Wednesday, August 6, 2014

BOOK - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

The next day was Andrew's first radiation appointment.  We had decided to leave Ryan and Ari with my mom so that Harry and I could give Andrew our undivided attention.  We arrived at the large Cancer Clinic in Vancouver and took the elevator upstairs to the Radiation Department.  A long hallway stretched to the left with a sign hanging from the ceiling that read "250 KV".  That was the designation for the machine which could produce 250 kilovolts of radiation.  It was one of the less powerful machines and looked innocuous enough, but my spirit was fearful as a technician approached us.
            "Are you Mr. and Mrs. Schroeder?" she asked.
            "Yes,"  we both answered at once.                                                                                                               "I'm Dr. Godard," she introduced herself.  "I understand you're not sure whether you want to go ahead with radiation today." 
            Harry and I glanced at each other a little surprised that our concerns were being addressed by every sector of the medical establishment.  As we hesitated over what to say, she went on.
            "It can certainly be postponed,"  she continued.  "You shouldn't feel pressured."
            "What happens if we choose not to do the radiation immediately?"  Harry asked.
            "The testicular radiation can be added to the radiation your son will get later just before his transplant.  It makes no difference to us, or to his prognosis.  However, if he has the radiation in separate batches it will give his skin time to heal up in between." Again, Harry and I both began to speak, then stopped.
            Dr. Goddard looked at us searchingly.
            "Would you like a little time to think it over?"  she asked.  "You can come back tomorrow if you like."  The thought of having driven all this way in vain bothered me and yet the door to confusion had now been reopened.
            "Can we have 5 minutes right now to make up our minds?"  asked Harry.
            "Certainly," was her gracious reply.  "Feel free to use this little room and let me know when you've decided.  It’s no problem to reschedule his appointments." 
            Leaving Andrew with some toys in the waiting room we entered the small treatment room and closed the door behind us.  Harry felt that having come this far and knowing Andrew would have to have this radiation anyways we should probably go ahead with it.  I nodded my head.
            "Let's just pray before we go back out there,"  Harry suggested.  As we lifted our voices in supplication for our son, we were reassured that friends at home were praying with us including our friend Dave who had promised to fast and pray for us that day.  Later he told us that at the exact moment when we were getting our peace,  he was receiving confirmation that our indecision was over and that we would be alright. 
            Back at the cancer clinic we re-entered the hallway to be met by a pretty, dark-haired technician who introduced herself as Alex and asked us to follow her.  In the treatment room Harry lifted up Andrew onto the bed where a few measurements had to be taken before positioning the radiation machine.  Before we left the room Alex put a beautiful plush white teddy bear into Andrew's hands.  It had a red satin bow around its neck that contrasted with the bright whiteness of the soft bear.
            "Andrew, Teddy here is going to stay with you in this room while the machine takes pictures of you.  Can you lie really still all by yourself?"  Alex asked.
            Andrew nodded his head seriously.  He was always very quiet and very good when in the presence of medical staff. 
            "Would you like to hold Teddy?"  she asked.
            A nod was his only response.
            "Teddy, this little boy is Andrew and he would like to be friends with you.  How would you like to lie on the bed beside him?"  Teddy nodded vigorously.
            The two were settled down together and the rest of us all left the room.  The heavy white door clicked shut and I felt tears pricking at my eyelids.  How could we do this to our little boy?  It broke my heart to think that we were forever closing the door on Andrew's ability to have children.  He had been such a blessing to us.  Now he might never experience the blessing of fatherhood himself.  Through my hurting thoughts I heard someone speaking to me.
            "Mrs. Schroeder, you can talk to Andrew over the intercom if you like," Alex suggested kindly.  I sat down in the office chair and pressed the intercom button.
            "Hi, Andrew, can you hear me?"  I asked.
            "Yes," came a tiny faraway voice.
            "Isn't this fun to talk to each other through the walls.  How's Teddy by the way?"  I went on.
            "He's okay."
            "Have you thought of a name for him yet?"  I asked.
            "How about Snowflake?"
            "Did you see all the stickers on the machine?"
            "Yes."  I was running out of steam.
            "Tomorrow I'll bring a book and read you a story,"  I promised.  With relief I saw the red light on the monitor go out and the treatment was finally over.  After saying goodbye to Teddy and receiving some flashy stickers for being a good boy, Andrew was allowed to leave and we headed for home.  It had gone better than we'd expected and slowly our anxiety about radiation settled down.  Little did we know how painful the side effects would be.
            Two more days of radiation followed during which Andrew began to complain of a mouth sore and I began to feel sick with the flu.  By Friday I was becoming more and more fatigued, my food was going straight through me and Andrew seemed unusually irritable.
            Since we had invited a couple over for Friday night Mom and Dad suggested that the three boys stay at their house.  I accepted the offer, wanting to have a quiet visit with our company.  They were complete strangers to us but had been through a similar illness with their three year old daughter and were willing to share their experience with us.
            The boys went happily to Grandma's and I put on the coffee for company.  When Les and June arrived we sensed that they were still grieving the loss of their daughter and that this visit was difficult for them.  It was less than a month since their little daughter had suddenly died and their wounds were still very fresh.  With very little preamble they bravely launched into their story. 
            Little Britney had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia with very limited time left to treat her.  The only medical option was a transplant with her 6 month old baby sister as donor.  The parents were horrified when they researched all that a transplant entailed for the donor.   The baby was too young to endure the procedure.   Les became zealously consumed with the need to research the disease and uncover every possible treatment.  As a result they had relocated to another city on the other side of the country to seek the help of a reknowned naturopath.  He attained a measure of success in restoring Britney to health briefly, however, the reprieve was short-lived as she passed away suddenly while still being treated. 
            As Les and June told us their story we were amazed at their vast knowledge of cancer and alternative remedies.  They had a comprehensive grasp of both conventional medicine and natural remedies.  They offered us literature to read as well as the phone number of the naturopath they had used.  We talked well into the night asking questions and absorbing information from this young, grieving couple.  We could not know the emotional toll this visit had on them, causing them to relive the last tragic months of their daughter's life so soon after her death, but we saw the grace of God at work in their lives and stood in awe of their peaceful acceptance of His will in their lives.
            The next day was a trying one for me.  I had been awake most of the night as I replayed everything that had been said the night before.  Once again doubts began to creep into my mind regarding the transplant.  We could still avoid it and choose the less painful route with natural medicine.  But would it be less painful?
            Meanwhile I took the opportunity that morning to see my general practitioner without the children.  Dr. Pauls warmly welcomed me and eagerly asked about Andrew.  I told him that we were facing more chemo, radiation,and a transplant.  I did not mention my inner turmoil but added that the transplant was only giving us a 30-40% chance of success. 
            Dr. Pauls responded with words that, unbeknownst to him, carried great significance for me, "You can have the transplant and God might heal him.  Or, He might not."   The thought came to me that here again was a member of the medical profession giving glory to God.  Was this God's way of directing us?  The much slandered medical profession was proving to be far more God-honoring that we had anticipated.
            Dr. Pauls finished writing out a prescription for me and as he handed it to me said sorrowfully, "I could just cry."  He turned away abruptly and reached for a kleenex, his shoulders heaving silently. 
            "You're going to get me started if you do that,"  I said fumbling for my own tissue.  "We'll be okay.  We know God is with us and He's in control," I added.  Dr. Pauls nodded.
            "Can I give you a hug?"  he asked.
            "Absolutely.  I need all the hugs I can get," I replied. 
            I left his office with a lighter heart and drove to Mom's, unaware that my words would soon be tested. 
            Ari came running to greet me with a hug while Mom met me with worried eyes.
            "Andrew hasn't eaten a thing since last night," she said in a  low voice.  "He's just been lying on the couch all morning.  He keeps complaining of a sore mouth."  I pulled off my coat and hurried over to the couch. 
            "Hi, Andy-bandy!  How're you feeling?"
            "My mouth-sore hurts,"  he mumbled softly.
            "Is that why you're not eating?"  I asked.  "Or is it because you're not hungry?"  He shrugged his shoulders listlessly in response.
            "What would you like for lunch, Andrew?"  coaxed Grandma.  "Can I make you a hot dog?"
            His eyes brightened briefly as he nodded his head.  While mom got the hot dogs ready I set the table and told her of my visit to the doctor.  Calling the children to the table I went to Andrew's side.
            "Can you get up to come to the table, honey?"  I asked. He shook his head lethargically. 
            "Maybe I better take a look at that mouth,"  I suggested.  He obediently opened his mouth a little.  "Can you open a little wider?"  I asked.  He started to cry.   "Ok. We'll get a flashlight, honey," I soothed him.
            Grandpa, who had come in for lunch, quickly brought me a flashlight. 
            I was shocked by what I saw in Andrew's mouth.  The insides of his cheek were bright red and inflamed.  At the base of the gums was a white canker sore that had already eaten away a deep hole into the flesh. 
            "You're not going to be able to eat are you?"  I asked Andrew.  He shook his head.
            "Does it hurt to talk?"  I questioned.  He nodded.  By now my lightheartedness had completely dissipated and the familiar gnawing of fear started up in the pit of my stomach.   I choked down some lunch wondering if the churning monster of fear would forever stalk me.  But then courage came to me as I remembered Les and June and their strong determination to make informed decisions for their daughter.  In the inspiration of that moment I tried to follow their example by calling up a local herbalist.  I wanted help and I wanted it right now.  The cancer clinic was closed for the weekend and I had nowhere else to turn.            
            The herbalist was understanding and helpful, suggesting some remedies that I could begin immediately.   We also made an appointment for a consultation with her.  I dashed off to the nearest health store and bought a number of bottles, returning to Mom's house with renewed hope.   Andrew refused to swallow any of them.  The pain in his mouth was so great that he could no longer open his mouth to talk.  I was frantic.
            Grabbing the phone once again I called my sister Liz.  As a registered nurse, she was the medical expert in our family and the one we all went to for advice.  She listened quietly as I poured out my fears and then in her calm way asked if the hospital had provided me with anything to counteract the effects of radiation.   My mind stopped short.   How was that connected with Andrew's symptoms?  
            "I've been given some bottles of medicated mouthwash but I think he's past getting any help from them,"  I replied.
            "Keep using those, Marilyn, I'm sure they will help,"  she insisted.  I sighed as we hung up, wondering how I would get Andrew to open his mouth never mind trying to swish and rinse it out. 
            The next day was Sunday and after church everyone met at Mom and Dad's for a big family dinner.  When Liz and her family arrived I drew her into a quiet corner where we reviewed Andrew's situation.  She went to Andrew, who was already lying on the couch, and put her arm gently around him.  Talking softly she got him to open his mouth partially while I held the flashlight.  After a quick look inside she too looked worried and asked whether we were using the medicated mouth wash.  I decided to make the best of this opportunity hoping that someone else's coaxing would help Andrew to submit to a mouth rinse.  Liz helped me draw Andrew to the sink while I readied the mouthwash.  Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles came to surround Andrew with their support and encouragement.  To please his crowd of onlookers Andrew swished and spit while we cheered him on. 
            As soon as the rinse was done he collapsed back onto the couch.  However, to my surprise he admitted that his mouth felt a little better.   By evening, after a second mouth rinse he was able to sip a little juice. 
            Unfortunately things didn't improve much over the next day and I began to feel stressed out.  My stomach was still not digesting food properly, our sleep was always being interrupted with Ari crawling into bed with us, and during the day I still had to keep homeschooling the boys as well as continue the daily household chores.  Added to this was the pressure of remembering all of Andrew's medications, organizing our schedule around his many appointments, and trying to read yet one more health book in my 'spare' time.   The frequent trips to Vancouver required constant packing and unpacking since we always went the night before to avoid the horrendous morning rush-hour traffic.    Now with Andrew experiencing unfamiliar side effects I was seized with new worries. 
            Two days of not eating and only sipping juices from a straw made him hungrier and hungrier.  I prepared his favourite foods as he waited hopefully, and then with his first tiny bite all appetite fled in the face of burning pain.   
            For once I was relieved to be going to Children's Hospital and could hardly wait for his next appointment.  In the morning I wakened early to have my quiet time. 
            Rubbing my eyes sleepily I opened my One Year Bible.  Skimming over the Old Testament passage for the day I hurried to the New Testament section which was Matthew 14:13-36.
            "When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place."
            A sigh escaped my lips as my spirit joined with Christ in his sadness.  He had just received word of his cousin John's gruesome death and in the grief of that moment He wanted to be alone.  I imagined that He wanted to pray and perhaps weep, but my imagination was left wondering because by the time he reached land a large crowd was already there to greet Him.  No time to pray and weep.  Instead He healed the people, then he fed them with five loaves and two fish, and finally sent off his weary disciples while He dismissed the crowd.  At last there was time to pray.  But the needs of others came calling once again as He noticed that the disciples' ship was being buffeted by wind and waves.  Off He went to attend to their needs.  His compassion and servant-spirit never quit.  Nowhere could I find a shred of resentment or even discouragement in Jesus during this time of obvious sorrow in His life.  He took moments of solitude where He could but never ignored the needs of others as they intruded upon Him.
            Fully awake by now, I prayed for a pure heart and resolved to look to Christ for my strength, and to my husband for help in ordering my priorities. 
            After dropping off Ryan and Ari at Mom's, Harry, Andrew and I finally set off for Vancouver.
            Our first stop was the cancer clinic for another radiation treatment.  Alex, the technician, greeted us warmly.
            "Teddy sure missed you over the weekend, Andrew,"  she said.  Andrew smiled weakly as he quietly climbed onto the bed.  Alex gave him Teddy to hold while the machines were readied above him.  As Alex and I left the room she remarked on his paleness.
            "He's had a sore mouth all weekend,"  I told her.   "It's kept him from eating."  She nodded sympathetically as she turned on the intercom for me to communicate with Andrew.  When I looked up from my TV monitor at the end of his treatment I noticed that Alex was gone.  Another technician turned off the radiation machine and together we went in to help Andrew get dressed.  Teddy was placed back on the shelf until tomorrow and Andrew picked another sticker for his record chart.  We put on our coats, met Harry in the waiting room and headed for the elevator.  To our surprise we saw Alex there waiting for us.   In her hand was a large present for Andrew
            "You need a little something to cheer you up,"   she smiled handing a kit of play dough to Andrew.   
            "Thank you," Andrew whispered.  I thought I saw tears in her eyes but she quickly waved goodbye and walked away.   This was not the first gift he had received from the radiation nurses, but it was the biggest by far, and it warmed my heart perhaps even more than Andrew's.  Alex had once told me that she, too, had a little boy Andrew's age and I suspected that these gifts were prompted by a mother's heart.
            When we arrived at Children's the usual blood test was to be taken.   Unfortunately the blood would not draw properly and so Andrew's VAD had to be poked twice.  While we waited for the results I discussed his mouth sores with the nurse who instructed us to continue diligently using the medicated mouth rinses and to step up the mouth care to every two hours.
            Three hours later we finally received the blood results.  All his blood counts had dropped radically and we were informed that he would require a red blood cell transfusion the next day. 
            From the hospital we drove to the naturopath's office where we waited another 45 minutes to see him.  It was our second visit and I experienced a growing feeling of uneasiness.  When I had first contacted him on the phone he had responded with aloofness and what seemed like disinterest. 
            "I can't heal everybody," he had told me brusquely.  "We all have to die sooner or later." 
            At our first appointment he had been a little warmer and strangely enough, encouraged us to take the course that the medical doctors were advising us to follow.  He indicated that his role would be to simply supplement the conventional treatments with his herbal remedies.  Now, during our wait I observed the literature in his waiting room regarding many alternative remedies that he offered, and it disturbed me even further.  As the three of us entered his consultation office he appeared jovial and conversational.  He spent a fair bit of time discussing his other patients with us and virtually ignored Andrew.  As Harry tried to redirect the conversation back to our son the doctor began a litany of do's and don'ts for us to follow.  No dairy products, no white flour, no sugar, and on it went.  Somewhere in the list a question was raised in Harry's mind.
            "Excuse me, sir, but you just said no dairy products and yet at the same time Andrew is allowed yogurt?   Is yogurt not a dairy product?"  
            For some unexplainable reason the naturopath exploded.
            "Did you hear me say yogurt is a dairy product?"  he responded with unusual energy.  "I never said yogurt is a dairy product!  Do you think yogurt comes from a cow like milk comes from a cow and cheese comes from a cow?!  Let me tell you where yogurt comes from."    With loud, condescending deliberation he then proceeded to tell us more than we ever wanted to know about bacterial feces and the ensuing result of yogurt.   Suffice it to say, it was a long time before I was able to enjoy yogurt again.  It was also one of the last times we went to see that doctor.
            Reaching Abbotsford we stopped in at Grandma's to pick up the other two boys and found a hot supper waiting for us.  We gratefully ate, although Andrew barely touched it, and then carried on home.  While Harry got the boys ready for bed I packed a small overnight bag in anticipation of what the next day might bring.  Something inside me felt that Andrew's serious mouth sores would finally merit some serious attention and that would undoubtedly require a stay in the hospital.
            Once the boys were kissed and prayed with and tucked in, Harry and I sprawled out in our sitting room to review the days' events.
            "It seems to me that we've got to continue seeking God and His Word rather than running after natural remedies," was Harry's comment after we replayed the yogurt episode.  "Look at how Les and June spent precious time researching their daughter's disease and trying radical remedies only to lose her anyways.  Now that knowledge is useless. And it certainly won't help little Brittny anymore.  I would rather spend these months digging into God's word and making memories with Andrew than sitting in a library in Vancouver pouring over medical books."
            I nodded in heartfelt agreement.  God was already confirming my priorities through my husband and the tension I felt from the visit with the naturopath was rapidly dissipating.  We would trust in the Lord our God and no other.