Archive for March, 2011

For By You I Can Run In The Night
March 27, 2011

From So Young:

The best runs are the really hard ones, where you just want to stop.  Your arms are pumping; the legs want to give out from under you.  It’s challenging. It’s sweaty, exhausting! I love it! Makes me feel alive. When it gets really difficult, I often find myself worshipful. I’ll start praying, and then just the right song comes up on my iPod.

This happened just yesterday, during my long run. I was running home after a 6 miler when Run In The Night from the latest Jars of Clay album came up. In no time, I was reduced to soft sobs and tears, as the lyrics pierced my heart with their meaning, especially as it feels like I’m sometimes running in the night.  What’s just around the corner? What’s up ahead in a mile or two? Who knows? Only the Lord knows and that makes me feel safe and secure.

Run In The Night  (Psalm 27)
by Jars of Clay

I know who I am
Once I was nameless, alone and You found me
You formed my knees to bend
You called me beloved
I am perfection

All my failures won’t condemn me
Or leave me paralyzed and bound
And when I’m at my worst
Your love, it finds me first
By You I can run in the night
For by You I can run in the night

For I am such a man
Seized by the power of a great affection
No matter where I am
Peace spreads below me in every direction

First Follow-up Appointment and MRI
March 21, 2011

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

From James:

Short Version: Another long day in Baltimore — our first in 6 weeks. Today’s MRI showed no tumor growth, which is good news.

Long Version:

Today was our first MRI and follow-up after radiation treatment ended on February 2. It was an all-day affair. We departed at 7 a.m. and arrived home at around 5 p.m. The MRI appointment was in the morning, and the actual meeting with the radiation oncologist was at 1:30 p.m.

The MRI was as routine as such a thing can be, with So Young falling asleep on the table, which is probably the best thing you can do during an MRI, because it facilitates sitting still.

We had some time to kill between the MRI and the consultation, so we took the museum tour of Johns Hopkins. There is an area under the hospital’s famous Dome that contains various portraits of benefactors and famous doctors, along with a bust and portrait of Johns Hopkins himself and a 10′ tall statue of Jesus.

People write prayers or thoughts in two books in front of Jesus. We wrote our prayers as well. The sculpture is about to be covered up for renovations, so we were lucky to see it. It is surrounded with scaffolding right now. I had to take this shot from beneath it, behind the scaffolding — hence the cut off hands.

Jesus at Johns Hopkins

Here is the inscription on the pedestal. (“COME unto ME all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you REST.”)

Inscription

 Ever wonder what Johns Hopkins (the man) looked like? Grouchy.

Johns Hopkins (the Man)

We later ventured to a different part of the hospital (the Blaylock Building) to see the portrait of Vivien Thomas, an African-American heart surgeon and unsung hero at Hopkins who was crucial in discovering new surgical techniques for treating “Blue Baby Syndrome.” So Young and I are watching a DVD that Ellen let us borrow that tells his story — Something the Lord Made. Seeing all of these monuments made us all the more convinced that we picked the right hospital for So Young.

OK, so enough about the tourism.  (Like I said, we had time to kill.) We finally had the follow-up with the radiation oncologist, Dr. Kristen Redmond. First, we consulted with one of the residents, who asked questions about her current condition and performed basic tests of her neurological function (touch your nose, etc.). He danced around a bit about the new MRI, so as we waited for Dr. Redmond, So Young started to get nervous, but the news was good.

The brain tumor does not appear to have grown. It is the same size it was in the original MRI taken in November. It didn’t shrink, either, which I suppose would be the ideal outcome, but we still have several months for that to occur. They normally do not shrink. There are a few areas that “lit up” on the MRI, which would usually indicate fast-growing (“malignant”) cells, but Dr. Redmond said that that is expected so close to radiation and isn’t necessarily indicative of bad cells. Overall, Dr. Redmond summarized the situation this way: “It is as good as can be expected.” We will return again in June for another MRI/follow-up combo.

We can expect to go every three months for the next two years, and then every 6 months for years 3 – 5. After that, the MRIs will become annual events.

With regard to So Young’s symptoms:

  • Her eyesight may be unchanged or may have improved. Today she said she saw Dr. Redmond’s face for the first time. She has lost most of the light sensitivity that she had before, so no more sunglasses indoors.
  • She has some difficulty with short-term memory, which is normal for radiation patients.
  • She is more tired than before, but that could be caused by a lot of things, including proximity the radiation treatment and the anti-seizure medications she is on.
  • No headaches. No visual or aural hallucinations, which she was having pre-radiation and during the early radiation days.
  • Mild balance issues.

Thanks to everyone for your continued prayers and well-wishes, in person and virtual. We are so grateful for all of you and wish we could repay you for making such a difference in our lives. We send you our love as we continue on this race.

Here’s a picture of So Young before her first marathon. (She’s the one on the left…:-) ) She isn’t letting me post any recent images of her. Isn’t she beautiful? So glad to be hers. I know many are glad to know and love her, too.

So Young

Anticipating Monday and Typical Kindnesses
March 20, 2011

From James:

So Young’s first follow-up appointment and MRI after radiation treatment takes place tomorrow. I would say that we are waiting for this appointment eagerly, but it is with mixed emotions. The doctor has already told us that the tumor will likely look “angry” on the MRI, so it probably won’t be encouraging to look at, although of course it might also have retreated by that time.

Meanwhile, So Young has increased her dose of steroids to 2 mg after weaning to 1 mg, and now she is not experiencing headaches in the morning, with seems to prove that the headaches were the result of radiation-induced swelling. She is sleeping a lot more these days, almost to excess, as she was starting to do in the weeks preceding radiation treatment. I suspect that it is caused by the tumor itself. Some types of brain tumors are known to cause tiredness. Hers is in the thalamus, which affects the sleep cycle. And then there is the fact that she just recently got blasted with radiation, which can be tiring.

Yesterday was a typical Saturday at the Gage household — typical primarily in the kindness we received. Dad, Ka-loon and Sam (from church), and Ricky (our neighbor) came over to fix a falling fence in the backyard, which turned out to be a project within a project within a project that won’t be entirely complete for a few more weeks. Dad was the foreman for the job, always more than up to the task (he was made for this kind of stuff). Everybody gave many more hours than they probably anticipated but seemed glad to help.

While they labored away, we went to So Me and Jeremy’s house for Jacob’s 100 day celebration, a Korean tradition, and had tasty Korean food. Later, So Young watched Jacob and Nathanael while their parents went on a date.

Just before we left for the party, we discovered that the minivan was not operational. After a failed attempt to jump it, we almost had it towed, but the tow truck driver got it running again, so I was able to drive it to the repair shop. It could be as simple as a necessary tune-up.

In the evening, Justin and Lauren drove all the way from Arlington with a delicious, home cooked dinner for us. We invited them to stay and help us eat the meal they prepared. We have done this a couple of times with people who brought food, and the reaction we get is priceless. It’s an awkward suggestion. The (understandable) reaction is sort of like this: “You want us to eat the food we brought for you?” But it turned out well, allowing us to get to know this delightful couple much better than we otherwise would.

We talked a lot about our years at Ambassador Bible Church, which will be 14 this summer. So Young and I later reflected that we saw ourselves in them, as a young couple just starting out.  We didn’t know how things would turn out then — three kids, a lot of ups and downs, best friends even now. We still don’t know how things will turn out in a lot of ways, but we know that despite all the change, good and bad — like Lindsay prayed last night before bedtime — “God is good, all the time.” Yesterday was still more proof.

Steroids, Headaches, and the Purpose of It All
March 13, 2011

From James:

Today may be So Young’s last day on steroids. She has been taking some pretty high doses over the past few months to reduce the swelling in her brain caused by the radiation and the tumor itself. She weaned off to the point that today she took only half a pill (1 mg). Tomorrow she will take none, unless the doctor orders otherwise.

Yesterday, we attempted to run a long run together (5 miles) while Mom took the kids shopping for spring clothes. So Young said her head was hurting beforehand, and then as she started to run, with each step her head hurt, so we called it off for her safety. She said she had similar headaches prior to radiation, which really means that she had them prior to being on steroids, so this could mean that she will resume steroids after I call Johns Hopkins tomorrow, although perhaps such headaches are not a problem. I’m not sure.

She has had two very bad episodes of headaches twice so far: once on the morning before she met with her neurologist (pre-diagnosis) and once on the afternoon before the biopsy was performed. They were quite severe — debilitating, I would say — and caused by intracranial pressure (ICP), which is pressure in the skull caused by the presence of the brain tumor as it blocks the normal flow of fluid. She was essentially crying in pain and vomiting as a result of these. We’re keeping a watchful eye to ensure that these don’t happen again. If they do, I believe they will eventually recommend a shunt to enable the normal flow of fluid and relieve the pressure, which is quite common. It is also possible that they will recommend that she up her dose of steroids again, at least in the short term. So Young hates the steroids because they cause her to gain weight, but if that is what they recommend, there is nothing we can do about it.

Her eyesight remains essentially the same. As usual, I still contend that it is getting better, and she adamantly insists that she is just coping better. For example, she read the fortune from a fortune cookie the other day. That’s progress, right? She said they are so hackneyed that she guesses at the words and gets them right. One day at church I asked her if she could see the words projected on the screen at the front of the church. “There are words up there?” was the response.

Meanwhile, we are adapting well to our new routine — me taking the kids to school in the morning, Mom picking them up in the evening, etc. Friends often visit So Young, although not every day, which is good. I work from home Wednesday afternoons, which So Young appreciates. We will continue to receive meals twice a week through March.

The hardest part right now for So Young is the emotional dimension of things. When she is alone, she sometimes feels lonely and sad. When she has a lot of visitors and is busy, she is easily exhausted. We are trying to achieve an elusive balance between the two extremes. (Please don’t read that as a plea to stop visiting! So Young really wants visitors. She’ll say “no” if she needs to rest.)

So Young asks why all of this is happening to her. She wonders if there is a God-ordained purpose to it. We always conclude that there is a purpose but that it may not be knowable yet.

Our pastors are preaching through the book of Romans, and So Young feels that the last two sermons in particular have been an answer to her prayers, in which she has asked God why this is happening. The first of two about suffering is already available on the ABC web site. The second should be available soon: http://www.ambassadorbiblechurch.org.

Ambassador Bible Church: Truly a Place I Call HOME
March 5, 2011

From So Young:

God is on the move and using Ambassadors to make a powerful impact on me and my family. I have heard that we followers of Christ are his hands and feet, but never witnessed the  real-life demonstration of what this means.  If I hadn’t accepted  Jesus as my Savior long ago, as a young child, I would have fallen on my knees and placed my faith in him in these last few months.  Our brothers and sisters at Ambassador believe in a God of compassion, generosity, service, and above all LOVE.

Many friends outside of our church are amazed when they hear about all the good things you have done and continue to do for me and my family. I’m asked, “What kind of church is this?”

Thank you for being his light and his people.

I consider it a true honor to serve with you, spurring one another on toward love and good deeds.

Thank You, ABC!
March 4, 2011

From James:

Our pastor, John Park, recently sent an e-mail to the congregation asking that we relate any stories we have of how we have seen God working through our church, ABC. For the longest time, I have wanted to write such a post, so I’m going to make my reply to him public…

Dear JP,

When you ask me that question, I don’t even know where to begin. Our ABC family has meant so much to us over the years. One would think it just started four months ago, when we found out about So Young’s brain tumor, but as I reflect on it, God has been working through ABC constantly for the last 13 (almost 14) years.

ABC was the first church So Young and I went to as a married couple in 1997. It is the church in which we have raised our three girls, from when they were in diapers to now, with one of them in the youth ministry today. Through all that time, ABC was a constant source of spiritual nourishment for all of us. I realize now, looking back, that during all the years of relative calm, God was teaching us and preparing us for more difficult times.

ABC was there when So Young’s mom died too early, at age 51, 11 years ago. She lived long enough to see her first grandchild, Shannon, turn one. We were so incredibly touched to see so many of our friends from ABC at the funeral. I had no idea until that time how much it means for people to show up for something like that. So I would say that when ABC showed up, it was as if God showed up, too.

ABC was there when So Young and I went through some very rough years in our marriage. I remember meeting with Kenji right in the thick of it, at my lowest point and the worst moment. He embraced me (literally), and that embrace has embodied the grace of Christ for me ever since. So many men at ABC rallied around me during that time, sharing their own struggles transparently and praying for So Young and me. So Young has a similar story to tell as well. It took her longer to open up, but when she did, she experienced nothing but God’s grace from the women of ABC.

ABC was there when So Young was diagnosed with this terrible illness — literally there. Kenji took the first, tearful phone call. (Well, the second, after Mom.) You (JP) prayed with me the next morning. Rose and Yoon showed up with dinner the next day — and with that gesture, the spiritual feeding became physical feeding, which (unbelievably) lasts to this day.

We became the recipients of such overwhelming compassion from ABC. We got in touch with our neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins through ABC. Hayong set up a schedule for meals and visitations for So Young, and eventually even prayer and fasting. Literally over a dozen people banded together — most of them from ABC — to drive So Young to Johns Hopkins every day for radiation. Amanda and Ashton recorded two songs for us that we blasted on the way to Baltimore. Money for medical bills started pouring in from ABC. Ashleigh rallied PrimeTime to help us with various things, most notably some really intense babysitting. Small groups prayed for us, brought us care packages, and even helped with the Christmas shopping. And honestly, that is a very short list that doesn’t do it justice. People did so much that I often wonder if it is possible to keep track of it all or thank everyone.

We got the message loud and clear! God was telling us that He loved us and would not leave our side. So Young  and I always pray two things: please heal So Young and thank you for showing your love for us so clearly through these people, and especially through ABC.

So you ask how God has worked through ABC? That’s the short answer from my perspective. I could write a lot more.

God bless and thank you, JP, for everything you continue to do…

James

One Month After Treatment
March 1, 2011

From James:

“Don’t worry, Mommy. You’re going to be OK,” said our six-year-old Audrey the other day, after praying for So Young. “A lot of people are praying for you — even people you don’t know.”

That kindergartener’s prayers and the prayers of many others must be taking effect. About a month after the end of radiation, So Young is doing remarkably well.

On Sunday, she joined us on a family bike ride on a beautiful, pre-spring day. And she actually rode her bike. At first, she said she would “run beside us” while we rode to the school, which is a couple of blocks away. The kids said she should ride her bike, too, but I said that it would be too difficult for So Young, which of course made So Young want to ride her bike all the more. We rode all around the neighborhood, well beyond the school. She only fell once during the two-mile or so trek.

This was a risky stunt, I know, but you have to understand that I can’t contain the lady (and nor do I want to). So Young has been run/walking alone outdoors frequently since our first run together. She is avoiding tripping during her runs by lifting her feet more, especially when she sees cracks on the sidewalk or path. I tested her recently to make sure that she can see cars while she crosses the street, and she passed the test perfectly.

I’m not sure exactly how to run with her as a “guide” anymore. We took a second run together recently. I held her hand and called out many of the cracks and curbs, but she eventually got annoyed, so I stopped and she promptly tripped again, just like the first time.

All of this is to say that she is doing very well physically and remains persistent. It’s important that she continue her life in this and a myriad of other ways. We hope that this will be a very long race.

Another bit of good news is that the Johns Hopkins folks are weaning her off of the steroids in earnest now. The steroids reduced the swelling in her brain while the radiation was taking place, but they cause side effects like weight gain, which is really troubling to So Young. They also have negative side effects in the long term, such as permanent muscle weakness, which hasn’t occurred yet but could if she stayed on them. So we are weaning off and hope to be completely off in about two weeks.

Another recent change is that So Young is sleeping a lot better at night, without the assistance of medication. That is a direct result of her weaning off of the steroids.

We have a date for our follow-up MRI and appointment with the radiation oncologist: March 21.

These verses really struck me when I read them this week:

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD. — Psalm 27:13-14

This tells me that as a Christian, I don’t merely have hope for heaven. I can also have hope here on earth (“the land of the living”) as I watch and wait for what He is going to do. Meanwhile, be strong and take heart.