Tag Archives: Dr. Hamrick

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. 


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.


Chemo? What chemo?

There are all different kinds of people in the world. And these different people handle things in different ways. There are people who are joyous and there are people who are miserable. There are people who are hilarious and there are people with no sense of humor. There are people who are smart and there are people who…well…aren’t.

There are people who have no pain threshold and who cannot handle being sick and there are people who can take whatever you throw at them in regards to sickness and pain.

And then there is Travis.

Travis has been this way for as long as I have known him. He works through the pain. The sickness. I would say that he ignores it but that would require an acknowledgement of it being there in the first place.

He handled kidney stones on his wedding day and did nothing more than joke his way through it.

He broke his arm last summer. The doctor told him it would probably require surgery and he could hope for limited use within a month.

He was wakeboarding three weeks later.

Pain and sickness don’t keep Travis down.

But….

Travis has never faced chemo before.

ImageTravis began chemo on Thursday. He started the day with some blood work and then met with his rockstar, Dr. Hamrick. Dr. Hamrick feels it is unnecessary to put Travis through the Y-90 radiation until they see that the chemotherapy is working on the lymph nodes. His explanation made sense so they will be holding off on doing that.

From there, they headed to chemotherapy. The hardest part of chemotherapy was the I.V. It’s amazing that this seemingly indestructible man can be brought to his knees by a small needle. Travis has said, “I have no problem or fear of you cutting off 80% of my liver. But can you do it without needles?” And he means every word of it…notice the napkin covering the I.V. in the picture…

But once the I.V. was in place, all was back to normal, and the chemo began. The first three hours of chemo was him getting no chemo. They gave him bags and bags of anti-nausea medicine and fluids. In fact, during his five hour ordeal, really only two hours were spent actually getting chemotherapy. The bag of Gemcitabine came first and then the Cisplatin. And then he was done. “The first two days should be the worst and then you should start feeling better. See you in two weeks.”

So those first two days…

By the time he got home he could tell his body was…off. Nothing major but his legs were…shaky. Trey’s graduation from preschool was that night so they headed off.

As he sat through the graduation he could almost feel the chemo filtering through his body. His legs were definitely getting weaker and he just felt…off.  He proudly watched his son “graduate” preschool and then headed home with his father-in-law. He figured some sleep would help. He was in bed by 9:00 pm and he slept.

Hard.

And woke up twelve hours later. Feeling…

Fine?!?

He got his tub time…walked around the house a few times…and finally decided, “this is ridiculous.”

He headed to work.

And, once there…he put in almost a full day of work.

When asked how he feels he likens it to “growing pains”. Some pain behind the knees…a jolt here or there…but, otherwise, fine. He sometimes gets a sharp pain in his liver but he imagines it is the chemo attacking his liver. He is definitely fatigued and sleeps more than he ever has.

But. All in all. He feels…fine.

He  was up bright and early Saturday morning.

He had a commitment to keep. He was walking a 5K.

His good friend, Bryan
Jones, has a son with cystic fibrosis and today was the annual Great Strides walk to raise awareness and funds for cystic fibrosis.

Today, just 36 hours out from receiving chemotherapy, Travis “walked it out” with Team Bryce Bryce Baby to support his friend.

Will it always be this good? We can hope. But it is unlikely. The first chemotherapy session can be “easy”. Although, I am not sure they meant this easy. But, as the chemo builds in his system each time, it will become more difficult. The fatigue will become worse and other side effects may arise.

But not this time.

As I write this post, I am doing so from bed. I got hit with a stomach virus on Tuesday that, literally, knocked me on my rear end. I was doing better yesterday until I decide it was ok to eat something. Three bites of a burger and some tater tots and I was right back where it started…up all night long doing things I won’t publicly post about. I, too, was supposed to walk in the Great Strides walk. I was in bed. A few minutes ago Travis text me. It said…

“How u feeling. Bet I feel better than u 😎”

Touché Travis. Touché. To which I simply ask…

Chemo? What chemo?


Walking Two Lines

What is faith?  What does “having faith” mean? Does it mean living in ignorant bliss? Passing through life thinking “God will take care of it”?  Does it mean making your decisions solely on the belief that God will provide, protect, heal without giving thought to anything else?

Does the employed not actively search for a job because he believes God will provide?  Does the parent not discipline because he believes God will steer his children?  Does the sick not get treatment because he believes God will heal?

Where is the line drawn?  The line between faith and reality?

Travis’ and Carrie’s reality is that he is sick.  He is really sick.  This week they learned that MD Anderson does not have a “special sauce” just as Dr. Hamrick, aka Dr. Rockstar, told them at their first meeting.  There is not a “miracle cure” being kept under wraps at the country’s best cancer hospital.  There is not a miracle cure for Stage 4 Cholangiocarcinoma.

I have faith Travis will be healed. Carrie knows Travis will be healed.  She says that she can see him in 7 years running Hemma Concrete, doing God’s work, donating his time to a cancer foundation…living.  And the doctors will be saying why is he still alive?

But. We still think, KNOW, he should be treated.  That’s a no brainer, right?

But what about the decisions that are harder to make?  Do some decisions mean your faith is weak?

Somehow.  Miraculously.  Travis has to walk two lines.

There is the faith line. He will walk this line because He believes God can, and will, heal him.  God will intervene.  There will be a miracle.

Then.  There is another line. The line of reality.  The line that says you are very sick and your life is not going to end on your timetable.  And as a responsible father and husband.  Travis has to walk this line as well.

What does this line look like?

It’s buying and filling out birthday cards for your children for every birthday you may miss.

It’s recording endless videos of yourself, with your children and wife, so they have tangible memories of you.

It’s sitting down with the camera and telling your sons how to get the girl.  And your daughter…to run from the boys.

There is a sweet girl named Lily who lost her dad far too early and she has written down questions that she wished she knew about her dad…just for Travis.  So Carrie is videoing Travis as he answers each of her questions.

Who would he want to walk Pippi down the isle?  

What does he think each of his sweet children will be when they grow up?

What is his favorite food, movie, band…???  

He is doing it all because he has to walk that line.

And just like starting chemotherapy next Thursday does not mean Travis does not have faith.  Neither do these responsible acts of a loving and sick father.

Travis is sick.  Yesterday he and Carrie met with Dr. Shroff to review the results of his CT scan Wednesday.  This CT scan provides a higher definition and better picture than the one he had a month ago when this all started in that emergency room in Birmingham, AL.  And my friends found out there are not three tumors in Travis’ liver…there are eight. One large tumor approximately 6.7 cm and seven small “satellite” tumors scattered throughout his liver.  Additionally, the lymph nodes in his chest are actually full of cancer.  Not the “small amount” they originally thought.

Are they glad they went to Houston? Yes! Do they like the news? No.  Two things came out of Houston they are so grateful for.  First, they  found out that the treatment plan their doctor in Atlanta suggested, the doctor in charge of Travis’ care, is the same as the Cholangiocarcinoma expert.  Second.  They also are so grateful they will never have to say, if we only went to MD Anderson like everyone told us to do. And this trip was made possible by a friend.  A new friend.  A dear friend.  Holden.  Thanks to Holden, they will never look back with that regret.  No regrets.

While Travis is sick.  Fighting for his life. He will have to walk two lines.

There will be times he simply cannot walk both.  Faith may dwindle.  And that is where we, the body of believers, step in and fill the gap.  Praying on his behalf when the reality line becomes too big to see past.  When the faith line is so narrow it can’t be seen.

Thankfully.  God doesn’t require perfect faith to intervene.  To give a miracle.  God never relies on us.  He knows He would always be disappointed.  No. We have to rely on God.

In the Bible, the book of John, chapter 11, describes Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  In verse 40, Jesus says to Martha, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?”  But the story doesn’t stop there.  Jesus wasn’t laying out a requirement.  He was providing a gentle reminder.  How do I know?  Because as soon as He says it, He prays, and goes ahead and raises Lazarus from the dead.

Despite Martha’s faith.

Or lack of…

Because Jesus knows. Sometimes it’s just too hard for us to walk both lines.