…Within the next twelve short months Joel, Kimberly, and their daughter made FIVE additional trips to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester. Joel had a wonderful oncologist in Fort Wayne, Dr. Carr, who was willing to work with the Mayo doctors. There were times when Joel had appointments to see Dr. Carr once a week, for months at a time. Joel began taking Temodar, a chemotherapy “pill” that worked better than an IV to get into the brain and do its work. This made Joel very sick. He was to take it for one week every month.
The next trip to Rochester, MN was in June of 2010. Kimberly was terrified of driving all that way again and especially the route through Chicago. The stresses of Joel’s cancer, the brain surgery and after-effects, and daily life dealing with insurance companies, disability paperwork, financial difficulties, and much more were wearing on her. Thankfully, they were part of a phenomenal church family who helped take care of many of their needs during this crisis.
A very dear friend, Jim, offered to drive them to Rochester, stay with them, and then drive them back home. That was huge! Again the Lord provided in a way that was totally unexpected! At the Mayo, Joel had some follow-up tests and visits with the doctors. He was progressing well and told to return again in two months.
While back home Joel had many appointments with Dr. Carr and then in August 2010 they again drove to Minnesota for more follow-up tests and appointments with the doctors. This time, another small cancer tumor was found in Joel’s brain. It was decided that because it was so small, the doctors would keep an eye on it, and Joel was to return again in another eight weeks.
Back home again to Indiana Kimberly drove them! During the next two months Joel continued seeing Dr. Carr, continued with the chemotherapy pills, and having his blood checked for possible serious liver problems and low blood counts. These were some of the side effects of the Temodar.
October 13, 2010 rolled around and Joel could drive again! Exactly two weeks later they headed to Rochester for more visits at the Mayo Clinic. Joel and Kimberly took turns driving (because he was constantly exhausted). They discovered the newest tumor in his brain had grown and again performed gamma-knife radiation. After a few days they were sent home not to return until January.
Even though they tried keeping a positive attitude they occasionally became disheartened. The long winter months were wearing on them and there were piles of snow everywhere. In January 2011 they were not looking forward to driving further up north where the snow was much worse. Again, God provided a miracle and their dear friend Jim drove them to Rochester, went to all the appointments with Joel (six in one day) because Kimberly became ill, and then he drove them home again. What a huge blessing he has been in their lives!
Unfortunately the news that was received on that trip was not good. The cancer had spread into 8 to 10 additional areas in Joel’s body – a couple on the other side of his neck, in his chest, groin, armpits, and more. Joel was to return home, continue taking the chemotherapy pill with his oncologist in Fort Wayne, and then make another trip to the Mayo doctors in eight weeks.
Joel and Kimberly were in better spirits for the trip that took place the end of March and first of April 2011. Signs of Spring were everywhere! They continued striving to keep their focus on Christ, and not on the cancer. They were looking forward to this trip. They had made friends with a family through the church they visited while up there. They had also made friends at the Crossroads College which offered “guest apartments” at a very low rate for Mayo Clinic patients and their caregivers.
Unfortunately, again this trip was not a positive one. The tests showed that the cancer had spread another 12 to 15 places in Joel’s body. Yet another one was found in his brain and again gamma-knife radiation was performed. Although the doctors did advise that the areas in his brain where the tumors were surgically removed and previously given gamma-knife were healing well. This made a total of approximately 25 cancer tumors including the five in his brain. There was nothing else to do other than to continue trying chemotherapy, perhaps a different kind. They were in Rochester for two weeks this time.
It seems that during this trip, the Lord provided a very unexpected answer to prayers. Joel and Kimberly were told about Yervoy, a new medication that was produced especially for the exact type of cancer Joel had! But it had not been released to the public yet. The FDA was going to approve it for release in the United States on April 11 so Joel was urged to contact his oncologist back home to see if they could begin the approval process to see if his insurance would cover this treatment. Just four treatments, over a twelve week period of time, cost approximately $125,000!
Joel was approved and received his first treatment on April 28, 2011. They were told that in the clinical research the cancer tended to return in the patients in two or three months. They were also told that the Yervoy could possibly shrink some of the larger tumors in Joel’s body and/or make some of the very small ones disappear. They were also advised that there were some serious side effects to consider. Joel and Kimberly’s thoughts were…..it’s worth trying anything if this will grant Joel even ONE more day with his loved ones…
Written by Kimberly K. Saunders
Next: “Joey’s Hope – Part 4 of 4“