A Change Of Plans- Part 3 Dan’s Perspective

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.

When one is diagnosed terminally ill and believes both diving healing and doctors, they often find themselves performing a constant, sometimes frustrating balancing act. You are often told that if you take the advice of doctors and undergo a treatment such chemotherapy or radiation, then you must lack faith in God to heal you. On the other hand, God often uses doctors to heal. He gave man the capability to discover such treatments. In the beginning, I found myself constantly petitioning the Lord for healing, believing He is able and also willing. My prayers went from asking the Lord for healing to praying that the drugs would work. Let’s face it, when one is terminally ill with little chance of survival, any extension of life or healing is up to our God. Whether the drugs work or not, is up to Him. Ultimately, our hope is in Him. With or without medications, my daily prayer is with the psalmist, “Lord, I pray that I will live and not die and declare the works of the Lord.

Many Christians believe that we have a right as sons of God to live 70-80 years without health problems and then just die of natural causes. That sounds good and I’m all for it, but I’m not sure I see that happen to believers any more than unbelievers. Many believe healing is part of salvation and is in the atonement. There certainly are scriptures that appear to suggest this. Often, those who believe this will say that “by His stripes we already have been healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) I understand that there are reasons for saying this, but if I am already healed, then why do the scans show cancer? I suppose the response would be that the provision for healing is already there and one can freely tap into it. This insinuates that the person suffering is the one to blame. There is much that one can say about this issue, but there is one thing for sure. It isn’t as simple and automatic as some seem to suggest. I’ve become a little weary of well-meaning saints endlessly quoting to me the magic formulas to healing (that seem to seldom work) and showing a lack of true, Christ-like compassion.

Many of our precious brothers and sisters in Christ have endless quotes, verses and declarations. Much of the time, these are meant to be, (and often are) an encouragement. All too often, however, they are delivered in a way that makes a cancer patient feel guilty for even admitting that they are sick.

There have been times that we have actually been scolded just for saying that I have cancer.  “That’s a lie from the devil!”  “You don’t really have cancer.” “You must confess that you are healed and it will be so!”

Just as insidious is, “Your faith will heal you.” The problem with these admonitions is that they put pressure and guilt upon the patient and the patient’s loved ones. So if I’m not healed, is it because I lacked faith? Everyone dies at some point, including the greatest saints in the history of Christendom- right down to the apostles themselves.

Saying these things do nothing to help a cancer patient, but rather load him down with yet another burden. The life of a cancer patient and his or her family has come undone. They don’t need more reasons to second guess themselves.

What we really needed to hear was, “I am praying for you and your family!” “How are you doing financially?” “How are your children doing?” “What can I do to help?” Thankfully, we also had friends who have extended this compassion to us!

We were doing okay, but as you might imagine, this dose of reality was not welcome and was quite sobering. Because this is an aggressive cancer, any sign of it is too much. As we have all along, we would trust our God, and rest in His capable hands. Life has more hurdles than it used to, but it is still a good race to run, and I am thankful for each and every day. If days or weeks of not feeling well, yielded extra years of life, it would be a good trade.  What a privilege it is to be a believer in Jesus and walk with Him even through the valley of the shadow of death…I will fear no evil.

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.

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A Change of Plans- Part 2 Dan’s Perspective

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.

The scan was routine, but the results were disheartening. Usually, a couple days after the scan the Dr. sends us the results via email with some comments. Each day after day passed and we heard nothing. That made us wonder what was up. We tried to comfort ourselves with the fact that the July 4th holiday was that week, and sometimes that can back things up at the clinic.

Finally, after a long Independence Day weekend, on Jul 8, 2014, I had my monthly oncology appointment and labs. My lab results had continued to be exceptional ever since I started treatment, and these were no different. Only one thing was on our mind, yet we avoided the subject as we talked to the nurse.

When Dr. E came in, she delivered the bad news; after 19 months of scans which showed that the treatment continued to be successful, there was a definite change. Two spots appeared in my right lung, as well as several enlarged lymph nodes elsewhere.  The spots and nodes weren’t very large, but things had definitely taken a turn for the worst.  The cancer was back. We weren’t prepared for those results so it really hit us hard, something like hearing it for the first time. The best course for battling my kind of aggressive cancer wasn’t working anymore.

We discussed our options, and even though we had been doing some research online, we had never come across the treatment that Dr. E was now proposing.  “There is a new drug that has come on the market called Afatinib. It is a ‘cousin’ to Tarceva, and has been showing great results, especially in people with the genetic mutation that you have.” She explained the side effects, and the dosing to me. I would take it just like the Tarceva, once a day on an empty stomach and the side effects would be very similar.

One challenge we faced was getting our insurance to cover the drug. Often once one drug has failed, they hesitate to cover another that is so similar. Dr. E wrote a “letter of medical necessity,” in order to get a preauthorization.  Next, we would just have to wait.

We would be going on our annual trip to the cabin with the entire Erickson clan within a week and a half, so we were really hoping to get the new drug before we left. Part of me wanted to wait, not knowing how I would be affected. Heather felt it was important to start the Afatinib as soon as possible, to begin fighting the cancer immediately. She also reasoned that at the cabin, I would have no responsibilities, and would be surrounded by family. So, there was no better place to be when starting a new treatment.

We asked our friends and family to pray for my insurance to approve the new drug, and as well, that it would beat the cancer. We were also asking for peace during the battle.

When the progression became apparent, we faced another frustrating part of this battle. Along with a fresh wave of cancer “cures,” a bigger problem came from our own dear friends in the church. Many people struggled to understand how this could happen after I appeared to be healed. I love the Lord, and live for Him, so why did He allow this? Was I never healed in the first place? Why not? If I was, why did the cancer return?

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.

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Change of Plans- Part 1 Dan’s Perspective

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.

During the first week of March, 2014, I had been under the weather for several days and spent lots of time in bed. All I had was a cold, but the Tarceva seemed to make everything worse. Just as I began to feel better, other side effects decided to make an encore appearance, including a mouth full of sores, a rash, great weakness, and fatigue. This was part of the deal, and while it wasn’t much fun, it was still worth it.

I never seemed to know from one day to the next, what kind of day it would be. Because of this we kept our schedule light and flexible. Usually, only scheduling only one, 2 to 3-hour appointment or outing in any given day. Sometimes that was pushing it. The Lord had brought us a little Real Estate business, and because Heather and I were working together, we were able to handle it just fine.

In April of 2014, I had another CT scan. A week later at my monthly oncology appointment, I spoke with the nurse while waiting for Dr. E to come in with the results. “Do you have other lung cancer patients?”

“Oh yes, tons of them,” then she quietly added, “But none of them are doing as well as you.”

I then asked about a patient that I had heard was on the same targeted drug as I, and had been doing well.

“She’s not on Tarceva anymore,” was all the nurse had to say with a sober look on her face.

I had never taken it lightly that I had continued to defy the odds, and that month after month I had remained stable. I can’t really accurately put into words my appreciation for the prayers continued to be offered up on our behalf. I frequently ran into people who had heard of our situation and prayed for me daily.

Dr. E came into the exam room and gave us the news that for the first time in over a year, something had changed. One, lone, lymph node had doubled in size. Dr. E said that she wasn’t concerned. It was possible that it wasn’t even cancer-related.

Heather was doubtful. “So, are you completely comfortable waiting three months for the next scan? Because I really want to make sure we stay on top of this.”

Dr. E reassured us, “I am certain that we can wait until the next CT scan.”

“Three months?” Heather still wasn’t comfortable with it.

“Yes, because even if Dan is getting resistant to the Tarceva, he will still have some protection. We will be able to get a better idea of what is going on after another three months. Then if there is a progression, we will have to reassess the treatment plan.”

Heather reluctantly agreed.

In late June, 2014, I had the long awaited CT scan. We didn’t feel very good about this one, after the change three months earlier. We were both feeling the tension of, “scanxiety.” It is amazing how you can push the cancer subject from your mind for months and then it rears its ugly head again every three months.

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.

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Another-Written by Dan Erickson April 14, 2014

This blog post is part of the continuing story of our family’s journey facing my husband’s cancer with grace that only the Lord Jesus can give. If you would like to read the story from the beginning, go here. This one is my favorite and was written by my wonderful husband for his blog. There is a link to his blog at the end of this post.

Pretzled together like a couple of young lovers my wife and I enjoyed our Sunday afternoon nap. I awoke and admired this gift from God snuggled next to me…again. Gratitude is frequently my reaction to everyday events that once passed by barely noticed. The gift of another day for me is hardly ordinary. Every day is all wrapped with a ribbon on it and I begin them all with anticipation and gratitude.

It’s been a year and a half now since my diagnosis of Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. It came as a surprise and the prognosis was even more of a shock: Six months left to live. You might say that now I have been on borrowed time for a year. I have much to be thankful for, and I am.

I am captivated by the everyday gifts of “another,” that have come my way since diagnosis. Here are some of them:

  • Another birthday
  • Another Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • Another spring, summer, fall, and winter
  • Another anniversary
  • Another celebration of my children’s birthdays
  • Another bike ride
  • Another walk
  • Another hug
  • Another kiss
  • Another day at church
  • Another prayer meeting
  • Another coffee time with friends
  • Another car to be bought
  • Another case of the flu
  • Another pill
  • Another Dr. Appointment
  • Another scan
  • Another card game with Mom and Dad
  • Another time reading my Bible
  • Another time in prayer
  • Another time listening to someone with big dreams
  • Another time listening to someone with problems
  • Another time encouraging someone in their faith
  • Another check to a missionary or gift to someone in need
  • Another book to read
  • Another book to write
  • Another laugh
  • Another cry
  • Another date with my wife
  • Another vacation
  • Another Bible story and prayer with the kids
  • Another phone call with a loved one
  • Another visit with a loved one
  • Another bill to pay
  • Another computer problem
  • Another movie
  • Another day
  • Another heartbeat
  • Another breath from these lungs

The list could go on and on. Everything is a gift, (even the pills) to be thankful for. I was not expected to experience any of these things in the last year, but I drank in every moment. How could I be a man less than constantly grateful?

I am on borrowed time, but then so everyone is. We are all one doctor appointment from a major life change and one doctor appointment away from a major attitude change. Make the most of every opportunity. Life and everything in it is a beautiful gift. Don’t just set it aside until you have time to unwrap it. Tear the paper off today, and behold, your gift of life. Don’t just exist. Live life today, and give thanks.

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.

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A Year Later- Part 2 Heather’s Perspective

This blog post is part of the continuing story of our family’s journey facing my husband’s cancer with grace that only the Lord Jesus can give. If you would like to read the story from the beginning, go here.

In October of 2013, Dan would have three major scans on the 16th with results a few days later. A CT scan from the neck down, a brain MRI, and a nuclear bone scan would give us a good view of what was going on after a year of battling the cancer

October 22 marked one year since Dan felt the hardened lymph nodes which alerted us to the fact that something wasn’t right.  We celebrated a year of life with breakfast at “Fat Nat’s Eggs,” off of 85th and 252 in Brooklyn Park. We highly recommend it!

Then we went to the Cancer Center for Dan’s monthly appointment. We were greeted by a smiling Dr. E who said that Dan was NED. This means that the scans showed, “no evidence of disease.”  This is the goal that all lung cancer patients in treatment are striving for, but it’s also a confusing term for many people. Many of our friends were asking why Dan was still in treatment when his scans aren’t showing cancer. They would often ask when he would be done with treatment. Unfortunately, the answer was that he would be in some form of treatment for as long as he lived.

In Leukemia and Lymphoma patients, the term “remission” is used.  In most other types of cancer, they use the term, “NED.”  Because of what doctors know about the way lung cancer behaves, particularly in someone who has had extensive lymph node involvement as Dan did, they tread the waters with care. They can’t be sure there is no cancer lurking in the scar tissue, or other areas at sizes too small to be seen by the scan. Dan’s type of cancer has been known to respond to treatment, and get small enough to be imperceptible on scans, only to return later, even within a week of stopping the treatment. This is why, even when Dan was given the news that he was NED, he continued to take the daily chemo pill, we all continued to pray, and we rejoiced in his new status.

The Tarceva he had been on for 11 months would be continued indefinitely until the day he would become resistant to it.  Dan had adjusted quite well to it.  His rash is gone, and most of the time he felt quite well.  He began taking iron because his iron stores were depleted, but they soon came back.

Dan still had his limits.  When he exerted himself, he would feel nauseous and he was still plagued by the daily headaches he’d had for the past couple of years.  We prayed for continued NED status. Dan’s survival would not be possible without the Lord’s help. Because of this, we were so thankful for the prayers of our friends and family, as well as those from people we had never even met, but had heard our story. We were thankful to God for a wonderful year of life!  We haven’t taken a single day for granted.

In late May of 2014, we planned another road trip, this time to Kentucky. The trip was again a surprise for the kids, and once again, we stayed in a KOA cabin. We kept the schedule loose in case Dan needed to crash for a day or two.  This worked great in Kentucky. We visited friends and saw the sights. We also got to see the two homes where Dan had lived in Kentucky over two decades earlier. One of them he had built from the ground up! Like in South Dakota, we had daily picnic lunches. Near the end of the trip, it was easy to see that Dan was losing energy and stamina. We decided that it would be best to spend the last day just hanging out at the KOA. It was a great decision! It really helped Dan to recover so that the trip home would be a good one.

We are part of a cancer support group, where we see all kinds of attitudes and reactions about cancer and its treatment. Thanks to knowing God, we find much to be thankful for and encouraged about. God does not cease being a good God when a life situation begins to deteriorate. Adverse circumstances are a land of opportunity in which to grow in our faith.

When Dan was diagnosed, we didn’t know if we would have another Christmas together.  A year into the battle, we are looking forward to many more.  The Lord had opened our eyes to endless possibilities, and our hope is in Him alone.

At a recent support group meeting, we heard one woman put this so succinctly. We were all introducing ourselves, and saying something about our journey. She looked at the group and said, “I never quite know how to explain this without sounding crazy. I have experienced such tremendous joy in the worst of trials. How do you express that? As things became so difficult, I began to cling to Jesus with all of my might.” Tears began to leak from her eyes as she continued, “I experience the greatest joy in His presence. I don’t know if I ever would have gotten this close to Him without the cancer.” This woman made a profound impact on everyone. She was genuine, and she was right.

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.

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A Year Later- Part 1 Heather’s Point of View

This blog post is part of the continuing story of our family’s journey facing my husband’s cancer with grace that only the Lord Jesus can give. If you would like to read the story from the beginning, go here.

When Dan was first diagnosed, one of the things that hit us was the fact that we may never again be able to do the things we had always enjoyed as a family. We hesitated to even make plans because we worried that the time would come when we would have to cancel them to be left with the reminder of how much cancer had taken from us.

There is a wonderful poem that speaks of, “what cancer cannot do.”  It is very inspiring, and we really appreciate the sentiment, but it really isn’t accurate. It can shatter hope and corrode faith. It does eat away peace and destroys confidence. Every decision we faced was dependent on the next scan. Anything beyond the next scan was uncertain. Once we could see from the scans that Dan was very much improving, we began to feel safe making plans, and living again.

We made some modifications to the way we did things. We stopped camping with our pop up camper. We had always had such wonderful times as a family heading off to some state park, or even out of state with our “Palomino” pop up. The last time we used the camper changed all of that. We had spent the week at William O’Brian State Park. Dan frequently wore out if he did too much walking. Then when it was time to go home, we packed up the camper like we always had, but it was just too difficult. He was the one who needed to clamp the top down after cranking the camper back into traveling mode. I could see every ounce of energy draining from his body. He became pale and nauseous. At that moment, I knew that we would never use our camper again. We sold it the following summer to a Native American woman who wanted a camper to take to Pow-Wows. We hoped that her family would have as many good memories in it as we had.

We still had a desire to have our family vacations. We have always enjoyed the special family time that comes with a getaway. It is a time of bonding, learning together and getting away from the reality of day to day life of fighting cancer. We did some research on camper cabins and decided to try one out in the Black Hills.

In September of 2013, just after Labor Day in order to avoid the crowds, we told the girls to pack their suitcases because we were going on a road trip! We didn’t tell them where, or what we had planned. We kept the details of any plans we made, a secret from the girls. We started this practice when Dan was diagnosed.  Part of the reason for this was if plans needed to be amended, or canceled due to his health issues, the girls would not be as disappointed. We have found this to be a helpful practice, and fun once it came time to tell them where we were going that day.

We stayed in a “KOA Kamper Kabin.” It was perfect. We had the camping experience without all of the extra work that comes with bringing and setting up the pop-up camper. The trip was amazing! We drove the scenic highways and saw many of South Dakota’s claims to fame. We brought plenty of food along in a cooler to have picnics in some of our nation’s most beautiful places. We even had a picnic in the Badlands where it was 105* in the shade- and there was no shade! Within seconds of removing the bread from the bag to make the sandwiches, it dried up like pieces of toast. Our favorite part of the trip had to be when we encountered a herd of buffalo. We were on a road in Custer State Park when hundreds of buffalo surrounded our van. We remained at a standstill as they migrated from one place to another. These giants were a reminder of what a mighty Creator we have.

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.

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My Dad Has Cancer- Part 2 Summer’s Perspective

This blog post is part of the continuing story of our family’s journey facing my husband’s cancer with grace that only the Lord Jesus can give. If you would like to read the story from the beginning, go here.

We drove to the camp that was held at Camp Eden Wood, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Mom and Dad dropped us off. The volunteers were all very friendly as they settled us in and showed us where to go. I walked up the hill toward the bunkhouse, feeling uncomfortable and nervous. Eventually I got to know some people’s names. I was too caged up to really get to know anyone personally though. It was going to take something big to get me to open up.

There is a powerful exercise that they have us do at the beginning of camp. The instructor says that they are going to play a game. She will say something, and whoever the statement applies to should stand up. She may say, “I have a dog.” The kids and volunteers with a dog would stand up. “My favorite color is blue.” “I live in Minneapolis,” and so forth. Kids are standing up and sitting down like a “Whack-a-Mole” game. Then she said it. “Someone in my family has cancer.” As I looked around the room, every child and volunteer rose to their feet, some hesitantly, but all did and saw that everyone there knows something about what I was going through, I knew that my time at camp would be unlike anything I had experienced before.

That first night, there was a big storm and all the power went out. It was hailing and most of the teens stayed in the cabins. Because there was no light, I had no idea who anyone was. I sat in the living area of the girls’ cabin and someone else came in. Even though we didn’t know each other, we started chatting and found that we got along pretty well. I met my first real friend at the Angel Foundation that night. The next day as we did activities together, I opened up a bit more to people, and gained several more friends. My sisters were also making new friends of their own!

Over the next few Angel Foundation events that our family attended, I got to know people even better. At the end of every event, we do a “Rate Your Week,” where we tell the absolute truth about how we felt that week. No one lies, nobody covers up, and everyone knows that what we say stays there. It’s safe, and we know that we care about each other. Nobody judges you because we are all going through the same situation. There might be differences, but at the core, we’re all teenagers trying to get through the same problem. Our parents have cancer, and while we can’t do anything about it, we can have each other’s backs.

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.

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