the previous verse for context as well):

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
    the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.
The Lord protects and preserves them—
    they are counted among the blessed in the land—
    he does not give them over to the desire of their foes.
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed
    and restores them from their bed of illness.

Thank you Vonk Family, for these continued blessings each treatment day!

So, I think there is some good news to share today! After talking with the Karen, Dr. Rosenberg’s PA, and sharing all the little things that have been going on with my body, it looks like we’re going to permanently discontinue the Oxaliplatin! There are just too many indications that the neuropathy is hanging around still, that he doesn’t want to risk any permanent injury. While this reduces my chances of being cancer free in five years by about 10%, I think this is an acceptable risk. I truly believe this is God looking out for me, and I also feel like I’m 100% cancer free, so I don’t think this will be an issue.

One other weird thing…I’m either loosing hair, or it’s not growing back as quickly. I last had a haircut about three weeks ago, and I only have about a weeks or two’s growth going on. And, it seems much thinner than usual. Fortunately, I don’t give a hoot about my hair, so it could all fall out and I wouldn’t care. But it’s just another symptom or effect that was worth mentioning to Karen.

After this weeks treatment, we’re also going to transition to a four week cycle, where I come in three weeks in a row for the 5FU, and I no longer have to use the pump! And each visit will be shorter…like two hours instead of the longer time I spend here now. I am very glad to be ditching the pump!

Well, here we go! Here’s how things are rolling today:

12:40PM : 5FU drip done, waiting to get pump connected and then I’m outta here! See you again on Wednesday for pump disconnect!

12:00PM : Lunch from Chick-fil-A, courtesy of Meta! Thank you very much…it was tasty (especially the chocolate shake!)!

11:35AM : This place is nuts today. They are down two nurses, and the person who does the Stat Lab (getting quick bloodwork results so people can start their treatments). So, lots of people sitting around not able to start their treatments until they get their bloodwork back! All chairs are filled, but only a fraction of the people are getting treatment. Fortunately, Karen approved my treatment based on previous results, so I was able to get things moving.

10:40AM : In the chair, Saline drip already started, 5FU (Leucovorin) flowing. Two hours from now I’ll be done!

10:00AM : Back to Karen to discuss how things are going. We had a good talk, ended up nixing the Oxaliplatin. I really enjoy the doctors and PA’s here…I’ve never felt rushed, and I feel like they truly listen to what I have to say, and take everything into consideration. The staff at Arizona Oncology is second to none!

9:40AM : Went back to have my vitals taken and my blood drawn. Apparently the person who does the bloodwork is out today, so they’re talking a two hour wait to get blood results.

9:20AM : Arrived and checked in.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is Showing!

Tomorrow I start my 7th treatment out of 12….assuming I don’t have to make up a treatment or two for all the Oxaliplatin I’ve missed. That means I’m on the downhill slope, and the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to show. Sweet!

I want everybody to know that if you get a hankering to visit me during my treatments, that’s totally cool and encouraged (especially if you bring chocolate shakes or hot chocolate)!. There’s nothing weird about having visitors…lots of people do (though it would be nice to see more people with visitors…so many people do it solo). We can only have one person back at a time, but Michelle is totally fine with having to take a break. The starting times of my treatments vary, but I’m generally back and hooked up to an IV by 10:30 or 11ish, and am usually there until at least 1PMish. You can always call or text Michelle or myself to check the status. My fun takes place at Arizona Oncology which is on the northeast corner of La Cholla and Rudasill. I’m totally serious…this isn’t a private activity that I’m not willing to share!

Alrighty…I hope everybody had a great weekend, and that you have a good week. I’ll be blogging my treatment tomorrow as usual…I think I’ll be back on the Oxaliplatin again since my wound has just about healed fully. So, that should make for some interesting blogging!

Love you all!

Mark

Verse Of The Day

Michelle got me a book for Christmas called “15 Minutes Alone With God For Men,” and I take time to read it each morning. I randomly flip to a section and see what God is trying to tell me. Today he led me to James 1:19-27, which reads:

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

I think the first part is absolutely great advice for anybody, whether they’re in the faith or not. Ultimately, what effect does becoming angry have on a situation? Against inanimate objects, like a car that won’t start or a computer that won’t boot, getting angry does nothing to help fix the situation. Against a human, or another living object, it does far worse. It destroys the spirit of the person/thing it’s directed against, and often consumes the person who harbors the anger.

The book mentions a unique practice in the Solomon Islands. Apparently if a tree is to big to be felled with an axe, the villagers will gather and yell at the tree for thirty straight days. Eventually the tree will die, and it can be removed. The thought is that the spirit of the tree dies from all the anger directed at it, and so it dies.

Whether that’s true or not (disregarding the obvious debate on whether a tree has a spirit), I think there are enough examples in this world of the human spirit being crushed by anger and rage. How many kids out there do you know who face verbal abuse on a daily basis and who’s spirits are literally crushed. Tons I’m sure. And how many people do you know who harbor anger or grudges towards others. Again, tons, I’m sure.

I’m going to do my best to curb my anger. I’ll readily admit that I get frustrated quite easily, and that can turn into anger. I’m going to make an effort the apologize to those I may have raised my voice against. And will make an effort to not do that again.

The rest of the reading is equally, if not more, important, so don’t disregard it! But I just wanted to focus on that small part for today.

I hope everybody is having an amazing day!

Mark

A Blessed Weekend in Flagstaff

The year 2015 continues to provide so many blessings! The family got back tonight from a weekend in Flagstaff. The kids went to Winter Camp in Williams at the Young Life facility (which is absolutely amazing), and Michelle and I spent the weekend in Flagstaff doing some hiking around in the snow, enjoying dinner together, and just hanging out. It was a PERFECT weekend! The reason we got time up there is because we helped with the transportation of the Grace Blender kids to camp. And since we weren’t actually part of the camp, we used some points to get a couple nights at a hotel in Flagstaff, and had a date weekend!

So, here are a few of the pictures I took during the weekend. I’ve created a Google+ album which you can find by clicking on this link that has more pictures than what are here.

After dropping off the kids (like all 20+ of them!), we spent a small amount of time exploring Williams. I say small because the temperature was, literally, three degrees! It was impossibly cold outside. But the city was ALL decked out in light for the holiday…it was quite beautiful!

Williams lies on Route 66, which goes from Illinois (I believe) to Santa Monica, California, where it ends at the famous Santa Monica Pier. When Michelle and I retire, we’re going to do the entire route from East to West…as slow as we want to take it!

This is the famous Sunset Crater outside of Flagstaff. There was a lot of volcanic activity back in the day here. Lots of cool stuff to explore, but with the newly fallen snow from New Years Day, we got to see the landscape in a way we’ve not seen it before.

A lonely tree on the side of Sunset Crater. He must be cold up there!

We also spent a couple hours exploring the surprisingly very cool ruins of Wupatki National Monument. I believe most of these are ancient Hopi dwellings, but I think there were some other tribes involved as well. They are very old (like 1000+ years), and quite interesting. Most rooms only had entries from the top, which is where the smoke from the fires inside escaped from as well. So, no windows! I can’t even imagine!

A rare window in one of the ruins? Perhaps an area they were not able to restore? Not quite sure, but makes for a cool picture.

Many were built quite high, and up on high points of the landscape. Could be for a strategic advantage, or because they just enjoyed the view like we do!

Near the end of the day we saw lots of blowing snow off of the San Francisco Peaks. It must have been super cold up there!

2015 continues to be an amazing year! I know we’re only four days into it, but we’ve had so many blessings that I’m insanely grateful for. We’ve had some great time with family and friends, the kids (all of the Blender kids) had a wonderful time at camp, Michelle and I got to spend some super quality time together, and my tongue isn’t all that painful this time around! So, God is good, and life is good!

Have an awesome week!

Mark

Amazing First Day of 2015!

What a great day we had today! As you know, it snowed here and in the surrounding areas last night…quite a bit in fact! So, today we spent the day playing outside in the snow…it was a perfect Jeep day! I think just about everybody in Tucson who had a Jeep in their garage pulled it out for today!

This is us with Josh and Joshua Penrod up near Rice Peak on the back side of Mt. Lemmon. So glad I had four wheel drive! Notice the snowball coming at me from my son!

The Penrod’s had intentions of camping this evening, so we spent a good hour trying to get a fire going. I think we were successful, but they ultimately decided not to spend the night.

Getting serious about the fire! Lots of wet wood around, so it was difficult!

Yeah, that’s blood in the snow! From what, we have no idea. When we got to the camping area, there was a log covered in blood. Michelle and I tracked it up into the mountain a bit…we assume it was hunters doing their thing.

Samantha swinging a machete! Despite the amount of time Joshua spent sharpening it…it didn’t work all that well. :-(

Joshua with his newly acquired machete. Fun stuff!

Earlier in the day I spent some time taking pictures outside. I actually got up before sunrise so I could get some shots before the snow melted. Here is my absolutely beautiful wife at one of the bridges in West Lambert Lane Park.

An early morning view from the same park. It was cold, beautiful, and very quiet, despite the number of cars in the parking lot.

I also headed out to the area where the 50 Year Trail is behind Mt. Lemmon. Those who have rode this trail may recognize it as the entrance to the area where things get serious!

Lots of cool boulders in the 50 Year Trail Area. I love mountain biking this trail, and having it all covered in snow was very special!

How could I not take a picture of saguaro in the snow. That would just be plain wrong!

Just about every branch in the area had a nice layer of snow and ice on it. It was really, really beautiful!

Finally, the Pusch Ridge trail area. The sky is a bit blown out, but the view was spectacular. There was no less than 30 cars in the parking area that only hold something like six cars! Everybody and their camera was out today.

The first day of 2015 was truly a wonderful day. Today was, without a doubt, the best New Years Day I have spent in recent memory. Time out taking pictures, spending time with my wife and family in the amazing environment God provided to show us that things are starting anew…it simply couldn’t get any better!

Happy New Year!

Mark