This beginning starts with an ending. A death. Death is usually thought of as a bad thing but in this case a physical death led to spiritual life. And that is never a bad thing.
This story begins approximately two months ago when a great man and friend of Travis, Pete, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was only in his fifties. His death got Travis thinking. Thinking about death. Thinking about life. And especially…life after death. You see Travis grew up in the church. He was taught, his entire childhood, that belief in Jesus was the only way to heaven. And he had always believed that. And, as he thought about Pete and the after life, he knew he still believed it. But is believing enough? Because, after all, the Bible says even the demons believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
Travis accepted Christ as his savior when he was eleven years old and rededicated his life in 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11thgrade (just to make sure he “got it right”). And, from that point forward he kept, what he liked to call, his “fire insurance” in his back pocket. He didn’t live for Christ or even really involve Him in his every day life other than the occasional prayer. But now he wondered is “fire insurance” enough? So one morning a couple of months ago, he said a prayer. A prayer that would change everything.
Travis takes a bath every morning. Some may consider it odd. Travis says it’s his “thinking time.” It will become his “God time.”
Two months ago he said a prayer from the bathtub. He told God he “didn’t think he was going to make it to Him.” For the first time, Travis was questioning if his “fire insurance” was valid. He had always believed that “once saved, always saved” but what if he was never saved in the first place? He admitted to God he was “too selfish to change on his own and that He was going to have to do something to intercede.” He prayed “just please don’t hit me with a bus…give me a chance to change. Give me a second chance.” And God would give Travis his second chance.
The Roller Coaster
A few weeks after his bathtub prayer, Travis began to have stomach pains. They would come and go – nothing constant and nothing so severe he felt he needed to go to the doctor. Over the next few weeks they got more consistent, but still not constant, and more severe when they hit. Everybody had explanations: ulcer, bleeding ulcer, his diet, gas, etc. Finally, on a Monday – his wedding anniversary – he took his wife of 13 years out and made their first stop the doctor’s office. The doctor said it was probably reflux, gave him a prescription, and told him to come back on Friday if he was not better.
That Wednesday, April 10, Travis was in Birmingham on business, actually a celebration for a major achievement with a client. The night began with an amazing dinner and then some fun with the client at their state of the art facility. During this time, Travis’s stomach began hurting. But what was stranger was the kidney pain. As the night progressed so did the pain to the point that he had to leave the festivities to return to his hotel room. If only he could get in the right position…get some sleep. Maybe this would go away? As he lay in bed the pain got worse and no position helped: lying on his stomach hurt his stomach and lying on his back hurt his back. The pain became so intense he made the decision to head to the emergency room.
The ER doctor ordered a CT scan and some painkillers. Stat. And then Travis waited. The doctor finally came in and broke the news. “Mr. Roberts, you have an awful lot going on. You have kidney stones in both kidneys but not blocking anything, so they shouldn’t be causing problems – not sure why you are experiencing pain there. The lymph nodes in your abdomen wall are swollen. And there are four lesions on your liver.“ Travis’ only question: “Do I have cancer?” The ER doctor truly could not answer the question despite the number of times Travis tried to pin him down to get a definite answer. But he finally stated – I don’t “think” it is cancer but you definitely have something going on. He suggested Travis get home and get to the doctor’s office. That was at 8:00 AM. He was at the doctor in Marietta by 11:30 AM.
Travis got his second chance. He recognized it immediately. The prayer he said from the tub just a month or so earlier came back to him. Tears. No. But unlike many of us…there were no excuses. There was no questioning. He knew, with every ounce of his being, this was the answer to his prayer. God heard his prayer and answered. But was he going to be ok with the answer?
His primary physician in Marietta was not as optimistic as the ER doctor. She reviewed the scans and did some blood work. She told Travis she thought it was cancer. What? How? Travis asked every question possible, and finally the biggest question of them all, “In a situation like this with my results, has it ever turned out not to be cancer?”
The next step was an MRI, which was scheduled for that same Thursday afternoon. By Friday morning they had the blood work results. Everything looked perfect. Everything was in normal range. Then the MRI results – the tumors on the liver are in a spot that can be biopsied (good news) and all other organs look immaculate (even better news). The inflammation of the lymph nodes in the abdomen wall pointed to testicular cancer. In the ER, Travis had an exam and nothing was found but maybe there was something? Maybe the ER doctor missed it? Were Carrie and Travis really praying that he had testicular cancer? How could this be real? Who does that? But when you are facing the other options it suddenly doesn’t seem that bad. After all, if you have to have cancer, testicular cancer is the one to have. Very high success rates even if it has metastasized. Think Lance Armstrong. An ultrasound was scheduled for 3:00 that afternoon.
They got the results immediately. Ultrasound came back clean. What does all this mean? All the organs are clean. Cleared of testicular cancer. Maybe not cancer? Time to schedule the biopsy. “Yes, Mrs. Roberts, the next available appointment is April 24.” WHAT!?!? That’s thirteen days! It was April 11! But Travis is a fighter. So they showed up at the doctor’s office and said that they would stay as long as it took to be seen. They were taken right back. Despite the clear MRI, clear ultrasound, and clean blood results, the doctor was still not encouraged. But she did see the desperation in their eyes and told them she would be coming in on Monday, her day off, just to fight to get the biopsy moved up. All they needed to do was wait. Until Monday. Just wait. It sounds so easy, but, of course, it isn’t.
Monday came, and Travis and Carrie scheduled an appointment for 11 AM – simply to ensure someone was working on getting the biopsy moved. They met with a new doctor who had worked with their original doctor and who was equally as discouraged. They had so many questions for this doctor. She was patient and answered every one of their questions for an hour. As she was finishing up and getting ready to leave, almost as an after thought, she said, “oh – and I have great news. Your biopsy has been scheduled for 11 AM tomorrow.” What?!? Did they hear that right!?!? They felt overwhelmed, grateful to God for His provision through this nightmare. Somehow, despite the fear, the “not knowing,” and other emotions, they had peace. And now this. They went ahead and scheduled an appointment with an oncologist for the following Friday so they would not have to wait once the results were in. Despite several recommendations for a ”Dr. Hamerick,” they really wanted an appointment fast. So they scheduled with another doctor for the following Friday. They knew God was in control.
Tuesday morning arrived, and it was time for the biopsy. Travis and Carrie met with the Intervention Radiologist who was performing the biopsy and asked his opinion. He stated that he was at a loss. If he looked at just Travis’s liver scan, he would think benign liver tumors. After all, 70% of us are walking around with benign liver tumors. If he looked at just the scan of his lymph nodes, he would say lymphoma. But together? He was at a loss. He did say that there were many things it could be and warned them not to jump to any conclusions. Something to hold on to…finally! Travis was given twilight anesthesia and, true to form, the only trouble they had was keeping the needle steady for the biopsy as Travis has them laughing throughout the procedure. When the nurse came out to report to Carrie that he was fine and in recovery, she commented, “he talked through the entire procedure…cracking everybody up.” No surprise there.
And now the wait. The results of the biopsy would take 7-10 days. Seven. To. Ten. Days. Unbelievable. His birthday was just seven days away. Wouldn’t it be “so Travis” to find out on his birthday? All bets were on his birthday. The wait was nearly impossible. The days were long. The nights were longer. How do you sleep when you are waiting to hear if you are going to live or die? If your children will grow up fatherless…your wife a widow? How do you wait? How do you wait without going crazy?
Travis’s birthday came. 38 years old. 38 years old and waiting to hear the news of life or death. Could this be real? Every phone ring caused their blood pressure to skyrocket. The morning came and went. Lunch time. Afternoon. Time to sing Happy Birthday. No phone call. The birthday was over and there was no news.
Tuesday Morning. Carrie is brushing her teeth…getting the kids ready for school. The normal routine. Travis is in the bathtub having what is now his “God time.” The phone rings. “Mr. Roberts, this is the doctor.”
“Do I have cancer?”
“Do I have cancer?”
“Do. I. Have. Cancer?”
“Yes. You have cancer. You have metastasized adenocarcinoma of the GI. “
Brokenness. Plain and simple. Each of them sobbing. Together. On their own. Sobbing. Carrie on the floor. Travis in the bathtub – paralyzed in fear. Cancer? Really? How did this happen? But he knew. He knew how it happened. Funny how it all circled back around to the bathtub. The exact spot he was in two months ago when he prayed. When he asked for this. But “this” isn’t what he had in mind. He was still grateful for his second chance and refused to turn his back on God. Refused to get angry with God. But was “this” necessary? Did his second chance have to be this drastic? Only God knows. To be clear, Travis and Carrie don’t believe God gave Travis cancer. They believe Travis already had the cancer when he prayed that prayer in the bathtub two months earlier. Because, after all, God works all things for the good of those who love Him. God was preparing Travis’s heart for what was about to happen.
The OB-GYN who delivered two of their babies was keeping in touch with them throughout this entire ordeal. Travis had done his driveway for him, and they had become friendly. Dr. Lee was able to pull some strings and get their appointment moved up to the next morning at 9:00 AM. And it was with Dr. Hamerick. The one they really wanted. They didn’t have to wait until Friday after all, and they got the doctor they wanted. God’s grace in an impossible time.
Bad News Gets Worse
The doctor had told Travis Tuesday morning that he needed to get scheduled for an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. He had a 1:30 pm appointment that day for the prep. The procedure would probably be the next day. Numbness. Shock. Tears. The family gathered. Hugged. Cried. And cried some more. The 1:30 appointment came, and the Physicians Assistant walked in and punched Travis and Carrie in the stomach. At least that is what it seemed like. “Mr. Roberts, I just got off the phone with the head of Gastroenterology. We believe that what you have is Cholangiocarcinoma (Bile Duct Cancer). It is extremely rare. I know you are here for an endoscopy and colonoscopy prep, but this disease is so rare that there really is no treatment for it, so there is no reason to prep you. If your oncologist decides he does want these procedures, we can always schedule them, but we don’t believe there is any reason to at this point. I’m sorry.”
Travis heard, “Go home and die.”
Thank God for Google. Google can be a curse. You can find some scary things. Depressing stories. Serious wackos. Which Travis had found over the past ten days as he poured over Google for hours on end trying to match his symptoms, or lack of, to a sickness. But it can also be a blessing. Travis got home from the meeting with the Physician Assistant, and the Googling began. A glimmer of hope. Bile Duct Cancer was rare, but there ARE treatments available. There are options. Google even says there is a 2% chance of survival. Two percent!!!!!! It’s amazing the things you cling to when you have receive the kind of news they received. There was now a little hope to hold onto until the appointment with the oncologist the next morning.
Thank God for a 9:00 AM appointment. In true Travis fashion they arrived 20 minutes early for the appointment. Dr. Hamerick sat down and laid it all out. “You currently have an incurable stage 4 cancer.” Incurable? It is considered incurable because so few people survive that they cannot even round the number up to 1%. Officially, the medical community would say Travis has six months to live. But….
Funny how that little word, three letters, “but” can offer so much hope.
But…..the average age of people getting this cancer is 72. With a cancer this advanced, Travis should be sick. Really sick. Vomiting, diarrhea, yellow with jaundice. He has none of that. Other than a mild stomachache every now and then he has no symptoms. (“Coincidentally,” since going to the ER two weeks ago, his stomachaches have all but stopped and he has not had another problem or pain with his kidneys. There is a saying that goes, “Coincidences are simply situations God chooses not to take credit for.” We believe this pain was God’s getting him to the ER to find this sickness and not choosing to take any credit.) So how can Travis fit in the survival rate statistics when he doesn’t fit in the statistics of the sickness? He can’t. He doesn’t. More hope?
Dr. Hamerick wants to hit this cancer with everything he can – aggressively. Because of the number, size, and location of tumors, surgery (which is typically your best shot) is not an option at this time. Doctors simply cannot hack up your liver. You kind of need it…to live. Dr. Hamerick informed Carrie and Travis that he planned to spend all day Wednesday searching for clinical trials that Travis could participate in. Additionally, he already had a presentation scheduled for Friday to a team of surgeons at Piedmont Hospital to convince them to do a surgical radiation treatment. This procedure would allow them to surgically insert a tube and pour radiation directly onto the tumors. He scheduled a PET scan for Travis on Friday (4/26) and an endoscopy and colonoscopy on Monday.
Travis and Carrie are looking at getting a second and third opinion at Emory and MD Anderson in Houston, TX. They had already submitted the application for MD Anderson and were in the “waiting mode” when a friend found out they wanted to go there. The friend “coincidentally” knows someone on the board at MD Anderson. Within an hour, MD Anderson was waiting for Travis’s call and anxious to get his case. Within two hours everything was being setup. In addition, Travis’s father recently had a client who was a doctor at Emory. He pulled the strings to get him into Emory as soon as possible. God’s grace in an impossible time.
At every corner of this journey Travis has experienced an outpouring of love that is overwhelming. Like nothing he has ever experienced. He made the comment, “I didn’t know people were so nice!?!” People have come and prayed over him, cried with him, hugged him, fed him, and just been there for him. And he is grateful for all of it. But most of all, he is beyond grateful to God for being merciful enough to give him a second chance at eternal life. He knows that is the most important thing. However, his prayer is that in God’s infinite grace and mercy, He will now give him a second chance at physical life as well so he can be the father, husband and leader he knows he is meant to be. He, and his family, ask that you will pray for this along with them.
At the top of this blog will always be a page for current prayer requests. Please check that out often to see new prayer requests and updates to existing prayer requests. And, as always, feel free to leave Travis a note of encouragement below by clicking below.