This week marked our second week of Chemotherapy. Hank went to Children's Oncology for an outpatient injection of one of the three chemicals he had last week. Hank responded well to the meds and showed no symptoms this time around. This week was a tradition week, as the doctors transitioned Hank's chemo day from Monday last week, to Tuesday this week, and then Wednesday next week. His Chemo needs to be given each week on the same day, and can only falter from that day by 24 hours... so they needed a Tuesday Chemo day to bridge the gap. :)
Today (wednesday) we went in to see his ENT/surgeon who removed the biopsy to check and see how his stitches were healing. When he walked in, he stared at Hank with surprise... much like the first time the ENTs stared at Hank's lumpy nose... but this time with a joyous bewilderment! He began the sentence "Is it just me, or is?" Then he paused. And looked at us, cautious to say more in case his eyes were playing tricks on him. But we smiled in delight and said "It IS shrinking!" Dr. Berg smiled from cheek to cheek. It was such a confirming moment for us, for the Lord! If our doctor was having a "WOW" moment... we knew this was not the norm for tumor shrinking after a single week of Chemo. He just continued to smile throughout the consultation as he looked at Hank's shrunken tumor. Taylor and I could see the power of prayer not only in Hank's smaller profile, but in the expression of Dr. Berg.
As we left the office, it was so thrilling to experience such joy in Hank's progress. So off to lunch and then to Irving for a consultation with the Texas Center for Proton Therapy. Taylor and I had been praying, and asking for prayer, that we would be approved by insurance for Proton Radiation. There are different forms of radiation, but the two that would commonly be used for Hank's type of tumor are Photon or Proton. Photon radiation is less precise and the ray goes in one side and out the other, causing everything in the path to receive a dose of radiation. Proton radiation is different, in that you an create an "end point" where you direct the ray to stop. So the radiation specialist can use a computer program and details maps of Hank's tumor, to program how deep to send the proton rays... reducing the amount of unnecessary radiation other parts of his head would be exposed to. Either form of radiation would have required almost 6 weeks of therapy to kill the cancer. (This has to do with the "life cycle" of the cells, each type of cell having a different duration for how long it takes to create matter and split to make new cells.) During those 5 weeks and 3 days, Hank will need to go every weekday, once a day. It is a short process, and only takes a few minutes to actually administer the radiation... the longer part will be the prepping and making sure Hank stays completely still throughout the radiation.
So the first person we met with, was the financial counselor. She would let us know if insurance would pay for the therapy, and how much we would have to pay out of pocket. We sat down in her office and she copied Hank's insurance card as she explained that they "usually don;t have a problem getting insurance to pay for this form of radiation for kids." I held my breath as she handed us a paper to sign showing that our insurance would be covering 100% of the cost. 100%. I was blown away. Again, the Lord's hand in this was CLEARLY evident.
Next we met with the doctor who would be in charge of Hank's radiation. He showed us images of Hank's tumor and the difference between the Photon therapy plan and the Proton therapy plan... it was so encouraging to know we would be receiving the best possible care with the least amount of long term effects. In having spoken with our oncologists, we were forewarned that Hank's pituitary gland (the gland that produces growth and reproduction hormones) could very likely be in the path of radiation and therefore cease to create hormones needed for Hank to grow properly... and cease to create the hormones needed to one day have his own children. Taylor and I were heartbroken for Hank in that moment last Monday. It was when the whole "cancer" thing got real for me. But our radiation doctor gave us yet another praise... the Pituitary gland would not be effected at all but the Proton radiation! PRAISE the Lord and His wonderful mercy upon Hank! I almost leaped up to kiss Tay right them and there! Then the doctor said Hank's brain would also likely not be effected (as in an extremely thin sliver of the frontal lobe would be exposed to extremely minimal amounts of radiation)... again, Praise! We were so joy filled at the news of this. The doctor went on to explain the long term effects would be that the radiation would kill the cells that stimulate the bones in his face to grow as Hank grows. So the areas around Hank's nose, where radiation was administered, would not grow as his face did. So later on down the line, we would have to approach reconstructive/cosmetic surgery. It will also likely effect his sinus functions, leading to drainage issues, constantly running nose, or impacted sinuses, and potentially the need for dental implants (should his permanent teeth be damaged due to radiation.) Hank might incur mouth sores from the daily treatments, but they would be short term and often heal quickly in children once radiation ceases. There are a few other minor side effects, but we felt like the structures that our mighty Father spared Hank were such powerful answers to your/our prayers! We rejoice with you all in this!
Taylor and I went home encouraged by the visits we had with both Hank's doctors. What a MIGHTY God we serve and are Loved by! His Mercy is abundantly clear in Hank's life today, as is His Joy in answering the multitude of petitions you all have raised up to Him.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, giver of Life.
So lastly, as we close... we would like to express another "need." While we love that you are all very clearly loving on Hank in the midst of this trial, we would like to remind you that he has an older brother who is struggling with this reality as well. Not only in the sense of his brother has cancer, but also in that Hank is constantly receiving cards and gifts... which Corin feels left out at times.
Many of you have been including things for Corin as well, and I don't want those who have sent Hank something to feel guilty if you have not... I only say this because Corin is sensitive to the fact that Hank is the center of much of our attention lately. Reasonably so, since our lives have been consumed with tests, doctors' visits and hospital stays... but we would appreciate your help in making Corin feel loved in the midst of this too. He loves his brother, but is also an eight year old boy who is jealous when Hank gets a new action figure or special sticker book... or even just a greeting card in the mail. ;) Just to know that he too, is special and loved... that would make Corin's journey alongside Hank much easier.
Thank you, Praise the Lord, and let's keep showing down those prayers... they ARE being heard!