Tag Archives: Carrie Roberts

Choking

I was walking into Kroger.  Convincing my three year old we didn’t need “the car cart” because we were just running in for one thing.   My phone rang.

“Hey Trav!”

“Hey…you hear the latest CA19-9?”

“What? No!  Did you get it?”

“Yeah.  14,000.”

Silence.  I tried to speak.  But I was….choking.

So Trav spoke.  “14,000………..So. That’s it. It’s definitely going up.  I talked to Hamrick.  I am going to get a CT scan to see if they see anything.  And Hamrick is going to call MD Anderson and talk to them about next steps.”

Silence…I tried to speak…I think I tried to say “I…I…I’m so sorry Trav.” But I was choking.

I took a couple of deep breaths.  I muscled out a question or two here and there.  But never more than a few words.  I couldn’t.  There was something in my throat.

I was choking.

I wandered aimlessly around Kroger as my three year old begged me for a cookie and I tried to think of something…anything….encouraging to say.  But I couldn’t.

I was choking.

Whatever this thing was in my throat that wasn’t allowing me to swallow couldn’t have had worse timing.  I needed to be there for my friends.  I needed to encourage them.  To tell them I was here no matter what.  I needed to say something.  But I just couldn’t.

I was choking.

I tried to clear my throat.  Nothing came up.

Travis talked about the possibility of a medical trial and perhaps this was God’s way of saying it was time to do something different.  He sounded remarkably well. I think I managed to tell him how well he sounded…through my choking. 

All the while my head was racing.  Doing the math.  What percentage of change were we seeing?  How fast? All the while working on getting out of my throat whatever it was that was stuck.  Whatever it was I was choking on.

Trav talked a little longer and then quickly said “Carrie’s callin.  Gotta go.”  I think he might have even said good bye.

I sat in my car for a second.  Still holding the phone to my ear.  And suddenly, the thing that had been stuck in my throat…grew.  I tried my best to swallow it back.  I panicked a little because it was starting to impede my breathing.

I tried choking it back…but it had gotten too big.  I no longer could.  And so with a cough it came out.

The sob.

The sob I had been choking back came forward.

Anguish. Pain. Heartache. Anger. Tears. More tears.

That’s what had been stuck in my throat.  That’s what had been gathering while my friend told me his news.

That’s what I was choking on every time I tried to speak.

I don’t think we ever truly know what it feels like to walk in Carrie’s and Travis’ shoes.  To ever truly understand what it feels like to be them.  To be facing this. To be living…this.  In fact…I don’t think we can relate to what it is like to be their mother.  Father.  Sister.  Brother.  Family. To hear the news.  To face a reality that seems so bleak. We can’t relate.  We can’t understand it.

I have cried my share of tears over this and have fooled myself into thinking that, because of those tears, I understand what they are going through.  But today I realized.

I don’t.

Today. For the first time…I had a glimpse of what it is like to be walking their road.  What it is like when they lay their heads down to sleep.  When Carrie and Travis look at their children.  When their parents, siblings, family…look at them with their children.  Today, for just a moment, I knew what it felt like to live a life where it always feels like…

You’re choking. 


Reminders

Throughout life we are given many reminders.  Reminders of the past.  Reminders of future promises.  Reminders of present circumstances.  Reminders are everywhere.

Reminders can be a great thing.  When you sit at the beach, and watch the waves roll in and hear the seagulls chirp, you are reminded of God’s greatness.  His majesty.  He reminds us of His presence through nature.

Reminders can be hard too though.

When Travis got his amazing results back from the CT scan last week I revisited The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation’s website.  With so much promise.  With such amazing results.  What had I missed?  There must have been someone.  Someone with stage 4 who had…won.

And then I was reminded….

I was reminded of the statistics.  I was reminded of the devastation that Cholangiocarcinoma is.  I was reminded of the reality.  

And I wept.

I wept for those who have gone through this.  For those going through it.  And, most of all, I wept for my dear friends.

While the vast majority of Cholangio patients do not respond to treatment the way Travis has…some do.  A few.

And I was reminded…

Even those few, who respond well to treatment, even they have a life expectancy of three years or less.

Three years is a miracle.

Trey will be eight.  Piper will be six.  Jake….three.

Reminders can suck.

Thursday Travis had his sixth chemotherapy treatment and he and Carrie met with his cancer counselor.  They ran into Travis’ doctor.  And they were bombarded with reminders. 

His cancer counselor reminded him that she discusses cancer and diagnosis’s with doctors every day. However, when she says the word “cholangiocarcinoma” to any doctor they typically just shake their head no.  She reminded Travis and Carrie to stay grounded…despite his positive results.

His doctor discussed how excited he was about the CT scan and the promise  it shows.  But he reminded them to be prepared.  Be prepared for the CA19-9 to start going up.  He reminded them that the CA19-9 always goes up.

Reminders.

After last week’s results were published, many people asked “what’s next?”  “Is it time for surgery?”  “Where are we?”  So allow me to provide you with a reminder.  The cancer has to be completely out of Travis’ lymph nodes to consider surgery.  Additionally, it has to stay out of the lymph nodes and not spread to anywhere else for about six months before the surgeons will start considering surgery.

A reminder that we still have a long way to go.  A reminder that prayer is still very much needed.

Sometimes when you have been living in circumstances for an extended period of time it becomes “the normal”.  Everybody I have met.  Everybody Travis and Carrie have talked to believe that Travis will beat this.  That’s just who he is. Travis beats the odds.  But this is just a reminder that Travis is still sick.  Very…very sick.  And his chances are not good.  So it will take a miracle.  A God sized miracle to save him.  And the Roberts are counting on that miracle.  They believe they are living out that miracle.

But remember…all the while…they are bombarded with…reminders.


He’s Human After All

Travis doesn’t feel pain.

At least…not like you and I feel pain.  He can’t relate to people who stay home sick.  Sickness has never slowed him down.  If he breaks his arm…he simply uses his other arm to wakeboard.  If he is passing a kidney stone…he shows up for the tennis match anyway.  When he had foot surgery on both feet he played golf two days later…bleeding through his shoes.  Most things that would bring others to their knees…Travis tends to walk right through.

It’s almost as if…he’s not human. 

In the post, Chemo?  What Chemo?, I wrote about being sick in bed for three days and Travis texting me, 48 hours out from his first chemo, to see if I was ok. So I have witnessed, first hand, how this guy handles sickness and pain and have thought…

this guy’s not human.  

So imagine my surprise.  My shock.  My fear.  When I get the text last night that Travis is having unimaginable pain.  Unmanageable pain.  Unbearable pain.

Travis’ scalp has been…”sensitive” since this past chemo session.  My hunch is that Trav’s “sensitive” would equate to a trip to the ER if it were me but that is how he described it…”sensitive”.  But last night there was something different.  Something worse.  It wasn’t his scalp.  It was his brain.  

Three times.  Three separate times.  Pain.  Sharp pain.  Sudden, sharp, radiating pain sheering through his brain in jolts as if he is being struck with a cattle prod.  Three times…evenly spaced throughout the evening…they hit.

Pain that made him scream out.

Pain that took his breath away.

Pain that literally took him to his knees and showed that he is human after all.

Can you imagine what it is like, when you have cancer, and face a new pain?  Can you imagine what your mind does to you?  It’s simply my friend who has cancer and, yet, any time I feel something weird inside or my kids complain of something weird…suddenly…I give pause.  A second thought.  A “what if” flashes through my mind.  If I am like that…what is the person who has cancer cells inside his body like when there is a new pain?  Can you imagine what his mind does to him?  Especially a person who does not usually experience pain and suddenly has insurmountable pain. What goes through his head? What goes through his wife’s head?

Did it spread?

Is it in the brain now? 

If it’s in the brain…there are only weeks left. 

Today was better. It was back to being…”sensitive”.  And Travis got to speak to his doctor who believes last night was a side effect of the chemotherapy.  A side effect that doesn’t usually come until you are on chemo for several months or even years.  But Travis is a freak.  He’s back to being non-human.  He doesn’t get those pesky side effects like fatigue or nausea or hair loss.  He get’s lightening bolts through his brain.

Perhaps the three jolts last night were a fluke.  A response to a very long and strenuous weekend.  Perhaps this is something that will occur every night the way fevers and sicknesses get worse at night.  I hope not.  I pray not.  I don’t want my friend to go through this unimaginable pain.  I don’t want to face that my dear friend…

is human after all.

Interview 2 of 6

Tonight we have part two of the six part interview series. If you did not get a chance to see Part One, or would like a refresher, I encourage you to watch it first. In tonight’s short, four minute clip Steve gets Travis to open out about first finding out that “something” is going on and what that was like.  In a way, perhaps, this was the first time that Travis realized he was human after all….

Legal Disclaimer…All blog posts and videos are Travis’ experiences and opinions.  Travis is not a medical expert or even in the medical field.  Cancer is different for each person and so nothing on this blog should be taken as fact or used for determining diagnosis’s or treatments.

Not Your Typical Cancer Patient

Travis Roberts.  Not your typical cancer patient.

That’s my friend.  Funny, witty, brilliant, sarcastic, annoying at times Travis.  He’s not your typical cancer patient.

Travis’ third treatment of chemotherapy was this past Thursday, June 13.  And, since he meets with Dr. Hamrick every other week, he also got to see him.  His rockstar doctor.

What I wouldn’t have given to see the face of this man.  This brilliant medical doctor who, at the age of 42, has already worked his way up to the head of oncology at Kaiser Permanente.  A man who has seen a lot.  A man who has basically seen…it all.

But he’s never seen Travis.  Nor anyone like Travis.

I would have LOVED to see the look on this man’s face as he sat across the desk from Carrie and Travis…in awe.

Can you imagine the conversation…

Travis…I…uhhhh…I got your CA19-9 results back.  Ummmm…yeah.  There down to 57,000.  Yeah.  Uhhhhh…I don’t know.  You went from 161,000 to 57,000 in two treatments.  I can’t explain it. Ummm.  Yeah.  Wow. 

Ok.  So that’s not how the conversation went.  But I bet it is close to what he was thinking.

But doctors still have to maintain professionalism. So instead of looking dumbfounded.  Instead of doing the happy dance.  Instead of losing his composure.  He simply said “You are an anomaly and I cannot explain it.” 

An “anomaly”.  An “outlier”.  Man’s words to describe the unexplainable.

Man’s words to describe God’s miracles.

So Travis took his amazing news.  His incredible news.  His miraculous news.  And went to his third, five hour session of chemotherapy.  And from there…he went to his friend’s rehearsal dinner.  And then Friday he went to a golf outing honoring his friend.  And Friday night he went to a BBQ for the soon to be newlyweds.  And Saturday he went to the wedding…and the reception…and the after party.

1001444_10201527943427536_5408269_n

I am exhausted just typing this…and I didn’t have chemo!

And Travis???

Well.  Come Sunday.  He crashed.  Hard.  He spent the day in bed. Exhausted.  He has some pain in his scalp and a little swelling in the arm he got his chemo in this week.  But it took all that to bring out the symptoms.  Why?

Because he’s just not your typical cancer patient.

Over the next week or so we will be releasing an interview that Travis’ friend Steve Barnes did last week.  It is a six part series and each video is between 4 and 8 minutes.  This will give out of town friends a chance to see Travis and how well he is doing.  It gave Travis a chance to tell his story…in his own words.

To tell…how he is not your typical cancer patient.

Disclaimer…as you can imagine, being interviewed on the spot (without rehearsal) can be nerve racking.  Travis did a great job but, under the pressure, mixed up a few facts.  In this clip, he states that anything beyond Stage 2 Cholangiocarcinoma is considered incurable.  It’s not quite that “clear cut” since it depends on if it is intrahepatic or extrahepatic.  To read more about the survival rates by staging, visit The American Cancer Society.

Check back in the next day or two for part two….


The Walking Miracle

Travis. The Walking Miracle.

That’s what he is. I am not just saying that because he is one of my closest friends. Because I want to believe it. Because I want it to be true.

I say it because that is what it is.

Truth.

Travis is…a walking miracle.

First…let’s talk lymph nodes. Those pesky little things that swell up in your neck when you get sick. Those things the doctor pushes around on, in your neck, when you go in for a check up. But your lymph nodes are not just in your neck. They run through your body as a part of the lymph system.

Check out this figure. The green is your lymph system and the “bubbles” are the lymph nodes. What do you notice? They are all connected. Remember that. It will come in handy later.

Lymph-Nodes1

Now let’s take a look at where the cancer has hit in Travis’ lymph nodes.

Lymph-Nodes1

Everywhere you see red…Travis has cancer in his lymph nodes. More or less.

Wow.

In his words…”the PET scan lights up like a Christmas tree!”

So where is the miracle in that?

It is simply unheard of. It is a miracle that the cancer, as it has moved through his body through those connected lymph nodes, has not “jump shipped” onto another organ. The diaphragm basically divides the chest cavity from the abdomen. The cancer has passed by the large intestine, small intestine, gallbladder, pancreas, stomach, through the diaphragm, past the lungs…and has not touched a single one of them.

Having trouble understanding how HUGE this is? Don’t quite understand how intertwined the lymph system is with these organs? Not convinced of this miracle? Try this picture of just the abdominal cavity. Again…the green line is the lymph system and the green bubbles are the lymph nodes…

Lymph Nodes with Organs

And that is just the abdominal cavity. The cancer moved through the lymph nodes. These lymph nodes that encircle and intertwine with the organs, and never touched them.

A walking miracle.

But. It’s still hard to hear the doctor say “yep. you light up like a Christmas tree.” When those words come out of the doc’s mouth… When you see how they look at you… Your mind plays tricks on you. The enemy plays tricks on you. And despite the miracle…you get worried.

Travis got a second opinion on Wednesday. Well. I guess technically it is a fourth opinion. Or is it fifth? Who knows…always good to cover your bases. A friend got him the appointment and just wanted him to meet with this doctor who has saved other’s lives. And so he did. And the doctor looked at his images and looked at Travis. He looked at him like he was a walking miracle.

How can this guy have it from his groin to his clavicle and it not be in his organs?

So while it is encouraging to hear. To hear you are a walking miracle. “The look” is still so scary. The look that says…

Wow…how are you standing before me seemingly healthy when you have this much cancer?

And so the look can be discouraging despite the encouraging words. Despite knowing you are a walking miracle.

CA19-9. It’s the cancer marker that tells the doctor how Travis is responding to the chemotherapy. The first time Travis had this test done was on the day of his liver biopsy – April 16. Normal is below 35. Travis’ was 91,000.

NINETY ONE THOUSAND.

Travis and Carrie thought it was a typo. But it was not a typo. 91,000. That was his starting point.

Yesterday, Travis had his second treatment of chemotherapy and, prior to starting, he and Carrie met with Dr. Hamrick. They asked for the results of the CA19-9 test taken on May 15, the day before his first treatment of chemotherapy. The test taken just four weeks and two days after the initial test. Just 30 days later. Just one month.

161,000.

Carrie screamed. Literally. Dr. Hamrick had to yell “Whoa! Calm down! It’s ok! We knew this was an aggressive cancer. Nothing has changed! We knew this!”

Yes. We did. We heard. We were told.

But 161,000???? In a month?

If you go to the message boards on cholangiocarcinoma.com you will find people worried about 300. 400. Even 1000. But 161,000???

A walking miracle.

But again. You can tell yourself you are a walking miracle. You can convince yourself you are the “outlier”. The “exception”. The “miracle”. But your mind plays tricks on you. Your mind says otherwise.

And so. As Travis sat through his treatment yesterday. His five hour treatment. With poison running into his veins to kill this thing that seems…invincible. One thing kept running through his mind. Over. And over. And over.

161,000 161,000 161,000

This morning Travis awoke. And thanked God for another day. Another day of being symptom free. Another day of life. Another day of being a miracle. But he had something more to say. Something more to ask.

Speak to me God. Let me know You are hearing our prayers. Let me know You are there.

And he opened his Bible.

As I have mentioned before, Travis is new to Bible study. He is still figuring out if Galatians is in the Old Testament or New. If there is a difference between Corinthians and Chronicles (uhhh. big difference. huge). Suffice it to say…he doesn’t yet know his Bible. But he is trying and following the advice of his father…sticking to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Lately, he has been reading John. And today, not-so-coincidentally, he happened to be on chapter 11. And for the first time, on his own, he came across John 11:4…

When Jesus heard this, he said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory. God’s Son will receive glory because of it.”

God spoke to Travis. He met him where he was and gave him a gentle reminder. But He wasn’t done.

Shortly after this Travis was talking to Carrie. Explaining to her that he was “all for the miracle”. He was hanging in there and trying his best to simply have faith. But just once. Just one time. He would like something tangible. He would like some good medical news. Just once. Something encouraging. After what seemed like punch after punch after punch to the gut. Just good news for once.

An hour later the email came.

Dr. Hamrick.

Great news. Got your CA19-9 back from Wednesday’s test. Down to 135,000.

In just two weeks. After a single treatment. A 16% decrease.

THIS MEANS THE CANCER IS RESPONDING TO THE CHEMOTHERAPY!

Something they weren’t sure would happen. Something that doesn’t happen for a lot of people. Something that could have been another punch in the gut.

But God spoke again. He spoke to Travis. This time the reminder wasn’t so gentle. It was tangible.

God spoke to His walking miracle.


The Struggle

Life has never been a struggle for Carrie and Travis.  They have always lived with no regrets.  Decisions came easy and time was never wasted looking backwards…only forwards.  Don’t get me wrong…Travis is one of the hardest working people I have ever known. Carrie…the strongest.  Travis has put countless hours into Hemma Concrete and made countless sacrifices.  So when I say life was never a struggle…I don’t mean things have been handed to them.  It just wasn’t…well…a struggle.

People have long said that Travis has a lucky horseshoe up his proverbial you-know-what.  Part of that is true.  I have witnessed it first hand.  But. For the most part. Travis has made his luck and things were just never a struggle.

Carrie is the epitome of laid back…she always has been.  She just never sweats the small stuff.  And to Carrie…everything is the small stuff.  When things go wrong.  She doesn’t notice.  She just…makes it work.  She doesn’t stress about decisions. Life wasn’t always easy but it was never a struggle either.

Carrie and Travis grew up in Christian homes where they were taught the Bible from young ages.  Faith was always just there.  It was what they were taught.  It’s what they have always known.  It was never a struggle to believe.  Prior to the recent months, Travis did not have a close walk with the Lord.  However, despite that, he would place his hand on a Bible and tell you, “I believe everything in this book.  I may not know what’s in it…but if it is in here…I believe it.”  Faith was just never a struggle.

But these past two months have been a struggle.  And so now they are learning to navigate a new way of life.  A life struggling…

Thoughts…have been a struggle.

Laundry…has been a struggle.

Connecting to the Internet…has been a struggle.

Getting through the dayshave been a struggle.

Relaxing…has become a struggle.

One of Travis’ and Carrie’s favorite past times is a weekend at the lake….relaxing.  Wakeboarding…surfing…wind in their face as they fly across the lake in their Nautique.  The warm sun kissing their skin.  Hoops and hollars as Travis not only masters surfing the wake but shows others…how. it’s. done.  Pure…relaxation.

But now. Even time at the lake is…a struggle.  We know Trav is struggling when he wakes up on a sunny, warm day at the lake and says, “let’s pack up the boat and just head home.”  We know Carrie is struggling when we have to convince her to go on the boat.  Relaxing has just become a struggle.

Days are becoming a struggle.  A good day is always followed by a bad day.  If you think about it, it makes sense.  As Travis awakens after a “good day” he lays there and thinks.  He thinks about the fun from the previous day.  The laughs. The smiles. Friends….Family….

His children….

Carrie.

And then the thoughts get dark.

What if…

I don’t want to miss…

Will I get to….

And once the thoughts start.  It’s hard to turn them off.  It’s a struggle.

Last week, as they read the Bible together, something suddenly occurred to them.  They were struggling to get through it….

Let’s face it.  The Bible is tough.  There are some tough topics in it.  Some tough things to swallow.  As Carrie and Travis read more and more they found themselves looking at each other thinking the same thing until finally Travis broke the silence….

“You know what’s crazy?  People actually believe this stuff!?!?”

Travis actually believes this stuff.  But suddenly…it’s a struggle to believe it.   It’s easy to believe in something when you have been taught to believe it. Told your entire life to believe it.  But what happens when you start reading it for yourself?  It becomes a struggle.

There was a garden.  A man and a woman.  They ate an apple and all hell broke loose?  Really!?!

God got fed up.  He picked one guy and his family to save and He had him build a boat.  Then he sent every living creature onto the boat before flooding the Earth and destroying everything on it.  Lions, gazelles, kangaroos, monkeys, etc.  All on one boat.  Really!?!?

There were thousands of slaves escaping captivity.  Their captors on one side and a sea on the other.  No. Way. Out. And God parted the Red Sea and an entire nation walked through?  Really!?!?

A man was swallowed by a fish.  Lived in its stomach for three nights and spit him up on the shore when God told it to.  Really!?!?!

God became man. Lived a sinless life. Never one hateful thought or word. Not a single lie. No lustful thoughts. For three years He healed the sick.  Gave sight to the blind.  Made the deaf hear. And then He died.  In our place.  And three days later…rose from the dead.  Really!?!?!

When you think about it like that…it’s kind of a…struggle.  Isn’t it?

And when you are facing the possibility of death.  There is one thing you don’t want to struggle with…faith.  There is one thing you want solidified…the afterlife.  And so what do you do when you struggle?

You think.  You contemplate.  You pray.

And so Carrie and Travis have come to this.  As unbelievable as the stories are….  As “out there” as the Bible seems….

Believing anything else is crazier. 

When they look at the beauty of the world.  The trees. Lake Blue Ridge.  A single flower. To them…it is impossible not to believe.   To believe that it all came from “nothing”.  That it just “happened”. That the details of a human body were not created.  That…is more unbelievable.

His creation speaks for itself and makes the unbelievable…believable.  But it’s more than that.  It’s deeper.  It’s…

Personal.

The peace they have experienced…they are experiencing, for the past two months, has been nothing less than…miraculous. One that surpasses all understanding.  Even in their darkest days.  Their darkest hours. Their darkest thoughts.  There is still a peace. One they can’t describe. One they don’t understand. One they are not capable of. One they know is not of them.

The strength through the impossible.  They both know…the strength…is not of them.

They wish they could put it into words.  Explain it in a way that makes others experience it.  But it’s just not possible.

Because it is not of them. 

And so the peace is there. The strength. It’s all just…there.

God has shown up for them and so the unbelievable is believable.

But even so.

Even with the Creator of the heavens and Earth on their side. Walking them through this.  Giving them strength. Providing them peace.

For the first time…

Life is a struggle.