I got a call from Kaiser as I was riding in an Uber to the Dallas Fort Worth airport informing me of the schedule of my immunotherapy infusions: Friday, December 3, Thursday, December 23, and Friday, January 14. All will begin at 1:00 and take the rest of the afternoon. Many times immunotherapy has little or no side effects because it stimulates the immune system. This is quite different than chemotherapy which poisons the cancer cells even more than it poisons the whole body. So my prayer is that I will be in the majority who have little negative effects.
The radiation oncologist and have a meeting Monday morning to discuss the radiation treatment for the larger melanoma spot in my brain.
In the meantime, Sherry and I are having a great time with Donn and Susan and Elizabeth and MIchael here in Kansas City. Donn and I went to the Chiefs game after church yesterday. Here is a taste of what we saw. You will hear Donn loudly in the background!
Last week’s surgery, MRI, and oncologist consult left me with the understanding that I have two types of cancer: Bladder (which has been removed) and metastatic Melanoma with nodules in every lobe of my lungs, two places in my brain and apparently in my liver near my gall bladder. Most of the nodules are quite small. The doctors keep telling me how rare it is to have two types of cancer at the same time.
I continue to marvel that the blood in my urine led to a CT scan which providentially revealed the nodules in my lungs. Otherwise there is no telling how much they would have grown to produce symptoms. Early discovery means small nodules make for much more effective treatment.
Dr. Frager is the radiation oncologist who will be supervising the radiation treatment on the larger nodule in my brain. We will meet on Monday, Nov. 29 to set up that process.
The strike against the Kaiser system was averted so I am expecting a call today or tomorrow from the oncology folk to set up the immunology infusions (opdivo and yervoy for all y’all curious folk). Each treatment will take about 4 hours and be done every three weeks. After four treatments there will be a scan to check the effectiveness.
My big question is what will be the side effects of the two treatment modalities. Since they vary widely from person to person those life impacting questions are unanswerable for now.
A challenging thing is explaining to people that I have no cancer symptoms at all. I sleep well, feel normally strong, and am enjoying a full and fulfilling fife of family and ministry.
The great anticipation is removing my catheter in Wednesday’s follow up visit with Dr. Burt to check on the success of the bladder cancer removal. There will be great rejoicing when I am once again living a bag free existence! UPDATE: The catheter is extricated and I am now free. Dr. Burt confirmed that the bladder cancer was lowgrade so he does not see any need for any chemotherapy or other stuff – just have a look every 6 months in case it recurs.
UPDATE: I am headed to Ft. Worth for Evnagelical Theological Society where I will lead the “Evangelicals and Women” session. It will be outstanding. But three of the five presenters cannot be present because of international travel restrictions, so I am taking portable equipment to bring them in by Zoom. Then to Kansas City to meet Sherry and hang with Donn, my son and and his family for Thanksgiving. While we are there, we will go to Topeka to visit Sherry’s uncle and also to visit Quentin Heights Elementary School where I did 5th and 6th grades back in the mid fifties!
Sunday: Drive up to get outdoor nurses station for the COVID test required for my surgert with the nurses working in the rain. The nose swabbing briefly interrupted me doing deep spiritual work with a friend who has been hurt in a life event.
Monday: I will get a call somewhere in a day full of appointments letting me know what time to report on Tuesday. UPDATE: We check in at 9:45. For sake of my stomach this is not a good time. With an 8 hour no food order it will be a long time for breakfast.
Tuesday: My gall bladder extraction surgery will compete with teaching (by Zoom) my Boise Leadership Cohort and leading (by Zoom) an evening Q&R with the Leadership Development team at Reach Church, Kirkland. I am hoping the team can get a picture of my cancerous bush for me before they remove it. The surgery will be under full anesthesia out patient with no incision. Dr. Burt thinks it is early so the surgery and the chemo injection at the wound site will be the end of this cancer. UPDATE: The surgery is done and I am home, 5 1/2 hours after we left. Dr. Burt had to go deeper into the bladder wall to get all the cancer out so I had to come home what a catherter which is VERY annoying. Other than that I am doing well. Starting my day with 2 hours with the Boise Cohort before the surgery was a joy. I really shocked them when I joined after the surgery, but no longer as teacher.The is food and sleep in my near future! BTW, I did ask about the picture. I don’t yet know if he remembered to take it. Hope so. I will get the biopsy analysis when I meet with him next week.
Wednesday: A day full of faculty meetings and such. We’ll see how much I am up to doing. David (our son) and Zach will be with us for supper and bunking before their final Converge class.
Thursday: Normal activities will be spaced around a noon time MRI of my brain to see if the melanoma has metastasized there. The PET scan from a couple of weeks ago showed three metabolic hot spots (bladder, gall bladder and lungs) but it can’t differentiate cancer hot spots from thinking hot spots. So the MRI will answer Sherry’s burning question: “Does Gerry have a brain in his head??”. UPDATE: I have scientific proof – there is a brain in my head. Sherry’s follow up question came post MRI: “Is it functioning?”
Sherry will join me at 3:30 for an oncology consult with Dr. Mashru. He will give us a full layout of the melanoma in my lungs, immunology treatment with schedule and possible side effects. This will be a big relief to my “plan my life” personality! UPDATE: The MRI showed that there are two melanoma spots on my brain. This is not surprising since when melanoma moves brain, lungs and liver are common spots. They will do radiation on one of them. Immunotherapy for all the nodules, brain, lungs and the spot by the gall bladder. Schedule for treatment will be determined soon. I will do a full post after I digest the ream of information I have now. Sherry is “on pause” and I am still living God’s word to me: “this is not the end. Keep on with what you are doing.”
Friday: I will teach my all day Leaderhship Cohort theology class followed up with supper with Tim Dalrymple and Tucker Fleishman, third year cohorters flying in from Chicago and Las Vegas for their class.
Saturday: All day elder “attack” at Grace. It is really a bi-annual major strategic planning session.
Sherry drove me down to the early check in and soon the prep team was doing IV, monitors and such. They wheeled me into the same room where the first CT scan discovered the cancers and the very friendly efficient team went to work, doing the scan to find the best place to take the nodule sample. The doctor came in and the process began. I could not see what was happening, much as I wanted to. Then I heard the doctor say something about inserting a chest tube. His pre-op discussion alerted me that I had developed a pneumo-thorax, which is air between the lung and chest wall. That can happen when they insert the needle to get the stuff for the biopsy. He sucked much of the the air out and they did an x-ray to check – more news to come.
The doctor just notified (3:00) me that the pneumo-thorax is small, but still present. So they will continue the suction through the night which means I will be spending the night here. There is some discomfort from the chest tube but other than that I feel fine. Doing the breathing machine to promote the full inflation.
Right now (Thursday afternoon), I am co-teaching the Providence and Prayer class with Todd Miles at Western doing it by Zoom in my hospital gown!
The big down side is no visitors – not even Sherry. Maybe even worse, I am in a room with a VERY noisy roommate. 🤢 But lunch came and it was good. Sherry brought my back pack so I can do some work and update this blog.
Noon Friday update: I have had two x-ray’s to check the pneumothorax. It went from 9 mm yesterday to “Prior trace right apical pneumothorax is not definitely identified.” So the suction tube is clamped and another x-ray coming. If it’s good the chest tube will come out. If that’s good, then I’ll be released
Friday evening update: I passed the pneumothorax test and was soon out of the hospital, finally able to put my wedding ring back on. Thursday night was the first night since March 22, 1968 that I have not worn it. I can see why hospitals need to keep patient’s valuables out of their care, but I don’t have to like it!.
So I am at home watching Nicole play tenor sax in the Oregon State Marching band via live stream. And very glad to be felling fine with no lingering effects of the unexpected events of the last two days.
There is so much to be thankful for today. Sherry and I celebrated a half century plus a quarter decade of marriage at Depoe Bay last month. Even with all the COVID restrictions we had excellent food, great weather, and wonderful views. One trip was down to Cape Perpetua Lookout. I took a trail walk from Devil’s Churn Lookout down to the Spouting Horn where the Pacific rages high, arranging for Sherry to drive down and meet me at the visitor center, only to discover that it was closed. I did a lot of checking before discovering her back at my starting point . . . not that there were a lot of options along Highway 101! I remembered another walk up the narrow canyon inland from the spouting horn where a close friend decided to explore near the rift and almost got washed away by a big wave.
Health is a point of thankfulness in COVID days. None of our family has been hit with anything, not even a cold. Family relationships are strong. Joy lost her senior year events, including her lead role in Grease and involvement in state music and drama events. But she decided to join Ecola Bible College, which still meets at Cannon Beach Conference Center. Her work scheduling is done by Cyndee, herself an Ecola alum, actually doing my class there so long ago. Grateful for God’s intervention that brought us together. Donn brought Elizabeth and Michael out in August so we could hang. Unfortunately COVID meant cancelling our plans for Thanksgiving in Kansas City. We will do family time via Zoom, a very 2020 thing!
Western Seminary is having its largest enrollment ever and my Leadership Cohorts and the new Master of Applied Biblical Leadership are both growing quickly so my teaching load is enormous. We have two cohorts each in Portland and Costa Mesa plus a new on beginning in Boise next term. I get to hang out and pastor a most exciting group of men and women through that work.
My role at The Bible Project continues. In addition to my board role, I was leading the staff in what was initially called “Happy Hour with Gerry”, times to explore theological questions in an open dialogue format. That all went by the wayside with COVID, but the work of the Project continues to grow. It is stunning that views of our videos have exceeded 200 million. We have at least 10 videos in 18 different languages and 55% of our views come from outside the United States! And then there is the blog and the podcasts.
I did two weddings and continue to be a pastor to pastors and a help for the hurting.
There is so much more I could add to this list of gratitudes but this is enough for now
This is a COVID-19 first: I “preached” today’s sermon at Grace from my family room to a camera and Jim. It’s the new way in a “Stay home; Stay Healthy” ordered world. Later this morning I will watch myself preach from that same room as part of our 10:45 service. It’s a very strange world.
All my classroom teaching and weekend speaking until at least mid-May has been cancelled. Elizabeth’s two week school trip to France to live with a French family, followed by a week where Donn and Susan would join her for their own tour is off. We were going to bring Michael here for the week. Cannon Beach Conference Center is closed so Cyndee is beginning a four week furlough. Joy’s senior year was going to have a lot of thespian activity, including a state convention, several performances, capped by a starring role in Grease. We still have slim hopes for Grease. A lot of loss. None of these are exceptional.
Thankfully, my job is still way more than full time so my income is not impacted significantly – and Uncle Sam if going to send us $2,400 relief check, if I read the news correctly. I am thinking about how best to give that away.
I got to help cancer patients yesterday morning by donating platelets again. It is a two armed process which is very strange after many one armed blood donations. My Ortega’s blanket from Chimayo, NM and my Urbana curve helps keep me warm. Laying still for three hours and not moving my arms for most of that time (needles in both elbow joints restricts movement!) left me really stiff and exhausted, which isn’t the norm. But a good night’s sleep and I am back to normal.
There are lots of ways to help beyond my normal pastoring and counseling which are now limited to phone, Facebook live, and Zoom. We did take out from one of our favorite restaurants as a way to support them in their time of shut down dining room.
A big part of the joy of doing these kinds of conferences is meeting amazing people. Attila Nyári is one of those folk. He came up and introduced himself telling me that he is one of the leaders in the church and also is deeply involved with leadership in the Lausanne Movement. We quickly established that we had several mutual friends, small world hitting again. I soon heard of some of the amazing things he is doing. When I heard that Western is one of the seminaries he is looking at for his Master’s Degree, I quickly began figuring out how we could advance the agenda! If God wills!
I was also pleased to see that Portland is represented in the people involved here in Budapest. Cara wore her Powell’s shirt just to prove that she is a Homie!
My morning session was on Work and Rest, a topic very relevant to the bi-vocational ministers that are typical here in Central and Eastern Europe. They mostly get that work is the gracious expression of YHWH’s creative energy in service of others to create shalom, whether it is in the pastorate or missions or anywhere else. Reflecting on how to do Sabbath rhythm when there is so much to be done was fruitful for us all.
I had my last look at the Rákóczi út and Elizabeth Bridge with its beautiful buildings. Our flat is just two blocks to the right.
The day finished at the Curry House where seven of us gathered for food and stories. As Phil and Jeremy shared about the church’s ministry in the European Refugee crisis a couple of years ago, I was astounded first aat the crucial role they play as thousands of refugees and opportunistic immigants with through on their way to Germany. Then I was astounded at how peaceful it was as they were here and how confrontational and dangerous it was in the news accounts. They told how reporters would stage scenes in order to sell their stories. May the Church of Jesus Christ be known for helping helpless people and speaking truth even when it does not sell.
Can you find place where the Golgota Budapest church meets? It’s a down town church so it is just on the street. It is not one of the historic church denominations so there is no “church” building. But there is a state of the art coffee shop on the ground floor in front of an old theater area which where the church comes together in three gatherings on Sunday and again two or three times during the week. Still haven’t found it? It’s the round awning to the right of the table umbrella. Once you have experienced it, I don’t think you’ll miss it again. The view below is what you see as you round the corner.
This is inside during a service. It looked pretty much like this for the conference.
My morning session was on women in leadership – a MOST controversial issue, though not as much here. The range in Evangelicalism is from Egalitarian (all offices and ministries open – gender is not an issue) to Male Elder (Elders are men, but all offices and ministries open to non-elders may be filled by men or women) to Male Teacher (women must not teach or have authority over men in the gatherings of the church). The church here is mostly Male Elder, which I am happy about since that’s my position. The discussion was intensely biblical and followed raptly. Pam Markey, a legend in the Calvary world, followed with practical suggestions and then we did the Q & A together.
I went back to our flat to fetch Sherry for the afternoon session. Fortunely the bus system here is easy to navigate – all busses along the main road so we just get on any of them. She joined for the sessions on handling discouragement and depression. In her gentle pastoral way, she quickly connected with many of the women who wanted her to stay longer!
As the sessions finished, Janni, the pastor of the church told everyone that Wednesday night meant regular church service so be sure to keep close tabs on all your personal belongings. If you close your eyes to pray, please hang onto your purse. It is an announcement I have never heard done that specifically. It says a lot about the range of people who come to this gospel based church.
As we walked back from our lunch, we saw this street painting of the famous TIME Man of the Year from January, 1957. It is the Hungarian Freedom Fighter, people who rebelled against the Communist regime that took over the country at the end of World War II. That occupation would continue after the rebellion was crushed violently, but the memory lives on.
Today was kind of a snow day. The weather called for “wintry mix” which can mean snow, ice, rain or not much. Sherry and Christina postponed their date to go to the Grand Market. We can’t see outside from our otherwise marvelous flat, so I went down to the street to discover that there was no ice or snow so Sherry joined me in the 100 meter walk to a local McDonalds to meet Endi Kovács, a true Hungarian Christian intellectual. While he was at Regents in Vancouver he became close friends with folk like Eugene Peterson and James Houston.
Over Bacon McMuffins and my Caffe Latte in a glass (a whole new way to do things!), we immediately went into deep conversation. His background is with InterVarsity, Vineyard here and in Europe, and the USA as well as the Hungarian Reformed Church. It was fascinating to hear his perspectives on many common themes. Sherry was very patient with us during our two hour conversation. It would have gone longer, I am sure, but it started snowing and Sherry does not do well in slick streets. He wallked us to the entrance of our flat and we bid each other God speed.
The Conference began with supper – a great way to begin. I ate with Arpi, the head of the Hungarian Calvary Bible College and two new friends from Finland. Hearing what is happening in their country was fascinating. It is such a different culture with only 5.5 million people in the whole country and a unified culture, a socialized system with a minority working to support a large majority either in government service or retired. The pressures on the system are a great context for the church. The clallenge is getting the good news to a culture with a cultural narrative of church domination from the past. Sounds a lot like the US!
After an enthusiastic half hour of music, some familiar and some totally new, the lesson was a perspective on the gospel from a fellow who is working in Jordan. I have to admit sadly that in the warm theater seat and fairly familiar material, I took an involuntary nap.
I am on twice tomorrow with more than a bit of concern. The TV style projection system is integrated with their recording system but the result is that quite small and my Power Points got some quick revision after I got home, but they will not only be exclusively in English (the people will have fill in the blank handouts in English and Hungarian), but with translation, the time will be very short for complex material like my opening session on LGBTQI issues. I am also speaking into a culture which I don’t know on a most controversial issue. Prayers, please!
Sherry and I will leave on Friday for Budapest. We will explore this most beautiful city in Central Europe with my new friend árpád horváth after we arrive on Saturday and then with preach on Sunday afternoon in the church my long time friend Terry and Christina Cokenaur lead. Christina is a native Hungarian, so she will be an advisor for our explorations.
I will be speaking at the Pastor’s Leadership Conference for Central and Eastern Europe Tuesday through Thursday on LGBTQI-related issues, Challenges to the Gospel, Women in Leadership, and Bi-vocational Ministry. With short sessions and somewhat controversial issues, many unfamiliar cultures, it is a bit of a challenge!
Melanoma Follow up
On another note, I visited my dermatologist last week for my regular melanoma follow up. I am glad to day he was unimpressed. I saw a long time pastor friend at a pastor’s lunch I lead at FBC Corvallis Monday who had a scar in the same place as mine only his had been stage four and he’d done major immunotherapy to reach the same “nothing to be seen” stage I am at