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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lt Adams

Our arrival in Texas was overshadowed by the pending doctor appointments and the end of our two week break from cancer and doctors. It had been a great break, not just from chemo but from the thought of chemo, cancer and tests. But Thursday morning we awoke and both Andrea and I knew the day had come. Neither of us spoke about what lay ahead we just got ready and headed out for Wilford Hall Hospital. I'm sure Andrea was saying as many silent prayers as I was on the drive across town. I reached out and held her hand and she responded with a smile albeit with a ting of nervousness.

On the walk to enter Wilford Hall the silence was broken; we prayed for the events of the day and for wisdom for the doctors. Lastly we prayed we would meet believers once inside. We had been blessed with great examples of faith in Dr Atkins office, and I knew the odds of repeating that environment were not likely but I hoped we would meet someone with faith to help us.

We checked in and started the mandatory paperwork and in walked a young second lieutenant, named Lt Adams to take us to the exam room. He was in his third year of medical school and was here for six weeks doing his rounds in Oncology. He was only a couple years older then our son Nic and he looked as young as he was. He asked if we minded him asking us questions before the doctor came in. He seemed a little uncomfortable as we sat down in the exam room and took out his list of questions. This began one of my most hated parts of this ordeal, having to watch and listen to Andrea relive every painful moment of the past four years. Every time we go to a new doctor we go through this routine and each question and answer reminds us of all the hard times. Listening I think is this really us? When you go through cancer you take it in bits, but when you put it all together it seems overwhelming and as I watch Andrea recount the events I know it is hard on her. There are times it sounds like we are talking about someones else, but we aren't. I just want to make it end for Andrea. I can't help but think there must be a way this can be put into a database so we don't have to answer the same questions every time we meet a doctor or just hand them a disk and walk away. Soon I found myself answering the questions trying to help Andrea recall the dates of surgeries, and chemo treatments the drugs and side effects. I think it annoys the doctors when I answer but I know this is hard on Andrea's voice, and her emotions and I just want to help my wife.

The Q&A comes to a merciful end with Lt Adams final question, "Would you mind if I prayed for you?" I looked over at Andrea you could have knocked us over with a feather. How did he know? What would prompt someone to ask such a question to people he met 20 minutes ago? In a worldly perspective the question seemed so out of place but spiritually it was perfect. He prayed for us our boys and for Andrea's healing, but more than his words I heard God saying, "I heard your prayer and you are not alone, I am with you even in this exam room." I have people everywhere and you can't get too far from me, there is no where you can go where I won't be. I know you are afraid and wondering why this is still going on, but just trust me, I'm in control." I shuddered with the thought of what just happened, and the power of the God we serve.

When I first saw Lt Adams I saw him as an annoyance, a kid practicing medicine on Andrea and a hindrance to us meeting the person we came to see, the doctor. And in the end I realized he was the one we needed to meet, the one God placed there to answer our prayer. I was so caught up in the day that I was ready to look past someone God had placed in our life.

It turns out Lt Adams had just arrived at Wilford Hall three days earlier.

The doctor told us "I will be honest there are limits to our medicine." I thought there was a time when I thought medicine was the answer but those days are long gone. We know there are limits to medicine, and what man can do, but we serve a God without limits, and I remembered Luke 18:27, Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God."

When we left, Andrea and I knew we were exactly where God wanted us. We were without our friends, our support, and the familiar surroundings of SMOC but we were not without the source of our strength, the one who provides everything.

It was going to be okay.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

End of a Season

Yesterday was Andrea's final chemo treatment here in Goldsboro. I really did not think too much about it until we walked out of Dr Atkins office. It was the first time I saw Andrea cry in that office. After all the bad news we had been given in those waiting rooms I never saw Andrea cry until she had to tell Dr Atkins goodbye. As Andrea told Dr. Atkins, "I had confidence in you; I knew you cared about me, not just as a patient but you really cared about me getting better. When you told me I needed to go into ICU and on a ventilator I had total confidence that it was the right thing to do, because you cared about me as a person."

Then it was off to the chemo room, where we found Diane and Roz waiting for us. Later Leigh and Karen showed up and it was chemo as usual. I went around and talked to some friends and husbands whose wives are in treatment. In the end it was just Andrea and I. Karen, Leigh, Roz and Diane all had to take care of things. It was very fitting that the last 45 minutes was just the two of us. I got Andrea a pillow and blanket and she laid down on the sofa. We talked for a little bit about the future and what lies ahead for us, a new home, doctor, church, and friends. It was a little overwhelming. Then I looked down and saw a bible on the end table. I decided to read a little to Andrea as we waited alone. I picked it up and the pages opened where a blue appointment card had been left in the Bible. I looked at the card and it was an appointment card for Andrea, from April. I don't remember leaving it but I assume we did. As I looked at the page it opened to and I began to read aloud to Andrea. This is the scripture it was on Matthew 6:25-34

Do Not Worry "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

It was just what we needed to hear. God is ever present with us and I won't ever forget that moment. We sat in our usual corner, the lights were dimmed and Andrea drifted off to sleep. I moved my chair as close as I could to Andrea and listened to the humming of the IV pump. It had a weird comforting sound and I found myself not wanting it to end. I realized that when that pump stopped it was time for us to go. As much as we always wanted to get out of the chemo room it had become a familiar friend to me. Then suddenly the pump alarm went off, ending the silence and signaling to the nurses that the proper amount to chemo had been administered, and it was time to switch Andrea to a saline flush. That beep of the pump went right through me shattering the calm and comfort of the moment. Krista came by to switch the pump to the saline and told me, "I have set it for a quick flush because I know you have been here a long time and are ready to go." I asked her to please add a few minutes because I was not ready to go. I would have never thought I would have wanted to stay. I guess I never realized how much comfort the chemo room gave us. It is the physical fight, our way of seeing and feeling that we are doing something to beat this cancer. It was our time to cause a little pain and suffering on our hidden adversary; to punish it for all the pain it has caused us.

Soon the moment came and Andrea's treatment was complete and it was time to wake her up. Kristy came over to flush Andrea's port for the last time. Kristy has been a very closes friend. Her son and Anthony played on the same club soccer team, so we spent many weekends together. We have come to know and love her and her kids. It was hard to say goodbye.

I left realizing that this last day meant much more to me then I thought. Amongst all the activity of our last week I guess I never thought about the emotions of our last day. We left with hugs and heartfelt wishes from many good friends. We came to SMOC almost two years to the day, and we left changed people. Stronger in our faith in better health and with many new friends. If you want please offer a prayer for the staff of Dr. Atkins office.
God has truly blessed Andrea and me. I could not have imagined such a wonderful place with such a great staff. Has hard as it is to leave I know God has our future in His hands and there are blessings waiting to be reveled to us in Texas.

Afterwards we came to my office to get a few things done and the Doctor's office from San Antonio called. We were confirmed for an initial visit next Thursday 28 June and chemo treatment for 2 July at 1000.

The battle goes on.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Peter’s Moment

Hello all, we are in the hotel waiting to leave North Carolina. We leave town next Friday and head to Texas. Our move as gone well and Andrea is feeling very good. We have our last chemo treatment with Dr. Atkins next Tuesday.

This is something I wrote last year. It is one of my favorite visualisations of a moment in the life of Christ.
This is about Peter's denial of Christ.

When we first started this second phase of this trial in June 2005 I was reading in Luke 22: 54-62 about Peter’s denial of Christ. I was drawn to these scriptures and more specifically to the moment Jesus looked at Peter. I could picture in my mind the scene is daybreak, its cold, and Peter standing outside in a crowd, he wants desperately to be with Jesus but he is so scared, then Christ walks by bound and guarded, Peters eyes are drawn to Jesus, there is confusion in Peter’s mind and on his face. What is happening, He is the Christ? Then it happens, someone recognizes Peter as a disciple, Peter attention is diverted and he hollers his denial, with the passion of a frightened man, the cock crows, Peter memory flashes back to Jesus’ words and he turns back to look at Jesus, and their eyes meet. I thought about that moment and I thought about the unspoken words said in that moment. I think of how bold Peter was, how outspoken he was in his defense of Christ. I think about how Peter proclaimed in Luke 22:32

“Lord I’m ready to go with you, both to prison and to death.” Matthew 26 31-35, Christ said to them, all of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night. Peter answered, Even if we all made to stumble, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him “assuredly I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

How confident and bold was Peter, how sure of himself he was ready for a fight. In fact when they came to take Christ away Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Peter was bold and sure of himself, he had Jesus by his side and he knew who he was serving and he did not fear. In Matthew 16: 15-16 Christ said to them (His disciples), “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” I think Peter’s confidence was built upon his understand of who Jesus was. This was not just a prophet or an earthly king Peter was following, this was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, whom should Peter fear?

Now it is the night of Jesus arrest, Peter has just seen Jesus lead away, seemingly helpless and powerless against man. I’m sure in his mind he was confused, He knew Jesus was the Christ, Peter saw Him walk on water, heal the sick, and feed the multitudes, what was going on. In Peter’s confusion I think his confidence was drained form him. I think he was now unsure of things moments before he was certain of. Peter is now witnessing his Master, the Son of God, his clothes torn off, being beaten, spat upon and hit. I think Peter stayed as close as he could to what was happening but not to close that he might find himself facing the same fate. I think Peter was torn between wanting to help his Master and his earthly desire to save himself. The result is as Christ predicted, Peter denied Christ. The scene is night; Jesus has just been taken and is being beaten. Peter is outside the courtroom, a servant girl identifies Peter, and Peter panics and denies he know Jesus, and leaves the courtyard where another girl identifies Peter. Peter denies Jesus the second time. Later, the people came to Peter and said; “surly you also are one of them.” Peter’s responds in panic and frustration, and now he begins to swear and curse saying, “I do not know that Man!” Like any sin we become numb as we sin more and our ability to sin seems easier the more we repeat the sin. I was struck by how Peter denial became stronger and more violent. Peter was as bold as ever in his conviction but now his boldness had turned to denial. Peter no longer felt Jesus near him, he was alone, isolated and his confidence was waning. Luke records a small detail that caught my attention. Luke 22:60-62, Peter said “I do not know what you are saying!” Immediately, while he was speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the words of the Lord, how he had said to him, “before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.” So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

I was taken by this moment. I could imagine Christ looking into Peter’s eyes. What did Jesus say in that glance? Here was Peter, who the day prior was so bold, and confidant now so fervently denying Him. I think Jesus looked at Peter with sadness, almost a pity. I think Jesus felt compassion for Peter for what Peter was going through. I think Jesus wanted to tell Peter, “It’s okay, I am the Christ, and this is just something that must be done. Don’t doubt.” I think Jesus felt sad that Peter had to go through his own torture, even though Peter would emerge stronger on the other side. I think Jesus looks at us that way when we are struggling with sin, with Satan’s attacks, when we are going through a trial or adversity. I think in his eye there is a tear, as He longs to tell us its okay, just trust, but He is watching from the outside; allowing us to, in a way, go through by ourselves. Not alone, because He has never left us, abandoned us or forgotten us, that will never happen. I think it is more like sending your son or daughter to school the first day. You are there for them and they are on your mind all day and if they called you would be at that school in a minute, but you had to let them get on that bus alone. You knew they were scared, you knew there would be difficulties on the bus, and kids might be mean or ridicule your child. But you knew your child would be stronger for the experience, that amongst the difficulties there would be good times and new friendships built on that bus. It was hard but this was a place your child had to go alone but they were not forsaken, they were not forgotten.

I thought of that moment between Jesus and Peter many times and thought of how I had let Jesus down when I sinned. I like Peter, felt ashamed and went away and wept bitterly. But Christ came back to Peter and the other disciples, now he had risen; he had completed His task and was going to return to the Father. The disciples were now God’s instruments to spread the Gospel. And they needed to learn a final lesson, that even though Jesus was not with them physically He was with them in spirit. And He needed to speak to Peter. Because Christ was aware of Peter’s hurt, and the feeling of failure Peter had felt. When Christ was on the cross bearing the sins of us all, He saw Peter, weeping. Peter thought he was alone, but He was not. Peter thought Jesus was being killed forever. He was not. Peter felt like a failure, and Peter felt embarrassed for what he had done. Peter felt regret that the last moment Jesus saw him, he was denying him. Jesus completes this story with such love, and it speaks to God’s omnipotence and His compassion for us. The scene is recorded in John 21:14-17,

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."16Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." 17The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." 18Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.

Christ allowed Peter to state three times his love for Him. I think Christ was doing this for three reasons. First to restore Peter’s confidence and his position as the leader of the disciples. Second, To let Peter know that He knew what Peter had done. No one else but God could have known what Peter had gone through. And finally, I think He did this to build Peter’s faith for future trials. When Christ asked Peter three times “Do you love me”, He is telling Peter, you failed, but you are still mine, and I will still use you. He told Peter I don’t need perfection from you only obedience. And He told Peter you would face even more difficult trials in the future, so remember what you have learned today. Remember that even though you do not see Me, I am with you. I saw your pain, I heard your crying, and I was with you. He told Peter that following Christ is not a guarantee for an easy life, the kingdom you hoped for is not on this earth. What I need you to do is to follow my lead, and feed my sheep. I think He used this to teach Peter that victory follows a trial and that this trial Peter went through is small compared to what he will face, so remember the lessons you have learned. I think Jesus tells us these messages for the same very reason. He is with us in our trials, and He hears us even when we are crying in the night and feeling very alone. We should never confuse the silence in a trail as abandonment. Silence in a trial is time for us to exercise our faith, and when we see God at the end of the trial, or even times during the trial we are strengthened and we grow in our maturity. Remember, Peter the one who denied Christ three times, would soon be standing before a “magnitude of people” and filled with the Holy Spirit, and strengthened by what Jesus had taught him, preached the Gospel. The result was God took this man who was to afraid to tell a servant girl he knew Christ, to a man preaching before thousands, and soon after Peter was healing a lame man. I thought as much as Peter hurt that night he denied Christ, he emerged a stronger believer, more mature in his faith and ready to face even more difficult trials in his life. I think Peter would have looked back and said as hard as that was; I’m better for having gone through it. Peter learned life has trials; that following Jesus is not a promise of an easy life, but a higher calling, one where we are never alone.
Lord I pray I will see this cancer as nothing more then a chance to grow in my faith and to know you more. Help me to keep an eternal perspective on life.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Body of Christ

This is my second blog to say thank you to those who have had an impact on Andrea and me. This is to say thanks to all those who have been by our side. Although there are far to many to name I want to express how much each of you have meant to us and how much we have been grateful and humbled by your acts of friendship.
Thank you for never leaving us alone

Andrea and I have been blessed with friends that have helped us through some very hard days. From the beginning of Andrea’s treatment in Alaska until today we have been supported and lifted up by friends. I call these friends the body of Christ because they are the hands and the voice of Christ that has answered our prayers. When times have been so hard and we were too weak to go on the Body of Christ is what gave us the strength to go on. Knowing that we are not alone and that others stand with us is one of our greatest sources of strength.

Being told you have cancer immediately begins a feeling separation between the sick and the healthy. Suddenly you are different, life seems to be on hold while others continue to move on with life. Facing a terminal illness makes you not want to make long term plans, like a vacation or a major purchase. It is a subtle difference to others, but the one who is ill is painfully aware of this difference.

I think nothing represents the loneliness of cancer then seeing someone alone in the chemo room. By the grace of God Andrea and I have not had to experience this and I want to share how important the support we have been blessed with has been to us. Clearly our ability to stand firm in our faith is due to our God who is faithful, who has never left us and there is a spiritual strength we receive from our faith the and the inner knowledge that God is with us based on past experiences of God’s faithfulness. But life is physical and there are times when we are weak in the physical and need physical help. Those believers who have surrounded us with prayers, cards, e-mails and especially those who have been there physically have shown me the meaning of being a Christian and a part of the body of Christ. The opportunity for Andrea and I to pray on your knees when we were overwhelmed and then feeling God Almighty comfort you is an amazing experience. But there are times when the physical battle needs a physical response and those are the times we have been truly blessed by others who have given us support and most importantly have never left us alone. There are times when you need a friend who is close enough to allow you to share your difficulties. We have been blessed with friends who have not run off when times were tough. Friends who go beyond just asking how you are doing hoping you won’t really answer the question. Friends who have gone down into the pit with us, friends who have been willing to step away from their own life with their own difficulties to take upon themselves a portion of our pain. It is those friends who have stood hand-in-hand with us in the battle that have been the body of Christ to us.

Friends like Lisa who for six months drove over 1 hour each way to pick Andrea up and take her to chemo. Cynthia who drove Andrea to chemo for three months in the Alaskan winter when I was deployed. The “chemo girls” all those who have faithfully sat with Andrea during her treatments. They spend up to four hours in the chemo room, there has been lunches served and birthdays celebrated and bible studies held during chemo. But most importantly it was normal life going on and the normalcy of life being discussed. It was a separation from why Andrea was there, and it made Andrea feel like a normal wife and woman. These are examples of the body of Christ in action. I know it makes such a huge difference to Andrea’s strength that there is always laughter and prayers around her during treatment, that there were cards, e-mails and phone calls that came just when she needed to be encouraged.

I have found the importance of friends and support as a care giver. Actually I did not even know I was the care giver until about six months ago when Andrea told me. I always thought the term referred to the doctors and nurses. I have tried to never let Andrea feel alone and have tired to always encourage her when the times are tough or just be there when you know words can not take away the pain or the fear. It is equally difficult not being the one receiving the treatment or the one facing death, but being the one facing being left. It offers its own unique challenges and I have found I needed my own support. For me that came primarily from Mike and Lori Jo Duvall Al Jones and Pat Doherty.

By the grace of God we were reunited with the Duvalls at Seymour Johnson AFB for the first year after Andrea's cancer returned. We were always close friends I believe God put us together just for this time. Over the next months as I adjusted to this news Lori Jo was an immense help to us while Mike was deployed. I met Al after I took command of the 4th Training Squadron. Al had just been hired as the registrar for the squadron and from there grew the most important relationship I have had over the past 2 years. Pat Doherty was always there to lend a ear and open his office when I needed to talk. All these friends were strong and mature believers in Christ and helped me through many difficult days with advice but mostly by just listening to me as I tried to work through hard days. I could not have made it without any one of them.

Lori Jo was the first person Andrea and I went to see when we heard the cancer had spread. I will never forget that day we left the doctors office and drove home. I don’t remember much of the conversation Andrea and I had in the car but I do remember not wanting to go home and be alone at the time. We just needed someone to talk to. I still can see that day as we pulled into the Duvall’s driveway. I told Andrea to wait and I would go get Lori Jo. I did not want to upset her children who are very close to Andrea. I can still remember walking in past the kids and telling Lori Jo I needed to talk to her. It was all I could do as I felt the emotions of the moment building. All I remember saying in Andrea’s cancer is back and then crying. We walked out to the car and Lori and Andrea talked. I remember Lori’s calming words and her absolute strength and reassuring presence. Over the next few months the Duvall family became our adoptive family and ever present release from chemo, cancer and the madness of what was happening. To Skip and Norma who's prayers demonstrated the faith we would need over the next two years. Andrea and I would not have made it through the summer of 2005 without them and I know it was God’s plan to bring us to together for this very reason. Had Andrea diagnosis occurred one month earlier we would have never moved from Washington DC and would have faced this without close friends to fall back on.

Al and Pat were there anytime I needed a sounding board for my thoughts. There are different issues and struggles that I faced as a caregiver, like maintaining my strength for Andrea. Al and Pat were a release valve for me when I struggled with understanding all that was happening. I could never explain how important it is to have someone to share with who is Godly and cares about you. It is equally important for the caregiver as well as the patient. Al and Pat was that person in my life. There are too many days for me to count that I would drop into their offices and unload my thoughts. Their reassuring advice and really just their willingness to listen to me made some very difficult days bearable.

To Gina, Mandy, Diane, Leigh, and Maureen and Nouhad who sat with me outside the ICU waiting for visiting hours to begin. I will never forget your willingness to just be there and help me to work through the craziness of those days.

I know God knew this day was coming and I know He placed us here at SJ because Andrea and I would need friends to lift us up and support us. I know God placed us here because there are some people here who needed to serve the Lord by helping us. Having someone to share life’s burdens is so important. God had a plan for their lives as much as He had for Andrea and me. The great thing about serving the Lord is we have had the privilege to watch God grow other believers’ faith, while answering our prayers.

These few examples barely scratch the surface of the support we have had. Encompassed in the past four years are some of the most difficult days of our life, but there is also some of the best memories I ever had. When cancer attacks and draws you into a physical battle it can be overwhelming, and prayer and calling out to God can seem void and without response if it were not for believers who become the hands and words of God, who show in a tangible way the Love of Christ. It is those acts that have given us the strength to make it every day. The smallest of acts can have the greatest impact, when it is done by someone who is willing to be obedient to the Holy Spirit.

As we ready ourselves for the move to Texas we can't help but look back on what was one of the most special seasons in our life. We are thankful God has intermingled our lives together. Each of you will be so deeply missed. Andrea and I will be forever indebted to you for what you have done. There will always we a special place in our hearts for all of you. Our prayer is that God will bless each of you for your faithfulness.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


As Andrea and I get ready for our move to Texas I want to reflect on those who have helped us along this "Journey to Healing."
My next two blogs will talk about those who have made an everlasting impact on Andrea and me.

First I want to thank our Friends at Southeastern Medical Oncology Center (SMOC)

All of you have become our family, all of you do more for your patients then you will ever know. Your smiles and hugs make living with cancer and the difficulty of chemo bearable.

You have all been a blessing to us. Thank you for your friendship, love and support. Thank you for doing a difficult job with such grace.
Thank you for your faith in God and your faith in Andrea. I can not express how much each of you have meant to us. I write this to say thanks, and as I read it it seems very inadequate for all you have done. From the moment we walked into SMOC, to the lab, to Doctors appointments, to the chemo room we were touched. We will never forget you, and we will continue to pray for your strength and endurance.

From the very moment Andrea walked into SMOC in June 2005 we knew we were in a special place. Let me try to capture those first moments.

Andrea is outside waiting to go in for her first appointment, just a formality to meet our new oncologist as we had just moved to Goldsboro NC the week prior. But Andrea knew in her spirit that there was something wrong, the pain in her hip had not let up since May and the burning was all to close to the pain expected with bone cancer. I was at work and late to meet Andrea at the doctor’s office. Andrea unable to get the strength to get out of the car, called her friend Lisa who encouraged Andrea as only Lisa can.

Andrea walked into the office and stood before the open glass window and met Myrtle for the first time. As Andrea is checking in, to her left a man comes through the doors from the doctors offices and a woman gets up to meet him and they join right behind Andrea. His words are heavy; "They have done all they can for her." They both hug and begin to cry. Andrea watches this scene play out in the reflection of the glass in front of her. Andrea is frozen. Susan who is passing by at the time along with Myrtle see the impact this is having on Andrea, and asks her to come into the back. They sit Andrea down in Susan's office and Andrea begins to cry, overcome with the events of the past 5 minutes. When she looks up she sees Susan's screen saver on her computer scrolling this text, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." And there we began to realize this was a very special Oncologist, with a very special staff.

To a person, the staff of SMOC never failed to offer a hug, a smile or a word of encouragement to Andrea and me. They are more than cursory hellos or how are you; they are genuine words of compassion and concern. All those who work there have become our family and our friends. If I could sum it up in a sentence I would say, when we leave SMOC we always feel better than when we arrived. Even when we have received bad news, we leave stronger because we feel the love they have for Andrea. They do far more than give chemo at SMOC; they give hope, encouragement, and faith. And that is the real medicine needed when you face cancer.

Finally I have to talk about some of the most incredible woman I have ever met. The nurses of the chemo room. They face one of the toughest work environments I can think of. They treat patients, many, far too many, who will not win the battle with cancer. Everyone at SMOC is a blessing but the chemo nurses are the ones who are with the patients when the reality of cancer hits, when you look up and see the slow dripping of the IV. Day after day they offer a smile, a word of encouragement, an understanding ear. They face the difficulty of becoming friends with someone who may not be alive in a month. The patients all look for hope in their eyes. We all want to know we have a chance or we are winning. We want to be treated as a person, not a leper. Each patient has a story, a life lived, and we all still want to feel valuable and alive. Sitting in the chair you don't want to be written off as a lost cause. You want hope and you want to be valued. Even when it is apparent that the battle is lost, you want to be treated with respect. Life's most personal moments, life and death, plays out in the chemo room and it is nice to know you are with friends and with someone who cares and not just a nurse. I will always remember calling to get the results of Andrea's tumor marker tests. When the results were not what we hoped for, I could hear the sadness in Kristy's voice. It did not change the answer but when you know someone genuinely cares it softens the blow.

Also, in the chemo room you are free to ask the questions you are too afraid to ask the doctor. The chemo nurses are the ones who can answer that personal question you’re too embarrassed to ask anyone else. They are the ones who reassure you that what you are experiencing is normal, whether it be fear or sickness. They have treated many patients and they offer the common sense and reassurance that calms the patient in what can be the scariest time in anyone’s life. They are the angels of the chemo room.

These nurses have put up with Andrea and her entourage of friends every Thursday in the chemo room. Whether it is the pot luck lunches, the birthday parties, or just the laughter of the moment, they have had to step over bags of food, drinks, and baby carriers just to get to Andrea. I know it has made their job harder and at times they have had to ask us to keep the noise down, but they always came over with a smile and allowed Andrea to be blessed with such great support.

Their have been many special moments for Andrea and I in the chemo room, but I will only share a couple.

It was just another Thursday, I can't even really remember when. But I was showing up late and Andrea was with her friends. When I came in I knew something was not right. I went to talk to Tracy, who is the head chemo nurse and as kind a soul as you will ever meet. Confident and good at what she does, with the softest southern draw that just calms any moment. I sat down with Tracy behind the nurses station as she began to explain that they had noticed Andrea's left eye was drooping and her pupils were not dilated the same. Dr Marshall asked to the chemo room to check out Andrea. His conclusion was Andrea needed to stop chemo now and go in for a brain MRI to check for tumors. I will never forget the look on Tracy's face. It was one of sorrow, regret and sadness for having to tell me this. I knew it was serious by the look on her face and I told her, "I don't want to go and have the MRI; I don't want to know if this is the end. There is nothing that can be done so why find out." I just could not tell Andrea. It was happening... the moment I feared. I think that the initial shock of hearing you are dying of cancer is what I have dreaded the most. I think once that is over you must begin to adjust to the reality of it all. Much like you adjust to the first time you hear the doctor say you have cancer. It is the initial blow that is the hardest, and I thought this was it. I was scared and I had nothing to say. I just look at Tracy and she had nothing to say, we just stopped and looked at each other for what seemed 5 minutes. It was has if the conversation never stopped it was carried out without words as we looked at each other each with regret in our eyes. I walked over to Andrea's chair and told her what we had to do. For the first time I climbed into the Lazy Boy with Andrea and held her in my arms. God was merciful and we both feel asleep in each others arms. We were awoken by chemo nurses who told us they were stopping the chemo. It was time for us to go to the hospital for the MRI. Andrea and I spent the hour waiting for the MRI reading scripture and claiming every word and God covered us in grace, we did not fear and we knew the MRI would be normal, even though all Andrea had the classic symptoms of brain tumor. At 9pm that night Dr. Marshall called us at home and told us her scan was normal!

The second story that I will always remember occurred in the spring of 2006. Andrea had finished her first round of Chemo, her hair had grown back but then scans should the cancer had progressed in her liver and lungs. She would have to start back on the harder drugs and would loose her hair for the third time. It was a difficult day to say the least. Dr. Atkins lead Andrea back to the chemo room to tell nurses the new treatment plan. Andrea was in tears standing at the check in desk. As the nurse hung the chemo bags over Andrea I looked up and saw the nurses has signed the bags, "We love you" and drawn hearts on them. When we went to leave for the day the office staff gave Andrea a baseball hat they had all signed with words of encouragement. I can not express the impact of people that care this much. Battling cancer is as much a mental battle as a physical one and acts like these are what gave Andrea the strength to fight.

How everyone at SMOC does their job I will never know. They still take the time to get to know their patients and I’m thankful to call them my friends. I know at times it is hard to become close to a patient, heck its hard as a patient to become close to another patient. Everyone Andrea and I befriended in our first year in chemo has passed away. It's just the reality of the chemo room and the job they all do. It would be far easier for everyone to never become close to us. It would have been much easier for Tracy to tell me bad news if she had not gotten to know me. The sadness in Tracy's eyes spoke of the friendship we had formed and I was glad to have been told such difficult news from a friend rather than a nurse. The detached efficiency of most chemo rooms has to be much easier on the nurses, but it leaves the patients without hope. It is easy to administer chemo and hook up bags of IVs it is totally different to make the dread and fear of the chemo room dissipate with a kind word or smile. Trust me as a patient you can sense when someone is reluctant to get to know you. It is hard to have hope when people are afraid to get close to you.

Somehow Dr. Atkins has formed a staff of people who have a calling. A staff that reflects the positive and hopeful attitude he has. A staff Andrea and I will miss when we move this summer. I doubt it will ever be repeated again, I doubt we will ever find such great people again. They were all a blessing and a gift from God for this season in our life. Each and everyone in that office has made our life richer and better. They will all be missed, because they are all our friends.