The Struggle Has Ended

Greg Hewlett passed away on January 17th after nearly eight years of battling colon cancer. While we grieve his loss, we are comforted to know that he is with his Lord.

If you would like to leave your thoughts on Greg, please see this thread.

If you would like to make a charitable donation in Greg's honor, please see this thread.

Saturday, November 29, 2003


annebrinknativityToday is the first Sunday of Advent, a season that the church has celebrated for hundreds of years as a time to focus on the coming of Christ - both his Incarnation two thousand years ago and his promised coming when he comes to restore all things.

My friend Bill Burns, who is our church's worship director, and I have written an Advent devotional guide for use in our church, Town North Presbyterian. He has structured it into four sections, each corresponding to a week of Advent and a theme for that week. And he has included the liturgy that we will use in our church on each Sunday in Advent. I have added to this a set of daily devotionals for the weekdays. Each devotional has a passage to read, a paragraph to help the reader understand the passage in light of the Advent theme of that week, a set of a few questions upon which to meditate, and a short prayer.

I invite anyone to join with us in focusing on the coming of Christ this month, so I have included the Advent guide (click to download). It is formatted for double-sided booklet format. This may be a bit confusing but I'm sure you can figure it out - the pages are numbered. To order, put the pages back to back and fold it like a booklet.

Just like everything else I encounter during these days of trials, this Christmas season has a different taste to me. I am hoping it will be a time of reflecting on the coming of Christ, a hope that is really my only hope.

Incidentally, the joyous art above is that of Anne Brink.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I'm out

Yesterday, they figured out what was going on with my body. I have clostridium difficile bacteria in my digestive tract. This is a stubborn bacteria, but can be treated with antibiotics. It causes a bad case of colitis -- inflammation of the bowels -- which explains the pain and cramping. Because the antibiotics can be taken orally, there was no reason to keep me in the hospital, so they discharged me late yesterday afternoon, telling me I would have to come back if I developed a fever.

I have great admiration for the local doctor, Dr. Bopanna, who was following me this week. Throughout the week, I continued to press her to release me because I thought it was pretty obvious that my problems were simply a result of my chemo. And since I tested negative for viral infection, I figured I could go home. She persisted, thinking something else weird was going on. And to the amazement of my amateur medical mind, she turned out to be right. I confess that sometimes it actually feels good to be wrong.

There is some good news in all this: the chemo was not a direct cause of the problem. It merely created conditions that made me more susceptible to stuff like this. Dr. Hoff's current plan is for me to keep taking the chemo as long as (a) the tumor keeps shrinking, and (b) my body can handle the chemo. Then, if the tumor is small enough, they'll perform surgery to remove it. This week, it was looking like (b) was unfortunately no longer true. But because it turns out that my problems are due to this bacteria, once we get it cleared up, I shouldn't expect these severe symptoms again. Still, Dr. Hoff has decided to delay my next chemo round by an extra week to let me recover. To begin chemo next Monday, he said, would be like pouring salt on an open wound.

On the way home from the hospital, Christine and I went out for an early dinner. She dropped me off at Mom's because I still needed some care. Christine had a bad migraine, so she didn't think she could care for me. When I got to Mom's, I immediately crashed (recall my earlier post about hospitals being a place where one gets no rest). Two hours later I woke up very hot. My temperature was 102. Ugh. I called Dr. Bopanna and she told me a few things to do to reduce the fever. An hour later I was to check my temp again. I did, but the fever hadn't budged.

So at 10:30pm, Mom and I did what we did last Tuesday - headed to the ER. Groundhog Day. Needless to say, I was in a terrible mood about having to be readmitted. They evaluated me in the ER for six hours, during which time the fever subsided. They figured it had to be something new - maybe the flu. Only time will tell if it develops into something. They decided that with the addition of another antibiotic for me to take, I could return home. So this week's hospital tales ended when we got home at 5:30 this morning. Or at least I hope that is the end of the tales!

Thursday, November 20, 2003

In hospital another day

Ugh. I just got word that my blood levels, particularly the magnesium level, is low enough that I won�t be released until at least tomorrow. This week has been a real bummer. On the bright side, Christine gets in this afternoon. It will be better having her back.

Live from room 507, it's wednesday night

�Hi!� The sharp loud voice woke me suddenly last night, sometime between midnight and one. I opened my eyelids and found myself looking into the eyes of another human hovering over me. I jumped. �I�m new nurse. How you feel-eenk?�

�Is this Candid Camera?� I wondered. I wanted to answer her honestly, but kept my thoughts to myself: �I was feeling fine, considering I was sound asleep!� It wouldn�t be the first time she unnecessarily woke me last night.

I sometimes feel like hospitals are real-life Saturday Night Live skits. Things that go on here do not need to be spoofed. This place is a spoof of itself. Maybe I was dreaming, but I could have sworn I saw someone mopping my floor with ammonia this morning at five. At around six, I awoke again to someone wheeling in a large clanging fork-lift looking object. They wanted to weigh me. I�m not making this up. Apparently, after being here for thirty-six hours, it was now urgent that they know how many kilos I weigh.

One has no choice but to take all this as entertainment. After all, television doesn�t have much to offer at five in the morning, especially considering I only get a few local channels on my room�s television. However, if I want more channels I can pay $9.95 a day. It�s called �GetWellTV�. They take all major credit cards.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


I was hanging in there yesterday, not doing too bad, albeit with concern about the continuing diarrhea. My doctor was concerned about dehydration but not quite enough to send me to the hospital. Then at 10pm, I developed a fever. My doctor (actually the doctor on call for Hoff) said to go right away to the ER. How is it that these things always seem to happen late at night! Mom took me. Neither of us had much sleep through all the night's activity.

Long story short, they kidnapped me and I am currently being held hostage at Richardson Medical Center in Room 507. My captors tell me I will probably be here until Thursday. Quite frustrating - this is my "rest" week before round six on Monday. They gave me a weak excuse for this captivity ... something about possible infection. However, my captors are treating me well. The fluids they are pumping into me for dehydration are making me feel much better.

Still, if this gets out of hand, I may ask some of you to organize a rescue mission. You could wear camos and helmets with green infrared cameras and carry me down the staircase to make it look heroic.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Didn't quite make it through the round

I had to abort this round of chemo treatment last night when I had just one day remaining. The diarrhea spun out of control on day 13 of the 14 days of chemo and my doctor had me stop this round to avoid my becomming dehydrated. This is a bit frustrating, as we'll probably reduce the dosage somewhat for next round. I remind myself it is a small bump in a long road. As we look back at all the chaos associated with my getting obstructed and having to stop chemo a couple months ago, it now seems to be as good as any plan the doctors could have designed. Those first few rounds instead of immediate surgery were not a mistake - they cleaned my blood system of the cancer and shrunk the liver tumor considerably before the six week break for surgery. Still, my comfort today is the same as it was during that setback - to pray with David, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (Ps 139)

I'm very glad that Christine was able to visit her family. She's enjoying herself, but she also wishes with these recent troubles that she could be with me. With her absence, she requested I stay the night with my parents in case I get too dehydrated. So after watching the Cowboys get shellacked by the Patriots (what a waste of time), I went over there for the night.

My doctor, answering my page from Boston last night, discussed my situation with me and emphasized repeatedly the importance of getting better to avoid checking into the hospital today. The remedy was simple - stop the chemo, take higher than indicated doses of over-the-counter Immodium, and drink as much Gatorade as possible to rehydate myself. This is reminiscent of my previous battle with cancer in 1982-5. After twenty years and billions of dollars in cancer research, the best help dealing with chemo is still Gatorade. I can imagine a new advertising campaign. Tough looking cancer patients ... no hair ... chugging Gatorade ... cool blue sweat dripping down their foreheads. "Is it in you?"

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Helen Grace

Helen_small.JPGWe mourn with the Mantegnas at the loss of Helen Grace, Christine's grandmother and the mother of Sue Mantegna. Our prayer is that God's peace that passes understanding would comfort Sue and her family during this difficult time.

Christine left yesterday for Baltimore to be with her mom and family for the funeral, which is today. She'll stay up there until Thursday. I only wish I had the physical strength to be there, too.

Thursday, November 6, 2003

CEA 3.4

It has been a while, but I'm still here pushing forward! I finished off my fourth round of chemo and this week began my fifth. I decided to try things a little differently this round by driving down to Houston and coming right back after the intravenous chemo was given. This takes advantage of the small window of opportunity of feeling well due to the the steroids I receive with chemo. This plan allows me to work and rest from home rather than from Houston. I decided to give Christine a break and Mark drove me down. She is continuing to suffer from serious migraines.

My check-up appointment was relatively uneventful. The good news was that my CEA level (a marker for the cancer activity) continues to go down. It is now at a level of 3.4, which is a "normal-person" level. This indicates the chemo is still working. I have been having some more serious side-effects (diarrhea) this past round, but not quite at the level of having to stop chemo for a break. Because I am on the edge with this symptom, Dr. Hoff was inclined to reduce my chemo dosage. I resisted and talked him into continuing at the full dosage. After all, the symptoms have been kept in relative check. He replied that if it gets any worse, I will have to abort the round and spend time in the hopsital to recover. But he agreed to continue at full dosage and see how it goes. I don't think he would have given in to my persuasion if he thought it was a foolish decision. I'm in day three and have not had any problems yet, so my gamble is paying off so far.

After one more round, we will do the range of diagnositc tests to see how the liver tumor is doing. That will be mid-December. Dr. Hoff doesn't want to do radioactive testing any more frequently than that because the iodine contrast used in the liver CT scan is bad for my kidneys. So the next solid news will not be until that time. As you may recall, the plan is to continue chemo until the tumor size no longer shrinks or until my body cannot handle the side effects. Then, if it is small enough, surgery will be performed to remove it.

For those inclined to pray, please petition for continued tumor shrinkage and overall healing, no serious side effects, and Christine's battle with migraines. Thanks.