Infusion #3

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.

Marianne & Max Burch

Infusion #2

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!

JAndy Oyster Bar, Tillamook

Resuming Infusions – 2022 Commencement

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.

Costa Mesa Cohort: Ty Orr, Richard Cimino, Matt Valencia, John Hwang, Casey Shirley, Sam Woods, Bre Golden,Scott Cunningham, Pete Nelson, Garrett Baker, Angie Woods, Drew Enos, Joseph Pfeifer, Brian Manley (I think I have them right)
Portland Cohorters: Jesse Willams Josh Argubright, Jordan Grimms, Gabriel Webb, Heath Hardesty, Peter Vorhees, Hakeem Bradley, Rob Steinbach

Line up to go to the ceremony

This picture with Bre Golden shows the stoop comes back as I get tired

Getting Ready Immunotherapy; Exiles In Babylon

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

Intense moments
Laughter dominating

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.

Treatment Resumption update and 54th Anniversary Celebration

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.

Pretty Wife

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!

Ester Lee

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!

Otis Cafe
Salty’s Anniversary Dinner
January 28, 1968 Beginning

Preparing to resume immunotherapy

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 as I have taught there many times.

I am working on Sunday’s sermon at Grace 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!

Next Treatment Steps

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!!

Overcoming Side Effects

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.

Quick Update

No results on Monday’s CT scan yet. That will tell us the impact of the immunotherapy on the Melanoma nodules that are distributed throughout my lungs.

My energy levels are good with good sleep and appetite. The only pain is from my hunched back and that is minimal so long as I keep it supported. Mostly I don’t use my walker unless I am doing longer walks.

I had a video call with Dr. Mahadeva, a neurologist, this morning. He is sure the neck weakness and droopy eye lid is myasthenia gravis – an auto-immune thing that reduces production of an enzymme that enables the normal communication between nerves and muscle He prescribed a steroid that he thinks will help pretty quickly. But it is not standard stuff on the Kaiser Pharmacy shelves, so I will not get it until Thursday.

The other encouraging news is that my liver enzyme numbers are coming back up so Dr. Mashru reduced my Prednisone from 80 mg to 60 mg. Happy liver, happy Gerry!

I flew to San Jose today to teach my cohort class tomorrow. Very fun and low stress since everyone takes care of me. I’ll be back home Wednesday night and be with Sherry for a couple of weeks.

As I was driving home from a blood draw at Kaiser I saw this most dramatic rainbow. By the time i got to where I could pull over for a picture it was only half as large – but what a symbol of joy and hope in the dark of the rain clouds. I sing joy in the presence and power of the Lord who strengthens and heals and gives me opportunity to do what I love!

Living with Diminishing Side Effects

The background (below): I was traveling down the freeway of immunotherapy at 60 miles an hour.. Upon discovering that the immunotherapy was attacking my liver and apparently causing difficutl side effects, Dr. Mashru threw us into reverse! He put the ummunotherapy on hold and started 80mg per day of Prednisone to focus healing on my liver .

Bullet Points: (1) The muscles in my neck and back are regaining strength slowly; (2) I walk with a walker using it as a prop so I can stand straight; (3) I still need tape to hold up my right eyelid; (4) I am on a no-drive order from Sherry and the doctor so Sherry has become my personal driver; (5) Life is very fulfilling in surprising ways.

The Rest of the Story: Kaiser Labs have drawn about half the blood in my body to do all the tests. The results so far have shown nothing significantly out of normal range other than the liver distress numbers (AST and ALT). Gladly, there neither the blood tests nor the ultrasound show any sign of hepatitis or other specific liver damage. I now have referrals to neurology and endocrinology to continue the search for the cause of the drooping eyelid.

I was warned that 80 mg of Prednisone per day could have major impact: headaches, buzzing energy levels, unexplained mood swings, sleeplessness, bloating, etc. None of these have happened, I am very glad to say.

I cancelled my trip to Boise and taught my Leadership Cohort class from the couch in our family room. It was pretty comfy, but I really missed the class side conversations and seeing our Schlender grandkids.

My other classes and responsibilities have gone on pretty much in normal. My energy levels are near normal and the walker allows me to prop my self and stand pretty straight.

Joseph Pfeiffer and Stephen Posey met in my Costa Mesa Leadership Cohort. They come from very different backgrounds but found a deep connection. They were called by God and the church to co-pastor Reality Santa Barbara I was very honored when they asked me to preach their commissioning service last weekend. We were really bummed when the difficult side effects required me to cancel the trip.

Then the pastor who was going to do the service had to cancel on Saturday. Stephen texted me to ask if it would be possible to record my commission. I quickly agreed and went to my basement office and recorded my message, the charge to Stephen and Joseph and the church and a decicatory prayer. What an incredible joy to hear that that pre-recorded message meshed exactly with what God was doing in their service.

Donn, our first born, came fo visit so we are having great conversations and looking forward to church on Sunday and a full on Super Bowl Party. It is so fun to hear Michael, his 8 year old call excitedly to talk to his :Poppy”

On Monday I will have a CT scan of my chest to check the melanoma nodules and an MRI of my brain Tuesday I will fly to San Jose for my Bay Area Cohort class. It will be low stress with people ferrying me everywhere and me sitting to do my all day teaching before I fly hom. Looks like I will not miss this class party!

Sherry continues to take care of me in wonderful ways. She is worried with my side effects, but also encuraged to see me getting stronger every day. She is showing her deep love in new ways which delights me to no end.