How It Began: Part 5

From James:

This is the last in a series of posts describing the events leading up to when this blog began. To read the entire series, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 .

After our old college friend advised so strongly against using the brain surgeon we had selected at Georgetown, we were at a complete loss. At that time, there was a sense that we were quickly losing time. We didn’t know the nature of the tumor at all. As far as we knew, So Young had a very aggressive tumor and only months to live. The neurologist had said “the prognosis is not good.” The Georgetown doctor had advised against deliberating too long. Yet we had already lost almost two weeks. As a precaution, I scheduled surgery with both Georgetown surgeons. Georgetown became our last resort if we weren’t able to find a suitable doctor quickly.

I remembered the countless, unsolicited doctor recommendations I had received from friends and acquaintances since November 12 and how I had assiduously ignored them. Frankly, I had been overwhelmed by the number I had received and didn’t know where to start. So I began pouring over the recommendations. Johns Hopkins kept coming up. As I looked in my inbox, I realized that I had a half-dozen specific brain surgeons at Johns Hopkins recommended to me by name. Our college friend had even said that he would go to Johns Hopkins if he could do it over again. Given those recommendations and Hopkins’ reputation, I began working aggressively to get So Young into Hopkins.

I contacted some friends to see if I could get So Young into Hopkins quickly, through the back door. I called our neurologist again, saying that Georgetown didn’t work out. Could he find somebody at Johns Hopkins? I also called Hopkins directly to go through their normal process, in case none of my references panned out. They told me that it could take up to five days for them to review her file and screen her. I told them I could overnight a copy of the MRI CD if they wanted it, and I emphasized some critical facts: mother of three, large brain tumor, only 38 years old. They said they would see what they could do.

Meanwhile, two of my emails to friends received unexpected responses. A pediatric neurosurgeon at Hopkins — a friend of our friends Hong and Christine — had offered to see So Young quickly. Also, Hayong had heard from friends who used to attend our church (Matt and Soogi) that they could refer us to a friend of a friend at Hopkins, Dr. Michael Lim, who happened to be a brain surgeon. I asked the pediatric neurosurgeon to talk to Dr. Lim, and Hayong’s friends also contacted Dr. Lim. Finally, our neurologist said he had contacted Dr. Lim on our behalf, so Dr. Lim would be calling us soon. (This was before we had ever mentioned to our neurologist that our friends knew Dr. Lim.) So essentially I had zeroed in on a single doctor, and I had people bugging him from all angles.

The next morning, I received an unexpected phone call. In a surprising gesture of humility, it was Dr. Lim himself calling me from his cell phone on the way to work. We set up an appointment for the next day, between brain surgeries. Usually, brain surgeons don’t contact new patients directly, and they certainly don’t schedule appointments.

The next day, as we sat outside his office waiting for him to come out of surgery, we noticed that his office number was 123, a number that So Young had assigned some significance to in recent months. We felt that it was a sign.

When Dr. Lim arrived and introduced himself, he said, “I want you to know that a lot of people care about you. You must be loved. Many people have contacted me on your behalf.”

During the consultation, Dr. Lim and his assistant, Tami, put us completely at ease. The doctor’s recommendation, having looked at the MRI, was the same as the previous two doctors: resectioning (partial removal) of the brain tumor, followed by radiation to shrink the tumor. He listed the many risks of the surgery but was confident that it was the right approach. But there was one difference in his approach. He said that he would present So Young’s case before the tumor board, which is a cross-disciplinary group of physicians who meet to review and weigh in on a patient’s case. It was a Friday. The tumor board would meet on Monday.

So Young asked the same pointed question she asked of the Georgetown doctor: “Do you believe in miracles?”

Dr. Lim paused as he thought about his answer. “Yes,” he said, “I believe that there are things that happen in the operating room that we can’t explain and that can only be attributed to God.” (As a side note, the “miracle” question is also featured in the movie Gifted Hands, about a Johns H0pkins neurosurgeon. Ben Carson’s character asks it — and answers it — during his Hopkins interview.)

So Young took it further.

“Will you pray for me?”

“I will,” he said.

Almost as important to So Young was The Running Question. Georgetown had strictly forbidden exercise, along with a host of other things. So Young told Dr. Lim how she had run 18 of 26.2 miles a couple of weeks before in the Marine Corps Marathon. Would he allow her to keep running, even long distances?

“Yes,” he said. “Just don’t do any extremely heavy lifting. We want you to stay in good health. But I don’t recommend you running alone because of your eyesight.”

We left Johns Hopkins that day with a great deal of peace.

On Monday, I received a call from Dr. Lim. The tumor board had decided against resectioning. Instead, Dr. Lim would perform a needle biopsy to take a sample of the tumor to determine its pathology. The type of tumor would to some extent determine our next steps.

This blog began around the time the biopsy was performed. The biopsy determined that the tumor is a Grade 2 astrocytoma, which is a slow-growing tumor that infiltrates brain tissue as it grows and can become fast-growing. The Johns Hopkins physicians recommended against surgery, because the tumor is very deep in her brain and surgery carried too high a risk of stroke and death. This disappointed me, because I always thought that surgery was an option. Radiation became our only choice, and even then Dr. Lim was skeptical that it would shrink the tumor (also a disappointment). The objective had become to stop its growth as soon as possible, not to make it smaller. Chemotherapy was considered but dropped. We are saving it in case the tumor becomes faster growing.

To this day, there is a lot of uncertainty, but we continue to see God’s hand in this situation, as the long and winding path to Johns Hopkins shows. Would So Young be alive today if we had chosen Georgetown? We have been blessed at Hopkins. What more is in store for us there? Maybe God has a miracle in store for So Young. Maybe He put us there to be a blessing to the people we meet, and to give our friends and family a chance to be the hands and feet of Christ, driving So Young to Hopkins every day, caring for us, feeding us.

So we don’t wait in fear, although often we are afraid, often discouraged. We wait in hope.

<< Part 4


9 Responses

  1. All I can say is you are both so brave and so filled with faith and hope…I will continue to keep you in my thoughts…

    • Thank you Debby! You continue to be a great encouragement to us.

  2. We continue to pray for So Young and your family. J & J remember “Mrs. So Young” in their prayers. Thank you to the Gage Family for sharing your journey. Your faith, hope, and perseverance encourages us so much and reminds us to give thanks in all circumstances. If I recall, H’s other college friend recommended his med school classmate, Dr. Lim at JH. Reading your entry just confirms that it wasn’t by chance/coincidence that So Young ended up under the care of Dr. Lim and the medical team at JH. God is so good. He is loving and Sovereign. He prepared the right team to take care of So Young. Thank you all for running the race with faith and hope and encouraging us to do likewise.

    • How cool! I had forgotten that. Isn’t it great that you guys were part of it? The whole thing is pretty amazing.

  3. Throughout this entire experience, we have an abundance of care. We thank God for Ambassador Bible Church, your neighbors, friends, coworkers, family and a great medical team! Our entire family is blessed.

    • Absolutely! We are reminded every day. Too many blessing to list.

  4. hello gage’s!
    it’s been very full at our home but am finally catching up on your blog…one of my favorite things to do online b/c it just reminds me of how GREAT our God is & i just LOVE how you all are so willing to share with all of us your journey…it is an amazing blessing!!! it allows us to REMEMBER & RECALL His faithfulness in our lives!!! nothing was by chance in all of this…our God has shown Himself to be sovereign & good! thank you, thank you for blogging ALL this!

    love to the gage’s,
    hayong = )

  5. My brother has brain tumors and I stumbled across this site while trying to do research about Dr. Lim. Thanks for your detailed account. It has been really helpful in giving me piece of mind.

    • Hi, Sabrina!

      Thanks so much for writing. I’m sorry to hear about your brother’s situation. We are glad that the blog is an encouragement to you. We have nothing but good things to say about Dr. Lim and everyone at Johns Hopkins. Our prayers are with you!


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