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.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

To Houston on a beautiful day

bguy.jpegToday is a gorgeous day. Sprinkled clouds float above in this crisp spring air. The Denton jazz festival is playing live on KNTU. The past three weeks I have felt as well as I have in a year. I've been getting back into the regular flow at work. I even got in a little golf last Friday. As I drive around doing errands before my trip, it is hard to believe that cancer even exists. But cancer likes to lurk in the dark and come back uninvited. Is it hiding or is it gone? It's voice gnaws on me in the back of my mind, causing me to wonder if this beautiful day is a calm before the storm. But what can I do? - I shall enjoy the day and the Lord who gave it to me. I pause, "Have mercy on me, Lord". Now let's turn up that jazz and hit the road.

We're off to Houston today for a round of tests and consultations with my doctors. Two big issues are to be addressed:

(1) The first is the possibility of cancer recurrence. My CEA test results this week in Dallas were down to 6.4 (it was at 10 three weeks ago). That report made my week. But it is still high (should be under 4) and thus they are still concerned it could be recurrence. Tomorrow morning I take a PET scan to expose any cancer that could be causing it to be high. They will also retake my CEA again.

(2) The second issue is that of these strangely dilated veins connected to my liver. My case was presented at a MDACC GI medical conference of all the experts (so my doctor tells me), and they still don't know what is causing this problem. It is not at an alarming state of dilation, but if they continue to grow, it could be life threatening. Interestingly, they now notice that back on my pre-surgery CT scan in December, these veins were slightly dilated. I'm not really sure what this means. To get a better idea of what is going on and what possible remedies they might pursue, I am having an endoscopy tomorrow after the PET scan. This is a procedure in which they put me under general anesthesia (a bit stronger than that of a colonoscopy, but not like surgery) and then stick some sort of diagnostic contraption down my throat. They say that from inside, they will be able to get a look at these veins.

Then on Wednesday morning I will meet with Dr. Vauthey, my liver surgeon, to discuss the findings of these tests and we'll discuss the approach from here. Dr. Hoff may be there for the Wednesday meeting, as well. I really have no idea what comes after Wednesday.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

O Death, Where is thy sting?

resurrection_sm.jpg Easter Day, 2004. Today the church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. Belief in the resurrection is not an incidental belief of the church nor even one of several key beliefs. More than any other element of Christianity, it has been, from the first generation of Christians, the defining belief from which all other doctrines flow.

It might seem to be somewhat odd that someone with extensive education in the sciences would believe such an incredible event. Yet I, along with men and women across history, education levels, cultures, and ethnicities attest to its truthfulness - even unto death.

How can someone possibly believe this? Science discounts the possibility of bodily resurrection and common experience reveals that no one comes back after death. I like to preface my response by first highlighting a couple of thoughts. One is that the absurdity of this event is fully admitted by the New Testament. Ancient people were not more gullible in this area than we - everyone knows dead people don't come back to life. In fact, the very idea that no one ever comes back from the dead is the whole point of this belief - Christ's resurrection was cosmically and historically unique. Second, when we ask for scientific evidence for his resurrection, we are resting on Enlightenment presuppositions of empiricism and rationalism, both of which are unquestioned belief systems that rule out a priori any unique, unrepeatable, miraculous event. It's like demanding that a sunrise be proven with an audio tape recorder. The very rules of "proving" rule out belief of the event from the start.

Beyond these introductory remarks, I do not have the time or space here to discuss why I believe the resurrection. However, I would like to say that my security rests on it. Since the day I was first diagnosed with cancer, I have found that my world has been overturned. I race through thought after thought that seems to slip away through my fingers. I come to rest, however, when thinking about Christ and his resurrection. Finding solace is not the reason I believe, but the result of believing.

One of the leading Christian apologists in our age is N.T. Wright. ("Apologists" are scholars who defend the truthfulness of Christianity). He has gone to great lengths to make a solid case for resurrection in his book, Resurrection of the Son of God. This is a rather large dense book, but if you honestly want to wrestle with this issue, you would do yourself a favor to read him (instead of conveniently writing off your local TV preacher or some simple-minded Christian arguments you may have heard). A more brief treatment of the subject can be found in the chapter "The Challenge of Easter" in another of his books, The Challenge of Jesus.

The day after I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was pleased and surprised to hear an extended interview of Wright on our local NPR station. This was a bright light on a very dark day. I have a recording of the interview and you can listen to it thanks to the help of a friend who made it available on line.

Saturday, April 3, 2004

CT scans clear

I received news Friday that both my CT scans from this week are clear of evidence of tumors. This was relatively good news. The CT scan equipment can measure things reliably down to about a quarter of an inch. Thus, we ruled out anything big and vicious. So we can guess that the elevated CEA is either an early sign of some future recurrence or that the Xeloda is causing liver toxicity. We'll find out more in a few weeks when I retake the CEA.

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Trouble, mystery and irony

I just returned to Dallas tonight after a rough week in Houston. Wednesday's lab work showed a CEA a about the same level (10.0), so it is indeed elevated. To be sure, this was quite discouraging. I wrestled with whether to ask Christine to come down because I knew how hard it would be for her and figured she would come if I needed her. I decided to ask her Wednesday evening and she caught the last flight down to Houston that night to be with me in spite of her own pain. Waiting for her and meeting her late that night at Hobby Airport reminded me of our courting days, when we lived in different cities and spent what money we had on plane tickets - money that was worth it when we saw each other in the terminal. In between all the appointments and tests, we had a wonderful time together - talking, comforting each other, praying, reading Scripture, laughing. And it made the trip back to Dallas much more enjoyable (although I still had to look at Pillsbury Sam-boy). The week was rough on her physically, but I'm really glad she came.

We met with Dr. Vauthey and Dr. Hoff together Wednesday morning. They only had preliminary results from my liver/abdomen CT scan. They saw no evidence of tumors to explain the high CEA. But they gave the disclaimer that the radiologist is better at examining the scans and his report had not yet been written. While no cancer was apparent, they did notice that the veins around my spleen were quite enlarged. Both Dr. Hoff and Dr. Vauthey were very perplexed by this and said they had not seen anything like it before. (One friend told me later in response, "see what a special guy you are, Greg!") Every week there is some sort of MDACC oncologist conference in which they participate, and on April 14th the conference will have some outside "experts" attending. So Dr. Vauthey decided they will discuss my case at the conference on that day to determine how to further investigate this blood vessel mystery.

Meanwhile, my doctors called for two things as a result of these findings. One, they had me take a CT scan Wednesday night of my lungs to see if anything evil is going on there. The official results of this and Tuesday's scan should be ready Friday. Two, they told me to stop the chemo. There is some chance that the Xeloda can cause some elevation of the CEA due to liver toxicity. So after three weeks of no Xeloda, we'll retake the CEA. If the number is down - terrific. If not, and if this is a recurrence of cancer, then the Xeloda is not working anyway so it is not useful to be taking it. They wouldn't really address any what-if's because there are too many uncertainties right now. So we wait.

The short term positive of all this is that for the first time in almost a year, I will be off chemo and not recovering from some major surgery. I'll probably appear and feel as healthy as I have in a long time. Such is the irony of cancer.