Update 11.7.06

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 11:24 pm by Libbie

Today we had an appointment with our oncologist at Penn. She had the results of last week’s CT scan, which covers from the neck to the pelvis, and they show that everything seems to be pretty stable. The large lung tumor has grown slightly, but not dramatically (it’s still about the size of an orange), and there are no new tumors in any of the other organs. That’s better news than we were expecting, so we’re very thankful.

With cancer, each new symptom has the potential to indicate something sinister, so it’s easy to find yourself imagining that dire events are taking place on your insides. Al’s fatigue and shakiness sometimes spark thoughts of further tumor development in the brain, his shortness of breath and congestion raise visions of tumors growing manically in the lungs, and his feeling systemically yucky a couple of days ago prompted silent questions about the liver perhaps becoming involved (melanoma tends to spread to the lungs, liver and brain). We don’t pursue such worries, since there is no fruit in that, but the thoughts do present themselves and then get filed away. But the scan shows that at least the lungs and liver are in stable shape. An MRI of the brain late this week will tell the tale of what’s happening from the neck up and of whether or not the whole-brain radiation was effective.

Meanwhile, the shakiness and sore teeth could be ongoing after-effects of the radiation, the stomach discomfort is almost certainly from the steroids and the fatigue is very likely related to weaning off the steroids. Nothing dire. So we come away from today’s appointment more encouraged than we thought we would be.

We also come away appreciating our oncologist and nurse practitioner even more than ever. They have been phenomenal in every way: competence and expertise, wisdom, practicality, sensitivity, efficiency, ability to make things happen, being on top of the details, and caring above and beyond the call of duty. Today they each asked, at length and in depth, how we are doing in the midst of all this and how our kids are handling it. We have been so well cared for! All up and down the line our medical care-givers have been outstanding. What a difference that makes.

Back to medical issues: there has been a question lately about radiating the large lung tumor. It could erode into a blood vessel and start to bleed badly, which could turn fairly quickly into what is called a “major event.” Or it could begin to obstruct the airway, which would also become life-threatening. You can only radiate the lung tissue once, so the question is whether it would be better to radiate the tumor now, preventively, or to wait until there are warning signs that a major event might be brewing and save the weapon for then. We’ve decided to wait. I think that’s a bit of a relief to Al, since his body is still battling to recover from the last radiation.

Tonight Al is out with Rebeckah. He has been having regular times—“dates,” if you will—with each of the kids each week. The times have been precious to him and to them. And he and I have been making sure we get some time just to talk each morning, which is great. It’s a gift to know that your time is short and yet to still have time. We are all trying to take advantage of that blessing.

A friend of ours at church–a sweet, gentle, humble man with a twinkle in his eye–passed away on Sunday and will be buried tomorrow. He was 45 and has kids who are friends with our kids, so it’s been an emotional time for everybody. We grieve with them, keenly and deeply (and knowing that our turn is coming up), and at the same time we rejoice in knowing that Ben is free, vibrant with health such as none of us has ever experienced, enjoying life that’s glorious beyond anything we can imagine, probably dancing in worship before God’s throne. Grief is real. But grief with hope is a whole different thing. We’re praying that the triumph of the resurrection will be an enormous comfort to them right now.

I’m drained after a day of emotion, and it’s way past the time I’d like to go to bed, so I’ll say goodnight.



  1. Amy Givler said,

    November 8, 2006 at 8:26 am

    Thank you for this update, which is a fresh reminder to lift you up to our loving Lord. Yes, you are well cared for — that is clear from your postings on this blog. Yet I am praying for you ever more urgently, that God would protect your family from any harm. We love you.

  2. henrrietta said,

    November 8, 2006 at 8:47 am

    Hi, I would very much like to contact you on email, if you have the time or energy; my email is henrietta.turnbull@btinternet.com you will get a bounce from my spam filter, but I would like to ask a bit more about your illness. A close friend of mine had melanoma; I wonder what the future holds.

    Love in Christ

  3. Craig Combs said,

    November 8, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    Dear Libbie and Al,
    Thank you for the updates. Writing is hard work, and I know you need your strength for so many other things right now. I am grateful.

    My prayers continue to go up for you, sometimes specific (“Lord, give Al the strenght to overcome the side effects of this recent radiation”) and sometimes categorical (“Father, have mercy on my brother and his family.”)

    God knows better than I pray.
    He answers better, too, as I am reminded by the Heidelberg with goose bumps,

    “…it is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.”

    You are in good hands.


  4. Mark Hartman said,

    November 8, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    Libbie: thanks for the update. How wonderful to see the appreciation you have for the oncologist and nurse practitioner! Medical competence is one thing – I’m sure they are used to being recognized for that. But to be appreciated for their humanity – for their caring of Al – I’m sure that means a great deal to them.

    Al: thanks for your thoughts on Psalm 22 and 23. I’ve always greatly appreciated your teaching and highly treasured the time we had in Ohio earlier this year. To sit in a Bible study with you for an hour was a great privilege!

    Blessings! Mark Hartman

  5. Fred said,

    November 12, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    Hello, Libbie & Al!

    In reading your comments I am reminded of the subjective and relative nature of “good news” and the objective and absolute nature of “the good news”. Not so very long ago, it seems, the only “good” news would have been that Al was healed and would live happily for another forty-two years–that would be absolutely good. but now “good” is that the tumor is growing v. slowly, that there is slightly less pain, that … well, you all know those things far better than I. “Good” is circumstantial.

    “The good news”, however, is never relative or subjective. Jesus Christ *is* the same yesterday, today, and for ever, world without end. Amen. And both of those things are dazzling.

    May the good news be your hope and stay; may good news continue to fill your hearts with strength and courage in Christ.



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