Category Archives: Life

In Memoriam

Dear friends,

It is with profound sadness that I write to you today. Most of you already know, but for those who don’t, David, my brother and writer of this blog, lost his battle with cancer at the end of May. As he feared in his last post, the alternative treatments we tried were too little too late. He died at his home with our parents by his side. I echo his super praise that even in his last days on Earth, he was hardly in any pain.

Even now, five months later, it is hard to articulate the pain our parents and I feel at losing him. It doesn’t make sense to lose someone just two weeks after his thirty-fourth birthday. This is not fair. This is not right. This is not the way it should be.

But we can take comfort in the fact that, even in his too brief time with us, he was able to make a profound impact on those he came in contact with. If you haven’t read it, or just want to read it again, I recommend reading the tribute his work wrote for him. Everyone who read it loved it and it was quoted heavily at the services we had for him. Also check out the one at the website ITA, where he was a frequent contributor for several years. They have links to many posts he wrote which show the humor, grace, and intelligence that characterized not only his writing, but his whole life as well.

The only thing these two tributes don’t capture about my brother is his strong faith. It was a testament to how central it was to David’s life, that combining the viewing, funeral in New Jersey, and memorial service in Virginia, there were five Lutheran ministers who paid their respects. A verse used at both services comes from 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18:

13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

And these are words we can take as encouragement. David believed, as all Christians do, that we will all, at the same time, be drawn to heaven and soar in the clouds. We will be lighter than the birds and much more beautiful than the sun.

Thank you to everyone who provided David with meals, visits, cards, late night NBA Jam sessions, friendship, and support throughout his treatment. I’ll close with the line that ends the American Historical Association’s tribute to him. “[T]here is only one David Darlington, inimitable in his modesty, exemplary in his conduct, and he cannot be replaced.”

Requiscat in pace.

-Stephen

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Cancer Diary: Praying for Some Good News

Long time no blog. Unfortunately, there isn’t much good to report.

The clinical trial ended in February. After that, we got to two rounds with the Oxi chemo before the allergic reaction kicked in. So we had to stop that. Then, after a couple rounds of irenitican, my blood platelet count crashed and I spent a week in the hospital. It has been a slow recovery from that, and frankly, I don’t think I’ve been the same since.

My latest CT scan (mid-May) showed the disease is slowly taking over my liver. I had to stop my most recent infusion because my bilirubin–a liver enzyme–levels were high. And that’s where’s our story picks up. I haven’t had a treatment in like 3 weeks, and I don’t know what’s going on at this point. Very scary and depressing to think that after and year and a half of treatments, I might be out of options.

I’ve been praying for approval for a liver surgery because chemo wasn’t doing it’s job anymore. Well, so far that surgery has been denied because of my liver condition, but the docs don’t have any other options for me at this point. Back to the waiting game. The surgery is called SIR SPHERES. It works by injecting radioactive beads right into the liver so it hits the tumors directly. But it’s rough on the liver, so with elevated bilirubin, my doc is afraid it might make me worse.

And my symptoms aren’t helping. Difficulty sleeping. Enlarged liver with tumors on my last scan. Mild edema in my legs. Shortness of breath. Green eyes from jaundice. Big belly from enlarged liver and probably fluid retention. It’s hard not to give up. My parents God bless them are looking at 2nd opinions and holistic approaches. But to me it just feels like too little too late sometimes. We’re going to try to treat the jaundice naturally but it might just be an indicator of where my liver is right now.

Please pray for wisdom for my docs as they come up with other options.

Please pray for me to make it through emotionally and physically.

Please pray for my parents who’ve come down here as semi-permanent caregivers. They have been wonderful and I am more appreciative of them every day.

SUPER PRAISE that I am in little pain right now. Truly a blessing. I could write commercials for Alleve for my next job.

Help Us Sonic!

It’s gone under-reported this week—what with the royal nuptials (yes, I watched) and Donald Trump’s latest gasbaggery—but one of the biggest network hacks ever was pulled off, disabling the Playstation Network for the past nine days and potentially exposing the personal data of 77 million users, including limited credit card information. I noticed the hack last weekend, as I couldn’t go online to check out movies.* Instead, for the past nine days, I and every other member of the Playstation Network have been treated with a “the network is down for maintenance” message. Sony finally came clean on the 26th, several days after the attack, admitting their network had been seriously compromised, including the names, email addresses, user passwords, credit card numbers (minus cvc), purchase history, and potentially other data of users, and that they were working to increase security. No timetable has been announced for the network’s return.

You’d think the Playstation Network hack doesn’t effect those of us who mostly game offline. And, indeed, most games are still playable (some with draconian DRM requiring an online connection are unplayable right now). But online gamers, people who purchase games or movies over the network, stream tv and movies over the network, or have done so at least once in the past (guilty), are potentially at risk. I’m not sure what upsets me more: that an obvious target had such lax security that a hacker could gain access to such an incredible amount of data; Sony’s delayed admission that something was wrong; or that it’s been nearly a fortnight of darkness from the Playstation Network and no word of a return. Are they rebuilding from scratch? That inspires confidence. Everybody had better get a free copy of Uncharted 3 as compensation or something.

UPDATE (4/30, afternoon): Homeland Security getting involved. Also, Sony sets a target return date of 5/4.

*n.b. I’m not much of an online gamer anymore, except with people I know. As an early 30-something I no longer have the chops to go head-to-head with 16-year-olds who game 12 hours a day and have all the cheats turned on.

Lutheran College Goes Kosher

My little Lutheran liberal arts college, Muhlenberg College, is now one-third Jewish, according to this Wall Street Journal article. This has forced some reasonable accommodations from the administration, as you would expect. Apparently the school has a great reputation for Jewish community in the northeast, which has fostered the growth particularly in the last five years.

Lord knows when I was there, the official ELCA chapel didn’t do much to preserve or grow a Lutheran identity. They had their groups and activities, but if you wanted serious religious fellowship you had to hang with Hillel or the evangelical Christians as I did.

I also noted Muhlenberg is now up to $47,000 a year tuition, which is ridiculous for a liberal arts degree. My proverbial children are going to Virginia state schools.

Memorial for a Mentor

Shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, my pastor introduced me to Virginia, another person from church undergoing the same treatment I was. She was diagnosed in May 2009 I believe, so she was roughly six months ahead of where I was. Although I didn’t see her every Sunday, over the past year and a half we were able to share our struggles in the same cancerworld insiderish language. When last I talked to her in February, she told me that all conventional chemotherapy had failed, and now her doctors were trying all sorts of odd drug combinations to stave off the disease. Eventually she had to move to radiation to fight off brain mets. That proved to be too much, and she died March 15th. Obituary here.

Thank you Virginia, for being there.

Treatment Update: The Next Round

As many of you know, I’ve been participating in a Phase I clinical trial for colon cancer at Georgetown University Hospital since November 2010. After nearly four months, Dr. Marshall and I have decided to leave the trial. The first two months should dramatic progress in reducing the cancer (December 20, 2010) but the most recent CT scan (February 17th) showed basically stability. The tumors are smaller than they were at the beginning, so it’s a net win, but we think we’ve got all we can out of it.

So for now, I’m returning to last summer’s approach of Xeloda+Avastin, plus an IV infusion of Oxaliplatin. Oxi was the heavy hitter I was on when I was first diagnosed and got great results out of it. We’re expecting further tumor reduction from the return to Oxi. Unfortunately Oxi can only be taken for limited amounts of time due to cumulative side effects (potential nerve damage in the hands and feet). Usually 8-12 doses are the max at any one time.

I’m hoping that the new treatment plan can continue to push the tumors back for a couple months until another clinical trial opens up at Georgetown. We just need to keep searching for the silver bullet.

Prayers appreciated.

Books of 2010: Second Half

I’m posting my books read list every six months these days. Rather pathetic these last six months, eh? I think I started and failed to complete more books than I actually read.

Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods:Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Writer Bryson tries to tackle the entire AT with his incredibly out-of-shape friend. Enjoyable tale spun with information about national parks, the wilderness we’re losing, and curious places in the eastern U.S. Recommended.

Spencer, Michael. Mere Churchianity. Review here.