Resting and Recovering in Austin

•March 16, 2012 • 4 Comments

Jenny before her surgery on Tuesday.

We arrived back in Austin yesterday afternoon.  Jenny is resting as much as she can and trying to stay on top of pain management.  The surgery, in case you haven’t heard, went as well as could be hoped.  They believe they were able to excise all of the tumor, and upon microscopic inspection of the two lymph nodes they removed there doesn’t appear to be any sign of spread or invasion… always our greatest fear.  We will find out for sure at our next appointment Wednesday.

We are relieved and tired, and can’t  offer our appreciation and gratitude to all who have hoped & prayed with us in a manner that would even begin to fairly convey what a treasure and life-line that love has been to us.  Please give thanks with us now for a successful surgery and the beginning of a recovery.

Almighty God and heavenly Father, we give you humble thanks because you have been graciously pleased to deliver from her cancer your servant Jenny, on whose behalf we bless and praise your Name. Grant, O gracious Father, that she, through your help, may live in this world according to your will, and also be partaker of everlasting glory in the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Lord, your compassions never fail and your mercies are new every morning: We give you thanks for giving our sister Jenny both relief from pain and hope of health renewed.  Continue in her, we pray, the good work you have begun; that she, daily increasing in bodily strength, and rejoicing in your goodness, may so order her life and conduct that she may always think and do those things that please you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I will have more to write soon, but for now… rest is the order of the day.  Thanks be to God.

Surgery Tomorrow Morning

•March 12, 2012 • 8 Comments

Jenny getting a few last minute tests run today at MD Anderson.

Jenny’s mastectomy is tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 10:00am.  Please pray with us.

Almighty God our heavenly Father, graciously comfort your servant Jenny in her suffering, and bless the means made use of for her cure.  Fill her heart with confidence, that, though at times she may be afraid she yet may put her trust in you through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

or this

Strengthen your servant Jenny, O God, to do what she has to do and bear what she has to bear; that, accepting your healing gifts through the skill of surgeons and nurses, she may be restored to usefulness in your world with a thankful heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

Cancer, Lent, and the Discipline of Celebration

•March 7, 2012 • 3 Comments

This past Monday we had a meeting with the reconstructive surgeon who will be working on Jenny after the oncology surgeon is done with her.  We didn’t learn anything particularly new, but we did get a clearer picture of the path before us.  It was a tough day, and we can really feel the clock ticking down until next Tuesday when two things happen to Jenny’s body: The tumor will be permanently removed (good news),  and a permanent & lifelong alteration including scarring, artificial reconstruction, loss of glandular and immunological functionality, and loss of feeling and sensation (sad news).  We are trying to be mature & sane enough people to feel both things at once, but it is a tall order.  We oscillate from relief that the tumor will be gone, and grieving over what will be a real loss for Jenny.  The joy & sorrow are mingled together inextricably.  

For most people, myself included, the most noticeable thing about Lent is the spiritual disciplines related to asceticism and self denial.  For those who observe Lent, the most difficult disciplines that we observe to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday are the disciplines related to penitence and fasting.  Can I really give up meat and drink for 40 days?  Can I keep my prayer rule?  Etc.  Etc.  This year is different though.  I feel compelled by our circumstances to be continually in prayer, and fasting isn’t quite the same when your appetite is mediocre at best.  In other words, what should be a discipline is a natural part of my life right now because of what we are going through.  The part of my Lenten journey that has taken the most prayer, work, and discipline this year is the discipline of celebration.  Let me explain.

Traditionally, Lent is a 40 day fast before Easter (or Pascha) used for self examination, repentance, and self denial as a sort of “spring cleaning” before the Great Feast of Easter.  However, if you count on a calendar from Ash Wednesday until Easter, you will see that there are actually 46 days in Lent.  Why is that?  It is because there are six Sundays in that time period and Christians are never supposed to fast on Sundays… every Sunday is a mini-Easter, a celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  Subtract those six Sundays, and you end up with 40 days for fasting.

So here we have, embedded in the season of penitence, six days where we are basically required to feast and give thanks (I have heard, though it may be apocryphal, that the the early church even threatened excommunication to those fasting on Sundays).  The joy & sorrow are mingled together inextricably.  Even in Lent, the Church has made space for the spiritual discipline of celebration.  The necessity and wisdom of this had never occurred to me until my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Usually, the Sundays are the easy part… not this year.  I find myself in a situation where celebration, joy, and thanksgiving are profoundly difficult.

So this Sunday, I came home from church with my family, took my son into the backyard with a beer in my hand, let the sun shine on my face, and celebrated…. celebrated the beautiful weather, my beautiful family… celebrated all the friends and family who have been so supportive… celebrated that medical technology has come so far in the last 50 years, and that this isn’t a death sentence for Jenny and that if all goes well she can look forward to resuming a more-or-less normal life…

As I sat there, I was reminded of a quote from Tolkien… if you are not familiar with the Lord of the Rings, it is from a scene near the end where two of the heroes, Sam and Frodo, are beyond hope and defeat seems eminent.  They lay down in a forsaken wilderness under “The Shadow” and Sam looks up.

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

So I sat there, and I celebrated… celebrated the Resurrection of our Savior who has trampled down death by death, who will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and because of who “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore,” for the former things will pass away.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Houston, We Have a Problem

•February 27, 2012 • 5 Comments

Jenny and I spent this past Thursday and Friday in Houston for more testing and opinions.  We spent Thursday and Friday morning at MD Anderson Cancer Center (we finally got in), and Friday afternoon with Dr. Darrell Lindsay, DC.  Also, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent were this past week.  The overlap of the physical, emotional, and spiritual journey known as cancer with the Christian liturgical calendar’s “season of penitence and fasting…self examination and repentance,” and prayer could hardly be any more meaningful than it is for us this year.  As the priest put the ashes on our forehead in the shape of the cross and said:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return

every cliche about the preciousness of life, the shortness of life, the beauty of life, gratefulness for all God’s gifts, the futility of striving for vain things, love for my wife, the end of life, and the yawning expanse of eternity rushed upon me with a force and power that was anything but a cliche.

It is quite a journey we are on (all of us), but here is the latest update from the Ballard’s progress:

Thursday

MDA did another round of mammograms and ultrasounds.  They apparently go much better pictures, because they were able to give us some very precise measurements of the tumor (6.5cm x 3.5cm x 1.5cm).

The BIG NEWS of the day was they did a fine needle aspiration biopsy of a lymph node that was enlarged on the ultrasound, etc.  It came back NEGATIVE for cancer.  This is only a preliminary result, but it means the likelihood that the cancer has spread is meaningfully decreased.  They still won’t know for sure until they do a full biopsy, but more on that below.

Friday

We had the good fortune of being assigned to Dr. Henry M. Kuerer, MD, PhD, FACS, who is the director of Breast Surgical Oncology Training Program at MD Anderson.  In other words, he is so good at breast surgeries that he trains other people to do them.  He has done over 3,000 surgeries similar to Jenny’s and seems very capable.  His bedside manor is a bit strange, but exactly what you would expect from a man with that many letters behind his name (He is the only MD/PhD in the whole breast oncology unit).  His PA, however, more than makes up for it as she is an absolute sweetheart.

The diagnosis remains the same: Extensive, High-Grade Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS), as does the recommended course of treatment: Full mastectomy with sentinel lymph node biopsy.

Friday afternoon, we met with Dr. Lindsay at his chiropractic clinic.  Dr. Lindsay was/is my uncle’s mentor, and I have been hearing about the “miracle man” my whole life.  It was nice to finally meet him, and he certainly lived up to the hype.  He was eccentric and brilliant, and gave Jenny what she describes as “the absolute best adjustment I’ve ever had in my life,” which really means something coming from a woman who, after a broken neck in a car accident in Nepal, avoided spinal surgery by pursuing chiropractic treatment.

Dr. Lindsay gave Jenny a number of dietary recommendations & supplements in addition to the adjustment with the advise, “Whatever you decide to do, you can’t have too much information and you can’t go wrong with a good diet and a properly functioning nervous system.”  We agree.

Next

We go back to Houston next Monday to meet with Jenny’s reconstructive surgeon at MD Anderson.  We are tentatively scheduled for surgery (full mastectomy, lymph node biopsy, and first-stage reconstruction) on Tuesday, March 13th. After the surgery, they will examine the tumor as well as the lymph nodes.  In seven to eight days, we will have the results of those tests.  Those results will include whether or not the cancer is invasive, and whether or not it has spread.  Those results will then determine our next steps (nothing, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, etc.).

What You Can Do

As routine as a mastectomy sounds, it is not routine for Jenny.  To be very personal for a moment… a breast is an intimate part of a woman’s body and self-identity.  It is, not least of all, where our beautiful children were nursed when they came into this world.  To have it cut from her body, even in these dire circumstances, is a sadness and a heavy burden.  It is scary, and she will live with the effects of it for the rest of her life.

Many of you ask us every day, “How can I help?”  My answer, as honestly as I can give it, is “Pray.”  If you don’t know what  or how to pray, may I suggest the following:

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need: We humbly beseech you to behold, visit, and relieve your sick servant Jenny for whom our prayers are desired.  Look upon her with the eyes of your mercy; comfort her with a sense of your goodness; preserve her from the temptations of the enemy; and give her patience under her affliction.  In your good time, restore her to health, and enable her to lead the rest of her life in your fear and to your glory; and grant that finally she may dwell with you in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

A Few Thank You’s

First of all:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.  We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.  We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.  We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.  Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.  Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Next, we would like to thank Jenny’s parents, and my wonderful in-laws, Joan and Craig Uhre.  They have been flying back and forth from South Dakota to Austin to care for the kids, to keep Jenny’s spirits up, and to help in any way that they can… dishes, laundry, waking up with children at 3:30 am, grocery shopping, and changing diapers to name a few things.   Most recently, they stayed with the kids in Austin while we made the trip to Houston.  They have been a tremendous blessing, and the very picture of two loving parents caring for their daughter.

Also, we would like to thank Brit and Katie Carpenter for opening up their home to us while we were in Houston.  Friends and hospitality are potent treatments for fear, worry, and exhaustion.  Their medicine has been the best sort.  A special thanks to Brit for driving us to and from MDA so we didn’t have to pay the $20 parking fee every day.

And finally, to all other friends and family and your “loving care which surrounds us on every side.”  We will never be able to say thank you for all the blog comments, Facebook well-wishes, letters, notes, checks, cards, phone calls, emails, and text messages that we have received.  We have read each and every one, often with tears, and they have been like a light to us in a very dark place.

For the Ballards,

jason

Still Climbing… A Few Updates

•February 16, 2012 • 4 Comments

Jenny Climbing the Needles in South Dakota

Genetic Testing

Jenny took the BRCA test to see if she was a carrier of a gene sequence that predisposes people to cancer.  The test came back negative, meaning that she is NOT a carrier.  This is GOOD news.  It means there is a smaller chance of recurrence when we get through this.

Austin Wholistic Health  — Dr. Bandy

We went to AWH this week to see the famous Dr. John Bandy.  He is an exceptionally gifted chiropractor, was the first person to diagnose Lance Armstrong with cancer, has published widely in scientific journals on alternative healing therapies, and is the official chiropractor of the University of Texas Athletic Department.  It was impressive to watch the master work, and his kindness and obvious familiarity with the human body really put us at ease.  His unalloyed advice was, “Get the surgery… you would be foolish to pursue an alternative therapy” for this particular cancer all things considered.  It wasn’t what we expected to hear, but in a way its nice to have some general agreement among the various health care providers.  From what information he could gather though muscle testing, it  is his opinion that the cancer has not spread.

Oncology Surgeon #2

We visited our second oncology surgeon here in Austin.  His advice also was to pursue a full mastectomy, though his demeanor and outlook were much more conservative and not so “knife happy” as the first surgeon we saw.  No mention of double mastectomy, and certainly no mention of removing ovaries.

MD Anderson Cancer Center — Houston, TX

We are still trying to get into MDA, and we have a number (five at last count) of people trying to pull strings for us.  We are in the queue, and hope to hear something soon.  Stay tuned

Summary

We are still sitting on a tentative diagnosis of Extensive, High-Grade DCIS with suspicion of micro-invasion.   The consensus recommendation so far from three different doctors is to do a full mastectomy with a sentinel lymph node biopsy to see if the cancer has spread.  We won’t know more until after a surgery at which point both the lymph nodes and the tumor itself will be examined.  In the mean time, Jenny has undertaken a strict anti-cancer diet that essentially means eating 99% vegetables, drinking lots of fresh juice, no  processed food, very little or no salt, and only eating enough meat to keep her weight up.  Please continue to pray, and we’ll keep the updates coming.

A Service for Healing

•February 10, 2012 • 1 Comment

This morning, our very dear friends Matt & Lauren Larsen came to the house for coffee and prayer.  It was a very special time, and really lightened the mood of the house.  We watched the kids play around, drank a whole pot of coffee, told stories, and laughed.  Matt was recently ordained Deacon and will soon be ordained Priest, and he brought with him blessed oil and reserve Eucharist from his parish, Church of the Incarnation, in Dallas.  We held the service for Ministration to the Sick in our living room and it was a moving time of prayer and worship.  I won’t try to describe it, but it was one of the most meaningful services I have ever participated in.  I reproduce it here for your own benefit, and so that you can pray along with us.  Matt’s parts are in bold, and the italics are what we said together.

Peace be to this house, and to all who dwell in it.

 

Psalm 91

1   He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High *

abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

2   He shall say to the Lord,

“You are my refuge and my stronghold, *

my God in whom I put my trust.”

3   He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter *

and from the deadly pestilence.

4   He shall cover you with his pinions,

and you shall find refuge under his wings; *

his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.

5   You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, *

nor of the arrow that flies by day;

6   Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, *

nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid‑day.

7   A thousand shall fall at your side

and ten thousand at your right hand, *

but it shall not come near you.

8   Your eyes have only to behold *

to see the reward of the wicked.

9   Because you have made the Lord your refuge, *

and the Most High your habitation,

10    There shall no evil happen to you, *

neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

11    For he shall give his angels charge over you, *

to keep you in all your ways.

12    They shall bear you in their hands, *

lest you dash your foot against a stone.

13    You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *

you shall trample the young lion and the serpent

under your feet.

14    Because he is bound to me in love,

therefore will I deliver him; *

I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

15     He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *

I am with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

16    With long life will I satisfy him, *

and show him my salvation.

 

A Reading from James 5:14-16:

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

The Word of the Lord

Thanks be to God

 

A Reading from the Gospel According to Mark (6:7, 12-13)

Glory to You Lord Christ

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

The Gospel of the Lord

Praise to You Lord Christ

 

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.  For the sake of you Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.  Amen.

Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.

Savior of the world, by your cross and precious blood you have redeemed us;

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech you, O Lord.

[Matt then laid hands on Jenny]

Jenny, I lay my hands upon you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, beseeching our Lord Jesus Christ to sustain you with his presence, to drive away all sickness of body and spirit, and to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve him both now and evermore.  Amen.

[Matt dipped his thumb in the holy oil, and made the sign of the cross on Jenny’s forehead, saying]

Jenny, I anoint you with oil in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

As you are outwardly anointed with this holy oil, so may our heavenly Father grant you the inward anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Of his great mercy, may he forgive you your sins, release you from suffering, and restore you to wholeness and strength.  May he deliver you from all evil, preserve you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 The Almighty Lord, who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bow and obey: Be now and evermore your defense, and make you know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

[Matt brought out the communion elements]

Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”   John 6:51, 55-56

Let us pray in the words Christ taught us

Our Father, who art in heaven,
    hallowed be thy Name, 
    thy kingdom come, 
    thy will be done, 
        on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our tresspasses, 
    as we forgive those 
        who trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation, 
    but deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom, 
    and the power, and the glory, 
    for ever and ever. Amen.

The Gifts of God for the People of God… The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life.

[We took communion together]

Gracious Father, we give you praise and thanks for this Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of your beloved Son 
Jesus Christ, the pledge of our redemption; and we pray that it may bring us forgiveness of our sins, strength in our weakness, and everlasting salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need: We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, andrelieve thy sick servant Jenny for whom our prayers are desired.  Look upon her with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort her with a sense of thy goodness; preserve her from the temptations of the enemy; and give her patience under her affliction.  In thy good time, restore her to health, and enable her to lead the rest of her life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that finally she may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

O God of heavenly powers, by the might of your command you drive away from our bodies all sickness and all infirmity: Be present in your goodness with your servant Jenny, that her weakness may be banished and her strength restored; and that, her health being renewed, she may bless your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

MRI Results

•February 10, 2012 • 1 Comment

We received a call this morning from the first surgeon we went to here in Austin with the results of the MRI.  They are basically as follows:

  • The MRI confirmed that the tumor in the left breast is large and effectively involves the whole breast.
  • No detection of any cancer or calcium deposits (a tell-tale sign of cancer) in the right breast.
  • A nearby lymph node is “a bit enlarged, but nothing too worrisome.”

Essentially, this is what we expected & hoped to hear.  We didn’t learn anything new, but at this stage no news feels a lot like good news.