Update: Waiting & Watching

An update on Carol – thank you all for your prayers!

We met with her oncologist on Monday afternoon, and he gave us the same advice that he had given last month: that we should not do any systemic treatments like chemo at this point, and instead scan regularly. If/when something reappears in those scans, she can start systemic treatment at that point in time. And because of all of the exhaustive testing that was conducted in the past few months, we can be more confident in the treatment’s effectiveness.

We had been thinking about this situation for a while, and told our doctor that we felt comfortable with this decision. Although it is very different from how they treated her last time, this seems like a better way of doing things. I feel like this new approach reflects all of the new treatment options that are available, which is encouraging. Amazing that in just seven years, triple negative breast cancer went from a nearly untreatable condition to one where we have the luxury to wait and choose different treatments!

So Carol will be going in for a scan in October to see if she has any evidence of disease. If there’s an issue, she’ll start some form of treatment. If she’s clear, she’ll have another scan a few months after that…and another one after that…

…And that’s the only discouraging part of the news, that there is no foreseeable “end” to this process, where she will be absolutely done with treatment and we can move on with our lives. Instead, we’ll be caught in this watching and waiting phase for a while…years?

But this is not so bad, not in the larger scheme of things. Far better that we should have to watch and wait rather than feel like we are cornered in a desperate situation. And rather than moving on with our lives after treatment is completed, we’ll just have to choose to move on with our lives right away instead!

Thank you everyone – we are so blessed and encouraged by your love and your prayers!

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Update on Carol, 7/19/16

Carol finished her last round of proton therapy last week, and everything went very well. She did not encounter many side effects besides some chafed skin and a sore windpipe. We are so thankful for this amazing new technology!

We went to the doctor yesterday, and were hoping to hear something concrete, specifically which systemic treatment would be effective and when we would be starting. But the recommendation that our doctor was very different and a lot more difficult for us process. First the good news: CT scans have shown that Carol has no visible signs of disease, meaning that the cancer has not spread – what a huge relief that was to hear! But then, he went on to tell us that he advises that we wait until the cancer progresses further to begin any additional treatment.

This really threw us off. When Carol was last diagnosed, the standard of care was to treat triple negative breast cancer as quickly as possible, with every treatment possible: surgery, multiple forms of chemo and radiation. Because of this, we were always told to start treatment without delay, otherwise the cancer would have more time to spread throughout the body. And what our doctor was telling us this time, to essentially wait until it spread, went against everything we had heard before.

But he explained that there were reasons behind his advice. First, Carol’s body needed more time to recover from proton therapy before starting any kind of treatment, especially chemotherapy. But also, since Carol doesn’t have any visible sign of disease elsewhere in her body, he doesn’t know if there is cancer to even treat, nor would he have any way to measure effectiveness (as in tumors decreasing in size). Chemo is a powerful and dangerous treatment to use when its effects are not clear. Lastly, he wants more time to perform even more advanced tests on the tumor, including sequencing both the DNA and RNA of the tumor itself. Those results might lead to even more specific and effective treatments than chemo, with far less side effects.

This has placed us in a tough spot because we are trying to decide between two uncertain paths. On the one hand, we can see our doctor’s perspective. Carol doesn’t have any visible signs of disease, and so there is a real question of what chemo would be doing – how would we know it’s actually treating anything? How would we measure if it’s effective? Better that we should get additional testing done, wait to see what happens with the disease, and if it does progress, have all the weapons ready to use at that point.

But at the same time, all of our doctors prior to this have painted a very bleak picture in terms of triple negative cancer, that because it is so aggressive, you have to throw the kitchen sink at it, and without delay. Their perspective would be that even if you can’t see sign of disease, you should assume that it’s there, and spreading. And so even with a clear CT scan, they would still prescribe chemo as a sort of pre-emptive, scorched-earth strike against the cancer. And as difficult as that would be physically on Carol, there is a kind of bizarre peace of mind that comes with knowing that you are treating a dangerous disease as aggressively and quickly as possible.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking through these options, and we don’t really know which way to go. Both make sense, both come with real risks. Neither is certain. But at this point, we have to wait for at least a month and a half for Carol to recuperate from radiation. That much is clear, and so that is what we are going to do. Past that, we haven’t made a decision.

I really wish the news was more definitive, not just for us, but for all of you, our friends and family. In fact, that was one of our primary concerns in talking this over: “What about all of our friends? How do we explain this to them? Does this mean they have to walk with us for another year instead of another few months?” We feel badly that we can’t give you more definitive news at this point…

But we’ll do our best to guide your prayers and support: first and foremost, thank God with us that Carol’s cancer is contained at this point and has not spread! Please pray that Carol’s cancer would not progress further, at all, for all time. We still believe in a God who can do that in a second, if it’s His will. Pray for our doctor, that the tests he is going to perform would provide a clear path forward. And pray for Carol and me, that God would grant us his wisdom to know what we should do, when all human wisdom fails.

We are so grateful for you all!

Scorn, No. Alarm, Yes.

 

***I haven’t written an actual blog piece in a very long time, and really wasn’t in any hurry to do so. But after reading something on Christianity Today earlier this week, I felt like I had to stand up and say something. And yes, it’s about Donald Trump.***

Let me start off by saying that I really like Ed Stetzer. We both were columnists for Christianity Today, although I very much doubt he knew of my existence there. And I appreciate how he brings a consistently insightful and informed perspective to issues of evangelical life. His recent piece on scorn is no exception. In it, he cautions evangelicals against being scornful of other people who support Donald Trump, as such an attitude runs dangerously close to the Pharisee in Luke 18 who disdained another man for not being as holy as himself. This is excellent advice, as it is easy to get mired in a disdainful attitude towards those with whom we disagree. We should all take his words to heart and strive to speak with grace and love to one another, especially those of us who have become particularly snarky this election season (which might describe me, unfortunately).

And yet, I think an important counterpoint has to be made to Ed’s piece, and that is to remind people that although outwardly very similar, there is a huge difference between scorn and genuine alarm. And for people whose very place in this country is threatened by figures like Donald Trump, we are motivated to speak out with such vehemence because of the latter, not the former.

Continue reading “Scorn, No. Alarm, Yes.”

The Start of Treatment

***A very happy birthday to our youngest daughter! An update as Carol gets ready to start treatment:***

Thanks to everyone who gave to the GoFundMe fundraiser – we were able to exceed our goal of $20,000 in less than two weeks! Carol and I are so humbled and encouraged by your generosity and support. All of our financial needs should be covered at this point, but we’ll let people know if things change, especially when we know what systemic treatment Carol will be undergoing.

Carol begins her daily proton therapy treatments this Monday, which will go on for three weeks. Thankfully, proton therapy has very few side effects. Instead, the impact is really on our schedules as Carol will have to be out of the house three hours of the day, one hour to get there, one hour for treatment, and one hour to come back. But thankfully I am able to decrease my hours at church in order to be home to take care of the kids when Carol is out for her treatments. I am incredibly thankful to have a caring and generous church that allows me such freedom, I know that it’s a privilege that not everyone gets to enjoy…

Even though we’re really just getting started in this difficult season, Carol and I are excited and relieved that treatment is finally beginning since it’s already been two months since she was diagnosed. Some ways you can pray for us during this season:

  • Pray that the proton therapy would be effective in completely destroying the remainder of the tumor. Also pray for Carol’s doctors to have wisdom as they determine what kind of treatment will follow afterwards.
  • Please pray for Carol, for the physical energy to go out for daily treatments after a long day of taking care of the kids. Also, pray that she would spiritually and emotionally sustained by God during this time.
  • Please pray for the kids, as they transition to a summer schedule and would have fun as they attend various summer programs and camps. Pray also that God would be with them as they process their mom’s sickness, and they  would be gentle on their dad as he takes on a larger role in taking care of them on a daily basis.
  • And please pray for me (Peter), that I would be able to balance the load of helping out more at home while still leading and preaching at the church.

An Update and a Request for Help

***An update (6/14/16): the proton center has agreed to cover the costs of ALL of Carol’s treatments! Thank God for his incredibly faithful provision. We are still raising funds to cover the costs of chemosensitivity testing and out of pocket health insurance costs – thank you friends!***

Carol had a second, more comprehensive biopsy two weeks ago. The procedure itself was short and successful, but she did suffer some side effects like nausea and a sore windpipe. The results from her biopsy were mixed – it confirmed that her tumor is indeed a recurrence of her triple negative cancer, instead of a different cancer altogether. And although it technically is categorized as Stage 4 metastatic cancer, it is at this point limited to a single lymph node in her chest, which is very good news. The surgeon was able to remove almost all of the tumor, but also discovered that the tumor had grown noticeably since it was first discovered in early April, which was alarming for us to hear.

In addition to being used for a standard pathology report, the tumor was also sent to an advanced testing facility where they will cultivate the cells and then subject them to various treatments like chemotherapy and even immunotherapy. That way they can figure out which treatments are most effective against Carol’s specific tumor without having to actually subject Carol to these potentially toxic treatments.

While we wait for those results, our team has recommended Carol not receive standard radiation because she has already received radiation to that area not long ago, and the cells of her chest are already damaged. In addition, her tumor is located in the center of her chest, closer to vital organs. Instead, Carol will be receiving a different form of radiation altogether called proton therapy, which releases radiation to a very targeted target in the body, minimizing side effects to other tissue. And we are fortunate that one of the few proton therapy centers in the country is located only 45 minutes away from our home!

So the plan is that this month, Carol will start daily proton therapy for a period of three weeks. During that time, I’ve made arrangements to decrease my work hours so that I can help take care of Carol and the kids. After proton therapy is over, the results of her advanced testing should be available and so we will have a very good idea of what treatment will work best in getting rid of the cancer once and for all.

I can’t tell you how comforting it is to have these new options available to us this time around. When Carol was diagnosed seven years ago, there were so few choices available for her. There weren’t many chemotherapy regimens available, and the only way to measure if a certain treatment was effective was to give it to Carol and see how she responded, a pretty brutal test of efficacy. And even though we knew that radiation would damage the surrounding tissue of Carol’s chest, we did it anyway because there weren’t any alternatives. So to discover that there are all of these new test and treatments has been a huge encouragement and relief to us both – thank you Jesus for advancements in modern medicine!

But as was the case before, we have an issue: yup, insurance. You see, health insurance companies don’t like my family. They often try to reject our coverage altogether, or barring that, make sure that we get less than stellar care. This time, our health insurance decided that both the advanced testing and proton therapy are experimental and so they won’t cover the cost of either. While we are hopeful and even confident that we can get financial assistance, our friends at Rainier Avenue Church have put together a fundraiser on our behalf to help cover the costs of these procedures, as well as the out of pocket health insurance costs that we are responsible for.

I know that there are so many important causes out there, but Carol and I hope that you will consider supporting us so that she can get the very best care available. To access the fundraiser, please visit this GoFundMe page. A couple of important notes: unlike our previous fundraiser which was to pay for health insurance, donations are not tax deductible – sorry! Also, credit card donations are subject to a 7.9% processing fee, so if you want to send a check directly, you can contact the administrator of the fundraiser directly via the page.

Thank you again, everyone. Carol and I have done nothing to deserve friends and family like you – as far as we are concerned, you are all clear evidence of God’s unmerited but abundant grace in our lives!

Getting Re-Started

***Hi everyone, I’m going to use my old blog as a way to keep everyone up to date on how Carol is doing since her cancer recurrence. I always wondered what it would take for me to blog again, and now I have an answer! Here’s where things stand right now:***

Up to this point, Carol’s triple negative breast cancer had been in remission for nearly six years. And because Carol’s cancer typically does not recur after five years, her doctors told us that unless she had symptoms, there wasn’t really any need to get scans done. But despite this, we pressed to have a CT/PET scan done, and they revealed that her cancer had recurred in a single lymph node in her chest. This of course was terrible news, but believe it or not, there was some good news here as well. First off, it was very good that we caught the cancer this early, before there were any symptoms. In addition, the cancer seemed to be limited to a single location, rather than being more widespread – this also was very good news.

Since that initial diagnosis in early April, we have been speaking with doctors to figure out the best course for treatment. And three separate sets of doctors have provided us with three completely different approaches. What we have discovered is that because Carol’s type of cancer is not common, there is not a standard course of treatment that is prescribed. Add to this that cancer treatment as a whole seems to be undergoing a paradigm shift where doctors are increasingly interested in treating cancer more specifically, instead of with broad treatments that affect cells of the entire body.

And so after many conversations, we have decided to get an additional, more comprehensive biopsy this Monday which will provide us with more information on the tumor, and whether there are more novel approaches that we can take besides the standard chemotherapy/radiation regiment. Hopefully after this biopsy, we will have a much clearer understanding of what treatment option makes the most sense for us moving forward. In some way, we are starting all over again, which is disappointing. But at the same time, Carol and I feel much more confident with the team that we have at University of Washington, which is a big encouragement to us both.

So many of our friends and family have been asking how they can help, and the answer right now is that until we know what treatment we will be doing and when it starts, there’s not a whole lot anyone can do. But the moment that our situation becomes clearer, we will let people know how they can help (food chain, fundraising, etc.). Thank you, everyone. We are so touched and encouraged by your prayers and support. Please keep Monday’s biopsy in your prayers, and know that Carol and our family are in good spirits, and are prepared to fight this thing, and WIN!

My New Blogging Home!

My dear, dear readers:

Thank you so much for your support these past few years.  I feel like each of you has journeyed with me through some of the formative years and experiences of my life, and for that I am deeply thankful.  Quite frankly, this blog would have been nothing without each and every one of you!

And it is with great joy that I announce that I will be blogging from now on through Christianity Today, on a shiny new site that they have created just for me!  I am their first blogger of color, and I’m grateful for their trust, as well as the opportunity to share my family’s story with even more people.

I will keep up this blog with a few posts for the time being, but will probably not add new content in the future.  From now on, please visit my new blog:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/peter-chin

Again, thank you and see you on the other side!

Peter