Not where we thought we’d be and that’s ok

One month ago today, our family got packed up and headed home from St.Jude. We thought we were going home to LIVE. That Judah was only going to improve and that we would be back in a month for an MRI and to start Judah’s experimental MEK inhibitor treatment. But we were wrong.

When we came here on July 25th, we thought we’d be here for 3 days and stayed 10 weeks. We were wrong then too.

I am a hopeful person. I am optimistic. In fact, I would say I’m drawn to look for the positive in bad situations. I find myself saying, “well at least…” more often than, “of course…”. And I do not like situations where I can’t find the ‘good’ part.

So when Judah started getting minor headaches 3 weeks ago, I chose to look for a less tragic reason than the obvious one: that his tumor was growing again. Were we worried, of course. But we tried not to.

My philosophy is, worrying means you suffer twice. ~Newt Scamander

But after days of minor headaches, he got an terrible one. And it would not go away. We called his Drs at St Jude, who initiated a pain management protocol. We tried all the pain medicines, migraine medicines, fluids, steroids, and nothing touched his pain. After 48hrs, we were told to take him to ETCH for an MRI.

What we learned from that was that Judah’s brain swelling was out of control. On the MRI, we saw NO space. The swelling was pushing on his spinal cord, brain stem, cerebellum, and nerves. The only reason he didn’t have hydrocephalus was because he has a shunt. High dose steroids were administered and Dilaudid was given, which miraculously took his pain away with no other weird side effects!

Matthew was leaving 2 days later for a very important work trip. St Jude decided that since his pain was under control and the steroids were helping, we didn’t need to come right then. But they did want us back as soon as Matthew got home.

We adore his 2 Neuro Oncologists. But more importantly, we trust them. So with frightened hearts, Matthew left for Atlanta and I stayed home, praying nothing happened while he was gone.

And nothing did. And I praised Him for this small mercy. But I also cursed. I screamed and cried. I didn’t sleep. I was so very confused and angry. I still am.

Matthew’s work trip went better than he could have hoped for and he got home a day early, so we contacted Judah’s Drs and headed to Memphis for an undisclosed amount of time. Thankfully, the home we had used before was still open and the family graciously let us move back in.

Our first day back at St Jude, Judah had a St Jude MRI. We waited until the end of the day to find out the results. This time, as soon as the Dr walked in the room he told us the news,  the steroids were working. The swelling was going down. This was encouraging. But Judah had been on steroids for too long already. We needed a new plan. And Judah’s team had 1!

Avastin, the chemo drug Judah had been on before we found out his tumor had transformed, is also used to reduce swelling. It does this by shrinking the vessels in the brain. The Drs tell us they want to start it immediately. When Judah heard, he started to cry. He wanted to go home. And amazingly, the Drs said that was just fine. St Jude is a magical place.

The next day Judah got his first dose of Avastin through his port. The only real concern was his blood pressure. Steroids + Vasoconstrictor = high blood pressure. And Judah’s didn’t disappoint. The next day his blood pressure was 127/91. They redid it. It went up. It was now time to speed taper off the steroids! If his blood pressure continued to stay high, he’d have to go on blood pressure medication. And God knows we don’t need anymore medicines in Judah’s daily regimen.The Drs said they were ok with us checking it and waiting to see how he did once we got him off the steroids.

At our next appt, I asked about the MEK inhibitor. The Drs said they would have it soon but Judah couldn’t start it yet.

WHAT?!?

I started to cry (just a little). I said, but you said it takes 3 months to start working. If we wait until Judah gets off the Avastin (end of December) the MEK won’t start working until March. And that’s the median range for when kids tumor start growing after radiation. They nodded. They knew my fears. They see if everyday.

For those of you with kids with cancer, you will understand the fierce desire to keep your kid on treatment. As long as they are on treatment, you are ‘fighting’. And I did not want to not fight. I told them so. His Drs were so patient. They explained that if Judah has a reaction to the MEK inhibitor, they won’t know if it’s a drug interaction with the Avastin, or the MEK inhibitor itself. And they will have to take him off of the MEK inhibitor. And we really need the MEK inhibitor.

I slouched. Defeated. The worries I try not to let in, crowded my mind. The ‘what ifs’.

While we waited to see how Judah would do tapering off the steroids, we celebrated Halloween at St Jude. Guys, it was more than I could have imagined. Every department dressed up in a theme. And when I say dressed up, these were professional costumes with fully decorated booths. The kids line up and walk (or roll) all over the hospital collecting mountains of candy. And every single one smiled. Magical.

Camilla Kate and Emmett Trick o’ Treated with Rere and Jim, Mikey, Mimi and Papaw. They had a blast.

We found out the next day that the Drs were ok with us going home. We could finish the Avastin at home. As long as all goes well.

And thus far, he has done well. He is off the steroids and has had a second dose of Avastin. His third dose is the Monday before Thanksgiving. He’ll get it every other week for at least 6 wks. And then, fingers crossed, we can start the MEK inhibitor.

Matthew and I are fighting fear with faith. We are surrounding ourselves with the love and support of our family, friends, and community. We are doing the best we can. Struggling. But making it.

PS: it’s very difficult for me to remember to post. I’m sorry.

 

 

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Everything is the same. Everything is different

Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Are you aware the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake my head it spins.
Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me me in.
Dumbed down and numbed by time and age.
Your dreams they catch the world the cage.
The highway sets the traveler’s stage
All the exits look the same.

To be honest, I never got on the Avett Brothers train. I don’t NOT like them. Just never sought them out. So I have no idea what this song is supposed to be about. But as I was listening to a Prime Station, the above song came on. And some of the words struck a chord. 

I wonder if Jesus sees the shape we are in down here? 

When we got invited to St. Jude we were filled with a renewed hope. And then Friday happened. Judah had a MRI and the news was not what we were expecting. His new tumor is continuing to grow. It has taken up the entire 4th ventricle. The original mass from 5 years ago is also growing. Chemo isn’t working. The neuro oncologist didn’t know if surgery would be an option. Surgery? Biopsy? Radiation? Inhibitors? All were mentioned. 

An appointment with a pediatric neuro surgeon was made. He told us that surgery wasn’t an option. That Judah’s tumor is diffusing and that makes differentiating between healthy brain tissue and excising tumor tissue impossible. He did say he wanted to do a biopsy. That a biopsy would allow St. Jude to sequence his tumor, look for markers and find a more targeted treatment. But what does no surgery mean? It means our options for treatment just got smaller. And the truth is, we never wanted Judah to have to go through surgery again because of how incredibly hard and heart wrenching it was to watch him relearn shaping and speaking his words, taking steps, concentrating on getting basic things down that no kid should have to do twice. But we would do surgery again if it meant he had to option to fight for ‘himself’ back.

 

Radiation oncology consult was yesterday. We went into that meeting feeling so vulnerable and frightened. Lack of factual information can do that to a person. What we had always heard was that because of where Judah’s tumor is (brain stem), radiation would be the last choice. That it was dangerous. That it could cause cognitive deficits. Physical deficits. New cancer later in life. 

I wish I could say that all our fears were assuaged. They were not. If anything, the hypotheticals made sitting in this awful waiting cycle worse. Because now we know, if the biopsy comes back 1 way, those hypotheticals all of a sudden become reality. We are doing our best to set all the information we learned aside. Store it away with all the other information we have learned over the last 10 days. It will still be there when we need it.

Today we were admitted to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. Judah will have a CT scan and MRI for precision measuring to prepare for his biopsy surgery tomorrow. While we are here, the Tumor Board at St. Jude is happening. All of their best and brightest minds will be together to review Judah’s case to try to come up with the best course of action to stop Judah’s tumor from growing more. 

The biopsy will happen tomorrow and is scheduled for 7:30 AM. We have been told that this is will not be traumatizing for him. That the surgery will take ~2 hours and that if all goes well, Judah will be off the vent and in his normal room right away. He will have normal recovery from anesthesia; groggy, grumpy, sore throat, and that his head will hurt. But it already hurts more than it should. The surgeon said he should wake up talking and walking etc. And that is such a relief to all of us! Before the biopsy, we decided it would be a good idea to cut Judah’s much loved long hair. Surgeons are not barbers. We know this from last time! Judah was very unhappy about having to have his hair cut off but we gave him the coolest hair cut we could think of, considering her had to have the whole back of his head shaved!

The biopsy results will take about a week. And Judah will be in the hospital for the same amount of time. We spend that time trying to be present and also distract ourselves. Food. Conversations. Movies. Switch playing. Snuggles. Kids being kids.

But we are going into this biopsy already wounded. We aren’t in the best shape…dumbed down and numbed. All the options in front us feel like bad ones. We covet prayers. Over the last 6 months, it has become immensely difficult to find words, any words, to pray. We cannot keep asking for God to show us He cares. Asking Him if He sees our suffering. Asking Him to give us a glimpse of His goodness. Because we’ve been begging. We believe that God is providing for us through our family and community. Moving their hearts to love us. Meals. Finances. Encouragement. And it has been more than we could ever say thank you for. Then we wake at 3AM to Judah screaming in pain. And we go to another Dr and they tell us more and more bad news. And then our 3 year old asks his big brother if he is better yet. Our 5 year old asks when we get to go home so she can see her friends and go to Kindergarten. It is all we can do to keep moving forward. We do our best. Smile and squeeze all our kids and say yes as often as is possible. And then hide when the wracking sobs come. The moment passes. We breathe. Matthew looks at me. There is an understanding and “here-ness” shared between us and we collect ourselves and start over. And I think it’s that “here-ness” that I miss from God. I used to feel His presence so keenly. I could feel his heart for me. For Judah. And could see His love for us in the little everyday things. Even when things were bad with Judah (or anything else), He was with me. But that’s gone. In it’s place is a wretched, broken, emptiness. A constant reminder of just how small and alone we are on this Earth. And I want so badly to keep believing that He isn’t finished with this story. That I can trust Him with my heart. With our son, his future, his life. It feels like too far to go. And it’s not because God hasn’t miraculously healed Judah, though that’s what we long for. It is because we feel abandoned and isolated from our Maker. And we don’t know why?

Where is the God who tells us he loves us and has plans for us? The Good Father, our creator. The mountain mover. The raiser of Lazarus. The silencer of storms. The healer of many. 

I don’t know. I wish I did.

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Last day of school and 6wk MRI

Judah and Camilla Kate (Cricket) had their last day of school today. It was full of fun and parties and sweet hugs and goodbyes. Thankfully, the co-op family is close and we will still see our friends throughout the summer.
While the kids were at school, I busies myself with cleaning and packing and searching for Judah’s long lost bey blade he “really needed to show to Gabe!” *Insert exasperated 9yro voice* Packing for Nashville isn’t usually very hard, but this time, since he’ll be doing chemo there tomorrow, I had to pack for chemo day too. It was hectic and frustrating and I did not find the bey blade though I searched for almost 30 dedicated minutes😬
As I loaded the car, I kept running through my mental list of must haven’t items knowing I would forget something. And I did. Matthew and my toiletries…of all the things to deal with on chemo day, stinky breath and armpits was not one of them. We weren’t far from home when I realized it so we went back!💥 My mother has always told me to make a list, put it the car when you think of it…I’m a great listener 😂
After dropping off Emmett at Mimi’s, meeting Mumzy to get her lasagna, we finally got on the road.
God has blessed us with beautiful weather and traffic and we are about to pull into Bam’s as I type this. But before I leave you, I want to request a few specific prayers:
1) That Judah’s rocks his MRI at 7est and is very still so the picture is crystal clear (he does them awake bc he’s a rockstar!)
2) That the MRI shows that the chemo is working and Judah’s tumor has stopped growing (or at least shrunk)
3) That tomorrow’s chemo (begins at ~10am) goes by quickly and that the nurses are kind.
4) That Judah doesn’t get sick during or after chemo.
5) That God continue show us His enormous love and care whether through continuing to provide for our every need (And He has!) or healing Judah completely or both!Matthew and I cannot thank you all enough for showing up and showing out for the Thacker pack. We are in awe at how The Mover of Mountains has battled for us through y’all.

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After 5 great yrs, Judah’s tumor has started growing again…

At Judah’s MRI in February there was a new area of enhancement (an area where the contrast agent glows on an MRI) around his tumor. At the time, the doctor said it was an unlikely, but possible sign of growth starting up again and that we should scan again in 3 months but watch him closely for new symptoms. About 3 weeks ago, Judah woke up in the middle of the night with a headache and a fever. We gave him tylenol and put him back to bed. He seemed perfectly fine the next day so we didn’t worry about it much. Then, for the next two weeks, every 48-72 hours the headache and fever would return. By about the 3rd headache, we were calling doctors trying to figure out what was going on. The oncologist said the cyclic nature of the fevers didn’t jive with the location of his tumor, so he thought it was some kind of infection. The neurologist said that without other symptoms, such as lethargy or vomiting, it was unlikely that it was a shunt infection or malfunction. The headaches continued, as did the frustrating conversations with doctors who didn’t think it was a problem and didn’t want to do anything about it. Finally, on Monday of last week we took him to our pediatrician who thought it best to run some blood tests. The normal infection and virus tests were all negative, but Judah’s white blood cell count was more than 3 times what a normal healthy persons would be. “Maybe his cancer team will listen to us now” we thought, but it still took 3 more phone calls and a strongly worded email before they agreed to move up his MRI.

We drove to Nashville Wednesday night, had the MRI on Thursday morning, then back to the oncologist on Friday. We prayed a confusing prayer that begged on the one hand for the MRI to show no growth, but on the other for *something* to show us what’s going on so we could stop it. We got the latter. Judah’s tumor has begun to grow again. Thankfully the mass that is intrinsic to this brain stem (i.e. inside the good brain tissue) seems to be stable, but a small new mass has begun on the outside edge of the old tumor. It grew from a tiny line of enhancement to a 1.3cm diameter mass in two months’ time. I shudder to think how big it might have been had we waited the whole extra month until his scheduled scan. The doctor doesn’t think that surgery is necessary at the moment, but we go back to Nashville on Monday for them to put his portacath back in, thenTuesday morning to start his second round of year-long chemotherapy. We’ll be using a different therapy this time, the theory being that the previous regiment, though effective, failed to fully kill the cancer so perhaps a different type will. There are pros and cons to the new regiment. It’s supposed to be less destructive to his blood counts, so less chance of serious infection and hopefully he won’t catch every cold he comes within a mile of. He only has to have therapy every two weeks instead of weekly, but the infusions take longer so Judah will be in the clinic for 2 to 3 hours every time. This therapy restricts the growth of blood vessels so it’s possible the tumor will actually shrink somewhat while on this therapy, but that same restriction carries an increased risk of things like internal bleeding and bowel perforation. I sincerely hope none of you ever have to read the patient education literature that comes with these drugs. It causes the mind a unique kind of distress when the doctors are saying we need to give your child this medicine to save his life but the warning labels list at least 40 different ways the medicine itself could kill him.

Jesus encouraged us to pray for specifics. So we’d ask you to specifically pray that this chemo regiment is immediately effective in stopping the tumor growth and relieving Judah’s headaches. We’d ask that you pray that the side effects from the chemo are few and mild in nature. That on his follow up scan in 6 weeks it is really obvious that the growth has ceased and possibly even that the tumor has shrunk. That Judah is able to withstand physically, emotionally, and spiritually this grueling year of pain and frustrations. That Wendi and I are able to withstand the same. That this chemo regiment is definitively and permanently effective for stopping Judah’s tumor from growing. And specifically for Wendi and I, I’d ask that you pray for a strengthening in faith, hope, and desire for God. I know, intellectually, that ‘why’ is never the right question for God. He won’t answer it, and even if He did, I know I couldn’t understand it. But that doesn’t stop the voice from my heart from asking why. Knowing it’s misdirected doesn’t stop the resentment that rises up when I’m lying awake with fear and anxiety. So we need God’s good to show powerfully through the cracks in the evil that veils this world. And finally I’d ask that you pray for all those who are committed to pray for Judah, including Wendi and I, to maintain that commitment. The passion for everything fades over time, especially when things seem good, and this thing is going to need some long term, committed prayer to overcome.

Our sincere thanks to all of you for your years of love and continued support of our family.

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First MRI after starting chemo

Tomorrow morning at 8:00am cst Judah will be receiving his first follow-up MRI scan to check the status of his tumor. Please join us in praying for:
-Easy ck in
-Peace for Judah and us
-No problems with anesthesia intubation
-Scan shows tumor is smaller or at least the same size
-Meeting with oncologist is comforting, informative, and productive
In other news, Judah has been doing wonderful this last week. His balance has her better and he has had little to no nausea. He is actually eating better. His emotions have been wonky but better than before. Thank you for praying for him, us. We see and feel it.

Brain has expanded to fill cavity in 4th vent (great news) and tumor appears to be the same size (No bigger for sure!) Dr said he is very happy with the scans and wants to see him back in 3 months. He thinks they will be able to see more clearly if it has shrunk in that scan. Great news! Jesus is so good to us!
Thank you for all your prayers!
~The Thacker Family

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