Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

Two Years after Diagnosis and MRI Tomorrow
November 12, 2012

From James:

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the original MRI revealing So Young’s brain tumor. It’s an interesting coincidence that we have another important MRI taking place tomorrow, this time to assess the effectiveness of the chemo after the tumor began growing again, this time rapidly on her brain stem.

Once again we want to thank everyone for your prayers and many ways of showing support. A couple of examples: My colleagues at the State Department generously donated money to pay for medical expenses, many of whom have never met So Young or the girls. Also, you may have read a few comments on the blog recently from Seattle. These are friends of Ann, a beloved friend of So Young’s with whom she shared Christ just after the diagnosis. Ann became a Christian, moved across the country, and found a new family of believers to whom she is now a blessing. They’ve been writing on the blog to tell So Young how the legacy she left with Ann has carried over as a blessing to them. It’s such a meaningful thing for So Young to hear. It shows her that her life has made a difference in the midst of suffering. Those are just two examples. There are many more.

I want to ask for your prayers for my coworker Jennifer, who has posted comments on this blog before and continues to show support and concern for So Young. She recently underwent serious back surgery and is recovering. She could really use your prayers as well.

I’ll tweet the results of So Young’s MRI tomorrow, possibly around 4 p.m. or so. Thanks again for everything!

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One Year After Treatment
February 2, 2012

From James:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

One year ago today, So Young completed radiation treatment for her brain tumor.

A year ago, the tumor was larger are more fearsome looking.

Today, after much prayer from many faithful people, it is weakened and cowering, having shrunk to two-thirds of its former size. They said it wouldn’t shrink.

A year ago, So Young had lost a lot of hair. She was bald all around her head, from both sides to the back, with a bald spot on top.

Today, her hair is growing back. The new hair is fine and curly, and she wakes up each morning with a what appears to be a heavily primped parody of an 80’s hairdo, a constant source of entertainment for all of us.

A year ago, we were still receiving meals from our friends several times a week. Lots and lots of food. The meals kept coming for months after treatment.

Today, So Young is making all of the meals for the family. She hasn’t lost her ability to cook at all. What is leftover from a year ago, however, is gratitude. We were just talking about it the other day, how our friends and family were there when we needed them.

A year ago, So Young’s eyesight was quite bad — even worse than it is now. At that time, she would describe herself as “blind,” because that’s how she felt. Those of you who walked with her during those days know that she needed a lot of help dodging curbs, cracks in the sidewalk, and even walls at times.

Today, she is walking with ease on her own and even texting again using the tiny keyboard on her phone.

A year ago, we were reeling in a new, chaotic world of crisis, only four months after the diagnosis.

Today, perspective is everything. We can see God’s hand in our story.

So Young says it all the time: “What Satan intended for evil, God is using for good.” We are seeing this not only in the story of So Young’s brain tumor, but also in the story of our marriage and our own personal struggles. God is using our circumstances for good.

Is your story like ours? Are you hungry and blind and waiting for answers? Trust God. Believe in him. He loves you, and He intends to use your circumstances for good.

Hope for the Exercise Intolerant(?)
January 23, 2012

From James:

This is our 100th post! Woo hoo!

We had another follow-up MRI today. We are having them every three months now, so we get a quarterly dose of drama. And of course when I say “we” I mean So Young, but I say that because it feels like we are both going through it. Here is So Young right before the MRI, illustrating how un-nervous/peaceful she was.

SY "Sleeping"

She’s a pro at this now, but I have to tell you, it is stressful every time. You wait for the doctor afterwards, and no matter how optimistic you started, you have this vague feeling that she has bad news.

That was not to be the case this time. The MRI “looks great,” according to our radiation oncologist, Dr. Kristin Redmond. Last time, as you may recall, there was a dramatic reduction in size, estimated to be roughly 30% or so. This time was less dramatic, perhaps to be measured in millimeters rather than centimeters, but nevertheless it continues to get smaller. So Young asked her to show us before and after images, and we agree that today’s tumor looks rather beat up compared to the plump, thriving version of July, just six months ago.

Dr. Redmond confirmed that So Young’s newly diagnosed hypothyroidism might be caused by the radiation, although she said that the timing is rather soon after radiation ended, so the tumor might be causing it. Either way, I don’t think it is a surprise, but it is a good thing that our family practice doctor, Peter Mendel, checked for it. So Young had a bunch of symptoms that would have been written off by a less attentive physician.

Dr. Redmond also said that “exercise intolerance” is a common symptom of hypothyroidism, which would explain So Young’s recent lack of desire to run. That is the funniest turn of phrase I’ve heard in a while. I might start using it myself!

The good news about hypothyroidism, if that is in fact an issue (it hasn’t been definitively diagnosed yet), is that to counteract it, you simply take a pill. Your energy level magically goes up, along with the other symptoms that were plaguing you, supposedly.

As I write, So Young is taking a “victory lap” (as she calls it) on the treadmill. She said she wants to try the Historic Half again this May. She’s going to “take it on faith,” she says. This is her first time running in a long while, and now I have to revise the FAQs again, since I corrected them last night to say she doesn’t run anymore.

So Young has really been enjoying some hymns as performed by Sufjan Stevens recently, and although he isn’t for everybody, she wanted me to post the lyrics from one here. It captures well how we felt on the drive home and have been feeling recently.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
by Robert Robinson

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

On a more somber note, we ask your prayers at the passing of my step-grandmother Marie Gage. Pray especially for my grandfather, Bill Gage, now in his mid-eighties.

Many thanks to all of you for your countless prayers.

Keep Praying and Believing
December 19, 2011

From So Young:

It’s just one week before we celebrate Christ our Savior’s birth. I look forward to Christmas, but as I look forward I pause and I have to look back at a year like no other. It’s late now as I quietly look through some of your responses on my blog. I am overcome with tears as I remember how you all prayed for me, loving me with your faith and prayers.

When does a person have an opportunity for a whole army of people to pray for them, reminding me that the battle is the Lord’s? It is only because God has been fighting for me and knew this was going to happen that I’ve been able to overcome many things and that I’m able to see this miracle happening in me.

I am a blessed woman! Your prayers are the best gifts of all. Please keep praying and believing, because our God is for us. Because of him we lack nothing at all. I’ve said it many times: As long as I have breath and until my last one, I will say, “God is good all the time!”

One Year Later: Broken But Grateful
November 24, 2011

“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” — 1 Chronicles 29:13

From James:

Thanksgiving Day marks about a year from So Young’s brian tumor diagnosis on November 12, 2010. It’s a strange kind of anniversary, because you aren’t happy that you heard the news, and yet you are happy for another year of life. You are “broken but grateful,” a condition that it would seem God wants us to be in sometimes.

List-maker that I am, part of me wants to write a comprehensive list of everything that has happened over the last year that So Young and I are thankful for, but I realize I couldn’t do it justice. There is just too much. I would miss something incredible and poignant from the flood that has passed over us. It was a tsunami of kindness, in every way just as strong and all-encompassing as the dark news itself. So setting that approach aside, I offer a few recent vignettes, not to capture it all but to illustrate.

When one of our close friends heard about So Young’s diagnosis, she was greatly affected. She has done much for our family this past year, really more than almost anyone else, and there is no way to repay her. One thing she did was to let her hair grow out for an entire year. Just recently, she had a foot of her long, lustrous black hair cut off, which she donated to Locks of Love in So Young’s honor. When she told me about this, I’m pretty sure my response was understated, something like “wow” or “cool,” because what do you say? “Thank you” doesn’t do justice to an act so meaningful. We’re thankful for the tangible devotion of friends like her.

Some of you know that So Young and I went to DC a few weeks ago to cheer for the Marine Corps Marathon participants. So Young has run the race four times. Last October, on her fifth attempt, she had to quit at the eighteenth mile. Two weeks later, she received her diagnosis. It was out of gratitude that we went to the MCM this year. For most if not all of the runners, it isn’t actually about the miles. It’s a metaphor for overcoming life’s difficulties, diseases, and other hardships, whatever form they might take. But the race isn’t about overcoming them alone. It’s about running the difficult miles as a community, with family. So we trekked to the Mall, dressed as bumblebees (don’t ask), screamed, danced around, held cheesy homemade signs, and passed out candy to honor a family that has loved So Young these past years. We were lucky enough to see her brother Paul and our friend Erica along the course. We met with more than a dozen others afterwards — brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles to us in the running community. For this extended family we are also grateful.

So Young Cheering at the MCM

Looking, Uh, Cool on the Metro

Shannon turned 13 this month, and Audrey turned 7. A kid turning 13 is another one of those causes for celebration that makes you scratch your head a bit: I’m the parent of a teenager? It also turned out to be a very hectic time, and I have to tell you that I was overwhelmed at different points this month. Because of So Young’s limited eyesight, I carry a lot more of the parenting responsibilities than I used to. In a sense, I have had to “grow up” as a parent this year. At one point recently,  I was so frustrated (and whining about it) that I actually made So Young cry, because she is helpless to do anything about it. Great. Now not only am I overwhelmed, but I’m making the lady with the brain tumor feel bad about having a brain tumor! Mom and Dad have really stepped up during this time. And by “this time” I mean this year. Again, the list-maker in me wants to come out at this point in the narrative, but suffice it to say that they have done a lot — a lot — to pick up the slack when we’ve needed help this month, as always. We are grateful for being blessed by such amazing parents, who are also the very definition of “extreme grandparents” to our kids.

Shannon with Amazing Cake

We are also grateful for joy. I have told a few people recently that So Young is more joyful than I have ever seen her in my life. She’s almost like a child, able to enjoy the moment and laugh in a most un-grownup way that always makes me smile. I believe that’s a gift from God.

Finally, we are grateful for healing. If you’ve heard So Young’s testimony, you know that God has healed our marriage, and last month we found out He is answering everybody’s prayers and is healing her brain. You might be broken, too, like we have been many times in our lives — broken by grief, bad circumstances, health problems, financial troubles, and maybe even family and friends. Remember that Jesus can heal you. You might not see it now. For me, I can say that at certain points it seemed like hope wasn’t even a glimmer on the horizon, and I know that there are moments So Young has felt the same. But the Healer is near. He spent his life on this earth healing. Don’t think that He has stopped now, even for you, no matter where you are.

We Have Some Strange Thanksgiving Traditions

A Good and Perfect Gift
October 24, 2011

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” — James 1:17

From James:

So Young’s brain tumor is shrinking! We had a follow-up MRI today that seems to show a significant reduction in its size, the first ever since the diagnosis almost a year ago. We pressed Dr. Redmond to quantify it, and she said that if she was forced to guess, she would say that it has been reduced in size by 30%. This is amazing to us. They have been telling us all along that it is unlikely that it would shrink because of the type of tumor (an astrocytoma). I asked Dr. Redmond again today, and she said that it is possible for them to shrink but atypical. The doctors have always said that if it stopped growing, we would be happy with that. But to shrink? And this much? We are flabbergasted. We have prayed for it to shrink but never really expected it to, and certainly not by 1/3 in three months! It seemed like too much to ask or expect.

So thank you for your prayers. And continue to pray! Pray audaciously. Ask that it will go away entirely and that So Young will be completely restored.

As a footnote, they are saying that these are preliminary results and that the official radiologist’s report will be released tomorrow. But this is the first time they have really made a big deal about that report. Even the technician was talking about it as soon as So Young got out of the MRI room. It seems as if they noticed something significant right away. Dr. Redmond then also looked at the MRI itself and confirmed what the preliminary report was saying. They said they will tell us if the final report is any different, but that seems unlikely.

So Young and I are overjoyed, as are the girls and all of our family and friends. I overheard and participated in some very joyous telephone calls today. It shows me just how much those who love us don’t just share in our sadness, but in our high points as well.

This miracle comes as a surprise to us, even as we realize that we have nothing to be surprised about. We asked. Our Father gave. So we won’t stop asking.

We won’t be back at Johns Hopkins until the cold month of January. We’ll be having three-month follow-ups for the next two years. At this rate, with the improvements we are seeing to So Young’s eyesight, she might be able to drive herself there!

iUpdate on iSoYoung
September 24, 2011

From James:

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or have talked to us recently already know some of this, but I wanted to post it on the blog.

The biggest news is that So Young is “going public” in saying that her vision has improved. That means she’s convinced that there has been a real, lasting improvement in her eyesight. She still can’t see well enough to drive, has difficulty reading normal-sized letters on a page, etc. She struggles, but the struggle isn’t as great.

We sincerely believe this is an answer to your prayers. Paul Miller writes that the way we expect answers to prayer is analogous to when you describe Disney World to a child. They want to go the next day! We know that our Father might not answer all our prayers immediately, but we keep praying and waiting patiently nevertheless.

The other great news is that So Young has started her own small group. (A small group is a gathering of people committed to learning about God, praying for each other, and becoming more like Jesus.) I’m so proud of her for this. She told me that God was saying, “Why wait?” Why wait to serve until your vision is restored? This is so convicting for me: a person who can barely see is taking on a task that generally requires decent eyesight and that most people are reluctant to do anyway. She says she also wants to “give back” some of what has been given to her. She meets with three of her best friends, Jin, Grace, and Laurie, every other Friday.

Technology, specifically the iPad and Audible.com, have been a big help to So Young in this endeavor. I downloaded the ebook version of the book they are studying (A Praying Life  by Paul Miller) to the iPad. She opens it in the Kindle app, which enables her to zoom into the text. Touch screen devices are much easier to use for visually impaired people than mouse-and-keyboard-based computers. Reading is possible but laborious, however, so she also listens to the audio book on her iPod. She uses so much Apple technology, maybe we should call this an iSmallGroup…

A few days ago So Young fell down the stairs. This was caused by a combination of bad eyesight and wearing socks on polished wooden stairs. I was right behind her but of course couldn’t stop her fall. All the way down maybe four or five steps, her left leg was extended and her right leg was bent back. Her right leg just above the shin hit every step in succession with the full weight of her body — BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG. It was shocking to watch. I was sure she had broken her leg and possibly damaged her knee because of the impact with which she hit each step and the way her right leg was contorted behind her. But in a further testament to her toughness, she’s fine. Only bruised. I wonder if those years of running strengthened her bones. We’re grateful that she was upright the whole time and didn’t tumble and hit her head. She went running a couple of days later, of course!

The “new normal” of our lives continues, as the issues of the Irregular Prophet attest. School has started, and So Young walks the younger kids up and back most days, unless the weather is bad, and then Mom helps. Laurie drives Shanny to and from the bus stop. Mom is godlike in her ability to be everywhere when we need her, taking So Young shopping, picking the girls up during thunderstorms, driving Audrey to soccer practice, and granddaughter sitting all the time. We continue to be grateful for our big family, which consists of people far beyond those related to us by blood.

Audrey's Kicking the Soccer Ball

Audrey Kicks the Ball During Her First Soccer Game Ever

A couple of prayer requests for others:

  • Pray for my cousin Elizabeth. She recently lost her baby. We mourn with her and her family for their loss.
  • Pray for KT and Elaine. They left for Cambodia a couple of days ago to serve as teachers at an orphanage. They are newlyweds and will be there for two years. We asked for your prayers for Elaine recently for a tumor they had found. She is cancer free.

Gifts Beyond Measure
July 25, 2011

From James:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8

Today we received tremendous news from Johns Hopkins. So Young’s brain tumor is no longer “lit up” on the MRI. This means that it does not have evidence of fast-growing cells anymore. Dr. Kristen Redmond, our radiation oncologist, described the MRI as “perfect” and said that the white area on the tumor is “diminished significantly, if not gone.” It turns out that the previous MRI showed a short-term side effect of the radiation that was more an indication of tumor cells being destroyed than new tumor cells growing. The tumor has not gotten smaller and is not expected to, at least from the perspective of the doctors. Also, we continue to pray that So Young’s eyesight will be restored.

So Young has a Grade 2 astrocytoma, and that type of tumor can become fast-growing (Grade 3 or 4), but hers has not. We got a taste of what it might feel like if such a thing were to happen. But more than anything, today we also got a taste of God’s goodness.

Early on, many people dropped everything to drive So Young to Baltimore. Still more people provided meals for us, for almost 8 months straight. Now they have given up food and sleep to pray for us. That is the most tangible and significant gift they could have given: faithfulness, trust in God, self-sacrifice, prayer, and hope. You really bore a great burden with us. We would be lying if we said we were never afraid, but we felt protected and confident all along because of you, our family.

So many good things happened this week. Over fifty people fasted and prayed. Wednesday was So Young’s birthday, and her friends lavished her with love and honor. A couple who has already been so kind to us offered (unsolicited, a surprise to us) to let us use their beach house later in the summer, free of charge. Those are just a few examples from this week among many. And I don’t know why, but I honestly felt like all the good things meant that something bad was going to happen, like God was cushioning the blow for bad news. He was not. He was preparing us for more blessings.

Isn’t that just like God? He isn’t only merciful, holding back punishment from us, born his enemies. He is abundantly gracious, lavishing gifts beyond measure on his adopted children.

How do we respond? How are we going to live our lives differently after God has given us so much? These are questions that So Young and I have been asking ourselves since this all started. We don’t have concrete answers yet, but we know that we want to pour out the same love we have received.

I don’t know that we will be able to keep up.

Dear Dad
June 19, 2011

From James:

I’ve decided to honor my dad with this post. I guess I could have written him a private letter, but I feel like others should get a chance to hear about him, too. If you read this and feel compelled, feel free to respond with a post — long or short — about your own dad, to honor him.

Dear Dad,

There are so many things about you that amaze me, so much you have accomplished in this life. B-52 pilot. Air Force colonel. Soccer champion. Supreme negotiator and salesman. Georgetown MBA. Incredible work ethic. Exemplary provider. Supreme handyman and woodworker. And how did you land Mom? I mean, you’re a charming guy and all, but she was way out of your league…

More than that though, I want you to know that I admire your character, the man you are inside. I remember hearing you do the congregational prayer today. (I would say, “Nice prayer,” by the way, but I don’t want that to be your only reward, if you know what I mean, so I’ll refrain.) I thought (and I was praying, too, mind you), “My dad is such a tough guy. But he is a man of deep emotions. How can he be both?”

Your love for me and my family is so evident. I know it hasn’t always been easy for you to express that love to me. I’ve been really proud that you’ve been able to say “I love you” since I became an adult, and we even do those sort of  one-armed “man hugs” every once in a while. You initiated all of that, by the way. I didn’t. But you didn’t have to do that to show it. I can tell.

I remember how you just so desperately wanted to help when the world started crashing down around us seven months ago. You were ready to do anything, but the situation didn’t readily lend itself to what you are best at. Soon, you took on our house projects with gusto, combining your repair and maintenance know-how with your financial means to help us. So Young can see so much better with the new lights on the main level because of what you did. We were just talking about that last night. Also, the back fence is well on its way. I could never have done either without you, and those are just two examples among many. You are an amazing servant and giver/provider.

There is also the love you have for Mom. Forty years of marriage to your “bride,” as you proudly call Mom. That is such a model for all of us to follow. It shows deep character — a commitment to integrity and fidelity that is so rare today. So Young and I often remark to each other that we can tell you two really love each other. Your commitment is a rock, and it will be for generations to come. I want to have that fierce, unwavering devotion to my bride as well.

You may have never noticed it, but you are also a great encourager to me and my family. I find it fascinating that a man who is so tough on the outside can also bolster others up so effortlessly. I think of how you have encouraged So Young during the toughest times. For example, when So Young was in the emergency room after the half marathon last month, you just sort of materialized at the hospital within minutes of my phone call. You were there with strong words of encouragement for So Young and all of us, like some kind of an Air Force colonel angel or something. It seems like a small thing, but it is emblematic of so much. We won’t soon forget it and all the ways you lift us up.

Dad, I really want to honor you. I hope this takes some steps in that direction. As you prayed, we dads aren’t always perfect. As a father myself, I know exactly what you mean, and I face that every day. But you have done so well.

I love you, Dad.

Love,

James

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.