Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011

Dear Friends & Family,

Please copy and paste the website listed below to view our holiday card. Below the card is a rather long message if you choose to read that tells a little bit about the non-cancer side to our lives. ;-) We pray you all have a safe and fabulous holiday! Oh, and I know the music in the background is "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," but it's instrumental, so if Christmas is not what you celebrate, replace it with Hanukkah, winter, etc. Happy Holidays! (Feel free to share this card with anyone else you know that is praying for our family as we are so very appreciative every single day!)

Love, The Springfields

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Perhaps, Possibly, Potentially...

With three major surgeries, five post-surgical rounds of chemotherapy, and one PET/CT scan completed so far this year, we have learned that the only remaining cancer has set up shop in my right adrenal gland. We are astonished at just how far we have come and how little disease is still present; however, the fact that some of Trudy’s offspring still remains means that my body has developed a tolerance to the chemo or the cancer has mutated enough where the current drugs have stopped being effective. There are a few other chemo drugs that we haven’t tried yet, so it is time to mix up a new cocktail and begin another three months of treatment.

Extremely optimist that this will be the final battle before being able to use the word “remission” and celebrate being a cancer survivor, our hopes are at an all time high. Of course starting a new treatment plan means that there will be new side effects and challenges to deal with. Given what I have already experienced, how much different or worse could they be compared to the previous rounds? One infusion down and things were happening as expected. After just four days, the chemo has let go of the choke-hold it had on me and I was back in the gym. Every set was ten times harder than it should have been and workouts were short and anything but intense. Not quite two weeks into the new plan and my hair was falling out in chunks. My doctor told me this might happen, but he didn’t mention the crazy scalp pain. I could barely dry my head after a shower and the pain would often times wake me up in the night as I shifted in my sleep. The first time looking in the mirror as a bald man was a bit strange and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of my new look, but it only took a day or two to get used to it and I actually started to like it a bit.

Unfortunately, saving a few dollars and not having to get a haircut every other week was the only positive thing this chemo had going for it. Somewhere around the third week I started developing these mouth sores. I am not talking about the little tiny canker sores that you may have experienced at some point. These things were nearly dime-sized mouth ulcers that made eating, drinking, and brushing nearly impossible. The fun didn’t stop there. Next up was the joint pain and freakishly-weird swelling. It started out as just an inconvenience, but quickly started to intensify. It wasn’t long before I was incapable of doing anything. Simple activities like lifting a glass to my mouth to drink or even pushing the buttons on a remote almost became too much to handle. Although I never actually did, I considered going to the bathroom in my pants several times because standing up and walking to the bathroom was just far too painful. I know it sounds funny that a 33 year old man would be having this inner dialogue, but that was my reality. It felt like every bone in my body had been shattered as if I was run over by a steam roller.

Chemo is rough and making any real gains is difficult, but I wouldn’t say it was two steps forward and three steps back. It was more like nine steps forward and 10 steps back. Loosing 10% of your strength and energy isn’t the end of the world and you may not even notice that it is gone at first, but loosing 10% every other week is quite different. By the time I got to that fifth cycle and my energy levels had been cut in half, I really started to feel the cumulative effect. All-in-all I have had nine consecutive cycles of treatment spanning nearly 5 months, which led to something called chemo toxicity. My body was being completely dominated by the repetitive injections of poison and wasn’t recovering in between treatments. At first it would take me about three or four days to start feeling decent again after treatments, but with each successive infusion it was taking longer and longer until I just wasn’t able to bounce back at all before the next round.

I would love to tell you that it was all worth it and the cancer was gone, but I don’t want to lie to you. The PET/CT scan results are back and we are shocked. I wasn’t fully expecting the doctor to tell me that the cancer was completely gone, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to hear what he had to say. Not only did the tumor in the adrenal gland increase significantly in size, but there were now two lesions in the liver and another five in my lungs. To go through all of that just to learn that the chemo was completely ineffective was devastating. At this point we believe we have exhausted all FDA approved treatments and finding a clinical trial was our only option.

Way back in the beginning when the original biopsy was performed, there was evidence that I had a mutation within my cancer cells, but we didn’t really do anything with that information because things were progressing as good as they could those first couple of months. Now that things are heading in the wrong direction, it is time to re-examine those original findings. If these current tumors are indeed from Trudy, and if I still have that mutation, there might actually be one more chemo possibility. In order to confirm this, another biopsy must be completed. As it turns out, obtaining the sample wasn’t going to be as simple as anticipated. With the needle, they needed to take a pathway through my lung to get to the adrenal gland. I was originally supposed to be under anesthesia, but the doctors needed me to be completely coherent so that I could control my breathing as they fed this sword through my lung. Remaining completely still and holding your breath while this little metal hand pinches off chunks of your organs is not a pleasurable experience. The procedure took about an hour and within a few days it was confirmed that I did have that special mutation.

Before jumping back into another series of chemotherapy treatments, we wanted to pick the brain of one of the oncologist at MD Anderson. The wifey and I are off to Texas. Our local oncologist has been amazing through this entire process and we trust him wholeheartedly; however, another brilliant mind couldn’t hurt. We were facing a few different options: the new chemo, a clinical trial, and potentially a procedure called RFA if things were stable. We had no idea which direction to head and at this point, the wrong decision could be catastrophic. We were so hopeful that this new doctor would feel strongly one way or another and would be able to confidently give us our new plan of attack. The consultation went on for some time and the doctor was quite thorough. She ordered a whole new set of scans and labs to be done after our meeting with the assumption that nothing had changed since the previous scan just a few weeks earlier. It seems as if we are going to get exactly what we were hoping for, direction. We left Texas feeling pretty good about the course of treatment and were so relieved to have gotten the news we did. Just a few days later, though, we received a call from Texas and everything had changed. You guessed it! This was not good news at all. As it turns out, within those three weeks between scans, my lesions had nearly doubled in size and the cancer was acting quite aggressively. A new chemo regime was the only option at this point. We are just hoping that it can stop the rapid growth of the cancer and prolong life for awhile. My cancer is now incurable. Being told that it is only a matter of time and that chemo and all its wonderful effects every other week is the very best it is ever going to be for me wasn’t exactly what we wanted to hear, but we did ask for brutal honesty.

I know that our Lord has chosen me for this journey for a very important reason. I am still a little uncertain as what it is, but that’s where my faith comes in as well as knowing I have been given this opportunity to touch the lives of others and hopefully inspire them is amazing. It’s not always easy to find the good in bad situations, but if you look hard enough, I promise you it’s there.

don’t give up…DON’T EVER GIVE UP!

[This blog post dates back to the post-surgery events occurring in February 2011 through our Texas MD Anderson visit in August 2011. My hope is for the next post to bring us to the present time. Thank you always to those who continue to pray and support me on this journey.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


The day finally arrived, time to pack up and head home for the first time in a month. I was so eager to get out of the hospital and thrilled that the walls were now just walls and no longer moving around as if there were snakes under the paint. I still had a ton of healing to do and my nutrition requirements were still extremely high. The nice doctors even allowed me to take some of my JP drains home with me, not as souvenirs, but still functioning and coming out of my abdomen. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts just how bumpy and beat up the roads are in Michigan. Driving home with fresh incisions and all kinds of internal and external stitches made the trip from Ann Arbor to Grand Rapids very unpleasant. I remember being so emotional as we were leaving the University of Michigan. I was so excited to be getting out of my “medical prison,” but once we pulled away from the hospital, my excitement immediately turned into fear. I think knowing there wasn’t medical professionals available at the push of a button scared me more than expected. Something about this whole experience has turned me into quite the crier.

Once arriving home, I headed straight for bed and stayed there for several days before trying to move. It was great to be near family, but for a while I wondered if leaving the hospital was a good idea. My body was so weak and I was in constant pain. Between the crazy surgery, removing a large portion of my abdominal muscles, and lying around in a hospital bed for a month, I developed chronic back pain. I needed to rest and relax, but I couldn’t ever find a comfortable position. I literally couldn’t sit or lay in any one position for more than 15 minutes without feeling like a ninja was stabbing a sword into my back. The imbalance that was created in my torso caused my spine to be pulled and contorted in such an awkward way. I thought the surgical pain was going to be the worst part of it, but I was wrong, it was absolutely my back. Just to add one more thing to the mix, I had a ton of internal gas bubbles throughout my back and stomach that I could actually feel moving around. It took awhile before all the gas was gone but each time one of those things would pop it felt great.

My fearful mind was paralyzing me when I first got home. I was so scared to move. I was so nervous of setbacks. Looking ahead, it seemed like my recovery was going to take years. My best friends were scheduled to come up one after the other right away to help in any way they could, but mostly for moral support. I strongly considered having my wife tell them to cancel their trips because I just wasn’t ready. For some reason I believed I needed to entertain and play host. I am so grateful that she didn’t ask them to stay home and that they were able to spend some time with me. We didn’t really do anything other than watch TV and talk, but it was so important to me that they came. Just having them there, encouraging me, and helping me get my recovery off to a good start while taking my mind off the pain, the fears, and the cancer was a Godsend. There are many times it would have been so easy to start having negative thoughts and start letting the cancer get the best of me. My friends did exactly what I needed them to do, and that was keeping me positive. It has never been easy for me to ask for help, but this experience has made me realize that I can’t do everything alone. If you ever find yourself in a time of need, I encourage you to lean on those who are closest to you.

About two weeks after being discharged, I had to return to Ann Arbor to have the remaining stitches and JP drains removed. The stitch removal was nothing, but the JP removal was another thing. Given that I had these drains in for quite awhile, my body started forming scar tissue around the drain sites. I had a couple of the drains removed in the hospital, but don’t really remember much about the procedure. After having the remaining two drains out, I realized it wasn’t really a procedure at all. The doctor first looked me over, then grabbed on to one of the tubes and said, “Are you ready?” Am I ready, what do you mean, aren’t you going to numb the area or anything first? Nope, she just yanked those suckers out on the count of three while I had a white knuckle grip on the exam table. The pain was quite intense, but over in a few seconds. That was a huge moral boost and almost instantly lifted my spirits.

About 4 weeks after surgery, it was time to meet with the oncologist to discuss the next round of chemotherapy. The doctor took one look at me and never even discussed the chemo. I don’t blame him though, I did look pretty bad. He just confirmed that I still had a pulse and told me to come back in about a month. So, four weeks later I return to his office and we planned out the next series of treatments. We agreed to a half and half type regimen where I would come to the cancer pavilion for a few hours to get some of the meds infused and then would be sent home to take some additional chemo pills daily. Well, this plan only lasted about five days. The pills caused daily heart spasms, which got worse with each day. We concluded this initial plan wasn’t going to work after a mad dash via ambulance to the ER yet again and chose to go back to the initial chemo regimen from last summer. Even though we knew I was still going to have Dumbo do a few jigs on my chest each session, being admitted into the hospital for a couple of days and having immediate medical attention seemed to be our best bet. This way I only had to worry about heart spasms for a few days instead of everyday for two and a half months.

The three months of treatment went just as expected. The vasospasms occurred with every treatment, but the nurses were amazing and were able to keep them relatively under control. I would feel pretty crummy for about a week, but then would have a fairly descent week to recover. I took advantage of these “good weeks” and started back to the gym. I was instructed by my surgeons not to lift anything over 20lbs due to the fear of a hernia, but it was still great getting back into the gym again. Honestly, I wasn’t really able to lift more than 20 pounds anyways, so their restrictions didn’t slow me down at all. The most amazing thing about this was the fact that I could start strengthening my back again. The chronic back pain of nearly 4 months was finally starting to vanish and it was a tremendous relief. My ego was slightly bruised watching 80 year old women lifting more weight than me, but I was so grateful to feel alive again that I didn’t let it get me down.

I know our merciful Lord has been with me on this entire journey thusfar, and I feel as if He should have been the one with the chronic back pain from carrying me during this time in my life. “Footprints” comes to mind when I look back on where I have been and compare it to where I am now. There was definitely only one set of prints in the sand and I know they were His.

Here we are in the middle of May and I feel better than I have felt in over a year. My latest scan results showed that there is some cancer affecting my right adrenal gland, but all the original cancer in my liver, lungs, pancreas, gall bladder, rectum, and lymph nodes seems to be gone. If that isn’t an amazing blessing, than I don’t know what is. To think that last June I was told there was a chance that I might not be around for Christmas is crazy to me. I still have a few battles left to fight with the new upcoming chemo and additional surgeries, but I have come miles upon miles and feel like I just have a few blocks to go until I can rejoice as a cancer survivor and honor our God for healing me.

I have so much to be thankful for and I am more positive than ever, but the truth is that I still really struggle with a few things. As much as we focus on the good, it is impossible at times to keep your mind from going places you don’t want it to. I truly believe that I will beat this cancer and will live a long happy life with my wife, my son, and hopefully another beautiful child to come; however I can’t control my mind from wondering about dying or wondering if today is going to be the day I am told the cancer is back and inoperable. My wife and child are my whole world and I just can’t imagine not being around for them. I know that I will be in a better place and my sadness will no longer exist if I die, but I will be leaving them to carry the sadness and pain on their hearts. I just don’t know how one can let go of their loved one’s hand for the very last time knowing their spirit is gone. I don’t know how one can return home to a house where everything reminds them of the one they just lost. I don’t know how you go out into the world where every song, movie, or meal stirs up a memory. I don’t know how my wife will tell Hudson that daddy isn’t going to be coming home. How do you say good-bye? I cry every single day when I am alone thinking about this. The tears aren’t for me, but rather for them. I can tell you that the physical strains of what I have gone through don’t even compare to the mental challenges.

I can make you all a promise, though. I will fight this thing with every ounce of my being and will never concede. “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.” Jimmy Valvano

don’t give up…DON’T EVER GIVE UP

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Surgery

I feel I was chosen by God for this, to endure a magnificent feat and spread His word along the way! [Matthew 22:14 - For many are called, but few are chosen.]

As I move forward from what I believed to be the most critical of the all the phases of treatments I try to embrace and welcome the current series of chemotherapy infusions that I am receiving with open arms. The critical phase that I am referring is, of course, the surgery. Do you ever find yourself playing mind games in an attempt to alter reality or try to envision an upcoming event to be so horrible that when the moment actually presents itself, it doesn’t seem all that bad? Well that is exactly what I did preparing for my trip to Ann Arbor for my own personal dissection. I had every emotion you could imagine blustering through my head like a whirlwind. The anxiety, the uncertainty, and the fear continued to grow exponentially leading up to the morning of December 10th and started taking control of my thoughts, and essentially my days. I was fortunate enough to find that inner peace and temporary sense of tranquility as I awoke that Friday morning. I thought I was mentally prepared for all that was about to happen, but the truth is, I wasn’t--not even close. Maybe it was just because I hadn’t really slept in weeks and it was 5:30 in the morning, but all the events leading up to the moment that the anesthesiologist made me go sleepy seemed so surreal as if I was having an out-of-body experience. My last memory before being sent off to dreamland was the operating room itself. Not because it was the last thing I saw, but because of how enormous it was. There were so many lights, computers, life support machines, and people for that matter. Here I was lying on a table with nothing more than the equivalent of a large paper towel covering me, about to have a major surgery and there is a room full of people carrying on about their business like it was no big deal at all. I know they do this several times a day, so in a strange way their demeanor helped calm my nerves.

The anesthesia is injected, Errick is off in space somewhere, and the surgeons begin slicing. I don’t feel bad for being underprepared and for not knowing exactly how things were going to go. As it turns out, the doctors discovered quite a surprise themselves once they had me filleted open like the fresh catch of the day at some seafood restaurant. The cancer was worse than anticipated and was affecting many other structures than those originally determined to be in danger. 15 hours later and well into the wee hours of the morning when it was all said and done, they left me with just a third of my pancreas, a sliver of liver (actually about half), no more gall bladder, bye-bye rectum, they confiscated eleven lymph nodes, and let’s not forget that huge chunk of my abdominal wall that was removed and redirected as an internal patch. The surgeons were all amazing and I was returned to my family breathing and with a heartbeat. As you may have expected, that result was not a guarantee. Based on the amount of innards that they removed, you may think the remaining organs would be bouncing around like a bunch of bees in a mason jar, but you would be wrong. I couldn’t believe how tight my entire abdomen was after surgery. And as a parting gift from the OR, I received a nice dinner plate sized bed sore on my lower back just above my rump.

I don’t remember saying this; however, I’m told my very first words when I returned from la-la land were “Hudson, I woke up!”

My amazing and loving wife’s first comment to me was, “You went in my husband, and came out my hero!”

The anticipated 7-10 days of hospital recovery was grossly underestimated and my dreams of spending Christmas at home with my family did not happen. A few days after surgery, the recovery took a turn for the worse. Just for a bit of imagery, picture a football. The laces of the ball would represent the stapled-shut incision that begins at my sternum and runs vertically down a few inches below my belly button, while the smooth leather part would represent the rest of my torso. Now try imagining what would happen if you started pumping air into the already inflated ball and didn’t stop. The football would start to split in half at the laces until you could see the inside of the ball. Well as unpleasant as that sounds, that is exactly what was happening to my abdomen. Due to the excessive internal fluid production and the fact that my bowels were completely frozen and expanding with every bite of food or sip of water, my stomach was literally ripping apart at the seams. Needless to say, this wasn’t a good thing so I was whisked away for my second visit to the OR. All the internal stitches and initial patch-work was comprised due to the fluid so they had to re-do and double up on the pigskin (the patch material) and had to add a significant number of additional stitches to hopefully keep my insides from trying to escape again. In an attempt to prevent a replay, they inserted five JP drains into various areas of my abdomen. On one end of the JP drain, the part that remains inside the abdominal cavity was a long flat rectangular rubbery piece with a bunch of holes in it to draw the fluid, while the other end, which remains outside the body, is a large suction bulb about the size of a softball. Both ends are attached together by rubber tubing approximately the diameter of a standard pencil. Now I have about a thousand IVs, a ton of heart monitor wires, an epidural in my spine, and a maze of fish tank tubing flowing out of me that are anchored down by bulbs full of juice. Not a pretty picture.

With the exception of what I have been told and a few memories I wish not to remember, the majority of my first three weeks in the hospital is a complete blur to me. That’s right, I said first three weeks. There would be yet another 10 fun filled days, making my total vacation 31 days in total. There were definitely some big victories including two bits of great news while I was taking up residence at U of M. I had been so scared that this disease was genetic and that I could have passed this on to my beautiful son, so we decided to have some genetic testing done. The test results proved that my cancer had seemingly no genetic components and that Hudson shouldn’t have an increased risk of being diagnosed with this horrible disease later in life. What a huge relief! Unfortunately, he will still have to get routine testing starting 10 years before my diagnosis, so Happy 21st Hudson, have a beer and a colonoscopy! Additionally the pathology report showed that the surgeons were able to accomplish their goals and that negative margins were achieved.

Each passing day seemed to be different from the one before. My emotions and energy levels were up and down. With each step forward, there seemed to be a step back. This was very discouraging for me. I was so exhausted all the time and I was unable to get any quality sleep. The doctors experimented with a few different things in an attempt to help me get some rest, but they were unsuccessful for the most part. I must have had a bad reaction to the meds one night because I woke up believing I was a blue alien living on a spoon. I honestly thought that after all I had been through, my body just wasn’t strong enough to carry on and I was going to die. That was a really strange morning.

One doctor described my situation like this: my body was literally acting as if it was running a marathon everyday and that my nutrition and protein needs were outrageous and hard to fulfill. It seemed as if they were trying to force feed me food and protein supplements because that is something that I desperately needed. I was labeled as extremely malnourished. My body was essentially eating itself to keep up. During my stay, I had lost nearly 50 pounds. I was receiving a significant amount of intravenous nutrition, but those bags had such a high amount of glucose in them they were causing my blood sugar to sky rocket leaving me extremely dizzy and lightheaded requiring multiple insulin shots daily. Thankfully that resolved once the nutrition IVs were discontinued and fears of being permanently diabetic from the pancreas dissection were calmed.

A few days after Christmas the decision to remove some of the JP drains and my catheter was made. I was so excited because I believed that this was a huge step and that I could be released to go home to ring in the New Year with my loved ones very soon. One of the problems with having a catheter in for as long as I did is the likelihood of getting a lazy bladder. Well just as expected, my bladder had gone into hibernation. This meant that all the little muscles used to urinate weren’t functioning correctly so I could not empty my bladder when using the restroom; however, a significant amount of fluid came gushing out of me during one of my attempts. Where was this coming from? Well let me tell you. There was still a tremendous amount of fluid being produced and my abdomen was at maximum capacity creating a ton of internal pressure, so when I stood up to use the facilities, the fluid I noticed dripping into the toilet was all that excess juice being squeezed out of me. Every place there was an opening in the skin, there was fluid draining out. My stomach was like a big water balloon that had several holes poked into it. Clearly this wasn’t supposed to be happening so yet another trip to the OR was required for the third time. The fluid compromised the internal patching after the first surgery, hence the second surgery, so we were extremely concerned that could be happening again. Fortunately there wasn’t any real damage this time and they were able to insert another drain and suck out the fluid to rectify the problem.

The epidural I first received for my initial surgery didn’t seem to provide much relief, so it was removed and oral meds were tried. Well the experiment with the oral meds seemed to be a bust, so as a last resort, they placed a second epidural which actually seemed to work great. A day or two after that third surgery, it was time to remove the new epidural and switch back to oral pain meds. There were two major problems with this. One, the narcotics created constipation which was extremely painful given the fact that my digestive track and bowels had just been carved up. Two, they weren’t working. The doctors initially thought the dosages just weren’t right so they increased those, but as a result it was binding me up more and more. After a day or two of popping pain meds like tic tacs without any relief, I decided to play doctor for a few minutes and concluded that the constipation pain was worse than the surgical pain so I stopped taking the narcotics cold turkey. Looking back on the situation I shouldn’t have taken matters into my own hands and I should have tapered down on the drugs rather than stopping abruptly. In the following days after my executive decision, I started feeling really weird and the walls seemed to be closing in on me. I was going bananas and didn’t know why. It turns out that I was actually having drug withdrawals. It seemed as if I was losing my mind and the only thing that was going to help was time.

I can’t imagine what my wife was thinking and feeling as she saw me dealing with all these challenges, but I do know how amazing she was. The truth of matter is, I was really unpleasant and downright mean to her on several occasions. My actions and words were unintentional, but the pain and frustrations were pouring out of me. Regardless of why I was lashing out at times, she stood by my side the entire time and supported me unconditionally. I can’t thank her enough for loving me so deeply. Additionally, we had several of our closest friends and family members put their lives on hold to be by our side and keep us company. I feel so truly blessed. Trying to quantify just how appreciative I am is next to impossible.

In happy moments PRAISE GOD
In difficult moments SEEK GOD
In quiet moments WORSHIP GOD
In painful moments TRUST GOD
In every moment THANK GOD