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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chemo effective, so I get more

After seven rounds of chemo (four since the last scans), the chemotherapy is fighting back the lymph node tumors. I have two such tumors. These two guys are the source of all the concern. I also had a very small nodule in the lung, which they were not sure is cancerous, may actually be scar tissue, and would not be too difficult to remove if it were cancerous. That lung nodule is no longer showing up on the scan.

Since chemotherapy cannot eradicate this cancer completely, I have been pushing for more surgery. So I met with both my surgeon, Dr. Hofstetter, and my clinical oncologist, Dr. Eng, recently.

Two weeks ago I had my update CT scan and me with Dr. Hofstetter. He detailed for me what, exactly, I'm asking for with this surgery. Serious stuff it turns out. The hilar lymph nodes are wrapped around the pulmonary artery, so "scraping" it off puts the whole lung at risk. In addition, the two nodes are unfortunately one on each side. This means two complete surgeries, like I had in Jan & Mar of 2007. Painful. Lung surgery is done one lung at a time, so you can breathe with one while the surgeon deflates and works on the other. He would go in through the ribs in the back to get one side. Then I'd have to recover for a couple months and do it again on the other. Another risk is that the lymph nodes are located such that it may be necessary to remove completely the upper lobe of the given lung to get to it. I would have enough capacity to live, but one would rather keep as much lung as possible. Finally, he reminded me, that it is very unlikely this surgery will cure me completely. Given all this, Dr. Hofstetter wanted to make sure we were doing everything else possible first - in other words, keep doing chemo if it is working.

This is certainly scary stuff. Surgery is a risky path. But the way I look at it, having cancer in your body is a risky path, too.

I then met with Dr. Eng two days before thanksgiving. She had been talking with Dr. Hofstetter. Given the sobering difficulties with surgery, I was surprised how they both seemed to be treating the surgery path as viable. Because of several reasons, Dr. Eng thinks that after four more rounds, the window of opportunity for surgery will be better. And it seems like they think it might be a good option, after all. I've been asking them and other doctors about this kind of surgery and I'm finding that no one recalls going in specifically to take these lymph nodes out. The reason is that typically by the time colon cancer shows up in these lymph nodes (which is a common place for it to show up), there is cancer all over the place. In my case, everywhere where they've mopped up using five surgeries and radiation has stayed clean. These two nodes are the only signs now of the cancer. That and my youth, Dr. Eng explained, provide reasons to do the surgery.

The option to continue chemo was strengthened by the result of the CT scan. Yet again we saw dramatic success of the chemo. Four rounds ago, the largest of the two nodes was 4.7cm. Now it is less than half that. What is so remarkable about this is that I have been taking 5-fu based chemotherapy since 2003. Only half of colon cancer cases see significant response from chemotherapy at all. And those that do, it eventually becomes ineffective by a year to two years. Mine is still responsive after four-plus years. Also, the cancer, they say, is growing very slowly relative to what is normal. Is there such a thing as good cancer?

So four more rounds of FOLFIRI plus Avastin. The duration of the rounds will be 14, 21, 14, and 21 days. This gives an extra week for Christmas, and an extra week rest at the end before travel to Houston for the next scans, which are scheduled for the last week of January.

Christine has been doing as badly as we have seen. She is in much pain most of the time. My sisters and their families flew in for Thanksgiving at Mom and Dad's house here in Dallas. The night before Thanksgiving, Christine's migraine got to the dreaded level she sees about twice-a-year where the pain causes her to throw up and be at a 10 level. By morning it was completely unbearable. So while everyone shared turkey, we sat in the ER as they treated her pain with the power drugs.

Still, I give thanks at yet another "this could be my last" Thanksgiving. And I look forward to yet another "this could be my last" Christmas. Isn't that always the case, though?

When I sit and listen to the doctors wrestle with my unique case and I watch them puzzle over how to treat it, I give thanks. No one really expected me to be here at this point and that's pretty cool, I think. Here I am, continually coming back for more appointments, asking "ok, now what?" I don't feel strong - I am pushing along day by day with a just-enough strength. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."


Josh G said...

Praise God for the great chemo results! Will continue to pray that these drugs will kill those tumors. Will also keep Christine in our prayers. "I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods." Ps. 135:5 He is faithful.
We love you guys,
Josh for the Geigers

John said...

Greg, you are amazing. Keep beating on those doctors to think outside of the box.

Lynn Scroggin said...

We have never taken you off of our Prayer Chain in all these months and years. God has given you this strength and endurance for a reason. Thank you for sharing your journey. God Bless you and Christine.
Tualatin Presbyterian Church

David J said...

I don't believe that there is such a thing as a good cancer. But there is a merciful and gracious God, who comforts us in all our afflictions. Liliya and I also praise God for the chemo results, and we continue to pray for physical healing and spiritual stength for you and Christine.
"Some boast in doctors, and some in chemo;
but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God."
David's Modern Paraphrase of Psalm 20:7

Greg H. said...

Greg, I found your website through the Jonsson's site. (I go to Christ the King Presbyterian in Houston as well).
Will be praying for your complete healing.
Greg Hagerman

Anne said...

And the Murrays are thankful to have Christine and Greg in our lives and to celebrate Christmas with them. You are an active testament to the strength of faith and on your weakest days we are humbled by your strength. Lots of love and care from the snowy north.

Judy Kovacs said...

Greg and Christine, I have been praying for you for many years now and praise God for His faithfulness all this time. I'm still praying for complete healing for both you.

Roland said...

Greg: Please check regular e-mail. We need to talk phone-to-phone ASAP. Thanks.

Richard Sherard said...

Hey Greg,I recently experienced a near death ruptured colon and had to have emergrncy surgery with a second to follow in a couple of months. I am pretty down but reading your blog encourages me so much. Your perserverance is so inspiring and your trust in the Lord puts it all in perspective for me. God Bless you always!

Carl said...

Amen to your last, Greg

Mary Wilton said...

glad to hear that you too are 'fighting' the cancer bug, as I am. I have colon/pancreatic cancer and am on oral chemo, with CT Scans showing the drugs are working, decreasing the tumour and mass. Keep 'living with cancer' til it's gone! we are NOT dying with cancer,but learning to live with it. and our FAITH, which you obviously have also, does wonders.
praying for you wherever in the world you are!
Yes, it may be 'our last family christmas or gathering... but we press onward!
bless you, and all who support you. mbw

Don and Joyce Campbell said...

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow! We are praying for you both!

Jenny in Idaho said...

Greg and Christine,
I read you blog with my heart wide open and prayers rising up like incense.
My husband has recently recovered from a scary lung cancer episode and your blog has given me strength to recognize the joy in the reality. Thank God for you. Thank God also that the chemo has given you a new hope. I am always reminded that although this life is worth fighting for, it is our eternal life that is the prize. God is with a peace that passes all understanding.

Glen Ragan said...

It's the prayers. We're still going strong for you.
Glen, Lyn, Michael, Rachel, Brad, Mary, and Sarah Beth

sarah said...

Great to hear of this encouraging news. You are really a fighter and provide inspiration to us all. We can't wait to see you and Chris for Christmas.

Jim Williams said...

And His strength is made perfect through our weakness! May God's strength and His love continue to carry you and Christine from day to day. Continue to draw your strength from the Lord, for His resources are unlimited and always sufficient.

Winnie Krienke said...

Dear Greg: I read your blog oftern, thank God for giving you strengh, and thank you for posting the blog to let us know how you doing, I too, having been battered with colon cancer since Jun 03, right way Dr. Hofstetter, did couple surgery, lung resections, in Feb 07 and Aug 07
God bless you and Christine.

Mary said...

Blessings, Greg and Christine, I too continue on chemo since march 07. plus some alternative meds.
awaiting most recent CT results of this week, and praying for continued healing.
all in God's time, as you say.
we're not supposed to be 'here' but GOD, he's awesome.
I pray to see grandchild #5 in Vancouver in Feb. bless you, keep persevering and LOOKING UPWARDS!
Mary (with AIM Int'l)

Mary said...

Blessings, Greg and Christine, I too continue on chemo since march 07. plus some alternative meds.
awaiting most recent CT results of this week, and praying for continued healing.
all in God's time, as you say.
we're not supposed to be 'here' but GOD, he's awesome.
I pray to see grandchild #5 in Vancouver in Feb. bless you, keep persevering and LOOKING UPWARDS!
Mary (with AIM Int'l)thanks for your sharing!

Bobbie said...

Dear Greg,
I heard your story from Sophie Ingerslew. She is a friend of mine from Grace Community Bible Church. I am encouraged from your (I will call it success). Three years ago I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I have been on chemo from for 3 years. The cancer went through the colon wall into the liver. After many rounds of chemo I went into remission and I had 60% of of my liver removed. After a short time the cancer came back and matastisized to my lungs. I have several spots on each lung. The drugs have stopped becoming effective so the doctor is trying different combinations of the drugs now. As you know the side effects are horrible. I have been dehydrated many times. Another friend of mine from church gave me an article on Naltrexone. A low dose naltrexone. It seems it may be effective in controlling cancer cells. Since I have run out of options now the doctor doesn't care what I try. He has even said for me to let him know what I am ready to stop chemo. I really don't know how long my body will hold out. Anyway I started taking the LDN (low dose naltrexone) Tuesday, Dec. 4. I really don't know how long it will take to see some results, if any. I still have hope. I am surrounded by people, prayers and much encouragement. It has been a roller coaster ride and I don't think I could have lasted this long without the prayers. The doctor is suprised I have hung on this long. I can't begin to imagine what you have gone through but I do have a very tiny idea. I am 62 years. I will pray for you. I also just take it day by day and wonder if this will be my last Christmas. I have a grandbaby due in February. I attend chemo at MD Anderson in Richmond, TX.