The infusions are getting to be totally routine. Blood panel numbers are nominal, infusion nurses are friendly and wonderfully professional, the actual infusion takes 30 minutes and I walk out feeling fine in about an hour. The only change is what work I do while the infusion is going. Liz Ditty is one of my Leadership Cohort students who did a study on Elijah last term which is now contracted as an Intervarsity Book entitled “Prayers God Answers.” I get to go through it, appreciate the insights and make some suggestions for the final edits.
I have infusions scheduled every two weeks through the middle of September with an MRI and a CT scan scheduled for August 1. The scans will confirm no active melanoma in my brain and hopefully much reduced nodules in my lungs. I wouldn’t be too upset if they were absent all together. I don’t think I’d miss them since they have not made their presence known to me other than through the scans.
The other new event in my life is catching my first river salmon. Vinnie Sylvia loves to share fishing in his 14 foot boat. We have gone on the Columbia twice. This time we went on the Willamette near the St. John’s Bridge. After a wonderful morning on the river – fishless to be sure – Vinnie announced we’d head back in a half hour. Three minutes later my rod went crazy. It took a while to land the 14.5 pound salmon. It was VERY tasty.
Infusion #4 happened Thursday afternoon. As I was preparing to go to a lunch appointment, Jennie, who was my nurse again, called to ask about the blood panel labs. I stuttered out that Dr. Mashru said I didn’t need to do them every time. Turns out I had misunderstood his “we don’t need to talk everytime” and skipped the required labs. So I hustled to get them done so the infusion could progress. Happily the last three labs were almost identical so the infusion proceeded without incident. I have had no side effects or fatigue. The only change is that I am weaning off Pyridostigmine, my “stand up straight” steroid pills and that is going well. Boring report 😊🙏
Sherry, David and I went to Kansas City last weekend for Elizabeth’s baptism at Good Shepherd Community of Christ which has been their church home for several years. It was a marvelous family event with all four of her grandparents along with Uncle David, Aunt Nancy (behind her in the picture) and Uncle Brian present, and great grandmother joining by Zoom from the LA area. The whole service was dedicated to the two baptisms and the confirmation the two along with Donn’s confirmation.
Elizabeth’s baptism was done by her sponsor (video here). Her confirmation (video here) and Donn’s confirmation (video here) were wonderfully personal and deeply moving for us. We all went to Donn and Susan’s home for some food and celebration. Susan took her parents to the airport, and then the rest of us went to Jack’s Stack for their wonderful BBQ with the Hickory Pit Beans – without doubt, the best beans in the whole wide world!!
Sherry, Susan, Elizabeth, Donn, Michael, David, Gerry, Nancy, Brian
Sherry was in the room where it was happening for infusion #3 of the second round this afternoon. I am glad to say there is no drama or side effects. My liver numbers are well within the normal range as are all the other blood numbers. All that is good – though I will admit that I have a bit of nervousness since the side effects hit after the third treatment back in January. But doing only one med, no elevated blood numbers and feeling normal gives me lots of hope. I will have another blood panel on May 31, CT/MRI scans in late July, and have infusions scheduled through mid August
We went to see Dr. Burt to see the inside of my bladder in live color. He looked all around and only saw healthy tissue. The deeper urinalysis showed no cancer cells which is exactly what we’d hoped.
I will head for Costa Mesa on Monday for my four all day classes Tuesday through Friday. Then Sherry, David and I will fly to Kansas City for Elizabeth’s baptism on Sunday. Susan’s parents will also be there, so all four grandparents will join the celebration. We are beyond excited!
We got to celebrate with David and Samantha for the 50th anniversary for her parents. It was casual with lots of fun, followed by supper for the four of us along with Nicole and her close friend Colton. Joy was not able to join since she was visiting her close friend, Nathaniel’s parents for the first time.
Infusion #2 is history – no side effects so far, I am glad to say. The whole process took less than an hour, half of which was preparing leading up to the actual infusing. So I didn’t have a lot of time to read my book on Eastern Orthodox theology. I had a 2:00 appointment but the center called me yesterday and asked if I could move to 4:00 since they were really busy at 2. I was glad to accommodate and did my recliner time in an almost empty infusion center. But the view of the west hills and the flowered tree in the foreground was great!
The week before was assessment week. The MRI showed that the melanoma nodules in my brain are taken care of and there are no new ones. The best news! The CT scan on Friday showed that the melanoma nodules in my lungs, which the first three infusion had reduced by about a third, have not progressed. Again, the best possible result. It also showed two “incidental pulmonary edema” so I am injecting a blood thinner in my abodmen for a total of seven days. I gave David allergy shots back when he was a little guy, so I have some experience. But it’s different pushing needle into my own skin.
Liz and Tom, Sherry’s sister and brother in law, spent the weekend with us. We went to the Columbia Gorge and had dinner at Multnomah Falls Lodge on a beautiful day before we went to see the big fish at Bonneville. When I told Liz we were going to the Oregon coast, she immediately ordered oysters. So I did a search and found the Oyster Bar at JAndy Oyster Company at Tillamook. Liz was ecstatic!
I resumed infusions on Friday after a three month break to get over the side effects. This time it was a shorter process since I am only doing one medication (Opdivo). Our prayer is that the side effects were caused by the discontinued Yervoy. My nurse was super – and I confirmed that she is a believer, so we shared stories as she was prepping me. I write this 24 hours later so I can say there is more fatigue this time. I keep thinking a nap would be nice – but there is so much good stuff to do that I don’t really want to. I will have an MRI on Tuesday and a CT scan on Thursday to establish a base line for this round of treatment.
Western celebrated our 95th commencement – my 42nd. There was no way we could be sure we could gather anywhere for our normal grad banquet so began with a reception in a huge tent on our lawn. It started with sun, turned to a downpour and ended with more sun. It was pure Portland. the meet and greet was full of connections with students with whom I had close relationships. There were countless photos, of course. This one is some of my Costa Mesa Cohorters: John Hwang, Richard Cimino, Garrett Baker standing tall, and a Portland photo bomber, Jordan Grimms.
Saturday’s ceremony highlighted a presidential citation and commencement address from Dr. Than Le, a Vietnamese pastor who came to Western in the early 80’s after escaping the fall of South Vietnam in a small boat with about 70 people packed in. Than and I had many meals together in addition to class conversations. His moving address was a pastoral lesson around his story from boat to pastorate to teaching and coaching pastors from Vietnam to Ukraine. It is unfortunate that I did not get a picture of us together.
A personal highlight was hooding the very first Master of Applied Biblical Leadership graduates. The stories they represent were running through my mind as we exchanged a warm hug as they left the place of hooding to receive their diplomas – well just a cover to be accurate. They all have one more class to complete this summer.
Final Prep for Immunotherapy: After I talked with Dr. Mashru to review my liver numbers and general status, he told me to continue the “wean down” from prednisone to 10 mg and then go to none in the middle of the coming week, looking forward to resuming immunotherapy with Nivolumab on Friday, afternoon, April 22. I am hoping that the side effects are results of the other med which I will no longer be getting – but who knows.
Western Commencement: Immediately after my infusion we begin our Western commencement celebration with an on-campus reception from 4-6 and then our commencement on Saturday. I am glad to say that I will get to hood the Master of Applied Biblical Leadership, the program I direct. It will be a blast to honor these women and men with whom I have worked for the past three years.
Exiles in Babylon: I got to be part of the conference put on by Preston & Chris Sprinkle in Boise where a great group of speakers spoke to issues of race, politics, sexuality and hell in Boise. It was a blast to meet them and to have an on stage conversation with Chris Date who “converted” Preston from the traditional “eternal conscious torment” view of hell to annihilationism. My goal was to model positive conversation between two proponents of significantly differing views who respect and like each other, but disagree, sometimes sharply on what could be a divisive issue. I can happily say, “mission accomplished! The resources for the hell conversation are in the “exiles in Babylon” tab above
I really wanted to meet Derwin and Vicki Gray, founding pastors of Transformation Church in suburban Charlotte, NC. It is one of the largest multi-ethnic churches in the US and profoundly Gospel oriented. Among other amazing things, it has campuses inside several correctional facilities (AKA prisons). Dr. Gray is the author of several books, most recently How to Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, about Racial Reconciliation. We connected at the speakers’ dinner, had a great conversation and then when I mentioned my cancer, they asked if they could pray for me – a huge blessing.
Cancer update: Dr. Mashru didn’t see the liver numbers coming down as much as he wanted last week so he delayed the prednisone wean down for a week. A result is that the resumption of immunotherapy is planned for April 6 rather than March 25. That’s a bit frustrating since I am a “let’s do it” guy. But Dr. Mashru and the team are expert and he is giving really good care. My current blood numbers are all good and my strength and straight are both near normal.
54th Anniversary: This is my favorite picture from our weekend celebration. Salty’s on the Columbia had our table ready on a beautiful clear Tuesday evening. Sherry sat down and I immediately grabbed my phone to capture both the rose petals and the smile.
Sherry and I love the Ester Lee (Oh see what you can see from the Ester Lee”) Relaxing with a wonderful view of the ocean on a weekend with unusually high/low tides is made for us. The Oregon Aquarium in Newport, caramel corn in Depoe Bay are required!
Sherry wanted to do our Sunday night dinner at Kyllo’s. We have never beent to this fine restaurant at the mouth of the D River (shortest river in the world). We walked in the door behind another couple and heard the host tell them at least an hour wait for a table. Ugh! So we kept moving. The search took us to five restaurants before we could find a place where we could dine in without having to do the one hour minimum wait. We went back to Kyllo’s at 4:00 on Monday, immediately got a window seat looking over the ocean and a most gracious server to bring our feast. By the time we left, the line was back in place!
Our Tuesday morning was at the Otis Cafe – The Otis Café is famous for serving fresh, delicious small-town food and some unusual menu items. Despite their claim that their “German Potatoes” and local marionberry pie are, as an old Otis saying goes, “well worth the weight”, we stayed with their “way too much” breakfast. Of course, I had to try black molasses toast!
Treatments: My blood panel numbers continue to be good, and the weekly reduction of prednisone continues. I have gone from 80 mg (huge dose!) to 30 mg with no problems. The myasthenia gravis which I call droopy/stoopy also is improving: first I shed the neck brace, then the double eye tape and then the walker. I live my life without appliances now I am glad to say. The plan to restart the bi-weekly one medication immunotherapy (Opdivo) infusions on March 25 looks promising.
Busy Life: The Salem Community Retreat (below) was a blast! We spent our time wrestling with Galatians and life as well as hanging with Cyndee. She and Sherry fought chicken riots on the Wii between retreat sessions and doing Cannon Beach food.
Tuesday-Wednesday (3/1-2): Bay Area Cohort in San Jose; Friday (3/4): Portland Bible Leadership Cohort; Monday-Tuesday (3/7-8): Boise Leadership Cohort along with time with the Schlender family while avoiding sick kids ☹; Thursday 3/10): Zoom Leadership Cohort from my office with students around the world including Jon Markey who has lived his whole life in Ukraine. He is now in Hungary trying to get people to safety and supplies to people who are trying to live in the war zone; Friday (3/11): Portland Theology Leadership Cohort; Saturday-Sunday (3/12-13): family times and preach on Jeremiah 29:1-14 at Grace; Monday-Friday (3/14-18): Costa Mesa: Theology and Bible Leadership Cohorts; Saturday-Tuesday (3/19-22): 54th anniversary at Ester Lee Motel in Lincoln City finishing with our traditional feast at Salty’s on the Columbia; 9:00 March 25 Immunotherapy infusion – Hopefully. There is all sorts of Professor Gerry life packed around this of course.
Ukraine: I have friends, nationals and ex-pats, living in both Ukraine and Russia. My heart goes out to them as they are being devastated by the war in Ukraine and the economic collapse in both countries. I heard a Ukrainian pastor tell of a Mom in his church who can neither get baby formula nor produce breast milk because of the terrible stress the war in their city. This is one of millions of stories. It is very personal to go to the Odesa Theological Seminary Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/odesasem as I have taught there many times.
I am working on Sunday’s sermon at Grace https://www.gracecc.net/ on Jer. 29:1-14 where Jeremiah tells the captives to pray for the peace and prosperity of their enslaving city of Babylon. Peace makes sense, but also that it prosper???? (Jer. 29:7)
Then I think of Paul’s exhortation to pray for kings (that was the terrible tyrant, Nero, in his day!!!) that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
And then Jesus tells me “to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44-45)
Being a Jesus follower messes with my mind and spirit!
We are moving back to resuming the immunotherapy which has been quite effective. Based on the good blood panel numbers and scan results, Dr. Mashru is now weaning me off of the Prednisone. Once that is done, then we’ll restart the one medication immunotherapy (Opdivo). That will mean weekly blood panels to ensure that the liver distress numbers stay in normal range. If they do, then the bi-weekly infusions will resume in a month, March 25. The contingency is that the side effects must not flare up again.
Sherry and I will head to Cannon Beach Friday. I will be the speaker for Community, a role I have had for about three decades! We have done much life together with these fine people. We will also get to hang with Cyndee. I sense Pig ‘n Pancake bacon in our near future!!
CT Scan: The radiologist interpretation of my lungs and pleura: “Marked interval decrease in size of the numerous bilateral pulmonary nodules. For example, a right apical micronodule measures 9 mm, previously 11 mm. A 5 mm right upper lobe micronodule previously measured 19 mm. A left upper lobe nodule measuring 8 mm previously measured 12 mm. A pleural-based mass of the left lower lobe measuring 0.7 x 1.9 cm previously measured 3.8 x 2.4 cm. No definite new or enlarging pulmonary nodule.” All the other organs are unremarkable!!
Myasthenia Gravis: I am going eye tapeless for the first time in a month😳 For the whole day, I was “appliance free” – no neck brace, no walker and no tape. The eyelid droop that began on January 20 quickly went to about 80% droop, so I resorted to the taped eyelids. This morning it was about 40% and I was able to look ahead. So I took tape with me but never used it. I still hunch when I walk unless I consciously stand straight.
Pre-infusion Blood Panel: My liver distress numbers are back in normal range again 😊👍🎯🙏 All the numbers from today’s panel are in or very near normal ranges.
Steroids: My Prednisone was dropped from 80 mg to 60 mg last week as liver distress numbers improved. I expect that will go down again very soon. I have a large quantity of the other steroid the Neurologist prescribed. Both meds seem to be having their intended results.
Next Treatment: I will see Dr. Mashru, the oncologist team lead who is a melanoma expert, on Wednesday morning. He will make the decisions on next treat steps. I have a single medication (Opdivo) infusion scheduled for Thursday afternoon. The previous infusions were double medication (Opdivo and Yervoy) and had all the negative side effects, resulting in the large doses of Prednisone.
Costs: I see from a bill that a single double med infusion costs almost $70,000!!! To date, I have had three of them. I am profoundly grateful for the great coverage Western’s insurance plan. My out of pocket annual maximum is $2,000.
Nightbirde: I was captivated by her America’s Got Talent son, “It’s OK” sung as her cancer came back for the third time. She brought Simon Cowell to tears! I just discovered that she went to be with Jesus yesterday. What a powerful testimony. She speaks her faith here. While her journey was very different than mine, I want my story to speak as loudly of Jesus’ empowering presence as hers.