21 June 2011

Valerie: the part I didn't tell

by Dan Phillips

When I started blogging some seven years ago, though I was a semi-invisible presence at that point, I had made a decision to allow myself to become some kind of public person. But that was me. That wasn't a decision made for the rest of my family.

My dear Valerie for instance is a very private person, and I understood (without needing to be told) from early days that whatever I chose to disclose of my personal life and thoughts was a me-decision, it wasn't a decision for my wife and kids directly.

So I didn't tell you all right away of Valerie's pain, or even of her hospitalization and surgery, until I was sure it was all right with her. Then I gave one report, and one update a couple of days afterward. Valerie and I were both touched with the show of sympathy and prayer from my readers. It was like getting a nice little pile of "Get Well" cards.

Now here's the part I did not share, which I do now have permission to share so as to ask for your prayers, and to pass along a message from Valerie. We've had some time to tell family, and begin to get our minds around it.

Go back with me to Saturday the 11th.

The surgeon had told us that the radiologist reported some complication about the appendix, beyond simple signs for appendicitis. He wasn't sure what to make of it, but would begin in the pursuit of a simple appendectomy. He also was bothered by her anemia, something Valerie had never had before.

However, when the surgeon called me into the recovery room mid-surgery, what he told me was that it was more complicated than initially thought. He suspected a tumor. Therefore, he would have to remove not only the appendix, but a small part of her colon and more. The pathologist's report would not come until Monday.

As you may imagine, this began one of the darkest moments of my life. A tumor. Unable to help or save Valerie (a husband's first and dominant impulse), badly frightened for Valerie, alone, unable to think of much beyond my innumerable failures as a husband and a man, and of the horrors that suddenly loomed so large, I wept and cried out to God and clung to Him for dear life, alone, pacing and pacing for miles and miles in that tiny waiting room. I clung to the character of God, reminded myself that He loved Valerie even more than I, looked to Philippians 4:6-7 and 1 Peter 5:7 for comfort and strength.

How could I tell her? What would I tell her? If only I could simply take it all from her and for her.

Then the surgeon came and his wonderful first words were "Good news." He'd found a pathologist, they'd looked at what was removed, and they both concluded: it isn't cancer. Relief. Gladness. Gratitude. And more relief.

Then passed the difficult days which follow a major surgery, with a fantastic support staff at the hospital and our dear family, our good and faithful pastor, and the concern of our church family. Valerie made good progress up that steep road. Wednesday came, finally time to come home. The surgeon dropped in for a final visit to the hospital room.

Our surgeon is, by all accounts, a superb surgeon, the man other doctors go to when they're stuck, the man the nurses would pick for their own surgeries. But he's not a sugar-coater. Now his first, mouth-drying words were, "It was cancer."

This had been a niggling unspoken worry at the back of my mind. Could he and the pathologist have made that quick a determination? Might other tests turn up something they missed? Turns out, yes.

What neither the surgeon nor the pathologist could see with the naked eye, the microscope disclosed. I can't give you all the technical terms he used or we read in the pathologist's report, but it was cancer. That's the horrible news.

The good news, such as it is, is that it was caught early. The surgeon thinks he got it all. A number of lymph nodes were removed, and they were all clear.

And here's the remarkable providence at this point: if we're understanding the surgeon correctly, it was the appendix that warned of the cancer. The cancer set off the appendicitis, which drove the very doctor-averse Valerie in for treatment, which led to the diagnosis, which led to the surgery, which led to the discovery of this otherwise asymptomatic cancer. Were it not for all that, the cancer would still be quietly growing in the darkness, perhaps spreading, giving no clue beyond an undetected and symptom-free anemia.

So now our next procedural step is a colonoscopy after two months of recovery from the surgery, to make sure all else is well.

Valerie wants me to tell everyone: thank you so much for your emails, comments, and expressions of prayer and support.

And Valerie wants me to tell you: get your colonoscopies when it's time. That was my birthday present from my doc when I turned fifty. It was unwanted but painless. Valerie had joked that when "50" came, she had figured she had 9 years before "50"(-something) passed. Since this cancer can be caught and dealt with, but does not announce its early presence, the test seems a wise measure to take.

What's more, Valerie's family does not have a history of cancer. Mine does. This should be me hearing this news about myself, not Valerie. Yet here it is, the ultimate unwelcome visitor, stopping at her door. So: don't assume. Valerie wanted me to tell you all.

So now we are in the same position every last one of us Christians is in every moment, though we're not so conscious of it as we are at times like this: utterly dependent on the wisdom, power, goodness, mercy and kindness of God. And often before His throne in urgent prayer.

Personal pain is one thing; seeing my most-beloved suffer takes my needle right up to "unbearable," but for the comfort of 1 Corinthians 10:13, the challenge of Luke 8:25, and the call of James 1:2ff.

Thanks for your time. And please, please, please, from me to you: pray for my dear, amazing, one and only, inexpressibly and absolutely precious wife Valerie.

Dan Phillips's signature

57 comments:

Robert said...

Dan,

Thanks to you and Valerie for sharing and for the exhortation. Thank you also for the encouragement of a brother in Christ clinging to God in times of need. We will be praying for you during recovery and for the follow-ups with your doctors.

Dave .... said...

Godspeed to you both, Dan. It's these times when we realize the full depth of our "helpless estate". Not a manly feeling. But it seems to be when we most easily cry out, "My god, my God ...". Grace and peace!

stratagem said...

Will do. Now.

Gregg said...

Praise God for His goodness and grace.

Thomas Louw said...

In these situations most words sounds empty, while intended to be loaded.
The presences of friends are meant to be pillars but, little comfort is given.
But words in scripture and the presence of God are overwhelming.
My prayers are with you.

Gordon Cheng said...

Sorry to hear of these trials, Dan. May God continue to have mercy on you and Valerie.

Gordon

Keith said...

Thanks for sharing. Praise God for the good news.

ZSB said...

Who says the appendix has no function? Clearly, God can use it!

Blessings on you and your wife.

Kay said...

Wow, what a shock that must have been. Keeping you and yours in much prayer.

DJP said...

Has been and still is. Thank you, Kay.

SolaMommy said...

And here's the remarkable providence at this point: if we're understanding the surgeon correctly, it was the appendix that warned of the cancer. The cancer set off the appendicitis, which drove the very doctor-averse Valerie in for treatment, which led to the diagnosis, which led to the surgery, which led to the discovery of this otherwise asymptomatic cancer. Were it not for all that, the cancer would still be quietly growing in the darkness, perhaps spreading, giving no clue beyond an undetected and symptom-free anemia.

Praise God!!! Isn't it just like Him to work that way, DESPITE us? Thank you for sharing, Dan. I will continue to keep Valerie (and you and the fam) in my thoughts and prayers.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Dan:

I had no idea this was happening! No idea! I cried when I read this. Please tell your lovely wife that I will keep her and all of your lovely family in my prayers.

You sound like a super supportive husband. She is doubly blessed; knowing the Lord and having your full love and support.

Gilbert said...

But God...came through again for you, Dan. Always remember THAT, as miserable, frightened as you and Valerie may be. He came to your aid, the same one that came to David's aid:

http://biblia.com/bible/nkjv/1%20Samuel%2030.6

And he will do so again. So I say: praise God that he rescued Valerie Phillips from cancer, and appendicitis. That's the part you told, how the evil of appendicitis was used by an even worse evil (cancer) to do good for God's glory. Really!

Praise God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who rescued you and Valerie and kept you from sorrow upon sorrow, and I pray will continue to keep you and Valerie in His arms...always, and even more so now during her recovery.

Eric said...

Dan,

I have and will continue to pray for you and your family.

DJP said...

Thanks all; no surer way to endear yourself to me personally than doing well by my wife (and vice-versa).

David said...

His mercies are new every morning. Praise God for these reminders of His loving kindness.

Thank you Lord for the unspeakable blessings of our believing wives.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

How gracious of Valerie to let you share her private side. And how wonderfully gracious of God to alert you/her - although painfully - of a greater danger. I've had plenty of occasion to thank Him for the blessing of modern medical practice, though we rarely enjoy receiving it ;D

Still praying for Valerie and all of you as she works through her recovery and whatever treatment is indicated. And praising our gracious God for carrying you through it all.

Julie

Becky, slave of Christ said...

What a beautiful example of God's sovereign grace and providence. Don't you love how our Lord manages to bless us even in the toughest of times? Praying for a swift, full recovery and a clean checkup later on.

Solameanie said...

Thankful for the good news, and I can echo Valerie's warning. I've had two colonoscopies, with polyps removed each time, so I will be on a life-long cancer watch. It's not fun, but the prep is actually worse than the procedure, where they give you some nice drugs to get good and loopy.

Get checked. It's important.

rebecca said...

Oh wow! I will be praying for Valerie and for the rest of you, too. And thanking God with you for his work in the circumstances surrounding it all, too.

Bobby Grow said...

Dan,

I'm praying. And Praise the Lord that he worked this way for you and your wife!!

What kind of cancer was it (I used the past tense ;-)?

Lynda O said...

Praise God for the good news and His care throughout this time. Praying for God's continued mercies to you and your family.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Dan,

It's no surprise how much you love your wife, especially considering your writing on the subject of husband/wife relationships. And while it is Valerie's personal medical experience you're sharing, we're also seeing a very tender and vulnerable part of you as well. Thank you for your honesty and allowing us to bear your burdens with you.

Andrea said...

Dan,

The Bible says a good wife is from YHWH. It stands to reason that the reverse is also true. On those occasions when I have struggled, so often my husband has come through in some remarkable ways, showing by his actions the kind of love that Christ the Bridegroom shows to the Church his Bride.

May He give you the strength to continue showing that love to Valerie through whatever follows. And may she rejoice, as I often do, that whatever struggles or suffering she may face, her husband and her God are with her.

Prayers are being offered continually for you both.

nwq101 said...

I like what you said about our continual, complete dependence on God. When times are good, and when everything feels as if it is within our control, we tend to forget that we derive our every breath by His grace. When times are hard, nothing changes--we still depend utterly on Him, but it is during those times that we are more keenly aware of the dependence and can no longer fool ourselves, as I have so often done, into thinking that things are within our power to cure.

God's mercy toward those who love Him is without measure. I'll be praying for Valarie, and for you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Andy Dollahite said...

I often hear in the hospital about the terrible abdominal cancers that are discovered too late. Praise the Lord for his remarkable kindness to you and Valerie - both the early cancer discovery and the greater promises of salvation. Thanks for your encouraging testimony.

Manfred said...

Both my parents and my wife's father died from cancer (I buy life insurance from companies concerned with heart disease). While it is a scary diagnosis, it is always good to be reminded - as in this post - of our ultimate refuge and healer. Praise God for His mercies on ya'll and for doing all things to bring glory to His name.

Joni said...

What a lovely tribute to the Lord and the wife He gave you.

Paula said...

Both my mom (late 50's) and a dear friend (early 40's) were diagnosed with colon cancer and in both cases it was diagnosed so late that they ended up with colostomy bags. Aside from the inconvenience, they doing fine and grateful to be alive. It's nothing to fool around with.

I have a neighbor who believed (and was told by her health food guru) that her monthly colon cleanses would protect her from colon cancer and at 70 years old, she had never had a colonoscopy, believing she was protected from cancer! Not a good plan. Get a colonoscopy!

Praying for Valerie and your family.

tobekiwi said...

Gladly praying for your sweet wife.
"What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!"

Rachael Starke said...

Oh my goodness, brother, what a story. There are no coincidences with a loving God.

I will pray continually, as well as pass the news on to my dear husband. I really pushed the borders of submissiveness getting him to go to his Happy Birthday visit - he's "all man" and made much grumbling about hostile invasion, etc.

John said...

Dan,

Thanks for sharing this. I'll be praying for you and Valerie.

John

CR said...

I really hate cancer. I donn't know what else to say other than I will be praying for all of you.

Burrito34 said...

Thanks for letting us know about the part you didn't tell earlier, Bro. Dan. I can only imagine how awful that blindside hit of bad news was. But thank God, there was good news wrapped up in it as well. I will still be keeping you both and your family in my prayers.

Pierre Saikaley said...

"I, looked to Philippians 4:6-7 and 1 Peter 5:7 for comfort and strength."

Dan, those are the two promises that I constantly grasp daily.

I honestly do not comprehend how the world without Christ does it-how they can face these types of things apart from faith.

As for praying for Valerie and you, for sure, for SURE my wife and I will be in prayer.

Blessings

Steve Talas said...

Dan
Your story strikes a strong chord with me, as I too was diagnosed with the disease inadvertantly with unrelated symptoms in my case there was a strong genetic factor and lymph nodes were involved, as with your dear wife's story I look back 12 years later and see the amazing and deeply humbling providence of God in all that happend,I trust you and your dear lady will find much comfort and help in the Lord, you haven't mentioned any possible Chemo perhaps it won't be needed as lymphs came back clear but if that does arise as a course of treatment, while it isn't a walk in the park my experiences are that as chemo goes it is less grueling than many others.
Remembering you as a family in prayer.

Susan said...

Deus pro nobis, Valerie and Dan. Thank you for the update and the health reminder. May the Lord keep you both healthy!

Daryl said...

You both are in my prayers.

VcdeChagn said...

Praise God. He is truly amazing! We will keep praying for you guys.

Kitch said...

Dan, So sorry to hear this news. I'm praying with you!

dave hewitt said...

Dan,
This brings back many memories as I also experienced something very similar to what your wife did about 12 years ago.

I was being treated with Cortisone shots for 5 weeks for what the Doctor felt was inflammation of the muscles around the area of my shoulder blade. There was no progress and a substantial increase in the pain with no real prognosis as to where to go from that point to relieve the pain.

While I was checking out she came out of her office and I felt this strong urge to stop her and ask her a question that kept nagging at me
so I got up the nerve(it was now or wait another two weeks)to ask her if when they were reading my X-rays were they also looking at my lungs since I had been a smoker for 40 years? She replied that we would do a series of 'pictures' from different angles and see what was there-right now-so I wouldn't have to wait for the results.

Well,the results were that she saw a definite 'mass' in one of my lungs but would like to have it confirmed with a CT Scan at the local hospital. The CT and subsequent biopsies showed it to be cancer for sure and I was set up then to go through 6 weeks of daily Radiation and also Chemo once a week as well. The tumor was growing rapidly and the intent was to shrink it and kill it if possible to prevent even more radical surgery than they actually did perform. They were not able to shrink it much but they did kill it but they also had to remove 4 ribs to allow the removal of the tumor, and of course part of my lung.

I have always wondered where all of this would have gone had God in His providence not allowed me to experience the pain-which a nurse said was unusual for that type of tumor-and also the nagging urgency to ask that question without trying to appear as though I was stepping on the Doctor's toes. It was also uncharacteristic of me to press like that. Thank God for boldness when it was needed. My sincere prayers for your wife and yourself and praise be to God who makes no mistakes.
Dave H.

northWord said...

Dan, you've made the strength of a man's love for his wife nearly palpable with your words..Beautiful to behold. I too am not one to go to a Dr. unless I "HAVE" to; as well, no cancer running in my family..I should take your post under advisement..

(word veri-"brest" .. gulp)

Thanks to you both, for sharing. My prayers go out to you and your beautiful wife, Valerie.

~Suzanne

Pastor Howard Brown said...

Praying for both of you!

DJP said...

Steve Talas — so you had colon cancer with lymph node involvement 12 years ago, got chemo, and have been fine since? How much colon did you lose, if you don't mind my asking?

No chemo or radiation recommended at present, which we understand is a very good sign.

DJP said...

Dave Hewitt — wow, that's a harrowing tale. You'd think a doc would look at the smoking and want to rule that out.

So you had that surgery and treatment, and have been fine since?

Steve Talas said...

Dan

I had a fair chunk of colon removed from the secum (appendix end) the transverse (where my tumor was located, thats the bit that runs across horizontally before descending downwards through the sigmoid)some of my sigmoid also went. obviously generous margins are used to insure minimum risk of recurrence.No colostomy bag was needed though there had been talk of a possibility for that, it didn't happen in the end, but people do remarkably well with these things today.

My tumors location in the transverse part amounts to only 20% of all Colon cancers, we have a very strong family history grandfather had the disease in his 50's his 3 brothers had all died with the disease before they had even reached their 30's.

Tumors down the secum /appendix end are sometimes the hardest to find, I was told by a specialist nurse here in the UK that I should always insist on colorectal surgeon and not a general surgeon to do a colonoscopy as many inexperienced surgeons will fail to scan the secum end probably, The famous England Soccer player Bobby Moore suffered that fate, he was given an all clear by a general surgeon only to later discover a tumour that was too advanced for treatment.

I had one lymph node that came back with changes, the surgeon told me had I been an 80 yr old man as opposed to the 39 I was at the time I wouldn't need to have undergone chemo but they felt it neccesary to do so as backup for the surgery.

As I said the chemo course is one of the less aggresive I had 5FU (flurouracil) for 6 months there is no hair loss as a side effect not that it would have matterd to a bald man anyway the only irritating side effects are sometimes sore mouth, sore skin, brittle nails and some urge incontinence which sounds worse than it is you'd have to be near a bathroom during the treatment but I got out and about, even went to work, I went for pict line method (portable) which meant a little pump machine and a bag of poison to go with it, it all added up to something the size of an old Sony Walkman. 12 years later by the grace of God I'm still here, every 2 years a colonoscopy 'Catch the polyp stop the Cancer' is how it goes. Next week I go in for a hernia repair for the drain site from my cancer op.

Hope the info is of some help

Stefan said...

Dan:

Thank God for his providence that He sometimes intervenes intrusively into our lives, where our health is concerned. Steve's and Dave's stories seem to attest to that.

I know one man who's been walking with Christ for decades, and developed stomach pains recently. He went in to see his doctor, and within a few days, had a quintuple bypass (!), and is now in relatively good health (all things considered). Apparently, there had been no other symptoms. Who knows what kind of catastrophic medical emergency might have occurred, were it not for his stomach pains?

Without going into details, I can mention that my wife has had cancer as well, and come out the other side with a clean bill of health. It was only by the providence of God (I am firmly convinced) that she found it when she did, and that the doctors intervened when they did, or it would have been much worse.

We each have our appointed number of days in this finite, mortal life. Thank God for the gift of each and every one of those days, and opportunity to catch even fleeting glimpses of the sweetness of the everlasting joy that awaits us, in the midst of this world of sorrow and sadness.

EBenz said...

Dan,

Thank you so much for sharing--Valerie and your whole family will continue to be in my prayers.

Almost the exact same thing happened to my father several years ago. Flu-like symptoms sent him to the doctor, who, for no legitimate reason (other than God's sovereignty) ordered a scan which revealed an abnormal-looking appendix. They removed the appendix and part of the colon and discovered it was cancer so, as with Valerie, it was the appendix that ultimately led the doctors to find the cancer. Preventative chemo and regular blood work and scans kept him clean for awhile.

The cancer did come back a few years ago in the liver, but was caught early because of the blood work they were doing every couple of months. He went through another surgery to remove the tumor from the liver and a stricter chemo regimen and is now going on 4 years cancer-free...PRAISE GOD! It's not an easy road, but it's not one that's untraveled by others and, more than anything, it was such a blessing to see God at work through the whole thing. You truly do learn to lean on Him more than ever.

Praise God that Valerie had such capable doctors and is on the mend! As I said, you will all be in my prayers.

Rick Potter said...

I have been and will continue to pray for you (as well as Frank and Phil) for many years. I pray for my extended "Pyro family". When one of my son's needed pray, I reached out to Phil for support. My son came through his time of concern and is closer to God than ever. When one of my other sons became a police officer, I added Phil's son who is a police officer to my prayers. I love praying for you guys and your families. Thank you for the added opportunity to spen a little more time in God's presence through prayer.

Rick

dave hewitt said...

Yes, Dan, you would think so (about the Dr. knowing my smoking history)and I guess that was the thing that was so bewildering to me at the time.

Thank you for asking...I guess I didn't say but I have been cancer-free since then, although the Chemo and Radiation have produced some side-effects that I still deal with. I did quit smoking, as did my wife, but we both suffer from severe COPD-hers to the point of needing Oxygen 24 hrs. a day and having been placed on the donor's list for a double-lung transplant.

The upshot of all of this is that it has made our relationship with the Lord so much stronger and just as you have stood by your wife throughout these very trying times, my wife did this for me 12 years ago and now it is my turn to support her as the Lord strengthens our walk with Him. Our prayers are with both of you.
Dave H.

Rob Steele said...

Heavens above dude. I'm so sorry for the cancer and so glad for the way God is sustaining and delivering you. God bless!

Jim Kirby said...

Dan,

Be assured of our prayers for your wife and the family as they stand by, and wait upon the Lord.

Jim Kirby

Sir Aaron said...

I suspected you'd left something out. I'm glad you and your wife decided to share with us so that we could pray for you.

If she needs further treatment, you might want to consider going to a cancer specialty hospital. I live near one (so I hear a lot about cancer) and there is a massive difference between even a good hospital and the very best. Just some of the procedures that the best hospitals can perform is pretty amazing. MD Anderson is one such hospital you might keep in the back of your mind. I'll pray that it doesn't come to that though.

threegirldad said...

This is too much like the saga we began just over two years ago. And you and your family were so gracious to pray for us on many occasions. Now it's our opportunity to do the same for you.

Praying fervently for your wife, all the doctors involved, for your and your family...

Rita Martinez said...

Dan thank you so much for sharing this with us! and while such news can be a terrible thing to anyone we are so blessed to have the knowledge that our Lord is in control of everything at all times and his will perfect and good always!
And Valerie is so right! I would actually tell everyone get checked whatever it is! doesn't matter if your 50 or 30 or 20 or even in your teens(i have a 15 y/o cousin with cancer who did not get checked in time :( but by God's grace has been receiving treatment all paid for).
God bless you Dan and Valerie!
Penn and I will keep you in praye

Ken Abbott said...

Dan: Not to toot the horn of my own profession, but will Valerie consult with a medical oncologist? There are some subtleties about cancers (and some lesions that resemble cancers but are not actually malignant) involving the appendix that should be sorted out by a specialist.

Michael Lawmaster said...

Hey Dan!

I will definitely be praying for Valerie, you, and your family Dan.

Philippians 4:6-7 "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.The peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."