We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of Carey’s diagnosis. His primary tumor was seen for the first time on scans August 6th.
Everything about those first few weeks is a messy blur. But I do remember two specific moments very clearly. Carey came home after a follow up visit with his doctor. At this point, before he came home that day, we knew he had a large tumor in his leg that appeared to be malignant (cancerous), but follow up scans of his entire body had come back clean – nothing for further concern. We breathed a sigh of relief. If it was cancer, it hadn’t spread. There was an oncology appointment scheduled for August 18th at UNC and it seemed like a pretty simple fix. Surgery, maybe a little radiation, then he would be off to Korea.
But then he came home from that follow up appointment the next week. I think it was Monday, but I’m not sure. I didn’t know that the doctor had called him in for another appointment - so thinking he was just home on a lunch break I told him all about my stressful morning with our newborn baby and energetic toddler. He sympathized. He then said, “you’re not going to want to hear this”. We were in our room. The boys were either sleeping or in the play room close by. He told me that there had been some kind of mistake or mix up with his follow up scans. They had in fact found two more spots – one on his lungs and one on his adrenal gland. I thought he was joking.
If you know Carey then you know he has no problem with turning a serious matter into a joke. His classic joke with me was to say something was super horrible when it was only kind of bad – like the grocery store was closed so he couldn’t stop to get anything on the list I had given him. Then surprise! He’d pull out some grocery bags and say “just kidding, the store was open, but I forgot the milk, but now it doesn’t seem so bad that I forgot the milk because you thought I didn’t have any groceries at all.” Classic Carey. He pulled this joke over on me all the time and that’s exactly what I thought he was doing. Making up a horrible story so the actual truth wouldn’t sound as bad. But the horrible story was the truth this time. Carey held me and assured me that no matter what all of this was, we would make it through.
His doctor made it clear that we were now facing a much more urgent issue. She canceled his orders to Korea. They believed at this point that the tumor could be sarcoma, but we wouldn’t know anything for sure until after a biopsy. So instead of the appointment at UNC we were able to get an earlier appointment at the Duke Cancer Center with a sarcoma specialist. Thursday, August 14th would be the first visit to our new ‘home away from home’. I wrote about that first visit in the blog post, Saying Goodbye to Normal.
The oncologist at Duke thought, after reviewing his scans, that Carey had synovial sarcoma. We were told if it was localized to just his leg, they would amputate. But if it had spread, Carey may only have about a year to live (this prognosis, very thankfully, later changed). The oncologist was not concerned about the spot on his lung - it was very small and spots like these on the lungs are common, but he was concerned about the spot on his adrenal gland. However, they first needed to diagnose his leg so a biopsy was performed that day and that initiated the longest, most torturous two week wait for results.
I called my mom from the cancer center to let her know the news. I could hardly get a word out because the sobs were so hard. She came to help us just a few days later, and Carey’s mom came as soon as she could as well. Our moms would be a HUGE help to us through the coming months. They each sacrificed and selflessly loved our family by meeting the tangible needs of our home when we needed it the most. “Mema” and “Granny” are two very special ladies who we love very much!
About ten days after that initial visit to the cancer center we finally got the results back from his biopsy – he did not have synovial sarcoma, but instead he had Ewing’s sarcoma. Ewing’s is more responsive to treatment, has a higher survival rate, and was an overall more hopeful prognosis so we were thankful for this news. It’s typically a cancer of the bone found mainly in children, which is why they didn’t suspect it was the type that Carey had – his is extraosseous (outside of the bone in the soft tissue).
A few days later we received the results of the adrenal biopsy and it confirmed that Carey had advanced, stage IV cancer. We were beyond devastated. That is the second moment I remember clearly, but there are really no words to describe it. We learned that Carey had a lot of intense treatment ahead. Neither of us had a clue as to what this upcoming year would have in store.
There was life before cancer, and now there is our life with cancer. These lives are completely different. Intense stress either makes you or breaks you and for us I guess it’s been a bit of both, but overall, I like to think we are better versions of the people we were a year ago. God has blessed us with a time of rest these past couple of months, but we are anxious to keep moving forward.
Seven years ago we were young, naïve airmen looking forward to our new careers in the weather field. We each thought we would have the opportunity to travel the world (ha!). Six years ago we were madly in love and rushed down the aisle months after we met – I wouldn’t have any other way. Four years ago my belly was getting bigger by the day as we prepared to become parents. We had no idea how much Eli would bless and change our lives. One year ago we were shocked and paralyzed with fear. And today? It’s difficult to explain, but we both feel this all is only the start of something much bigger and better than we can even imagine. A God sized thing.
Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
We’re still in the process of navigating this journey, and in need of a good amount of healing – both physically (for Carey) and emotionally. Some days are carefree and some are rough. But God has started a good work in our lives, in our marriage, and in our family. We can’t wait to see how He completes it.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to every one of you who has stood by our family this past year. Whether it be keeping us in your prayers, sending a card or donation, helping us with the boys, or taking the time to read this blog and keep up with our lives.
We love you all, and you each have blessed us more than we can express.