When a Storm Rolls In

This is a bit of an unusual (and lengthy) blog post, but one I must share.  I write a lot about faith and the fact it is never easy because it goes against the grain of our human reasoning and emotions.  I’ve also said many times that although it is challenging to walk by faith, it is also liberating because it frees us from having to always know the “whys” of circumstances in our lives.  All of these characteristics of faith are true but when a storm rolls in, our faith can be shaken now and then by the raging winds.  It is also when a storm rolls in that we see amazing examples of faith displayed.  When WE exemplify true faith, we don’t always notice it because we are in the process of walking through something.  But when others exemplify it, that’s something different.  It is something glaring and, dare I say, glowing.  It not only encourages us; it strengthens us.

Some of you have been aware of the journey of my dear friend Sandy and her fight with cancer since 2012.  She is the epitome of what it means to be a fighter.  She’s endured continual treatments and also several surgeries where they’ve taken organs (and pieces of other organs) in an attempt to remove all the tumors.  They’ve gotten close a couple of times, but still it returns.  As of this writing, things are not looking good for her, and the doctors are running out of treatment options.  Is this a terrifying thing to consider?  In our humanity, the answer is “yes,” but in our faith, we embrace life and every moment we have – whether it is only for a short while or years to come.  God knows what He is doing, even when we don’t understand.  He knows the “storm,” and He is the Master of the wind.

So back to Sandy and her family.  Through all of this ordeal, no matter how dire or frightening the circumstances have been at different times, they’ve exemplified a faith that lives!  To read the many CaringBridge posts is to read something that sounds like the great heroes of faith that are mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews chapter 11.  She and her husband Scott do not write what they think they are supposed to say or feel about things; they write exactly what they believe about things.  It has been, and still is, amazing to me.  Walking this journey with them as friends, singing partners (we used to sing in a quartet) and brothers/sisters in Christ, has been a strength, comfort and encouragement to me and many others.  It has deepened my own faith and been a continual perspective changer as I, and others, go through our own lives.  What amazes me is that in Scott’s post last night, he apologized for continually asking others to help bear their burdens when he/they have been “oblivious” to everyone else’s respective struggles.  What?!  He mentioned that God tells us to “bear each other’s burdens,” and that he/they have fallen short in doing so.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  What Scott failed to realize last night is that through the sharing of their journey (good, bad or ugly), they have continually helped the rest of us through our own struggles.  They have born our burdens even without knowing the circumstances.  That is the beauty of walking by faith.  It allows others to see God at work in the lives of His children – IN SPITE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES!

Today is a stormy kind of day, and this is a stormy period for Sandy, Scott, their four girls, and the rest of us that love them.  They are in need of your prayers and positive thoughts today as Sandy is set to endure yet another risky procedure.  We pray for God’s will in this and everything else she is facing, though we hope His will coincides with our own “wants.”  I simply ask you to take a moment and pray with us, and to continue doing so whenever this family comes to mind.  God IS faithful!  He is faithful even we aren’t.  He has promised to “never leave us nor forsake us,” no matter how dark it may look when a storm rolls in.

Blessings!

P.S. Though it is lengthy, I am pasting Scott’s post from last night below, but if you want to read an amazing story of real faith, go follow Sandy’s journey on CaringBridge.

https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/sandylbrooks

“By Scott Brooks – 12 hours ago

Well, it has been an interesting (and exhausting) few days. But first, let me update you on the last week and a half. Sandy was released from UCSF Parnassus Hospital (late) on Tuesday evening, 4/26. Shortly after we arrived home, the supplies for her home I.V. infusion of antibiotics arrived. We had been trained while still at the hospital, how to connect and disconnect the I.V. lines to the port she has had since 2012. A nurse comes to the house once a week to remove the needle and reinsert a new one, but we can handle the changing of the medications.

So for the last week and a half, twice a day on 12 hour intervals, Sandy has been going through the routine. It takes about 2 1/2 hours in the morning because there are two medications, and about 1 1/2 hours in the evening when there is only one. She is feeling generally “better,” but is still having an occasional low-grade fever. Her nausea has subsided, but we’re really not sure if that was a side effect of the oral chemotherapy she was on last month, or a product of the infection affecting her system. We finally have a name for the condition her doctors have been attacking for the last few weeks: Empyema with Thoracic Fistula. But it’s basically an abscess that is trying to make its way to the surface of her skin . . . which, unfortunately, it is now very close to doing. And that’s bad, it seems.

We had a follow-up appointment yesterday with the infectious disease doctor who saw Sandy while she was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. Of course, she asked about the progress of the condition. My assessment was that the coloring was less “angry” than when she was in the hospital, and less widespread, but that the actual protrusion of the swelling was, in fact, worse. When the doctor examined Sandy, she looked at me with this stunned expression and said, “Wow, I would agree with your assessment 100%.” Score one for the layman. She was obviously concerned by what she observed and took a photo on her camera, to share with the other doctors, particularly the surgical staff, who are on the team treating Sandy. She expressed the opinion that while the I.V. antibiotics are a good thing, and the right thing to do right now, they would never be a “cure” for Sandy’s infection. As a consequence, she wanted to consult with the others to determine a course for Sandy’s immediate treatment.

Our appointment was at 9:30. During the appointment, she said she would email Sandy’s Surgical Oncologist. We went downstairs to submit some lab work, and then walked about 3 blocks away to grab a bite at a little hole in the wall called the Wooly Pig Cafe. (Great Shanghai BBQ Pork Sandwich!) We had no more than ordered and sat down until my phone rang. I walked outside onto the sidewalk to take it so as not to disturb the other diners. It was the Surgical Oncologist’s office. They wanted to see Sandy today in her surgeon’s office at 1:00. I asked if we couldn’t just work it in yesterday since we were already in San Francisco, rather than having to make another trip, but the Office Coordinator said the surgeon was out of town at a conference, so it would not be possible until today. The time was 11:17 a.m.

I want you to take that in for a moment. In a process which probably took less than an hour, Sandy’s Infectious Disease doctor communicated with her surgeon (who is such a “big deal” at UCSF that he only holds clinic on Wednesday, and Sandy only saw him, personally, twice in the 10 days of her most recent hospitalization), who was out of town at a conference, who took the time out of what he was doing to look over her message, contacted his office, and fit Sandy in to his first-day-back schedule the next day, and his Office Coordinator then contacted us to set up the appointment. That’s impressive! It’s also sobering.

Meanwhile, back at the appointment with the Infectious Disease doctor . . . Sandy’s most recent blood work showed her, again, to be anemic. It was encouraging that her white counts were still good, but the reds just were not where they needed to be. She suggested that Sandy have a discussion with her local oncologist in Pleasanton, about the possibility of getting another transfusion. So while Sandy was downstairs doing the lab work I mentioned earlier, I was calling her oncologist to leave a message that we needed to have that discussion. 

I had no more than walked back into the Wooly Pig and sat down until my phone rang again. This time it was Sandy’s oncologist’s office in Pleasanton. Her scheduler met my “Hello?” with, “This is ________ from __________ __________ ____________ ________________. You guys need to get over to the hospital as quick as you can because they’ll need to get Sandy’s blood for a ‘type and cross,’ and her transfusion is set up for 2:00.” After I gathered my thoughts for a second, I realized what had happened. With no discussion at all, based on the earlier lab reports, Sandy’s oncologist had ordered the transfusion and her scheduler had set up everything with the hospital . . . in Pleasanton. We were in San Francisco. I told her the situation and that there was no way we could be there by then. She said that if we missed this window, they would not be able to fit Sandy in for days. I assured her that we would do the best we could, but that it would be at least 1:00 to 1:30 before we could get back to Pleasanton. She told me to just do the best we could and hope they could still get Sandy in when we got there.

We quickly finished our lunch and after an administrative snafu with the UCSF Campus Parking Police that cost us fully 45 minutes (and shall not be further discussed here), we were on our way back to Pleasanton. Traffic was not horrible, but not great, so we arrived at the hospital in Pleasanton a little before 2:00. When we arrived at the Outpatient Lab Admitting office, where we had gone the last time Sandy had a transfusion, they looked a little confused. But when we mentioned a few of the details, they sort of snapped to attention and shredded all the red tape. Sandy was in the Pre-Op ward in a bed by 2:07.

Then began the long and tedious process of waiting. Wait for the lab work to be done. Wait for the blood to come. And then the big wait: the transfusion itself. They gave Sandy two units just as the last time. The Pre-Op ward closed down at 7:30, so they had to move Sandy to the Post-Op ward to finish up. It was about 9:30 p.m. when we left there and we were home before 10:00. We had left our house at 7:00 yesterday morning. We had to be back to San Francisco today for a 1:00 appointment with the surgeon, but Chloe was coming in to Oakland International for a surprise (to Sandy) Mother’s day visit at 8:45 a.m., so we left the house again this morning at 7:30.

The speed and ease with which her appointment with the surgeon had been scheduled, led me to suspect the possibility that she could be admitted today after he examined her. I didn’t have much idea what might be his course of action, but the speed and ease with which those cogs turned, told me that Sandy had his attention. And when you’re talking about a surgeon, that never speaks well of the patient’s condition. Accordingly, we came prepared for a hospital stay. 

After the usual array of interrogatives from first, a medical student, then a collaborating doctor, and then finally her surgeon, we had a course of action a little after 2:00 this afternoon. We were to go downstairs where Sandy would be receiving a CT Scan, after which we would return to the 5th floor where Sandy would be admitted in anticipation of draining the abscess. If you think this sounds somewhat like a rerun of a few weeks ago, you’re not alone. There are, however, some very significant differences this time.

Sandy’s immune system has significantly recovered, allowing for the procedure without the great concern for catastrophe that surrounded the doctors’ deliberations a few weeks ago. The abscess itself has now progressed — largely because Sandy’s immune system has recovered — to the point that something now must be done in order to avoid a very nasty skin rupture and the complications which could go with that. There is still the risk of “seeding” the cancer elsewhere in her body, but the reality is that the present infection just takes a higher priority than that risk.

So now, to the procedure itself . . . Tomorrow morning, they will install a drain to relieve the pressure in the pocket of infection that has formed. This will be done by an Interventional Radiologist, so it will be under local anesthesia rather than general. It is a pretty minor procedure, really, so there is very little cause for concern as to the procedure itself. They will want to keep Sandy for at least 24 hours to observe her to be sure that all the potential complications are ruled out. Because of the location of the abscess, there are a variety of serious complications that could already exist and would be revealed by relieving the pressure in the abscess. These are not “likely,” but “possible.” It is possible that the abscess has eroded into her stomach, so that draining the abscess would open up a channel into her stomach — obviously, not a good thing. It is possible that the abscess could have perforated her diaphragm so that opening it up might result in a collapsed lung — also not a good thing. These are the sort of things that need to be discovered in a controlled environment, so they’ll keep her until they’re satisfied that none of the potential crises are likely to present themselves. But again, as of right now, that looks like sometime Sunday. We’ll certainly keep you informed of her progress.

For the moment, Sandy is as comfortable as she can be. She is not in any more pain than usual. She has better energy today than she did yesterday, presumably because of the transfusion last night. And her spirits are good. She is a fighter and is up for whatever her doctors feel is appropriate.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not tell you candidly that some of the best doctors in the country are still scratching their heads about what to do once the infection has resolved. Her surgeon does feel that the infection is a result of cancerous activity, so that will still remain after the infection is gone. In his words, “It’s in a challenging area,” involving a lot of internal organs as well as the chest wall itself. It’s complicated. And when a top-notch surgeon says it’s complicated, it’s a sobering thing.

I would be even more remiss if I did not remind you of what so many of us already know and believe. None of us are going to survive this life. Sandy knows that. I know that. And you all know that. It may be cancer, or infection, or a car wreck, or a volcanic eruption, or a massive coronary that takes our life, but one day we all will die unless Jesus returns for us first. For a child of God, this is a conflicting truth because we have an innate instinct to cling to life, but a confident hope that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. 

For the moment, it may appear that the cancer is winning and that Sandy and her physicians are losing. But we know the Great Physician, who is able if He so chooses to heal Sandy and restore her to full health. That same Physician has the power and ability to superintend the thoughts and actions of her earthly physicians to her best advantage, and we are convinced that He has positioned us where we are because it is where Sandy may receive exactly what she needs. In any case, Sandy has a future . . . an eternal future. And until her more immediate future becomes clear, we will strive to be as Job and adopt the attitude, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

I have often asked you all to pray for us and I know that you have done so, as many of you have testified. But now I want you to know that I pray for you, that your faith might stand, and that the strength of the Lord might sustain you in the uncertainties of not only our circumstances, but in those of your own — of which we have been so selfishly oblivious. Please forgive us. We have so often unburdened ourselves at your expense, asking you to bear our load, but never taking yours upon us as the Bible instructs us to bear one another’s burdens. Jesus has used you to strengthen and encourage us. We pray that, in His wisdom, He has supplied your need as well, in spite of our failure to be for you what you have been for us. He is a great God, and a loving Father.
We will update you as soon as there is more to know. In the meantime, trust that we are in God’s hands, that He is good, and that He is intensely invested in the good of His children. There is . . .

More to come,

Scott”

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