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.

Friday, December 2, 2005

DLP family

My DLP support family at TI has been good to me, cheering me on through these treatments. One member of this family, Mary Metelko (who among other things has kept Dolce several times for us when we went to treatments in Houston), is organizing a celebration after work on the 14th.

If you are a DLPer and you're reading this, you're invited. Here's her invite:

Let�s celebrate Greg�s exciting news on the end of his cancer treatment. It has been a long journey that demands an opportunity to share fun times with good friends and good spirits.

Who: Greg�s DLP support family
Date: 12/14, Wednesday
Time: 5 � 6:30 pm
Location: Wizard's Sports Caf�a>, 747 S Central Expy, Richardson, TX 75080

RSVP to Mary

Friday, November 18, 2005

Beautiful vacation


Christine and I enjoyed our post-treatment celebration vacation in many ways. The hightlights, including some unexpected surprises:

- Had a refreshing time with Christine's family and grandmother (without feeling crummy!). Together we enjoyed good food, good music, and just hanging out. It has been too long.

- Spent two days in beautiful Brandiwine Valley. I've lived in Boston and Philly for six years and the foliage was as intense and colorful as I've ever seen it. And we found some great restaurants in the valley (good food was a theme throughout the week)

- Got to sit in on the rehersal of Sarabeth and Melina in their school musical.

- Spent some very encouraging time catching up some good friends in Philly: the Corvinos, Lindhs, Gaffins, Salsburys, Currys, and Chris Meyer.

- Went to CCEF Annual Conference. They are the counseling arm of Westminster Seminary, where I graduated. The conference topic I'd sum up as an anatomy of anger - its source, what it reveals, righteous and unrighteous anger, how does it fit into the gospel, redeeming anger, etc.

- Enjoyed Monday Night Football with my brother-in-law, Michael (I probably enjoyed it more - he's an Eagles fan)

Brandywine.jpg Brandywine Valley
Christine.jpg Christine
Hats.jpg Hats
Mati.jpg Mati
Murray_house.jpg The Murray's House in Glen Ridge, NJ

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Makes sense to me

The spot/bump, which was our concern of late, began looking more and more like a fluid infection, as my body had slowly worked it outward to just under the skin. It was probably from an old suture that tore something when I sneezed or lifted a suitcase like I'm not supposed to do. Dr. Perkins, my Dallas oncologist, performed what was the most common sense procedure I've had so far. He simply grabbed a syringe, shoved it in, and sucked out the fluid. Makes sense to me.

This means there are no signs of cancer right now in my body given the technology they have to look for it. I am thankful to be living this side of heaven when two years ago I didn't know I'd be here.

I am cautiously excited. My next appointment is January. This cancer, especially at the level I had it, has a tendency to return. But my case is unique enough to not have any statistics from which to predict anything. And I responded quite well to the chemo, which included some new stuff that has only recently been developed. The docs are hopeful. We won't really know until the months and years pass. My mind is still trying to figure out whether its safe to consider myself over this stuff - it is hard to shift gears after what seemed like endless rounds of treating and testing. I simply hang on to the truth of Isaiah 26:3, the verse I've been remembering through this journey.

Meanwhile, Christine and I have been waiting for a health break to head up to New Jersey to visit her sisters and family. Looks like we finally have that break! We're leaving Friday for a ten day trip. More on that later...

Also, this week I got in the mail something I haven't seen since the first one came in June 2003:

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Still observing

Dr. Rodriguez-Bigas wants to keep waiting on this spot. It does seem to be changing, but I am not an expert and cannot tell if it is getting better or worse. Even thought it is still there, he is reluctant to start poking my mangled abdominal wall with needles just yet. I am becoming more convinced this is not cancer-related. I am going to have my local oncologist take a look at it on Monday. The anti-climactic end of treatments continues...

By the way, the last post was inadvertently closed for comments. My faithful administrator, Rollin, has looked into the problem and we think it should be resolved now.

I am surprised that the 'stros were so soundly beaten by the Sox. I'm wondering if you Houston die hards are in great mourning, or generally pleased with the season, or perhaps still in shock...

Monday, October 24, 2005

No progress on spot

The antibiotics have not had an effect. I can still feel the bump and it is red at the skin over it. My surgeon is considering the situation and will get back with me - probably Tuesday. He still thinks it is just an infection, but they might want to do some needle probing. I hope he's right. More waiting...

Meanwhile, has a simple bad call ever had more of an effect than last night? By my reckoning, the score was Astros 6, Umps 4, Sox 3. Gotta figure these Astros are far from finished.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Mostly clear

We spent all day yesterday meeting with docs at MD Anderson. (I was told "MD" is short for for "most-of-the-day" - because that's what you spend there once you walk through the doors)

We got the results that my scans are mostly clear. The reason for "mostly" is that there is an area that is growing near the ab wall. In fact, it can be felt from the outside. The scan suggests it is liquid, but they cannot be sure. The first doctor to look at it was somewhat concerned. Later (a long hour), when we met with my surgeon, Dr. Rodriguez, he reviewed the situation and seemed convinced it is an infection related to an old surgery stitch or a slight tear in the big hernia I have. To a cancer patient, stuff like infections and hernias are in the good news category. There was some talk about staying in town for a biopsy, but they decided to just give me oral antibiotics for 14 days and just see if it goes down. They are holding off on scheduling checkups until this is resolved.

We'll be able to watch the situation from Dallas, so we're heading home.. with cautious optimism.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Quick update

I made it through a couple of rough tests this week and am now waiting. We go tomorrow to visit the doctors and find out the results. One good result so far - my CEA blood level is a normal 2.4 - could be a foreshadow of a good report tomorrow.

I am continuing to grow closer to two companions, pain and waiting. I have a hard time figuring out just who they are and what they want. I enjoyed lunch with Nils today. We discussed the meaning of suffering in the life of the disciple of Jesus, "who for the joy set before him endured the cross." No conclusions yet - we're still working on it.

"Cross", by Ashley, 15-yr old MD Anderson cancer patient

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Avastin news

Avastin may be more dangerous than previously thought. A study of the use of Avastin to treat ovarian cancer has been discontinued due to a higher rate of intestinal perforation than previously seen. This Genentech press release gives details.

I tried to get on an Avastin study in June 2003, but could not because I have a history of allergic reaction to a drug related to Oxaliplatin, one of the drugs they gave with Avastin for the study. In 2004, Avastin was approved by the FDA for the treatment of colon cancer, so I began taking it as part of my treatment plan. It turned out that with anti-allergy precautions, I did not have a reaction to the Oxalyplatin. And I never experienced bowel perforations, although we knew this was a risk. They just told me to stay reasonably close to hospital care while taking chemo in case it happened. It never did. I escaped.
Approval of new medications is a tricky business. On one hand, the FDA has a fast track attitude for advanced cancer treatment drugs like Avastin. On the other, drug approval in the US is tougher than many other countries, which gives patients in the US more confidence in what they are taking. It's a tough policy decision, but I think they strike a good balance for cancer treatment medications.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A sweet day

Today I should be hooked up to a chemo pump -- that is, if I were continuing on the schedule I have been on for a couple months now. Yesterday morning I awoke and briefly got that sinking feeling that it was chemo day. But it wasn't. Instead, it was another day of healing. Today I awake to the same feeling of liberation. Could it be that after over two years, I actually might have become accustomed to the ever-looming treatments?

Life is not fair. We often compare ourselves with someone who has it better or to a better situation and conclude this. But we rarely compare down. We don't look to those who have less and complain that life is unfair.

In Christian theology, we look at passages like 1 Cor 15:22 and think that "in Adam all sin" is not fair. But then we realize "unfairness" is not so bad... "in Christ all will be made alive". The beauty of grace is that it is not fair.

With "chemo days", I tend to think of those who unfairly experience "well days", and conclude that it's not fair. But today, I am comparing my well day with a chemo day - and I'm liking the inequality. It gives me a sweet feeling. A thankful feeling.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Jeremy's birthday

My good pal and nephew, Jeremy Peck, invited me to his birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese a few weeks ago. In the midst of trials, it's always refreshing to hang out with folks I can relate to.

click to enlarge

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Yesterday, I got unhooked from my last planned chemo treatment. Thus ends the grand plan for surgeries, radiation, and chemo.

Next month I go to MD Anderson for a week and a half of extensive tests and consultations to find out "what now?".

But today my heart is filled with thanksgiving to my Lord - who has answered our prayers by bringing us to this day that was so hard to imagine back in June of '03.

greg_and_dr_juvvadi_sm.jpgIncidentally, my CEA has been creeping up a bit - from 1.8 to 2.6 to 3.9. Still under the 4-4.5 range of concern. Dr. Perkins has been telling me me not to interpret too much from that - "it's just bumping around in normal range". Well, I've been ready for a bump down. Here is me with Dr. Juvvadi, my other oncologist here in Dallas. Our smile is the result of having found out that my CEA this week was 3.4. That was a nice little cherry on top of getting unhooked.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Hill of beans

I'm emerging from the third of four rounds of chemo before my reassessment tests in October. My body is protesting. But I continue. The fact that I have not written anything in a while reflects my level of existence somewhere not far above, well, existing.

sos.jpgrick_and_ilsa.jpegLike everyone else, I've been trying to comprehend Katrina. The endless stream of images reminds me of something Rick said to Ilsa: "it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." My problems seem like a hill of beans these days. The immensity of suffering and loss of life in New Orleans dwarf my own self-important battle with cancer.

James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us, "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." He gives this comment in the context of considering the "one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy." And for me, it is only in my connection to this one who is able to save that I find anything to grasp beyond the thought of merely being a mist.

So I rest in these rough times by praying with the Psalmist:
My heart grew hot within me,
and as I meditated, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:
"Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man's life is but a breath.
Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.
But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you."

(Psalm 39:3-7)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

MD Anderson special on CNN this Sunday

I have no idea what this will be like, and did not participate in any of the interviews (I am always too eager to leave the hospital the second I am done with whatever I am doing there!). But it might interest readers of this blog...

CNN Presents to air "Taming the Beast: Inside the War on Cancer" Sunday, Aug. 14
On Sunday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. CST, with an encore presentation at 10 p.m. CST, CNN Presents will premiere a one-hour documentary about cancer. Filmed exclusively at M. D. Anderson and hosted by CNN's medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, "Taming the Beast: Inside the War on Cancer" is an in-depth look at the state of cancer today. The program provides a deeply personal glimpse into the lives of five M. D. Anderson patients - revealing their daily struggles and exploring the revolutionary science helping them. As part of its filming, CNN designed a special recording room to allow everyone - faculty, nurses, clergy, staff, patients, caregivers, volunteers - to share their thoughts and feelings about cancer. Excerpts from the recording room will be included in the show. Additional recordings will be included on CNN's Web site, !, starting Aug. 10.

M. D. Anderson will not be able to provide copies of the program due to copyright laws. To purchase a copy of the program, call 1-800-CNN-NEWS.

Please note that M, D. Anderson does not schedule CNN programs; the documentary could be rescheduled in the event of breaking news.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

A new low CEA

I began chemo yesterday. Right now I am on the take-home pump, which slowly drips the stuff into me until tomorrow. I'm not feeling like writing much but wanted to share a piece of good news. I just found out my CEA blood level taken yesterday was 1.8 - the lowest it has ever been measured.

CEA is a marker which correlates to colon cancer activity. While it is relatively unreliable compared with blood markers for other cancers, it does generally go up if there is cancer growing and stays low when it is not. I had actually expected it to be up a little, because chemo can make it go up artificially and I took chemo with the radiation. So I was shocked and deeply relieved to find out it was so low.

My body wants to hurl lunch... but my heart sings thanksgiving to the Lord.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Return to Dallas

Yesterday I felt quite strong, so we decided to head back. One bummer on such a wonderful occasion -- as we packed the car, I went out to the porch, where I was storing my bicycle, and found it had been stolen. I took it with me to Houston with high hopes to ride around Herman Park. I did a little, but the heat became too unbearable soon after the radiation began. Anyway, I loved that bicycle and really felt violated when I realized someone had climbed up to our apartment to steal it. I do get a little kick out of thinking about the thief's surprise when he discovered there was only one pedal. Anyway, I tried not to let it get me down and we set off for Dallas.

So here I am, glad to be back home and glad to be rejoined with my dog. It is always weird coming back into my house after being gone a long time. And I have been gone for about 7 weeks. It is a refreshing feeling.

Remaining treatments
I will begin the final set of treatments Aug 1. I will do 4 rounds of chemo over 8 weeks. The treatments will be done here in Dallas. Its the FOLFOX-Avastin regimen, which I am not too excited about, but hey, there's only four rounds.
From talking with several of you, it seems I had given the impression that I was all through. Many people responded positively about the bell entry. But I think there was some misunderstanding - the bell marked the end of radiation, but not the end of everything. It has been the plan for some time that I would finish off after radiation with 8 weeks of chemo. So there is nothing new to precipitate these treatments.
I am scheduled to do a "final" set of scans and tests the first week of October back at MD Anderson. Hopefully, those will be clear, which will mean I will be through with treatments. Of course, they will continue to test me every few months or so after that.
Past middle age?
In the world of bloggers, I am worthy of my graying hair. Here is where I am on the distribution of those who keep blogs. (according to an MIT Weblog Survey).

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Radiation complete


Yesterday I completed treatment number 30. With this comes the priviledge of ringing the bell. I rang it hard and long.

As she lined me up one last time, I conversed with Linda, the radiation therapist. She told me that she never gets tired of hearing the bell. It speaks to her, she says, because it somehow captures the journey - all the challenges, difficulties, and required perseverance in these lives with whom she has come into contact. She is in her second career after raising kids who have all moved out now. Her story is like so many employees here. The way many of them talk about it, they see their vocation as a ministry. They know death is all around here - not exactly the most pleasant work environment. And while most of us avoid the subject altogether, they want to do what they can - however small the effort - to move towards that hope of death's defeat. Linda's eyes were moist as she spoke of the "hope that is wrapped up in the the bell". And the hope she has for me. When I first saw the bell -- on a little plaque with a cute rhyme: "ring this bell, three times well..." -- I was a bit skeptical (as I am about anything that even hints of sentimentality) But I was wrong. In this technosicence era, where what really matters is clinical protocol, statistics and survival data and where "the patient" is an object of study with a bar code, the bell serves an important function - one that I now realize is sorely needed. Everyone seemed to know that around here but me.

With the tradition of bell ringing comes the tradition of a little party. So Christine and I brought a grocery store cake and some plastic forks and enjoyed it with total strangers, all of whom were waiting to get zapped. The interesting thing about waiting rooms at MD Anderson is that these perfect strangers are also in a way close friends. They know me and my life better than just about anyone. And I can listen to them and form a bond closer than most others in their lives. The patients cheer for each other, hold each others hands, and sometimes cry with each other. Faces give each other knowing looks, knowing smiles, knowing sighs. Humanity joined against a common enemy.

I did invite one old friend to the party. Dr. Jaffe is the pediatric oncologist who treated me for bone cancer many years ago and has been a good friend to me ever since. He is retiring next year. Hard to believe, given his passion for what he does. But he wants to spend some years resting and writing. He is 73 years old, after all.

(click images to enlarge)
radiation_team.jpg<-- My radiation therapy team - Dana, Cathy, and Linda.


Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Lined up

face.jpg As they line me up for radiation, I often contemplate life. Thinking, for example, of the words of Ecceleastes:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered by those who follow.

(click the image for the whole picture)

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Radation home stretch

bell.jpghall.jpg24 treatments down, 6 to go.

Once a day I've made the trip to the hospital to for treatment. I park the car, journey down the long hall, get lined up like a sack of potatoes, receive three 30-second zaps by a big gamma gun, then head back home. Every one of these treatments marks one day closer to the day when I get to ring the celebrated bell on the wall. It's a little tradition they have here at MD Anderson.

janjan.jpgAccording to my radiation oncologist Dr. Janjan (shown here with me), my reaction to the treatments has gone very well. That is not to say there has been no pain - to be frank, there has been a lot. It seems to get a little worse every day. So why am I smiling next to this woman who has inflicted such pain on me? Because she is also the one feeding me plenty of narcotics to keep the pain under control. I take oxycodone around the clock (a.k.a. oxycontin, a.k.a. "hillbilly heroin"). It is pretty good stuff. Rush Limbaugh thought so, too. That's the drug he was addicted to. On top of this drug, I now have a supply of fentanyl "lollipops." Fentanyl is one of the meds they use in general surgery to knock you out. The lollipops are smaller doses that give immediate relief from strong pain. When my pain begins to slip out of the control of the oxycodone, I stick one of these lollipops between my cheek and gum, sit back, and smile like Kojak.

Seriously though, the pain has not always been under control, but these meds do help quite a bit. Enough that I've been able to work from home, where Christine and I hang around all day. It helps that I really enjoy the challenging problem I've been working on these days for TI. It is both an escape and something that keeps me focused.

Every once in a while, I ask Dr. Janjan to remind me, "why again I am doing all this?" After all, no cancer shows up on the CT scans. Well, the chances are pretty good that there is still microscopic stuff around where they took out the tumor in February. Radiation reduces the chance that this cancer will mount a new assault. So underneath all the symptoms, I pray a simple bold prayer that this process is doing what it is supposed to do - getting rid of this horrible disease. As long as it is doing that, the process is tolerable.

target.JPGThey've begun to double up the treatments to two per day. One at 8 and one at 2:30. This protocol is more aggressive and apparently is a bit more effective in killing cancer cells. The total number of treatments remain the same at 30. This moved the completion date back to next Tuesday, the day I plan to ring the bell.

The effects of a radiation treatment are felt 1-2 weeks after the actual treatment. Because of this, they say, the week after the last treatment is the worst. So I may stick here in Houston a little while before I'm up for traveling back to Dallas. While I am mentally able to keep going pretty well, physically I am exhausted and have a hard time doing anything without getting winded and needing a rest.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Friends in the news

The Houston Chronicle had an article today on the Hazels, highlighting their painted house. They're the folks who had the open house for us last week.

Just remember, before the mainstream media got the scoop, you saw it here on this blog first.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Dishman visit


The Dishman's (Mark, Angie, John, and the kids) made a trip down to Houston for a short beach vacation trip arranged so they could visit us. Christine has been struggling a lot with severe headaches recently, but fortunately, she felt pretty well Saturday. So we went out for dinner Saturday to Star Pizza, self-declared best pizza in Houston. Afterward, we hung out at 2115 Taft, a coffee house at which I have spent many hours working using their free wi-fi hookup. It has a unique (tempting) book store in it and plenty of couches to enjoy while reading the books. We sat around and talked about books and such, and then strolled into the connected art gallery, which is now showing an artist whose work I would classify as contemporary expressionist iconography. That evening there so happened to be a swing dance event going on in the other adjoining space and the music flowed into the gallery. So we found ourselves in this odd environment where we contemplated this sacred art to the music of Louis Prima. The result is shown below.


If you are wondering where the energy comes from during radiation treatments to swing dance, I will admit this dance lasted about 45 seconds, after which I found one of those couches to plop into.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Party with no occasion

reagan.jpgOn Sunday, the Hazels had an open house party for us. (more photos) They wanted to share some good times with us before the radiation&chemo symptoms started kicking in. We did the inviting -- they did all the work. Should a guy experience such undeserved fun? The occasion for the party in Reese's words: "because we like parties."

It was short notice but several people were able to make it - The Reitmeiers, Gaffords, Petkases, Roaches, Parks, Robert Cooke, Sarah Shay, and the Hazel's daughters. There was plenty of good food and drinks (unfortunately, those taking Xeloda abstained). Reese got a hold of a mandolin for me, so we had a string band going pretty strong.
As is the Hazel's custom, there were two toasts - one to Jesus, one to me. (I would have been happy with just the first.) In the midst of my storm, to me the evening was a small taste of the fellowship to be had in the New Jerusalem.
The picture is of us performing Old Joe Clark. You'll notice it has some modified lyrics. (background info: before the party, an exterior pipe in Reese's yard cracked, filling the lawn with water... Reagan is Ruth&Tylers son)
Old Joe Clarkband.jpg
Old Joe Clark, he had a house
Eighteen stories high
Ev'ry story in that house
Was filled with chicken pie
Fare ye well, Old Joe Clark
Fare ye well, I say
Fare ye well, Old Joe Clark
I'm a-goin' away
I went down to Old Joe's house
Stayed to have some supper
Stubbed my toe on the table leg
And stuck my nose in the butter

Raccoon has a bushy tail
'Possum's tail is bare
Rabbit has no tail at all
'Cept a bunch of hair

Reese's got a broken pipe
Flowin like a river
Got the plumber on the phone. Gonna
cost some gold and silver

Reagans hair is kinda short
I think it's soft and frizzy
When he bangs upon the drums
He get's us in a tizzy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Go Rice

Every college fan loves to protest, "we were robbed". I will join the chorus. Despite being ranked in USAToday as #7 in NCAA baseball, Rice was not selected to be one of the sixteen regional hosts for the first weekend of playoff elimination of the 64 teams in the tournament.

Home field is a definite advantage. Thirteen of the sixteen home teams last weekend won their four-team regional tourneys. LSU was one of those who got beat... by Rice. The Owls went 3-0 for the weekend including taking two of two from the Tigers. There are now sixteen teams remaining. Eight go to the College World Series.
Now, as luck would have it, Rice goes to #1 ranked Tulane next weekend for a best of three super-regional series, the winner of which goes to the World Series. Another road upset? I think it is possible.
Incidentally, two years ago, I mentioned on this blog the Owl's run in which they eventually won it all for their first national championship. I chose to stop writing about it because I have a friend who lives in Moscow and reads this blog, but was going to watch the taped series much later when he visited home. So in spite of my joy, I kept my lips sealed. But now, this friend is engaged to be married - so I figure he is in a good mood and doesn't care as much about the Owls anymore. Am I right, David?
For all you Owl fans, the next game is Saturday at noon. It will air on one of the ESPN channels.
Go Owls.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

First week

I'm finishing up the first week of radiation. The treatment itself is a matter of seconds once they get me lined up. And I an feel absolutely nothing - no heat, tinging, nada. Symptoms, if there are any, won't kick in for another week or two.

I came down by myself for this holiday-shortened week. This weekend, I return to Dallas and move back here to Houston with Christine for the remaining five weeks.

It sat on the shelf for a while, but I am now again reading Birth of the Clinic by Michel Foucault. In his words, it is "an archaeology of medical perception". The themes are reminiscent of Kuhn's Nature of Scientific Revolutions. Anyway, I got a kick out of the requirements for students to be trained in medicine at around the time of the French Revolution. Quoting from a guidebook of the time, students were chosen who demonstrated "good conduct, pure morals, love of the Republic, and a hatred of tyrants, sufficient education, and above all, a knowledge of some of the sciences that might serve as a preliminary to the art of curing."

A lot has changed since then. But I have noticed that while these oncologists down here have many idiosyncrasies and a whole range of strengths and weaknesses, it is true that as far as I can tell, none has a love of tyrants.

Monday, May 23, 2005


crosshairs.JPG"Just lie there still
Like a sack of potatoes."
Fragments of sound from a smile.
Surely these recited utterances had meaning
Her first time.

A sack of potatoes, I lay.
Obedient. Naked. Marked. Numbered.
For the best. They do care. They must.

Indigo stripes shamelessly violate
The buttocks. Hip. Back.
Crosshairs tatooed for the gun
To be aimed at naive potatoes.

Do the white-jacketed figures feel?
Gathered at the screen. Pointing. Scheming.
Dutifully murmuring about millimeters and degrees.

A hand, human, touches my shoulder
Grants permission to rise, dress.

"We'll see you Tuesday."
A voice. More recited utterances.
"Don't forget free valet with validation"

I emerge. Delivered.
Gaze skyward.
No longer a sack of potatoes.

The morning mirror insists still
That I am.

Status after trip to Houston

Highlights of our trip:

* CT scan was clear - no visible cancer. I am so thankful for this good result.

* CEA (cancer blood marker) was up to 4.6 (normal is below 3-4). This is "some concern" to my oncologist, but not alarm. It has gone up due to chemo in the past, so it is possible that the elevation does not indicate microscopic cancer. I pray not.

* Radiation/chemo is next to reduce chances of recurrence in the area of the last surgery. I decided to have this done in Houston at MD Anderson with the team of doctors I've grown to respect and who know my case well. External radiation treatments will be daily from 5/31 until 7/12. I will take chemo (Xeloda) at 75% level during this time to make radiation work better. It's not looking to be pleasant, and long term side effects include a small possibility of getting another cancer. But all doctors involved seem to be in agreement that it is best to go ahead with this treatment. It's funny - the chemo oncologist told me the radiation will be worse than chemo. The radiation oncologist said, no, chemo is worse. I guess I'll find out.

* After radiation treatments, the plan is for 8 more weeks of chemo. So, that puts me at a end-of-treatment date around mid September.

* The hernia repair during last surgery turned out not to last very long. A new hernia has developed several inches long in my ab wall. This will require surgery, although it can wait a year or two. Funny how cancer changes perspective. Before diagnosis, if I were told I had to have gut-opening surgery to repair a hernia, it would have been a pretty big deal. Now, it's like, "is anybody going to die? prob." Seriously, this is disappointing, but doesn't strike fear down deep the way cancer news does. You think maybe I could sell my ab on ebay and just get a new one?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Spring hope

memdayrose.JPG I have completed my four post-surgery cycles of chemotherapy. My body is hanging in there - weak but still kicking. Tomorrow, we leave to go to MD Anderson for evaluation and to discuss with doctors what is next. Everything is dependent on the scans that are taken. I am counting on them being clear! We'll find out if they still want to do radiation on the area of the most recent surgery, and if so when, where (Dallas or Houston), and what dosage. After that, maybe some more chemo. Every day that creeps by is one day closer to the end of treatment.

Here's the first bloom from my recently planted "Memorial Day" rose bush -- a spring first fruit of better things to come.

Natasha is healthy and growing. She is still in the neo-natal care unit. Here are some pics from last weekend visiting Natasha - all four pounds of her! We're all looking forward to her coming home.
ChristineNatasha.jpg GregNatasha.jpg

Tuesday, April 26, 2005



My beautiful little niece -- Natasha Catherine Burck, 3 lbs. 6 oz.

She was delivered seven weeks early due to concerns with the health of both Julie and the baby. After a week in the hospital, Julie came home last night. Natasha will stay at the hospital for a few weeks, but she's breathing on her own and doing well.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Drainage procedure went well

The seroma drainage procedure this morning was a bit more involved than I expected - they sedated me. This means that I can report nothing about it because I remember nothing. But Dr. Trimmer tells me it went well. And, well, my belly is indeed trimmer.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Post-surgery treatment plan

The Plan
I struggled to pack for the first trip to Houston after surgery. The struggle was not physical, although I was still hobbling around. Rather, it was due to that voice in my mind that protested vigourously, "no, you really don't want to go down there". Only four weeks had passed from the extensive surgery and the chemo guns were already loaded and aimed with me in the crosshairs.

The plan is to continue treatment for 4-6 more months. First, I'll take four rounds of chemotherapy - two months - followed by reevaluation by CT scans. If the scans are clean, they want to follow with a month or so of radiation in the area around my most recent surgery. The good news from the surgery was that they got all they could see and there was healthy tissue margin around the removed mass. The concerning news was that this margin was "less than 1mm". So just to make sure there are no hold-out cancerous cells in the vicinity, they want to blast the whole area. Dr. Hoff says that radiation in that area will be rougher than the chemo. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

rockyIV_sm.jpgAfter the radiation, they may do some more chemo for good measure. The doctors' relentless pursuit of this disease makes me wonder if their philosophy is to keep hitting me with this treatment as long as I keep showing up again on my feet. If that's the case, here I stand. I remember the image of Rocky bouncing around the ring with Ivan Drago. Rocky taunted him, taking unguarded blows while continuing to point at his chin as if to say, "go ahead, give me another, you got nothin'."

I have now completed two of these first four rounds. I'm getting the chemo now in Dallas, because it is standard treatment. The stuff is hitting me pretty hard. From whom can I draw strength to continue? It is for this strength I pray because I believe it comes from my Creator, who is my shield. Seems he always provides me with just enough, just in time.

CEA.jpgSome encouraging news
A little over a week ago, I received the news that my post-surgery CEA level (the blood marker that correlates with cancerous activity) is lower than it has ever been measured - 2.3! Go ahead and chuckle at my nerd tendencies, but I believe nothing communicates progress like a good Excel chart.

Surgery recovery
carlsue.jpgfirst_bloom.jpgAfter arriving in Dallas after the surgery, I was not able to do much of anything, including move around. So Christine's parents stayed with us for another couple of weeks in Dallas. I'm not sure how we would have made it without them. Beyond assistance with daily activities, they helped me catch up on my household to-do list. "OK, what next", Carl kept asking. The picture of them here is in our backyard, which they helped us landscape. At the time, we were getting our fence replaced. The rose is my first of the season. It bloomed last week. I go out every day to consider our rose bushes, even on chemo weeks - make that especially on chemo weeks.

chris_bishops.jpgchris_greg.jpgChristine and I knew that the weekend before my first post-surgery chemo would be the best I would feel for several months. So we spent a couple days at a B&B in Galveston. The weather was gorgeous and we chose to drive around the old town and go on several house tours. Here's Christine in front of the Bishop's Palace, a late 19th century house that survived the 1900 hurricane. And here we are eating seafood on an outside deck overlooking the bay. Enjoying good local food is always a top priority when we go out of town. pelicans.jpg

Procedure Monday Morning
Early Monday morning I will report to St. Paul Hospital for a procedure to drain a large pocket of fluid that has accumulated near the incision. They call it a seroma - I had never heard of such a thing. My doctor does not see it as dangerous, but would like it removed. Sounds good to me. I don't like how the thing shakes around annoyingly like a water balloon. And frankly, it's downright ugly. I'll count myself fortunate - not everyone can get two inches taken off the waist line in five minutes. And get this - the name of the interventional radiologist who will do the procedure? Dr. Trimmer.

Friday, March 4, 2005

Me & Martha

I'm not the only one being released. My pal, Martha, is reintroduced into civilization today, as well. So Martha, what shall we do first?

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Good to go

dr rod w greg.JPG

Today, Dr. Rodriguez-Bigas removed my drainage tube. This was the last foreign attachment holding me in Houston. Because it had been in for such a long period of time, he wanted to pull it out strong and fast. He put his hand around the insertion spot and pulled the tube not unlike starting a lawn mower. It was so fast, I wasn't sure what happened.

He tells us we are now free to leave town. I am so pleased to have made it to this long-awaited day!

Below are a couple of nurse friends who have helped me through the past few weeks. Phyllis, on the right, is the RN. Dr. Rodriguez-Bigas does the cutting, she does everything else!


Wednesday, March 2, 2005

An Important Role

I've mentioned to you that Carl and Sue are down here supporting us right now. There was one very important role Carl played that I have yet to mention. Yesterday, when it came time to remove my staples, Christine hustled back out to the waiting room to retrieve Carl to come join us. He had done this once before. The protocol for my staple removal goes like this. The nurse uses the staple remover to extract the staples one by one. I hold Carl's hand and proceed to crush it with each staple removed. It went by quite well for me. I'm not so sure his hand did so well, though. Gives fresh meaning to the concept of bearing another's sufferings.

By the way, the pic below is the back side of the Hazel's house we visited yesterday...

Hazel House.jpg

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Turning the corner

I think I turned the corner a day or so ago. I really feel some improvement in how I feel. The meds have caught up with the pain and nausea and I've found a good balance among them.

As best I can, I am enjoying passing the healing time away. Christine's parents are with us here in Houston and have been great companions to me and Christine during the surgery and my recovery.

Today, I cleared a milestone. They removed the fifty staples with which I have been zipped up. Thursday, I return for a final (hopefully) visit with the surgeon and to remove the drainage tube. Then we hope to return to Dallas Friday or so.

Today, we stopped by the Hazel's to pick up the piece of art Sarah painted for me. I am looking forward to enjoying this winter image reminding me of the warmth I received from everyone during this cold ordeal.

The going is still rough - I cannot sleep very well because of discomfort - but I am encouraged by the progress.

Friday, February 25, 2005

I'm Out

I'm out and back in the apartment. They released me yesterday afternoon. I have felt pretty bad since being out - lots of pain and nausea. There is some concern of nerve damage and I'm living with problems associated with limited functionality of several body processes. "Time is my friend" the nurse said, "many of these things will work themselves out as everything heals where they cut." Please pray these will be temporary.

I'll write more later - just wanted to thank you all for your support and let you know the good news that I was discharged. As rough as things are right now, I am deeply joyful and relieved they got the cancer and saw no more.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Great Progress

I spoke to Greg by phone last night and got some more updates.
- He continues to improve; in fact he said he's doing better at this point than at the same point in previous surgeries.
- Yesterday his epidural was removal and he is now on oral painkillers. He is able to eat and drink small amounts and has continued making laps of the hospital floor with his walker.
- The length of his surgery was due to the discovery of two hernias, one quite large, and the surgeons' belief that he was strong enough to endure a longer surgery which would take care of these problems now. This is itself cause for thanksgiving.
- Private messages are arriving and Greg and Christine are very thankful for them. He has not yet been to the website but will do so when he is discharged, which could be as early as today.
I had a nice long conversation with Greg, an encouragement to me and a blessing that I wish for each of his friends and loved ones. Please pray that he would continue to improve rapidly so we each can be reunited with him soon.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Away With the No-Good Tube!

The Nasal-Gastro, or NG tube, runs through the nose, down the throat and into the stomach. It is used to keep the stomach empty when doctors are concerned about vomiting or they do not want anything to pass through the intestines after surgery.

Greg insists that NG stands for No-Good. It is uncomfortable, impedes breathing and swallowing, and is a constant, second-by-second reminder that all is not yet well. Thankfully, today his NG tube was removed. He was also able to take two laps around the hospital floor, and continues to show every sign of making a good recovery.

There is still a long way to go. Even as we rejoice in his good progress, we continue to ask for your prayers that his healing would be swift and he would soon be able to take liquids and (eventually) solids.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Prayer Requests on Sunday

Greg himself called this morning and we had a good talk. It was good to hear his voice and sense his determination and optimism.

On the popular ten-point scale, Greg rates his pain level at a 3-4. This is with the epidural still delivering pretty strong medication. Additionally, once again he has a tube in his nose and down his throat to ensure that nothing passes through his intestines until he has healed from the surgery. This was extremely uncomfortable a year ago, but thankfully he is tolerating both the pain and the discomfort well. Greg listed several things that have helped this time around:

- Knowing that the surgery went well was tremendously encouraging. There were numerous potential outcomes (even with the cancer removed) that would have made recovery and life afterward quite difficult. There is a strong sense of relief, happiness, and thankfulness to God.
- Greg went into this surgery with great strength and overall health, more than with the previous two operations. This has helped his post-op condition greatly.
- The ongoing prayer support and words of encouragement from friends and family mean more than words can express. This theme has been repeated over and over in my conversations with both Greg and Christine.

So, I urge you to continue to lift them up in prayer. Pray for:
- Rapid healing, removal of the tube as soon as appropriate, and especially that he would be able to start drinking and eating soon. The doctors estimate it will be about 3-4 days before that will be possible.
- That Greg's time in the hospital would be comfortable and that he would be well-attended. He is currently expecting to be there 5-7 days.
- For rest and relief of pain for Christine and a good convalescence in Houston.
- For complete elimination of cancer.

Thank you all for your continued support and prayers.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

So Far, So Good

Greg's dad, Jim, called late this afternoon to report that Greg's recovery is off to a good start. He was moved to a regular room today and was able to briefly stand up and sit back down. So far he seems to be doing better than he was at this point after the previous two surgeries.

Greg and Christine greatly appreciate all the prayers and support they have received from so many loved ones. At the moment Greg is not in too much pain since they continue to give him a lot of medication, but please be praying that as the medication ramps down he will be able to cope with the pain.

They are surrounded by many caring people. Jim and Judy, and Carl and Sue Mantegna as well, are close at hand, and several Houston friends are available too. In addition, several of the nurses who cared for Greg after the previous surgery are in charge of him again - and remember him well. Given the change of floors and the passage of over a year, this small "coincidence" is yet another mercy in the midst of many answered prayers.

Please pray:
- for rapid healing and no post-operative complications.
- that Greg can tolerate the pain as he is eased off medication.
- for complete elimination of cancer from Greg's body.
- for rest and strength for Christine. She has so far been relatively pain-free, which has enabled her to be with Greg during this time.

Some of you may be wondering how the parents have been doing through this. Jim reports that they survived the surgery, if barely.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Surgery Has Ended

Christine just called to report that Greg's surgery ended a short time ago. The surgeon was able to remove all the cancer that could be seen! This is a tremendous result and exactly what everyone has been praying for.

This procedure is very difficult and lengthy, and Christine noted that the surgeon looked exhausted as he reported the results. Given the location of the tumor and the closeness of various parts in that region, removing it had some side effects, which will need to be managed. However, at this point our overwhelming response is one of thankfulness and praise to God for granting the doctors success in removing Greg's tumor.
Greg will spend the night in recovery where he will get excellent care, and begin the process of healing.

Brief Status Update

Christine just called with an update.

By 8:15 CST this morning the preparatory work was completed and Dr. Rodriguez was working. Greg's vital signs are stable. The current expectation is that the surgery will be six hours long, but keep in mind that the exact start time is not known and the estimate can vary. We're hoping for another update around 12:30 CST.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Surrounded by friends

I was moved by the gesture of Sarah Hazel, who painted a picture this week for me from my images of Breckenridge Park (see this piece and some of her other work here). After showing it in her upcoming exhibition, she is giving it to me and Christine. It really made my day (and what a perfect day to make!) To me it represents all the meaningful ways I am undeservedly shown support and love by so many.

My parents and Christine's parents are both in town here and we all had dinner together in our temporary apartment. That is, if wonton soup broth counts as a meal. The Jonssons stopped by and their boys showed their love by performing. Each played the violin and then they sang together for me. Here we are on the night before...

friends and family.jpg

tomas_violin.jpgjonsson boys.jpg

Morning schedule

A couple of you have asked, so here are the early morning details. Tomorrow at 5:30A.M., we will report at "Surgery Check-in" on third floor by elevator F before they wheel me away. The closest parking garage is the one at Holcombe @ Bertner.

Preparations for tomorrow

I hoped for a quiet week after meeting with the surgeons on Tuesday. Instead, I found myself with a full schedule of more tests. The surgeon wants to double check some things and make sure there are absolutely no signs of cancer anywhere else, in which case he will cancel the surgery.

Yesterday afternoon, I had a colonoscopy-like test with Dr. Ross. He wore a playfully confused grin and asked, "Now why is it do you need this test?" Knowing it would be an uncomfortable and somewhat painful affair, I replied quite seriously that I did not need it. He stepped out for a few minutes to review my chart and check with the surgeon. He returned and gave me his conclusion, "I think he's trying to torture you." And he proceeded with the test.

I began fasting on Tuesday evening. I will not eat until I can do so after surgery. They want my system completely clean. I think it is part of the torture plan.

I laugh about all of this because such matters are ridiculously insignificant compared with the magnitude of what will happen tomorrow. There are so many different possibilities as far as the direction the surgeons will go. The problem is, they do not know what they will do until they get in there. I have never experienced such a sense of helplessness and vulnerability. There are no bulls' horns for me to take hold of. I can do nothing to affect what they will do tomorrow, and when all the life-affecting decisions are made, I will be unconscious. They could find diffusely spread cancer, in which case they will close me up and do nothing. There is a significant chance this tumor has invaded key organs, which would have to be removed with the tumor. They may have to cut and reconstruct key parts in order to pull out what they need to get. And of course, the tumor may be cleanly isolated and easily removed. I get the feeling the decision points will be fuzzy so I hope they are alert, wise, and in top form tomorrow.

There have been a couple of good signs. My CEA blood level is down. This can indicate the cancer does not have much momentum. If it were spread about in assault on my guts, the CEA would probably be rising. Also, the various tests so far this week have turned up negative. This is why the surgeons are still all go for the surgery. Finally, I am as strong as I have been in some time. The time off the chemo (and perhaps the biking...?!) have done good for me. My white blood cell count is healthy and ready to fight. The extended fasting doesn't exactly help my strength, but overall, I think my body is ready for the recovery process after the trauma of surgery.

I have been so thankful to my Creator for all of your support and prayers. He has answered your prayers (in ways I have desired) in the past. I desire as much as I have desired anything that the same will be true this time. I ask if you might take a moment (or take an hour!) to plea with the Lord that tomorrow, (1) they will effectively remove the cancer towards a complete cure of this disease, (2) there would be no collateral damage that would adversely affect my future life, and (3) that I might have the strength to endure the pain and whatever results may come.

As slow as I physically trudge from appointment to appointment, my mind races as it confronts so many unknowns. At the same time, these simple words from the book of Hebrews have quitely, yet doggedly, come to mind.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Monday, February 14, 2005

HIV vs Cancer

It sounds to me like a B movie concept along the lines of "The Joker vs the Riddler", but apparently, HIV can be reprogrammed to fight cancer.

Fascinating. These scientists should hurry up.

Some info about the coming weeks

Surgery is Feb 18.

5-7 days after that, I will be in the hospital.

From Wed, Feb 16 until Thurs, Mar 4, we will be living in a short-term apartment near the hospital. Christine will be staying there the whole time, and I will be there when not in the hospital. Here is the address info:

1615 Hermann Dr. Apt #1331
Houston, TX 77004

While I am in the hospital, you can send a message to be printed and delivered by volunteer services. Some of you did this before and it does work.

MD Anderson visitation policies

MD Anderson location and building maps

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Alternative medicine

Even this alternative medicine skeptic has found a non-traditional treatment for cancer:

G and D.jpg

Unfortunately, the close-minded medical establishment at MD Anderson will not allow this soothing medicine to be employed at the hospital during my surgery recovery.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Good news and a fever scare

Yesterday began with encouraging news and ended with a strange fever episode.

Tuesday, I flew down to Houston for a CT Scan and a few other tests. The surgeon said this upcoming surgery was contingent upon this being a good scan, showing nothing new and hopefully more shrinkage of the tumor. I spoke with a nurse at MD Anderson yesterday morning and she told me that the preliminary (she made me repeat the word verbally, "preliminary") result was that there was some shrinkage and everything looks good towards surgery. So it looks like we're still on course for the surgery next Friday. This was quite encouraging to me and Christine.

As I finished up at work and laid on the couch upon arriving home, I increasingly felt sick and extraorinarily fatigued. This accellerated to the point of causing concern. My temperature was rising steadily and was at 101.4 when I gave my oncologist a page. The normal protocol for chemo patients is to go straight to the ER if the temperature goes above 101. I really did not want to go again for yet another night at the hospital. Dr. Hoff called me and discussed the situation. It had been a few weeks since the last chemo dose. More importantly (and quite fortunately) I had blood work done on Tuesday, just two days earlier. It showed a normal white blood cell count, from which he was willing to wait this out a little longer before sending me to the E.R. The hope was that this was a virus of some sort. I made a call to my brother elders, who were at another monthly meeting I was missing, and asked for them to pray for the situation. I made an arrangement for a possible ride to the ER in the middle of the night, and then Christine helped me into bed. I curled into a fetal position, not knowing how this fit into all that was happening and how it might change the plans for the next week.

I don't know how long I thrashed there in that feverish existence between being asleep and and being awake, but it seemed to be endless. But after a while I must have fallen asleep, for I awoke at around 2am relieved it was so late. I took my temperature and the fever was gone. This morning, I felt much better, almost as if the evening before was just a bad dream. Maybe it was.

So passes yet another twist and turn in this odd battle. I'm not attempting to make sense of this episode - I don't really have the energy. I'm just going to let this one go.

Friday, February 4, 2005

Building Strength

GregSelfPort.JPGI haven't written lately because I have been very beaten down by the chemo. My typical day for the last few weeks has consisted of going to work and sleeping the rest of the day. My blood levels had taken a beating from the chemo, which caused me to become anemic. My levels are just now getting back into the normal range. This week, I am starting to feel some significant strength coming back. I spoke with the nurse and she told me it is time to start pushing a bit of exercise to gain as much strength as possible before surgery. Right now, I am in such shape that walking from the parking lot to my desk gets me out of breath. I told her I enjoy biking and she said to begin at five minutes a day and try to build up in the coming weeks. She noted that it will be quite difficult, even painful, for a while at the start. "At the start?!" - I've only got a few weeks before the surgery!
So that's what I've been doing the past few days. I tell you all this reluctantly, because I know full well that in doing so, I will find myself more accoutible to actually keep this up. My inertia factor is high right now and getting out to exercise takes more initiative than when I was well (not to say I was successful then, either!) But the motivation is there - the more strength, the better the surgery recovery will go.

Today was an especially beautiful winter day. I brought along my camera so I could share with you the park near our house that Christine and I enjoy. This park is a big reason we chose to live in this neighborhood. I wish Christine were well so that she could enjoy it more. The bicycle path from which these pictures were taken just completed last year, so many of these areas in the park still seem new to me.

I am so behind on everything, since I have had no energy to do anything I need to do. I'm taking the day off today to get through a few months of mail. I told Christine that in life I'm behind in everything but pooping. That's part of the deal, I suppose. Chemo is rough, but it is better than the alternative. I still find Jesus' wisdom as relevant as ever, " first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."