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A Personal Update

Well, I’m back. It has been a crazy twenty-two months since my last blog and podcast posts. For those who faithfully followed my content, my apologies. When you hear my story of these crazy months, I’m confident in the Lord that you will give me some grace. (BTW - For those who are new to the Way of the Master, there is some great older content out there you want to check out.)

So, here goes… In May 2022, right after my last posts, I ended up with COVID-19. While this is a big deal for anyone, it was a really big deal for a guy like me with Cystic Fibrosis. The docs went crazy treating me with everything they had, all the “big guns” – antivirals, antibiotics to fight secondary infections like pneumonia, immunotherapy, and by God’s grace, the effects of COVID were significant but well-controlled. While it cleared in about three weeks, I ended up with post-COVID fatigue and insomnia, which lasted until September 2022. I had nothing to bring to the table but the minimums of life and my local church ministry. Hence, no posts on the blog or podcast.

In the midst of all this, Pippa, our six-year-old lab mix, died in July of 2022 after developing a strange neurological disorder that prevented her from keeping food down. She would eat, then throw up. All over the place. In the house. More than 70 times. After three weeks in the veterinary ICU, we had to put her down.

Then, just when I was starting to feel better, in August 2022, my wife Cathy was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma (MM), which is a cancer of the plasma cells (white blood cells) in the bone marrow. It causes the bones to break down, makes you immunocompromised, and leads to organ failure. It was also determined that Cathy was missing a gene that helps fight cancer. Oh boy. Not good, right? There is no cure for Multiple Myeloma, but there is treatment. Cathy was given a prognosis of 2-3 years. She started aggressive chemotherapy immediately after her diagnosis, with the goal being to reduce the MM in her bones in preparation for a stem cell transplant. Weekly infusions and daily oral chemo meds took a heavy toll on her. Oh, and by the way, our other dog, Jessica, was diagnosed with cancer the same week as Cathy was. When it rains, it pours. And, of course, due to the disease and the treatment, Cathy couldn’t work, abruptly ending her forty-year career in nursing. This in itself was another loss for her – she loved her job and was good at it. It also blew up our personal finances, as Cathy was the major earner in our household (bi-vocational pastor/ministry coach/writer dudes aren’t flush with cash). As MM is not curable, and the treatment is debilitating, she is now on permanent disability. When it rains, and keeps raining, it floods.

As you can imagine, this was all a huge existential shock. We prayed, we cried, and we processed. We would trust the Lord and fight the battle. A pastor friend who also has MM walked with us through this time. Cathy doubled down on her devotions, pressing into the Lord. Our pastoral community and the folks of Trinity Life Community, the church we pastor in Bedford, NH, are AWESOME. We had so much love and support – and still continue to. Some of the pastoral team helped set up a gofundme for us, and others from all over the country gave money and gift cards for food and gasoline. We would have had to sell the house if it hadn’t been for this. Yet, even with this, we had to cash out Cathy’s retirement from work to help pay the medical bills and everyday expenses.

The treatment was (and still is) brutal. Cathy was sick all the time, every day. Due to the MM, she had nine lesions on her spine, more in her pelvic ring, and a compression fracture of her spine, which was excruciating and made it impossible for her to walk or even turn over in bed. I was with her all the time, helping her get to the bathroom, and in the shower, using a walker and a wheelchair. I became the chief cook and bottle washer, laundryman, and housekeeper (I am terrible at ironing).

We were traveling weekly to Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon, NH, for her cancer treatments, which is an hour and a half drive each way. Just getting in and out of the car and riding in a wheelchair was a terribly painful experience for her. But we did it, the Lord giving us both strength.

The good news is, the treatment worked, praise God! The doctor determined through blood work, bone marrow biopsies (yes, ouch), and PET scans that the MM had been reduced to the point Cathy could undergo an autologous stem cell transplant, which uses the patient’s own stem cells. However, the patient (Cathy) and caregiver (me) had to be in isolation before the procedure and for 100 days afterward. So, right around Christmas 2022, we went into our protective bubble. The bone pain had diminished as the MM decreased, and Cathy was given monthly medication infusions to promote bone growth. Things were looking up!

Then, in January 2023, Jessica Puppy, Queen of Dogs, had to be euthanized due to the progression of her cancer at fourteen and a half years old. Happy New Year, right? Not only was it hard losing this awesome dog, but Jessica had been diagnosed the same week that Cathy received her diagnosis. So, you can imagine how that impacted us. But we got through it, thanking the Lord for such a long time with such a great doggo. When it rains, it pours, and the flood becomes a great deluge. So you build an Ark. Jesus is the Ark!

I spent the first three months of 2023 basically supporting my pastoral team via Zoom, caring for Cathy, and staying away from germs. Then, in March 2023, Cathy had her stem cell transplant. The first step in this procedure is to harvest the patient’s stem cells out of their blood and cryogenically store them. Before this harvesting event, they give the patient medication for five days to boost stem cell production. We had no idea how unbelievably painful this would be for Cathy as her bones tried to pump out more stem cells. It was utterly debilitating for her.

Cathy entered the hospital at the end of March, and she got through the collection procedure and then they gave Cathy a mega dose of a super toxic chemo med, which KILLED OFF her bone marrow. That’s right. If the transplant didn’t work, there was no way back; she was dead. Two days later, they thawed out her stem cells and infused them back in, hoping and praying they would engraft in her bones and begin to produce new bone marrow, which would, in turn, make both red and white blood cells. In fact, “praying” was literal. The hospital staff actually asked if we wanted a clergyperson present to bless the stem cells before they were infused. I guess this is the SOP for this procedure. I responded, “Yes! ME.” So, I got to bless Cathy’s stem cells before they were put back in. It was so cool to pray in full-on “Tom mode,” calling down the Kingdom of God in power with these four nurses in the room. They loved it, and one even teared up.

OK, it’s time for more good news. Over the next two weeks, Cathy’s stem cells did indeed engraft. She started to lose her hair from the super toxic chemo, so when the young nurse tried to shave her head and was having trouble with it, I stepped in and did it. We went home and were in isolation for three months, as Cathy had no immunity at all.

After this time, the follow-up with the doctor determined that the Stem Cell transplant was 90% effective. There was still some MM present. However, the doctor was very positively surprised – as she didn’t expect it to work at all. She said, “Tell all those folks who have been praying for you: It worked.” Praise God! What a testimony to Jesus. However, with the MM still present and Cathy lacking that gene that fights cancer, it was determined that she would need to have ongoing chemo “maintenance” therapy – for the remainder of her life. BUT WAIT, there’s more! The doctor has now determined that the maintenance therapy routine is currently “completely effective,” and Cathy is now in “complete remission.” Thank you, Jesus! While she may not be cured, we are grateful for the Lord’s grace in all of this. Even in the storm, the rainbow of the Covenant shines!

Cathy continues in daily oral chemo meds, bi-weekly chemo infusions, and monthly immunotherapy. Still, she can be out and about a bit, just not hanging around sick people. I am so proud of her in her response to all of this and how amazing she is in the Lord. I am a blessed man to be her husband.

Oh yeah. In August 2023, we got a new pup, The Marvelous Miss Maggie, a Black Lab/German Shepherd mix rescue pup. She is a beautiful pupper, wonderful, and a blessing from the Lord, even if she is a crazy teenager.

So, life goes on, the battle continues. We have a vision for the fight. The Holy Spirit has made us resilient, and we will endure. Cathy’s cancer treatment is an ongoing part of our life and takes a lot of our time, talent, and treasure. If you think of it, pray for us.

And now you know why I have not made any posts over the last 22 months. I’ve been a bit busy. But now I am back and will endeavor to post more regularly. I have been asked to share a few of my teachings in full-length audio and post my notes concurrently on the blog. We will start with a series called “All Things New,” a deep dive into the Book of Revelation. I hope you enjoy these extended teachings as well as other episodic posts.

I’m a mentor and a teacher, so I can’t tell this story without some application. So, here goes…

Many of you have heard me use this phrase – “gam zu l’tovah” – an ancient phrase of the Jewish Sages meaning “this, too, is for the good.” If something good happened in someone’s life, it was said with passion and gusto. If something terrible occurred, it was still said, but much quieter, with a sigh. That’s the foundation of the Apostle Paul’s statement to the church in Rome:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Cathy and I are obviously learning things about the Lord, ourselves, and life. Honestly, far too many things to share here. But I can tell you this passage is real to us. God is sovereign and uses everything in this broken world for the benefit of His beloved children.

In Psalm 93:3-4 we find that God is bigger than the floods we face:

The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!

When the rains come, the floods rise, and the deluge overwhelms you – remember, He is the Ark of safety. And He is bigger than the storm.

Gam zu l’tovah.

This, too, is for the good.

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