Monthly Archives: May 2013

Conversations with 4-Year-Olds

One recent morning as I drove the boys to their school and day care the following conversation took place.

Hudson started commute singing “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of his lungs. After the song ends he says…

Hudson: Daddy, when can I go with you to your work?

Daddy: You want to go to work with me?

H: Yeah, I’ve never been to your work.

D: We can arrange for you to go with me to work someday.

H: I’ll have to think about what snack to take.

D: Yes, that’s important.

H: Maybe we can take red pepper

D: I like red pepper, too.

H: Yeah, I like it too.  A lot.  I don’t know how God is changing me to like red pepper.

D: God changes us a lot of ways.  He changes our hearts and sometimes he changes our taste buds.

H: He’s changing me to like red pepper, but I don’t know how he’s doing it.

D: That’s a mystery.

H: That IS a mystery.

Maddox starts singing Jesus loves me.  The words are almost entirely syllabic grunts, but the melody is there.

H: Hey daddy, Maddox is singing.

D: He sure is.

Hudson joins in singing and they are howling, at the top of their lungs, a duet of “Jesus Love Me” until we turn into the school parking lot.

H: On no. We’re late today.

D: Yeah, we’re a few minutes late.

H: It’s probably because I was racing my cars instead of getting ready.

D: That’s one of the reasons.

As Hudson is getting out of the car…

H: Maddox is going to cry when I leave.  He’s really going to miss me.

D: He will miss you, but then he’ll be happy to see you again this afternoon.

H: Yeah, he will.

D: Have a good day at school, buddy.

H: Bye daddy.  Tell Maddox it’s okay and I’ll see him later.


The Race is Not to the Swift

Hudson and me at the race

Hudson and me at the race

 

“3. 2. 1. Go!”

Hudson, my 4-year-old, sprinted across the starting line, weaving among the moving forest of legs. The throng thinned and he sped by walkers and stroller pushers. He yelled over his shoulder, “Look at all the people I’m passing.”

My announcement earlier in the week that the family was going to participate in the Sudan Goat Race 5K and Family Mile was still hanging in the air when Hudson said, “I’m going to beat you.” For three days all I heard from him was variations of the same piece of trash talk, “I’m going to beat you so bad,” “I’m going to leave you in the dust,” and “It’s okay daddy, I still love you even though you’re slow.”  The kid loves to race.  Sadly, he is burdened with my DNA, so the chances of him winning an actual race are slim.

Determined not to let me lead, Hudson jumped back-and-forth in front of my feet during the opening steep-downhill portion of the race. I dodged side-to-side to avoid trampling him under my size thirteen shoes.  We had run just half-way down the hill when he tripped and fell face-first onto the pavement.

I quickly lifted him out of the way of the oncoming mob

Tears.

Hugs. 

Kisses on scraped knees.

“Do you want to keep running or ride in the stroller?” I asked.

Wiping away tears he mumbled, “Ride.”

Teri strapped him into the stroller and walked the family down the hill and onto flat road. Hudson’s friends were running all around the stroller and as we turned to loop back to the finish line he yelled with excitement, “I want to race, daddy.”

“You’re feeling better now?”

“Yeah, and I’m going to leave you in the dust.” He jumped to the ground and his little legs churned as fast as possible among the crowd of racing children and patient parents.

The road back to the finish line transformed the steep downhill section into a sharp uphill run. While it is easier for a 4-year-old to maintain balance going uphill, the incline also exhausts his little legs. His breathing became belabored and just halfway up he stopped directly in my path, “Daddy, can you carry me?”

That was a fantastic question. 

Seven months prior to the race I was reduced to a crippled mass of flesh and bones after a thirteen day stay in the hospital where a surgeon removed a softball sized tumor and four feet of small intestine. By the time I was discharged the “Cancer Team,” comprised of family and friends across the nation, had been working around the clock to jump start our knowledge of the healing processes.  When the car pulled into the driveway, delivering me home for the first time since checking myself into the emergency room, the nutritional cancer therapies began immediately: a vegan diet, constant juicing, nutritional shakes, the Budwig protocol. Additionally I devoting extended periods of time to meditation and prayer and went on walks as far as my body could endure, which during the first couple of weeks getting to the mailbox was monumental.

The thing about nutritional cancer therapies is that they are rooted in eating organic food, are therefore non-toxic and won’t cause my hair to fall out, induce uncontrollable nausea and vomiting, steal my ability to taste or deaden my nerves.  As my body works to rid itself of the disease, the detoxification side effects I experience manifest in the form of minor rashes, “traveling pains”  (momentary pains that appear in one part of my body before subsiding and moving on to the next), occasional dizziness and intermittent fatigue. One of our primary goals is to repair my liver (whose role in the body is to detoxify) so it can function at peak efficiency and eliminate toxins. Every four to five weeks the cells that make up the liver are renewed. Restoration of a damaged liver to health can take twelve to fifteen generations of new cells, about eighteen months.  Dr. Max Gerson, creator of one of the leading nutritional cancer therapies once said,

“The cells in the body are constantly being replaced with new ones. Within the span of 18 months a bad defective liver, if given the correct fuel, can grow a new liver by virtue of replacing the defective cells with fresh cells. The key is giving the body the right nutrients, ingredients for the recipe. Someone who has spent a lifetime throwing the wrong ingredients into the body with the result of defective organs, plagued with cancer, cannot, in the manner of a mere few weeks or months, replace all of their cells with healthy ones. It is possible for that person’s bodily functions to begin to operate correctly immediately after the introduction of correct nutrients. The old liver still functions as a liver, not as a rusty metal can.”

There is a long way to go before the “rust” is cleaned out of my body. Most of the time, however, I feel very good. This past weekend, in fact, I managed to sneak in an hour at the gym and my muscles were sore after lifting thirty-pound weights (I used to workout with 100-pound weights), and I was exhausted after twenty minutes alone on the racquetball court.  From time-to-time I can even challenge my son to a race.

*****

He asked me a second time, “Daddy, can you carry me?”

I stood in the road quietly deliberating whether or not my body could make the trek up the hill carrying a squirmy forty-pound load.

“Daddy.” He was getting whinny now.

“You bet buddy.”  I swept him off the ground and set him on my shoulders. Together we marched to the top of the steep hill towards the finish line.  At the summit I set him on the ground and the race resumed. For the remaining 200 feet he zigged and zagged to stay in front so I couldn’t win. The race MC announced, “Here comes Hudson Briggs just edging out his father.”  I lifted him high in the air and said, “You won buddy!”

Hudson looked around, a bewildered look on his face, and asked, “Where’s my trophy.”

*****

We are so thankful to God for the love and generosity you have shown us.  Each week we are buoyed by an encouraging note in the mail, a delivery of groceries, an unexpected financial gift, or an offer to watch the kids for an evening. The battle with cancer is a full-time job and a full-time paycheck and most weeks it takes more than Teri and I can give. We have tried as best as possible amidst the chaos to thank everyone personally, but some of the gifts have been anonymous and sometimes we simply lose track.  I wanted to say thank you to everyone who shared in our struggles.  You are saving my life.

Lastly, every day we deal with challenges related to cancer and the subject is never far from our minds.  Here are a few of the topics of constant conversation at the Briggs house. Please keep us in your prayers.

  • We continue to research and consult with experts and there are many scientifically backed opinions as to determine how to address my cancer. We need wisdom and discernment to know what to adopt and what not to adopt.
  • Daily Teri and I wrestle with finding balance between the protocols, work, the kids, time together, and getting the rest needed for healing.
  • Last week we had a consultation with an expert who analyzed drops of my blood under a microscope. The results showed areas of my health that need improvement, naturally, but the results also revealed that I have “strong blood,” “there is good constitution,” and, “I’m not far from where I need to be.”  We are very encouraged to have some scientific data that indicates healing is happening.
  • Hudson and Maddox, now 4 and 2, are resilient kids and are adapting to our regime without complaint. They are particularly fans of the spinach, kale, banana, peach and blueberry smoothies.

 

The boys and me at an Easter Egg Hunt

The boys and me at an Easter Egg Hunt

 

 


The Razor Sharp Talons of Hope

* Originally published March 23, 2013

 

I am an English major. Not an English major guru who takes special joy in correcting other people’s grammatical foibles at Thanksgiving dinner. No, I’m just a regular guy with an English degree. Five years and over $30,000 spent at Kansas State University and I emerged with a degree in a language that was taught to me from the moment of birth.  Since the inception of my collegiate tenure I answer the question, “What does one do with a degree in English?” no less than four times per year. This is a serious question which requires the most serious of answers. An English major is good for two careers: becoming an English teacher or a 3rd World Dictator. When I graduated the career board at K-State was a little short on 3rd World Dictator postings and, being the son of two teachers and consequently spending my childhood summers painting houses, I had no desire to engage in the noble career of teaching. Naturally I embarked on a career path of blazed by countless English majors (and history majors) before me, toiling in miserable entry level positions until deciding on a career in insurance. While my chosen major did little to prepare me for life post-college, it has, to my delight, come in handy in my new role as a professional cancer fighter.  I recall taking a course on early American poets where I wrote what was, undoubtedly, a marvelous research paper on Emily Dickinson.  A poem she wrote has come to mind with frequency since my diagnosis,

 

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

 

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

 

It was just over a month ago when Teri and I met with an oncologist in a tiny room, crowded with the three of us, where he explained, with stoic timbre, the results of the PET scan, according to his training. We solemnly filed out of the room and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m so sorry.” In the five weeks since that meeting Teri and I have experienced a year’s worth of emotions. Fear and peace, sorrow and joy, doubt and boldness all sweep over us like a thunderstorm thrashes its way across the plains. Though abashed by the storm, hope allows us to press on with joy.  When the oncologist gave the same look as my parents when I told them I wanted major in English but didn’t plan on teaching, we looked elsewhere for solutions to the problem that confronts us.  And hope has not disappointed.

Our hope is not founded on a wishful dream. We have discovered the tools needed to battle my cancer built into creation. Encouragement arrives daily in the form of new stories of people around the world who have overcome the very form of cancer I carry by employing the same nutritional cancer therapies we have adopted.

This hope does not, however, make us naïve.  The future is uncertain, as it is for all human kind, and we are learning to live in uncertainty. Each day carries both emotional and spiritual challenges that, at times, shake us to the core and leave us holding each other gently praying.  A passage of scripture, a lyric from a song, or a scene from a movie may trigger tears of joy or fear. Our hope, however is built on unshaken trust in God and, to borrow Dickinson’s metaphor, the bird of perched in our soul is a giant falcon with razor sharp talons and a giant hungry beak looking to devour cancer cells.

 

 

Thank you so much for sending emails, text messages, voicemails and cards.  Hearing from you is an enormous encouragement. It’s difficult for us to communicate directly with everyone who touches our lives, but let me offer this meager attempt. My sons love cookies.  They’re virtual addicts.  Yesterday my oldest woke in the morning asking to have cookies for breakfast. Naturally, we said yes. One of the recipes Teri discovered as we changed our diet is a fantastic vegan no-bake cookie, which, because of the ingredients, can also be eaten for breakfast.  If you desire, make a batch of these cookies and know, as you make them, we thankful for you.  Then send us a message letting us know whether you enjoyed them and thought of us as you ate them.

 

Hudson’s Awesome No-Bake Cookies

  • Mix together the following ingredients in a bowl:
    • 2 ripe mashed bananas
    • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
    • 1/4 cup raisins
    • 1.5 TBSP honey
    • 2 TBSP almond butter
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • a pinch of salt.
  • Mix well and roll into 10-12 small balls and flatten them into cookie shapes then place on a plate or cookie sheet and freeze (30 min.)
  • Enjoy!

 


We Press On…

* Originally published February 4, 2013

 

Thank you to everyone who has prayed for me and my family and sent an encouraging text, email or card in the mail. Our spirits have been sustained by your vigilance.  Today’s meeting with the oncologist spawned an array of emotions we are still processing and once we’ve had an opportunity to get some distance I will send a more thoughtful update. In the meantime I want to give the new details of my situation:

  • I do still have cancer.
  • The cancer has not spread.
  • At the last PET scan 3 months ago there were 8 spots, today there were 2.
  • One of the spots has grown significantly, baseball size, and is comprised mostly of dead cells.
  • The other spot is small, marble size, and indeterminate as to whether or not it is actually cancerous, though it is likely.
  • The growth rate for both of these spots is considerably low (previously it was high).

 

I will provide more details as we are able to process them both mentally and emotionally. In the meantime, if you feel compelled to call, email, text or stop by our house late in the evening we welcome the opportunity to tell the story.

 

 

 


Not the Pet the Kids Were Expecting

* Originally published January 29, 2013

 

In mid-October a doctor at Presbyterian hospital walked into my room on the 6th floor where I had been their guest for a couple of weeks and confirmed that tests on the tumor removed from my stomach were positive for melanoma.  From that moment not a single day has passed without Teri and me engaging in a cancer related discussion.  We’ve shared both difficult and truly wonderful talks about: my cancer, how to treat cancer, the prevalence of cancer we have began to notice everywhere, the fear  cancer brings with it, how cancer is changing our lives for the better, and what to do once we beat cancer.  We go on and on for hours and when we’ve worked each other into a frenzy, family and friends want to talk and we rehash those same exchanges.  Honestly, we never get tired of having these conversations.  We are a small part of a grand story and cancer has become an essential subject of our storyline and we are glad to have opportunities to tell the tale.

It is difficult to know, however, how much of this story gets picked up by our children. Maddox, 20 months, understands nearly every command or question we give him, “Bring me your dinner plate.  Go upstairs for bath time.  Do you need more milk? Is your diaper poopy?” Terms like metastatic melanoma, however, are a little beyond his comprehension.  Hudson, on the other hand, is surprisingly aware for a four year old.  When we drive by the hospital he says, “Look daddy. That’s where I came to see you and ate your food.”  He then proceeds to name each of the snacks he ate while sitting at my bedside.  He was particularly fond of the variety of colors of Jell-O at his beck-and-call.

Last week he and I had this conversation:

“Dad, are we getting another pet?”

“No, we’re not planning on it.  Do you think Mala needs a friend?”

“Well, you said to mommy you’re getting a pet.”

“Are you sure that’s what I said?”

“Um, well, yeah, that’s what you said to mommy.”

“I don’t think we need another cat right now.”

“No, not a cat.  You told mommy you are getting a pet scan.”

“Well, um, yes, I did say that but, buddy, a PET scan isn’t an animal.”

“Yes it is, it’s a special friend for Mala.”

“Not quite, but I see how you might think it is. It’s actually a test the doctors will use to look inside my stomach and see how daddy’s Ouchy is healing.”

“Oh. Does your Ouchy still hurt?”

“Not much, but we need to know if it’s getting better on the inside.”’

“Can I touch your Ouchy, daddy?”

“Sure.”

“Daddy?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Can I have a cookie?”

My next PET Scan is scheduled for this Thursday, January 31st, and, since Friday is the doctor’s golf day, we will meet with him Monday, February, 4th to receive the results. The words “PET Scan,” for those of us who get them, evoke an ominous sensation. Waiting for the day of the scan reveals a dark side to human nature, or at least my nature, a propensity to project the worst possible scenario no matter how irrational or bevy of evidence to the contrary. This projection to fear which then give birth to bigger fear and before long everyone is frazzled and no one in our house is getting any sleep. One of Teri and mine’s discussions last week led to a profound revelation that took the menacing edge off of the upcoming test when we realized a PET scan is merely a picture, a snapshot of my guts at a single moment in time. Like a photographer takes pictures at weddings or an eager parent uses their cellphone to capture photos of their children, the PET Scan is a giant, highly sophisticated polaroid taken by photographers in labs coats standing behind a protective barrier. The results, good or bad, are just an image which becomes part of the story, but it isn’t the whole tale. It is unlikely the PET Scan picture will make the family Christmas card next year, however it will give insight into changes since the last scan 3 months ago and will help provide direction for how we administer future treatment protocols. And, with any luck, after the scan they will give me a cookie.

Not only do Teri and I have daily conversations about cancer, but God and I wrestle on an ongoing with the subject as well.  Here are some of the things He and I talk about; I would be honored, if you’re in the habit of praying, if you would join in our discussion.

  • Say good-bye to cancer. I continue to improve in strength and endurance. This improved well-being has made Teri and me hopeful the upcoming scan will bring good news.
  • Live life without fear. My mind is prone to easily wander into thoughts that are irrational and embody a worst case scenario and these thoughts are not helpful. There is no amount of fear or worry that can add a single hour to my life; rather fear steals joy from the moment. Cancer loses its hold on my mind when I replace thoughts of fear with thoughts of thanksgiving.
  • Don’t waste my cancer.
    • I waste my cancer if I retreat into solitude rather than deepening relationships with family and friends. Teri and I (Hudson and Maddox too) have experienced incredible encouragement from friends, family and even complete strangers who have shown love and support for us over these past months.  Had I decided to wrestle alone with this struggle, we would have missed out on incredible acts of kindness that have brought us immense joy.
    • I waste my cancer if I hide this struggle rather than tell the story. I don’t know how all of this is going to turn out, but I hope and desire that my experiences are able to inspire hope and thankfulness in others.
    • I waste my cancer if I become consumed with the odds. The truth about odds is that they don’t pertain to me.  They are formulated based on situations and cases that are distinctly different from my own.  My future cannot be predicted by referencing a set of statistical numbers as if looking into a crystal ball.
    • I waste my cancer if I believe that beating cancer merely means staying alive rather than cherishing life.  Don’t misread this.  Yes, I am praying for the cancer to be eliminated, that is prayer number 1. But even if the results of the scan indicate all the tumors are gone, cancer can still win if I fail to value the things of utmost importance.  Conversely, whether I live for 2 years or 20 years, cancer doesn’t win if I learn to value relationships and share this incredible story I am privileged to live.

The Year of the Comeback

* Originally published January 13, 2013

Fizz on the champagne of 2012 was still bubbling over when I proclaimed the following 365 days to be, “The Year of the Comeback.”  I had in mind a physical transformation back into my pre-fatherhood glory days.  Six months passed and all I had managed to accomplish was survive a triathlon (if someone asks you to go swimming in 63 degree water – don’t), go winless in weekend racquetball games (thanks Fenn for the “life lessons”) and gain a few extra pounds. I bring this up because at the start of 2013 I can say that “The Year of the Comeback” was a success despite the unexpected means of achieving the goal. I am tipping the scales 55 pounds lighter at my high school basketball weight of 175.

You have been journeying with Teri and I on this unexpected expedition and I want to keep you updated on how we’re doing and what we see down the forested trail we are walking:

  • Recovery from the surgery is going very well. While my body tires very easily doing any activity, I don’t experience pain when wrestling with the boys.  Resuming my weekend racquetball games is only a few weeks away.
  • I am back in the office full time and while physically able to make it through a day, I am exhausted by the time I arrive at home. Still, it feels good to be back at work and contributing to society again. Challenges will certainly arise when I resume traveling in the next few weeks and longer work days prevail.
  • The detox pain has subsided to dull aches a majority of the time. I am, over the next few weeks, increasing supplement dosages and the frequency of the treatment protocols which may increase the pain, but it’s a good thing. We want those cancer cells to leave the body!
  • I had blood drawn this week and it was sent off to a lab specializing in testing for micronutrient deficiencies.  This test reveals areas in which nutrients in the body are lacking and, with the help of a nutritionist and our consultants, we will create a plan for fixing these problems.  Fix the body and it will take care of the cancer. Results from that will arrive in the next 2-3 weeks.
  • Thursday I met with a new oncologist and will be scheduling another PET scan in the coming weeks.  This scan will show the progress of the protocols and provide guidance about whether or not we need to adjust our treatments. I like the doctor, and while he didn’t give us any new information emotions surfaced that have taken us several days to process and find our joy again.  Meetings with conventional medical professionals remind us the treatments they offer give no hope for our future. But we are continually encouraged by our friends, family and a growing list of testimonies that there is great hope in the alternative treatments we are pursuing.
  • We have adjusted our diet dramatically. The grill is resting comfortably in the backyard and one day, hopefully not too far way, we will wake it with a blazing inferno. Until then, however, I am officially a vegan, eating a high raw diet – and I don’t hate it. The difficulty is to get enough calories to keep from dropping any more weight. I’m already too thin for my “skinny jeans” (yes, even men have skinny jeans).

We are overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone who has shown support for our family. Each email, voicemail, text message and care package are an encouragement and we treasure them dearly.  It brings great joy to hear from you often so please don’t think that reaching out to us is an annoyance or somehow prying into our personal lives.

Lastly, I’d like to give a list of prayers Teri sent me the other day.  If you are the in the habit of praying, I ask for your prayers as well:

  • Destruction of cancer cells.  Gone.  Bye-bye.
  • Healing of digestive system so it has the ability to absorb nutrients needed to expunge cancer from the body.
  • Strength to continue to improve so that regular exercise can be worked back into the schedule.
  • Build up stamina.
  • Get sunlight everyday – Vitamin D is vital.
  • Weight stabilization – 55 pounds is about enough to lose
  • We will cherish our relationships with family, friends and God and will strive to deepen them in 2013.
  • For our Family:
    • That our family would be a priority in the midst of everything we need to accomplish daily.
    • There would be playtime and special moments with the boys.
    • Plenty of date nights!

We love you.

–          Bruce, Teri, Hudson and Maddox