This blog post is part of the continuing story of our family’s journey facing my husband’s cancer with the grace that only the Lord Jesus can give. If you would like to read the story from the beginning, go here.
We had always been told by Dan’s oncologist that the Tarceva was not a cure. Its purpose was to extend his life while giving him a better quality of life than would other types of chemotherapy. Even though Dan would have monthly lab work and oncology visits, he didn’t have to be hooked up to an infusion which would make him feel ill for days after. We were able to find a rhythm in our lives and a manageability of something unmanageable.
We were told that the wonderful response that Dan had to the Tarceva, the shrinking of the tumors and lymph nodes, the easing of the pain in his back, the retreat of the cancer would all be temporary. It could last a few months or perhaps even a few years (though that wasn’t likely). The cancer would eventually become resistant to the Tarceva. We knew that at that point, Dan would have to change his treatment plan. Still, we prayed that the healing was permanent; that somehow Dan would be the exception.
Dan had CT scans every three months. He had MRI’s on his brain every six months. He had the occasional bone scan. Each time, they looked better than the last. Then, we felt like we could plan the next three months of our lives, and not think about the frightening alternative we had dodged yet again. I always dreaded these times. If the scan showed that the cancer was progressing, we would have to bid the Tarceva, “good-bye.” What would replace it? What would life look like with a new treatment, (and would it work)?
In April of 2013, we purchased a townhome. It was Dan’s desire that the girls and I have a place to live and to make memories there as a family in case he died. The townhome was perfect because we would no longer need to shovel snow or mow the lawn. We soon settled into our new home and began remodeling the lower level. We turned one large open space into 3 bedrooms for the girls, along with a bathroom and a laundry room.
While remodeling the basement, it was amazing what Dan was able to do each day. Most days he didn’t even take his usual nap. During that time, I also completed real estate school and became a licensed Realtor. Often it felt like we barely had time to come up for air. So many people helped with the work at the house. We were overwhelmed with gratitude.
Eventually, Dan began to feel very tired each day, and much more physically weak than normal. It didn’t take a lot for him to “overdo it.” It was a big adjustment for him since he has always been quite active, and the first to volunteer to help someone else. Being on the receiving end of such kindness without being able to reciprocate was hard to get used to.
Learning limits isn’t an easy thing to do. I reminded him of when Rheumatoid Arthritis first hit me with a vengeance four years earlier. He often had to tell me to rest and conserve energy so that I would be able to do things the next day as well. Now, with the shoe on his foot I would say, “A wise man once told me…” with a smile. Then we’d laugh, knowing how hard good advice can be to follow at times.
So, he began to do just one thing a day. That enabled him to keep going. It may be going out for coffee with a friend, working on a small project at the house, or spending time in the garden with our 2 youngest daughters. We had a community garden for the 2 years. The second year, we wondered about whether or not we should sign up for a plot. Would it be too tiring? Would we end up with a weed patch due to neglect? Ultimately, we decided that it might be therapeutic, and it was. It was also a lot of work, though, and Dan began to feel breathless after just fifteen minutes of watering. It would be our last year with a garden.
Our 3 adult children live on their own, and we regularly keep in touch with them. It was difficult, especially for Josiah and Emily who lived in California. When someone you love is ill, it is hard to be so far away. They continued to pray for their Dad to experience a miracle.
Our younger three, still at home, were seeing their Dad with all his challenges first hand every day. They are very loving and were soon his biggest cheerleaders. They would have emotional setbacks when it came to dealing with the reality of having a parent with cancer, but remained strong in their faith and optimistic that they would have many more years of great life as a family.
April of 2014 was also time for Dan’s quarterly CT scan. The report wasn’t as glowing as in the past. “Something,” showed up in the area where the original lung tumor which started all of this, had been. At that time, I was very nervous about waiting the full three months for the next scan. Because of how aggressive the cancer had been in the beginning, I didn’t like the idea of allowing anything, no matter how “small,” to continue to grow in Dan’s body.
I asked Dr. E if she was confident that we could safely wait another three months for the next scan. She looked me right in the eyes with a sense of assurance and said that we definitely could. Because of what a wonderful oncologist she is, I felt that pushing for an earlier scan wouldn’t be beneficial. I did, however, dread the CT scan Dan would have in July of 2014. Dr. E was right about waiting, and I was right to be concerned.
You can learn more about Dan Erickson, his family, and his ministry at his blog,”Dan’s Pulpit.” Follow “Facing Cancer With Grace,” to read our continuing story.