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Help Jorge Luque Fight Cancer

$33,745 of $60,000 goal

Raised by 338 people in 9 months
Created April 6, 2018
Lori Monasmith Hay
on behalf of Jorge Luque Martin
Imagine searching your whole life for meaning and a deeper purpose.  Imagine you find it in more ways than one.  You discover that God is calling you to serve him as a priest in the Orthodox Christian church and has, along the way, introduced you to a woman with whom to share this incredible journey!  A woman who has the same hopes and who has been waiting for you all of her life! You fit together beautifully in Christ's love and begin planning a life together.  Imagine you learn that you have a very aggressive form of cancer.  Imagine making sense of all the blessings paired with this awful news!

Please read Jorge's story of discouragement, hope, despair, and determination.  Please be a part of his hope, his blessing, and his healing. 

 
Jorge Luque Martin came from Spain 2 years ago to study for the priesthood at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, New York.  After two months there, he began suffering intense headaches and double vision with added blurriness.  To ease the pain, he could only find rest and sleep by sitting upright on a couch in the lounge of his dorm.  After 2 weeks, the abbot insisted he go to the hospital.  When it was clear to the nurses that he was having trouble filling out the intake forms, since he was not able to write his name due to the double vision, a mass in his brain was immediately suspected. Pain meds helped him get some rest that night. An MRI the following morning revealed that a tumor was surrounding the pituitary gland.

The following week, surgeons removed the rather large tumor in pieces through the nose.  The tissue of the tumor was “dead,” and the pathology of the biopsy was not sufficient to determine if it was a benign tumor or a cancer.  The neurosurgeon thought that in all likelihood it was a benign tumor.  Jorge was excited to return to normalcy, resuming his rigorous schedule of classes the next day after being discharged from the hospital, as well as church services, (at 6am every day,) and work . Right after his release, the Hawaiian Iveron Icon was at Jordanville and Jorge was blessed by venerating it.

At seminary, he was the happiest so far in his life and was determined to continue recovering, despite the fact he still suffered from a crossed eye and no peripheral vision.  Simple tasks like picking up a cup or pouring coffee proved difficult, so Jorge got creative and kept only one eye open.  As a result, he had no depth perception and fell more easily.  After a neurosurgeon and an ophthalmologist told him he would probably not regain normal sight, Jorge felt depressed and exhausted.

Other first year seminarians were planning a 6 hour road trip to New Jersey, and although Jorge was not feeling up to it, he joined them, not knowing a great blessing awaited him.  When they arrived, the Hawaiian Iveron icon was there, readily streaming myrrh from even the case.  He was thankful to venerate it again.  At lunch, a priest-monk looked at him and said, “You don’t know yet, but you will see that you are going to get a huge blessing from this trip.”

Less than 2 weeks later, Jorge travelled by train to his Wisconsin home parish for Christmas break.  While on the train, his eyes suddenly began seeing normally and were no longer crossed.  Glory to God!

However, just 1 ½ months after the surgery, Jorge began feeling pain in the tip of his nose.  The pain grew to an excruciating level when touched.  The pain was extremely intense and increased its coverage to the sinuses and head, causing a recurrence of headaches.  Jorge battled through the pain, not telling anyone, and finished his first year.

That summer, while at home with his Wisconsin family, a lump appeared on the nostril through which they had extracted the pituitary tumor.  Jorge continued the gardening work which he found was a good distraction from the pain.  Between strenuous gardening and pain meds, he was able to ignore the difficulties a little.  He visited some free clinics that told him he had either a serious sinus infection or MERSA and merely prescribed him antibiotics.  He was convinced the new growth was just a cyst.

On his return to Jordanville, he detoured through Indianapolis to meet a nice girl his godfather had told him about.  It was a short but sweet visit.  He thought Stefanida may just be the person he had waited for his whole life.  He was right.  But that’s another story.

When he reached Jordanville to begin his second year of studies, Jorge made an appointment with his ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor to get to the bottom of his new problems.  The ENT took a biopsy and at first glance was leaning toward a cancer diagnosis.  While waiting for confirmation, Jorge drove to Indianapolis to see Stefanida and fell in love. This visit bolstered his courage to endure the next trial.

A couple weeks later, Stefanida and her father drove to New York to be with him at his follow up appointment at which they learned it was indeed cancer.  Another 2 weeks later, Jorge underwent 8 hours of surgery to remove part of his nose.  Two weeks after that a 12 hour surgery to reconstruct his nose was done, using blood vessels and skin from an arm, skin from a leg, and bone from one of his ribs. 

Despite all this, Jorge decided to finish his first semester.

In January of this year, after doctors took a closer look at his pathology slides, his ENT called with news that there was a 50-100% chance the cancer would return and could be fatal.  In February, the cancer did reappear and seems to be growing quickly.  He is scared because the doctors so far have told him that the only course of action would be to remove his nose and then do radiation (which in that location has many lifelong consequences).  If he loses his nose he will no longer be able to be a priest.  He is looking for a way out of this long trial, a way to fulfill the vocation that he is called to.

Jorge and Stefanida (now fiancée) are seeking a second opinion at Mayo Clinic April 17th. This is a huge financial challenge as Jorge is an international student without health coverage, and even the most routine scans for his situation cost $5,000 to $10,000, and the initial consultation with multiple specialists costs $5,000.

Will you please help us help him?  Your prayers and monetary donations will be greatly appreciated by all who love Jorge and are touched by knowing him.

Offline donations may be by check mailed to:
     Elizabeth Kulp
     18426 Chezik Road
     Blue River, Wisconsin  53518

Please also consider sharing this page via social media so that we can spread the word further. Thanks!
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Update 43
Posted by Lori Monasmith Hay
23 days ago
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More photos of the End of Radiation Party - Stefanida's dad, Father Stevan Bauman and Jorge's godmother Matushka Elizabeth Kulp
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Update 42
Posted by Lori Monasmith Hay
23 days ago
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Dear Friends,

The radiation is finally over, as of Wednesday! We are so relieved. It really was a long haul. For some reason it was emotionally too hard to write to you while it was all going on, so here is your long-delayed letter now that it is over.

On Wednesday, as we were leaving the hospital from the final (!) treatment, I started asking Jorge what he wanted to do to celebrate. It was going to be something quiet, in any case, because he was not feeling good, but he interrupted me to explain the proper celebratory procedure: he wanted to be instantly transported to Jordanville, Blue River, Holy Cross and Pittsburgh, and then back here by evening. He wanted a party with no people (he wasn’t feeling up to people), and me wearing a silly party hat. He wanted 45 presents, all electronic devices…(!) I did make some of these things materialize… At the bottom you can see a couple of pictures from our “party without people” over dinner that evening.

For those of you who have been wondering, let me explain radiation a little bit (for those who aren’t, just skip on ahead!). It’s administered five days a week, in Jorge’s case for 32 sessions (we were originally told 30 and given a schedule of treatment that confirmed it. Believe me, it was a tough day when he went in thinking he only had three more treatments to go and was told that in fact he had to come two extra days!). Chemo, which is drugs injected into your system, is designed to treat cancer that has spread throughout the body; radiation, on the other hand, is directed specifically to the places where there is, or has been, cancer. Jorge’s cancer has been extremely aggressive in the nasal area and has drained into the lymph nodes, but it hasn’t spread beyond that, so he was given only radiation, and not chemo (he could have done some chemo because there’s evidence that it increases the effectiveness of radiation, but he declined).

Here’s a typical visit to the hospital for radiation. Jorge gets ready, which includes spending time cleaning the nasal cavity of accumulated scabs, etc. (a painful process, but necessary to keep it clear and because there’s a silicon device that gets inserted into the cavity during radiation). We drive downtown to the hospital, around back to a special entrance that’s mostly used by radiation patients. That is one thing that’s designed well: you just pull up to this entrance, valet parking is paid for, you hand over your keys and step inside to the elevator right inside the door that takes you down to the radiation waiting room (It would really add to the strain to have to park in the regular garage and walk through the long hospital corridors to each day’s appointment). After checking in and waiting a few minutes the radiation techs come to walk us back to the radiation machine, located in a special room with foot-and-a-half thick walls and doors (to protect those outside the room from the radiation). Jorge lies down on the table, a hard, narrow one that the machine rotates around when it’s in operation. To get ready he has to insert a few things: a small roll of cotton under his upper lip (the radiation doesn’t transmit as well through air as through skin; the little bit of air-filled cotton protects his gum a little bit from the radiation which is targeting the lip where the cancer was); a silicon form, molded to the shape of his nasal cavity into the cavity filling it (that has the opposite purpose of the cottton roll; it helps transmit the radiation to the back of the cavity which needs to be treated); and finally a block of foam that he has to hold between his teeth (I never did find out what that was for). Then they ease a mask over his head, lock it to the table (to hold his head still), and are ready to check by a scan to see if he’s in close enough to the right position to begin. If all goes well he’s in the right position on the first try and they can do the treatment straight away and the whole thing takes less than ten minutes. That happened once or twice. Other times the correct position is elusive and they have to make minute adjustments to his position over and over again, sometimes as many as a dozen times. We’re very thankful that they’re taking care to direct to radiation exactly to the place where it needs to go, but I don’t know how Jorge stands all that lying there and being adjusted over and over again. Once the treatment is complete the techs come in, release the mask, collect the other paraphernalia, and we’re free to go home, until tomorrow.

Jorge started feeling the effects of the radiation right away. At first it was strong fatigue and a nasty, metallic taste in his mouth. Later all food started tasting horrible and his stomach was upset, to the point that he could hardly force himself to eat even a few bites. He lost six pounds in the first three days without appetite, and I was really worried about it going on at that rate. It evened out though, and overall he lost about 16 pounds. The radiation burned his skin, leaving it red and sore in some places and an unusual dark color in others. In his mouth the effects were stronger--open sores on the inside of the lip and his gum, extremely dry mouth, sore throat, etc. In the nasal cavity the edges have been raw and crusting and painful, increasingly so as radiation has progressed. Towards the end of radiation the fatigue and weakness have been pretty extreme, to the point where (along with the other symptoms) he said it felt like his body was dying.

It took a lot of courage for Jorge to go in for those radiation treatments each day, and lie there passively, knowing that what they were doing was damaging his body, and that afterwards he would really feel the harmful effects.

In the week or so before the beginning of radiation Jorge was visibly developing growths in the nasal cavity, and they were growing and changing from day to day. Within the first week of starting radiation they were gone, which is very encouraging. We had been told by one doctor that this type of cancer is often not very responsive to radiation, and the disappearance of those growths is visual evidence that the cancer has been responding to it.

Already, just two days after finishing radiation, Jorge’s starting to feel better. He’s having a foretaste of returning energy, and today he ate half an omelette for breakfast! Believe me, we cheered about that! There were days during radiation where he ate two bites or less the whole day… He’s starting to get some of his taste back, too. That’s very encouraging, because there was a possibility that it could all be gone permanently.

Thank you all so much for your prayers. I know many of you were wondering where things were at and what was going on--thank you for your patience! It’s such a relief to have the radiation over with, but of course going ahead there are many, many unknowns, so we ask for your continued prayers. Basically the next step (apart from a few checkups in the meantime) will be a PET scan in three months to try to assess if there is any cancer at that time. We are also working on applying for a green card for Jorge; we see a lawyer in two weeks and will submit the paperwork after that.

We love you all, and thank you for your love.
Stefanida and Jorge
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Update 41
Posted by Lori Monasmith Hay
2 months ago
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Jorge began radiation treatments this past week. Please continue praying for him and Stefanida. Thank you!
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Update 40
Posted by Lori Monasmith Hay
3 months ago
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The latest:

Dear Friends,

This has probably been the most challenging week thus far, at least emotionally. For myself one part is the fact that Jorge continues to have pain and exhaustion and other symptoms (swelling around the eyes for example) without us knowing exactly what's causing it, that's quite scary. Since we're married and much closer than we were everything impacts me much more emotionally than it did before. But for Jorge, in addition, he's just deeply discouraged by the loss of his nose and the fact that he doesn't seem to regain the strength to do anything--even the smallest thing, like washing a few dishes, feels like too much and brings on a headache. And now we're coming up on radiation very quickly.

On Monday we met with the radiation doc. It was a very difficult appointment. For one thing, he mentioned a new potential side effect or two (possible hearing loss, possible neck stiffness). For another it brings all the other side effects and losses from the radiation very close. And of course there's still a reasonably large chance of the cancer returning, even with radiation. At any rate, that appointment was something that Jorge especially, but both of us, have been reeling from ever since.

On Thursday we met with the ENT, who had nothing to add in terms of the overall picture of what they proposed for treatment (we didn't expect he would), but also had nothing to say about the things Jorge is experiencing now, like the pain and the swelling around the eyes. He literally said, "I have no comment on that"!! He's focused on following the procedures that are the "standard of care" in this situation, and outside of that doesn't have anything to say. I think he feels he's run out of options--he doesn't feel he can operate more even if more cancer were to be found, doesn't have any other options, and thinks Jorge needs to go ahead with radiation no matter what, and that's what they have to offer. It does make you realize that your reliance needs to be on God, not on men, but it's hard to develop faith in Him fast enough!

So at this point the plan is as follows: appointment to model for the radiation on Monday, and also a root canal that same day (before radiation it's important to have your teeth in good health). Then radiation starting about a week after that. Please pray for strength for this, because it's going to be very challenging.

Other things in our lives--two weeks ago we went to Holy Cross Monastery in West Virginia for the first time. We were very warmly received, and they told us they pray for Jorge every day there. It was their annual pilgrimage, and also the Hawaiian Iveron icon of the Mother of God was there. Jorge's eyesight was healed through that icon about two years ago, after he had a pituitary tumor (unrelated to the subsequent cancer, evidently) that left him with crossed eyes, blurry and double vision, etc. Of course we prayed earnestly about the whole situation.

Out of the blue someone offered to pay for plane tickets for us to visit Jorge's family in Spain. What an incredible offer! We were working it all out--figuring out the dates when we had a window in treatment, a way we could go to Santiago de Compostela as well as to his family, etc., when we found out that there was a problem with his visa and he might well not be able to come back into the country if we left! So that was the end of that plan. The visa issue has since been resolved, but now the window is gone... One has to take it as God's providence in some way that we can't see, but it would have been such a consolation in a difficult time to be able to go.

We're settling in more and more into the beautiful little house where we're living. I'm working on various things for the Christmas Market at our church next month. I'll include a couple of house pictures and the development of the large paper star (it will be illuminated from the inside) that will hang from the rafters in the hall during the Market.

One friend asked me what she could do to help us in addition to praying. I honestly don't know; we don't particularly need meals or something traditional like that. I appreciate very much those of you who write notes and check in on us (and still love us when I don't answer right away!). So much of what we're dealing with is the emotional side--trying to learn how to deal with fears, losses, and so on--and I don't have enough experience to know other ways people can help with that, although I'm sure they can. Maybe those of you with more experience in these areas do know.

In any case, your continued love and support for us mean a very great deal, and we thank you. We are very rich in friends. I don't even want to imagine going through this without all of you.

With love,

Stefanida and Jorge
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$33,745 of $60,000 goal

Raised by 338 people in 9 months
Created April 6, 2018
Lori Monasmith Hay
on behalf of Jorge Luque Martin
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