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Reflections on 2013

Another year has passed that I had the privilege to survive. It seems like a weird thing to say, because surviving from year to year for most people is something we take for granted. I wish I could take it for granted, but because I can’t, I am instead grateful and feel privileged that I got to have it.

2013 was a mixed year. It was filled with elation and it was filled with gut wrenching devastation. It was a somewhat repeating sinusoidal-like curve of highs and lows followed by more of the same. For Hannah and myself, the biggest and perhaps most significant part of the year was finding out Hannah was pregnant. We made the decision to move forward with IVF the year before carefully and somewhat calculatingly. The consequences of that decision were not lost on us given our circumstance, but as time has gone on, it has only served to reinforce that it was the right decision to make. We had the good news in May and had to sit on it until the end of the 1st trimester as you usually do, but it was difficult to keep quiet with such knowledge. It was fair to say that I had told a few people before the announcement date with the preface ‘you can’t tell anyone else, but…. ‘. I believe Hannah was probably just as guilty as me on that front.

And from that peak came the inevitable trough in July. The cancer had started to grow aggressively again. We always knew that this was going to happen, and so perhaps knowing it in advance may have numbed us slightly to the news, but it was still a tough realisation that it was finally happening. We were buoyed by the rallying of medical professionals around us to try and do the best to treat me as possible. I have moved beyond the realms of evidence based medicine, and into the more vague place of best guess therapy, where you rely on the experience and knowledge of clinicians to create a treatment plan. I have no doubt that I have some of the best clinicians in the country looking after me.  The result of that was to start 25 fractions of 45 gray of radiotherapy (over 5 weeks) with the perhaps inevitable sequelae of having to stop working 5 fractions into the treatment. It didn’t take long, but the systemic effects of local treatment with radiation left me completely drained, and to be honest didn’t really truly improve until at least 3-4 weeks after the last treatment.

After the radiation, again, we hit another low, a follow up CT scan showing aggressive and proliferative new disease in my liver, my retroperitoneum, my mesentery and the right apex of my lung. Such an aggressive recurrence hit hard. This was the bit where everything would change, in my health, my life, and my impending parenthood. All of a sudden January seemed so far away, and seeing my future daughter was no longer a given. The only option left with regards to treatment was to go on to Oxaliplatin, continue with 5-FU, and start Avastin. The latter of which was not available publicly, and would cost $6000 dollars per round for a total of 10 rounds. I had always been reticent about spending money on drugs that didn’t change outcome, but now, it wasn’t so much that it didn’t change outcome that mattered, it was the fact that it might determine whether or not I would get to see my baby girl. We made the decision to go ahead with the treatment, being unsure of exactly how we might finance this, and tentatively made a public appeal.

The ensuing onslaught of generosity caught us all off guard, 60,000 dollars seemed like such a hard target to reach. I remember as a child getting sponsors for the World Vision 40hr famine totalling 50 dollars was a lot, 60,000 was almost a fantasy. Within 2 hours of posting the appeal we had raised 4000 dollars, a commendable response in such a short time, almost paying for the first round of chemo. At 4 hours in it was up to 20,000 dollars… and then the telethon like frenzy began. After 7 hours we had reached 60,000 dollars, we could not believe it.

But then it didn’t stop.

Or even slow down.

Even in retrospect, it is hard to understand the level of engagement and investment people seemed to have in me staying alive. The sheer scale of it was certainly beyond my limited comprehension and we were literally left speechless, almost feeling guilty, we didn’t deserve this generosity. Saying thank you just didn’t seemed to cut it, you say thank you for a box of chocolates, what do you say for 169,000 dollars?? The frenzied giving had also caught the attention of the NZ Herald. I agreed to do an interview, thinking it might sit somewhere on page 5 or 6, but it was the front page the next day, and it was the only story on the front page. Prince George had been dedicated the day before, and he was on page 3. Again the interest in our life journey was both humbling and fascinating, and the additional publicity pushed the giving up another 50,000 dollars. It led us to make a statement that we were no longer seeking further funds, as the goal for my treatment had long since been reached, and the excess generosity challenged my ability to accept it. It was a humbling experience to say the least.

The generosity meant that in November I got to start on Avastin and FOLFOX, and it also meant I had to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life. After the second round of this regime, I realised that I couldn’t continue to work. My time of being well had substantially decreased, and I was still not near 100% when I was well. Medicine for me was more than just a job, it was a lifestyle and calling that I loved. I had also been offered a general surgical registrar position starting in December, which was the specialisation I had discovered energised me and drove me to love getting up to work. It felt like I was throwing away the last ten years of my life.

It was definitely a challenging time.

The subsequent CT scan just before Christmas and after 4 rounds of chemo revealed that the treatment was working. There was significant response in my liver lesions, my retroperitoneal and mesenteric nodes, and the isolated lung lesion had also shrunk. As I write this, excepting the catastrophe, I will have the good fortune of meeting my daughter. For how long I will get to know her is anyones guess, but my survival has certainly long since proven to not be predictable.

So as I finish one year and start the new one, I am grateful for both the joys and the challenges of the past. I have long since said that it isn’t without life’s challenges that you can truly understand and appreciate the joys. The last five years of my life has been a lesson in perseverance, patience, and acceptance that my life is but one of many, all of which will pass away at some stage. I have been blessed to live as long and as well as I have, and for that I will always be grateful. Furthermore, with the anticipation of parenthood on the horizon, I cannot express just how thankful I will be to be able to hold my daughter in my hands and tell her I love her.

2014 will likely continue its sine wave pattern of ups and downs, and probably will contain a full stop somewhere. I will trust God regardless of the outcome rather than conditionally on the outcome, knowing that whatever happens, I will be in His hands forever.

And I couldn’t ask anything more of Him, for He has given me so much.

Until next time…

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Categories: Blog
  1. January 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    May Grace continue to be yours.

  2. January 3, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    Thank you for courageously sharing your story, and reminding us all that we must treasure the moments we have on this earth because you never know what’s around the corner. Wishing you all the best for 2014 and for the birth of your daughter. I hope that, somehow, your year is filled with dot dot dots and the full stop comes much, much later.

    • Tess Vossen
      January 3, 2014 at 11:21 pm

      Well said.

      • Claire
        January 5, 2014 at 12:07 am

        ditto

  3. Tess Vossen
    January 3, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    Wonderful to hear your voice of wisdom & reality today. Blessings on you and Hannah as bubs comes soon-so cool to see you 2 in the ODT also last month- a Dunedin wife 🙂 that’s awesome & a lovely family & a wonderful group of support you must have. Thanks for sharing, you wonderful wonderful people, & I’m praying for you all this month of January ESP!

  4. January 4, 2014 at 3:07 am

    Hi Jared,

    I’m so happy to hear that your treatment is helping (sorry you haven’t been feeling well). Enjoy this wonderful time with Hannah – I remember Marcus and I were desperate to meet our little boy! Who knows your little girl could be arriving into the world as I write this message to you 🙂

    Thinking of you,

    Kate

  5. January 4, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Happy New Year, and my best wishes for 2014, especially the happy event later this month.

  6. Jule
    January 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Jared.. you writing is so articulate, it takes me away to another place when i read your blog, As you anticipate the arrival of your wee girl, I wish you and you wife all the best.
    Keep on keeping on 🙂

  7. Pastor Geoff Wiklund
    January 10, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Just want you to know that our Church prayed for you last Sunday and I am asking God to heal you every day.

  8. January 12, 2014 at 9:19 am

    You have made me cry that no one could, what else can I say? I salute you sir.

  9. belinda
    January 16, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    wooo what a journey you are on, i wish you the greatest of luck ,reading your blog has certainly brought tears to my eyes,i know everyone has a journey in life and my own tiny journey at present (givealittle help me meet my sister) just isnt worth anything after reading all about you,well not long now and u and your wee family will have your beautiful daughter in your arms, love to you all xoxo

  10. Tess
    January 24, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Thinking of you & baby girl prayers for an amazing experience watching her be born & Hannah’s health & happiness in that moment with you her soulmate. Wonderful mystery of life.

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