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Our own roller coaster

I feel like our emotions are on a never ending roller coaster. One day you'd think we didn't even know how to spell c-a-n-c-e-r, living our normal newlywed life and the next we can't get out of our heads with all the 'what ifs' or trying to process the latest Dr's visit.

It's been a high - speed, super steep, extra twisty roller coaster the last 2 weeks.

Between a break from Christmas and the cakewalk Brad had during radiation, it's almost as if cancer wasn't really true...until we were slapped upside the head and snapped back to reality. Monday, February 3rd was our first 'real' appointment since all of this time off to talk about what's next. It almost felt like we were given the news that Brad had cancer all over again, as if it was new news. It felt like that time off was both a blessing and curse because although we had a slight glimpse of normalcy this was still our reality.

This visit (2/3) mapped our next month, provided an update on an extremely valuable personalized gene tracking program called clonoSEQ and then we found out about the probable need for a stem cell transplant. An emotional roller coaster in a single visit.

Let me break this down:

1. The next month (because really that's all we can handle at one time): Brad started round 2 of Arm A on Monday, February 10th. If you remember he is getting his treatment as an outpatient which means we get to sleep in our own bed every night, but it also means we wake up at the crack of dawn and get home late because of traveling to and from Moffitt. Like the first time, he has two infusions per day for 3 days - one in the morning and one at night followed by 3 different infusions on the 4th day. Oh and in the midst of this he also had a lumbar puncture. It's truly amazing what the body can handle.

His next Arm B is planned to start on March 4th.

2. clonoSEQ: I won't get too detailed on this part because it's complicated and I need a few more letters (MD, DO, AP, LMNOPQ) behind my name to truly make sense of it, however, I can articulate enough to get to the good news:

In January, we (his doctor) sent Brad's original tumor biopsy to a company called clonoSEQ. This company is able to use the original biopsy to identify 'markers' in Brad's blood that are then followed throughout treatment to track and treat the measurable (or minimal) residual disease (MRD*) of his cancer. (Feel free to read more here: clonoSEQ)

Prior to any treatment, Brad's baseline showed that he had about 8% MRD of the cancer in his blood.*MRD - refers to the small # of cancer cells that can remain in the body during or after treatment and may be a sign of cancer returning.

They tested his blood last week and we got the results today: after 1 full cycle of chemotherapy and radiation - there are currently ZERO cancer cells in his body at this moment. I repeat - ZERO CANCER CELLS. Y'all, it's by the grace of the Lord that we were given some good news today because last week we were told about transplant. Although this is good news, we don't want to get our hopes up too high because the road is still long. Nonetheless - small wins.

3. Transplant: at our clinic visit on Monday (2/3) we were told we would be needing a consult with the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) clinic. We knew this was an option, but not necessarily a probable one.

We had our transplant consult today and technically we are talking about a Stem Cell Transplant, not BMT. Again, I won't go into great detail because there are so many unknowns, but we do know that it's a possibility. We don't know exactly when in the future and we don't know what type of transplant, but we do know that if the day comes that Brad's doctor says this needs to happen that Brad's brother Austin will be the first to be tested as a donor. If he isn't a match the transplant team turns to the donor bank. We have had many friends offer to be tested to be a donor and as kind as that is, we learned today it is easiest to simply go to the donor bank.

Here is my shameless plug to encourage you to go register to become a donor. I will list places to register below, but you could save a life. Seriously. Please consider it and who knows that life could be Brad's.

I write this blog post as I sit next to Brad while he receives his 4th infusion of the week. It's 7:30 pm and this is the now the second day we have spent nearly 14 hours at Moffitt shuffling between the infusion center, the clinic, the waiting room and back to the infusion center. He's tired. I'm tired. I am trying to soak in the good news and set aside the unknowns right now. I am slowly learning that this journey is a road of constant questions, living one day at a time the best we can and not focusing on the things we can't control (like doctors being late to appointments).

Prayer request: first and foremost that this cancer would stay the heck away. The Lord has already done so much for our good and deserves all of the praise. Praise Him! Pray that as the side effects start to set in Brad remains strong and is able to rest through them. I ask that you pray for his blood counts, that although they will fall, they rise quickly to allow him at least a few days of normalcy before the next round. Please pray that as we continue to navigate the unknowns we never forget the amount of love we have surrounding us.

My prayer throughout this, in addition to a relentless prayer for healing, is that when you pray that you have a faith that can move mountains, unwavering trust that the Lord truly can heal. That in asking for Brad's healing we also believe that God has the power to do immeasurably more in all circumstances, specifically the toughest times. I know that although it has felt as though we are on never ending roller coaster the Lord has been my riding buddy. Holding our hand on the sharp turns, raising His hands high in celebration with us and ultimately catching me when it feels like a never ending drop.

Sorry for the lengthy post, but lots of information to share.

Thankful for you.

Natalie Whitmer - approved by Brad :)


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