My name is Trace Stokes, I am Director of Music at Pleasant Valley UMC in Chantilly VA. Erica Hirt is Director of Handbell ministry at PVUMC and was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in July and immediately began chemo treatment. With cancer treatment there are obviously extra expenses involved. This Go Fund Me page has been established with a hope to raise $$ to help Erica and her husband Dan as they continue this journey.
Below are two YouTube clips - Erica on bassoon and Erica directing PV bell choir. Additional details of her journey can be found via the posthope.org link below. I have also added one of her recent journal entries below.
Thank you for your support of my (our) friend Erica
Erica on bassoon
Erica and PV Bell Choir
Journal entries from Erica via Posthope.org
Not sure how to break this update up because so much has happened in the past 2 weeks, so I’ll just go backwards ☺️
I had cycle #3 yesterday and it wasn’t too bad. I was happy to find out I’ve gained 3 lbs, I’m on the right track! I had a new side effect of numbness in my legs, not my feet, just my legs. Thankfully that subsided overnight, but it was a weird feeling trying to walk the rest of the day. The neuropathy came back in full swing in my hands, but not in my feet which I’m grateful for. I was still there 5 hours for my infusions, but I could have made it to my afternoon classes so I think my next rounds will be half days off work to try and save up my leave. Sleeping with my pump is still difficult, but it’s only one more night! The nurse this time needed to use a lot more tape on my tubing so it’s extra itchy and there’s more pulling than before (plus my “leash” is shorter because of it), so it will be a relief to get it removed tomorrow.
Cycle #3 (a little more tired today ☺️)
I had my first acupuncture treatment this past Monday! A good friend recommended that it be done before chemotherapy to try to get ahead of the symptoms, so I scheduled it for 2 days before my treatment. I knew it worked when I got home and could grab things from the fridge without needles in my fingers! I couldn’t touch frozen things in the freezer, but I was grateful that refrigerated things were tolerable. On Friday and Saturday, I was experiencing the neuropathy in my fingers just from the 60-degree temperatures at a football game and marching band show (while wearing a heavy winter coat, gloves, and thick socks) so to be able to grab something from a 40-degree fridge was a blessing. My acupuncturist originally suggested that I come 2 times a week, but I thought it better to just go once a week. After having success after my first treatment, I want to experience what this next appointment could do for me, so I'm going again tomorrow as an experiment. After getting “pricked” they let you rest for 30-40 minutes while listening to music/napping and as I was laying there, I was overwhelmed at the gift that everyone had given me to receive these treatments. Even though I was pricked for the second time that day (after getting blood work done for my chemo) it genuinely felt like a gift to be there, so another heartfelt thank you to everyone who contributed.
As much as things are going well, there have been more difficult days. I’ll keep it brief, but I want to be transparent about my journey. On Sunday Dan accompanied me to the “Shenandoah Fiber Festival” where he was one of the few men there (what a trooper for me ) and I behaved and only picked out 5 skeins of yarn (colon cancer awareness blue of course!) Dan enjoyed meeting the alpacas and sheep that were the “suppliers” for some of the vendors, but I enjoyed looking at all the hand dyed yarns and trinkets. On the way home we passed Holy Cross Abbey and the natural cemetery that Dan and I had already picked out as our final resting place back in 2020. Dan knew of it because his company plants and maintains trees nearby to convert farm land to forests. At the time I had only seen one of three locations that they offer so since we were passing it we decided to go look at the location that I had picked out 2 years ago. Their “Meadow” is right next to the Shenandoah River and overlooks the Appalachian Mountains which is where I picked out for us to be for eternity. It was lovely and serene and everything that I wanted (granted it wasn’t right next to the river, but on the other side of a flood plain which Dan said was better not to be in ) and as much as it was nice to see and cross off the list, Dan and I had a difficult time walking through the meadow and had a lot of hard conversations. I didn’t want to be a 33 year old person looking for a grave site that Google and statistics tell me I’ll need within 5 years (even though my heart tells me I have 30-40 years) but it was a necessary difficulty.
Another difficult day was the Monday after my 2nd cycle. One of my goals has been trying to exercise more and I wanted to start with 20-minute walks and build up to 45 minutes. Just the second day I started this I had an incident of a loose dog running up to Shelby and I while we were in the middle of a cross walk. It got a little growly towards her and as I was trying to pull them to the sidewalk, I ended up falling a scuffing my leg and hands. I had a big meltdown over how weak I’ve become. Earlier this summer I would have been able to handle that situation with no problem but falling down and having such a hard time getting up was tough for me to deal with. Dan got home right when I did and because I was so close to my chemo treatment he couldn’t hold me (my blood/tears are full of the drug) so we had an affectionate forearm grasp while I shouted some obscenities. My wonderful therapist (my sister...who also doubles as my drug and blood consultant (I highly recommend everyone have a twin sister who not only knows you so well from your years of growing up together but also has a PhD in pharmacology)) recommended that Dan and I go on walks together so that he can help me if something like that happens again and I can still get my exercise (and feel like I’m contributing to Shelby’s care)
I had two other meltdowns this week-one over chemo anxiety the night before this last treatment and one after treatment when my PET scan needed to be rescheduled, but I’ll talk about that later
My third major update is that I got the genetic test back from my blood test (not my tumor biopsies yet). I don’t understand what most of the report means and I won’t talk to the geneticist until November so I asked my personal pharmacologist to write a summary: “A variant of unknown significance (VUS) was identified in my ATM gene. While the ATM gene is important enough to make the short list of cancer-related genes to test, there is not enough evidence to find my variant guilty of causing my cancer. I was pleased to learn that my BRCA2 and MSH3 genes, which a member of my dads family had VUSs identified within, were normal.” In short this variant could be responsible for my cancer, or it could not and this is just a abnormality for me to get. I’m hopeful the genetic testing on my tumor comes back and there may be more targeted treatments, possibly immunotherapy instead of chemotherapy, for me to receive.
Back to my PET scan-apparently one can not have contrast within 7 days of chemo. Originally I was supposed to have my PET scan on the 29th , but the facility I had it scheduled at has delays with renovating their radiology department (same facility that I had my MRI scheduled for at the beginning of August that was cancelled due to a power outage) and needed to reschedule. Thankfully I got an appointment for the 30th, but when I checked with my oncology nurse they investigated and told me I couldn’t have the contrast. I had a meltdown mostly over the disappointment that I couldn’t have the results from my PET scan in time for my next appointment with my oncologist on the 4th. I REALLY want to know if this cocktail of treatments is working. but after calling 3 "therapists" (Mom, Dan, and Melinda) I pulled myself together and got my scan rescheduled for October 11th, the day before my next chemotherapy appointment.
I think one of the reasons I’m getting so emotional is that I’m past the overwhelming time and busyness of my diagnosis and beginning of treatments and I’m in the “cycle” of blood work 2 days before treatment, treatment every 2 weeks and hoping for the best (minimal side effects, good enough numbers to get the treatment, etc.) and it’ll only get worse as I get further down this path and develop “scan anxiety” over if these treatments are (still?) working or not. There are other signs that are telling me I’m getting better, but I want evidence Especially for my liver. Now that I am feeling so much better, it’s hard looking back and realizing how sick I was back in July and August. I’m so thankful I started my testing when I did and my oncologist got me started on treatments as soon as possible.
If you made it this far I appreciate you reading my novel my next appointment is with my oncologist on the 4th. If there’s anything exciting I’ll post an update, but otherwise I won’t plan on posting until my next cycle on October 12th. Thank you for reading about my journey! ❤️