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, 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."