Help Dennis Mills Treat His Rare Heart Cancer
This fundraiser is for my big brother Dennis: avid blood donor, NASA geek, sci-fi aficionado, Shakespeare buff, boardgamer, math teacher, punster. We knew these things about Dennis: what we didn't know was a very rare angiosarcoma was growing in his heart. Out of the 1.7 million new cancer diagnoses this year, maybe 10-20 are his type of angiosarcoma.
For Dennis the math teacher, that's literally 0.00001% of new cancer cases.
On February 18, Dennis walked into a doctor's office hoping to get some answers, maybe even an antibiotic, to address why he had been feeling so very lousy for weeks.
Instead, he was unexpectedly hospitalized for heart surgery.
The surgery was to remove a very large blood clot filling Dennis's left atrium. However, once in surgery, the surgical team realized that the "blood clot" was, in fact, a malignant tumor. Amazingly, the team was able to remove that tumor entirely and rebuild his left atrium with medical mesh.
Now that we knew he had cancer, we needed a cancer plan. However, a new surprise caught us off-guard almost immediately. While re-hospitalized to draw fluid from his lungs, Dennis had a stroke.
The stroke affected Dennis's left side and initially left him unable to perform even simple tasks. We are so thankful, though: Dennis has made huge strides in his stroke recovery. He can walk slowly with a walker, play a 15-minute board game, come up with new groaners. (“I was reading about depressed veterinarians who specialize in working dogs. You know, blue blue-heeler healers.” YES, that is one of his actual jokes.)
But while he was in the stroke rehab center, his cancer was not addressed at all. We knew there was at least one more tumor, and we feared more. And while he has improved remarkably, there are still mobility and dexterity limitations which will require work and time.
Now Dennis is finally about to start aggressive chemotherapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. We know there is only one tumor (but a big one, adjacent to his heart). The treatment plan, as it stands currently, is repeated trips to Houston for chemotherapy, with our parents Tim and Carol traveling with him. They are his round-the-clock caregivers as the treatments themselves are outpatient.
All along the way, you have been there. You encouraged us. You have helped us move Dennis out of his apartment. You have cooked meals for us. You have visited Dennis in the hospitals. You loaned us medical equipment. You sent him get-well cards and birthday gifts. You babysat. You have prayed with us and for us. Thank you!
You can continue to be part of the team. Our biggest needs right now are prayer (always) and financial aid to address the many medical bills coming in. There are also costs for the travel to and from Houston. Dennis's health insurance is about to expire as well - a front we're working on.
FOR OUR PRAYING FRIENDS
Join us as we praise God for the following:
That He is King of the universe and King of our lives
That Dennis lives in a time and a place where he can have his cancer addressed
That the initial surgery team did a good job when the surgery turned into an unpleasant surprise
Competent medical professionals in the many places we've encountered them
That our parents have been able to open their home to Dennis
That Dennis is continuing to improve in his stroke recovery
That Dennis has only one tumor at present
For the many kindnesses from friends
Intercede for us as we ask God for the following:
That God's glory will be magnified through Dennis
Healing and a long life for Dennis
Good sleep for Dennis and our parents
No complications during treatment and recovery
Relief from financial worries for Dennis
Protection during travel
Good spirits and emotional outlook for the family
Sweet friends and kind strangers, who has the heart to tell the news I have to share? I’ve sat down several times to update you. I have found it impossible, but we are sometimes called to do impossible things. You have loved my family, prayed for us, been generous with us in your time and your gifts. You deserve to know.
My brother Dennis is receiving cancer care to extend his life and make him as comfortable as possible, but we are no longer seeking curative care for him. He’s asked me not to talk about timelines, and I think that’s wise. Time and life are very mysterious even under normal circumstance.
He is about to start some radiation therapy as part of the life-extending care, and thankfully he can do that in-patient and in-state.
Our parents have been the most devoted, patient, willing caregivers I can imagine. In this exceptional time, they have been exceptional. As our family continues on this path, please continue to be thoughtful with them. Mom shares more specifics about Dennis’s situation on The Journey, but we don’t share everything. If she doesn’t say something, it’s usually because we’ve decided to keep that detail private. Thank you for loving them with the gift of sensitivity .
Fun Dennis Fact: he lets his 18 month nephew beat his knees with a balloon, blows bubbles for him, and keeps on eye on him all from the recliner where he spends most of his time. He is a very good uncle.
Update: We got to visit with Dennis on FaceTime. It was so good to see him! Until now, Dennis has been feeling too unwell for a visit and has been reserving his energy for medical procedures. We talked Star Trek, Firefly, and life for almost 30 minutes. He even felt well enough to joke. His cough (which is cancer-related) also seemed less severe. Unbelievably, he even had a bit of hair growth.
Dennis's immune system is compromised during this phase of chemo, so he has to be extra-careful about infection risks. This includes staying put in his hotel room as much as possible, and being hyper cautious about what he eats. Even fruit skins and yogurt are to be avoided. I've learned one thing: I have been taking my immune system for granted!
His PICC line has also had trouble, requiring more flushes than expected.
If you would like a once-daily update on Dennis with better detail, you're invited to our Facebook group The Journey, hosted by our mom Carol: https://www.facebook.com/groups/830044340703368
Prayer Requests: Speedy recovery from the chemo's negative side effects. A clear and functioning PICC line. Good spirits for all three of my family in Houston (Dennis, Tim, and Carol). Kind and competent medical professionals (these appear to be in short supply locally).
Fun Dennis Fact: Dennis usually calls, texts, or emails me a "Happy Ides" message on the 15th of every month.
In this photo, Dennis is opening Christmas gifts. This is probably his last Christmas as an only child. Look how happy he is!
When you have shared Dennis’s fundraiser, it’s more encouraging than coffee. I’ve been in mind of this quote from St. Jude founder Danny Thomas: “I'd rather have a million people give me a dollar than one give me a million. That way you've got a million people involved.”
Update: Dennis is Much Better after spending the weekend as an admitted patient being treated for chemo toxicity. The chemo was affecting his memory and his ability to discern reality, along with other side effects. The mental side effects are either gone or greatly diminished. We hope he will be discharged back into our parents’ care tomorrow.
If you would like once-daily updates with better detail, please join our group on Facebook.
Prayer requests: all the usual. But especially pray for competent and kind people around them.
Fun Dennis Fact: Dennis is a talented crocheter and crochet designer. I taught him about ten years ago, and he immediately surpassed me in skill and ingenuity. He has designed a shawl for me, a hapi coat for his brother-in-law, a truly gorgeous baby blanket for his nephew. He’s also participated in numerous lap blanket projects for disabled veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project.
In this photo, Dennis and his nephew are teaching one another how to burble.
Our parents have said that when the GoFundMe "share" numbers go up, it's an emotional boost. Thank you for sharing this once, twice, or more times. It's a way of telling us that we're not alone.
Update: Chemotherapy was originally scheduled to begin on May 9 (week ago yesterday), but there were all kinds of difficulties getting Dennis his PICC line. Once Dennis had his PICC line on May 13, he was able to begin his first round of outpatient chemo.
One of the side effects of the chemo can be significant disorientation, and this became severe enough that Dennis was admitted into the hospital proper so that he can have closer monitoring and IV fluids. Chemo is not nice medicine, as many of you know from your personal or family experience.
The upswing of Dennis's hospitalization is that it gives our parents a chance to rest. Until now, nearly all of Dennis's minute-to-minute needs have been met by our folks, Tim and Carol.
Prayer requests: relief from chemo side effects. Good rest for Tim and Carol. Kind and competent people everywhere. Help and encouragement for all three while they are in a strange city.
Fun Dennis Fact: Dennis's first car was a tiny silver decommissioned Japanese mail jeep, with a canvas top. Once during a blizzard in Misawa, Japan, teenage Dennis drove around the base, looking for stuck drivers he could help push out of the snowbanks. And he brought his 10-year-old sister along. Because!