Final Post Surgery Update

April 23rd, 2016

20160423_071659I went to see Dr. Wilson, the ENT surgeon and then Dr. Martin, the dermatologist. I am glad to say that both were unimpressed. Dr. Wilson did a great job on the surgery so the scars have mostly disappeared to the casual glance. The missing parotid nerve means I still have the weird ear which feels like a leaf on the side of my head when I put my hood up in the rain and makes it necessary for me to sleep with my hand around my ear when I am on Austin-Healy-Sprite-MK-II-Sidecurtainsmy left side.

Dr. Martin did a very thorough skin examination, finding nothing new. She decided to remove a small brown spot from my right forehead just to be sure. Pathology determined it was just sun damage, probably from courting Sherry in my little Austin Healy Sprite with the top down!

I will see both doctors from time to time and there will be a CT scan this fall sometime, but so far a we know there is no cancer in my body which is for praise!

May means teaching pastors in the Philippines. Sadly Sherry will not be going along. Her rehab after the Aortic valve replacement is going very well but her energy levels are yet up to the ambitious pace of the trip.

One Month Post Surgery

February 6th, 2016

It was just a month ago that I was headed into surgery to remove the rest of the lymph nodes in my neck in order to contain the melanoma that made its micro-presence in the sentinel lymph node under my jaw described in the previous posts. The hematoma under the incision disappeared in just hours leaving me wonder where the blood went. The swelling is mostly gone. I am now able to raise my arm out horizontally and bounce it to full extension. No more narcotics, I am glad to say. I still do a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen a couple of times a day to control pain as I go to sleep and in the early morning. I still try to force myself to sleep longer. But I still find sleep pretty boring. Sherry did laugh at me last night when I fell asleep on the couch just after 7:00.

I met Rob Karch at last year’s World Venture Renewal Conference and we quickly established a theological and missional friendship which went into a different dimension when he discovered enlarged lymph nodes in his neck just as I was having my first surgery. He had surgery to remove lymph nodes in his neck the day before my second surgery to do the same thing. We met face to face at this year’s Renewal Conference to connect and pray. His biopsies lead to a diagnosis of “T-Cell/Histiocyte-Rich B-Cell Lymphoma”  with a nasty regimen of chemo that will keep him from extending his mission work from Quebec to France. His story is here.

I spoke at Corban University’s chapel, reflecting on Jesus’ command, “do not worry.” I exposited my thesis that He wants us to worry like a bird – don’t worry about if God will make seeds or what climate change means all the trees die, but do seek after (a nice worry word) seeds so you don’t starve and about cats! I ended with a reflection on my melanoma journey, concluding with four points:

  • Go to the past looking for lessons, not regrets.
  • Go toward the future with a plan built from what you know.
  • Satan lives in the “what if’s”. Reject his temptation to live there with him.
  • Jesus lives in the present. Look for the glimmers of His grace in dark places.

Sherry Atkins, the other half of the Sherry twins, had hip replacement surgery yesterday. Since she was betrayed by her husband and her children do not live near, she is alone in a very difficult time. My Sherry took her to the hospital, met with the doctor for the post-surgery consultation. She will live with us for the six weeks or so while she can’t drive. What does “do not worry” look like for her?

January 18th, 2016

gerry-breshears GCC If you look closely at this picture you will see the little mole on the left side of my forehead that had the melanoma in it. Of course it’s gone now as well as all the lymph nodes downstream from it. In Friday’s follow up visit with Dr. Wilson, I reported the pain in my collar bone area and inability to raise my arm straight out from my body, all of which was something he had warned me might happen. I’ll be doing some physical therapy to help with this and be sure the shoulder does not freeze.  The new thing is the hematoma alongside the incision. It’s quite a lump. Hopefully it will be absorbed. If not he’ll do some procedure to drain it. There will likely be a follow up with Dr. Da Graca but there’s no indicated actions other than watch for moles or lumps.

I have been doing a lot of extra sleeping and resting to invest in healing. Other things like classes at Western, two workshops at Missions Connexion and two Perspectives classes in Spokane Monday and Tuesday nights continue to make life fun.

Sherry’s healing continues alongside mine. Today is her first day for her sprained ankle delayed cardiac rehab. She reports that they are very nice people and aren’t pushing her . . . yet!

This Sunday I will preach at Grace on Generous with our Time from Psalm 90. Lots to ponder since melanoma gave new reality to “ponder your mortality.” In doing research, I found Joey and Rory, first rank country singers. She is dying of cervical cancer, which Rory blogs about in his January 15 entry at “This Life I Live.” They did their song “When I Am Gone” back in 2012 before any illness. Click on the link. Read the blog post. It is super powerful.

Surgery Followup

January 12th, 2016

I started my Monday with a two hour class (so fun!) and then went home to take a two hour nap. Fair play wins. Then I went to see Dr. El Rassi to the dratted drain out. I asked him if his name was Lebanese. It was and he was amazed that I knew. We had good talk about Lebanon memories while he was checking me out. The biggest concern is that I can hardly lift my left arm at all. It is super painful. Dr. Wilson had told me the nerve might get tweaked but there was no post-surgical sign of that on Thursday or Friday. It started Friday evening and has stabilized. He agreed that it might be a combination of surgery and the anatomical change from my badly broken collar bone way back in 1987 which they did surgery on to see if fusion might help my moving clavicle in 1988. He thinks it will go away in a couple of months.

As we did all that, he took out the drain — it feels weird and painful when he pulled that long tube out of my neck, but absolutely wonderful to have it gone! After some follow up conversation on a physical therapy consult, he sent me on my way.

As I was pulling onto I-205, my phone rang. There is no caller id when it comes through the system in my van so I answered wondering who might be might be calling.  “This is Dr. El Rassi. I want to tell you that your pathology report arrived and it’s all clear.”

Needless to say, it made my day! Now I can say what I expected to say, “There is no known cancer in my body.”

I celebrated by going home and taking a nap and then teaching my evening class to a great group of students. So fun!

I will see Dr. Wilson, the surgeon, on Friday and ask specifically what to watch for. Dr. Martin, the dermatologist, will get to be intimately acquainted every square millimeter of my skin!

Final surgery?

January 8th, 2016

Yesterday’s surgery to remove the other lymph nodes in the left side of my neck went very well. Dr. Wilson told Sherry that they all looked fine. That means there’s probably no active cancer but does not rule out the presence of some cells as there was on the sentinel node which was removed back in November. He kept me overnight as a precaution (I like cautious doctors!). Surprisingly I slept well in the hospital. They only woke me once to do vitals and it was time for a potty trip anyway. After a very good breakfast, I was discharged at 9:00 this morning. Home is a good place to be! I’ve been laying low today with a long afternoon nap as the biggest event of the day. Pain is minimal but I have major meds if it kicks up. No hero spirit in me. No responsibilities for the weekend by design. Then classes start Monday with getting the drain out of my neck as the most anticipated event of that day!

I am praying for a clean pathology report in my Friday post-op with Dr. Wilson. Then I will be able to say, “there is no know cancer in my body.” Regular observation will follow of course.

Sherry and I deeply appreciate the huge number of people who are praying and supporting in many ways/.

Melanoma

December 15th, 2015

The mole on the side of my forehead had been there a long time. Back in August, I had Dr. Ben take a look. He sent me to Dr. Martin who removed it in a quick office visit at the end of Septermber, just before Sherry’s aortic valve replacement surgery on October 9. Of course she sent it to pathology and they found melanoma. It was just a hair thicker than they liked so she sent me to Dr. Wilson, an ENT physician for surgery to remove more tissue around the spot where the mole was and to take out a lymph node and the parotid gland (no, I don’t know what that’s good for) on November 11. I went back to see him after 10 days and the preliminary pathology report was clear. Though he was a bit frustrated that the final was not in yet, he was not concerned. “I’ll give you a call if anything shows up.” The call came about 10 days later: there is a “micro-presence” which is to say they found a microscopic focus of tumor on the capsule of the node. But with melanoma, zero is the only right answer. So I will have another surgery on January 7 to remove the other lymph nodes in my neck. This is preventive, for local control of the cancer.

Dr. Da Graca, my oncologist comes highly recommended from friends who are oncology nurses, so I have a lot of confidence in him. Because it moved from the original location, I have stage 3 melanoma. But it is low risk since there was no enlargement of the lymph node and only a focused cluster of cells.

For researchers who want to help out: The possibilities are participation in a clinical trial, observation or interferon. Ipilimumab was recently approved clinical trial for high risk stage 3 melanoma. He notes that both interferon and ipilimumab are relatively difficult to tolerate and don’t help with survivability. He did recommend checking on pembrolizumab, the “Jimmy Carter” drug. It is a very new medication which is a good option. The “problem” is mine is not “high risk” so I wouldn’t qualify for a clinical trial. There will be another assessment after the January 7 surgery.

Last week I had five classes. In all of them there was focused prayer for healing which I deeply appreciate. In one, Evan Wickham had a prophetic picture of one of the lymph nodes sucking up all the cancer cells just before the January 7 removal. I found myself speaking strong rejection of cancer in the name of Jesus.

At this point I am completely symptom free so life goes on pretty normally.

The hard part has been telling people who love me and seeing the shock. All my responsibility and helper stuff kicks in, of course. The hardest is Sherry who is recovering from her heart surgery nicely. She’s a trooper and super supportive as we journey through this place with the prayers of friends all over the world.

Honolulu

August 29th, 2015

Really early Saturday morning Sherry, Cyndee and I headed for the airport. I chose the 6:30 departure to maximize our time. As we waited for the call to board the flight to Oakland, we heard our names called. As we approached the podium, the lady smiled, “I have bad news and good news.” Our flight was on a mechanical hold and we’d miss our connection (bad!) so they were putting us on the direct flight (REALLY good).

2015-08-08 12.11.23As we boarded the flight, the fellow on the row ahead of us recognized me. Turned out he was there with his son and daughter and their two children on a “Make a Wish” flight. Their three year old daughter had severe neurological disorders and they were going to the Disney resort. We ended up joining them, spending an extended prayer time, all sitting on the floor in a crowded “lounge” since their room was not ready.

20150808_141549After a delightful lunch by the pool with them, we headed to the airport only to discover that the flight change had confused our bags and they still had not found their way to Honolulu. We checked into the condo and ended up finding a K-Mart to purchase necessary items. The bags finally arrived around midnight and we picked them up on Sunday.

11822536_10152918240622096_9054927879743193804_nThe condo was nice and the view of Waikiki wonderful but the sand was really coarse. Turns out the beach is eroding so they pumped in sand from further out and it’s not be refined by the waves.

Sunday was Pearl Harbor. I felt a deep connection since my uncle Truman would have been stationed there had he not contracted rheumatic fever. I have done a lot of study of the whole attack so experiencing the place live was all the more ponder material. The presentation is of the infamy of the Japanese and the heroic sacrifice of the soldiers and the return to 2015-08-09 15.30.36victory. But as we toured the Bowfin submarine with its torpedo rooms, the Arizona Memorial, and the Missouri with its huge guns, I felt the tragedy of war keenly. There was no triumphant “we won,” only a sadness for all the disrupted lives and ruined civilizations. I was glad to stand on the deck of the Missouri where the peace treaty was signed and remember that General Marshall, a deeply Christian man, lead the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, both of which are now close allies.

2015-08-09 18.17.39Sunday evening was the beach front Luau presented with much pageantry and celebration of the Hawaiian culture. I was particularly pleased that the hostess spoke the three greatest things, faith, hope and  love, and sang a classic Hawaiian blessing song “E Kolu mea Nui” originally written for the congregational church in Maui. Her Christian heart spoke powerfully.

2015-08-10 07.17.10Monday found Cyndee and me taking the beautiful hike up Diamond Head. The morning was relatively cool so there was not much sweat. Donn laughed at my Alaska hat in Hawaii! Then Sherry joined us for the trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It has a very produced feel to it but there is no other place where Sherry and I will renew our wedding vows as part of watching a Tahitian wedding ceremony. After the very pagan ceremony, the host had us stand and answer the question: “will you ever leave?” with the “No” spoken in Tahitian.

ENTI ClassTuesday through Friday had me teaching 25 top notch young campus workers at Every Nation Training Institute. Sherry and Cyndee did things like visiting the Dole Plantation, the Arboretum, doing some shopping and such. I think I had more fun! 

Second week in Iloilo

May 28th, 2015

IMG_6186Things are quite familiar as the days continue. When I go down for breakfast, the ladies at the front desk greet me warmly and hand me my order form with names filled in already. The lady in front of the seafood restaurant across the street now greets us insteadIMG_6185 of trying to persuade us to take a copy of the menu. That’s a benefit of being one of the very few anglo faces in this town that’s off the tourist trail. The stand just down the street where we get our mango shakes just ask if we want our favorites. The ladies tell us stories and give us suggestions on places to go. If you click on the lower picture, you’ll see why their menu makes us smile!

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On Wednesday evening we made the 2015-05-27 17.55.04trek to the Café Panay. It meant walking through the center of the old city which reminded us of how our section of Manila looked when we lived there in 1969-1972. Lots of crowds and “down home” shops and street dealers selling all sorts of useful things. Our table was in front of a fuzzy picture which becomes quite a marvelous2015-05-27 18.10.20 picture of old Panay in a photograph. The Café specializes in local items and foods, so we asked the server who told us what would be best. And indeed she was right. Instead of calamunsi, she suggested Red Taho iced tea. Just enough zing to 2015-05-27 18.31.20make it interesting. I chose chorizo Ilonggo with purple rice (yes, purple!),, Itlog na Maalat (a pickled flower) and salted egg all on a traditional banana leaf. Super tasty, especially when followed up with Café Panay Turon in Muscuvado Carmel Sauce (and Tablea Dip)2015-05-27 18.34.56 which being translated means banana in lumpia wrap with caramel and chocolate. Yum!! I loved hearing traditional Filipino folk music in the background as we ate. The owner showed us around the shop while telling us stories of the history of Panay and the items for sale in the shelves of the shop. We took a different route home and were soon in the area of the middle class folk with large malls and noisy music.

IMG_6170We treated the students to lunch in the hotel restaurant. It was not lunch, but a feast!The food just kept coming including century eggs and drunken shrimp and Crab Morcon and Sharksfin Guisado and a whole fish in sweet and sour sauce as well as a great soupIMG_6166 and a beef brisket hot pot all ending up with Filipino fruit cocktail. Even the students couldn’t identify some of the dishes. The servers (a whole crowd of them) were glad to explain. IMG_6172Fortunately the discussions during my afternoon class were active enough to ward off the spirit of drowsiness which threatened to attack the students with all that marvelous food in them.

Iloilo weekend

May 25th, 2015

P4210002-001Saturday was for site seeing so Sherry visited the little travel agency next door to the hotel to see what they had. Too late for a tour but they gave us the itinerary which was perfect. It started20150523_102247 with a walk down to the old provincial capital (which was undergoing an extreme make over and uninhabited) and the Museo Iloilo. We paid our fifty peso entrance fee (about $1.25) and found that we got a guided tour from Shomai, who said she was a guide in P4200004training. Sure sounded like an expert to me as she explained each of the displays. There was the “olden days” and the salamander skin diapers (which I wanted to touch to see if itP4200009 was soft), and the wrap (?) made from spider web (hard working spider to make something this large!) as well as many religious items and weapons from a millennium ago and from the Japanese P4200015occupation in WWII.  There was a display of excellent pieces of fine art by Iloilo artists. This “prayer in the middle of war” riveted my attention and left me pondering all that was symbolized here. LORD grant us Your peace.

We hailed a taxi to go to the Molo (a suburb of Iloilo)P4200026 Church, St. Anne’s, also known as the feminist church since all the saints in the church are female. I was pleased to see Sherry doing her devotions under the icons of the lady saints. The church was quiet with just a few people inside who were meditating in the beautiful church.

P4200036One altar had pictures of two women saints, one of Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese who was enslaved as a child and subjected to horrible abuse over the next half dozen years until she was bought by a kind Italian who took her to Italy where she lived until the courts ended her slavery and she became a Canossian Sister serving until her death in 1947, and declared a saint in 2000. Quite an amazing story.

The plaza across from the church is called theP4200041 “Athens of Iloilo” because of its central display of Greek gods. The contrast between the Greek Pantheon and the Feminist Roman Catholic Church could not be greater! I went to buy some water as Sherry sat in the shade. A beggar began asking her lots of questions, making her a little uncomfortable, until a student came to rescue her. As we talked, it turned out his mother works in the embassy in Washington, DC and he’d done a year of studies for his foreign service degree in Florida.

P4200048As we arrived at our next stop, the Jaro Cathedral, we joined in a baptismal service for three babies, with lots of proud family members. It was fun to see the celebration even if we could understand nothing of the Visayan service. The saints in this church were all male. Shomai had told us this was a good place to pray for a boyfriend. Sherry said she had hers, so we prayed for Cyndee’s tall, dark and cute one!

We asked the taxi driver to take us the the Café Panay, the final stop on the itinerary, but he had no idea where it was and neither did we, so we went back to the hotel instead where we had a great lunch followed by mango shakes at our favorite little stand down the street from the hotel. They know us now and our favorite kind of shake. Friendly people everywhere.

My student, Chester came to fetch Sherry and Dave and me for churchP4210004 on Sunday. Zion, another student, is one of the pastors there. Since he is the only close by pastor, I decided we’d visit and see what is going on. They insisted that I preach, so I put P4210003on my barong in the very warm day and joined the celebration. With open walls and several fans, it was quite comfortable othP4210022er than being very much the oddity in the full sanctuary! After the sermon, they asked us to stay for Sunday School reports. I wondered what that might be until I saw the P4210018children being guided onto the stage to recite their memory verse and their lesson. It was super fun as they went from primary to junior high. The primary group had aP4210020 whole group of eager coaches! Everyone wanted to greet us and shake our hands after the service was over and I got to hear a number of stories of service. Finally we gathered the four students, the pastor and his wife and another pastor to go P4210027.JPGto Tatoy’s Manokan Seafood, the local sea side restaurant for a feast! Along with chicken (the whole chicken!) and other dishes, we had oysters baked in a delicious cheese sauce. No one left hungry! As we finished the pastor’s wife came over to sit beside Sherry and quietly told her about her battle with breast cancer. Sherry’s pastoral heart came out big time and she listened and prayed with her.

P4210029The van took some back to the church where we picked up several women who were going to the downtown church for a women’s fellowship. Happily that crew included a very cute little guy whom I grabbed quickly! He was pretty eager to drive the van.

Doane ChoirDave and I went to the 88th anniversary concert at Doane Baptist Church. It was one of the first churches in the area and now has a Bible institute and a seminary as well as a large sanctuary – and not a single anglo face other than Dave and me, I’m glad to say. The choir was great!

Jefferson burn 2As I slept in the quiet of our room, I was awakened at 2:00 am by sirens which stopped. I looked out the window to see fire trucks in front of the hotel. I saw that they were rushing into the Camp Jefferson bar across the street. Soon the street was filled with trucks and I saw flames coming out of the roof of the building which caused me some IMG_6129great concern: could they see what was happening from the street or inside the building? The flames soon disappeared, I was relieved to see. I don’t know how long the activity went on as I crawled back in bed and went to sleep. The fire damage was apparent on Monday morning. Glad the fire crews were able to stop it before it spread to surrounding buildings.

Iloilo City

May 21st, 2015

2015-05-17 11.18.38We arrived here on Sunday from Cebu on a half full flight and miracle of miracles Sherry’s cane got us upgraded to economy plus Smile. The fellow issuing our boarding pass thought it too far for her to walk to row 10, so row 4 it w2015-05-17 11.28.28as! Since the flight was only 35 minutes, it was not a big deal, but the consideration was much appreciated after a long wait in the crowded departure “lounge” where I took advantage of our status to get a little more room. I did get a kick out of the group of young American men doing what comes naturally: checking their phones!

2015-05-17 12.55.37We arrived, greeted by a most inviting advertisement, to find no driver from the hotel waiting for us. That kicks in my travel paranoia big time! But the police officer and the taxi coordinator got involved while I texted Dan, our contact, who was still in Manila. After a 20 minute wait, they found a Mid Town Hotel driver in the parking lot and called him over. He declined their request noting that he was going to be picking up the guy on his sign: Gerry Breshear! We were soon on our way to the center of Iloilo.

I’d seen in Travel Advisor that we should 2015-05-18 07.09.41ask for a room away from the street because of the very noisy girlie bars. Not something I’m interested in dealIMG_6116ing with for sure! Our assigned room looked over the street – but these aren’t quite girlie bars! Click on the pictures and you’ll see why we’ve enjoyed their presence. We met Dan and Dave Kennedy, the other professor who is doing Daniel in the mornings while I do spiritual warfare in the afternoon.

Monday morning class meant meeting the pastors. UnIMG_6102fortunately two of them were not able to come at the last minute but we had Zion join for the week as an auditor before he has to go to other commitments. So I only have six students who are great guys! Seems we are always laughing.

Dan, the coordinator is in the plaid shirt. William, laughing next to him, is a graduate of seminary already – as a Catholic. He’s retooling as a Baptist! Our conversations have become quite wide ranging as questions multiply as the we build trust and openness.

2015-05-20 18.19.26The days have had walks around the streets to get dinner, snacks, and mango smoothies of course!The lemon chicken at Gloria Maris was wonderful. The carrot “flower” would do well on Food Channel Asia – which Sherry is enjoying while I teach class. 2015-05-19 10.31.45

The street has a pedestrian “fly over” so Sherry was able to get her exercise only to be told by a nice lady that seniors could just cross the street. Sure enough when we tried it the next day, a policeman stopped the traffic and waved us across. A smiling lady with a cane gets favors here.

We are always impressed by the friendliness and helpfulness of the people here. The crowds are significant, but everywhere people smile and greet us. The hotel staff can’t do enough to assist us in every way. We saw an interesting but identified dish going to another table, so we asked the server. He told us, but the words weren’t familiar. So he brought a menu and showed us the dish. We tried it today and it was super tasty!

There is no separation of church and state here as these pictures make very clear.

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Two of the local students are helping plant a church not far away, so I asked if we could visit on Sunday. They promised to take us to a really good sea food restaurant after. I asked for the church address so we could get a taxi. I don’t know the area, so going on by jeepney isn’t a good idea. They responded by arranging a car to fetch us, and then bringing an invitation from the pastor to preach. I will “earn” our lunch!