Update 11.15.06

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 6:47 pm by Libbie

Last night we heard back from our radio-oncologist with the results of last Fridayís MRI of Alís brain, which measured the effects of the first surgery in August and the subsequent whole-brain radiation. The good news is that the remaining 10% of the tumor that was surgically removed in August looks great, and there are no new tumors visible. But the bad news is that the three tumors that showed up on the August MRI appear to have grown somewhat in spite of the whole-brain radiation. Itís possible that what shows up on the films is just swelling from the radiation, but it is more likely that the melanomas resisted the radiation treatment and have continued to grow through it.

This is not particularly surprising news. We knew in August that the large tumor had been resistant to the Gamma-Knife radiation performed in June and that there was a distinct possibility, even a likelihood, that these three smaller tumors would resist the whole brain radiation. So, while we hoped that this treatment would be effective and felt it was worth a try, we were not banking our hopes on it. Actually, since Al has been feeling rotten recently and having increased headaches, we were expecting that the news might be worse. The plan is to take another MRI in 2-4 weeks to see more clearly whether this is melanoma growth or radiation swelling, and then go from there. Meanwhile, itís one day at a time.

In a different situation from ours, one in which timing is critical for making decisions that could mean the difference between being cured and not, waiting for test results would probably be extremely tense, and those results being “good” or “bad” would be momentous. In Al’s case, the end result of his cancer is clear (barring a miracle), and test results are nothing more than a very vague indicator of timing. So we are not particularly flummoxed by this news. (At least Al and I are not; perhaps I shouldn’t presume to speak for the kids.)

What is much more pressing, existentially, is how Al is feeling. Sunday morning he woke up with relatively severe headaches and feeling nauseous and generally yucky. He wasn’t even sure he could go to church, which is a major indicator of how bad he feels, since he loves to be there to worship with the church family. In the end he was able to go, and even to be on his feet to serve communion, though he felt a little wobbly and off-balance. Monday and Tuesday he felt somewhat better than Sunday, but still poorly in general, and oppressively tired. This morning he felt worse than any time so far. He now coughs a lotónot the intentional kind of cough to clear the phlegm out of his lungs (after which he always feels much improved), but an involuntary cough that makes his already aching head feel as if it will explode. He is short of breath most of the time, dizzy sometimes, and experiencing more “neurological episodes” in which he sees silver and purple geometric shapes moving around in his left periphoral vision. This morning he also had a low-grade fever. Maybe he’s picked up some sort of bug or something that will pass. Or maybe this is the beginning of a downturn that will continue. Whichever it is, it’s hard to watch him be uncomfortable, and if it’s the latter, it’s very sobering. Of course we have known straight along that the decline will come (again, barring a miracle, which we don’t rule out), but somehow, until it actually happens, part of your consciousness lives as if the decline will never really come. It’s odd how something that you fully expect can still take you by surprise. Kind of like going into laborÖ

Tylenol broke Alís fever today, and as the afternoon wore on, Al felt better and stronger. So we drove over to a beautiful park that Al has been wanting to show me and enjoyed the gorgeous weather and the post-foliage views. So peaceful and lovely! Someone was burning leaves, and the sights and smells almost reminded me of Vermont. It was a balm to our souls. (I must say, I think this has been the prettiest fall I remember seeing in PA in 27 years, with brighter-than-ordinary leaves and blazing sunlight illuminating them, often against a dramatic, deep, dark gray sky. Whether it really has been a more striking fall than usual or whether we are just seeing it with new eyes, it’s been a gift from God that we have savored.)

The past couple of weeks have been emotionally tough for all of us. Watching our friend Ben decline and pass away and grieving with his family was difficult. His burial and memorial service gave us a new sense of reality about Alís cancer, too. Eowyn and Alden wanted to go to both services in support of the family, so we got them out of school to do so. As you can imagine, it was a difficult time for everybody.

One of the benefits of going through something like this is that it gives you a much better and clearer view of what is and isn’t important. Things that can ordinarily seem so big fall into their proper perspective in the light of life and death and eternity. That’s an excellent thing. However, one of the downsides of that same gift when you’re 15 or so is that school can easily fall into the category of things that don’t seem to have as much value as you used to think they did. It’s hard to get motivated or enthusiastic about chemistry, or algebra, or participles. The day after Ben’s service, Eowyn was hard pressed to find a reason to get up and go to school. She did, and she’s been slogging along since then, but it isn’t always easy.

Al and I have changed tactics with respect to his writing projects. We’ve been filming him talking about Judges in an effort to pull his rich ruminations out of his head and onto discs (not unlike Dumdbledore’s Pensieve, if you’re a Harry Potter fanÖ) that I can then refer to later if I am the one who ends up finishing his commentary. It’s been profitable. Please pray that we will have enough time to complete that process.

Otherwise life goes on apace. In his soccer game on Saturday, Alden scored a great goal, and Al was there to see it. I got to do a spot of drama in a class at Westminster on Monday, which was a delightful change of focus for me. And so on.

As things intensify, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of events and lose sight of the Lord. But he is right here with us, carrying us along. I find myself thinking about heaven. What an incredible, indescribable, glorious experience Al has to look forward to! Ben’s memorial service whet my appetite for that too. I can’t begin to imagine how fantastic a place he is in with Jesus, where Al will be going as well, and where we will join them one day, where we will be more alive and more vibrant with health and wellness than ever, newer and newer all the time. And best of all, Jesus will be there, and we’ll see him face to face. I could go on and on, but I won’t (at least not this time). Ps 17:15 has been a wonderful verse to steep ourselves in: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” Imagine the glory of falling asleep from this life and waking up to see Jesus himself smiling down into your eyes. What a Morning that will be! And with all of heaven to explore in his brilliant light, and a heavenly body to do it inÖ Wow. None of us will need caffeine to get going that morning!

Anyway, I should go see about supper. May the Lord shine on each of you. Thanks for going the journey with us.



  1. Allie Stryd said,

    November 15, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    Indeed. What a picture, waking up to Jesus’ face! Indescribable.
    I am so sorry to hear that Al’s headaches have been worse. We will pray for these days. I love you guys and we really miss you. I have to say, your presence is felt even in these posts. Your way of writing, I can just hear you speaking these things! And yes, this autumn has been most beautiful and the longest I think I’ve ever experienced in PA.
    You are always in our prayers,

  2. Kirk Lowery said,

    November 16, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    No, Libbie, it’s not just your perception. Just last Sunday I mentioned to Jean what a beautiful autumn it has been: the colors glorious, the air with that “dusty” autumn flavor, the unseasonably warm temperatures. A special gift from God to all of us.

    I’m off to the SBL meetings in Washington, DC, tomorrow. It will be particularly nostalgic for me: it was at an SBL meeting nearly 20 years ago that I met Alan for the first time face-to-face…

    Love from Jean and me.


  3. Bob Lyon said,

    November 16, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    I agree, Libby. Peggy and I were also noting the splendid foliage this autumn. Now if we could get the rain to cease so we can continue to enjoy it…

    And I’m glad to see someone else uses the word “flummoxed” without apology.

    This blog is such a blessing to so many of us. Thank you for continuing to share your thoughts with “us”.


    P.S. With your remark about not needing caffeine, are you trying to imply there won’t be any coffee in heaven? Or maybe it’ll just be really great coffee like we’ve never tasted before? (I think I prefer the second interpretation.)

  4. Kathy Dirksen said,

    November 18, 2006 at 9:57 am

    Thank you for your words. For a heart that’s prone to wander and easily deceived, I tend to live with far too much focus on the things of this earth. Why would I rather make mud pies?? Thank you for reminding me of what its glorious. And far far better.
    Thank you also for letting us know how to pray. Your family is always on my heart and in my prayers.
    Love, Kathy

  5. Hendrik Jan Bosman said,

    November 23, 2006 at 5:25 am

    Dear Al and Libbie,

    I just want to let you know that Annemarieke and I are with you in our hearts and minds. It feels good to be able to stay in touch with you through this blog, saddening though the news can be at times. Last week, Annemarieke attended the SBL conference, at which she missed Al sorely. We grieve for the difficult times you have to go through, but admire the calm and openness with which you take things as they come.

    We wish you lots of love, support and strength!
    Hendrik Jan.

  6. Peter Conway said,

    November 27, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Thanks Libby. Your words were a balm to my soul.

    Peter Conwau

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