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Feeling like a salmon…Glub…Glub…

I’ve completed 12 days of fertility shots which looking back weren’t that bad, although there were many days I just wanted it all to be over.  I had a lot of anxiety when reviewing all of the side effects especially when I began feeling them.  God and I had many conversations about this anxiety, and I began to learn that He meets me where I am at, giving me peace as I slowing gave up that control.  Thank you Lord!

At our initial appointment, the doctor indicated that I would be a “good responder” to the medications.  So, he put me on a low dose, and boy, was he ever right!  “You have too many eggs.  I can’t count them all,” he said this past Wednesday.   He estimated 15-20 eggs on either ovary, and he anticipated being able to retrieve around 30-40.  YIKES!!!  Of course we won’t need 30-40, and prefer only one to really take hold, but as the process continues not all of the eggs will survive.

So far I’ve experienced a mild form of Ovarian Hyperstimulation syndrome, where the ovaries become very swollen and painful.  At times I feel like I’m 9 months pregnant, where my stomach feels like it has shifted up into my chest, making it difficult to breath and constantly making me feel full.  I also have to sleep on my back as my sides make me feel top heavy when lying on my sides.

This past Friday they said, “You’re ready!” My eggs were 18-20mm large and ready to be retrieved on Sunday (tomorrow).  I told the doctor I felt like a stinkin’ salmon.  So many precious eggs.  Maybe I should swim up stream!! 🙂  Here is a picture of all of my salmon eggs (left and right ovaries)….

ovaries

Tomorrow I will arrive at the fertility clinic at 6:30 am to be prepped; meet the md, embryologist, and anesthesiologist, start an iv, etc. The procedure is scheduled for 7:30am and will last 15-20 minutes given the number of eggs I have.  I guess it is usually 10 minutes long normally.  Yesterday, a phone call from the clinic informed me that my progesterone levels came back too high that morning and implanting the eggs during this month would not be wise as it would result in a failed pregnancy.  I guess my body just happen to be just a day or so off and there is a big concern for desycronization of the embryos when implanted.  So, they will retrieve the eggs tomorrow, inject them with Todd’s thawed out sperm, and the crycopreserve (freeze) them all on Monday.  In February (date yet to be determined), they will implant them!

Prayer requests:

The thing about Mild Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome is it can get worse… once they retrieve my eggs, those follicles the large circles that “housed” all the eggs begin to fill back up with fluid from my body.  If the ovaries continue to do this I will begin to retain all of the fluid around my abdomen leaving the rest of my body dehydrated. So, pray that my body will adjust well in the days to follow tomorrow’s procedure and that there is no worsening of these symptoms.

Todd came down with pneumonia this past week and has been down for the count. He’s been on strong antibiotics which have made him feel much better, though he continues to be easily fatigued (which quickly happens with our 3 year old munchkin!). Praise the Lord, my mother flew up to take care of me during these IVF events, and to watch Darby so Todd and I can recover.  Thanks mom!  You’re the best!! Pray for quick healing for all of us, and lots of patience and energy for my mom 🙂

Thanks to all for caring and showing your support via emails, text messages, and phone calls 🙂 We totally appreciate it!

More to follow…

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IVF here we go…

Here is an update on where we are in the IVF process.

At this point, I’m  up to date with all the pre-workup stuff such as paperwork, labs, and classes. Today, an injection training was scheduled.  I learned all about poking myself with short and long needles, ugh!  This is probably one of the most not so delightful parts of this process. I don’t mind the injections as much as the anticipation of the impact these medications will have on me physcially and emotionally. Hormone injections will begin around Jan 3 and last for about 8 weeks, with the bulk of them administered during the first 14 days of my cycle.

Yes, the count down has begun!  In two weeks the IVF ball will begin to roll! Between now and then, there are two items on the list to accomplish.  All of the nine medications must be purchased by next week to ensure they are here and ready for administration on the first day of my cycle. You’ll never guess the cost of just one of these “specialty” meds!!! My jaw dropped when quoted approximately $3500 for one medication.  Thankfully, after several phone calls to four different specialty pharmacies, as well as coupons, discounts, and specialty programs offered to individuals paying out of pockets, the total cost was down to around $2400 for all of the medications needed. This is a huge praise!

The second task which needs to be accomplished by the end of this month and no later than the first week in Jan, is to provide the full amount to the fertility center for the single cycle of IVF.  Currently, we’ve raised close to $6400!  Can you believe it?  We’ve had so many generous contributors.  It’s been awesome to see God provide little by little over the last two months. Our target amount is $15,000.  So, we’re a tad under 🙂 though trusting that God will show us the best way to proceed.

If you are one of the individuals who has communicated your desire to help us out financially, you can do that by clicking on the yellow “Donate” button on the left hand side of this blog.  We’d so appreciate it!  Every little bit helps! If you’d prefer not to use PayPal, feel free to contact us to make other arrangements.

Smith 2012!

Wow, I can’t believe it is December!  I don’t know about you, but 2012 has flown by for us! We’ve had our fair share of busyness this year and we are hoping it will slow down, although we don’t see that happening in the near future. We look back and wonder what we’ve done this year, and why it has gone by so fast.  Here is what we’ve been up to…

January:  Our very own “Mimi” spent some good quality time with Darby while she continued to look for a job.  We were so happy and sad for her to rejoin the work force in January after spending so much precious time with Darby. We miss you Mimi!! 🙂

_MG_1395 Todd was invited to be on the board at The Greenhouse,  a non-profit, 501c3 organization located in the Gardenland Northgate neighborhood of Sacramento, California.  They offer after-school tutoring, mentoring, spiritual development, and leadership development for under-resourced youth. He’s kept busy, but has really enjoyed every minute of it. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Greenhouse, check it out at www.thegreenhousecenter.org.  Jen was asked to be on the vision team (kinda like a board of deacons) at our church, Sanctuary Covenant.  They have been really busy preparing for a move to Clunie Hall in East Sacramento come January 2013.  We’re super excited and look forward to what God has in store!!

During this month, Darby was officially potty trained.  Diapers during naps and bedtime, but throughout the day panties all the way!!  Such a big girl!!

February: Todd and a bunch of guys went to a family owned cabin in Kings Canyon for a Men’s Weekend.  As you can imagine, there was a lot of eating, gas, and guns. He had a blast! _MG_1697

March: SHINGLES came back around for a second time with a vengeance.  Poor Todd was out of commission for a few days, though in pain for several weeks. I’ll spare you the pictures 🙂

April:  Our efforts to began Urban Homesteading (partially joking here :-)) started with plans for our front yard garden and the purchase of 3 baby chicks. Boy, have we learned and laughed a lot over the last year.  Ask us and we’ll give you plenty of stories:-)_MG_1897

Meet Laverne (top) and Shirley ( bottom), and well, I don’t think we ever named the black chick in the middle.  It died within 48 hours.  We then picked up, Squiggie, at the local pet supply store…What a spaz!!!

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May:  Baby chicks were getting bigger and Darby enjoyed loving on them:-)

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Here is a before picture of the front yard after a few bomb treatments to kill the grass.

Yard before

And the front yard after (minus the plants :-))….

Garden 2

June:  Before we could go on a trip to CO for a church training conference, we had to get the chickens out of the house ASAP.  Not only were they growing at phenomenal rates, but they smelled and were getting their dander all over the kitchen table each morning.  You can imagine how eager Jen was for the chickens to be out of the brooder!! 🙂 Todd found chicken coop plans, “The Taj Mahal” to be exact and built it just in time.  What amazing skills!!!Chicken coop

While down  in So. Cal to visit Jen’s family, we made a trip to Manhattan Beach for Darby’s first taste of the glorious sea air, warm sand, and cold ocean waters.  She LOVED it!!!

Darby at beach

July: We had so much to learn about gardening on a much larger scale compared to our 5′ x 20′ garden in our back side yard the year before.  At this point, there were gads of produce coming out from every nook and cranny we were giving it away, and meeting new neighbors in the process.  It was awesome!!

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Garden in July

cantalope

Oh, and we learned one of many lessons when raising chickens that month….One being, when they start flying over things, it’s a good time to clip the wings.  When you don’t, one chicken can fly over the next door neighbor’s fence and be attacked/killed by hunting labs.  Hence starting over with baby chicks in the house once again, ugh!  Now we have 5 chickens.  We’ll have eggs coming out of our ears next spring!!!  Meet Zora (looks like Zorro), Wilma, and Cocoa (from left to right).

baby chicks second attempt

August: Our little Miss Helper was expressing her independence in lots of charming (a tad of sarcasm) and fun ways:) She decided that thumb-sucking was no longer necessary and dropped it all together.  Not sure if the conversations about seeing Dr. Joel (the dentist) had anything to do with it. 🙂Little Miss Helper

watermelon

September:  While Darby was living it up with Nana and Baba in Sac, Todd and Jen took a trip to see our good friends, Kevin and Linda Swanson in New Jersey.  We walked our tails off all over NY!  What a neat time!  What very special friends!!

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About mid-September, one of the two chickens of laying age, laid her first egg.  It was a pretty neat experience and in our personal opinion, tasted far superior to store bought eggs.  Now, if Laverne would follow suit, that would be great. 🙂

October:  Family photos in October.  Our friend Amy was having some mini photo sessions and we jumped at the chance.  Jen’s parents were planning on being in town the same weekend, so it worked out so well. Thanks Amy! We love them!

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Toward the end of October, we enjoyed picking pumpkins from our garden and carving funny faces on them with fun friends, Brit, Sophia, and Ezra.  We love you guys! 🙂

Fall Fun

November: Wow!  A lot happened in November….Darby turned 3 years old on Thanksgiving Day!  A fun breakfast and present hunt was scheduled that morning, followed by lots of Thanksgiving preparation in the kitchen.  We had all the fixings, of course, though later that evening Darby was upset to find we were having pie instead of strawberry cupcakes and candles 🙂

rain boots surprise

Bike surprise

The day after Thanksgiving, we planned the 2012 Turkey Baster Olympics.  What the heck is that you may ask? See our post on it http://wp.me/p2uRh-lE

The day after that we had Darby’s birthday party with a few close friends.  Strawberry cupcakes, candles as well as lots of sugary toppings were on the menu.  Darby was happy!

Darby's 3

December: This month has been a whirlwind.  Jen picked up some extra shifts at work, continued helping out with preparations for Sanctuary’s move to Clunie Hall, and a long list of to-dos for IVF preparation as well (These details will be in the post to follow). Todd has been busy with several large projects at work, Greenhouse board activities/ to dos, and construction projects for church and Greenhouse.

All in all, we’ve had a great year, and we are so thankful for God’s provision in our lives in so many ways… a year of limited thoughts about cancer, our health, our sweet little girl, our church family, our family and friends, etc.

We end this year seeking to learn more about how to slow down in this fast pace culture, to enjoy the simple ways of living, and to remember daily why we are here and what we’ve been created for, so that we can share the freedom we have in Christ with others.

Merry Christmas!!

2012 Turkey Baster Olympics

Happy Thanksgiving!  We hope you enjoyed a lovely holiday.  Boy, do we have a lot for which to be thankful.  Yesterday we hosted our first Turkey Baster Olympics.  Although the goal was to raise funds for our IVF endeavors, we really wanted to be with family and friends, have fun and give thanks to the One who has provided all that we have. All of that, and more were accomplished.

About 30 people came out to participate in, what we’ll say, were interesting and unique events, all centered around the IVF theme. The Eggs and The Swimmers competed against each other – two rounds for each game.

The games consisted of a turkey baster ring pass between partners, baby block stacking (A shout out to Rob Crandell’s craftsman skillz.  Thanks to  you!), and sucking up m&ms (eggs) with a straw and placing them in bowls (petrie dishes).  The most popular games were the raw egg toss, and the turkey baster finale which included a vat of tapioca pudding (I’ll bet you can imagine what this represents) and turkey basters. What a blast these games were to participate in and especially to watch.

 

In the end, we had three definite winners, and the bronze, silver and gold were handed out.  Thanks to all who came and partipated, as well as to those who were with us in spirit!  The 2012 TBO raised a little over $1500, which brought us to our current total of $5,000.  This is incredible news and such a blessing!  Thank you, all!!  Here are a few extra pictures to share…..

Keep a look out, because in the next week or so we’ll be working on a post which will include details regarding the next steps in the IVF process. We want to keep you guys in the loop. 🙂

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+…..ummm….365 plus some.

We’ve stopped keeping track of the days since transplant. Now that I’m back at work, there are plenty of other things of which to keep track. “Now” being the end of October, nearly four months ago. It’s funny how quickly the days go by when you have to work every day. I got used to being semi-retired, and am now playing the lottery so I can hasten my real retirement. Side note: since the California lottery supports education, does that mean that I can claim my lottery expenses as charitable giving and therefore they are tax deductible?

With that distraction out of the way, let’s get to the news. Day T+365 was back in early January, and I had another battery of tests (pulmonary function test, full blood workup, bone marrow biopsy) to see how I’m doing. My WBC, hemoglobin, and platelets are just below normal. The bone marrow biopsy results showed no evidence of disease through the microscope or through flow cytometry. The chimerism results were a little “puzzling” to Dr. Carroll. That’s not a term you want to hear from your oncologist, at least in this context. At T+180, the chimerism was 93.8% donor. This time, the result was 85% donor. Dr. Carroll did say that it’s possible for my cells to be in stasis with the donor cells, which means they coexist without killing each other.

There are two different approaches to consider now. The first is to get a boost of donor cells without additional immune suppression. The boost comes with a very high risk of GVHD, which is serious and potentially life threatening by itself. The second is to do nothing and watch and wait. Since there was no observable disease present in the biopsy and I have no other complications, we don’t think it’s worth the risk to get a boost. We’ve done the watch and wait thing before, as uncomfortable as it may seem given the process up to this point.

In my last post, I mentioned the spiritual journey Jen and I have been on over the last several months, if not years. It has been an individual journey at times, with those experiences and encounters with God combined to make a multifaceted shared journey. I imagine that anyone who goes through what we have on some level must ask serious questions about life, death, and the world in which we live. With questions, we like to get answers – we’re wired to seek knowledge. I wish I could say we have all the answers, but we don’t. That’s why it’s called faith, right?

Without going into a lot of detail at this point (I’m tired and want to go to bed), Jen and I have recently made decisions to become more involved in leadership roles with two different things that we both value highly: Sanctuary Covenant Church and The GreenHouse. Sanctuary has been our home for the past 10 years, and The GreenHouse was formed through an idea of one of founding members of Sanctuary. Why do I mention this? I’ve always imagined that people who read this blog regularly (well, as regularly as I post something) have a reason for doing so. Some of you already know about Sanctuary and The GreenHouse, and I don’t need to tell you about the great work that is going on. Others don’t know much about either one. So, occasionally we’ll probably write about one or the other as they relate to the aforementioned spiritual journey, and we’ll look forward to whatever feedback readers want to give.

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.