Links Of Hope #10

Hello!

Well, today was supposed to be the last day of treatment, and the last Link of Hope. But, I actually have two more treatments (the next two Monday’s), then I’m all done. Fortunately the Vonk’s provided me with another two links to take me all the way through the end.

Today’s Link Of Hope is Psalm 27:1, which reads:

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

This is a very appropriate passage for this week, given chemo (which there is much to be afraid of, if you really think about it) and the fact that we’ve sold our house, need to be out by Thursday night, and literally have no place to go yet (but we’re close, I think, on getting a rental). Plenty to be afraid of, but we’re handing all that over to the Lord, completely trusting in him to work everything out. And it will happen!

Chemo today was pretty much uneventful…with the exception of my blood draw being more difficult than usual. For some reason, the blood just wouldn’t flow until I did some arm rotations and some toe touches! Other than that, we did meet with Karen and discussed the normal things, including what life will look like after my treatments are done. Basically, lots of follow up blood draws and PET scans to ensure that the cancer hasn’t returned. I think I’ll be doing that for most of the rest of my life, but after 5 years, I’m considered a “survivor,” so that will be cool!

As far the the treatment itself…nothing interesting to report. I was in and out of the treatment part itself in about 2 hours. Joshua came to spend some time with me, so Michelle and I spent the better part of treatment time just talking with him. As soon as we knew it, treatment was done!

Wish I had more interesting stuff to report this time, but I think the fact that I don’t is also a good thing. Two more left, and this portion of my life experience will be wrapped up! So grateful to God for making it much easier to tolerate than I thought it would be. And I’m very much looking forward to having all the side effects wear off after treatment is done. I’m tired of my legs looking like giant sausage links! And I would love to have my eyelashes back as well!

As an aside, if you’re a parent at Grace who has a child attending The Blender, or you are somebody who wants to know more about The Blender youth ministry at Grace, the official Blender app is now available! You can find more about it by going to http://www.gracetucson.org/blenderapp.  Any suggestions for content or improvements would be greatly appreciated!

Well, that’s it for this update! Hope all is well with everybody, and that you all have an amazing week!

Mark

Spring Break Rocks!

Hello,

We returned from California this afternoon, so it’s time for a Spring Break report! All in all we had a great time! Neither cancer nor the lack of a colon held me personally back from doing anything at all. In fact, in one area, it actually enabled me to do more than usual, for some reason. Typically, I’m not one for roller coasters because they kinda make my stomach a bit queasy. However, this time, I didn’t experience ANY of that! I was able to go on rides that I would never have attempted in the past. Not sure if it’s the lack of a colon, which has tons of nerve endings in it, or something else. Either way…it helped me have an excellent time!

In a nutshell, we did this: Michelle and I spent three days in San Diego “alone” (we ended up spending a lot of time with Harry and Cheryl, and the kids, which was good) while Alex and Samantha spent time camping at Santee Lakes outside San Diego with Michelle’s parents. Michelle and I were fortunate enough to stay downtown right on the harbor. It was nice! After San Diego, we all headed to LA for a day at Knott’s Berry Farm, which totally rocked. Along the way we did some tide pooling in Carlsbad. Saturday we hit the road to Tucson so Samantha could make it to a party at 5PM.

Of course, I took LOTS of pictures, some of which are below. It’s a long post, so get comfortable if you want to read the whole thing!

Below is the view from Michelle and my room on the 24th floor of the hotel. See that large yacht down there? It costs $50 Million, and is the largest single mast boat in the world. Crazy! It’s owned by some oil tycoon dude in Texas.

One night we hooked up with the rest of the family and spent some time walking along the streets of the Gaslamp Quarter. Samantha loved it because it was St. Patrick’s Day and it was party central!

One of the things I was looking forward to was a chocolate shake at Ghiradelli’s. I had promised the Mason’s I wouldn’t get one without them, but they said it was OK. It was tasty!

The kids and Michelle’s parents took the trolly into the Seaport Village station where we picked them up.

We also saw some cool sculptures and fountains along the walk to the trolley station.

This bridge separates our hotel, which is in the background, from Petco Park and Gaslamp Quarter. It’s pretty cool!

Michelle and I did a lot of walking along the boardwalk in the Seaport Village area. Over a couple of days, we easily put in about 15 miles of walking. Saw some cool stuff along the way.

Kinda looks like real people, doesn’t it? To give you some perspective, here’s another photo of the same thing.

It’s a HUGE sculpture downtown along the boardwalk. It’s from that iconic image at the end of World War II. Very, very cool!

We of course spent some time at the beach. I was a bit concerned about boogie boarding with my bag, but my current setup is totally bombproof it seems! I was able to boogie board without a single problem (aside from the lack of any decent waves).

And I had fun chasing the kids with seaweed.

And, of course, getting buried in the sand. Samantha made me up to be a pregnant woman, with a kelp bikini and all!

Samantha got buried as well!

As did Alex! We buried him super deep in a hole he had dug, and he had a hard time getting free.

Even Harry and Cheryl’s dog, Maggie, had a great day at the beach!

All in all, our day at Ocean Beach was great, the weather was perfect (in my opinion), and we had a great time!

Soon we were on the road to LA for a couple days. But, we stopped in Carlsbad for some tide pool action. It was awesome!

Got some nice shots of Alex, Samantha and Michelle.

As well as one of the girls!

And some crazy sand that had TONS of “gold” flecks in it. Literally looked like we were in a gold mine.

We eventually made it to LA, and on to Knott’s Berry Farm. We got an excellent deal on tickets, which made the place super affordable.

Like I said, I didn’t have any problems with roller coasters, like this one, which goes from 0 to 38mph in 3 seconds!

Nor this crazy one, which had some super G forces.

Or the swings, which I love (that’s me behind Samantha, to the right).

But you’ll likely NEVER catch me on this one!

Those people are upside down at the TOP of the loop! Crazy! But we did spend some time cooling off…Michelle catching the brunt of the waves.

And Samantha and I took a ride on the Ferris wheel.

It goes much slower than the picture suggests! We also got to spend some time with Peanut’s characters.

And the kids spend some time “talking.”

That pretty much sums it up! I have, of course, hundreds of pictures, but these should give you a taste of how the week went. I can’t imagine having a week like this prior to my colon being removed…it would just be pictures of bathrooms and other people on rides. I am so thankful to God for providing us the means to afford this vacation, and for making me healthy enough to enjoy it. We had a great time!

Tomorrow (Monday) starts my LAST cycle of chemo! Three more treatments, and I’ll be done on April 6th, the day after Easter. So excited!

Thanks!

Mark

 

Links Of Hope #9

Hello!

So, as you may recall from yesterday’s post, chemo was delayed a day. But we’re here now, and after waiting an hour in the waiting room, finally made it to to a chair! This place is packed in the afternoons. Sad sign that so many people need cancer treatment.

Today’s beautiful Link of Hope from the super cute Vonk kids is Joshua 1:9.This passage states:

 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

This is actually super relevant to us today, for many reasons. First, It’s pretty easy to get discouraged this long into chemo. Not so much because there aren’t any visible results to see, but because the whole thing gets kinda wearisome, and the side affects start to get a bit old.  But knowing that God, and Michelle, are literally by my side each treatment, makes it easier to handle.

It’s also relevant because, as Michelle tells me, it’s related to when the Hebrews are about to enter into the promised land. They have to take their land according to God’s instructions. Basically, it boils down to them having to believe in God’s word, following His instructions, and knowing that everything will work out. That’s kinda where we are with our house. It’s basically sold, we have to be out on the 27th, and we have no new house to move to. But, we’re trusting that God has led us to this point, that he will provide what we need, when we need it. We just have to be strong and courageous in the face of this massive uncertainty!

On to chemo for today. Got here at 11:15AM, was taken back for vitals after about 15 minutes. Then we had to go back to the waiting room for a good 45 minutes before a chair was available that would accommodate both of us (I don’t do chemo without my beautiful wife!). Then we waited about another 30 minutes, and finally got hooked up. Looks like we’ll be done around 2:30PM at the current rate. Crazy long to be here! But, aside from the wait, nothing unusual about this particular treatment. Only three more after this!

I ran across this on Instagram yesterday, and though it was also very appropriate to the circumstances in our life:

Last weekend I had zero energy, and was more tired that I have been in a long, long time. I think it was a case of the stomach bug that’s been going around, and it’s what delayed my treatment until today. But, as of today, I’m basically feeling 100% better (maybe still not totally hungry), and have tons of energy! God rocks!

That’s pretty much it for today! We could use continued prayer from people on things like improved health for the family…patience in waiting for God’s plan on where we’re moving to…and opportunities to open up at the exact right time! Lots of craziness in our family these days…but at least we have spring break next week!

Have a great day!

Mark

Treatment Delayed Today

Howdy!

So, it looks like no chemo today. After I told Karen about my weekend, she wanted to run some comprehensive labs, and get some fluids in me. So, today it’s just 500ml of fluids, and I’ll be back tomorrow for the normal treatment, assuming I feel better and that my labs come back OK.

Thanks to everybody who was praying for my treatment today!

Have a great day!

Mark

Rough Weekend

Hello!

Wow, what a rough weekend. Seems I picked up some sort of stomach bug on Thursday. I was feeling great before I went to lunch with some friends, and then a few hours after I got home, I started heading downhill fast. Felt extremely, extremely tired, was having stomach cramps, and some nausea. By the time Friday arrived, it was all I could do to stay awake! But as soon as I finished my work day (8:30PM because I made a mistake that had me rebuild my configuration), I was in my pajamas and off to bed!

Yep, you read correctly – 8:30PM on a Friday night and I was in bed, literally in a dead sleep. And I didn’t fully wake up until 11:30AM on Saturday! Crazy!

Saturday was mostly sleep as well, with continued pretty painful stomach cramps. I felt well enough on Sunday to hit church and make it to The Blender, but I literally had to take a long nap in between. I’m pretty sure this is a standard stomach bug made worse by chemo.

Speaking of which…today is another treatment day. Only three left after this one! I cannot wait for this all to be done. Target is the Monday after Easter.

I hope everybody had a much better weekend than I! I am, however, super grateful for an amazing wife and family who just let me sleep and held down the fort while I was down. I am so grateful for my family and all the friends who expressed concern for me and prayed for me! Thank you!

Have an awesome week! Links of Hope to come later today!

Mark

Blessed Beyond Belief!

Hello,

So, I’m sure most of you know that yesterday was my birthday! I say that because I got a tremendous number of “Happy Birthday” messages via Facebook! I’m not lying when I say that in my entire 47 years of existence, I have NEVER (that is NOT an exaggeration) had so many people wish me Happy Birthday! I feel so blessed to have so many friends that care about me enough to take time from their day for well wishes and prayers. That, to me, is the best birthday present ever! You all truly made my day!

I had a great birthday! Michelle and the kids did a great job of decorating the house for the occasion:

Later in the evening, Samantha and I went to see the movie The Drop Box. I would highly recommend seeing it if you can. It’s on through Saturday at the movie theater in Oro Valley (it may be playing elsewhere as well). It’s about a man, Pastor Lee, in Seoul, South Korea, who built a drop box for abandoned kids at his orphanage. It’s a very, very powerful story.

After the movie, we came home and enjoyed the amazing gluten free cake that Michelle made! If we presented you with two cakes – one “normal” and the other the gluten free one she made – you could not tell the difference. It’s that good! And for those of you who have known me for a long time, you know how much I like my cake!

Thank you all again for an amazing birthday! I truly feel blessed beyond belief, and am looking forward to a great year!

Have a wonderful day!

Mark

Links Of Hope #8

Hello,

So, today I start my birthday week (saving for a camera at Amazon, in case you’re interested!) with another chemo treatment. After this one is done, I’ll only have four more remaining, which is a good thing, because I’m seriously getting tired of all this. It takes more and more to keep up the positivity as this drags on!

Last week we had a bit of a “concern” regarding the state of things. My last blood test had revealed an elevated LFT (Liver Function Test) which could, among other things, indicate a return of some cancer of some sort. Karen, the PA, did some research after my chemo, and decided that the culprit may be the Fluconazol that I was taking for my consistent thrush condition. So she had me get off that drug and take another blood test soon after. I had my own theory about it all, after doing some research…it appears that heavy exercise can cause elevated LFTs. I did the Romero Pools hike the Saturday before my treatment, and I cannot convey enough how much that did me in. So, my hypothesis is that a combination of that severe activity, and no doubt a level of residual dehydration, contributed to the elevated levels. In any event, I came in last Friday with Samantha (she actually got to go back behind the scenes) to get blood drawn so Karen could check the results today. The good news is that my LFT levels are now normal again! Given that I was only off the Fluconazol for 24 hrs at the time of my blood draw, it seems unlikely to me that it was the issue. But, I’m not a doctor, so you never know! I’m just happy that concern has passed.

Today we have another adorable Link of Hope from the Vonk family. It’s Isaiah 41:10, which reads:

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I bank on that passage everyday. There is so much going on in our lives at the moment, that the only way we can get through it all is embracing the above passage. God is good, and he will indeed strengthen us during this time.

So, cancer really sucks. A lady, Kimberly, just came through the area, meeting with each person in a chair. She’s a patient as well, and she said she has stage 4 colon cancer that has now progressed to many other parts of her body, and she walks around trying to make the environment a bit more cheery. I heard her say to another patient that her prognosis is three years, and that she has a 9 year old son. That totally sucks. She’s also reminding people that March is Colon Cancer Awareness month, which I had totally forgotten. So, please keep in your prayers anybody who has/had colon cancer, as well as all the people working on a cure.

Today’s treatment is pretty much the same as usual. Arrived at 9:30AM, and of course got hit with a “there appears to be a balance on your account.” So, Michelle being the amazing family manager she is, went to take care of that while I waited to be called back for treatment. At about 10:00AM I finally made it back to the chair after getting my vitals checked, which were all normal. Waited around for about 30 minutes while they gave me saline and got my drugs in order. Started my Leucovorin drip at 10:30AM, which should be finished by noon! Then I’ll be off to my weekly lunch date at Gluten Free Girls with my beautiful wife!

By the way, this week’s t-shirt is courtesy of a good friend of mine from the Buzztouch community, Tony Kristo. He’s a police officer for the Hazlewood Police Department near St. Louis, and was very much involved in the stuff that went on in Ferguson, MO last year. His department was only a few miles from the scene, so he got lots of exposure to the unrest that ensued. He’s also an amazing Christian brother, and we’ve worked on an app for his church together. I very much appreciate the t-shirt he sent me!

I hope everybody is having a great day!

Mark

Yee Haw, Rodeo Break!

Hello,

So, last week most Tucson schools were off for Rodeo Break. This is the time of the year when the Rodeo comes to town, and it’s a huge deal. When Scott and I were kids, we always went to see the rodeo parade, which is the longest running non-mechanized parade around, and sometimes we made it to the actual rodeo. It’s a pretty big deal around here for some people. Samantha and Alex have been to both the parade and the rodeo itself, but this year elected to stay home and relax (which was well deserved).

On Thursday, it was a normal work day for me, but when I got home, Samantha and her friend Hanna wanted to practice softball! This was huge because we haven’t done that for at least over a year. It’s been almost two years since either of them have played or I have coached. We headed over to the fields at CDO, and had a great night throwing, batting, and catching grounders and flyballs. I have to say…they haven’t lost much in the time we’ve taken off. And there’s talk about Fall Ball, which would be awesome! But I also have to say, I’ve never been so exhausted with such little effort on my part! Chemo sucks!

Friday I took the day off and we pretty much relaxed, which was nice. We didn’t do much of anything, but we did manage to see the movie Interstellar, which I have to say was exceptionally good, yet sad at the same time. If you haven’t seen it, I would greatly encourage you to!

Saturday saw me having to work for much of the day. After work, we all headed to the University of Arizona to watch some softball! Arizona was hosting a tournament, and we managed to catch a game and a half. Both games ended 10-2 in favor of the UA. While Samantha and I were catching the end of the last game, Michelle and Alex headed to the Flandrau Planetarium. They had a great time there, and overall it was a wonderful, beautiful night!

Sunday was a great day as well. After a good time at church, with an awesome message on leaving your legacy (it involves investing in people, not things), Samantha and I got some lunch at Rubios (Mmmmmm), while Michelle and Alex went to pick up his friend Logan for some gaming time at home.

After Logan left, Samantha had to work on a project for school, so Michelle, Alex and I went to Pima Canyon for a hike. It was a beautiful day for a hike, and we had a great time. It’s been way too long since I’ve been there, and I’d totally forgotten what a excellent hike it really is. And, not being as strenuous as the Romero Pools hike, I had a much easier time of it. Michelle also got to try out her new hiking boots, which performed admirably!

Here’s some shots I got of the hike, all taken with my phone.

This is a shot up into the canyon. There is a phenomenal number of saguaro cactus’ in this area. It’s quite amazing, and very beautiful. We also had some very blue skies with some great cloud cover to add depth to the scene.

The desert threw some love our way with a heart-shaped prickly pear cactus!

There was quite a bit of water around the area. We had a lot of fun exploring the wash, hopping from rock to rock. I actually think that Samantha would probably have enjoyed this hike as well.

At one point there were the most amazing clouds in the sky. For some reason, this scene reminds me of what astronauts see when they look down on the earth. It was very, very beautiful!

Again, lots of water flowing all over the place! Fortunately both Michelle and I have waterproof boots. Alex…not so much.

Alex led us on an adventure down the river. We hopped across a lot of rocks and water, and even got to traverse a log! We eventually ended up where the trail intersected the river, and made our way back to the parking lot. Three miles in two hours…a very nice day!

Not having The Blender this evening, which I truly missed, we spent the remainder of the evening doing homework and projects. We ended our night with a devotion from The Joshua Code, and then called it a night. Looking forward to a great night’s sleep, and hopefully waking up to some rain tomorrow morning (that’s not wishful thinking…it’s actually in the forecast)!

I hope everybody had a great weekend, and that you have a wonderful week!

Mark

More Links Of Hope!

I got a nice visit from the Vonks and their completely adorable kids yesterday. They brought me two more links for my chemo treatments! So I no longer have to worry about spacing the remaining ones out…I have a link for each treatment. And the last two have some incredibly cute decorations on them…I can’t wait to share them with you (especially since it’ll mean I’m down to my last two treatments!).

Thanks, Vonk Family, for the continued inspiration and prayers during my treatments!

Links Of Hope #7

Hello!

Well, today is another chemo day. Including today, I have 6 sessions left over eight weeks. Looks like I’ll be done the Monday after Easter, if all goes well! Very much looking forward to that.

Because I have a different treatment schedule now, I have more sessions left than Links of Hope to show! So, I’ll do one every other week until the last two, and then two in a row.

Today’s amazing Link of Hope from the equally amazing Vonk family is Psalm 23:4, which reads:

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

Every time Michelle and I come here for a treatment, I wear a t-shirt with a Christian related message on it. That’s very intentional on my part, and almost every time we’re here, we have some faith-based discussion with somebody. It’s actually quite amazing. But the common denominator is exactly what it says above, that God is with us through any walk we may take. Every person I’ve talked to here says they couldn’t make it through this process without God and lots of prayer!

Today’s treatment is pretty basic. Got here at 9:40AM, and about 10AM went back to get my blood drawn from my port. For some reason, they just couldn’t get the blood flowing, and we had to try all kinds of things : laying down, moving my head from side to side, touching my toes, and moving my head back. Eventually she was able to get what she needed. This sometimes happens, she says, when people are dehydrated. And despite all the water I drank during my hike on Saturday, I suspect I’m still quite dehydrated. But, it all worked out.

After getting blood drawn, we saw Karen, and we talked about what’ s been going on. The biggest thing is that lately I’ve been gaining a lot of weight, and it’s not all related to my terrible diet. My legs and hands are super puffy, so I was concerned about fluid retention. Karen agreed, and it looks like I’ll be on a diuretic for a bit. The thought is that between my steroids and the general treatment, fluid retention is occurring. So, I guess I’ll be spending some good time in the bathroom in the near future! We also talked about hair loss, which is absolutely occurring. Ask to see my legs sometime!

After that, we headed into the treatment area, got hooked up, and as of this writing, I have about 15 minutes left. Easy peasy!

Life is good these days, but very stressful! Between all that we have going on with the kids, the monumental amount of debt we’re in because of this, the house on the verge of being sold, and just general life, we’re doing a fair job of keeping our heads above water! Looking forward to some time with the kids over Rodeo break and then during Spring Break.

Many thanks for the continued prayers, thoughts, help, and general support you’ve given me and my family during this time. We couldn’t do it without you all, and of course not without God!

Have an awesome day!

Mark