#RichardsArmy Against Lymphoma
Because of the treatments, which will consist of 5 continuous days in the hospital every three weeks, we have increased our goal to cover the additional lodging, meals, gas, and any other roadblocks we come across for the next several weeks. While having friends offer their homes, Jess found it easiest to stay at a hotel close so she could be at the hospital quickly if needed.. God has been good throughout this entire process, and we know that no matter what, He will provide.
On April 10th, I saw a family practitioner about a sinus infection due to allergies. Little did I know that a simple question of "can you check this bump on my abdomen?" would dramatically change my life in every way possible.
In the past two weeks, my rockstar wife and I have been in and out of labs, procedures, CT & PET scans, all to find out that at age 33, I have been diagnosed with B-cell Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
With every appointment comes a cost. With every procedure comes a cost. With every trip, meal, treatment, a cost that we didn't prepare for. A cost that we couldn't prepare for.
As much as my pride wants me to keep this to myself and just deal with it, I have asked God to soften my heart. To let me allow people to help. To ask people to help.
Yes. We are asking for help. Whether it's prayer, reaching out, or helping offset costs associated with this diagnosis, we are thankful for any and all of the support we will receive. The only reason our hearts are where they are is because of the support we've had. Our goal is to help offset 2017 & 2018 Out of Pocket costs, as we know this fight will continue, even past 2018.
So. Again. My family and I say thank you for your support. For your prayers. For your blessings.
God is good.
#RichardsArmy Against Lymphoma - The Blog
God is good. I haven't said it enough. I don't think I ever can.
We got home from Round 3 of chemo around 11:30pm on Saturday evening. I have to take time to thank God for two of my biggest supporters.. my fantastic, beautiful, absolutely incredible wife, Jessica--- and her equally awesome twin, Joan-- for taking the week to help out with the girls while I was doing treatment again. Joan would wake up around 4:30-5:00am and get her work done for the day and be available to watch the girls with Jess. These women that I have in my life are rockstars.
Monday morning, we were up bright and early to get to my first appointment at 7:45am at MD Anderson. Everything moved extremely smoothly the first day. Bloodwork, follow-up appointment, and then the usual-- waiting for a room to open up.
I haven't gotten to see my oncologist since my first appointment, but from everything I've been told-- we're moving along nicely. They did, however, increase the dosage on my chemotherapy this round-- as is expected. We received a few different reasons, and they both almost make sense.
1) We have to make sure the dosage I'm receiving is relative to my body size/weight. For example, the dosage Jessica would receive would obviously not the the same for me. That number will have to change and they are trying to get the number just right.
2) My body has been responding really well post-chemo. My white blood cell & red blood cell counts have been rebounding fairly quickly... which is great for me and my general health-- but this also means there's a chance that the cancer cells are doing the same. Sooo an adjustment had to be made. Dosage goes up, body goes down, cancer goes away. Totally down with that.
After my follow-up appointment around 12:30, we went down to get "admitted" which usually means wait 4-5 hours until a room opens up. This time, however, a room was immediately available. I was able to get all of my things from the hotel and go straight back to the hospital to start the treatment. This made life so much easier, as I was able to receive the Rituxan during the day rather than like before, which has been in the middle of the night. My sleep schedule was very thankful. In what's been the norm, my great buddy Jon Mills came and stayed the first night with me to make sure everything went smoothly.
One of my biggest issues with round 2 was because of my Med schedule. I was receiving all of my meds around 6:30-7:00am before I had breakfast and it put me in a downward spiral for the day. With the change in times for round 3, the nausea was kept under control with my meds being administered around 8:00pm.
Friday and Saturday I began struggling with back aches & migraines, so they added pain meds to my scheduled meds. These are more than likely due to the lumbar puncture procedure that's done during the week. Pain meds help with the back pain, but the migraines feel like my brain is loose. Really. An intense pressure on the back of the neck as well as feeling like my brain needs to be held in place with my hands.
This has been been an ongoing issue since I've gotten back home. I've been pumping fluids, taking meds, and adding in caffeine for the headaches, but when I'm upright, my head gets extremely clammy and it feels like I need to clamp my hands to my head at all times. This is not enjoyable. Not one bit.
Today has been rough. I hate that I can't be productive. I want to be working with my staff on the last few days of camp, but as soon as I stand up, my body is telling me it's a bad idea. I've reached out to my doctors to figure out what I need to do next, because this is not a good situation. Please pray for these symptoms to subside.
My doctor has me keeping a better eye on my blood levels that I'm having done twice a week at Marble Falls. If some of my levels drop, they definitely don't want me to be around campers/counselors for a few days because of my immune system being non-existent. It's a situation that is tough, because it's great for beating cancer, not for being a camp director. Thank God I have a team that has been so supportive of my battle and has been with me every step. When I have felt weak, the full-time staff at CBS is always there to pick me up. They know that I want to be with them, but won't allow me to be stubborn and try to fight through it. Jess and I are extremely grateful to be here with them.
The good news is, again, we're halfway there. Round 4 will be in a few weeks and Jessica's parents are coming down to help us out for those few days. Jessica is sending out tshirts to those who ordered & paid for them, and again-- I can express my gratitude for all of the support and prayers we've received. I can't imagine trying to do this alone. I can't imagine doing this without my faith.
I've had the opportunity to speak to our high school programs each term about my cancer and my spiritual growth because of it. Recently, I had a camper ask me a question that hit me like a ton of bricks.
"It seems like you've grown tremendously from this battle with cancer. Do you wish you never had it?"
It's easy to wish that cancer never happened. It would make life easier. It would make my job easier. It would make being a husband and father easier, . It would certainly make every third week easier.
But the answer is no. I don't. This is a part of God's story for me. Like I've said before, this is my why. This is why I am here. This is how I'm connecting with people. This is not an accident and this is not the end of a story. God has shown his hand in every part of this and His hand will finish it. I am along for the ride praising His name through it.
I have nothing to be angry for. I have everything to be thankful for. For another day. For my family. For my friends. For His Grace. God is good, friends. When I am weak, He is strong. Halfway there. Let's go.
Guilty. I've said it before. I've heard it throughout this process of my battle.
And it's completely false.
Let me explain..
This week kicked my butt. I mean flat out wore me down, broke my stomach, my brain, and my heart for a little bit.
Everything that I didn't have happen in the first round? Yeah. It happened.
The loss of appetite. The shivering cold for no reason. The nausea.. oh the nausea. It all happened.
For three days, I didn't want to get out of bed. I couldn't eat. I actually wanted to throw up to make my stomach feel better. A few times I did throw up just to make myself feel better. For a minute.
This is not how I envisioned beating cancer. I had it in my mind that I would be a gladiator, holding up the severed head of my opponent known as cancer, valiantly strolling through the coliseum screaming "Is there no one else?!"
Good in theory, not so much in reality.
God knew exactly what he was doing.
He put this on my plate for a reason.
A major one? To humble me.
Below is a picture of my tumor as a side view of my body.
As a reference point, that thing at the top of the screen is my (normal, functioning brain). This was taken May 4th. This thing WAS massive. But now? I don't feel it any more. I don't have the side effects I previously had. God is working in me daily. Not only on my spirit, but in my body. Prayers are working. God is GOOD. This has nothing to do with me. Not with where I'm getting treatments, but by the grace of God.
This gets me back to my original point. God will put things on our plate that we cannot handle. He does that to make sure we know who is really in control. He did this for me because He knew that I would love the thought of doing this FOR ME. That selfishness in me that says "Yeah God you're great-- but I've got this." It's that (former) athlete in me that still wants my name in the paper.
For me-- this is a situation I couldn't possibly handle on my own. I couldn't handle it with an army. But with God? It's possible. Like the nausea. Like the loss of appetite. Like the loss of energy. It's all manageable once you know that there is a greater glory because of it.
In my biggest trial, my worst situation, my absolute worst feeling as a human PALES in comparison to what Jesus went through. My biggest struggle is a blip on a radar.
But in these moments; In the moments when I'm at my weakest, I know Him. I'm closer to Him. It's when He is near. It's when He is beside me saying "Lean on me. I've got you. I will carry you through this. Trust me. Lean on me."
I'm back at home now. I'm with my army. I'm with the greatest support I could ever imagine. And I'm invigorated. I'm 1/3 of the way done with my treatments. I know that things will not get easier, I know that struggles are ahead. But again.. I know there is a greater glory working. I know that He is working in my life and with every person that reads this and takes something away.
Thank your for your thoughts. Thank you for your prayers. They are working for me. They are working in me. They are working for our family.
If you're the praying type, please pray for the next two weeks. Being at camp is not the ideal situation (for my doctors) for me. I tell them that the reason I am strong is because of this place. Because of these people. This is why my spirits are high. Because I am filled every single day.
But it is a haven for infection. Please pray for health. For strength. For side effects to be minimal.
If you're not the praying type. Please keep reaching out. This means the world to Jess and I. We love the words of encouragement. The messages, the letters, the videos. We love it. Our support is phenomenal.
Jessica and I had an incredible realization that God has been preparing our hearts for this moment for many many months. Some of our favorite songs in the past few months, and even the THEME SONG for the camp that we learned about in November, all had a central theme that could have been written about our situation. God was strengthening our hearts. He was preparing the words that I wouldn't have He knew. Man...
God is huge. God is bigger than this.
And He is moving, friends. That's for being on this ride with us. We are thrilled to see where it leads.
That's all I've been praying for. Father God, give me a chance to fight. Allow me an opportunity to fight for my girls, my family, and my faith.
Jessica, my mom, and I came to Houston last night with tense hearts, ready for answers with our appointments set for this afternoon.
My brother Robert drove in from Oklahoma City to be here with me for my first appointment. It was awesome to have him here so he could ask questions for me and Jessica could take notes during the appointments. My mom didn't feel like she could keep it together, so she stayed at our friend Brittany's house to watch the girls.
Our first appointment was meeting with a young doctor, who was a fellow for my oncologist. He was a young doctor who was great for us. He went over the diagnosis, which as of right now, is Plasmablastic Lymphoma. We were already under the impression that this would be the diagnosis. Like we were told, it is a very rare form of lymphoma, to which normal chemotherapy treatments are not effective, such as R-CHOP and CHOP.
Jessica and I both followed the rabbit hole of the internet searching Plasmablastic Lymphoma.. and DON'T DO IT. It was terrifying. There is such little data on it that the prognosis is insanely grim. The crazy part about it is that most cases involve patients that are HIV+. (BTW- I DO NOT HAVE THE HIV.) Our doctor said they don't know what causes lymphoma, but I did come back positive for mono (at some point), so they believe that this lymphoma may have derived from that, and is still be fed by it..
Anyways-- we spoke at length of what was going on in my body, got to see slides from the PET scan, and generally danced around the diagnosis. I asked him-- can it be treated?
His answer was what we needed. What we hoped for.
Yes. We can treat this.
Thank you, sweet Jesus.
The hope is what I wanted. The opportunity to fight has been given to me. God's grace. God's love. God's answered prayers all showed up at once.
It's not going to be easy, it's not going to be fun, but who cares!? They're saying that we can fight.
We met with 8 different people in all, doing bloodwork, chest x-rays, consultations, people asking if I would participate in research studies.. everything imaginable while trekking across MD Anderson. But the entire day was filled with optimism. Every person we spoke with gave the same feeling of hope. Of victory.
So.. starting next Friday, I will be starting an 18 week chemotherapy cycle. I will be spending five days at a time in the hospital for my treatments, doing a program called EPOCH. It is very intensive, with each day being a little more difficult than the day before. The dosage will be bumped up daily to kill the cancer cells. The doctors felt that this would be extremely effective because of my age, strength, and overall health. God is good.
After the five days of treatment, I'll take two weeks off, while doing labs two times a week back at home, hoping to build stem cells, get strong, just to head back to Houston and do it all over again.
Once the cycle is complete, barring any setbacks, I will have a procedure done called Autologous Stem-Cell Transplantation. I will go in for 3-7 days while they take healthy stem cells from my body. Once they have an ample amount of stem cells, I will be admitted for 3-4 weeks to do an extremely high dosage of chemotherapy to kill off all of the cancer, as well as the stem cells in my body, basically killing off my immune system. Once they finish the treatment, they basically reboot my system by pumping the healthy stem cells back into my body.
Science is crazy, right?
The only snag we ran into was that my insurance will not cover this procedure being done at MD Anderson. The hope is that we can go across the street to Houston Methodist and finish off the treatments there.
While this puts a little more pressure on us with the consecutive days out of summer camp and work for Jess and I, we feel extremely confident about the outcome. To be honest, I told my brother that I left my appointments feeling like I was in pre-game for sports. I'm ready. I'm excited to fight.
Guys.. God is real. He is huge. And He is good. And He has been present during this entire situation. When things looked terrible. When we were told that the outlook did not look good, He simply said "Be Still..."
God's will is bigger than we'll ever understand, and His love for us is unending. All you have to do is be still. Wait for Him to show up. Because when you do, He shows exactly what you need.
Father, God. Thank you. Thank you for another day not promised. Thank you for the opportunity to share your love. Thank you for the opportunity to share your grace. Thank you for putting so many people in my life that believe in You, Your will, and Your ability to show up when Your army comes out with a force. Please continue to show Your face when situations look rough. Let us remember that no matter what, your will is perfect, and for that, I thank you and love you. Amen.
There have been so many great days for Jess and I. I have not been showing any symptoms that the doctors are saying I should be having for Stage 3 cancer. On Friday, I got really frustrated with feeling like I was supposed to be sick... my owner could see it as well and she kicked me out of the office to go play golf. It was awesome to get out and just play. Being in the course, not thinking about work was great for me.
We had several visitors over the weekend, including a trip down to Camp from my mom. She has struggled knowing her baby boy is sick, naturally. I think her being here and seeing me being active, still being a goober has helped. I keep reassuring her that I feel great and I'm ready to fight.
With that being said-- there have been some rough times. A few nights ago, Jess started doing some research on the specific type of lymphoma I have and got really discouraged. There is just so little information that from what is there, is really scary. So much doesn't make sense because of the lack of symptoms. But.. here's my thing--- with the information that we've seen, there hasn't been anybody as healthy, strong, or young as me that's willing to fight. Give me a shot to fight and I'm going to win.
We head to Houston tomorrow evening after work. My first appointment at MD Anderson is at 1:00pm on Thursday. They have told us to prep to be there for 5-10 days so they can create a plan of care. A great friend of ours is allowing us to use her home for as long as we need, and for that, we are unbelievably blessed. My brother Robert is coming down as well to be there with me.
Please keep us in our prayers in the next few days. MD Anderson will be redoing a lot of tests to ensure that the diagnosis is correct. We are at the best place possible for treatment.
The support, again, has been unbelievable. We are so thankful for the prayers. Our hearts and minds have been at ease because of the positivity and prayers coming our way.
We feel God moving in our lives and especially, in our hearts.
We feel that He is in control.
I feel like something big is about to happen. I am ready.
My heart hurts and is over joyed on your progress. Know exactly what you are going through. Up and down ... Up and down. Hope they can figure out some of your symptoms. Richard ... you are God's warrior !! You are on this Earth to "kick some butt". He is giving you the strength and knowledge to keep going. Because cancer hit me and my son, we asked the same question .. "Why me?" Today, that question is over and done with. We live our days helping others understand the horrible "C" word. Son is still fighting, but everything is positive right now. He's able to live a "somewhat" normal life of a 23 year old. Good to hear him sing and laugh ... really missed it. Stay strong my friend. Hope to hookup with you when we are down there in August. (((HUGS))) and PRAYERS !!!!
the Weast Family is continuing to pray for you and your family!