Medical Malaise & Mission - Summer Update 2015

If you follow us on social media, then you probably already have a better knowledge than most who may only read our periodic emails or peruse our website occasionally, about my (Robert’s) medical journey of the past couple years.  Of course, Ann would hasten to point out, and accurately so, that this has been OUR journey and not simply my own. 

As with any such journey, this one has certainly had its share of peeks and valleys, shocks and celebrations, pain and praise, angst, joys, and adjustments.  But, above all, this journey has become for us a now cherished opportunity to see the hand of God as never before and to grow in our faith and trust in His complete sovereignty and unrelenting love for us! 

My hope with this update is that not only will it catch you up on some of the medical saga of these past months, and the details in which His unrelenting love and sovereignty are in evidence, but also give you a better perspective on where we now find ourselves, coming out of the midst of the mist of medical malaise, to the new and exciting platform for ministry on which we now find ourselves.  This new platform and our evolving ministry roles are discussed in greater detail in another article at this link, "New Ministry Opportunities and Our Evolving Roles".

But, before unpacking some of the back story, suffice it to say, that I am as excited as ever about the ministry opportunities God’s brought our way, most of which may not have materialized were it not for the apparent set-backs that have come our way these past few years.  And, the ministry we’ve poured ourselves into in Voronezh for the past 17+ years is experiencing some of the best fruit and momentum it’s seen.  More on this can be seen in the article, “Fruit-Bearing Fruit”.

Of the details of my cancer journey you’ve already read, or can read in other stories or blogs on this site, but without a doubt, that has played a significant role in how God has opened the latest chapter in the story He’s telling in and through our lives.

To catch you up on the latest details of the journey in 2015, let’s start with the latest and greatest good news which came in April of this year with my fourth PET scan since my cancer diagnosis in December of 2013.  The scan showed that the spot we’ve been watching in my chest has still not grown any larger than a normal lymph node, about a centimeter, leading my doctors to presume it to be non-cancerous.  As a result, they have extended the time between PET scans from 6 months to now every 9 months for the foreseeable future.  We are praising God for that sign of progress to a healthier plateau.  I sense that some of my healthiest years are still ahead of me.

But, while reaching for this new and healthier plateau, the first half of 2015 has not been without its share of medical malaise. As I reported in my medical update on the website in December, 2014 ended with many unanswered questions about my health.  Questions, which now have been answered.  But, between returning from Russia last September, and our return to Russia three months later, I was in no less than thirty doctor visits, examinations, or medical procedures to try to understand the malaise. 

Last October, in the follow-up appointment with my throat surgeon to review the results of my third PET scan, some soreness and swelling was discovered around my larynx.  Because of the type of malignancy I had in my tongue, the surgeon’s office has been vigilant in watching for any sores or concerns that develop in that region of the body.  In fact, they run a camera in through my nose to visually inspect the back of my throat every two months.  Though I value their vigilance, it is probably my least favorite and yet most routine of all procedures.  This is how they discovered the soreness.

The ensuing tests and examinations determined that the main culprit was apparently one that had been at work in eroding my esophagus for the past 25 years.  Acid reflux had been at work since the eighties, when I was first diagnosed with a hiatal hernia condition (a malfunction at the junction of the esophagus with the stomach).  The medication regime we began at that time, 25 years ago, seemed to control the most noticeable symptoms, but in long-term exposure those meds were slowly destroying my body’s ability to assimilate calcium.  To compound the situation, when my left salivary gland was removed in the cancer surgery (December 2013), I lost a substantial portion of the acid-balancing properties normally provided through our salivary system.  As a result, my persistent acid-reflux condition was causing the inflammation of my larynx and further esophageal degradation over the course of last year. 

In the final analysis, it was determined that the best solution would be a surgical repair of the hiatal hernia with a modification, wrapping portions of my stomach around my lower esophagus for reinformcement.  The 3-hour surgery would be performed robotically through six seperate small abdominal incisions.  The surgery was scheduled for early February before we left for Russia at the end of December.  But, when we flew back to the states at the end of January, I developed a virus and ensuing cough that forced the surgery to be rescheduled three times.  We finally went ahead with the surgery on the 20th of May, and I’ve now passed the halfway point in the two-month recovery process.  All indications are that it was a success.  Praise God!  I expect to be given the green light to travel again by July 20th, and we are planning to spend the last month of this summer in Russia. 

By the way, if you read my medical update in December, you may recall that we were also working to uncover the source of the severe shoulder pain I was experiencing.  In that search, we discovered Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and further diagnosed my arthritis condition.  But, through an MRI it was finally determined that a couple of tears in my rotator cuff were likely the main cause of my shoulder pain.  A steroid shot gave me several months of relief, and now six months later the shoulder seems to be almost 100%, and virtually pain-free. 

So, after two-and-a-half years of poking and prodding, cutting and stitching, reinforcing three different herniated parts with polypropylene mesh implants, who knows how many sutures in total, or tubes of superglue, five surgeries, and eight different hospitalizations, I truly feel like I’ve got a new lease on life!!  Seriously!  My greatest health concern right now is that I don’t start manifesting such a sense of invincibility that I start acting like the Terminator.  If I start speaking with an Austrian accent, or you start hearing things out of me like, “Hasta la vista Baby!”  Or, “I’ll be back!”  Then, please call Ann and suggest she set me an appointment with our friend Aggie Johnson, LPC. 

All kidding aside, I truly do feel like God has renewed my lease on this body, and as I said before, I feel like some of my healthiest years are still ahead.  It’ll be twenty years ago this fall that I took my first mission trip to Russia, and if my dad’s life is any indication, I wholly expect God to give me at least that many more years to effectively carry His gospel to the nations. 

Though I may pray as the psalmist David, “Show me Lord my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” (Ps 39:4)  I know it’s not mine to know that number.  It’s mine to make the most of each day I’m given, for the sake of His name and His fame among the nations.    

So, Ann and I thank you once again for your faithful prayer support which has sustained us through these days, and empowers us to journey forward.  It can’t be overstated, we deeply appreciate, indeed cherish your prayer support, in sickness and in health!

Click this link to read more about the new opportunities we face in the years ahead.