Reacting and responding are the two words that best describe life in the Nicewonger household for the past few months. In the midst of it all…God is Good!
REACTING TO MOM’S FALL:
Mom took a tumble in the church parking lot on December 8th. The next month and a half were spent reacting and responding to the myriad of issues her fall unearthed. Thankfully mom did not break anything. She did receive news about restrictions on what life would look like post-fall. Mom and Dad decided to move into The Friend’s Home in early January. They are living there now. I do not think it is fair to say they are settled. They are settling.
The Friends Home is a short walk from First Baptist Church of Kennett Square. I can join them for lunch at least once a week. If they need assistance, I can get there quickly and help as we all transition to a new season of life.
Between my surgery in November and mom’s fall in early December, this year’s holiday season seemed to fly by. It felt like we were holding on for mere survival rather than taking time to enjoy the holidays as we have in the past. Nancy and I find ourselves looking for a moment to sneak away and be still, so we can stop reacting to chaos.
REACTING TO MEDICATION:
One of the new medications I am on for this round of treatment has rather aggressive side effects. It starts with an acne-like rash and can lead to losing fingernails. Not all patients experience side effects. Over the past month, my acne rash has grown worse and worse. We are doing things to treat it, yet it continues to get worse. At some point, the rash may get bad enough that I will have to stop using this one specific medicine.In the past few weeks, it has felt like I am slowly being transformed. Transformed into Marvel Legends Fantastic Four character, The Thing. As I look into the mirror, what I see reminds me of the bright red, bumpy skin covering The Thing. Throughout the day, my skin has times when it flashes and burns. I want to scratch and itch but it never brings relief. In one of life’s great ironies, the cream they gave me to treat the irritation caused by my cancer medication has a side effect…it can cause a different kind of rash. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
Both of my oncologists are quick to point out that the rash is a sign that my body is responding to treatment. It is a small trade-off, a bad case of acne while my metastases are slowly shrinking away. Each time I look in the mirror or spend time on my new hygiene regimen I remind myself it is one small step towards curing the disease that is slowly trying to take my life.
RESPONDING TO TREATMENT:
Last September, I had a scan that revealed my metastases were growing again. It took nearly two months for us to agree upon and then begin this treatment plan. Dr. Saroha and I were both anxious. We knew my cancer was growing as decisions were being made.
Last week I had a new CT scan. MRI’s are no longer an option due to the pump that is implanted in my body. Dr. Saroha was very careful to set expectations before the scan. He told me that this was simply to “get a new baseline.” I had not been in treatment long enough to see any kind of response, plus there were those two months of untreated growth time. When the scan results came back, and my metastases were larger, he did not want me to panic.
My results came in this week. Things are SHRINKING! My body has responded to the few treatments I have had in amazing ways.
A few days ago we did some blood work and got even more good news. My CEA (which measures active, growing cancer) was dropping. Any number under five is considered normal. I had stayed below that threshold for quite some time. As my cancer started to grow again, my CEA had slowly climbed to 13. A far cry from the 120 it was when I first began this journey in 2016 but still not a good sign. My latest blood test shows the CEA dropping from 13 to 2! This is back down within normal range and is consistent with where my numbers have read for the past few years.
A lower CEA reading is good news on a couple of fronts. First, it is a secondary confirmation that my treatment is working. Second, it points to my CEA once again functioning as a clear marker of active cancer. For a while, my CEA numbers stayed so low we were unsure if we could trust it as a marker of how my cancer was truly behaving. Now that we have seen the number climb as my cancer grew and then decline as the metastases are shrinking, we can have more faith in the CEA number as a true marker of how I am doing.
GOD IS GOOD
In the midst of all of this, one thing rings true. God is good!
The transition with mom and dad has not been easy. Yet I can point to a myriad of instances where doors were opened; paths made straight, obstacles removed so that we could get them somewhere safe. It was all done in a very short order. It is only with hindsight that we can often see the blessings. Sometimes the stress and anxiety of a situation rob us (me) of the ability to clearly see how God is working.
In the midst of the chaos, I have started attending AA meetings. I started going to build connections and relationships with some of the people who visit our church every day at noon. Sitting in the room, listening to the stories of struggle, redemption, healing, and spiritual transformation, I have found myself encouraged and challenged. I may not struggle with alcohol, but I certainly use other things to “medicate my life.” Those things slowly rob me of life and keep me from moving as God would have me travel my journey. I have found myself challenged to examine my life in deeper ways, to slow down and live life “one day at a time.”
Nancy and I are enjoying a new season of life. We are officially empty-nesters! Rayann is off to Scotland for a semester abroad. Nancy and I miss Rayann. Owen misses her terribly. The dog is a pathetic, depressed mess. Let this be a warning: Parents, if you bribe your children with a dog when they are in high-school, chances you will end up with the mutt.