Update: My Next Biopsy

Yesterday was spent in & out of appointments in Iowa City — no answers but lots of information. I met with the doctor who will oversee my next biopsy, which is scheduled for this Friday, July 7 (time TBD).

In efforts to subtype the Lymphoma, I’ve had 3 biopsies so far: 1 bone marrow biopsy & 2 CT guided needle biopsies. The bone marrow biopsy showed no cancer in my bone marrow, which means the Lymphoma is localized in a tumor in my distal femur. Both of the needle biopsies were not able to extract the right samples so they failed (most likely, the process of getting the bone through the needle was damaging the tissue before it got to pathology). The next & final option is an open biopsy, which is scheduled for Friday.

Different from the rest, the open biopsy on Friday will be performed in the operating room by an orthopedic surgeon under general anesthesia. He will make an incision, a hole in the bone, & then surgically remove a piece of cancerous bone to send to pathology. Because of the stress that causes to the bone, I won’t be able to bear any weight on my leg for at least 2 weeks… so I’ll be hobbling along for a while.

Although it’s a pain in the butt to have to go through another procedure & add additional waiting time to finding out the full diagnosis, here’s the silver lining I have to keep reminding myself: it’s been so difficult for the doctors to biopsy because the cancer hasn’t spread. Bone is really difficult to biopsy in general, but usually in cases like mine, they would only try 1 needle biopsy and if that failed, there would be somewhere else in the body where the cancer had spread that they could biopsy instead. That’s not the case for me – the only option they have is my femur { PRAISE! }. 

H O W   Y O U   C A N   P R A Y :

  • Surgery on Friday, July 7 (time TBD) — Pray the surgeon would get exactly the right samples to the pathology department, which would lead us to the full diagnosis! Praying for clear, definitive, & QUICK results!
  • Patience — it’s starting to feel like an eternity since they first told me I had Lymphoma. I’ve felt more discouragement recently in the waiting. Also the anticipation / anxiety of what my treatment will be & how it will affect my body is growing! God’s definitely stretching & growing my patience.
  • That God would just heal it Himself before we even get the full diagnosis!

H a p p y   4 t h   o f   J u l y ! ! 

What Led to the MRI?

Melanoma led to the MRI.

On May 4 of this year, I was out celebrating Lisa Warren & Kristen Rodgers’ birthdays. As people were getting to know Lisa, she shared details about her husband Rob’s skin cancer that I hadn’t heard before. My stomach was on the ground as I remembered noticing a mole on my shin a couple weeks prior & had thought to myself, “that looks weird, I should probably go to the dermatologist soon”. I cried driving home from The Cafe that night – something inside of me just knew that there was cancer on my body.

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I called the next day, scheduled an appointment, got the mole removed, & when my pathology report came back on May 18, my dermatologist confirmed my suspicions & delivered the news: there was Melanoma in a mole on my left shin.

I was shocked to hear both my name & the word cancer in the same sentence. But moments later, she was able to tell me the Melanoma was at stage zero & in situ, which means it was sitting on the surface of my skin / growing outward. Surgery was already scheduled for June 2, where a surgeon would remove a larger portion of the area around the spot to ensure all the cancer was removed.

On Tuesday, June 6, I got the call that surgery was successful and no additional Melanoma was found in the pathology report { PRAISE! }. So because I was on way to reaching my insurance deductible, I decided it was finally time to figure out what was happening in my knee. An MRI was scheduled the same week (Friday, June 9) which sent me to Iowa City & here we are now. 

G O O D   N E W S — doctors have confirmed that the Melanoma & Lymphoma are unrelated which 1) is super strange that I had two types of cancer happening simultaneously, but 2) is VERY good news because in my doctor’s own words, “that would have been the worst case scenario”.

When I first heard there was something strange on my MRI & that I would be sent to see a specialist in Iowa City, I hung up the phone & said to one of my staff girls in my office: “I think I have cancer… like, the real kind. I think my Melanoma was just the practice round.”

It’s almost freaky looking back at the timing of everything, but God knew that I would need to learn a couple lessons & hear a couple promises from Him that He would use to sustain me in He knew was to come: 

  1. MY LIFE & MY BODY ARE COMPLETELY AT HIS MERCY – they always have been and they always will be. In Walking with God through Pain & Suffering, Tim Keller writes, “When pain & suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were.” YES & yes. God hasn’t given me cancer but He certainly supervises my circumstances. I am completely at His mercy and at the top of His priorities is: ‘how can I shape Kendra into a person who looks, acts, & has a heart that’s more like my Son Jesus’ – NOT – ‘what can I do to make her life easy, comfortable, & free from suffering’. He loves me too much for option 2 & loves me so much as to allow option 1. 

“ Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons…. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Hebrews 12:7,11

  1. A LIFE OF SUFFERING IS EXACTLY WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR when I chose to follow Jesus. I wrote this somewhere else already, but He’s like screaming it in my ears these days — Jesus faced the ultimate suffering & separation from God 2,000 years ago so that when I said YES to following Him, I would only ever face temporary suffering (while here on earth; spared from eternal suffering separated from God forever). The goal of every follower is to become like their leader; the goal of a disciple is to become like their master. I want to be more like Jesus. Through my time in the Bible the last couple weeks, God’s been showing me a bloody Jesus – One who was touched by the sin & evil in this world, One who can sympathize with MY pain & suffering (Hebrews 4:14-16), and One who has promised to be present with me inside of it.

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God & fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Romans 8:16-18

His timing is perfect. Even if I don’t understand or like it… it’s perfect.

W H A T ’ S   N E X T  concerning the Melanoma: visits to the dermatologist every 3 months for check-ups and no more sun… which felt like such a huge sacrifice a month ago, but doesn’t even matter now { my, how God has refined me already! }.

FullSizeRender 5This photo is from my journal the day before surgery… He’s definitely answering that prayer! 

Preliminary Diagnosis

This is not the way I thought my summer would go. I had a list of things I wanted to enjoy, people I wanted to see, & books I wanted to read. I had pictured myself relaxing at the pool, biking to the farmers market, & reading in my hammock. Instead, I’ve sat in hospital waiting rooms, spent time looking out the passenger window of my mom’s van, and talked on the phone with plenty of insurance reps.

On June 14, 2017 I was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Since April 2016, I’ve been experiencing pain & swelling in my left knee that has come & gone every couple of months. I thought all along that it was connected to exercise… that I had bad form or was doing something to irritate the knee. Because I felt confident I didn’t tear something, I opted out of paying for an MRI last fall and instead my game plan has been to just take a week off of working out until the swelling goes away and then continue on as normal.

I had an MRI in Ames on June 9 in hopes of finally figuring out what was going on with my knee. When my doctor saw the results Sunday night, it showed that nothing was torn but that there was something happening in my bone. I was sent to see a specialist in Iowa City first thing Monday morning — after lots of scans, tests, & a biopsy at the University of Iowa Hospital, the earliest reports of the biopsy confirmed the suspicion of cancer and it already had a name: Lymphoma.

Lymphoma is an umbrella term of cancer – underneath that umbrella are a variety of possible subtypes that we need to know in order to fully diagnose the cancer and understand what it is doing in my body. Since June 14, my doctors have been unable to further subtype and provide a full diagnosis my cancer. I’ve had 3 biopsies already and we continue to plead with God to give my doctors clarity as to what is currently residing in my body. Therefore because we don’t know what type of Lymphoma it is, we also don’t know my prognosis or my treatment plan moving forward.

As you can imagine, the past 3 weeks have been overwhelming – I’ve probably experienced every emotion available to mankind. My heart is more broken, but also more full of faith than ever before. I’ve cried more tears, but also prayed more honest prayers in the last 3 weeks than ever before. I feel overwhelmed with love and support by my friends & family already and I covet your prayers also!!

To be honest, my flesh wants to crawl into a hole and come out in a couple of years when everything’s ‘better’ and life can be ‘normal’ again – but that’s not real life. This is my new normal. Also, it’s selfish & naive to think that I’m the only one suffering in a scenario like this. My friends & family who know and love me will also suffer to various degrees during this season, and being aware of what’s happening & how you can pray can be a way to walk with me through this. This blog exists to let people in, without being on my phone 24/7 giving individual updates {insert vomiting face emoji}. I want to be open and honest about the fears, the joys, and realities of walking with God through suffering and fighting this evil & scary disease we call cancer.

W H A T ‘ S   N E X T   /   How you can pray:

  • Monday, July 3 – I will meet with a new doctor, who will oversee my next bone biopsy – you can pray that this biopsy would send exactly the right tissue to the pathology dept., which would lead us to the full diagnosis!
  • MY DOCTOR – Would you pray for my doctor – that God would give him wisdom, discernment, and give clarity as he works on my case? If it would honor Jesus & bring Him the most glory, I’m praying God would heal me in front of my Pakistani doctor. I’d love him to meet Jesus because I had to be his patient {big prayers, y’all}. But if not – pray that I would suffer well and show him Jesus in that way.
  • MY FAMILY – As you can imagine, they’re heartbroken. Would you pray God would be near, comfort, & meet their needs as they have to watch me go through this up close?
  • MYSELF – Would you pray that God would give me courage to continue to face the days ahead with strength, honesty, and perseverance? In general, I’m doing well. God is sustaining me and giving me exactly what I need, right when I need it. I currently don’t feel the effects of the cancer & am fully functioning, so I don’t have a lot of physical needs right now – the best thing you can do is pray!

{ I will update kendragustafson.com when I receive new information or have an update on what’s next. You can sign up to ‘follow’ this blog by inserting your email address in the sidebar to the right. By doing this, you’ll be notified of new post immediately via email. }