Thankful Along the Journey

November 21, 2015

As we head into Thanksgiving week, I continue to be thankful for the prayers and support of each of you which undergird my ongoing medical treatment. My hope is that the next few weeks will be less eventful than the past few.

Let me update you….

Three weeks ago I was diagnosed with a touch of pneumonia and also began having issues with my kidney drains clogging on several occasions. The week culminated with a spike in my fever and a late night trip to the emergency room which ended with a two night stay in the hospital where it was discovered that my kidneys had developed a yeast infection. This past Friday I had a surgical procedure to replace all of my internal kidney drains/tubes to ensure that all of the yeast infection was eliminated.

Last Sunday we flew to Pittsburgh for my every three month check up with my neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Getting to Pittsburgh was quite an ordeal! I’m still struggling mightily with shortness of breath, so wheelchair transport in the airports was greatly appreciated. I am now on oxygen at home, primarily at night, so we were fortunate that oxygen was able to be delivered to our hotel room for use while there.   Draining my chest catheter daily and irrigating both of my kidney drains three times a day takes many medical supplies… which alone took up an entire suitcase! Our son, Daniel, drove over from DC to help us out, and Ellie was once again amazing in all of her nurse duties!

Thankfully, the effort was worth it! Tests with the neurologist confirmed that there are no brain tumors present. All of the previous treatment has been effective in keeping them from returning. Needless to say, we are extremely thankful for the good news.

While in Pittsburgh we also had the opportunity to meet with an oncologist who is the head of the Breast Cancer Center at UPMC. His consultation was also very reassuring. He confirmed that my current course of treatment has been very appropriate, and he discussed with us a number of options which are coming down the road for future treatment.

So… on we go in this journey. Needless to say, we were relieved with the good reports in Pittsburgh. At the same time, I’m still dealing with continual fluid buildup around my lungs and the extreme shortness of breath that accompanies it. Because of my breathing issues my lifestyle is significantly impacted…. even going up the stairs at home is a monumental effort!

Nevertheless, on this Thanksgiving week, I continue to be overwhelmed with gratitude for so many blessings in the midst of this disease. During my sixteen year battle with cancer your prayers and encouragement have been invaluable along the way.

Along with that, I continue to be grateful for amazing medical treatment, for an incredible family, and, most of all, for a God who never deserts us even in the midst of our struggles.

Thanksgiving is a time for being grateful, and even in the midst of my illness I am keenly aware of all of the blessings surrounding me. We live in a broken world, and I join you in praying for all those whose lives are affected by that brokenness. May God be present in each person’s life to bring hope and comfort and peace.




Challenges Along the Journey

October 31, 2015

It has been over a week since I have been home from the hospital, but I have to be honest and let you know that my recovery has been slow at best.

Fatigue and weakness have been my primary issues, and my shortness of breath and accompanying cough have kept me from being able to do much exercise in my recovery. The shortness of breath is primarily the result of fluid which continues to build up around my lungs. I have a chest drain on one side which Ellie and I drain at home every 2-3 days.   I go to the hospital every Friday to have the other side drained in a procedure known as thoracentesis.

I’m also having to learn how to live with external kidney drains which I will very likely have for the rest of my life. To top it all off, I have just begun a new chemotherapy which is more toxic and causes more nausea and fatigue. Our hope, however, is that after a few rounds of this new chemo I may be able to internalize my kidney drains and not have to deal with the external drains anymore. That’s the hope!

In the meantime, there are bright spots in the midst of my physical issues. I continue to be overwhelmed by the level of medical care I am receiving. I’m so grateful for the insurance you provide to all your full time staff through the PC(USA) Board of Pensions. It has been invaluable.

I hate to single out particular people, but I will say that the professional care as well as the personal attention I have received at Georgia Cancer Specialists as well as Northside Radiology at Northside Hospital has been incredible. I have no doubt that I am surrounded by a team of competent, caring medical personnel.

On top of that, I’m grateful for the continued support and prayers I receive from each of you. The cards, the emails, the texts are all confirmation that I am not facing the battle alone. That means more than you can begin to know!

My family has been wonderful through this, and I’m so grateful for their support and encouragement. But most of all, I want to make sure you know how amazing Ellie has been. She is an outstanding nurse… irrigating my kidney drains daily, draining my lung fluid several times a week; checking and redoing bandages regularly; driving me to far too many doctor’s appointments. Caring for me is more than a part time job for her!

But even more, she has been my greatest support throughout this journey. She is there when my tears flow, and she is there when I need an encouraging word. She continues to be my rock, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I am absolutely confident that God is at work in all of these ways…. Through the medical staff, through each of you, through my family, and through the incredible care Ellie gives to me.

Cancer is brutal, but I’m not finished fighting it. This current setback is just that… a setback. It’s taking longer than I had wanted, but I am confident that I will regain my strength, and I will be back to some semblance of normalcy in my life.

In the meantime, thanks for allowing me to be honest with you! We’re family, and we share the celebrations as well as the challenges. I’m facing one of those life challenges right now, but with God’s help there will soon be a time of celebration.

I remind myself every day, and I hope you remember as well, that God is with us every step of the way!


In the Hospital… Again!

October 18, 2015

Except for visiting church members, I have carefully avoided hospitals for most of my life… until the past month, anyway!

I need to update you on my latest hospital stay.   A week ago last Friday I came in for some outpatient procedures which included a routine follow-up to my echocardiogram. The follow-up proved to be anything but routine!   It turns out there was a large amount of fluid in the sac around my heart which was making it difficult for my heart to pump effectively.

I was immediately admitted for monitoring, and on this past Monday I had surgery to cut a “window” in the sac around my heart to let the fluid drain off. The surgery was successful, but a by-product of the process was that I ended up retaining over 40 pounds of fluid throughout my entire body!   I’ve always been a little overweight, but by Wednesday I was looking like the Pillsbury Doughboy!

For the past few days, they have been carefully monitoring my medicine as they allow my body to get rid of that fluid. I’ve lost about 45 pounds in a little more than two days!

For now I’m still a patient at Northside Hospital, and they are continuing to monitor my kidney function and make some decisions about internalizing my kidney drains. I’m weak, but I’m working hard at walking regularly to keep some semblance of strength! Hopefully, I’ll be going home sometime the middle of this week.

The good news is that all of my current issues are entirely treatable, and I have an incredible team of medical folks working hard to restore a measure of health to my life. I’m so very thankful for the amazing medical care I am receiving.

I was grateful that you were able to give your new Interim Pastor such a warm welcome this morning. Mark Brewer is an outstanding minister, and I am so glad he will be leading this special family we call the Roswell Presbyterian Church!

In the meantime, Ellie and I continue to give thanks for your prayers, your support, your cards, and your words of encouragement. I wish I could thank each of you individually, but I hope you know how meaningful all of your love and concern has been. This continues to be a challenging journey, but with your support and God’s strength we’re going to make it… one day at a time!



Home From the Hospital

September 30, 2015

A week ago last Saturday Ellie and I went to the emergency room because I was experiencing shortness of breath and chest pains. A number of tests determined that my heart was fine… the pain was most likely GI related.

Those tests, however, highlighted a significant issue which had just arisen. My creatinine level, which measures kidney function, had risen very quickly to an alarming level. I wasn’t in kidney failure, but left undetected, I was headed in that direction.

Yesterday, after eleven days in the hospital, I was able to come back home with the confidence that my creatinine levels are normal and there appears to be no long term damage to my kidneys. Apparently the problem was caused by the extended rounds of treatments I have received over the past few years. In other words, this isn’t a sign of the spread of cancer, but it is the result of the cancer treatment.

I have come home with two external drains to my kidneys… an uncomfortable remedy, to be sure, but a highly effective one! The plan is that a week from Friday I will return to the hospital to have these drains internalized. We have every reason to believe this process should successfully treat my kidney issues.

In the meantime, I am continuing with my chemo treatments and still dealing with fluid buildup around my lungs.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support. Eleven days in the hospital have drained what little energy I had, and I look forward to spending the next weeks resting, recuperating, and building my strength back.

Once again I am hugely grateful for the incredible medical team which is providing me with such phenomenal care. I’m very blessed.

I am also so very grateful for the support and prayers of my church family and friends. Above all, however, I’m thankful for my personal family. God blessed me in special way with Ellie and our children!   I couldn’t get through this without them.

For now, I’m at home taking it easy and scheduling follow-up doctor’s visits and procedures! Hospitals are great when you need them, but it really is true… there’s no place like home!


Mixed News on the Health Front

August 5, 2015

The last week has been especially eventful in my continuing health journey, and I have some good news and some not so good news to share.

First, the good news…. Ellie and I have just travelled to Pittsburgh for my three month check up with my neurologist who has treated my brain metastasis in the past. The good news is that there are currently no more brain tumors, and therefore there is no need for the Gamma Knife surgery!!! Needless to say, we are extremely relieved and grateful!

However, there is also some not so good news to share as well. In the past month, my tumor marker has continued to rise, and last week my oncologist scheduled a PET scan to see what is going on with my cancer. The scan showed that in several of the sites where previously there was disease, the cancer has shrunk or has gone away completely. However, for the first time ever, there are now several small tumor spots in my liver.

While we were not thrilled with this news, we do know that it is still treatable.   As you may know, I have been on a newly approved drug called Ibrance which has had mild side effects. Because of these new spots in my liver, I will be going back on an IV chemo beginning this coming Monday. I’ll keep you posted on the side effects as I experience them.

I continue to deal with pleural effusion, the build up of fluid around my lungs, which leaves me short of breath. Hopefully moving to this new IV chemo will help curtail the fluid.

So the news is mixed… we’re grateful for the great news about my brain, but disappointed that it has spread to my liver and that I will be going back on chemo next week.

Ellie and I continue to be so thankful for the incredible medical care I am receiving, and we are overwhelmed with gratitude for the thousands of prayers which surround us on this journey.

Your love, your prayers, and your support mean more than you can ever know to both of us.




June 16, 2015

In his remarks about me on Sunday in worship, Doug Coe commented on my “excellent command of the English language.” There may have been a handful of times in my ministry when that was the case, but today is not one of them.

The fact is I am at a loss for words to express my feelings about Sunday’s celebration. Overwhelmed is the only word that comes close to expressing my thoughts and emotions. For over twenty years, I have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of care and support that you have expressed for me, and once again on Sunday I was overwhelmed by your outpouring of love.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what shape I would be in headed into Sunday. I was coming off of a stay in the hospital, and I was being treated all last week for a slight infection which left me tired and exhausted. I was so thankful for the opportunity to worship with you, and, thanks to a sturdy stool, I was thankful for the chance to preach one more time. I ended up spending Sunday afternoon and most of Monday recuperating, but I can assure you that whatever energy I used for Sunday morning was well worth it! I am so glad I was able to share in the festivities!

There are so many, many people whom I want to thank for making the day possible, and I apologize in advance if I leave any one or any group off of the list. I’m grateful for the Personnel Committee and for their hard work in organizing the day; for the amazing staff with whom I had the privilege to work and for everyone who put in such an effort for the morning; for the numbers of volunteers who swept in after the celebration to prepare the campus for Vacation Bible School that afternoon; for Lyndsay Slocum, Penny Hill, Bill Powell, Doug Coe, Nancy Turner, and Emily Wright for the kind words they had to say; for my family who made the weekend so very special; and for each of you who made the day so very, very extraordinary.

I am so thankful for the over twenty years I was privileged to serve with you, and I’m grateful to God for all of the work that was done in and through the Roswell Presbyterian Church in those years. I have been blessed to have shared in that ministry with you.

I started a brand new medicine on Monday which has just been approved by the FDA. It has shown very promising results for my type of cancer with very few side effects. One significant impact of this new medicine is that it means I won’t be on IV chemotherapy with all of its debilitating effects. I’m praying that this medicine will have good results in my treatment, and that I’ll be able to spend the summer rebuilding my strength and my stamina!

So… on we go. Headed into the summer but still basking in the glow of Sunday.

I wish Doug were right, and I had some clever turn of phrase to express my feelings. But for now… this will have to do. With thanks to God and to each of you, I’m overwhelmed!


Looking Forward to June 14th!

June 6, 2015

Ellie and I are looking forward to being with you on June 14th as we join together in a celebration of the ministry and mission of the Roswell Presbyterian Church.

In the meantime, many of you know I spent a couple of days in the hospital this week, and I wanted to give you an update on my health. For several months, I have been receiving a chemotherapy drug called Gemzar. The good news is that it has been effective in my cancer treatment! The bad news is that it has some pretty strong side effects.

This past Tuesday, after receiving my treatment, I developed a fever which, after consulting with my doctor, sent me to the emergency room. They admitted me to the hospital where they were able to run tests to determine the cause in the spike in my temperature. After ruling out a number of issues, I was discharged on Thursday morning and have returned home feeling much better than when I went in on Tuesday night. I’m still dealing with side effects of my treatment, but nothing that’s going to keep me away from next Sunday!

My chemo schedule has been two weeks on and one week off, and next week was supposed to be my off week. As it turns out, I have just been approved by insurance to receive Ibrance, a brand new drug which was just approved by the FDA in March. Ibrance is not a chemotherapy drug, and the side effects are much less dramatic than with chemo. Best of all, it has shown significant results in the treatment of breast cancer. The bottom line is that I will be off of chemo and will now be receiving Ibrance. The hope is that my treatment will be enhanced with even fewer side effects!

So… on we go in this journey. I’m grateful for so many blessings… the amazing medical team at Georgia Cancer Specialists, the incredible insurance which you provide through the Presbyterian Church, the tremendous support of my family, and, most of all, your prayers and encouragement.

This has been quite a week around our house. You may also know that Ellie’s 99 year old mother, Ellie Autry, has also been in the hospital. With me at one hospital and Nanaw at another, it has been more than hectic at times! Thankfully both of our children are with us, and they have been a tremendous help! We’re doing well and looking forward to June 14th!

Thanks again for your love and support and your prayers. In the midst of it all we have experienced the blessings of God in so many, many ways, and for that we are grateful!


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