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T+5 yrs: Life in the real world.

So…my last post was a little over two years ago, and a lot has happened to say the least. Jen successfully gave birth to our beautiful twin boys, they grew and grew and grew and had their first birthday, and their second birthday, etc. Darby started kindergarten and is now close to wrapping that up in the next couple months. The kids are healthy and very active, which means we don’t have much time to sit and think, much less write on this blog.

I’ve had a few oncology appointments since two years ago, too. In February, I had my 5-year appointment, and all my blood counts are looking really good. There’s no evidence of CLL. The 5-year mark is a major milestone for cancer survivors, and I’m grateful to be here enjoying life with my family and friends.

Some people don’t make it this far. Some people are taken much too soon. Everyone’s life has been touched by cancer in one way or another. In the past couple years, some of these people have been close to me. Friends, friends of friends, spouses of friends, family members, the list is longer than it should be. So many questions are in my head. Why does God give some of us the gift of life, yet allows others to die? Why does cancer affect young and old alike? If I let it, my analytical mind will take over and I’ll get stuck in an endless web of if-then statements and a dark, distracting focus on life here on earth.

In the last two weeks, two young people in my church community have passed away from cancer. As I’ve been processing these events, there is a tendency to think more about how their families and friends are grieving and how painful it must be. Then I remembered a few verses from Philippians 3 that are applicable here:

 7But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

So what am I saying? Is it wrong to grieve these losses? Absolutely not! It is healthy to feel the full range of emotions that accompany these events. It is normal to want to help, to find encouraging or comforting words,  to feel compassion. The ultimate truth, though, is that God provides hope in spite of the pain and loss. I am comforted by knowing that these people are no longer physically suffering and are now worshiping in Heaven. In fact, I’m a little bit jealous!

IVF Round 2 results are in…

Wow…it’s been almost 6 9 months since our last post! We’ve been busy with life, just like everyone else. We took April off to decompress and process the negative results of Round 1. May, June and July had some scheduling conflicts, so we couldn’t do another embryo transfer at the optimum time. August worked out, and the embryo transfer happened on August 8. Just like the first time, we chose to transfer two embryos to increase the chances of success. My queen was required to have three days of bed rest due to the frailty of her precious cargo, so Nana and Baba came to visit and play with Darby. Jen had two blood tests about 8 and 10 days after transfer, and we found out on August 19 that she was pregnant! We were both very excited, and Darby was too!

We had to wait until September 3 for the first ultrasound to find out whether one or both embryos were successful. We really only wanted one, but knew there was a 20% chance of both attaching. We watched the screen with anticipation, and finally saw the answer: twins! Jen was more surprised than I was, for some reason. Maybe I’m more accustomed to getting results that might not be the norm?

After several phone calls to family to share the good news, we headed to a parents’ meeting for Darby’s preschool. Life goes on, right? Darby’s first day of preschool was the next day, so she was very excited! In the intervening two weeks, we’ve been getting over colds, prepping for and attending The GreenHouse’s major annual Kids At Heart fundraiser, going to a few evening meetings for work, and visiting family to celebrate one of my niece’s birthdays. Hence, the delay in writing this.

Note: the above text was written in September, and it’s now December. There are plenty of good reasons why this post hasn’t been finished, but I won’t bore you with them. They are the subject of another post. On to the rest of this story!

Jen had a regular prenatal appointment scheduled with her obstetrician two weeks ago, but it got cancelled because someone else was having a baby. It was rescheduled for Friday last week, and the 20-week ultrasound was already scheduled for yesterday. On Friday night, Jen told me that she saw “parts” in the quick ultrasound that her obstetrician did, and asked if I wanted to know what she saw or if I would rather wait until the official ultrasound today. She knows that I like to enjoy things like this in the moment, so I chose to wait until today’s appointment to find out the gender. She warned me that it might be hard for Darby to keep it a secret, though.

Fast forward to Saturday morning: we’re all sitting around the table eating breakfast together. Out of the blue, Darby says, “Dad! It’s a boy and a girl!” At that point, Jen filled me in on the details of her Friday appointment. The boy parts were clearly visible on Baby A, but Baby B wasn’t a sure thing because she wasn’t holding still and turned over while the obstetrician was trying to confirm her initial identification of girl parts.

On Monday morning, we went to the ultrasound appointment. The first surprise was for the ultrasound technician, who didn’t know we were having twins. She was caught off guard when she saw two babies, and said, “Ummmm….” We quickly assured her that we knew about the twins. The next surprise was for us. As the ultrasound technician was taking the pictures she needed, she casually verbalized what was visible on the screen, “Baby A is a boy, and…Baby B is a boy.”

What?!?!?!  Even though we weren’t totally confident in the obstetrician’s quick ultrasound reading, we were already thinking about a boy and a girl. In our minds, we didn’t expect to be told anything else this morning! I have a feeling that this won’t be the last surprise. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last 13 years, it’s that God is in control, despite what we think is going to happen. We wouldn’t have it any other way!! Praising Him with all the good gifts that only He can bless us with!

IVF test results

My phone is ringing off the hook with calls and texts, from loving friends and family so eagerly anticipating the news of our pregnancy test results. So, we thought this the easiest way to update the masses. Unfortunately, the test results came back negative. We’re so sad and disappointed as you can imagine.  Although we don’t understand why this has happened, why the embryos didn’t “stick” we will continue to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)  Thankfully we are not alone, and we have Our Father who is “…close to the brokenhearted…” (Proverbs 34:18) as well as tons of people who have and will continue to support us through this process. Thank you!

Todd, Jen, and Darby

 

 

 

It is done

20130314-122902.jpg

Wow, that was easy!! Walked in with a slightly full bladder, one of the items on my check list this morning, left with two embryos somewhere inside my uterus. Yep, that’s right! I said “two”!!! That’s not a peace sign Todd’s throwing in the pic above!! They grade the embryos and although ours were great, they weren’t “AA” grade. With my age and our “AB” grade, the statistics of pregnancy for a single embryo transfer were much lower than transferring two. In less than 5 minutes, the procedure was finished. Now we trust and wait!

If we can trust God with 13 years of cancer, lots of chemo, 3 bone marrow transplants, a house, a child in the midst of it all, Todd being sterile and much more, we can certainly trust Him with the outcome of these two embryos!🙂 Looking forward to this ride He has us on regardless of the outcome!

Will keep you posted!

Jen and Todd

Embryo transfer. It’s finally here!

I’m still in shock over the recent “Cancer Free” status.  In the last two weeks our day to day lives haven’t drastically changed, but I do notice a spring in my step and an overall deep gratitude to our Lord for the many ways He has provide for us and remained so faithful!  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” James 1:17  We have received so many gifts over the last 13 years, but this one takes the cake :-)  Praise God for these gifts.

Speaking of gifts, we’re hoping for another small gift soon.  Maybe in the form of a baby?? :-)  I’m scheduled for the transfer of one or two embryos this Thursday.  The fertility clinic thawed all 35 previously frozen embryos on Sunday and called to confirm that 32 survived.  You may be asking, “HOLY COW!!  Why the heck would they thaw all 35 embryos?” (at least that is what I asked :-)) The embryologist want to choose the most ideal or best embryo possible.  Because we have TONS to choose from, they thaw all of them, “grow” them out to day 3 (today) and then out to day 5 (Thursday).  Each day, at the same time, they monitor the growth/changes which occur.  If cellular division hasn’t occurred at a certain point like it should, that embryo is not considered for transfer. The clinic just called…Out of the 32 embryos, 29 have survived thus far. At this point, there should be 8 cells per embryo.  Out of the 29, there are 18 embryos that have between 7-9 cells which is considered “textbook” per the embryologist.  She said there were too many to chose from so they will decide and see me Thursday morning at 9 am for the consultation with the MD and the embryologist and then 10 am for the actual transfer which will take minutes.

Many people have been asking how many embryos they’ll/we’ll  implant.  I had a lengthy conversation with the doctor. Although I’m not opposed to two embryos being implanted, if the job can be done with one and that reduces the chances of multiples (40% chance for twins, 1% chance for triplets when two embryos are implanted), I’d rather one be implanted (60% chance of pregnancy). Right now, they will watch the embryos and see if they meet a specific set of criteria (timeliness of cellular division, and a whole host of others) and if they do, they will implant only one embryo.  If they do not, they will implant two.  The doctor said that using an embryo which has met these specific criteria holds the same statistics of a positive pregnancy as implanting two.  So, if the job can get done with one embryo, great!!! This will all be decided on Thursday morning before the procedure.  The rest of the unused, but still good embryos will then be frozen again.  Thankfully they are unlike meat, and can be frozen once thawed🙂

We entrust all of these details to God, knowing He is the one ultimately in control.  We’d love for you to join us in prayer. Please pray for a smooth and successful transfer, for my body to receive this new life and continue to grow in a very healthy way.

T+2 years: A-

A few weeks ago, I had my 2-year follow-up appointment, which consists of the usual blood work and another bone marrow biopsy. Dr. Carroll once again displayed his excellent technique on the biopsy; the initial lidocaine application was really the only painful part. I’m not trying to display some manly image, he’s really quite good at the procedure.

The blood test results showed that my counts are all normal, with the exception of platelets. Those are still hovering just under 100k. Dr. Carroll said that they might never return to the normal range (150-400k), but he’s not concerned since my platelets aren’t dangerously low. There were no surprises on the blood work, since my counts have been pretty stable for a while now. The bone marrow biopsy results, on the other hand, really surprised us! Background: at T+87, the chimerism was 96% donor. At T+180, it was 93.8% donor. At T+365ish, it had dropped to 85% donor. In July 2012, the chimerism dropped again to 76% donor. If you’re not sensing a trend, go back and read the last few lines again. We did not have high expectations for the chimerism results, and even though there had been no evidence of CLL in the previous tests, I was mentally preparing for news that it had come back. Dr. Carroll was his usual stoic, dispassionate self, so we were shocked to hear him say that the chimerism results showed 92.8% donor, with no detectable CLL cells in the microscope or flow cytometry!

Here are a few verses from Romans 8 that seem applicable:

Romans 8:18  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

This verse doesn’t mean that I will receive glory because of my suffering over the last 12 years. A wise man once said that context is critical. The first part of Romans 8 tells of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit that enables me to live as a child of God in spite of these circumstances. God’s glory is revealed through how I live my life.

Romans 8:26-28

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

There’s a lot of theology in these three verses. I’ll stick with what I know. Over the past 12 years, there have been many times where I have felt weak, both physically and spiritually. In those times of spiritual weakness, I didn’t know how to pray. I couldn’t find the words to express what I was thinking, but God knew anyway. The “good” in verse 28 is often misinterpreted to mean that God makes all things good. I disagree. I think it means that God will work in good and bad things in our lives to give us some “good” thing, whether that’s a tangible physical good or a spiritual good. In my case, I have plenty of both!

Now that we are this far, we are going to write to my donor to express how thankful we are for her sacrifice. We thought it would be an opportunity for everyone who has been on this journey with us to share their thoughts as well. If you want to do that, you can either write something as a comment or email one of us directly.

Egg retrieval

Egg retrieval was successful and recovery was pretty unpleasant. Per the MD, the operation went smoothly, though they were a tad surprised with the number of eggs obtained.  A total of 62 eggs to be exact!  (the record is 65).  Well no wonder I was in a whole world of hurt afterward. My abdomen swelled to about 5 months pregnant with a fluid weight gain of 6 lbs. I thought and was told I’d be feeling better by the next day, which wasn’t exactly true.  It took about 5 days to start feeling back to normal and a little over a week to lose most of the fluid.

Out of the 62 eggs retrieved, 42 of them were mature enough to fertilize through a process called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI).  I grabbed the following explanation of ICSI off the Northern California Fertility Medical Center’s website…”The specialists use powerful microscopes and precise equipment to select individual, healthy sperm cells and place them directly into the egg, instead of merely combining the prepared eggs and sperm in a laboratory container and waiting for fertilization to take place on its own. This maximizes the number of successfully fertilized eggs, regardless of the general quality of the sperm.” Out of the 42 fertilized embryos, 35 survived and were frozen at the two pronuclei (2PN) state.  A pronucleus (plural: pronuclei) is the nucleus of a sperm or an egg cell during the process of fertilization, after the sperm enters the ovum, but before they fuse. The appearance of two pronuclei is the first sign of successful fertilization as observed during in vitro, and is usually observed 18 hours after  ICSI.  Ann, the embryologists with over 30 years experience, said “this is my most favorite time to freeze the embryos because once they are thawed, they act as if they’ve never been frozen before.”  Here is a picture of what they look like.  Although this isn’t a picture of our embryos, the embryologist did send us pictures of all 35 in the mail.  Really neat and so strange at the same time🙂

embryo picture-ncfmc

The plan for now is to wait until my next cycle.  Around this time they will bring me in for an ultrasound, have me use ovulation predictor kits, and when the “light is green” they will implant around day 14-16 of that same cycle.  They call this a “natural cycle”,  letting my body guide the process rather than using medications to assist.  This time frame will more than likely be around the beginning of March.

Now that the worst is behind us, we’re feeling pretty good :-)   Although it was initially disappointing to not implant the embryos this cycle, it really would have complicated the process even further and been harder on my body.  I’m so grateful for the “rest break” physically and emotionally during this next month, and I’m so encouraged and at peace to know that all things are in God’s control, even teeny tiny embryos and abstract things like hormone levels🙂

Next post….Results on Todd’s bone marrow biopsy scheduled for Mon 1/28. Will keep you posted🙂