Yesterday was Eva’s latest visit to the clinic in San Diego. The nursing team handled accessing her port quite quickly. Eva was anxious about it, but not nearly as much as the first time we had an outpatient port access. Last week was pretty brutal; this week she just let out one, sharp, surprised scream when they poked it in and then she was done. No real crying other than the one shout.
The rest of the visit was spent mostly waiting. The normal procedure is to draw blood right away and send it to the lab for testing. The lab at Rady Children’s Hospital can produce results quite rapidly—usually within an hour. They’re awesome. But, an hour in an exam bay is still an hour in an exam bay. The physician or nurse practitioner (NP) won’t authorize the chemo dose until the blood work is back and they have had a chance to consult with the patient and her caregiver.
On Monday the NP was running late by about 45 minutes on Monday, so by the time the chemo dose came we had been in the clinic for about two hours, not including the hourlong commute. Eva was out of emotional patience by this point, so she screamed quite loudly at the “flush” process, even though it’s quite easy relative to the port access she had just handled so well. But, before long the chemo dose was finished and we were packing up and heading home.
Eva didn’t feel all that nauseous that afternoon and evening, but she still took a brief nap on the couch and took it pretty easy the rest of the day. She’s been in a fine mood overall, but we can tell how the steroids are taking their toll on her even as they destroy the leukemia cells inside her body. Eva has gained a noticeable amount of weight as a side effect of the steroids. She’s also bloated and looks generally uncomfortable. You can sense that moving around is more difficult for her. I’m not even sure she knows why, just that her body doesn’t seem to move the same as it used to. While this side effect was predicted, we’re glad to be in the final week of induction, the final week of twice-daily steroids.
Next Monday, December 12, is the final day of induction and the day of a pivotal bone marrow biopsy. The biopsy on that day will tell us whether Eva is in remission. We are, of course, praying fervently that we receive news of remission that week. The results of that bone marrow biopsy will determine the course of the second phase of Eva’s treatment, called “consolidation.” We haven’t gotten many hints about what consolidation looks like except that it lasts about six to eight months, depending on how the patient handles the chemotherapy. We know that Eva will not be on regular steroids during that time, so her weight will begin to return to her pre-induction levels. We also know that her immune system will be much stronger, so we will be able to go to public places with her again. She’ll be able to get out of the house and become more active again.
To be honest, though, all these details matter very little to me at this time. Knowing what treatment is coming doesn’t help me at all. I’m fixated on hearing the results of that bone marrow biopsy.
I’ve compared the emotional process of Eva’s leukemia treatment to those big buckets you see at water parks, you know, the ones that slowly fill with water until—whoosh—a thousand gallons of water come crashing down. Audra and I each have emotional buckets that slowly fill until—whoosh—a thousand gallons of pent-up weight comes crashing out. We’re trying to get a sense of the pattern of these emotional breakdowns, like measuring the time between contractions or something, but for the most part the big blasts have been relatively unpredictable. We just know that they come from time to time. We try to talk through them. We react as best we can.
I feel as if there has been an even bigger bucket filling this entire month, and it’s going to crash some time next week when the doctors phone us with the results of Eva’s biopsy. I almost want to ask that they not tell us until we sit down with them for our scheduled “consolidation” consultation on December 19. We realize that even if Eva is not in remission after induction it does not mean she won’t still recover. To be quite honest, we don’t actually know what it would mean for her treatment if she’s not in remission yet, just that the physicians would react accordingly. I just want to hear that she’s in remission. I just want to hear that everything is going to be ok. The big bucket’s going to dump and I want a thousand gallons of relief.
On Sunday I’m preaching on Matthew 11. John the Baptist had sent word to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” John was yearning for some good news in the midst of his trial. He needed a salve for the wounds of doubt. He wanted relief. His lips had faithfully proclaimed the good news to others, now he needed to hear the good news on the lips of others. The Lord provided.
Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Jesus didn’t direct John to his intuition. Jesus didn’t ask, “What does your heart tell you?” No burning of the bosom or quiver in the liver is going to help John. John craves something real, something tangible—he needs to know that God keeps his promises. So Jesus told John how God was keeping his promises.
That the blind would see, that the lame would walk, that the lepers would be clean—these were the promised signs that God had said through the prophet Isaiah would signal that the long-expected relief had arrived. Immanuel, God with us—finally!
John asked, “Are you the one?” Jesus answered, “I am.” And John could know for sure because—look!—sick people are getting better again. Just like God promised.
Jesus plowed through the rough seas of a dying world and left waves of healing in his wake. His spit could make mud powerful enough to restore sight to the blind—no wonder his apostles testified that in him dwelt all the fullness of deity in bodily form. This was by design. Jesus demonstrated convincingly that he was, in fact, who he claimed to be: God in human flesh, the Lord and Savior of all, the One who is to come.
Jesus left no doubt about his deity and divine power by himself dying and rising from the dead again. But this was no parlor trick to impress the easily impressed. No, he died to do in full what he had done in part through his miracles. On the cross he swapped places with sinful mankind—with you—to raise us from our spiritual death and restore our religious sight. He died to make sick people better again, just like God had promised for generations.
Jesus has already demonstrated his power over disease and death. Reliable eyewitnesses have written it down for us. We need no more signs to confirm our faith in him. We have enough to know that he is, in fact, the One to come. He is ours and we are his. Eva is the sick one who will be better forever. Of this there can be no doubt.
But, God, we would love for you to share a little taste of that healing now to tide us over until the feast to come.