Well, shoot. I’ve been meaning to post for a few weeks, but it kept getting pushed back and pushed back and now I have a whopper of a post coming (probably 2-3 posts worth. Sorry!!!) and it’s not what I meant to post!
What I meant to post was that all was trucking along nicely. What I meant to post was that after just two rounds of the current chemotherapy regimen, Corey’s numbers are in the NORMAL RANGE! That is a BIG DEAL! When we did this regimen a year ago, it took four rounds to achieve these results. So let’s all just stop right there and celebrate that. Because it is a big deal and it is worth celebrating and it is worth writing about.
They still want to continue with this regimen for another couple rounds to get Corey’s numbers as low as they can possibly go. If they’re on the high end of the “normal” range, let’s shoot for the low end, right? At least that’s what they thought when we met with Dr. Lukas a week ago.
This week is a Whole. ‘Nother. Story.
I’m going to try really hard not to get hung up on the details, but if you’ve been following this blog for the past year, you know I’m a processor. And as I’m settled in to spend the second night in a row in Corey’s ICU room while he’s intubated and breathing with the help of a ventilator, you might kinda understand how and why I’m still processing what in the world just happened.
Corey was scheduled for the first shot and first infusion of Round Three last Friday. We met with Dr. Lukas that morning before our treatment appointment and Corey mentioned that he hadn’t been feeling well. The good doctor checked him out and decided to prescribe antibiotics and some prescription-strength cough syrup and forego the scheduled treatment. We all thought pushing the start of the next round back a week sounded like a good idea. We’d planned to head down to the Oregon coast for a couple days for the kids’ spring break and after a couple days on antibiotics, Corey was feeling better so we decided not to cancel the trip.
Something changed and he took a major turn for the worst while we were down at the beach. If we’d been home, I’d have taken him to the ER on Monday night. Tuesday morning before we could even fully discuss cutting the trip short and coming home early, his oncologist’s office called because he’d missed a treatment appointment. I honestly don’t even remember that one being on the schedule but when they called and heard how bad he sounded and how rough the night was, they insisted he go right to a local urgent care. Personally, I think the Holy Spirit prompted that call because Corey’s a bit of a stubborn mule and wouldn’t have gone if someone other than me didn’t insist on it (I say that with all the love I can muster. OK, and maybe a little sarcasm…). They kept Corey all day Tuesday and finally released him at 3 PM with strict orders to go straight home, saying they’d already made an appointment for him to see his oncologist first thing Wednesday morning.
Our oncologist had us do a chest X-ray Wed morning before we even saw him so when he came into the room about 9:30, he’d already had a chance to check it out. He said that Corey’s chest X-ray and oxygen levels were “very worrisome” – and that’s language that Dr. Lukas, who’s a pretty cool cat, just doesn’t use often. We were at his office in Everett, which is attached by a skybridge to Providence Hospital, so he had Corey wheeled over to the ER in a wheel chair. He knew he wanted Corey admitted, but wanted to do it through the ER so he could begin receiving treatment right away. And because this wasn’t necessarily cancer related, we didn’t feel the need to go down to the UW Med Center, where we’ve typically received treatment. Yes, this was likely happening because his immune system is still low because of the transplant and because he’s receiving ongoing chemotherapy, but it didn’t appear that whatever was going on was directly related to his cancer.
So they got Corey a bed in the ER and began administering oxygen right away, and even put IVs in both arms so they could begin treating him with two different kinds of “big gun, broad-spectrum” antibiotics. The chest X-ray showed “patchy airway disease” and his oxygen level was 90. In English that means this didn’t look like a typical pneumonia where you maybe have one bad patch of fluid in the lungs. If it was a pneumonia, it had “blossomed” and there were splotches in both lungs, top and bottom. That, coupled with his oxygen being so low, meant he either had a unique and aggressive form of pneumonia (typically only seen in AIDS patients), or there was some other kind of lung infection going on. They also raised the possibility that he was experiencing some kind of toxicity or reaction related to his chemotherapy.
He got moved up to a room and when I left him Wednesday night, I felt much better about where he was, knowing he’d get a good night’s sleep and get the kind of treatment he needed. The kids and I went to see him Thursday morning and while we were there they came to get him for a bronchoscopy, a procedure where they scope the throat and go down into the lungs and take a sample of the infection to see exactly what they’re dealing with. We gathered around him, Jayden prayed for him and then they wheeled him off. I gave the nurse my cell phone number and asked her to call me when he got back up to his room and then the kids and I left. I felt horrible about having to cut their spring break trip short and even though I had gobs of work to do (all the unexpected travel and doctor/hospital visits messed up my work week!), I wanted to take them to do something fun.
A friend had offered to take her son and Jayden to the indoor aquatic center in Snohomish Thursday and I decided to tag along so I could take Abbie and one of her friends. They have a huge bank of windows just outside the pool area (that has a waterslide, all kids of fun water stuff and even indoor surfing. This place is seriously cool!) where I could watch them but get some work done. That’s where I was when the nurse called to let me know they were done with the procedure and Corey was back up in his room. I talked to him briefly and he sounded great. He got on the phone and said, “This is George” – putting on a show for the nurses (remember, he is always “on” around people, and always wants to make them laugh). He said he was feeling good and I told him I’d be back to the hospital after the kids were done at the pool. He said that was fine, we said “I love you” and hung up.
An hour or two later (it’s all still a bit of a blur) the attending physician called and said they were taking him to the ICU because he was having trouble breathing. He said he thought it would just be an hour or two, that they needed to stabilize him and get him through this spell, that maybe the bronchoscopy had stirred up whatever was in his lungs, and that he needed an extra boost of oxygen. I told him I’d get there in the next couple hours, after I got the kids settled, and he said he thought that would be fine, that there was no rush. My friend had taken her son and Jayden home and the girls were just finishing up their swim session when I got a call from the attending in ICU asking me to get there as quickly as I could. Not the kind of phone call I expected, and not the kind of phone call anyone ever wants to get. I hurried the girls up and dropped them off at the friend’s house and said I’d be back in a bit (both of these moms are part of the ah-mazing community of people who have come alongside us throughout this whole journey. They are essentials in my village and I couldn’t manage without them).
I tried to rush to the hospital (but got behind every slow driver on the road that day!), then literally ran all the way to the ICU once I arrived. I was greeted at the doors by a nurse who wanted to warn me that Corey was in pretty rough shape. “Rough shape” was an understatement. By the time I arrived, just about 3 hours from the time I’d talked to him on the phone(!), he was intubated and sedated and breathing 100% only on a machine. His temperature was 106, his blood pressure was super low and they had him medically paralyzed so his body would stop fighting whatever was happening and they could let the machines do the work. They let me see him for a minute but then escorted me out to the waiting area while they worked on him.
That was a tough couple hours.
I asked the doctor when I got there if I needed to call his family, who was out of state, but he said he thought we could wait the night out and see how he was doing the next morning. About an hour later he came out to give me an update and I asked him again. He said it would probably be a good idea to have them to come over first thing the next morning. About half an hour later he came out and said I should have them come right away.
This was not going well.
I’d already called and asked everyone to come, so this was just a confirmation that things were as desperate as I’d thought. Corey’s parents and brother were coming from Coeur d’Alene, my parents and sister were coming from California, his aunt and uncle were coming from another part of Washington and a couple cousins were flying up from LA where they’d been for work. They weren’t just on their way, they were on their way and praying. So many people were. I hadn’t had time to put any kind of blog post up or even put anything out on social media because it had all happened so fast but the word was out and an army was mobilized and I knew with a confidence and an accompanying peace that hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people across this globe were lifting Corey up in prayer.
They finally let me back to his room about 2-3 hours after I got there. There were screens and machines everywhere. Not too long after I’d been let back in, the nurse and I were in his room and the screens (so. many. screens.) began showing some unsettling activity. His hands were tremoring (I don’t even know if that’s a word), but because he was being medically paralyzed, they couldn’t tell for sure what was happening. They stopped the paralytic and gave him some anti-seizure meds because they thought he may be having a seizure. He didn’t react well to them. He started to crash and we went from one nurse in the room to eight people – in. a. flash.
I was sitting quietly in the back of the room watching them work on him and I actually thought, “This is it.” I can’t explain how it felt. I was calm and it was almost like I was watching it happen to someone else. Of course I was praying for God’s healing touch and for Corey to miraculously pull through, but my prevailing thought was that everyone was on their way and they weren’t going to make it. I just wanted him to be able to hang on until they could get here and say their goodbyes.
Eventually they were able to stop whatever seizure or reaction was happening and “stabilize” him (relatively speaking) but I don’t think anyone expected him to make it through the night.
I realize this may sound like a lack of faith, but I know it’s not. I believe God can heal Corey – In. A. Moment. I’ve said it before, go back and read it in my past blog posts. I also know that people who love God die of cancer or in car accidents or however else. I believe in God’s sovereignty and I’m not in the habit of “commanding” Him to do anything. It’s not my style. Yes, I pray for outcomes, I pray for people’s hearts and minds and lives to be changed. I pray for all kinds of things like that. But I don’t think I’ve ended a prayer in the past 20 years that hasn’t ended in, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.” It’s how I was taught. It’s what I believe. If God thought it was Corey’s time, who am I to argue that? Do I want to be a single mom? No, I do not. But do I believe that if that’s what God sees fit that He’ll give me everything I need to be the best single mom I can be? Yep, I do. Call it whatever you want. I call it faith.
In His kind way, the Lord allowed me to walk through even that horrible moment without feeling fear. I was sad, of course. So sad. Sad that Jayden and Abbie were going to grow up without a dad and asking the Lord to help me be the best mom I could be to them. Sad for his parents because no parent should ever have to bury their child. Sad for all of us who know and love Corey. But I wasn’t afraid. Like one of our pastors prayed when they came to visit the next day, it was an “irrational peace.” No other way to put it, really.
About 2:30 Thursday morning I was alone in the room with Corey and his night nurse, Blake, when he woke up and started trying to pull the tubes out. They’d anticipated this and had restrained his arms, but he woke up and was fighting. But this was actually good news, because it was the first time he’d been conscious since I’d arrived! Blake, who was a-w-e-s-o-m-e, talked him through what everything was, and he was able to make eye contact with me and communicate, non-verbally, that he knew I was there. He began to calm down and over the next little bit, it felt like he’d turned a corner.
His parents and brother arrived about 3 AM and I know it was so hard for them see him like he was. He was sedated again by that time so they couldn’t communicate with him. Some of his cousins and other family arrived a bit later and of course everyone prayed with him – a lot – throughout the next couple hours. They all left for breakfast a little bit after the sun came up and I tried to get a couple hours sleep in the chair in his room. When they got back, his mom came over and whispered hello, and he opened his eyes and made eye contact with her. He squeezed her hand and she was elated that he knew it was her! Of course, everyone else came in then and he was able to non-verbally communicate with each of them. If you know Corey, you know he is deeply energized by the people around him and I firmly believe that each person that came in and smiled and squeezed his hand brought a little bit of life back to him, bit by bit.
I went home a few hours later, got cleaned up and got the kids from their friends’ houses, where they’d ended up spending the night after things had gone south the night before. My parents arrived and we all came back to the hospital together. I prepared the kids for how he looked and what the ventilator looked like but it was still hard for them to see their strong dad like that. But like he had with his parents earlier that morning, he was able to non-verbally communicate with them and that helped calm their nerves. We all prayed together and visited and Jayden hardly left his dad’s side for the next 4 1/2 hours. Corey mostly slept during that time, but Jayden talked with him, prayed with him, sang to him and just generally kept vigil. Abbie wandered in and out, always squeezing his hand and saying, “I love you, Daddy!” And it seemed like hour after hour he was getting stronger and stronger.
OK, so this has become a marathon post. It’s taken me 14 hours to write (off and on) and there’s still more to the story. This has been the biggest scare of our journey, but has also been the biggest miracle to date. I guess I’ll call this “Part 1” and try to get back to the rest of the story as soon as I can. Bottom line, Corey’s still with us and continues to surprise everyone. Thank you for your prayers. They have carried both of us through – again. He’s still on the ventilator but is breathing more and more on his own, and I can say with a confidence that I didn’t have 36 hours ago that I’m pretty sure he’s going to make it. He’s not out of the woods entirely, but I really believe he’s on his way.