Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back-tracking And Snow Tracks

Wow…it has been way too long since you all have heard from us.  And I know that some news trickled out there back in Nov. when we had a little "incident" that took us to the ER.  Forgive me for not filling you all in better.  You have been so faithful in praying for us and encouraging us….I really do intend to keep you well informed, but felt like I didn't have all the info and the tests and results kept getting pushed back, so I kept waiting.  

So, here we are…almost 4 months after the last radiation treatment and my first update.

Well, as you can imagine and as has already been hinted at, much has happened in the last 4 months.  Thankfully, not all of it is directly related to Dan's battle with kidney cancer, but it is all intertwined and makes up the fabric of our lives (as opposed to cotton…..that's a joke…get it?  OK..it was a bad joke…moving on….)   Because all the medical stuff happens in the midst of just regular life and we do our best to focus on that "regular" part of life, it is all sort of mingled together in this blog.  But if you want to cut to the chase, just read the next 2 paragraphs and then jump down to just below the photos of Dan at the BCS National Championship.  Otherwise you will get a glimpse of the last couple of months with the McCabes :-)

When you last heard from us, Dan had undergone a stereotactic radiographic surgery procedure with the use of a halo.  They had used precision radiation to zap 4 tumors in his brain, one of which was larger than he had ever had before.  Whenever they do these procedures, they put him on a descending dose of steroids as well as an anti seizure medication for a certain length of time.  Both are meant to reduce the chance of seizures caused by swelling in the brain as it reacts to the changes that take place when the tumors die.  Always before the meds worked like magic and Dan had never had any symptoms at all from the radiation procedure.  Well, there is a first time for everything, they say.  That procedure was done on Oct. 17.  On Nov. 19th, we were both relaxing at home.  We had just returned from a week long visit with my mom in Florida the day before and had been busy that day unpacking and beginning the prep for Thanksgiving at our home later that week.  While watching TV, I heard Dan mumbling and asked him to speak more clearly.  When he continued the mumbling I sat up to look at him, thinking he had perhaps fallen asleep and was talking in his sleep.  He was sitting there…sort of looking straight ahead but not really at me, speaking gibberish.  I was VERY concerned.  I waited a few seconds to see if he was able to get clear speech out and then called our son, Tom, at the firehouse.  My first thought was stroke but very quickly it moved to "more tumors".   Tom had me put Dan through some neuro screening tests like smiling wide (to see if both sides of the face respond equally), pushing with both hands, lifting both legs, etc.  By the time we went through all of that he had me ask him to say "The sky is blue in Cincinnati" and he said it perfectly well!  But we were still concerned.  I took him to the ER and had him checked out for a T.I.A. (transient ischemia attack  or a sort of mini stroke)

We arrived at the ER at about 7:45 p.m and it wasn't busy!  I was so relieved that we got right in.  The ER folks ordered a CT scan and on that they saw some swelling in the area of that larger tumor that had been treated.  They felt that was most likely the cause of the symptoms but wanted to do an MRI and some other follow-up tests to rule out a cardiac related event, so they admitted him.  

After all the tests, it was determined that the swelling was the culprit and he was put on more steroids and more anti seizure medicine.  Those are normally given for a short time but apparently, he needed them longer in this case.  He has been symptom free from that while on the meds.  PRAISE GOD for that!  He was released from the hospital on Nov. 20th late in the afternoon.  We celebrated Thanksgiving on Friday that week, b/c Tom's crew at the firehouse had to work the holidays this year.  Below are pictures from our Thanksgiving Family Time:

It's tradition for Morgan and Emma to come the day before Thanksgiving and help me prepare food for the feast.  Their favorite is cooking the cranberry sauce.

This year they helped me chop the celery for the stuffing.  That takes a long time so it's a big help for me to have it all done ahead of time.  Thanks, Emma and Morgan!!

My brother, Jim, and his wife, Alyca, came for Thanksgiving.  Since we were cooking the dinner, we treated ourselves to breakfast out at The Half Day Cafe that morning.

                                                          Fall symbols set the stage…...

                             The table is finally ready….now for the food!!


The next day, Megan took Dan to the Ohio State vs. U of M game and watched the BUCKS beatthe Wolverines.  Go BUCKS!!

The next weekend we were able to attend an open house at Megan's workplace.  She and Ryan Miller bought a building this year to house their marketing company and they had invited clients to celebrate with them.  We were happy to see their success and to meet with many of their clients and employees.

                              Ryan and Megan ready to greet their guests

                                 Ryan and Dan giving homage to OSU

That same weekend, we celebrated Matthew's 7th Birthday.  It's close to Christmas so we have to work a little at showing him it really is special :-)

We went through the Christmas and New Year's holidays with no more symptoms, praise the LORD!!!  Once again, we celebrated Christmas a day late b/c of Tom's schedule at the firehouse.  On the actual Christmas Day, we had dinner with friends from church and enjoyed the fellowship.

My birthday was celebrated somewhere around this time too......but let's just not go there........

We actually had a little snow before Christmas this year.  It wasn't much but helped us feel as if it were actually time for Christmas.  Over the years Dan has gotten smart and put those outside lights up before Thanksgiving on some nice WARM weekend.  We just don't turn them on until after Thanksgiving.

Karla had to work the day after Christmas when we were going to have our Family Celebration, but dinner was late enough that she could share in the festivities.  Turned out that we got a pretty good amount of snow that day so we had a beautiful "White Christmas".  The only problem with that was that Tom needed to go out and plow!  sigh.  Well, he did his best to be at our house for our Christmas Dinner.  We had a wonderful Christmas Celebration together.

Dan's original schedule for his normal follow-up MRI was the first  full week of January but our daughter, Megan, surprised him on Christmas with tickets to the BCS National Championship Football game in Miami. His beloved Notre Dame Irish were playing The Tide of Alabama and he had tried to find tickets but had had no luck.  She managed to get tickets from a rabid Alabama fan which meant that they had to sit with the "enemy" but at least they could go!   It was a major "fail" on the part of this photographer to not get a photo of his surprise!   He was thrilled and had a marvelous time (well, until the game, anyway….all of you sports fans know how that ended up :-(  )  and got to reconnect with some of his ND buddies and support his favorite team and spend some quality time with his daughter.   SO….the follow-up MRI got delayed a week or so.  

While in Florida for that game, Megan and Dan got to visit with my mom.  It is hard for the grandkids to get to Florida to see her so it is always a treat for her to get to spend some time with one of them.  Meg took Dan and Mom to The Olive Garden for supper Friday evening and I know Mom enjoyed the time with them.

Below are some photos from their time in Florida for the "big game".

Meg, Mom and Dan.  I think Mom looks pretty awesome for 93, don't you?

                   Nothing like some quality father-daugher time!

After Dan returned from Florida he had his full body CT scan and bone scan.  The results of those were good…the radiologist saw no changes so at least the new chemo is holding the disease in check in those areas.   We PRAISE GOD for that and are so very, very thankful!

On Thursday of that week, we had the 3 grandkids after school and for dinner. Tom and Karla needed help with transportation for Morgan to her AAU Volleyball practice.  We decided to have a mini family celebration for her 14th Birthday (which was actually the next day) since we were going to be out of town on the weekend.  I still cannot believe that we have a granddaughter who is 14!  She continues to make us proud with her hard work, her willingness to be responsible and her kindness.  

The next day (Friday, the 25th) he had his high definition MRI and immediately following that we saw his oncology radiologist.  The good news was that the 4 tumors that they treated the last time, using the halo, have responded as expected, with the slight exception of the greater swelling than was expected in the one area.  The not-so-great news is that there are two new small tumors.  Those will need to be radiated as well.  This time, they will be able to return to using the mask, which is a much less burdensome procedure for the patient so we are grateful for that

We asked the oncology radiologist how many times Dan could endure this type of treatment and he didn't really answer that exactly, but said that for the foreseeable future, as long as we kept catching them when they are small, we can keep ahead of the game….sort of like playing "Whack-A-Mole".  We asked about whether or not we should consider returning to Avastin, which seemed to be able to stop the tumors in the brain as well as the rest of the body, but he said that b/c the Avastin posed a fairly certain risk to the one good kidney, it would be wiser to stay this course, beating down the tumors as they appear, as long as the InLyta  controls the cancer in the rest of the body.  Later that same morning we saw his regular oncologist and he concurred with that conclusion.

I can't deny that we were disappointed.  We were hoping against hope that this time the InLyta would have gotten far enough ahead of the disease to keep tumors from forming anywhere but considering the prognosis of anyone who has kidney cancer we are so very fortunate to have a drug that is working as well as it is with almost no side effects and also to have the miraculous stereotactic radiographic surgery available to fight the brain tumors.  We remain so very grateful for all that God has and is doing for us and in us through this journey.  And , of course, we are incredibly grateful for the love and prayers and encouragement of all of you.  You continue to humble us and to teach us about faithfulness and compassion and trust.  Thanks you all so much!  

OK...well that takes care of the "back-tracking".  We are in the midst of making snow tracks right now. The day after the MRI and multiple doctor visits, we got on a plane and headed to Colorado.  One thing that both of us enjoys equally is skiing.  We are spending this week enjoying God's amazing creation while gliding down the mountain at Breckenridge or riding back up on the chair.  The sheer awesomeness of what we see each day is affirmation of God's greatness and power.  What could be more comforting?  

Dan and Jodee