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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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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Third chemo all done

We got to ETCH at 9:30am and I realized, to my dismay, that I forgot to put Judah’s EMLA cream on. So though the nurses were on top of it, ready to access him and start his fluids, we had to wait 30 mins for the cram to numb his port  so it wouldn’t hurt. I now have a reminder on my phone😉
Once the cream did it’s magic, his awesome nurse accessed him, drew labs, and started his fluids. I got out Judah’s school work but before we could get started Child Life came by to tell us some Tennessee Athletes were in the game room doing Beads of Courage bracelets, Judah jumped at the chance to not do his work, and he loves crafts!
The athletes were so nice and Judah loved having them help him make a bracelet for himself and his sister!
Thank you Tennessee Athletics for organizing a fun distraction for the kids!
When he finished, we headed back to his room where Judah proceeded to eat 4 bags of goldfish and 2 bags of Cheetos while waiting for his labs to come back. He loves him so salty cracker snacks!
Around 11 his labs came back great and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect because his fluids had just finished too!
Dr Spiller order his chemo and Judah and I started his school work, trying to finish his math and spelling…which he was not happy about. It took quite a while and a FaceTime call from Daddy to get him to do it. But that seemed to work!
Judah’s first chemo just finished at 12:30. We’ll wait for the flush and then hopefully start the next one!
Now he’s done with his school work though, we can get down to real business, battling each other in Pokken Tournament DX! This time I’m the one thankful for the distraction cause I have lots of work I should be doing…😂
So far he hasn’t had any side effects. Keep the prayers coming because they are helping!
We made great time once they started the chemo and we are headed home at 2:30! Judah did great and was a warrior, as usual💓
He is feeling mean though. I would be too though, so I get it! But it’s hard when he being so very hateful.

We will continue to ask Jesus to comfort our boy. Continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will help us to be slow to anger and abounding in love. Like He is!

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second chemo here we go

Judah’s 2nd chemo is today. Matthew left for another Atlanta meeting at 5AM but thankfully I had some people come together to help me with Camilla Kate and Emmett.
We got to clinic at 9:45 and had check-in and labs quickly. All his labs were noraml except he is still a bit dehydrated. Hopefully the orange Gatorade Daddy got him will help him drink more often.
Chemo didn’t arrive until 1. It’s now almost 2 so we are about 1/2 way through the first bag. Each bag takes 1.5 hrs. It’s gonna be a LONG day. The nurses brought Judah lunch around noon. Me on the other hand, well let’s just say I’m really looking forward to the dinner from Two Rivers Church Worship Team tonight.
So far, the chemo is going well. We’ll probably be here until 5 though.
Prayers for patience and stamina!

2nd Chemo is finally done! Going home at 4:30 so my guess was very close! Today was a long long day, but Judah was in much better spirits.  He got going quickly on homeschool work and enjoyed the very cool entertainment options at ETCH.  Please join us in continuing to pray that Judah would not struggle with side effects from his treatment and that the chemo would be destroy his cancer!

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1st clinic visit and learning to deal with feelings

Judah and I went to ETCH this morning for his 1st off-week clinic check. It was an easy appt and with the Emla Cream, Judah didn’t even feel it when the nurse accessed his port! Oncology nurses are really good at sticks and Judah told her so! “That was way better than the other night that the ER. You are really good at that.”
His labs looked good so he will be having his 2nd Chemo next Thursday.
As we were waiting for his labs to come back, I thought about how amazing the nurses, Drs, and clinic is there at ETCH. Judah said, as we entered our patient room, “wow this room is very relaxing! I like it”. The nurse that accessed him was friendly and sweet. She joked with him that she could help with whatever he needed as long as it wasn’t his Math homework, haha. Judah’s oncologist Dr. Spiller, is just so good at what she does and really made an effort to connect with Judah and with me. We felt cared about and heard and loved. And when your kid is starting a year long chemo, those are the feelings you want to have! I am so very grateful to have ETCH Hem/Onc taking care of Judah!

I’m guessing all the the positivity we had today was making up for all the negativity we had yesterday. Judah was in a foul mood yesterday. It didn’t start off great because I am not the best at morning time anythings… I woke up, made breakfast, packed lunches, got dressed and felt like I was crushing it. And then Judah says, “Mom, we are supposed to be at school in 2 minutes. We are gonna be really late.” UGH! I’m telling you guys, I never remember just how much Matthew helps out in the mornings until he isn’t here. I just do not function well before 2 cups of coffee. So we were late. Like 15 minutes late. And Judah HATES being late. He was sitting in the back seat, saying, “I have a math test today and it usually starts right after devotion. If I miss the beginning of the math test, I won’t be able to finish it on time.” I do my best to reassure him, telling him that the joy of part-time homeschooling is that he can finish his test anytime. I tell him it’s not a big deal. But he isn’t having it.

We get to school, I walk them into class and remind Judah’s teacher that I will be back in an hr to take him to cancer counseling. But when I got to school to get him, he was on the verge of tears. I asked him what was wrong. Can you guess?? “I didn’t finish my math test Momma!” He was full blown crying now. And I was so thankful we were on the way to counseling. I knew Judah needed time with Dr. Reno and that she was really good at getting him to talk about whatever was eating him up inside. But 30 minutes in, his counselor ended the session at his request. He wouldn’t talk to her. He wouldn’t look at her. He cried/tried not to cry and shrugged his shoulders with every attempt to communicate. Finally she asked him if he wanted to end early and go back to school and he said yes.

After I spoke to his counselor for a few minutes about some tools Matthew and I can use to talk about Judah’s cancer, we left. He was very emotional on the way to the car and even yelled at me. “I asked you not to talk about my cancer so much and you said you wouldn’t, but that’s all you talk about anymore!” I was at this point that I realized my sweet Judah was not dealing with his cancer diagnosis well at all. I tried to explain to him that when I said that, it was when his tumor wasn’t growing. Now that it is growing again, I had to talk about it some. He just looked at me with frustration. He didn’t speak to me again until we were all the way through the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru line — at 11:30. If you’ve ever been there at lunch time, you know he was silent for like 20 minutes! When he finally talked to me again, he said, “will you please take me to school now?”

Guys, Judah and I have been doing cancer counseling and lunch dates every 2 wks for almost 4 yrs and it has always been a joy. But I think, maybe, that time is over for now. Cancer at 4-5 yrs old was hard. Watching Judah go through all that and him not be able to understand why was excruciating. I think cancer at 9-10 is going to be a whole lot harder though. He knows what’s going on. He gets it enough to be angry and dread every conversation. He is struggling. He is hurting. Let me tell you, not being able to help him is tearing me apart.

A friend sent me a verse last night, Isaiah 40:28-29

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.

I have no power. No strength. No understanding. But Jesus does. I choose to trust that He, whose understanding in unsearchable, will continue to give me the right words to say to Judah. Words to lift him up and restore his strength.

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first chemo in the books

There is a heaviness that sits over a chemo clinic. I had forgotten that tight chested, woozy-headed, rapid-heart beat feeling that comes with seeing, not only your own child but a room full of really sick kids, doing one of the hardest things we can do as humans — fighting for the right to live. That feeling is pretty wretched. Seeing and being helpless.

Judah was a warrior today. It began with labs at 9am. After everything came back normal, we picked a spot and settled in for a long morning. He ate and drank everything we could throw at him and ask for more! He was very tired but refused to sleep…he’s very stubborn😏 The only real frustratation came when his feet and hands began cramping. But with flexing, moving, and water it passed.

After 3 hrs of chemo, he got flushed and deaccessed and we were free!
He’s still fighting sleep but I think the car ride home will over power him 😂

We will do labs etc next week and then chemo in 2 wks. For now, we ask for prayers that he can go to school, enjoy it, get the work done, and feel ‘normal’ with his friends. Thanks all!

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Port placement-better than brain surgery

As we sit here, in the surgery waiting area at Vanderbilt, I cannot help but think of the last time we were here. Waiting again, but that time it was to see our sweet Judah’s face after his brain tumor resection surgery. We didn’t want to return to this place, discover our son’s tumor was growing, and face the horrible events from his 1st surgery. We prayed hard for no growth and then if it had to grow, please don’t make Judah have to go through brain surgery again. Please. Please don’t let him have to learn to walk and talk again. And I am overcome with gratitude to my God that we are not going through that again! Instead, perhaps as a small mercy, we are sitting, surrounded by excited and scared little faces, waiting for a much smaller surgery so we can begin this fight again with chemotherapy. John Piper says, it’s ‘a grace given in the circle of a grace denied’.

And so we wait. Thankful for the grace given

.

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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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chemo side effects and neuropathy stinks

Hello all!
We’ve been going hard for the last 2 wks and I’ve not been updating very well. I’m sorry for that.
The last 2 wks Judah has been receiving a partial chemo treatment. It is totally normal and part of this first 10 wk run. He had 4 wks of both drugs and these last 2 wks have been only 1 drug, vinchristine. This week he will go back to both drugs for 4 more wks.
Honestly, these 2 wks on vinchristine have felt like a break from chemo because the nausea, vomiting, and irritability have been pretty much absent (barring a few instances). The only thing we really notice was his balance was really off. I mean REALLy off. He has fallen a lot so he is covered from head to toe in bruises.
So today at PT Julie did her normal feet/leg stretching and did a test to see if he could feel her touching toes/arch/heels and he could on some and couldn’t on some. In watching him walk, climb, etc she said she thinks it could be neuropathy/foot drop. It could also be that his muscles are still redeveloping. Or it could be that where his tumor is located, in the brainstem, it could be causing balance issues too. So we aren’t sure.
One of the most common side effects of vinchristine is neuropathy. We didn’t put 2 and 2 together that the off balance could be neuropathy. We thought neuropathy was painful…we are new to this. The one good thing is this mess is that he isn’t experiencing any pain with the neuropathy!
Before we started chemo, Dr. Espenshade said that if the neuropathy got bad and foot drop was a more common side effect we would have to switch regiments. We don’t know what that looks like. We don’t know of this foot drop is the beginning of a “more common” or just a side effect. We don’t know if its something to be concerned about or just part of the chemo deal. So we will talk to oncology and PT and watch and see what the next step is to get him in a better, safer walking place while killing this cancer!

http://youtu.be/pTA3VJzX1uE

http://youtu.be/HyzE0-TdInc

Please be in prayer for:
-Clear direction with chemo regiment and side effects
-Explanation of neuropathy/foot drop and whether it will be permanent
-If permanent, what does that look like for Judah
-Continued no pain with neuropathy and little to no side effects as we go back to both drugs this wk
-Better balance for Judah in everyday activities like walking, running, jumping, climbing stairs, and riding Stridor bike
-MRI (9/18) shows no growth and/or shrinkage of the tumor

Thank you all!
Resting between His shoulders-
The Thacker Family

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