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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!

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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!

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.

What’s next?

In a society which so often encourages us to keep the hardships in our lives quiet, to rely upon our own capabilities and skills when we’re in need, and to hide any pain or sorrow we may feel, we are choosing to be open about our current trials, honest about our very real needs and desires, as well as vulnerable about our emotions.  We are writing you to provide an update regarding Todd’s health, our current circumstances, and to offer you yet another opportunity to partner with us through this next chapter in what seems to be the longest book ever.

In July 2012, we were given two pieces of sad news. The first, Todd is now sterile as a result of the high amounts of intensive chemotherapy given during the last two bone marrow transplants. We would never be able to conceive another child naturally.  Although we knew this could be a possibility, it was extremely difficult to face this as a reality.  In all honestly, we were angered and saddened at the thought of cancer potentially robbing us of life.  Fortunately, we had prepared and we knew that previously banked sperm was ready to be used. The second bit of news was equally mind blowing, though worse, the oncologist suspected Todd’s leukemia was back. Although the conclusive bone marrow biopsy hasn’t yet been performed (scheduled for January 2013), a blood chimerism result indicated the donor cells were not holding on. The donor percentage was down to 76% from 86% in January 2012. “Ugh, really Lord?”, we cried. “Why does life have to be so challenging?” we asked. “Please use these trials to strengthen our dependence on You and to bring glory to Your Name,” we prayed. The doctor has said that when the next course of treatment is needed, it would likely be a boost with the same donor’s cells, but without immune suppression. This means that there is a greater graft vs. leukemia effect, but a much higher risk of graft vs. host disease. We are grateful that Todd looks and feels healthy, and is not in any immediate need of treatment.  We will wait for the scheduled bone marrow biopsy for further news, hoping and praying God has other plans in mind than more treatment.

Last month we consulted with a fertility doctor who recommended In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).  We were shocked, primarily because this procedure is more invasive, much more costly, is not covered by insurance, and runs the risk of multiple births.  A great amount of time was spent pouring out our emotions and thoughts in prayer, as well as listening to what God wanted for us as a family. Last week, we individually felt confirmation from God, calling us to grow our family via IVF, and experienced such peace!

So, we are moving forward. What does this mean, and how would we like you to be involved? Because we were  blessed in so many impossible ways during each transplant when we had our family, friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers praying for us night and day., we ask for this to continue. Would you please, please be on your knees, lifting our family and all of our health concerns up to the Lord?  The second need is a financial one.  IVF will cost roughly $15,000, none of which will be covered by insurance. We are in the process of researching available grants, as well as planning a fundraiser. Although we willingly desire to cover these expenses ourselves, we know that we are unable to independently.  We humbly seek your assistance, if you are willing and able.

Since the first transplant, we have heard story after story of how our struggles have impacted a number of people directly and indirectly. For these reasons, we continue to share.  Even though our desires in this letter are for prayer and financial support, we ultimately know there is a much bigger picture than our current circumstances.  Whether you choose to pray, give financially, or just observe from afar, we hope your lives are impacted by what God is doing in our lives.

If you have any further questions or comments, please shoot us an email or call.  We’re open to discussions!! 🙂

Todd and Jen Smith

Philippians 4:6-7

T+254: Changes in the works.

I’ve been thinking about writing a new post a lot over the last few weeks, but there are too many things about which I want to write bumping around in my head. I owe my readers a post about the U2 concert back in June, a post about how much fun we’re having with Darby (complete with pics and videos!), a few posts about the spiritual journey Jen and I have been on, and of course a health update. Even though I’m not back to work yet, it seems like there isn’t enough time to get everything done in the time frame I want. For now, the easiest thing is a health update, so here it is.

Healthwise, I’m doing pretty good. As of this morning, I’m off Gengraf (immunosuppressant) completely. I saw Dr. Carroll two weeks ago, and he commented that my blood chemistry looked great. My WBC is still a little low (2.6 that day), but it’s been holding its own without Neupogen for the last six weeks. My platelets are also low (75k), but similarly steady. I’m still avoiding sun exposure and being careful to avoid sick people, but otherwise am leading a fairly normal life. Except for going to work, that is. I see Dr. Carroll again in two weeks, and I’m hoping I’ll be cleared to go back to work. It’s been 13 months since I began my leave of absence, and it will certainly be an adjustment when I return.

The next bone marrow biopsy will be in about 3 months. I’m not anticipating frequent health updates since I won’t be seeing Dr. Carroll as often. Instead, I’m hoping to transition to writing about the topics mentioned above, and whatever else comes to mind. I can’t promise the highest quality content all the time, but feel free to continue reading and commenting.

The other change is the domain of this site. Back when I started this blog and registered the kritiostodd.com domain name, blogs were just starting out. I had a bunch of big ideas for what I wanted in a website, and never really implemented them. The functions and features that WordPress provides are enough for my purposes, so I probably won’t renew my domain name when it comes up later this fall. For those who aren’t familiar with domain names, you can always get to this blog at kritiostodd.wordpress.com.

That’s it for now. More news as warranted.

T+163: pneumonia

Well, Todd has been admitted to the hospital for bilateral lobe pneumonia. He’s been hooked up to hydration and IV antibiotics around the clock for the last two days. Each day he’s been getting better. Today, he sat up in bed to eat, he showered, and his face lit up when he saw Darby. These are all very good signs that his energy is returning.

About 5 minutes after Darby and I arrived this evening to visit, Dr. Carroll popped in to check on Todd. He didn’t have much to report, though said he would keep Todd on the IV antibiotics in the hospital for the next day or two and then continue the IV antibiotics in the infusion center for the next 10-14 days. Dr. C didn’t like the idea of Todd taking oral antibiotics in combination with his immunosuppressant meds. I’m assuming this is because there is concern for the lack of the effectiveness in treating the pneumonia with the oral vs. IV antibiotics, though I’m not absolutely positive. So, this means Todd will return to the infusion center for daily appointments for at least 2 weeks. What a bummer! However, we’re pleased he is responding well to the antibiotics. The fever is gone, his cough has subsided, and his energy has improved.

We’re thankful! I believe God has prepared us in so many ways to be more trusting, patient, and calm when these bumps in the road occur. There was a lot of peace, which I KNOW came from our Lord because being calm during these times has been a tad uncharacteristic for me 🙂 Thank you Lord for the trials you’ve put in our lives because it has made us depend on you so much more, and we know only You could have given us the strength we needed to get through them.

FYI: Todd has his Day 180 appointment scheduled for July 11. This is another big milestone in the transplant process, as another bone marrow biopsy will hopefully reveal great results. And THEN maybe we can celebrate…..it’s been a long time comin’!!!! 🙂

T+???: Jen’s birthday!

It’s my turn to write a post. I could look at the last post to see where we are post-transplant, but I’m lazy. Plus, the last two fingers on my left hand are still a little numb from T-day, so my keyboard skillz are lacking. More importantly, this post is not about me, but about Jen, whose birthday is today.

I am so thankful to have such an amazing woman as my wife and partner in life. She has been so strong through the last month, and continues to juggle many tasks while caring for Darby. She encourages me daily with her game face on, yet can be vulnerable at the same time. Jen, I love you and all that you are! Happy birthday!