Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lymphoma Update

Laure and I on our little balcony

GOOD NEWS TODAY!  My lymphoma has responded to the chemotherapy and the transplant doctor is planning to proceed.  I don't want to diminish the great news, but just to share all the facts, the tumor in my lung has shrunk, but is not gone - so I am not entirely sure how that will affect the likelihood of a complete cure of the cancer, but I will have a chance to ask Dr.Hosing tomorrow about that, and of course pass it along right here.  One other slight caveat is that Dr. Hosing meets with her peers every Thursday to discuss cases and she will get their input on my case - but that is not expected to change the direction - once again I will update you with any news from that.

We picked up Laure at the airport this afternoon and for the next 9 days Renee, Laure and I will be sharing this one bedroom apartment as we do all the preparatory tests over at the clinic.  The address here is

3 Hermann Museum Circle Dr.
Apartment 5319
Houston, TX 77004 

We are very relieved and full of thanksgiving and praise for this great news today.  God is faithful! 


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gobble Gobble!!!!

This was taken in 1983 just before Renee met my parents

Happy Thanksgiving everyone - I wasn't going to post this weekend but I've been thinking since my visit with Dr. Kritz yesterday and I feel moved to take a moment and praise God for what has occurred over the last 2 months.  2 months ago, I had just been released from Rex Hospital with the new knowledge that I had 2 kinds of cancer - having added 'large cell lymphoma' to 'chronic lymphocytic leukemia'.  I was facing 2 rounds of what was described as a fairly harsh chemotherapy regimen (hyper-CVAD), with the added complication of pneumonia and associated symptoms.  I was told that my counts would esssentially zero out, that I would be sick, that I had a 50% chance of getting an infection and ending up in the hospital, plus a high likelihood of having to have transfusions to support my blood supply.  Additionally, there was a chance of having to delay the transplant while my counts recovered from the chemo.

Yesterday, Dr. Kritz pronounced me fit to travel on Monday - he was going to have me get my counts checked again on Friday and possibly respond with a shot or a transfusion to support my flight to Houston, but my counts were so strong that he said 'not necessary - you're good to go'.  In my mind, this marks a transition into 'transplant mode' from 'chemo mode'.  As such, I wanted to take a moment and thank God for how well these two months have gone - the blessings are many - the chemo had an immediately positive effect on my breathing, my lungs cleared, the side effects were not as bad as advertised, I did not get an infection, my counts recovered strong and soon, and I have been able to maintain my weight, just to name a few.  So - thanks be to God our heavenly Father and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is more than able to do more than we can ask or imagine!

There is one more hurdle before we officially enter transplant mode, and that is that when I get to Houston, I will get a cat-scan to determine the state of my lymphoma - what kind of remission, if any, full, partial, etc.  That test will be on Monday and I will get the results on Tuesday afternoon - if the lymphoma is not in a satisfactory remission, they will postpone the transplant and give me more chemo.  At this point our fervent prayer is (and has been) for a complete remission and full speed ahead with the transplant.  Please join us in this prayer request.

I mentioned our prayer meeting Sunday evening - if you want to joins hands with us in spirit from where you are, between 7 pm and 8pm eastern time will be the right time.  If you do, I would appreciate you letting me know that you prayed with us......it will be a very special time and I would love to hear that you were with us in spirit.

Some of you have asked questions about the details and mechanics of the transplant process - I found a link at the University of Maryland medical website that is pretty comprehensive if you are interested - feel free to check it out - I did not find an equivalent resource at the MD Anderson site.  God's blessings, peace, and contentment to you on this Thanksgiving Day.  Dan


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jill's Visit

Jill with a dwarf donkey we met on our walk
Hello Friends, it's been 6 days since my last post and I guess you could say they have been eventful....by far, the best part is that my sister Jill flew down on Friday and spent the weekend with us - we had a wonderful time, and Jill, Rooker that she is, cooked up a STORM for us.....wow, we had homemade biscuits, homemade chicken soup, homemade mashed potatoes, homemade butternut squash soup, homemade cinnamon rolls, etc etc - with Jill, you can drop the "homemade" and just assume it - she doesn't cook any other way :-)  YUM!!

It was beautiful weather and we walked 3+ miles each day on Saturday and Sunday.  I was in low-low blood count mode so we had to be very careful about hugs, doorknobs, etc.

Without going into a lot of unnecessary detail, there were two hospital stays interspersed over the last 4 days - on Friday, Dr. Kritz sent me over to the hospital to get 2 units of blood - my hemoglobin was down to 8.0 - so that interfered a bit with Jill's visit - she arrived at noon, I checked in to the hospital at 3, and I got discharged at 1 am.  No complications, just a comedy of errors at the hospital that dragged the process out.....

Then, yesterday morning, I was getting platelets at the REX Hospital cancer infusion suite (good outfit and process) and began to have severe pains in my lower back, legs, and groin.....I got myself over to Dr. Kritz' office (barely) and they gave me some morphine....they also thought I needed more blood so they checked me back into the hospital at about 2 pm yesterday - they did a few diagnostics, checked my counts again, decided that I didn't need blood after all, and kept me for observation overnight.  I've been discharged now and am waiting for Renee to pick me up.  Dr. Kritz is pretty sure the pain was from a shot I got a week ago - the Neulasta shot sometimes causes significant bone pain as the patient's white counts recover.  I had not experienced it before (and I don't care to again!).  You know the pain is bad when you start making involuntary noises.....the good news is that my counts this morning showed good progress in all areas, so Dr. Kritz pronounced me "recovering".

Time is getting short now as we prepare for our trip to Houston.  We will be having a small gathering at our house with a few close friends on Sunday evening for a time of prayer, healing, and fellowship.  Renee and I really appreciate your prayers for what is to come - we pray for healing, but above that we pray for God's will to be done in our lives, so that we might bring honor and glory to Him in all things. 

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!!  We all have so much to be thankful for!   Dan

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Schedule Taking Shape

Laure and I, Rockford, Illinois, circa 1968

 That's me and my big sister, Laure Rooker McKenna, in front of our house in Rockford, Illinois, about 43 years ago.  In about 3 weeks, she will donate her stem cells to me in a life-saving, potentially cancer-curing procedure at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas - now known as a stem cell transplant (was formerly known as bone marrow transplant).  I would be remiss if I didn't mention my kid sister, Jill DiCicco, who by genetic happenstance was not a match - all I can tell you is that she wishes she had been a match but rejoiced just as much for Laure being one.  Both my sisters would lay down their lives for me, and I for them.  "Greater love hath no man than this - that he lay down his life for his friends".....*snif* !!

The main thing today is to share with you the latest schedule for our temporary move to Houston.  

I spent some time on the phone yesterday with my MD Anderson transplant coordinator and we have a plan that goes as follows - 

-  Renee and I fly to Houston early on November 28th.  The first order of business will be to do CAT scans to determine if my lymphoma is in remission.  This is a "go / no go" decision on the transplant that I assume Dr. Hosing and Dr. Keating will confer on.  That afternoon Renee and I will "move" in to our temporary apartment near the medical center.  We are optimistic about the lymphoma but we need prayer for this - we are praying for "no sign of lymphoma" - i.e., a complete remission.

-  On Tuesday afternoon, November 29th, Laure will fly from NYC to Houston.  She will get pre-testing starting Wednesday - the main test will be blood labs, the results of which will be available Friday - this is a "go / no go" decision on her being a donor - it is routine and as long as her blood counts are within normal ranges, there's no issue.  

-  Chill over the weekend
Left to right - Jill, Matt (deceased 1993), Laure, circa 1992. 

-  Laure will start the stem cell donation/collection process on Monday, Dec 5 and continue Tuesday the 6th if necessary.  Both of us continue as out-patients during this time.

-  When they have a successful collection from Laure, probably sometime Tuesday afternoon, they will freeze it and begin the process of checking me in (probably Wednesday the 7th) and getting me ready for the conditioning chemotherapy, which might start late Wednesday or Thursday - that lasts approximately a week but I will not know that schedule until after the CAT scans and bone marrow biopsies are done.  The conditioning chemotherapy is designed to suppress my immune system so that it will not interfere with Laure's stem cells when they are infused.  

-  In broad strokes, I should be in the hospital for about a month, then move out into the apartment sometime between January 5 and 15, and continue with outpatient visits, side effect management, etc for another 2 to 3 months - Renee will be with me for the duration, splitting time between the hospital and the apartment, though we are planning at least one "home leave" for her in late January for a week.

The side effects from hyper-CVAD 2 have been very manageable so far;  this is "day 10" and I have a week of very low counts and mouth/stomach sores coming- so we're in germ-o-phobe mode now.  Let me know if you have any questions - more soon......God Bless....

Dan and Renee

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rex Redux

Greetings everyone, my 2nd stay at Rex was much less eventful than the first, back in September.  No complications, no operations, no infections, etc.....lots of chemo, however.  They really took care of business, getting my 5 day treatment done in more like 4 days - I was in at 4 pm Monday and out at 5 pm Friday.  Since this is the 2nd treatment, I have a good idea of what to expect over the next couple of weeks;  so far I have felt OK, with some mild side effects - as before, the main thing is to try to avoid infection.  Your prayers are appreciated in that regard!

I've been on the phone with MD Anderson this week - transplant department - and I'll have a pretty firm date early next week of when they want me down there to get started on the transplant - still looks like somewhere between the 5th and 12th of December. 

Well. I'm just hanging out watching football, wanted to let you all know I was home and doing OK.  I'll keep you posted.  God bless..........Dan

Encore photo of "The Pizza from Chicago"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Weekend Wrap and Hyper CVAD Round 2

Wow, a lot has happened since my post on Friday, all of it good.  Friday night, Renee and Lisa Wetzel surprised me with a combination birthday party/sunday school class reunion at the Wetzels house - this is a dear group of close friends from our old church, the North Raleigh Church of the Nazarene.  We had a class called People Inc. that we were a part of for something like 12 years, and it was just wonderful to see everyone.  Thanks a million to Lisa for doing the heavy lifting in getting everyone there.

Good lung function, but only tested on 2 "representative" candles :-)

Saturday was our family birthday gathering, with Rachel home, my parents still here, Renee's parents, and Renee's sister Karen and her husband Scott, one of my best buddies - my brother-from-another-mother.  We also had a surprise special guest, another best friend, Jeff Williams, who has also graced the pages of this blog, most recently when he and I went fishing in California (Jeff's adopted home state) in June.  We grilled a whole tenderloin, for which my dad made a killer sauce out of shallots, red wine, and shitake mushrooms....oh baby....

Jeff crashes the party, bearing champagne - GREAT blessing / surprise.

Noshing, sipping, fellow-shipping

 We wrapped up the weekend with a great dinner over and Bob and Vaun's house - the weather was just spectacular Saturday and Sunday.  All these wonderful occasions, put into context - 3 weeks ago the doctor said that there was a 50% chance that I would end up in the hospital sometime this cycle with an infection - so we could not really plan on anything, which is why we kept everything small and modest.  I love how God's plan unfolded - the events were just perfect, and my health was as good as could be.  "And now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen."  Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV.

At Bob and Vaun's Sunday evening
 So you facebookers know that I am in the hospital, but to update you blog followers, on Monday, Dr. Kritz was satisfied with my counts, though my neutrophils were only 1100 - up from 1000 on the previous Wednesday.  We decided to move ahead with Round 2 of the hyper CVAD, so I checked in to the hospital at about 4 pm Monday.  The treatment should take 5 days and I am hoping, best case, to be discharged Friday around dinner time.  So far everythig is going well, in fact my white cell and neutrophil count popped up this morning to almost 3000 - Dr Kritz says that's due to the prednizone I am getting with the chemo - in any case it's a very good thing.  I still feel OK and I am a lot stronger going into this treatment than I was my last, with pneumonia and all the weakness, breathing issues, fever, etc....so am am praying this cycle will be as uneventful as the first.

Preparations are underway for our long trip to Houston - it seems everyone is eager to keep treatments going without any unnecessary delay - now they are talking about getting me to Houston for Dec 5....we'll see....

Thanks as always for your prayers and support.  Let me and Renee know how we can pray for you.  Dan 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Half Century Mark

Pizza in it's last moments
Greetings friends, thought I would put up a quick post with some photo highlights of the last few days - On the day my folks arrived, my Mom had hand-carried a frozen, stuffed Giordano's pizza - a longtime favorite of mine - to Raleigh.....bless her heart!!  And we ate it!  Photo above.  I saw Dr. Kritz on Wednesday and my counts are mostly improving - the only ones that have to get better before treatment are my platelets, which were up to 75,000, but they want above 90,000, and my neutrophils, which dropped from 1500 to 1000 - they want the neuts to be closer to 1500.  I see them again Monday and if the counts are where they need to be, I'll go straight to the hospital for round 2 (Rex Hospital).  If not, I'll go back on Thursday and try again.

The pic below was taken at Margaux's on my birthday - we were going to go to a Japanese restaurant but Dr. Kritz said no raw fish! - and what's the point of going Japanese with no raw fish?!  Margaux's is a wonderful place.  Sushi can wait.

Champagne Toast
the photo below was taken yesterday as my dad and I went out for a half day on Harris lake with a guide, looking for Mr. Bass - as you can see from the pic, it was a gorgeous fall day.

Fish on!
Fisherman's secret - stretch out arms to enhance apparent size of 1.7 lb bass :-)

We've had a wonderful few days with Mom and Dad, and they will be here for a few more days.  Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes on facebook, the cards, prayers and well wishes - I get to feel really good for a few more days but I am eager to get on with the treatment on Monday.  We believe the lymphoma is down, and we want to get in that knockout punch before it gets up.  God's blessings, grace, and peace to you all....Dan