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An encounter with cancer

 

Beresford Update (2nd May, 2014)

Dear All,

I trust all is well. My time with the Consultant Surgeon today was somewhat of a technicality, and he remains enthusiastic at the rate and extent of my recovery. However, he did remind me that I did have major surgery just over a month ago, and that I shouldn't yet be expecting things to be as if I hadn't. So all continues to go swimmingly on that front. I then went directly to an appointment with my duly appointed Oncologist, this being where things, much as I anticipated, got a bit difficult and intimidating. I am not by nature a brave man (I decided against being a Navy Seal or joining the SAS for that very reason), and am wilting at even the slightest thought of what is going to come next with the chemotherapy. However, I also got thrown a bit of a curved ball by the Oncologist, by which I mean the outlook is somewhat better than I had feared in one way, but somewhat worse than I had feared in another.

The positive and rather nice bit is that, by and large, the single drug I will be taking (no concoctions are involved) doesn't generally cause some of the side effects I was most concerned about. It isn't, for instance, particularly associated with causing bad nausea, with any occurrences it might cause being readily treatable by other means, and neither will it make my hair fall out. I am particularly pleased about the latter, the preservation of what little remains of my former good looks when a younger man (just my opinion) increasingly mattering to me.  (All right, you can all stop laughing now!) Not that anyone is saying that taking this drug is going to make me feel good or anything (happy hour, it ain't!), and there will be other side effects one could do without, but neither should it make me feel as if I am at deaths door. For this I am obviously grateful.

The not so happy aspect, however, is twofold. Firstly, a known side effect of this treatment is diarrhoea that, under normal circumstances, and for the vast majority of people, is easily controllable through various drugs; but in some people it can also cause an extremely severe bout of the same that would need hospitalization in order for it to be rectified and brought under control. Further, the chemotherapy can be administered in two ways; orally, as in tablet form, or intravenously through a line which would be inserted in my chest for the duration of the six months of treatment. And this is where the difficulty, at least for me, comes into play.

If administered intravenously there is only a one-in-twenty chance of the severe form of diarrhoea presenting itself, whereas with the tablet form the odds increase to one-in-five. Now this, on the face of it, seems to be a no-brainer. I am, after all, a great believer in the minimizing of risk in all its forms. I am also, however, though completely irrationally, terrified of needles, invasive procedures in general, and especially the idea of having an intravenous line implanted in my chest for six months. So you can doubtless see my dilemma. I am not, at least for the present, a happy bunny.

The treatment is due to start in two to three weeks, and I have to make up my mind which way to go - tablets or intravenous - by next Friday. I therefore ask you to pray for wisdom that I make the right decision. My common sense is saying one thing, but my irrational fears and cowardice concerning needles and intravenous lines and such like, is saying another. This also means, and it is something I didn't expect to be faced with, that for the first time I have an actual decision to make concerning my treatment. Thus far it's been one no-brainer after another, by which I mean: Do I have a deadly tumor removed surgically or not? Answer! Well, having thought about it for a whole nanosecond, yes please! Next question: Do I then have chemotherapy to mop up any remaining cancerous cells? Again, having given an entire thirty seconds of thought to the matter, yes please! But now, having been totally unexpectedly presented with a choice concerning how the chemotherapy is going to actually be administered, I feel utterly lost and completely at sea.

I am, however, perfectly aware that, having only been made aware of this about four hours ago, I am having a bit of a panic, and that the untoward fear and indecision I am currently experiencing will soon pass as I get back into the Lord's peace and rest. So please be praying that He grants me wisdom to make the right decision; or rather, that He grants me the courage to do the most sensible thing, which is, I think, taking the intravenous route. (The very thought makes me shudder though!) There are various medical experts I can yet talk with in order to get further advice and guidance, and I shall certainly be phoning them over the next few days to get their professional input, but it is ultimately the Lord's peace and guidance that matters. Even writing this has made me feel a bit better, and I know your ongoing prayers will make all the difference.

Thank you again for your love, prayers and support. Take care and God bless.

in Him,

Beresford

 

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Beresford again (3rd May, 2014)

Dear Friends,

It is amazing what a few hours of gathering oneself before the Lord and re-focusing on Him does. As you probably gathered from the email I sent out yesterday our trip to the Oncologist was a bit like walking into an iron girder. Disorientating, to say the least! But by the time we ate dinner in the evening I was at peace again and enjoying myself. Not that I am suddenly looking forward to the chemotherapy, of course not! I fear it still, but the dread has greatly diminished. Remember, the Lord's peace, which does indeed pass all understanding, is not the absence of storms and dangers, but a calm and steady trust in the Lord in the midst of them. It's a bit like sitting in the middle of a twister; all is calm as long as you stay in the centre of it, yet the storm nevertheless continues to rage all around.

Of significance also is the fact that Belinda had an appointment with our local doctor (Dr Pradhan) late yesterday afternoon. (She has a rather stubborn wart on her finger that they have been trying to get rid of for about 3 years.) Apparently, although he did eventually attend to her, all he initially wanted to know was how I was doing. He told her about the updates he had been receiving from the Consultant concerning me and how well my recovery was obviously going, and asked how I was doing. Belinda mentioned our trip to the Oncologist earlier that day, and that I was less happy than usual as a result. Part of the problem was that the Oncologist had used the phrase 'life-threatening event' for the possible serious reaction to the drug, and there is no doubt that it was hearing those words that had played a big part in knocking me sideways. However, our doctor expressed some surprise that something so drastic had been said, and reassured Belinda that of all his patients through the years who have undergone, or are undergoing, the same treatment, he has never heard of such a thing. He concurred that having the intravenous line was less than ideal, and recommended the oral route for treatment on the basis of overall quality of life. He said to Belinda that if we wanted to go and see him together during the week to talk it over when I am there as well, then we are more than welcome to do so. This we will do. But even more interesting, at one point he pointed skyward and told Belinda that 'someone' was watching over me. We're not sure which faith he adheres to - Belinda and Bethany have had a conversation with him which made them think that he isn't a Christian - but we are glad to know that he also is seeing a greater power (we know it's the Lord) at work in our situation.

So this could indeed be the Lord starting to direct us regarding the decision we have to make. Further, a few people responded to yesterdays email by asking if it might work should I start with the tablets and then go to the tube if problems arise, which is certainly an option on this treatment. In fact, the Oncologist specified that if someone on the tablets did experience this 'life threatening event' (as he somewhat unhelpfully phrased it), and end up in hospital as a result, they would put the line in and change the mode of delivery as a matter of course.

So hey, perhaps we're getting there even sooner than expected. We've got until next Friday before I have to tell the Oncologist what we have decided, and I still have other medical experts to speak with. But we are definitely encouraged, and Belinda especially after that chat with Dr Pradhan which certainly encouraged me as well as she relayed it to me.

Just as an aside, there was a rather delightful letter awaiting us when we got back from the hospital from our dentist. He has just had a hip replacement operation, so there is a certain mutual camaraderie between us given our current surgical experiences. It does seem to be the case that wherever Belinda, Bethany and I go people immediately warm to us, whether it be our doctor, our dentist, neighbors or whoever. You might recall that even Dr Zia, who headed up my operation and who, it turned out, lives just a few yards from us, has visited us here at home and told us to call on him at any time. (He apparently said to Paul, the neighbor who originally told him about us, that he couldn't get over what a delightful girl Bethany is, and that he is amazed at how we have raised her.) Indeed, our dentist has long referred to us as his favorite patients, and we take this, along with our experience with folk like Dr Zia, Dr Pradhan, plus a host of others, as being one of many examples of the Lord granting us favor in people's sight. It is a great blessing; to say nothing of all the preferential treatment it gets us.

So thanks again for all your prayers. The Lord is, as usual, answering them to our great benefit. I obviously intend to keep hanging onto Him for dear life, but should my grip on Him slip even more than it did yesterday you may yet get to see BJ the sniveling coward. I am just so grateful that, even should that happen, His grip on me won't loosen.

Take care and God bless and have a great weekend. We will keep you posted.

in Him,

Beresford

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Update from Beresford (9th May, 2014)

Dear All,

Many thanks for your continued prayers. We saw a different Oncologist today and it was somewhat of a better experience than with the last one. I have basically decided to just face my fears, let common sense prevail (less chance of a severe reaction to the drug) and have the intravenous line. Not that I will be dancing for joy when I go to have it inserted, but I am at least at peace that I won't be having a nervous breakdown about it.

I am scheduled for a pre-chemo assessment in a weeks time, and then the line will be inserted a week or so after that, followed by the actual start of the chemo within a day or two. So I basically have another couple of weeks to fully recover from the operation, and to just enjoy myself before whatever the chemo is going to bring my way.

Stupidly, I tried to put up a window blind yesterday and pulled just about every muscle in my torso from the waste up. The medics reassured me today that there's no damage done, but I am in more discomfort now than I was just after the operation. Irrationally, I got quite depressed about it, to say nothing of a bit paranoid in case I had damaged the internal stitching, so basically zero out of ten for yesterdays performance. However, I felt much brighter this morning, as I knew I would, and was able to face the Oncologist without the fear and trepidation I had anticipated. So thanks to the Lord for that.

So there’s not really very much to report. Most days are perfectly enjoyable, but the occasional bad day, such as yesterday, comes along like a cloud temporarily blotting out the sun. But at least one knows the sun hasn't actually gone anywhere, and that likewise, even though every now and then the presence and peace of the Lord seems to recede somewhat, He is there just the same.

Do keep praying for us though. The chemo remains a complete unknown for us, and even though it is two weeks away, we nevertheless have to be preparing ourselves psychologically and emotionally for it. And I refer to 'we' advisedly because it is, after all, Belinda and Bethany who are having to look after me, and will have to continue to do so during my chemo, whether it goes well or disastrously.

Take care and God bless. I will keep you all posted as to when the chemotherapy actually starts, but in the meantime, should I go quiet, it just means there is nothing of significance to report.

in Him,

Beresford

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BJ Update (18th May, 2014)

Dear All,

Thanks again for your ongoing prayers and I trust all is well. Just to let you know that I am due to have the line for the upcoming chemotherapy implanted on Tuesday, so prayers that I will be the very essence of calm bravery and fortitude (in other words, pray for a miracle) would be greatly appreciated. Our understanding is that the chemotherapy will commence very soon after that.

We seem to be doing OK still and are managing to look to the Lord and trust Him through everything. We are also currently enjoying some nice weather, which is always a bonus on these shores. It's surprising what a help that actually is! The thought of another six months (the duration of the chemo) of life not being normal (whatever that is) is obviously a bit arduous, but we know this is something we have no choice but to just face and go through. The medics seem confident that I shouldn't be hit too hard with side-effects, but of course it's only when the chemo is in full swing that we'll find out for sure how it's going to affect me.

I will certainly be sending out some more thoughts and perusals surrounding all this in due course, but am wanting to get this next bit over first and get a bit settled into the actual chemo routine. That will give us a chance to get an idea of any emerging pattern of 'good' or 'bad' days. So basically, watch this space!

Take care and God bless and do send our greetings to everyone in your respective churches today.

in Him,

Beresford

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Beresford Update (20th May, 2014)

Dear All,

As usual, thanks for all your prayers. I shudder to think what I would currently be like without them. We are back home now and the line for the chemo is successfully in place. I am not as yet a gibbering wreck, but am definitely giving the idea some serious thought. If courage is the facing and overcoming of abject terror, as opposed to merely the absence of it, then I am definitely deserving of a medal. At least with torturers you can tell them what they want to know in the hope they will stop. There's nothing to tell a surgical team though if you know what’s best for you, so they just keep cutting, gouging and stitching.

But hey, I know it's all for my good, and even though I'm going to be on the sore side for a few days it's definitely worth it. I just thank the Lord for keeping me at peace throughout, even though I found it a real ordeal.

But it's behind me now and at least I'm all set now for the chemotherapy, which is due to start next Wednesday (28th May.) Do keep praying. A stronger person wouldn't keep asking like I do, but then strong is precisely what I'm not. My strength comes from the Lord and from me, and that is why I need your prayers so much.

We will, as ever, keep you posted regarding developments. I am grateful to have a week before the chemo starts, and will be utilizing today’s trauma so as to keep Belinda and Bethany waiting on me hand and foot and attending to my every whim. Today may have frightened the life out of me, but I still know when I'm onto a winner. 

Take care and God bless.

in Him,

Beresford

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From Belinda (21st May, 2014)

This is what BJ had fitted today...
Fully awake....
Just local jab where cuts were made!!!
VERY brave....
He is sleeping now, and very uncomfortable, but happy it's over...
Love Belinda
XXX

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Chemotherapy Has Begun (29th May, 2014)

Dear Friends,

As always, thank you so much for your ongoing prayers. My first lot of chemo started yesterday afternoon and the cytotoxins are now coursing through my veins. I am not aware of any side effects as yet, but of course it is a bit early in the process. I am told they accrue over the period during which one is having the treatment. Whether the effects are going to be pronounced or low-level, or even what they will be, remains to be seen, and to that extent it's a bit like standing in front of a firing squad wondering how long before someone's going to pull a trigger. What I do know though is that it's not going to be a walk in the park, and that I just have to knuckle down to six months of it. Please be assured that I both need, and greatly appreciate, your continued prayers. (Apologies for being such a bother!)

Aside from not knowing how unpleasant the effects of the chemo are going to be, one of the most difficult aspects of this is not being able to function as I normally would, and having to come to terms with an increasing sense of uselessness. I am obviously pretty much recovered from the actual operation (though I wouldn't want to try my hand at a game of tennis just yet), but have been handicapped nonetheless just by knowing that the chemo was soon to start, and that normality would continue to elude me for a good few months as yet. Tiredness and lack of concentration was a big factor in that recovery, and regardless of how pronounced or low-level other side effects turn out to be, all the medics assure me that I am going to experience significant fatigue throughout the duration of the chemo. In other words, although I plan to continue to be as useful as possible, I am basically being pretty useless at present, and am set to be so for another few months.

There are, of course, those who would say that not a lot has changed then, whilst others, who seem to believe me to be spiritually dangerous, will (obviously) see my current inactivity as being a good thing and the best protection from me that there is. But all that aside (we all have our detractors and, as a Bible teacher, I would be worried if I didn't have some quite militant ones) it's still a tough one, and I am learning lessons from the Lord throughout. And one of the things being very much underlined for me is the whole area concerning Jesus' teaching about seeds and crops and harvests and stuff like that. Let me explain:

To me, one of the Lord's most striking teachings was what He said about the necessity for a corn of wheat to fall into the ground and die in order to produce a harvest and to not just abide alone. Put that alongside the parable of the seed-sower and what you get is a picture of the Lord being a farmer and believers the seed He sows. And what has always struck me about this is that, when you actually take a good long look at a farmer sowing his seed, it is, on the face of it, a bit of a wasteful thing to do. After all, a farmer takes an amount of seed with which he could feed his family, but instead of doing so he takes it to his fields and throws it away. And that is exactly how I have felt since I became ill last Christmas, and it is exactly how I shall continue to feel until I am back in action after the chemo finishes and I have recovered from it. I literally feel, usefulness-wise, as if the Lord has thrown me away. Weird, eh?

So what am I learning? Indeed, what can we all learn from this? Simply that the farmer is free to do with his seed what he chooses, and if he decides to throw it away instead of using it to make something to eat, then that is entirely up to him. But of course he isn't actually wasting it at all. It just looks like that. What he is actually doing is burying it in the ground so that, even though it is then of no short term use to him, it will die, multiply, and become a crop of exponentially more food than the seed alone could have ever hoped to supply before it was sown. (That is, thrown away!) And if such is what had to happen to Jesus Himself, Him being the primary seed of which He was speaking that had to go into the ground and die in order to produce a harvest, then how much more does that principal of dying to self in order for Him to have His way in us need to prevail in our lives?

It is obviously wrong for us to just waste our time when it could be being put to good use, but what about when circumstances beyond one's control dictate and non-usefulness is forced upon one? What then? Well, simply this! Scripture teaches that our times are in His hand! Indeed, our time, as with every other aspect of our lives, isn't actually ours at all, it's His! Our time is His time. Therefore my time is in His hand and my time is His time; and if the Lord wants to waste my time, which is just another way of saying that He is free to waste His time if He wants to, because He is free to do exactly as He likes, then that is entirely up to Him. But of course just as with a seed being sown into the ground, it isn't a waste at all, but is rather a question of it just being 'hidden away out of sight' for a while so that even greater usefulness can result in the future.

I am therefore yet again comforted by the truth of scripture. My feelings are those of uselessness, and even a certain amount of guilt as a result. But I know really that, even though I can't see how, or even need to see how, something better is going to result in the Lord in the future regarding both myself and those who have to do with me, precisely because of Him laying me aside during this rather traumatic year. I am even finding it amusing that, to those who have tried so hard down the years to bury me, I can say, "You can stop trying now because the Lord has done it for you." And I find it even more amusing that, as a direct result, I'll be back with a vengeance once my head pokes above the soil and they'll have to start trying to bury me all over again.

So hey, am I finding this really tough! Yes, of course I am! I didn't like being ill for three months before they operated on me, and I don't like what they had to do to me in order to correct that situation - and I certainly don't like it that last week they buried a tube under my neck and chest into the top of my heart so they can pump cytotoxins into me for six months that are going to make me feel absolutely lousy. I further don't like that I am laid aside and unable to go anywhere to do what the Lord has called me to do, and that I have another six months of such limitation to look forward to. So yes, of course this is tough! And yes, of course I really don't like it! But it's obviously what I need by way of some kind of preparation without which I otherwise couldn't properly handle whatever awaits us in the future by way of further serving the Lord. And that is why Belinda, Bethany and I need your ongoing prayers so much. Indeed, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for them.

Take care and God bless and we'll continue to keep you all posted. Should the chemo result in me growing another head we'll definitely send you all a photograph.

in Him,

Beresford

 

 

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