Friday, 20 May 2011

An Update


Nearly a month since my last post! I know many people will have been reading the church updates here. But allow me to tell you where we’re at now here on the blog.

The Operation

The operation was a success, but because the tumour was inside the brain it wasn’t possible to remove it all. The surgeon was able to take most of it out, and it was then sent for tests.

The good news was that I came out of the operation without any weakness down my left hand side, or any other mental or physical concerns.

The Results

Brain tumours are graded from 1-4. 1 and 2 are regarded as less aggressive, benign tumours. Grades 3 and 4 are more aggressive, malignant tumours. The early indications we were given suggested that we might be looking at a less aggressive tumour, however the tests revealed it was a grade 3. The tumour had almost certainly been growing for many years, and had transitioned from a grade 2 into a grade 3 recently. This is what would have led to the recent severe headaches and seizure.

Obviously this was not the news we wanted to hear, but a further meeting with the oncologist revealed some good signs. The tumour is one that is expected to respond well to chemotherapy- and if and when I need it -radiotherapy too. It’s also good that the tumour was a grade 2 as some of it may still be grade 2 and not grade 3. Finally, this type of tumour doesn't transition to a grade 4.  

For those still reading and keen to do more Googling it’s a Grade 3 Oligodendroglioma!

The Beatson

Scan

Myself and Debs saw the pre and post op MRI scans for the first time on Tuesday. The tumour in the pre-op scan was clear and sizable. The post-op scan is always a little less clear because you have brain, some tumour and swelling. What is clear is that there is now a big hole in my head (cue the airhead jokes) but the good news is that the oncologists are happy with what they see in the scan. I think the surgeon basically managed to get all of the tumour he could without causing me damage. We were both really thankful that there were no unwanted surprises on the post-op scan.

Chemotherapy

We had gone to the Beaston on Tuesday expecting me to receive my first dose of chemotherapy, but the oncologist was keen for us to take the time to digest the information and plan before starting the chemo. So we got the relevant information and I’ll go back to the Beatson this Tuesday to collect my drugs and start the chemo on Wednesday through to Sunday.

There are a number of positives with regard to the treatment. Firstly, I’ll be able to get my bloods done on the Monday before treatment in Airdrie to save me time when I go to the Beatson on Tuesdays. Secondly, all being well with my bloods, I’ll be able to take the drugs home and take them myself for the five days. Thirdly, the medical staff are fairly confident that my age and condition will stand me in good stead with regard to some of the possible side-effects. I’ve been assured that they are usually less severe than people anticipate. Fourthly, the staff are happy to tailor the chemotherapy around my individual circumstances where necessary ie holidays\important church events etc.

The chemo will be given over five days every four weeks. That works out at 13 sessions over the year.

There are no guarantees as to the impact the chemotherapy will have on the tumour. It’s not impossible that it will shrink, I think it’s more likely that the aim is to prevent further growth for as long as is possible (the chemo should have an impact on the tumour well beyond the year of treatment itself.) Whilst there are no guarantees – and this is clearly a point for prayer- the medical staff are upbeat. This type of tumour is expected to respond well to treatment.

I’ll be subject to MRI scans every three months to monitor the tumour. At some point in the future I’ll almost certainly have to have radiotherapy, but this can cause some damage to the brain hence the decision to start with chemotherapy.


Tiredness

Over the past ten days or so I’ve been very drained. After the operation I had good days and bad days, but even in the bad days I’d have one or two spells where I felt ok. Recently I’ve had whole days feeling exhausted. That’s been quite demoralising for me and concerning for Deborah. We were really pleased that the oncologist at the Beatson told us this was normal and to be expected. I was on a high dose of steroids to reduce swelling in the brain, having come off those steroids- the artificial energy they provide has left me and the full after effect of the operation has hit home. I’m hoping and praying for a wee bit more energy daily.

Longer Term

I know my life expectancy has been altered fairly significantly in the past month, but we’re still praying for healing. I have a lot of privileges and responsibilities that mean an awful lot to me, so I’m praying that I am given time here to invest in them. Family and church don’t feel like short term projects! I would love to go for a scan and be told there was no tumour, and I believe that to be possible, but to be honest if I have to live with that constant question mark over my life that’s ok. Really we all live with the question mark or we live in denial anyway. One of the most important things a pastor can do is to die well, and I’m praying that if that happens sooner than I had anticipated, I’ll be given the grace to model that well to the church. However I do believe all things are possible for God and I don’t feel –as subjective as my feelings are- that this is imminent. The words of Psalm 91, for example, have been such a living source of strength and encouragement to us in these days.

Medically we are being told that this is something that we will have to live with and manage. But there are some really good signs, and I’m being prepared by the NHS staff for years of life. Whilst there are no guarantees there seems an expectation that I will be able to move towards a new-normality.

It’s hard to speak about every day being a gift without it sounding terribly clich├ęd and twee but that’s the reality that we’re experiencing in a new way at the moment. Every day is a gift, every day we receive the grace we need for any challenges we face, we continue to receive all the support we could ever have hoped for from friends, family and the church family.

Another Psalm that’s been very special to us in these days is Psalm 40:

  He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
  he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

  He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
  Many will see and fear
    and put their trust in the LORD.

That’s often the pattern in the Psalms, a new experience of God’s grace and mercy, a new deliverance from danger or death, leads to a new song. I’ve never been a singer, but I have a new song to speak, a new sermon to preach!

My real desire is to get back behind that lectern in Airdrie Baptist to sing that song. But I also hope to be able to use this blog in coming days to reflect upon some of the truths I’ve been reflecting on, enjoying and experiencing in a new way through this time.

God-willing I’ll start that tomorrow!..