We've had a good time with him, talking and laughing. Sharing jokes. But in the middle of all that is the reality of cancer: the NG tube (nasal gastric tube) that sucks out the contents of his stomach, the port on his left shoulder, the tape and bandages covering the lesions from the two chest tubes. He is incessantly thirsty, and he can't really eat anything. A few people were around this morning when he "ate something and held it down for about 25 mintues"--but I haven't quite gotten the whole story, so I can't relay the details. Things have seemed to get a bit better (the main thing being that his pain is under control), but there's still the reality that he has stomach cancer, and he is not holding in any nutrition. The nursing staff mentioned starting him on intravenous feeding today. I'm not sure if that has happened yet. Often, things move a bit slower than you'd expect. It's a whirlwind, and it feels so slow at the same time. So much happens in a day, and yet so little.
In the middle of all of this, our friend Erin asked me if I'm keeping a journal. It's a good thought, and I probably should, because there are so many things going through my head. But there's no time! I sit down to do one thing (to write this blog, or to contact someone who has sent a message, or to phone a doctor who might be able to help us sort this out), and I realize there are 20 things left for me to do. There is no time for me to journal and reflect on what is going on. Billy and my family need my help too much. It's not that I feel pressured. I really want to help! There are just so many things to help take care of.
As I've thought about Erin's question, I've realized that this blog might be a good place to share some of my reflections. I hesitate, because this is about Billy much more than it's about me. But you can't talk about Billy without talking about the huge network of friends and family that he has impacted, served, loved, and touched deeply. Everywhere he goes, he makes friends. As my mom says, it's like he casts a spell on people. People all over love him deeply. And you can't talk about Billy having cancer without talking about the effect it's having on the people who love him. So I thought we could take time to do that today.
I've tried to write positively and hopefully on this blog, because I am hopeful. I believe God could heal Billy, despite anything that any medical facility says. But his diagnosis is "poorly differentiated gastric adenocarcinoma." It is stage IV, meaning the cancer has spread beyond his stomach. Because of that, the doctors here have said it is inoperable. The only option is chemo, and we don't know if that will work.
A few days ago, as Billy lay sleeping in the ICU, I stood by his bed and watched him. All I could do was cry. I had my Bible in my hand, but I couldn't even read it. In my head, I believed that God could heal my brother. But in my heart (and even admitting this in writing is difficult), I wondered if God really would. I was afraid. What if I read scripture out loud, and the people around me heard me, but God didn't do what we asked? What would that say about the God that I follow? My voice felt stuck in my throat. In the middle of all that, slowly, I began to read the words to Psalm 46. It's the scripture I held onto when Billy was in the 82nd Airborne, and he was stationed in Iraq during the war (2003). At that time, I listened to the radio every day, hearing news of bombing in Fallujah and Bagdad, wondering if my brother was okay. Every time the phone rang, I was afraid of what I'd hear. It felt like my world was threatening to fall into the ocean...
During the war, Psalm 46 spoke to some of my fears. Now, it once again feels like my world is threatening to fall into the heart of the sea. Once again, Billy's life is threatened. And I am fighting to believe that the Psalm is true.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields [b] with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
In the middle of this confusing world, there's a lot going on. Writing this blog has been helpful. It's a place to focus and direct my thoughts, and it's a place to communicate with all of you. It keeps my mind going in a particular direction. But it also helps me to help Billy. I want to be able to explain this stuff to all of you, so it helps me to ask better questions.
The situation is serious, and we're trying to figure out the best possible course of action. We're also trying to understand how the army works, because the army has been a huge part of Billy's life for the past 7 years, and they are playing a huge role in his care. Here are some things we've learned...
- The army is a huge network. Even though soldiers may have said their goodbyes when they left one place (D.C., for example), they can (and likely will) see each other again later (in a place like Ft. Rucker, AL). Billy--and a lot of his army friends--are connected to people all over the world!
- Billy has made a lasting impression on a ton of people. Everywhere we turn, people are offering help in concrete and specific ways. It is amazing to watch!
- Tyler just arrived tonight. He is stationed in Kuwait, and the army expedited an approval of emergency leave for him to come and be with Billy for a while. The army even paid for his plane ticket (and it wasn't cheap)!
- Billy was stationed at Fort Rucker in AL. When they heard about Billy's diagnosis and this blog, they decided to publicly display the blog so that people could keep up with what's going on!
- All over, people are offering to step in and help. People are connected to information, resources, and other people who are helping us to sort through all of this. There's a lot to sort through--but it's amazing to have so much help!
As we understand things now, there are three major geographical steps to this process.
- Step 1. Billy is an inpatient at Baptist Hospital in Miami. He's undergoing one round of chemo, so that he can move to the next step.
- Step 2. Billy will be moved to an army hospital to be evaluated by army physicians. The plan is to move him to Fort Gordon, GA, sometime after he finishes this first round of chemo. He should finish this round on Friday night, just before midnight.
- Step 3. The army will assess Billy's condition, and give a suggestion for long-term treatment. (We still have to figure out what all of that means.) And then Billy will be moved to a long-term treatment facility.
It's not that Billy couldn't be treated in Miami. He's just here because he was on vacation in the Florida Keys, and this is where he went to the ER. But Florida isn't home.
It brings up an interesting question, though: Where is home? For our family, Durango, CO, is where we grew up. But for many of us "kids", Durango doesn't feel like home anymore. Billy and I actually talked about this a few weeks ago, when we were together for his graduation from flight school. We talked about home--and how it's not really a particular place, but more among the people we love deeply. For me, home isn't the house I grew up in. It's spending time with my family, wherever that is. And that's what makes this situation difficult, because my family is so spread out. My mom, Danny, and I are currently here in Miami. But what about long-term treatment? The army base in Colorado is in Fort Carson--but that's an eight-hour drive from our hometown.
At this point, being near Durango doesn't feel nearly as important as being in a place where our family can be together, where Billy can get the best treatment possible, and where we can see Billy as he works through this whole thing. I don't know how all of this is going to turn out in the end. I don't know how much longer I'll have to spend with my brother... (It makes me cry, just thinking about it.) But whereever it is, I want to be able to spend as much time as I possibly can with a brother who means the world to me. But that's how I feel about it. I think it ultimately depends upon what the army says, and what Billy decides to do.
The set-up here has been amazing. Melissa has been amazing. She opened up her home for us to stay for as long as we're in Miami. Adrienne came from Fort Rucker, AL, and cooked us meals. Melissa, Adrienne, and Nate (Germany) have shuttled people to and from the airport. Melissa's family has prepared meals. Her parents have helped us think about treatment. Nate's mom bought us dinner last night. Adrienne did our laundry. It his been incredible to have such a support team, so that we can be at the hospital, interacting with Billy's medical team and asking questions. We have not had to leave the hospital one time during the day--and it has allowed us to spend a lot of time with my brother, caring for him and helping to decide what would happen with his treatment. The time in Miami has been phenomenal--more than I would ever have expected. Thank you to all the friends who have stepped in to care for my brother and my family! We could not do this without you.
As I've pondered everything that has been going on, I've also been thinking that this blog might be a good place for some of you to share your thoughts. Perhaps you might like to share one of your favorite memories of Billy, or some way he has impacted your life or the life of someone you know. Feel free to share in the comments below. I'll be sure Billy hears them!
Here are a few more things you can be praying for now...
- Please pray for the chemo to knock out the cancer.
- Billy still needs nutrition. He hasn't eaten anything in over a week. Pray for his body to be able to receive and hold onto food.
- My family has a lot of questions, and we want to get time with the oncologist. But we haven't been here early enough to talk to the physician while he makes his rounds. Pray that we'd get good sleep tonight, and that we'd wake up early enough to get here in time to talk to the oncologist. Pray that we'd get a lot of clear answers.
Thank you for everything! Thank you for your prayers.