Saturday, August 15, 2015

Update August 15, 2015

Jeff got diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer on March 18th, 2015.  In five months we have walked through complete shock, denial, despair, hope, and acceptance.  The last 6 weeks have been the hardest so far in this journey.  Jeff went from tolerating the treatments fairly well to getting sick constantly, being breathless after climbing any stairs, and so tired some days he could only make it from bed to couch.  These are also the same six weeks that all three of our Young Life camps happened.  We have never felt so humbled in our ability.  The greater Young Life family, some amazing student leaders (Euan, Mahlea, and Cameron), and an amazing team from McLean VA,  stepped up and all three camps happened.  We simply could not have pulled any of this off without the Scotland Young Life staff or these leaders.  On behalf of the many new creations from these camps, we are thankful and learning new things about God's grace to use us in our weakness.

Two weeks ago Jeff noticed he was having difficulty swallowing again.  Our hearts sunk and the fears bubbled up as we travelled to London for an endoscopy and scan.  The endoscopy to show what was happening to the stent and primary tumor and the scan to show how the cancer had responded to the last three rounds.  It was a rough trip, Jeff needing to sit and rest after a few yards walking and continuing to get sick.  The endoscopy showed that the stent had fallen into his stomach (hence the heavy feeling and continual sickness) and that he had a large pulmonary embolism in his lung (hence the zero energy and breathlessness).  The first news was exciting, the stent has always caused pain and that impacted Jeff in so many ways.  The Doctor was able to fish the stent out that day.  It also meant that it had dropped out of place due to a shrinking primary tumor.  The blood clot in the lung was terrifying.  He since has started daily injections to prevent any other clots from forming and to help resolve this one.

We got the scan results two nights ago.  It was by phone because his oncologist was away while we were in London.  The scans showed that there was minimal response this time.  Obviously the primary tumor did respond but that tumor was never measured in the beginning because of location and stent interfering with a reliable measurement.  With this information the oncologist and Jeff felt it was best to stop the Cisplatin.  This is the standard heavy hitting chemo he was receiving every three weeks.  He will continue taking the chemo pills for two weeks and one week off.  He will also still take the Herceptin, which is the targeted drug for the HER2+ diagnosis.  Our hope being that this will be enough to hold the cancer at bay and give him better quality of life.

There are so many unknowns ahead of us right now.  Now more than ever we are reassuring the boys (and ourselves) that God has a plan.  That He is not surprised by any of the things that have happened to us in the last five months.  And that indeed He is good and loves us beyond measure.

My mom flew home yesterday and I cannot imagine these last six weeks without her love, prayers, and words of hope.  I think I cried more than the first day of kindergarten saying goodbye.  The boys begin their school year next Thursday, and  Jeff and I will begin to figure out how things will work this next year here in Scotland.

We have been asked by many people if we have made plans to move back home yet.  The short answer is that we have prayed about it often lately but still feel we are suppose to stay here until we hear differently.  Please pray for our hearts and minds as we take all of these little steps daily and make big decisions for the future.

The pictures in this post are of a hill that is behind our house.  I walk up there often with Zoe and any family or friends willing to make the hike.  It has become a place where I can pour out my heart and pray through some hard things.  I feel like by the time Zoe and I both come through the front door my heart and mind are a little more trusting and less fearful.  Thanks for all the continued love and support even an ocean away.  Much love, Becca, Jeff, and the boys

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Without fear of the future

I have always had a head filled with questions.  Often I ask a question and can barely wait for the first answer to finish before asking my next one.  I am curious, a chatty 
one.  But sometimes, questions can't be answered.  And sometimes, knowing that an answer cannot be answered keeps it festering in the dark.

  On Thursday Jeff got horribly ill with a nasty stomach bug just days after the grandmas arrived.  We had planned a weekend away with us all.  Jeff gets one relatively good week each round where he is not taking any chemo pills, and the affect of the iv chemo has almost dissipated.  So for him to get sick on his one good week was heart breaking.

You get to a point where even if the one you love is suffering patiently, you begin to cry "enough".   It also awakens the whys, what ifs, and not fairs from lips that were just giving thanks the week before.  And while having two other sets of hands and hearts have allowed things to run smoother this week, it has also given me extra time to breathe and think.  Laundry is caught up, Zoe is having way less accidents, and Ian loves picking who will read to him each night.  The house is full of what only two grandmas can bring.  And my head had filled with the questions I knew had no answers.

 I have scrolled through face book wondering why we can't have normal any more.  I have seen families playing at the park and felt the unfairness of it all.  And my eyes follow older couples walking hand in hand and I have blinked away tears of what ifs.

I know it is perfectly normal to wrestle through the whys, what ifs, and not fairs.  Anyone who has walked a path similar would tell me this is par for the course.  But it is the first time I have landed here and I was afraid I would get stuck in the sad muck of questions without answers.  

I told Jeff I didn't want to be a withered old heart and soul after all of this.  His hand squeezed tighter and I spilled out all the broken whys that had built up.  I am certain that in the face of suffering we will eventually reach a point where the faith and hope we had will run out.  We will get to a point where we can curl into the broken questions and sink into despair, or we can confess our lack of faith and hope and take another step forward into the only place where real security ever really was.  Into a bigger reality.  His love and commitment towards us. Or as Paul tells Timothy "If we are faithless, he remains faithful..." Tim 2:13

So I took a step forward.  I woke up and asked for help.  When friends asked how I was I admitted that I couldn't see the good.  When I read scripture and promises I prayed for my heart to not be angry but to believe.  And I read and wrestled and asked all the questions that crowded my thoughts.  

After these last few days I am pretty sure the not knowing isn't as hard when you voiced the whys.  The not fairs don't sting once you have been able to pour them out and see how very little they look compared to the mountain of gifts we have been given.  And the what ifs become statements of faith and promise.

During all of this I received a beautiful bracelet in the mail that has Proverbs 25:31 stamped inside it.
"She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future."  Ian loved it and wanted me to let him have it.  He asked why I got it.  He asked what dignity is.  For days he asked me if I would let him have it.  Finally, last night he declared he didn't want it any more.  I asked him why and he chuckled and said,  "because I like the strength and dignity part, but the no fear of the future part...why would anyone be afraid of the future!  I mean it is the future, it is not something to be afraid of."  I laughed and he added under his breath, "I mean, there aren't even any bears here!"
Oh to have a child's heart.

Jeff is about to have round number five in this six round cycle.  We will have another scan after round six and again be at a place of making decisions on treatment and direction.  He is still steadfast.  He is still showing up at the schools and lining up all the big and small details for the day camp in Tayport.  We have a very full summer ahead, with three camps (Day camp, Young Life camp, and Wyld Life camp.)  The boys are signed up for a sports camp and art classes.  And in a six week summer that leaves very little room for anything else.  In September we will steal away for a much needed family vacation on a warm, rainless beach.

Thank you for the continued emails, cards, and blankets.  This month when we have felt so weak, knowing that so many were standing with us in faith, hope, and love has sustained us.  Much love, Becca and the rest of Team Stables

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Update: June 13th

Good news, the majority of the tumors measured are shrinking.  None have grown, and only two have stayed the same.  The cancer started at the base of the esophagus, the primary tumor.  They are unable to evaluate any change to this tumor because the stent is pushing and distorting anything that would be measurable.  The stent is also allowing Jeff to eat anything he wants so we won't complain about it being difficult to measure.  Then the cancer is also in his lungs and lymph nodes.  Some of the lung tumors measured up to 50% decrease.  And a lymph node measured a 25% decrease.  This is called partial response and it is a very good sign that the targeted chemo approach is working.  We will continue the course and Jeff will have three more rounds, one every three weeks until this cycle is finished.  He will then do another scan late July and decide what is next.

 The news came much later than the three hours we anticipated.  We arrived in London and Jeff had a high fever.  An extra appointment was made, and he started emergency antibiotics.  By the next morning the fever had subsided and blood work looked good.  At 12:30 Jeff got the scan and the results were to be ready to go over with Dr. Gaya at 3:00.  At the 3 o' clock appointment we learned that the server went down after 12 pm, and that the scan was inaccessible.  Jeff's oncologist was also leaving for Tokyo the next morning.  We left knowing very little and waited for five days while his doctor tried his best to access the scans from Tokyo.  We got the email three days ago, the night before Jeff left for round 4 of chemo.  Our patience and trust muscles have to be getting a little bigger.
 We are rejoicing that the cancer is not spreading.  We are thankful that the majority of the tumors are shrinking.  Hopeful that this will continue to work and Jeff will continue to tolerate the daily grind of chemo pills, hiccups, stent pain, and fatigue.  Jeff has always been a long distance runner in life and relationships.  He stays the course through wind, snow, or rain.  Slow and patient, he wakes up and trudges through whatever the day and symptoms throw at him.  He long distance runs in ministry, friendships, and as a husband and father.  It really is a blessing especially when we see such a long road ahead of us.  I don't have a doubt that he will run it well depending on a big God who can do impossibly big things.

I am a sprinter by nature.  Man I can run fast, but for a very short time.  And then, hopefully when no one is looking, my knees buckle and I dry heave.  I feel like I have been sprinting for a really long time.  Once the recent good news came through, my legs buckled on the path.   It hasn't been pretty.  And chocking out, "Really, I am good, I just need more sleep maybe," while sucking in breath and sobs, does not convince people you are doing okay.  My faith this week feels small.  My stomach clenches the minute my eyes flutter open.  The confidence I had last week, last month, feels lost in the getting through of the days.  But I also stared at a mustard seed and reread Luke 17:6 over and over.  Thankful for a friend who was willing to spare a mustard seed and not think I am crazy.

When Jeff and I pray together we ask for God to heal Jeff's body but to also heal our hearts, and minds.  To change the way we see things.  When something like this hits, you see so clearly how the suffering of the heart and mind can wreak as much havoc as the suffering of the body.  We don't want to come out of this unchanged.  I pray our hearts will be stretched far wider.  And that our minds will dwell on truth instead of fear.  Both Jeff and I have spoken to so many people who have walked through the deep waters of illness, grief, and pain.  Some have walked it alone, and others have just begun.  I know even on the knee buckling days, God will use us.  Because He is faithful to waste nothing.  Not one once of getting it right or hopelessly wrong,  Not a bit of the walking it out gracefully or dry heaving on the side line is wasted.  Faith as small as a mustard seed will uproot fear and despair.

We are tired as we approach the end of our first year in Scotland.  But we are tired and hopeful.  There is still so much to be done between now and the next two months.  The grandmas come in ten days and we are so excited.  Thank you for continuing to stand with us.  The emails, letters, cards, blankets, lego sets, and prayers have encouraged us more than we could ever express.
                                                               Much love, Becca

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Knights of the banquet table

A few weeks ago 6 godly men joined me in inviting my 3 sons into a process of knighthood.  5 of them flew across the Atlantic, some with spouses, some with families in tow, all for the sake of the most sacred moment of my life thus far as a father.  These were men that Becca and I prayerfully invited to join us in being committed to the boys for life. 2 uncles, 3 great friends from Culpeper days, and one great friend from Scotland days.  All men that the boys know well, and deeply love and respect.  All men that would drop anything to pray for them and be there for them.

The week before the ceremony I intentionally poured into the boys rather a multitude of others.  Following some ques from a book I was reading (Raising Modern Day Knights - Robert Lewis) this would take on the form of knighthood.  Where courage and bravery are lifted up alongside tenderness, self control and discipline.  I do not know what is in store for my boys or how long I will get to walk beside them.  This would be a step in the direction of equipping them for whatever was in store.

You see,  I lived the life of a knucklehead wandering teen, searching for life in all the wrong places.  Just as all things were falling apart and far before I had pulled anything together I was called by the unmistakable grace of Jesus.  I've since prayed for, sought out, and walked with teens that have all the wanderings and failings that I had.  I know the power of investing one simple life into another life.  Of men investing in the next generation of men.  I know that truly every boy and man has a deep soul longing for an adventure. A longing to live a life of freedom, a battle to fight, and a beauty to rescue.  I also know that without guidance, prayer, and community, these deep longings can hurtle off track like a runaway train destroying what they were intended to protect.

Following my diagnosis, this knights of the round table dream was birthed, not out of panic or desperation, but out of prayer, clarity, and with intention.  These men are not men who would replace me, but those who would join me.  This time was not a passing of torch, but a lighting of one.

And so we rented a castle for a day.  Really, its the only appropriate place for knighthood ceremonies.  No round table, but an amazing banquet table.  Gospel readers will appreciate this mixed metaphor.

And all of us men, families, spouses - played hide and seek in this elaborate castle, and we feasted, and we built a fire, and we laughed.

As our evening feast came to a close, we began the real reason for gathering. The feasting table became a ceremony table with 7 men who shared a specific scripture, a Godly characteristic, and prayer for each boy.  Can you imagine what that would be like for you?  No matter how old we are, to have multiple people you love and respect affirming who you are and who you will become - far past your projected versions of yourself, calling out your real identity in Christ?  I saw their chests puff out and their smiles widened as they felt the love and importance of the night.  They saw a glimpse of what it means to walk with men around them, not alone, but together, facing what is to come.  I wish it for you, to feel what we all felt that night.

The words of life will last.  The powerful prayers over each boy will last.  The memory of the ceremony will last.  More importantly the commitment to be involved for LIFE will last.  It will be a lifeline when trains jump the tracks or intentions fail, because both will happen.  My boys will not escape the heartache of mistakes and brokenness that we all are subject to.  What they will have are men who will remind them of God's love and grace.  That they are called to a far greater story.   And they will have men who will share the Gospel, the expulsive power of a greater affection.

You know what else will last?  Ginormous SWORDS!  Each boy, upon completion of the ceremony was awarded with a real Scottish claymore sword, taller than each of them, and sharpened for battle.  Of course the boys, (and really the older men as well) had to exercise discipline to not sword fight in the castle.  These swords will be a visual reminder for my boys of the ceremony - but they also know that they are not yet ready to wield this sword- it represents the MEN they are becoming.  The days when they truly become knights - shouldering the responsibilities of life, boldly trusting in Jesus, and protecting all of those entrusted to them.

Next week Becca and I will go to London to see if the Chemo treatments have been effective.  We know I have an aggressive, fast moving cancer.  We know it has spread to both lungs, my lymph nodes, and started in a tumor in my esophagus.  We know the time frame was less than a year without treatment.  But we also know that God numbers my days not man or disease.  We know that He is able to heal and restore what is broken not just in our hearts but in our bodies.  I also know that He gives grace no matter what the outcome is.  We are praying big prayers and hoping for amazing news on Thursday.  We have wonderful friends that will be watching the boys while we are away and we will get home in time to tuck them in Friday night.  Thank you for all the e-mails, video (what a video), cards, notes, and care packages.  You have made this fight a lot easier.  There is still so much to do and live out, and there are three knights to raise with Becca and a group of wonderful men standing with us.

In His grace alone, Jeff

Friday, May 8, 2015

To give thanks

8 hours of chemo in the IV, 112 chemo pills, scores of nausea pills, vitamins, and the occasional sleeping pill all in four weeks time.  Two times a day he sits at the kitchen table, pills lined up, fingers tapping as he wills another one down with a swig of gingered drink.  In a month I think back to all the family meals where he smiled and tried to eat a bite of what his boys inhaled at a speed only growing boys can accomplish.  Late mornings and early nights, the grey furred blanket wrapped around him tight.  You can get lost in the pill counting, hour counting, the blur of getting through another day, week, and round.  His hair will stay, and his crinkled eyed smile will also.  And apart from a much skinnier, more mellow Jeff, he still banters with the boys, and asks me how my heart is really doing.
One of the things we have changed in as a family is how much we give thanks.  Focusing on what has been given in the day instead of what feels taken.  We have always been thankful for our life here in Scotland.  But now we are saying them out loud.  A verbal record of the good and not just the hard. 

 A morning talk with mugs of tea between us.  Sipping and talking, lingering at the sunlit table after the line of pills has been swallowed.  
The days he feels well and comes down with his collar shirt buttoned, bag slung over a shoulder and keys in his hand ready to meet with students and leaders.  
The walk with Levi, their heads disappearing from my view from the kitchen window.  How is Levi almost as tall as the father that always towered above him? 
 Luke asking questions about prayer and love.  Jeff's brow knitting to match Luke as they talk.  Two thinkers trying to figure out life together.  
Ian rushing in to show dad his latest drawing, Lego build, or story.  He reminds me often that he is not my son, only dad can call him son, but I can call him my Ian.    
YL Open Mic Night in St.Andrews.  Students singing, staff friends helping, and leaders shining.
A date night filled with fancy food and sharing our hearts, remembering, and hoping together.
Lion King on family movie night.  I left during the sad parts, Ian yelling after that the sad parts aren't that sad because it is all about love and the circle of life.  
  Shoulders that are still broad to lean on, a hand that engulfs mine in its grasp.
We are noticing the flowers blooming, and grass changing to the brightest green.  
The people surrounding our days, the ones that spill out love, and encouragement, and prayers.  
There is so much more to count.  To recall and to thank God for everything we have been given is impossible. But our humble attempts are shaping our hearts in a season we did not expect.

Jeff got back from round two late Saturday night.  His best friend from High School, Nick, flew out to be with him this time.  What a gift we have in friendships.  Jeff seems to be tolerating this round better than last.  Though trying to explain his days is like trying to describe the ocean in one word.  What could be still and calm in the morning can turn into foam topped waves by midday.  And so this morning was good.  And good for this morning meant that Jeff played Uno with the older boys and connect four with Ian even though he was fatigued and achy.  Good was that he ate two eggs, baked beans, and black pudding for breakfast and he didn't feel like he would lose it later.  Good is him now sleeping soundly upstairs as I type this.  And good later today would be that he can send out some e-mails and make some phone calls before three boys bound into the office to talk of their latest adventures.

This week when people ask how things are, I say our feet have finally found the ground again.  We are moving forward expecting a good God to give exactly what we will need for each moment of each day.  We are laughing, crying, and praying together more than ever before.  And we know God will accomplish more than we could ever ask or hope for in this season.  
In a week in a half we will have two uncles, one aunt, two nieces, and five other close friends come to our little village to love on  Jeff and the boys.  Jeff had a great idea when all of this hit that is now being put into action and I can't wait to share it with you as it unfolds.  
Thank you for all the love and prayers.  Thank you for walking with us as we thank God for the beautiful gifts along this hard road. 
Love, Becca

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

After the Wave

When the giant wave pulled back into the sea, and the knowledge of Jeff's condition settled into our mind and hearts, we were grateful for the enormous amount of prayers being offered up on our behalf.  We have swam through debris and dark waters these past few weeks.  Questions, decisions, next steps, sickness, and treatment options swirled around us as we tried to figure how to communicate to the boys and each other.  How to begin to move forward.  In the beginning it was hard not to despair.  A second opinion in London gave the same options, the same time lines.  Reality sunk deep into our bones and each morning we had to realize again that this is the path we will now walk.
Jeff would ask if I was afraid, and I wasn't, friends asked if I was angry, and I felt no anger.  We read countless articles, books, and emails filled with options and opinions.  Many of them helped.  We are both art majors but I am pretty sure we could minor in Cancer treatments and nutrition.  We choose to go with the targeted Chemo treatment, Herceptin, Xeloda, and Cisplatin.  That along with diet, vitamins, and essential oils.  We also decided to start treatment in London for now.  They were able to start immediately and use better diagnostics and genetic testing for future treatment options.     
Jeff made the appointment for the first round of testing and Chemo resulting in a five day visit to London just as friends were arriving from America.  Luke and Levi became sick and fevers came back every night as I kept them upstairs and hydrated.  Ian then came down with high fevers and my heart broke.  Sickness surrounded us.  I jumped from boy to boy to boy and Jeff called a dear friend Will to see if he could meet him in London instead.  The day before Jeff left I felt fear and anger begin to swell for the first time.  I sent out messages to friends asking for an SOS prayers.  I didn't sleep and Ian didn't get better.  I called a friend the day Jeff left to and blurted out my brokenness, my fears.  I asked why God would send His children out to battle naked and bruised.  I couldn't see the good God I knew.  
And this is why I know we are not meant to walk this alone.   With gentle, bold words of truth she said it is not God who seeks to steal, destroy, or kill.  That our God is called Healer, Life giver, Comforter, Prince of Peace,  Provider, and Creator.  I hung up and helped Jeff pack for the train.  Our neighbors came to watch the boys as I drove him to the station and said goodbye.  Each day Jeff was gone Ian became more sick as the older boys slowly recovered.  Our friends visiting took Luke and Levi on adventures while I watched Ian and prayed for a heart that trusts.  Ian's fever broke for the final time the night before Jeff got home.  I scrubbed all surfaces and washed all sheets.  My heart softened and the fear subsided.  
A couple from church are letting us stay in their cabin on the Isle of Arran this week.  The boys are on their second week off of school for spring break.  We are soaking up the beautiful views and surroundings.  We go on walks when Jeff is feeling up for it and we watch movies and build with legos when he is not.  We are learning to take each moment as it comes and to trust the One who gives them.  We are not grieving the future or the unknown.  We may grieve small moments in the day, but we will not grieve what has yet to happen.  We will live fully each day given, even if that day is filled with "Natigue", our new word for when Jeff feels both nauseous and fatigued.  I honestly can't imagine what this season would be like without all the prayers and words of truth and encouragement.  We are not meant to walk alone and we are so grateful for the many many people that are walking with us.  Love, Becca

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Update, 28/3/15

I keep hearing my dad's voice saying, "He doesn't trick His children Becca.  He doesn't give them snakes and rocks instead of fish and bread.  He is good, He has never let me down even in my darkest hours.  He has never abandoned me.  He has a plan and it is good, trust Him."  He repeated this through the whole process of going overseas, when the doors to Spain closed, when we had to come back for visas, when his health was failing...this is what I would hear.  
When Jeff and I sat in the small office and we heard the words cancer, terminal, spread to lungs a tsunami hit.  And we knew even then that this tsunami would cause a thousand waves into the hearts and minds of the people we love most.   We still wake each night and morning in a free fall.  Stomach tightening as we remember again and again where we are, what path we are now walking.  We move from despair to hope over and over.  

The outpouring of love and support is overwhelming.  On days when the path feels too hard to walk we pour over the songs, scripture, and all the love written out.  And little by little we are sharing with the boys the messages.  One night as Luke tossed and turned in bed I went in to talk.  He started with "Mom, can I ask you a question?"  Sure I said, bracing for the hard.  "Do you ever doubt God?  I mean with all the stuff that has happened this year, do you ever want to ask why me, why us?" But here is the beauty in the hard.  We began to list all of the things we had been given this year alone and by the time we got to this past week it was easier to see a good God, a kind Father.   We have a rule right now that every time they ask something about the cancer, future, or our faith we will answer them.  Even if the answer is hard or it is that we don't know.  But every single answer, even the I don't knows, are bookended with our great love for them.  How we would give anything for them to know they were created in love and with purpose.  And that our love is a thimble full compared to the vast ocean of God's love.  And each time we speak this truth to them, we feel it  grow deeper in our own hearts.

Jeff and I were flown to London this past week to get more testing and a second opinion.  Jeff also got tested for HER2.  This is a protein in cancer cells that make it very aggressive and fast growing.  I had a feeling Jeff would test positive because of how quickly the doctors think it has spread.  We found out last night that he did test HER2 positive.  This will change his treatments to a much more targeted one.  We are very confident that for the time being we are to stay in Scotland and that he is to start HCX as soon as possible.  We are grateful the other option of basic chemotherapy (EOX) is now off the table.  This new combination has way fewer side affects and he is hoping to continue doing what he does best.  We have had to make a lot of decisions and more are to come as we walk this out.  Please keep praying for wisdom in all of these areas.  We are surrounded by an incredible local community here that have been the hands and feet in so many ways.  And the prayers and encouragement from the state side community has held us up in  these last two weeks when we were ready to wave the white flag.

We have read every email, text, and face book message.  There is not nearly enough time with three life loving boys to be able to respond  to them all just now,  Each one has left of a mark on our hearts and helped bring light into dark parts.  Thank you.
Ian's favorite song right now is You Make Beautiful Things, by Gungor.  Each night after prayers he asks if we can sing it together.  The first few nights I couldn't, but he kept asking.  We always start quietly and end up yelling it more than singing it on the last go.  While I was typing this earlier he made a video of himself singing it much to my delight.  Now you can sing along with us!  We are trusting that He will make beautiful things out of dust, beautiful things out of us.
Love, Becca