July 3rd and remembering

What comes to mind when you think 4th of July? Traditions? Places? People? Fireworks? BBQ? For us, that question is simple. It is the holiday weekend when everything we knew about anything changed. The weekend all the fun plans went out the window. The race we had planned to run as a family. The sibling time staying up late movie-watching. The lake time with Dad. The yard games. The food Mom would prepare for us. The weekend we learned who our people were. Who our God was. It was the weekend we learned that Judah had a brain tumor. 

Tuesday, sitting on the porch at my parents home, looking at the lake, my older sister said, “5 yrs ago today”. That’s all she said. We all knew what she was referring to. Because for us, the 4th of July holiday is a harsh reminder that we are not in control and cancer is indiscriminate.

Judah got 2 fevers around the 4th weekend. He is getting chemo today. Needless to say, we didn’t need a reminder that Judah is battling brain cancer. And yet, Judah was present throughout our 3 days at my folks. He played the Ninentdo Switch with his cousins, teaching them to play his favorite game (Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle) and learning to play theirs (Fortnite). He watched Little Einstein’s (Pat Pat😂) with his Emmett and Stella. He came out for the fireworks, which he has never really done, and loved every second of the booms and lights. 

As I watched on, in awe of this kid who has sensitivity to loud sounds and has an acute memory for negative experiences, and thanked God for him. For the warrior He made Judah from the beginning. For the memory, now burned into my memory,  of my husband guarding and helping Judah assist him with fireworks. For my 4 oldest nephews who have never stopped stepping into the akward spaces with Judah to join him, encourage him, and accept him. For siblings who sit in the muck with us and play cards, cracking jokes, and lifting our collective spirits. For parents who help with it all without a smidge of martyrdom or jealousy.  For the sunshine and water and great books. For our 2 beautiful younger kids who are navigating Judah’s cancer better than I ever imagined while unknowingly wrapping up my wounded guilty-mom-heart with their smiles and requests for stories and snuggles. 

I have floundered the last 3 weeks. I have battled shame and disgust. I’ve been both bound up and emotional. I have been manic about tasks until I am no longer able to function and all the things fall to the wayside. My people love me anyway. But as I spin, my thoughts latch to the idea that I can wrest control from this cancer. And when I have enforced my control on all the moveable pieces in my world, making us all miserable, Judah still wakes in the middle of the night sick. His drs still don’t have answers. Matthew and I still have no peace or deep sleep. Because the idea of control is a lie. There is no control. There is only being confident in God’s faithfulness. And then moving, carrying all the swirling doubts if necessary, in the direction of the of the One who fights for us and goes before us. Every ‘yes’ and every step is progress.

The song giving me life this week is Oxygen by Stephany Gretzinger. A bit of it goes:

          Sometimes my very best

           Is only my weakest yes

          You see strength in every

           movement.

           Baby steps and short breaths

           Anything is progress

           You sustain my every moment

~Wendi

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Another headache and fever but…

No ER!


We got to Mom and Dad’s around 3:30 yesterday and played and swam (when it was raining 😏). The day and evening went as usual. The kids ate while playing video games and stayed up late just goofing off.
Fast forward to midnight when Judah comes into our room complaining of a headache. We got him in our bed, took his temp (normal), and propped him up hoping this was the worst of it.
At 4:30AM, I felt his belly and it was super hot. So we took his temperature – 102.8. We decided to wait 30 mins. If it went up, we’d call the on-call Dr. If it went down, we’d wait it out. 5:00AM rolled around d and his temp was up to 103.4. So I called the on-call Dr. He was so lovely. He didn’t know Judah or his history but he listened and was reasonable. I told him that they have always gone down by the time we get to the ER and that we are actually farther than normal for the holiday. Sonhe said, ok his counts are good, yes? I’m going to let you watch him. If it goes up, call me back and he has to go to the ER. If it goes down, you can stay home. I will let Dr Spiller know tomorrow.” And by 6:30AM it was normal.
We are tired again. And hoping this is not a foreshadowing of what this week will look like. Because this is how it startedast time we had 3 fevers in 4 days.
Prayers we get to enjoy our time here at Mumzy and Papa’s and Judah doesn’t get anymore fevers until chemo Thursday.

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don’t stop advocating

Last Thursday was a rough day. The fever at 5am. The ER visit. The CBC normal, again. But there was a change in our visit. Matthew requested a CT and the ER Dr agreed to do it! Fortunately/Unfortunately, it was normal too. The ER released us to Clinic for chemo. The Dr had results from all the tests she ordered, and again, they were mostly within normal ranges. His results did show there was inflammation somewhere. But no clue where.

We spent the weekend relaxing and resting. We played video games, watched movies, and enjoyed some much needed snuggle time! We also started the conversation with St. Jude. We gave the ok for them to request and receive all of Judah’s medical records. Vanderbilt sent records Tuesday (faxed and mailed). ETCH hasn’t sent anything yet, but our St. Jude coordinator assured us that they are the best at getting what they need. So we are leaving it to them!

And with that ball rolling, Vanderbilt is moving in the direction of more aggressive diagnosis and hopefully, in conjunction with St.Jude and ETCH, we will get to the bottom of what is causing Judah’s fevers and headaches. We are of the opinion that the more eyes and brains looking at Judah’s records, the better! And we are so lucky to have so many Drs that care. Sometimes, it just takes a fierce advocate to get everyone on the same page and Matthew and I are happy to be that if it means Judah gets what he needs. We will keep on them. We will not stop. It is our job to fight for those that can’t fight for themselves. In our case, it’s Judah.

Who could you be fighting for today?

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Nothing pretty to see here.

Since the last post, Judah has been to the ER 2x’s and had fevers 4x’s. 2x’s we chose not to take him.

This morning, at 5am, when Judah came in with a headache and fever, Matthew and I discussed going or not going. We said, this is nothing new. And the ER would do nothing new. But we want an MRI or CT of his head while he has a fever. So we decided to go. I called the on-call oncologist and went through the same story I always tell. Because it’s always the same. I listened to his story (we just need to check his counts and make sure he’s safe) and tried not to interrupt him because I know this speech. It’s also always the same. When he told me we needed to take Judah to the ER, I asked him if he would order a CT or an MRI.

Dr: On Saturday. No probably not. If he is admitted, maybe.

Me: I know it’s super inconvenient that Judah always gets sick on the weekends and holidays. But he’s had these fevers and headaches for 2yrs and no one has done anything but blood work. If that’s all they are going to do, why should we go?

Dr: (say it with me) We need to make sure Judah is safe.

So Matthew is at the ER with Judah as I write this.  And they are doing blood work.

I cannot speak for Matthew. I can say, for myself, I’m losing my faith. I feel it slipping. My hope trading for cynicism. I don’t believe in Judah’s Drs but I have said before that God can work through anyone. But He’s not. Judah is sick and he keeps getting sick and NO ONE WILL HELP HIM! Unless there is a Dr, like Phil Noe, the guy who found Judah’s tumor almost 6 yrs ago, that WANTS to figure this out, do different testing, while he’s running the fever, they won’t figure it out. They will keep pretending like they are keeping him safe when really they are playing it safe. Everyone thinks it’s the tumor. And they won’t look anywhere else. And maybe it is the tumor. Maybe it isn’t. But we won’t know if they won’t look at his head while he’s running a fever!

We are sad. We are angry. We are utterly exhausted. It sure would be nice if the Creator of the world, would give us just a little leg up. Until then, we are trying to figure out where to take Judah next. To find someone interested in the Judah puzzle.

~Wendi

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This week is almost over!

The last 8 days have been hardly easy.

Judah had surgery last wednesday and continue to be in serious pain until Tuesday, when he seemed to turn the corner. I think the healing and recovery was lengthened because he got chemo two days after surgery . It was 1 drug short of a complete regimen, but it still knocked him down pretty low.

With surgery and chemo recovery happening, we honestly could have “left” the training and learning how to use the g-tube. Needless to say, this house got little to no sleep.

But we are getting the hang of it. Judah’s taking in more feeds and Matthew and I are feeling more confident hooking him up, flushing, and clamping him!

He has color again. He has a bit of energy. He has a smile. And he is back to loudly narrating his game play. This weeks obsession, Mario + Rabbids Kindgom Battle. He’s been asking for it since he got his Switch from the Amazing Currans! I was hesitant to buy it for him because, honestly, it looked like he would get bored of it. It’s not a typical video game. Boy was I wrong. He LOVES it!

Current prayer needs:

1) that the dr at Vandy will call us with ideas on chemo

2) that the chemo can continue and be effect at killing the cancer not just stopping growth

We would love prayers for this weekend (really EVERY WEEKEND)

1) that Judah will stay fever free

2) that he will continue to feel better and better

3) that there will be NO reason to call the on-call Dr or go to the ER

~Wendi

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Feeling is exhausting

It’s 7:15AM and I’m, yet again, sitting in the ER with our Bug. We have been here since 5.

When we woke to Judah crying out for help, I assumed it was that he needed help with the feeding bag. I groggily got up and walked into his room. He was moaning and said he needed help with the bag so he could pee  I reached down to help him up and his hand was on fire. Thermometer read 104.4.

I am great under pressure. I’m wonderful at comforting and helping. I laugh and cry easily and embrace ‘all the feels’! My 2-ness with a 1 wing makes me great at these middle of the night, sick, moments. When things get stressful and 8-ness takes over I can become a machine. I get things done, making sure everyone knows what they need to know. Inefficiency drives me mad. And usually, the tears are turned off. You get ‘business Wendi’.

Tonight I cried to the ER Dr. I do not do that. I was telling her how frustrated I was that we keep showing up here and no one can figure out what is causing Judah’s fevers. And I started to cry. In trying to stop myself, I made things worse and started breathing unevenly. And I was morbidly embarrassed. The voices in my head telling me that I should be.

“What a ridiculous way, for a seasoned mom of a kid with cancer, to act. This Dr now no longer takes you seriously because you are falling apart over nothing. Suck it up. There is a time and place for those tears and now is not that time.”

Thankfully, Judah slept through my blubbering and the Dr left shortly after.I sat on that uncomfortable chair, watching my boy sleep, thinking about all the things I was beginning to believe about myself. None of it was true I knew that. And yet, I felt as though I was being weighed down by all my inabilities. Matthew texted me:

“The Bible apps verse of the day was no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭54:17. So I’m praying over that.”

Jesus is good and His love for us is real and tangible guys. While my soul was being crushed by judgement and I was failing to see my worth or abilities, my husband sent me a bible verse that addressed those very things. Jesus has shown me over and over that He wants to and will show me His love and care for me in little ways. I just have to ask, look, and see.

We are getting admitted. The Drs say there are too many unknowns what with Judah’s, chemo, surgery, port, and these unexplained fevers. They don’t want to send us home in case they’ve missed something. We are still waiting for a room but we’ll be somewhere on the 2nd floor/North Tower.

Pray with us that the drs/tests will reveal something that is causing these fevers. That Judah will not be broken-hearted over getting admitted again. That he will continue to heal. That spiritual warfare will have no foothold here.

Thanks

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Uncommon

 

 

 

Almost 5 years ago, Matthew and I brought Judah to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital for an MRI. The drs wre looking for what is called a chiari malformation. But they found a brain tumor.

Today, Judah went to surgery to place a peg line and the endoscope revealed acute erosive esophagitis.

It hasn’t escaped me that this discovery is eerily similar to the discovery of his tumor 5 years ago. While Matthew and I desperately searched for a Dr who could to figure out what was causing all of Judah’s problems, a puzzle-loving Nurse Practioner decided to look in an uncommon place. And in looking for the uncommon, discovered the answers. The common answer to Judah’s weight/nutrition problem was to put in an ng-tube. But we were lucky enough to have an oncologist who had our back and heard our concerns. We wouldn’t have discovered his esophagitis if we had agreed to the ng-tube. Uncommon.

I’m not sure why things have never been ‘straight forward’ with Judah. I am learning to trust the holy spirit, and my momma gut, over the ‘common’ list drs give us though.

Because in all honesty, Judah has never fallen into the common category! When he was 2 and could see, say, and pick out all his letters in any order he wasn’t common. When he was solving puzzle for 5-8 yr olds at 3 he wasn’t common. When he was pronoucing 9 syllable dinosaur names at 4 he wasn’t common. So when he started having medical issues and none of his symptoms fit in any box, we shouldn’t have been surprised. His sleep apnea was central not obstructive. During his brainstem tumor resection his 9 and 12 nerves (tongue movement a and swallowing) were irritated and never recovered, uncommon. Once he started chemo, he had an allergic reaction and though it was working well at stopping the growth, he had to switch to a chemo with a massive pill regimen. At 5, he had no trouble swallowing capsules without water. I know adults who cannot do that. And then he stopped growing. Through all that, he never complained. Was compliant and sweet.

Fast forward almost 5 years to these mysterious headaches and fevers, which still haven’t been solved and never respond to medication. Failure to thrive at almost 10 years old. Severe diarrhea with the chemo, which is listed as a possible but uncommon side effect. And now acute erosive esophagitis, which the chemo ‘can” cause, but our oncologist has never seen in all her years giving this regimen. And through his pain, Judah continues to say he’s good. Not because he’s a liar but because he doesn’t want to worry anyone. He doesn’t want to put anyone out. He sweet and compliant, still. A silent warrior.

So here is the question that’s been floating around in my head all day: if the kid who has been through and is going through all that can be kind, selfless, brave (at least more than most in the same situation) why can’t I find a bit of that for others? Why, if Judah can think about how others may respond to his pain BEFORE he will even admit he has any, can’t I think about how my words will effect others before I open my mouth? The take away for me is this, I don’t know why Judah is so good at ‘being’ but I do know that I want to be more like him. Quick to hear, slow to speak. Maybe we can all take a cue from him and be a little more uncommon?

For now, the lights are out in this hospital room. I have prayed over my son and hope with all the steadfastness I can muster, that Jesus will continue to go before us and protect us.

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long weekend and plans to fatten Judah up

Family can make the hard days seem less hard.
Matthew and I took  short trip to Washington, DC and while we were gone, Mimi and Papaw, Mumzy and Papa, and Aunt Bam, Uncle Josh, Marshall, Eli, Gabe, and Stella entertained and loved on our 3 kids. All 3 got the love and attention they crave when there are plenty of adults to go around.  1 in particular needed a bit more tending to than the others.
Judah.
When Matthew and I got back from our trip, we couldn’t wait to hug our kids. We just wanted to give our babies a big hug. When we pulled up to Mumzy and Papa’s house, Emmett and Camilla Kate ran out to greet us. We wrap them up and old them how much we missed them. I looked up from my little girl’s head and saw Judah, sitting not 3 steps from the front door. And it was all I could do to not cry. I gently scooped him up an carried him in the house. Sitting in the wing back, my arms enfolding Judah, I saw a version of him I have never seen. Not in the year leading up to finding our then 4 yr olds brainstem tumor. Not in the 14 months of chemo he suffered through from 5-6 years old. He looked like a ghost of himself. Heavy bags under his eyes, frail, skinny body. Eyes spacey and sad. And he was tired. so tired.
He stayed in my lap for half and hr. Just resting his head on my shoulder, his hand in mine.
Over then next couple of hrs Matthew and I got the run down on how he had been feeling while we were gone. The jist was, not good. He had begun looking bad on Saturday night, and on Sunday he woke in bad shape. They told us that Sunday he basically moved from the the floor to the couch to floor. He ate nothing. He had no energy or strength. He could not keep anything in his belly even if he wanted to eat. Monday he continued to feel the same way. And it was a holiday. We talked about taking him to the ER.  With 2 drs in the house, and an attentive nurse a text away, we had plenty of eyes/ears on his health. The consensus was as long as he is staying hydrated, we could wait until he morning. The night was long. Matthew stayed up with him most of the night, praying over him, watching him breath, helping him to the bathroom.
At 9 AM, I called Judah’s Dr she said she wanted to see him. At 12:30 Judah and I got in the van and headed to ETCH Oncology Clinic to see what could be done for him. Thankfully, he was looking a bit better. He had more color in his face. He didn’t have the energy to walk to the clinic so I carried him. However, right before the nurse came back to get us, he decided he wanted to walk to his room himself. He walked as if he was  following a zig zag line, not staggering but certainly not straight. But I decided when we first found out about his tumor regrowth that I was going to allow him the independence to do and speak for himself as much as he wanted. So I kept my distance, keeping control of my face so he didn’t see worry. 
A couple of hours later, after accessing, blood draws, meds to help stop the diarrhea, and iv fluids, we discovered that, other than typical low labs associated with 48 hours or diarrhea, his labs looked ok. Dr Spiller came in to talk with us. I adore how she begin every visit by talking to Judah. He is her patient after all! She cares so deeply about how he feels, what he has to say, and uses the most friendly and unpatronizing voice each time she address him.
Dr. Spiller: Judah, how are you feeling?
Judah: good
Dr. Spiller: Judah, this isn’t what good feels like. This is what bad feels like.
But honestly that is just how Judah is. 9 times out of 10 the kids will tell you he feels good or is good, even when you KNOW he isn’t. he is compliant and sweet and has a difficult time saying things that may upset ‘his people’. This isn’t super helpful when we, his parents or drs, ask him to tell us how he feels. Or identify what hurts. Or even tell us when he has been sick. He doesn’t see it as lying. He sees it as protecting himself and those he loves from discomfort. I love that about him. It is also scary at times though.
 After Dr. Spiller did her exam, we went out in the hall to talk about his weight, nausea, and the need for a feeding tube. She agreed that Judah needed a feeding tube put in asap and wasn’t opposed to a G-Tube instead a NG-Tube. The problems that Dr. Esbenshade described are real. But she said those problems (not healing and getting infected etc) are more common when people are getting chemo every day for long periods of time. When their bodies don’t have time for the blood counts to rebound. But she said that Judah isn’t in that boat. We went over the pros and cons of surgery verses no surgery and in the most lovely way, left the decision up to us. Judah does not want an NG-Tube. He doesn’t want surgery either. But what he wants most, is to just be Judah. And the G-Tube allows him to hide the feeding tube.
We got home around dinner time, and Judah fell into a great rhythm with his cousins. The fluids did him so much good. Over the next couple of days, Judah did much better, eating and drinking, swimming and playing Wii. He and his siblings and cousins lived it up! And the adults had some much needed connection time. Being seen by your people is one of the great joys of being alive. I long for it and got an overflowing portion.
Judah’s surgery will be Wednesday at noon. He will have to stay for 2 days. And then he will be able to get the nutrition he needs to fatten him up. What a wonderful day that will be!
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Judah is still very sick

After Judah’s last chemo, he never really bounced back. He hasn’t been ill the whole time but has been tired and had very little appetite. Then Sunday he became incredibly lethargic. He was white as a sheet with huge blue bags under his eyes. He ate 2 pieces of bacon all day long and drank about the same. He did not move from the couch/floor.
Matthew and I had been out of town and returned today to find him looking the way I described above. It was shocking. So shocking. Today we have spent the day getting fluids in him. He has eaten a bit more but everything runs straight through him. And he feels wretched.

This is so much worse than he was the first time we did chemo. And we have a long, long way to go. We want more than anything for him to be better and know that the chemo is killing the cancer. But it feels like it’s killing him too. And that is almost too much for a momma and daddy (and grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, friends) to stomach. We are watching him with tears in our eyes. Doing the best and knowing the best is not even close to helping.

We will be taking him to see his Dr tomorrow morning and fully anticipate him being admitted to ETCH. Please pray for him and us. Pray that tonight is uneventful and that we get a solid plan for helping Judah with his diarrhea and nausea so he can start to get a little more energy. Pray that we get a feeding tube put in soon and that it helps. Pray for his spirits. He is so sad and tired. And so are we.
Thank you friends.

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Chemo 4 done and side effects ramp up

I’ll start with the most important news first: Judah’s tumor hasn’t grown since we started chemo!

The radiologist hasn’t actually read it yet but we looked at with the dr and you can see it hasn’t grown! We also saw, and the dr confirmed, that there is less contrast (lighting up) so that means the chemo is killing those growing cancer cells. We are so elated! We won’t know if it’s shrunk until we see the radiologist’s report but we feel confident that this MRI is good news!

He has already had his labs and anti nausea meds. Everything looked pretty good. The dr said it looked, by his labs, that he is fighting “a little something” by the slight elevations but nothing to be worried about.

We did have to have a talk about his weight. He had lost weight…again. Dr pulled up Judah’s growth chart, which I always dread because he hasn’t been on a growth chart since he was 4, and showed us that Judah is in the 0.02% for his age. That means if you picked 1,000 kids randomly, he would be the smallest and thinnest of all those kids. And the kicker is, that he has now lost so much that he is technically considered “failing to thrive”. This wasn’t shocking to us because we have been fighting his weight loss and lack of appetite for 5 yrs. But the failure to thrive was heart wrenching. The dr was quick to tell us that we have done nothing wrong. That gaining weight is hard for a lot of kids with cancer. But also said that we can’t do nothing now. So in the next couple of weeks Judah will probably be getting a feeding tube (NG Tube). For those of you who are medical people, he can’t get a G Tube because the chemo makes it too hard for his body to heal. They can’t do surgery unless he goes off chemo for 4-6 wks. And we aren’t doing that right now.  Judah is very sad. He doesn’t want  to be “Judah with cancer”. He wants to be “just Judah”. And the NG Tube will be on his face. And people will see it. You can hide a G Tube under your shirt. It’s a bummer. But it’s also necessary at this point. Judah is an amazing kid. He sweet and gets “it” like most kids can’t. He understands he has to have the NG Tube. And he will get to a better place because that is just who God made him to be. Brave and introspective and sweet and trusting. Join us in praying for his heart. And that his little friends can see past the weird tube and treat him like “just Judah”!

He finished his chemo in great time and we went down the street to McDougal’s Chicken, before we headed back to Bam’s for the night. We planned ahead of time to stay over night in case judah was sick and boy am I glad we did. About an hour after he finished chemo he started getting sick. We had to rush to the bathroom several times before we even got back to Bam’s. Unfortunately, Judah was sick the rest of the day and into the night. He hasn’t been actively sick today but he also hasn’t eaten much.

Thank you for celebrating with us and praying with us. We are grateful for our community!

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