Tag Archives: Bile Duct Cancer

Breathe Travis. Just Breathe.

Yesterday was a tough day. A day full of emotions. A day where the Roberts had to remind themselves to…

Breathe. Just breathe.

Yesterday was the first opportunity the Roberts had to meet with a specialist in gastrointestinal cancers, specifically Cholangiocarcinoma.

Can you imagine the anticipation? Can you imagine the high hopes? Finally…someone who knows a lot about this horrible disease. Someone who knows more than what the Roberts are finding on Google. Someone to tell them what they are finding on Google is wrong…and to stay off the Internet. Someone to say, “this isn’t nearly as bad as your other doctors have made it out to be. It’s only because it’s rare that it’s so scary.” “We got this.”

Someone who will help Carrie and Travis breathe again.

Their appointment was at noon and the morning had been good. Records picked up. Kids dropped off. Business running smoothly. There was even some laughter. The drive to Emory was pretty to say the least.  The mature trees and full azaleas were bursting with color against quaint cottages and impressive estates.  It was almost…peaceful.

And then the trees cleared. And as Emory appeared ahead, hearts started racing.  Suddenly the peace and tranquility was gone.  Suddenly stomachs were churning.  Suddenly it was getting harder to breathe.

Despite looking “dapper” (the physician assistant’s word…not mine) in his “baby blues” (pants) and polo with sleeves rolled up, Travis was…a wreck.  The wait in the waiting room was three hours.

At least it felt that way to Carrie and Travis.

Finally, Amar’e  Stoudemire, called Travis back.

Ok.  So it wasn’t Amar’e  Stoudemire of the New York Knicks…but he was a dead ringer!

Charm and wit are a big part of Travis’ personality.  It is how he has been able to get away with the things he has gotten away with most of his life.  Make them laugh and he gets whatever it is he wants.

Doing what you know calms you.  It helps you breathe.  Being witty and charming calms Travis.  Only…Amar’e  Stoudemire didn’t exactly find Travis charming. Luckily he was only there for a few minutes.

The doctor and physician assistant came in next and it wasn’t long before all of the oxygen got sucked out of the room.  Nobody could breathe.  Everybody was gasping for air.

It felt that way.

The doctor got right to the point, explained the clinical trial they had going on and asked if Travis had any questions.

Any questions!?!  Apparently, he didn’t know Travis.

Travis went through a litany of questions and as each answer came the Roberts quickly realized this visit was going to be no different from the others.  It wasn’t that the other doctors weren’t familiar cholangiocarcinoma.  It wasn’t that Google was wrong.  The Internet wasn’t this place with only worse case scenarios.  It was that this disease is that bad. 

Breathe.  Just breathe.

How long? That’s what everyone wants to know. How long do they have?  The problem is cancer is different for everyone.  It reacts differently to everyone.  The treatments are different for everyone.  So doctors talk in averages.

“So give me the averages.”

“12-14 months.”

Breathe.

“Can you cure it?”

“No.”

Breathe.

“Can you get it into remission and buy me some time.”

“I don’t think so.  It is unlikely”

Breathe reader.  Just breathe.

Where did all of the oxygen in the room go?  Why were the Roberts struggling to breathe?With tears in his eyes, Travis tried to catch his breath and then did what he does.

He made a joke.

“Well.  I guess that’s Game Over.”

Breathe Carrie. Just breathe.

And then he left.  Most of us, in that situation, would have gone home.  We would have turned off the lights, crawled into bed and cried. But not Travis. Travis got in his truck and drove 7 miles across town, put on a happy face, and walked into a room full of lawyers for a mediation between his company and a general contractor as if he wasn’t just handed a death sentence.  Somehow. Travis figured out how to breathe.

Yesterday was not the day the Roberts were hoping for…praying for. Yesterday did not make things any easier. But the good news is…there is always tomorrow.

They will head to MD Anderson Sunday night for a three day visit.  Their expectations are set.  They know they are not going to suddenly hear about high success rates.  About high survival rates.  They are looking for a plan.  The best plan.  A plan to fight and beat the odds.

There are two HUGE prayers that we ask you get on your knees for over the next 72 hours.  First…pray for a mistake.  Weird?  Our prayer is that the liver biopsy reading was wrong.  A mistake was made.  Is it a long shot? Maybe.  Maybe not.  It happens.  MD Anderson will be reading the slides.  Pray that it is something.  Anything else.  Second…in order for them to find something different they need to get the slides.  The slides are in transit.  They are not there yet.  They need to get there by Tuesday in order to be read in time for Carrie and Travis to discuss treatment options with the doctors at MD Anderson.  Please fervently pray for both of these things.

Every night Travis practices dying.  If you know Travis, when you are finished laughing, you won’t be surprised by this.  To hear him tell it is hilarious despite its morbidity.

“Yeah. I just lay down and close my eyes and think ‘I’m dead’.  It’s not too bad.  I hold my breath and I just practice dying.”

Breathe Travis. Just breathe. 

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. - Psalm 3:5

Not a Number…

It’s possible this is going to be my last post because I am breaking the rule I placed on myself when we started this.  I am posting without getting Travis’ approval first.  But I didn’t want his edits this time because everything I am going to say is truth.

As we learn more and more about cancer we are learning that it seems to be all about numbers.  Doctors talk in numbers.  Websites talk in numbers.  We find ourselves talking in numbers.  Averages.  Ratios.  Ages.  Years of life.

Numbers.

My friend’s name is Travis Roberts.  He is a husband. A father. A business owner. A friend. A child of the Living God.

He is not a number.

Travis is a husband.  He is a great husband. An amazing husband.  Don’t get me wrong.  He has, by no means, been a perfect husband but show me a husband who has been – or a wife for that matter.  But he is a great husband.  I have always noticed how Travis looks at his beautiful wife.  With love.  With adoration.  Proud to have the prettiest girl in the room on his arm.  He admires his wife and how she stays home full time, raising their children, and admits he could never do it.  He ensures she lives a comfortable life and, tries his best to spoil her (although anyone who knows her knows she is not impressed with the material things.)  He is.  An amazing husband.

Travis is a father.  A wonderful father.  A father who adores his children and is devastated at the thought of them going even a day of their childhood without him.  Just go two pages over from this post and see the pictures of him with his kids.  Holding Trey.  The look in his eye.  The love in his eyes.  He has always seemed to strike the perfect balance between spoiling and disciplining.  As an outsider looking in…I have always been surprised by this.  I just assumed Travis is all about fun. It was a surprise to me to learn he not only disciplined but knew how to discipline out of love. He is. An amazing father.

Travis is an inspirational business owner.  A 27 year old “boy” who started a small driveway business – Hemma Concrete, just eleven years ago with only a few hundred dollars, and has turned it into the fiftieth largest concrete company in the country.  A 25 million dollar company.  In eleven years.  Starting out as a 27 year old.  Wow.  But sales and growth don’t give the full picture.  There’s the people.  Travis’ employees love and I mean LOVE him as a boss.  My hunch is many would not work there for not Travis as a boss.  He refers to them as “the Hemma family” and he truly means it. He is.  An amazing business owner.

Travis is fantastic friend.  Fantastic.  He has more friends from childhood and high school than most of us have friends total.  There is a reason for that.  Many of you reading this are lucky enough to count yourself as a friend of Travis’.  Whether it is from growing up, business, college, church, or any other means I don’t have to convince you what a great friend Travis is to have.  He is a FUN friend.  Fun to be around.  Fun to have around.  Always a gracious host whether it is on his boat, teaching you how to wakeboard; in his home, for another UGA football party; or on his tailgate trailer.  He is.  An amazing friend.

Travis is a cherished and sought after child of the Living God.  Who knows if Travis was saved when he was eleven years old or just in the recent weeks.  It doesn’t matter.  One thing is undeniable.  God has chased after Travis since he was eleven.  Travis did his best to run.  He is, after all, a fast runner.  But God didn’t give up. God doesn’t give up.  And in these last few scary, FRIGHTFUL weeks Travis has found comfort and even peace in his Father.  His heavenly Father.  Because Travis is a child of the Living God.

Travis is NOT a number.


The Waiting Game

Waiting sucks. Plain and simple. Just ask…anybody.

I remember in June of 2004 we booked the cruise of a lifetime for that December. I thought the wait was going to kill me.

Or a kid waiting for Christmas. Or their birthday. It tortures them (and their parents).

How about Fridays? How hard is the wait when you drag yourself in on Mondays?

A high schooler waiting for summer break. A first grader waiting for a loose tooth to fall out. A giddy 12 year old for an upcoming slumber party. A bride for her wedding (the groom for their honeymoon).  Football season.  Water to boil.  The microwave to finish.  The traffic light to turn green.  This blog page to load.

Waiting to fight for your life.

Wow. Suddenly the others seem so trivial.

Can you imagine, every day, waking up knowing you have cancer inside of you and having to wait for the treatment plan to fight it?  What is that like? “Good morning cancer. I know you’re in there. Eating away at me. I’m going to have to ask that you ‘freeze’. No spreading. No growing. Just freeze. Cause I am waiting for the plan to fight you.”

Talk about feeling helpless.

Travis and Carrie are waiting. Stuck in a holding pattern. Waiting for test results to be mailed. Records to be faxed. Doctors to review. Appointments to be made. All the while knowing there is this thing inside of him trying to kill him. Can you imagine?!?

Can. You. Imagine?

So this week we ask that you pray for things to fall into place. Quickly. There is no time to lose. How the pieces of a puzzle fall into place to create a picturesque image – not a piece out of place – we pray everything would fall into place for the Roberts.

Specifically… For MD Anderson to receive everything they need from Kaiser. For Emory to receive all of the records they need. For the appointment with the Piedmont Hospital surgical team to happen this week. For the appointment with the Emory team to happen this week. For the appointment with MD Anderson to happen early next week.

For all pieces to fall into place. Because waiting sucks.

So now for the best part of all…

Everything you just read was written first thing this morning. I always ensure the Roberts read, make changes, and approve posts before they are published. After all, this is their story. This post was waiting to be published. And the calls started rolling in. Travis has his appointment with Emory tomorrow at noon. His appointment with MD Anderson on Monday.

The records have been delivered. The appointments have been made. Before the prayer even left our lips… the puzzle is coming together…beautifully. One could even say – miraculously.

They still need your prayers for the remaining pieces to fall into place to perfect the picture.  They would like their appointment with the Piedmont surgical team to happen before they go to MD Anderson so they know the surgical options available here.  They also need the pathology slides, from Travis’ liver biopsy, to get to MD Anderson before their appointment Monday.

Who knows?  Maybe God is already working on finalizing those final pieces of the puzzle.  Because even though He sometimes uses it as a tool for refining us. God knows…waiting sucks.

And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. Romans 5:4

Learning “The Truth”

The Beginning

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.

The Prayer

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?”

“Once.”

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.

The Diagnosis

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?”

pause

“Do I have cancer?”

pause

“Do. I. Have. Cancer?”

pause.

long pause.

longest pause.

“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?

Looking Forward

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.