The Ingredients of Hope

Over a decade ago, in October of 2005, my wife was declared pregnant with our eighth child.  We were thrilled.  Three weeks later, she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer.  We were naturally dismayed.  The writing below follows the faithfulness of God through the many months of Christie's treatment.  Since we posted new updates chronologically, the oldest entry (and the beginning of the account) is at the end of this page.  To begin at the beginning, go to the end.  (The pictures referred to in the text did not transfer when we moved this site to its present location.)

(This is an excerpt of one of the more important Quotidian Updates) Throughout this season in the Turnbulls' lives we have been renewed in our strength and hope by remembering (over and over) the really important things.  For one, there is the bare fact that nothing really matters more than human beings.  As much as I love our house and our yard and the mountains and our old Subaru and the red rocks of Utah and the old desk in my office and certain 60's music,  all of that recedes into the background when something like cancer becomes a part of one's life.  I can't think of anything on the earth that is more important than my wife and our children and our family and friends.  I don't treasure anything on this earth more than those people.  Really, what could be more important than a person? 

But even more significant in our lives has been, and certainly now is, our relationship with God.  In some ways, going through a time like this resembles trekking through an August desert, or being put into an oven to bake at 375.  It cooks away all of the excess and nonessentials, and we are left to survive on what is really substantial.  I think you know how it is when you have been hiking or working outdoors all day in the middle of summer and the only thing you really want is the one thing you really need: water.  Americans spend a whole lot of time drinking soda pop, but that would not be the thing to give someone who issuffering real thirst..  At that moment of true need, there is nothing that tastes better than water.   This parallels the effects of this trial for us.  It often makes our desires mirror our true needs.  We begin to want what God says we really need.  Instead of trying to draw nourishment from evanescent things like Herb Alpert's music, we are forced (in the good way) to find our delight and satisfaction and hope in the one thing that lasts forever and is unperturbed by small things like cancer: God Himself.  This fact makes the words of Christ in John 7:37 and 38 even more pointed: Jesus stood and cried out, "If any man is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.' "

It is during this season that we are reminded of the essentials that bring us spiritual life and hope in the face of death.  Here are some of the most important I know:

1.  That God created the world and everything in it and that because of that He has the rights (as all inventors and creators do) over what He made.  I belong to Him and Christie belongs to Him and He can (and should) do with our lives in accordance with the good purpose for which He made us.  As the Scripture says, "it is He who made us and not we ourselves." 

2.  That God, who made the world and us, has also mercifully revealed Himself to us.  He is holy and righteous and good.  This is the great hope of people living in an imperfect world (like you and me)! God is good and just and will ultimately make all things right.  His excellent character means that evil will not go unpunished and that suffering is not the end of the story, although it may be a significant part of the middle.   As the Scripture says, "proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!  The Rock!  His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He." 

3. That His goodness and righteousness are not only our one true hope but also the ultimate standard by which all men will be measured.  God's character is the pattern that we were made to imitate.  When we go astray from His ways and His goodness in the way we think or act or treat our neighbors, we are missing the mark and naturally guilty.  This going astray is what the Bible calls "sin" and has just as much to do with what we omit as what we commit.  For example, the Scripture says, ""You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."  In this excellent command I see God's goodness as well as my own breaking of that command. 

4. That cancer is a great metaphor of sin.  Cancer is a cell that is meant to be part of a larger organism, that decides to live for itself and grow at the expense of the organism.  In the same way, I have sinned personally against my Creator (ask my wife for details) and--it may be hard to believe-- Christie has also sinned.  In fact, the Scripture says, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  And just like cancer, something has to be done about sin.  It cannot be allowed to grow and prosper.  If it does it will kill whatever it touches.  That is why it makes sense when the Scripture says that "the wages of sin is death."  Death is a final separation, and sin will ultimately separate me forever from the people I love and God who made me.  This is probably the most culturally uncomfortable teaching in the Scriptures: people like you and me will spend the rest of forever separated from God and everything that is good (since all good things come from ultimately from Him). But it is realizing the accuracy of this truth that allows us to even begin to see another facet of God's goodness.

5. That God is merciful and kind beyond all comparison.  The wonder and scandal of the Scriptures is that they tell the story of a God who loved us so much that, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  Who would give his life for a friend?  Many heroic men and women have done so.  But the amazing thing about God is that He gave His life for His enemies.  Christ offered His sinless life in the stead of those who deserved to die because of their sin.  That's me.  And, to add to the wonder of this story, after His death (because He is God) Christ rose from death as the conquering Saviour.  Can you see how that is the decisive hope for the Turnbulls?  If Jesus Christ loved us so much that He would offer His life for ours, how will He not also be faithful to help and keep us through such a trial as this cancer? If Christ shattered death itself through the power of His own indestructible life, how can we refuse to have hope in the face of death?  

6. That God also sovereignly and mercifully applied these truths to our lives personally.  It wasn't just enough for us (or anyone) to know about these ideas.  God kindly brought us to the point where we acknowledged that we had indeed ignored and disobeyed God and that we, personally, were rightly vulnerable to His righteous judgment.  Then we could actually see Christ not merely as some figurehead of a major world religion, but we could embrace Him as the living God who saves us and gives us life.  As the Scripture says, "God commands all men everywhere to repent."  That word, "repent" means to turn away from sin and to march toward God.  This all happened at a particular point in both of our lives.  On our side, it involved admitting to God our sin, and committing our lives to Him and thanking Him for His forgiveness.  That personal interaction with God has become a daily way of life.  Paul ideally describes this type of life (in the book of Galatians) when he says, "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me."   Of course, this is the very kind of life that we are pursuing and that we seek for every one of our friends and family.  (By the way, I didn't make this stuff up; it's is all in the Bible. And if you have a relevant question about these matters, please ask.) 
 

Sunday June 3rd, 2007.  My wife has this certain idiosyncrasy when relating stories about potentially life-threatening or worrisome events.  The kind of events I am talking about are those that may involve a child's health, or a near-miss car accident on the highway, or the results of a stressful meeting.  For example, there have been times when she has taken one of our kids to the doctor--say to find out why she is not breathing normally--while her husband waited up in Leavenworth chewing his nails and one-by-one turning brown hairs into gray ones.  After he has spent a long period of anticipation and engaged in horribly distracted and therefore inefficient work waiting to hear the results, she drives up to the curb with the breathing child in tow.  As this husband runs out to meet her with a face that says "What did Dr. Eisert say?! Tell me! What's wrong with the child?!" written all over it, the idiosyncrasy kicks in.  Not wanting to relate things out of order, she begins, strangely, at the beginning.  That means that the husband cannot learn what the ultimate diagnosis is at the front end.  Rather, he needs to be introduced to the information in the same order (and at what feels like a similar rate) as his wife learned it on the trip.  This has the tendency of drastically augmenting the suspense associated with such a situation.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, it mystifies the husband why they can't go straight to what he calls "the punch-line" and then fill in the preceding episodes afterwards. There have been a few tense moments associated with this idiosyncrasy.  In fact, the husband's face has been known to contort unnaturally during the re-telling and even to get quite red.  However, there is, after it is all over, a conviction on the husband's part that there is something charming about this idiosyncrasy in his wife. I tell this story simply to let you know that I am going to start with the punch-line. 

Christie's full-body CT scan was clear!

Here's what happened.  On Thursday morning Christie ate nothing.  Rather, she started drinking Barium.  The last time she did this was one year ago, just a week or so after Isabella was born.  Her stomach and systems were anything but normal then and drinking the Barium and getting her CT scan was one of the Low Moments of the entire Cancer/Treatment Saga.  Thankfully, feeling infinitely better than she had 12 months ago, Thursday's doses were quite tolerable.  She drove to Wenatchee and rather than calling me later in the morning, she called early to say that the scan was already complete and went smoothly.  Thanks for praying for us. 

After her CT scan she had an Echocardiogram.  Remarkably, it showed there was no damage or change to her heart since a year ago.  That means that her heart endured and was, to our knowledge, unaffected by five weeks of radiation that was directed right above her heart.  It also means the Herceptin, which is known to have negative cardiac side-effects, did not harm her heart either.  We thank the Lord for His help and protection and strengthening. 

Then on Friday we all went to Wenatchee to meet with Dr. Smith to discuss the results of both tests.  Dr. Smith walked in the room and, strangely, immediately gave us the punch line: "Your scan looks good.  Everything was clear."  In a complete turnabout I insisted on adding some suspense.  Perhaps it was because I was so entrenched in anticipation and anxiety about that moment that I just couldn't let go of it all so summarily.  "You mean her brain was . . . clear?" I asked with some hesitation.  "Yes, her brain was clear," Dr. Smith answered me cheerfully.  I was not satisfied.  "So, you mean her lungs were . . . clear?"  "Yes, Matt, they looked good."  There was a pause.  "How about her liver?"  "Clear," said the Doctor.  "But her bones; they were clear, too?" it had to be a conspiracy.  "Yes, Matt, everything looked clear."  It was beginning to sink in.  "So you mean that Christie's scan was all clear?"  "Yes."  That is right, ladies and gentlemen.  My wife's scan was completely clear and as much as we can be and are thankful for the great care and treatment we have received, we are ultimately grateful to God for being our faithful provider, the One who makes His people live or die, and Who is good and trustworthy and merciful and gracious.  He is worthy to be praised. 

Christie has an MRI in July and another full CT scan in September.  Thank you very much for praying for her and her family! 

Here are some pictures of Isabella Vivian's first birthday party.  Boy, were the Turnbulls enjoying that occasion.  We reflected several times that exactly one year before the date we did not know if she was going to be born horribly harmed by cancer treatment or healthy.  As you can see, she is still very healthy and rotund and happy. 

May, 2007


Sunday, May 20th, 2007.  Yesterday Christie and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary.  On the day before my wife informed me that I would be entering a communist state starting at midnight of the 18th wherein I had no freedom to do or say anything that wasn't prescribed or permitted by the "government."  I called her Chairman Chris for the duration of the day and, boy, what a government she ran!  After being told I could not even set my alarm the night before, I woke to find that there was a breakfast of a thousand delights being cooked downstairs.  Since everyone knows that breakfast is the best meal of the day (and that all meals should in fact be populated with breakfast foods) one will find it easy to understand that the quickest way to my heart is through a blueberry, buttermilk pancake and egg and hashbrown-filled stomach.  Initially I was convinced that this kind of communism was the way to go.  It seemed I had been wrong all along about the glories of capitalism and free-enterprise.  (That is until we reflected that most communist regimes are not run by benevolent, compassionate wives and mothers and, additionally, we realized that all the money that made our brand of communism work came through good, old honest toil in a relatively free country that still allowed those willing to be creative and industrious the opportunity to make a living.) The new government also had planned out a picnic up near the local Ski Hill complete with all of the picnic foods we had enjoyed on the first day of our marriage many years ago.  To complete the day my wife had planned a great dinner for us at the Dragonfly, a new Asian cuisine restaurant in town.  We praise God for granting us to be married. 

Another memorable event occurred just over a week ago on the 10th when Christie completed her final cancer treatment!  Marking that day was a reminder of Psalm 103:

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities; Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit; Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion.  (vv.1-4)

It was a grand day that included lots of flowers for Christie and the nurses and Dr. Smith as well as singing and dancing at the chemo room provided by the Turnbull kids.  Here are some pictures.


March, 2007


Saturday, March 24th, 2007Yes, yes, it's true.  I have been a sluggard reporter.  I could claim that I was on assignment for six weeks on Baffin Island where there is no internet access, but that would be a lie.  Because Christie continues to become stronger and to feel gradually more and more energetic there has been so little in the way of distressing news to report.  That is God's kindness to me and to all of the little Turnbulls.  Thank you for praying for her.  Christie and I were talking about what things were like one year ago this month and we are amazed.  For one thing, I don't want to do that again.  For another, it is rather incredible to think how God carried us through that difficult time.  In fact, we find ourselves remembering it as though it were an episode on another planet or from another lifetime.  When we reflect this way, it also brings to our minds how graciously and generously many of you encouraged and prayed for us.  Thank you! 

Christie's arm continues to give her no pain whatsoever.  She is on a very disciplined exercise regimen.  She is also on a very low-fat diet since recent research has discovered that recurrence risks are apparently reduced by being careful not to eat much fat.  By contrast, I continue my moderate to high-fat diet.  Recent medical research has told me nothing about the apparent benefits of a high-fat diet, but my own researches confirm that apple cobbler, apple pie and pancakes with syrup are just plain yummy and therefore necessary.  I can't say that Christie's careful eating has had no effect on me, however.  I am now at least more aware of the fat content in the foods I am still intentionally consuming. 

The big thing we have been praying for consistently regarding Christie's health has been the insomnia.  Our sincere hope is that this condition is a product of the Herceptin treatments (which are slated to end in mid-May!) and that once those cease she will be able to actually sleep.  Though she takes very short naps through the course of the night, she is doing all that a mother of seven does, and even cheerfully.  And though I worry about how she is making it, I am really proud of her, too.  We would be thankful for your prayers that Chris could sleep.

Isabella is on the verge of walking.  She prefers to feed herself now.  She also likes to have the attention of all of her siblings.  She performs many tricks to get their attention.  Sometimes she yells.  At other times she starts clapping.  Last night she decided to imitate her mother's insomnia and had two big sisters feeding and talking to her at a very late hour.  Though she woke up crying, I don't think she was suffering by the time she was put back in bed.  But sometimes the stress of managing this household can wear her right out, even in the middle of meals, as you can see in the picture. 

May the Lord bless your celebration of Resurrection Day as it approaches.  


February, 2007

Sunday, February 4th, 2007.  I realize that many of you thought that this protracted two-and-a-half month silence meant that I had damaged my fingers while trying to repair a radiator fan, or that instead of leaving presents for me, Santa Claus had actually taken my mind from me over the holidays (just like what happened to Spock's brain on "Star Trek"), or that something serious had happened here.  Thankfully, none of those things occurred.  I simply lapsed in my reporting duties.  Thank you for your patience and for continuing to pray for Christie and for our family.  I will try to catch up generally on what has happened since you last heard from us. 

We had a great time with my sister and her boyfriend over Thanksgiving.  They drove up from southern Oregon and we really enjoyed all of the time to talk with them.  Then, I was thinking that things would slow down between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that is a classic blunder I seem to stumble into every year.  You would think after living through so many holiday seasons I would realize that there is actually no such thing as "relaxation" during those weeks.  I think other grown-ups suffer from the same delusion.  Possibly, it is a mythical concept that hangs over from our childhood.  Though I was looking forward to having some rest, the holidays--as they have been for so many years--were packed with activity.  But it was enjoyable activity.  Our kids got to play in the snow quite a bit.  I got to teach at church two times (here are the transcripts of those messages).  Christie did lots and lots of baking.  Her family did lots of eating.  And, at the end of December we traveled to Spokane to see two very good friends get married. 

In January, Christie's arm became a crisis.  It actually was a crisis long before that.  Since September the pain in her arm had been gradually getting more complicated and intense.  It wasa boiling mixture of nerve and tissue damage from the radiation, swelling caused by having no lymph nodes, and calcific tendonitis.  The pain was only exacerbated by the consistent lack of sleep.  She had not slept well since August and, after four solid months of sleeping hardly at all each night, she, naturally, was "fixin' to lose it."  Because this pain and sleeplessness trend had been continuing for so long Christie's endurance was flagging and I was becoming more and more anxious about trying to figure out what could give her relief.  Finally, we met with Dr. Smith in early January and I proposed that we admit Chris into the hospital and give her a general anesthetic so she could sleep for three or four days.  The doctor's eyebrows raised a little, but she was actually willing to consider it as a last resort.  What she did actually do was prescribe something much more serious for Chris to take at night to help her sleep.  On the way home from Wenatchee that day, my wife was rejoicing that now, finally, she would be able to sleep.  We filled the prescription.  We arrived at the house and she took it right away.  She went upstairs to bed right after dinner thinking that she would be oblivious to the world for seven or eight solid hours.  It was a low moment when I went up to check on her an hour later and found her completely awake.  It didn't work.  But then it did, the next night!  As a direct answer to much prayer and the wise counsel of Dr. Smith, Christie slept very well (comparatively) for the next two weeks!  The great thing is that she slept.  The even greater thing is that as a function of more rest and God's grace and (we theorize) a very firm set of loving but very painful hugs a friend gave her around the shoulders early in the month, her arm relaxed and almost stopped hurting completely!   With those two issues in a much better state, my wife feels like a human being again.  She has baked more pies in the last month than she has in several years.  She can do otherwise mundane (but for us amazing) things like raising both arms quickly over her head, push-ups and sleeping on her left side.  Praise the Lord for His provision! 

Meanwhile, Isabella continues to be a source of joy and wonder for our whole family.  When we think of all the months of God's merciful protection over her during countless infusions of chemotherapy, during surgery, and during all kinds of other cancer-related procedures, we realize that Isabella is a living testimony that God is gracious and merciful and full of compassion.  In these past few weeks she has mastered several skills.  She can do a sort of crawl. She likes to pull up on the furniture, stand there smiling for two or three minutes and then bawl until someone helps her down.  She can eat Cheerios with her fingers.  She can hold her own bottle.  And the best thing she has started recently is what we call the "Ray Charles."  She sits in her high chair after a meal and rocks her head from side to side three or four times and then stops and smiles.  Then she does it again. As you might imagine, she keeps doing that over and over for ten or fifteen minutes and, by the width of her smile, you can tell she is really proud of herself.  Here are some pictures of that kid so that you, too, can admire her powers.  Also you will see a picture of our son admiring the man in the orange shirt with the "big truck."

Please continue to pray for Christie.  She continues to have Herceptin treatments every three weeks until May.  She also continues with her physical therapy each week.  The biggest concern (as I have likely said before) is recurrence.  We thank God that a scan she had in Seattle two weeks ago looked nice and clear!  Thanks for praying!
 

November, 2006


Wednesday, November 22nd.  I was considering last week how thankful we are for friends we know who have served our country by risking their lives (or by giving them) overseas.  It is particularly easy to assume that the liberties we enjoy are just a fact of life.  As you know, they aren't.  They are a gift from God and something to be cherished and guarded and have come to us and our children at a great price.  May God mercifully grant other people around the world to get to experience such freedoms.  And may He bless those who are serving us now, especially with the freedom of Christ's forgiveness and new life. 

This month marks one full year from the date we learned Christie had cancer.  It is an odd anniversary.  This occasion has many angles and sides to consider.  On one side, we are grateful to have much of the treatment gauntlet behind us. Until now, I haven't personally seen someone suffer like that up close.  We've known people who have gone through similar trials, but of course, we didn't really appreciate what it meant.  Through our reading, and from friends we have made this year, we know it could have been much worse.  From some of the side-effects of treatment we were completely spared.  From others, my wife had a milder case than she could have.  Yet others have been worse than we anticipated.  But towering over all of the side effects is the understanding that Christie might well not be living on the earth right now.  And yet, she is! 

We thank the nurses and the doctors and we are thankful for chemotherapy and radiation.  But really, we know that God is sovereign and He does what is good and what pleases Him.  We blame Him for all of the mercy and kindness we have experienced.  We hold Him responsible for directing our lives and for the many answers to prayer and for the endurance He gave.  We are ultimately grateful that this past year was not a wrestling match with a chance occurrence of cancer and its evil effects. Rather, the Lord is faithful to lead us through the valleys He has marked out.  Some people consider God's sovereignty cold comfort in a time of trial.  "How," they say, "can you assert that God lets people get cancer?"  Though content to give Him the credit for the comforts and pleasures, they would rather spare God the blame for the greater difficulties of life.  But if we only trust that God is ultimately in control of the details when those details please us, to whom do we turn when the days and months become arduous and dark?  If God is not sovereign in decreeing suffering and hardship for His children, who or what is?  The testimony of the Bible is that God is the King over all the earth.  That truth was the anchor for so many Christians of the past, particularly for those who suffered greatly. Even Job knew this. To those who encouraged him to curse God shortly after his ten children died and his property was destroyed and his health failed, Job posed an insightful question : "Should we accept blessing from God and not adversity?" 

A hard look at Christ on the cross will cure us from such inconsistency.  His suffering was greater than my wife's--greater than anyone's--and it was decreed by a God who had in view the redemption of millions of people.  God used Christ's sufferings for a glorious purpose.  While we know that the world is not being redeemed through our small sufferings, the example of Christ is real hope for us.  It means that though we hurt and are often afraid, God has not left us.  He knows the reason for all that is happening.  We don't right now; and we likely won't for many years.  But our Father actually does know and having faith in Him means that especially when we suffer and don't understand it, we trust Him because He is we know He is good and faithful and sovereign. 

Considered from another side, this year has taught us much about our poverty.  Not that we have had any financial concerns this year; altogether, we have been the recipients ofmyriad gifts and have been amply helped by our excellent medical sharing plan.  Thank God for His wonderful provision!  Rather, in many ways this year has shown us how much we need people and God. We could not make it without each other and our family and friends and our church.  Christie spent not a few minutes at our community Thanksgiving service last Sunday reviewing the many kind acts of service and love that have sustained us over this year.  If only I had the poetic power to adequately express what has happened to us.  We have been the main spectators in an unfolding play of countless characters all acting in harmony and speaking their individual parts with eloquence.  And every Act and actor in this play has been animated by the great theme of the whole drama: the love of Christ.  Even though we have experienced it firsthand, it is so big and excellent that there is no way to describe it.  How can we describe or paint the Body of Christ in action?  It would be like trying to depict the grandeur of Arches National Park with a postcard or like trying to recreate the airy, light sound of Paul Desmond's saxophone with a kazoo.  All we can say is that we can't believe God gives people the privilege of being loved like this through His children.

Even more obvious to us is the real certainty that we would have become a rusted, engineless, tireless, windowless, dilapidated '73 El Camino in the Junkyard of the Soul if not for the daily help and strength and grace of Christ. Something about fighting cancer and its train of effects and symptoms makes people like me feel pretty drained. I have been looking at other human beings my age and admiring their energy.  There are few things as humbling as peering into the depths of one's being and realizing that the tank is almost empty.  That's why this year has seemed like the star-studded, sequined Parade of Matt Turnbull's Weaknesses and Character Flaws. What was secret and hidden has now become a billboard for the masses.  Week after week I have been having immediate fellowship with my selfishness as it gets constantly in the way of being gracious to my children and serving Christie.  For example, on one bright summer morning in August I had nigh unto a nervous breakdown over the question of how I was going to get the car cleaned in preparation for a trip.  My wife's eyes got a little big that day when I suddenly broke into very emotion-charged rhetoric about the insuperable difficulties of driving to Wenatchee and doing some simple errands.  She knew then, as I have known many times over the last twelve months, that (as our good friends like to say) her husband "was fixin' to lose it."  Even though I would prefer to have my Doc Savage: Man of [Spiritual] Bronze image back, I believe this season has only shown me what is in fact the case: I am spiritually poor. 

As long as this fact is not used as an excuse or pretext for disobedience to God, such revelations are nothing but a good thing.  As one looks at one's need and then turns to look at Jesus Christ and His unimpeachable character, onesees only the sublimity and excellence and majesty of the One who loved those who killed Him.  One sees the complete nobility of the Son of God who, having the power to dissolve His persecutors, only asked that His Father would forgive them.   It is like walking from the darkness of a musty cave into the light of a dazzling desert sun.  If we have learned much this year it would be that there is no one like Christ.  He is always patient and kind.  He is compassionate and helps those who are weak.  He gives strength and endurance.  Through difficult times, even those difficult times caused by our own failings, He shows Himself faithful.  Perhaps this is why the Scriptures say (in Matthew 5) "blessed [or happy] are those who are poor in spirit."  Our happiness comes in despairing of our own "wealth" and seeing the riches of Christ.  At the very least it is what Jesus is speaking of when He tells those Pharisees who are indignant that He would "pollute" Himself by eating meals with tax-gatherers and other persons of low repute, that "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."  If there was any question before, it is completely settled now that we need a Physician.  In times like this I am grieved for those we know who are either running through life thinking that they actually aren't spiritually poor, or are seeking the medicine for their soul in some other place than the Throne in Heaven.  Unless we know our sickness we see no need for the Doctor.  Similarly, until we see and own our sin, we cannot hear the call of Christ when He says: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.

Thank you again for praying for Christie.  Happy Thanksgiving!
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Sunday, November 5th.     Praise the Lord!  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.  Who can speak of the mighty deeds of the Lord, or can show forth all His praise? --Psalm 106:1-2

That second verse in Psalm 106 poses quite a challenge.  Who actually can show forth all of the praise and thanks that God warrants by virtue of His great character and mighty deeds?  What human tongue can possibly frame praise that is proportionate and fitting, given God's wonders?  I know mine cannot.  However, the great thing about our Maker is that He delights in being praised by His children. And we do praise Him.

 For all of you who prayed and prayed for Christie during this week, we send out a great, tall, overflowing Thank You! Because we spent the last seven days facing the very real possibility that Christie's cancer had recurred our thoughts and reflections became significantly more focused and serious than they had been since the end of radiation (a whole three weeks ago).  I am thankful that God used this time to remind us that He is the Maker and we are the made, and that He is categorically trustworthy.  (If you don't like suspense, skip to the last paragraph. If you don't mind, read on.) Here is what happened on Friday . . .

After Christie had her normal blood draw in preparation for her Herceptin treatment, the nurse from Nuclear Medicine came to the Infusion room to give my wife the radioactive injection to prepare her for the Bone Scan later in the day.   That she could use Christie's port (instead of having to start an IV) was a great blessing.  In the middle of the dye infusion the nurse very calmly told us of all the safety precautions we would need to take, and, she surprised us when she said that "the baby should not be closer than three meters from your body for 24 hours."  At that moment, Amy, one of the chemotherapy nurses and our friend, was holding Isabella.  She quickly took a big step back and everyone laughed.  For the rest of the day we looked a little funny.  I carried the baby and wherever we walked we had to stay ten feet apart.  I told my wife that I refused to have her walk behind me since I did not want people to assume that I was some kind of domineering husband who treated his wife like a household pet.  So, she walked in front and we had to converse at a higher volume than we were used to as we went along.  It made kissing very awkward. 

After a nice morning with our friends at the Infusion room during Christie's treatment, we went down to the Nuclear Medicine section of the clinic for the scan.  We had read that such tests can take an hour and our big concern was the pain that holding her arm in one place for that length of time would entail for Christie.  As it happened, the whole test lasted about 18 minutes.  Thank the Lord for that mercy.  Though it was a decidedly less confining experience than being inserted into a torpedo shaft as one must be for an MRI, there was an ominous element to it.  After she had been placed on the table, the white box-like frame that was the scanning element dropped from the ceiling down, down, closer and closer to Chris' face.  It kept coming closer and, though the technician had told her not to move or talk, my wife began to think that her nose was going to be the next long-term side effect of cancer treatment, and so she nervously asked, "how much farther is this thing going to come down?"  He probably had heard this same question before.  "It won't hurt you" was the answer he gave to reassure her.  He was right.  It didn't hurt her.  It stopped just right above her nose and the scan proceeded. 

One factor that was adding suspense to this whole proceeding for us was the knowledge that we were going to likely have to wait until Monday to find out if Christie's humerus (arm bone) actually looked cancer-free.  We discussed that with Dr. Smith in the morning and asked her if it were possible to find out that day.  She said she would work on it.  What actually happened was that after Christie had emerged from her scan into the waiting room after just 20 minutes and was relating to her husband how the test went, Dr. Smith appeared out of a side door and stepped into the Nuclear Medicine section.  She came out two minutes later and told us the good news.  Christie's scan was clear!  Hallelujah!  Thank you for praying for us and for Christie.  We are truly grateful to Dr. Smith for her kindness.  Though she was done for the day she waited late for Christie's scan to be completed and then she read it herself for us.  That was just one of the many ways she has treated my wife with great consideration. 

Praise the Lord!  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.  Who can speak of the mighty deeds of the Lord, or can show forth all His praise? --Psalm 106:1-2

October, 2006


Tuesday, October 31st.  Over the past week we have had an interesting situation develop.  Many of you will remember that we have been concerned about the nerve pain and swelling in Christie's arm as a result of her surgery last year.  Amazingly, there were a couple of weeks when wrapping her arm each day and a better position for her radiation treatments allowed her to experience a great reduction in the pain early in October.  We were very encouraged.  We knew that God had answered prayer, again! 

Then last Monday she started having a different sort of pain.  It grew gradually more intense as the week wore on and by Thursday night she was very uncomfortable.  Actually, she was incredibly uncomfortable. After much coaxing from her husband (the author) she called the doctor Friday morning and went to Wenatchee.  First, she saw an ultrasound technician who performed a vascular doppler on her arm to rule out the possibility that she had a blood clot.  There was, apparently, no such thing.  Immediately after that appointment she met with Tamara our uber-physical therapist, who, as it happens, served my wife (and therefore the whole Turnbull clan) as would a great hero of yore over the remainder of the day.  First, she tried to relieve the pain by positioning her arm variously.  When it became evident that there was no position that eliminated the intense pain, she made a secret call to Oncology headquarters and then marched with her over to Dr. Smith's office where, after a short conference, they informed my wife that they had scheduled an MRI for her for that evening!  I know that people had to stay late because of that MRI, but Tamara made it happen.  (Thanks, Mrs. Wells!)

It turned out that this MRI was the Magnetic Resonance Image of Ultimate Perpetuity.  It lasted for over one hour and twenty minutes.  Her husband prayed nearly without intermission for her as he waited in the hallway.  (My keen spider sense allowed me to realize that she could be very nervous shut up in a metal cylinder for over an hour.)  Remarkably, she was not even the slightest bit bothered by her close surroundings.  Her arm hurt quite a bit, but God providedgrace for her to endure it with great patience.  Everything happened rather quickly and it was only as the MRI began that I learned the reason for conducting the test.  Dr. Smith and Tamara were trying to determine whether or not the cancer had recurred in the bone of her arm.  This was, naturally, disconcerting. Because the MRI happened later in the evening, we spent the weekend waiting to hear the results of the test. 

Last night, at 5:30 p.m. Dr. Smith called to say that the MRI looked good, but that there was an area in the bone of her upper arm that deserves a closer look.  So, this Friday, in addition to her Herceptin treatment, Christie is scheduled for a bone scan on her left arm.  Please pray for us.  We have been experiencing great peace as we are waiting to determine if this situation is caused by cancer or just some kind of new nerve pain.  Thanks for your concern and prayers. 

 Sunday, October 15. The long-awaited Monday finally arrived this past week.  What a great day!  The nurses at radiation presented Christie with a diploma and made her a present of the custom-made pillow that was part of her dailytreatments.  I wanted to have a ceremonial burning of the pillow when we got home, but we decided that it was probably made of some kind of space-age, form-fitting plastic that released carcinogenic fumes when ignited. 

I had great plans for her final day of radiation.  However, the process of getting our whole family ready for Wenatchee and in the car without mom's logistical wizardry is always greatly more time consuming than I ever expect.   Here's what happened on Monday.  Christie's good friend Bettina drove to Wenatchee with Chris for her final treatment, while we (all of her kids and her husband) were set to surprise her by secretly traveling down to take her out to dinner.  Since I started the loading process much later than my wife would have (had she been here), we were a full half-hour later in departing than the secret itinerary indicated.   Therefore, after my wife finished her final battle with the Great White Machine, and walked down the hall to the waiting room to get Bettina, she naturally expected to get in the car to head home.  Thankfully, Bettina did the work of a professional spy when, contrary to my plan, we were very obviously not there at the crucial moment.  It was as though the lantern bearer in the old North Church had forgotten his matches.  That was the moment when we were to have arrived with flowers.  In actual fact, we were still a full 15 miles away.  Without blinking Bettina told Christie that they couldn't leave just yet.  "Let's talk here for a while" was approximately what she said. I imagine there was an awkward moment as my wife tried to discern from her friend's expression what exactly was happening.  Fortunately, though she suspected something might be afoot, my wife complied without any question and they had a nice chat in the radiology waiting room.  (Thank you, Bettina. And thanks to all of you who spent time with my wife during these weeks on her trips to radiation.  That was one of the really good things that happened during this last phase; Christie got to spend some great time talking with friends on her journeys.) Then, twenty minutes later her family trooped in and presented her with the bouquet and some hugs.  After a tour of the radiation chamber we took mom out to dinner and came home. 

It has been a great week.  We are all so relieved to have daily trips to Wenatchee over with.  We are also amazed at God's mercy in providing for Christie to have not yet experienced the much-dreaded radiation fatigue.  We are also simply enjoying the idea that all of the harsh treatments are (hopefully forever) over.  God is great and kind and merciful! 

However, there are many ways in which life is anything but normal.  We are by no means through fighting with cancer.  Chris is right in the middle of coping with a plethora of long-lasting and noisome side effects from the Taxol.  She still receives Herceptin infusions at three week intervals and will do so until the end of May.  We learned just this week that the Herceptin is likely the cause of her insomnia and could even be the culprit in the new level of tingling she is feeling in her hands and feet.  (However, we are grateful that Christie can be treated with Herceptin as it has shown to reduce the risk of recurrence by almost 50% in women who have Her2neu cancer cells like she does.) 

The next two years are pivotal.  Though we do not trust in statistics or prognoses, we take them seriously.  Christie has just about a 17% risk of having the cancer return.  If it does return, God would have to miraculously heal her.  Otherwise a person with recurrent breast cancer has between six months and two years (or sometimes a bit longer) to live.  Knowing this has and is changing our thinking.  Please continue to pray for Christie and for her treatments and her battle with side-effects.  THANK YOU for praying.  We cannot thank you enough.  We appreciate it so much and will continue to keep this page updated with news.  

Finally, here is a picture of the infant wonder, Isabella Vivian, with a sampling of her sisters.  She is a continual sign of God's mercy and faithfulness to us. 

Friday, October 6.  But the Lord abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, and He will judge the world in righteousness; He will
 

September, 2006


Saturday, September 16th.  Reading Psalm 146 this morning was great refreshment.  How quickly my thinking about our situation moves from having good perspective on what is happening, to having no perspective whatsoever.  This psalm delivers clarity on the big issues. 

1 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! 2 While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. 3 Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. 4 His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish. 5 Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the Lord his God, 6 Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever, 7 Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. 8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous. 9 The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down. 10 The Lord shall reign forever— Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!

What could be the purpose of my life if not to give praise to the Being who made me?  And as long as He gives us being and "holds us in life" as the Scriptures say, it only makes sense that we would sing to Him and offer praise to Him.  Who made the world and the places and the people that make my life what it is?  God did and He is worthy of praise for it all.  How rapidly I forget all of the blessings I enjoy daily and the excellence of being alive and thereby cease to give thanks and praise to Him from whom it all proceeds. 

I think the thing that refreshed me the most while reading this psalm was to remember how great He is in comparison with myself and other people.  After all, we are just people.  We are not in control of the universe, much less the cells in our own bodies.  We look up to the stars in wonder at the immensity of the universe and we look in at the complexity of our own bodies with the same wonder.  So, when verse three and four say that we should not put our "trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. 4 His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish" it reminds us that people are only people.  They do not live on the earth forever.   In fact, even the most powerful people--the princes of the earth--also die just like all people.  Alexander died.  Charlemagne died.  And when a person dies, so do his plans. All of Charlemagne's schemes--and he undoubtedly had many grand ones filling his mind even in his latter years--died with the man. And as his plans died, so did the hopes of those who had trusted in him.  And so, when we are in a crisis (as the writer of this song must have been) though it seems tempting to petition the government for relief, or to seek remedy from the powerful people on earth, it is ultimately a vain hope.  It's not that we don't trust people.  We obviously trust our excellent oncologist and our radiologist and the many nurses and assistants whose help we thank God for.  But we cannot ultimately trust in doctors or nurses or any other person.  There isone person who conquered not only disease, but death itself.  That is Christ.  And because He ever lives, "never to die again," and because His plans never perish, and because He is always able to rescue those who call on Him, He is abundantly worthy of our trust. 

That's why this psalm continues as it does: Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the Lord his God, 6 Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever, 7 Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. 8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down.  This presents a vivid contrast between man who perishes and the God who made the heavens and the earth.  Look at all of His power!  He made the earth we live on; He made the heavens that overarch us; He made the ocean as well and all the creatures that fill them.  He keeps truth, not just for a lifetime, but for ever.  He is able, with or without the UN or the US, to execute justice for people who are oppressed.  He can provide food for those who hunger.  He frees prisoners.  He can even cause a blind person to have sight.  And He lifts up people who are bowed down.  That is why the psalmist declares that person "happy" who has God for his help and hope.  In comparison with the man who perishes, we see here the God who doesn't.  He cannot.  If we look at things in this clear light, in whom should we put our trust?  Should we set all of our hopes on other people and their power to save and help?  Or should we put our trust in God who, as the last verse states, "shall reign forever." Even though He is allowing us to experience need and difficulty and is stretching us, it seems like wisdom to keep on trusting Him.  He has already been faithful; He will continue to be so.

Thanks for praying for Christie.  The great thing that happened this last week is that her heart began beating more normally.  There were a couple of days when she only perceived one or two occasions when it skipped a beat.  That is great improvement and a relief!  However, she continues to have trouble with her hands and feet.  They sort of sting and tingle and she cannot open jars or perform other household tasks without pain. But the most difficult challenge has to do with her arm and the nerve in it.  Because of the awkward way she must hold that left arm during daily radiation (an arm which no longer has any lymph nodes in it) the muscles and the nerve are stretched and sore and often in spasm.  And it is subject to great swelling.  Thankfully she had her first of many weekly meetings with Tamara, the physical therapist.  She provided some good advice and showed Chris some helpful exercises.  Please pray for Christie as she continues radiation.  She has three more weeks and a day left.  We are over one third complete with the radiation cycle.  Thank you for your encouragement and your prayers. 

Meanwhile we completed our fourth week of homeschooling on Friday and, believe it or not, in the midst of her treatments, Christie has been the uber-teacher for her five oldest kids.  Remember that I took over homeschooling last Spring and was able to make progress in all areas with each of the kids.  However, if our capacities to smoothly manage the house and the homeschool were compared to airplanes, all last Spring I was flying a sputtering cropduster and this Fallshe pilots a sleek F-18.  Even with her physical impediments, there aren't many words to describe the fluidity and efficiency of Christie Turnbull teaching homeschool.  It has been very satisfying to her and good for her soul to be able to teach the kids each day and feel like things have that level of normalcy to them.  Praise God for that great gift. 

Thursday, September 7th.  A big part of what has made this week so discouraging is the fact that throughout the course of the Taxol treatments this summer, we assumed that once the treatments were complete, Christie's discomfort would slowly abate.  We were wrong.  The upset digestive system and the irregular heartbeat persist.  Moreover, the tingling in her hands and feet has greatly increased and has made doing things like laundry or walking around the house in bare feet a challenge.  Also, the normal soreness in her side and arm is much worse, largely because of the way she has to hold herself for the radiation treatments.  To complete the picture, while the radiation itself does not hurt and is not causing any noticeable side effects in these first days, Christie feels as though she is the protagonist in a science fiction movie.  This week it was as though she was transported to another dimension in which strange people, who look like normal doctors and nurses, smile at her and lead her into a Big Room.  In that Room they put her on a clear plastic table that moves up and down.  But the table is not the main feature in the room.  That room is home to a Great Machine that has two metal arms.  These arms move around the table as though they were going to grab whoever may find themselves upon it. While the Machine is sleeping, like a great white dragon, these people position my innocent wife on the table with great care and precision.  But when the Machine comes alive everyone in the room runs behind the wall (presumably in fear) and the only one with enough courage to face the Machine is Christie Turnbull.  It moves about the room and threatens her, but, everyday, because of her pure heart and great valor, it ultimately faints before her and goes back to sleep. Then, after my wife has stared down the Machine and all is safe, the nurses come out to rescue her from the table.  This happens everyday if you can believe it.  We have heard that this movie lasts for another four weeks. 

Please pray for my wife.  This is a difficult stretch for her.  Thank you!

"In this world, you will face trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world!" ~ John 16:33
 

Saturday, September 2nd. After much delay and the purchase of a new camera and the reading of three separate instruction manuals and the loading, malfunction, unloading and reloading of associated software, we finally have pictures of the past few weeks on our computer.  (Technological convenience can be a harsh mistress.)  Here are some that were supposed to be a part of updates during August.
 

August, 2006


Thursday, August 31st.  Strangely, Christie's side-effects from Taxol have gained force this week.  Her heart continues to beat like a horse galloping on three legs and the numbness has become more far-reaching.  Her fingers and part of her palms are numb.  And just this week part of the bottoms of her feet starting to have neuropathy also.  Please pray for her.  The doctor told her that this very annoying side effect of Taxol could last for several more weeks, several more months, or years.  We are praying that God provides for the feeling in her hands and feet to return sooner rather than later. 

By contrast, Christie's blood counts were superior last Friday.  Imagine that you had a container of oil from which you took a daily portion to sell at the market. One would assume that after many weeks the container would be empty.  In the same way, one would assume that when you bombard a human being with the deadly juice extracted from the bark of the yew tree (Taxol) week after week, that human being would have depressed blood levels.  But, like the widow's jar that never ran out (in 2 Kings 3), so Christie's blood counts refuse to diminish.  In fact, last Friday her white count, which had been hovering just below normal all summer, leaped into the normal range!  That's right; it went up.  I really cannot explain that.  Of course, I am not saying that in this situation I resemble Elisha in appearance or spiritual power.  I am also not implying that Christie needs to sell oil to pay our bills.  I am saying that something resembling the miraculous seems to be present. And, I am saying that God is faithful and merciful and that we thank Him for providing for Christie in this way.

As you will recall, last Friday was a big day for the Turnbull family.  Our oldest daughters spent the morning in the kitchen baking cakes for their mom and the nurses at the Infusion room.  While Christie went to Wenatchee with a friend, we came a bit later with cakes and flowers and our new camera so that we can take pictures again.  After I figure out the details I will include some photos from that great morning.

We got to take a whirlwind trip to northwest Oregon to see family early this week.  Due to my wife's logistical wizardry we actually left the house at 6:00 a.m. on Monday with homemade banana muffins waiting in the car for breakfast on the run.  It was a beautiful drive over Blewett and Satus passes and through the Columbia River gorge to Portland and then down to Salem and Sheridan where our relatives live. The best part of the trip, besides enjoying good conversation with cousins and aunts and uncles and Christie's step-mom, was that our two-year-old son learned how to say "John Deere."  We have been grooming him for just such a day.  We stopped in The Dalles at Cousin's restaurant (this is a hearty advertisement for a great restaurant that serves breakfast all day) where there is a green and yellow tractor on the edge of the parking area.  The boy looked out the window, pointed and started yelling at his mom, "Don Deere!  Don Deere!"  Boy, was that satisfying.  He still needs to work on pronouncing the first name, but we give him full credit for quick farm equipment identification and for knowing the best tractor when he sees one. 

Today, Christie drove to Wenatchee for the preparatory test run of her radiation treatments.  We have learned that the radiation that my wife is to receive is very focused and precisely administered.  Rather than subjecting her whole upper half to radiation, they make a detailed map of the placement of her internal organs and custom make shields to keep those organs from the rays.  Meanwhile the doctors will be very carefully flinging radioactive particles through that part of her where the cancer was.  Her treatments begin next Tuesday.  We thank God that Christie feels well enough to start and that the clinic can begin the treatments so quickly.  We are naturally quite eager to be done with cancer treatments and this, seemingly, represents the last big phase. 

Tuesday, August 22nd.  Psalm 136:1 reads Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.  This imperative appears in many of the psalms.  It could be called a theme of David's songs.  And, as repetition is the mother of learning, it seems likely that this call sounds again and again for the benefit of thick-headed people like me so that I might actually learn it and do it.   If I learn little else from the Psalms I should not miss this: God wants me to be constantly thanking Him.  In other words, I should actually be spending a significant portion of my time and my thoughts and my day's allotted words giving thanks to God.

It is heartening to consider that God enjoys receiving thanks from us.  When one contemplates the size of the universe, or just our solar system, or even just the planet Jupiter, one sees God's immense greatness and power and majesty.  After all, Jupiter could hold 1300 Earths.  It is home to a red, raging hurricane-like storm that is three times bigger than our planet.  One is tempted to think that a God who makes things and sustains things on such a grand scale has no real time for such small creatures as you and I.  But that is a lie that the flowers dismiss for us.    Nevertheless, when we look out at the biggest planet in our solar system, or look down at the tulips and zinnias we are rightly stunned to realize that the Lord, Himself, listens to individual human beings and delightfully receives their thanks.  What a privilege to give something to God.  What an honor to be commanded to do so.

In the verse above, giving thanks is predicated on two facts that are not changing: He is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting.  Upon these two realities--like the great foundation stones of Solomon's Temple--rests the entire weight of the injunction to give thanks.  The assumption is that God's goodness and the nature of His excellent love is the warrant for constant thanksgiving.  When we do give thanks, then, especially in the midst of trial, we disclose our faith in the goodness of God and in the everlasting quality of His love for us.  To give thanks to God is to call Him good and to trust in His love. 

This does not mean that God's goodness is a mere abstract idea, remote from our experience like some distant comet that rarely appears to our view.  Rather, God's goodness is all around us, summoning our thanksgiving. As James stated, every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (1:17).  That we can experience His goodness in our lives is also a basis for our hope: I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living  (Psalm 27:13). While this period of our lives has been much harder than other periods, and while lots of that hardship has been very uncomfortable, we have also seen God's goodness in manifold ways during this same period.  We have much for which to thank Him. 

To be specific, about four weeks ago Christie's heart started beating very strangely.  It often felt to her like a beat was skipped.  That was naturally disturbing to us.  We talked to Dr. Smith about it and she decided to have Christie wear a monitor for a day to determine what kind of arrhythmia was plaguing her.  We have known all along that two of the types of treatment she has received can cause heart problems.  We were thankful to God to learn that though she is indeed having frequent arrhythmias, they are not the "bad kind."  Just to be certain that her heart looks good, she went in for an echocardiogram yesterday and we look forward to hearing the evaluation of that test on Friday.  Please continue to pray for Christie and particularly for her heart.  Though her irregular heart beats are not supposed to be dangerous, they are nevertheless disconcerting and she feels quite fatigued. 

This Friday marks the long-awaited end of chemotherapy.  What a long climb it has been and I could not begin to relate how proud of Christie I am for her plucky, stalwart, and valiant march through the past eight months. We thank God that her side-effects have been so much less severe than they easily could have been.   

Saturday, August 12th.  It has been a horrendously long time since we have restocked this page with news.  I apologize.  Thanks to the many of you who have continued to pray for Christie even though you wondered if we had fallen into the Mariana Trench.  We hadn't.  In fact, by God's mercy, Christie felt well enough for us to go on a four-and-a-half day trip to beautiful central Oregon.  I would insert a picture of some of the capital views we took in on McKenzie Pass, but, alas, at a fateful moment, the camera slipped from one of our hands and dropped onto the hard ground and is not functioning.  Hopefully I will be able to retrieve those images after some surgery on the unfortunate camera. 

There are several signal occurrences from the past two weeks that deserve mention.  First, Christie's hematocrit and white blood cell levels are rock solid.  It still does not make sense but it continues to be the case nevertheless.  This phenomenon is somewhat like the physics of the helicopter.  According to natural law (I have been told) helicopters should not work.  But they do.  According to the natural progression of chemotherapy (I have been told), vital blood levels gradually grow more and more depressed as the treatment progresses.  In my wife's case, important features of her blood chemistry are holding steady.  God is to be praised for His mercy in that specific way.  Because these levels are so relatively healthy, Chris has not been vulnerable to the kind of infections that often accompany chemotherapy.  Thanks be to God!

If you have been counting like we have,  you realize that there are just two more weeks of Taxol left!  Hallelujah!  Even if Saint George had been chained to the dragon for a whole summer and knew he was about to be released in a couple of weeks, he couldn't be more relieved than we are. Like living in a cave for three months with a fire-breathing monster, there is nothing inherently enjoyable about being poisoned.  At least we know that this is the kind of poison that has the potential to heal.   As might be expected, some of the other classic effects of Taxol are becoming more pronounced, especially numbness in the hands and feet.  However, the stomach issues Christie had been dealing with for the several weeks in July were virtually gone for the past two weeks.. Though her digestion is not superior today, there was great relief for an extended time.  That is welcome answer to prayer. 

Our son turned two last Monday.  As it is for all parents, the rapid advance of time makes it nearly impossible for us to believe that he is already two.  He demonstrated his new maturity by replacing his custom-made word for horse with the more accepted usage in our culture: "horse."  It was a sad moment.  It seemed to represent a symbolic shift into a new age.  Until last week he used to call horses "buhluhluh."  In his former dialect, whenever we wanted to talk about a live horse or a playmobil horse we would have to use his word.  (In order to pronounce the old word accurately, one simply makes an "ahh" sound while moving one's tongue back and forth over the upper lip four or five times.)  We saw many horses on our trip and though the parents continued to use the old pronunciation, somehow the two-year-old realized that those animals with four long legs, a long neck and a mane were called by the name "horse."  When he was young, he used to speak like a child.  Now he is all grown up. 

Over the past month or so I have been enjoying G.K. Chesterton's excellent defense of Christian belief in his book Orthodoxy.  Here is one of the many compelling passages in that book for your enjoyment:

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. 

Thank you very much for praying for us and for persisting in prayer.  You can see how God is answering those prayers.  
 

July, 2006


Monday, July 31st.   We would very much appreciate it if you would pray for Christie's stomach.  She has experienced her first real nausea and stomach problems from the Taxol these past four days.  She is so grateful that she has not had worse symptoms over the recent eight weeks that she is taking this new phase with great calm.  I, however, as the one who gets to watch her hurt, am not.  When I can perceive she is hurting, I screw up my face and wince and get anxious.  She hurts and she tells me, "it's okay, honey, I have not been very sick with this treatment yet."  I start groaning and have sympathetic stomach discomfort.  She smiles and bears it gracefully.  I fret and express my discontent.  And, today, she was actually encouraging me, as though I were the one who was fighting the cancer!  I hope you can see from her attitude that God is manifesting His patience and contentment in her heart and that He is answering your prayers for her.  Thanks.

Meanwhile, we are counting down the weeks until Taxol is over.  There are just four left.  And, here is an assortment of pictures from the last couple of weeks.

The picture on the left is an actual photo of Jacquie, one of the amazing nurses on the infusion floor.  If I told you just a few of the ways that she and her fellow nurses care for Christie and their other patients, you would think I was exaggerating.  Though they pierce their patients with great long needles the size of Greek javelins, they are so thoughtful and gentle that our Friday pilgrimages to chemotherapy are actually, in many ways, pleasant and encouraging.  Here she is futilely trying to wake Isabella for her lunch. 

To the right is a picture of the Ballard Locks I wrote of in the last installment.  This is actually an advertisement for one of the nicest (and most romantic according to Mrs. Turnbull) placesfor a picnic in Seattle.  On an evening like the one pictured, youcan see why it is morally imperative for you to visit the next time you are in the Big City.

Of course, the other two pictures are taken of you-know-who.  You can no doubt perceive that her victuals and her sleep are having the desired effect. 

Thursday, July 27th.     

13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.--Colossians 1:13-20

Reading through this passage feels like being a 16th-century Spanish explorer coming upon the Grand Canyon for the first time, or an astronomer peering into the first telescope and being overwhelmed by the sight of the sun.  This section of Scripture opens the window on such a stunningly clear view of the majesty and excellence of Jesus Christ.  Very briefly, from this passage, several truths are obvious.

1. Christ is the King of a kingdom. 

2.  He is the one who has provided for our redemption.  And redemption means that our sins can be, and have been, forgiven.

3.  He is the image of God, Himself. 

4.  He is the very firstborn of all creation.  That is, he occupies the role of the eldest son who stands, by right, to inherit that which belongs to the father.  In this case, the inheritance includes the universe as well as all else. 

5.  He is the Creator.  Everything that exists was made by Him, even those things that exist that cannot be seen with the eyes.  All things, thus, belong to Him just as every invention, by right, exists as the property of the inventor. 

6. Everything that has been made is made for Him.  The purpose and end for every created thing is Christ, Himself. 

7.  Everything that exists is held continuously together by Him.  Thus, all things continuously depend directly upon Him for their existence.

8.  He occupies the position of Head over the church.  Those who are believers in Christ, therefore, are part of Him and belong to Him. 

There is an entire trainload of clear truth about Christ and His nature and His exalted position in this passage.  What a privilege to claim allegiance to Him!  What an honor to be rescued by such a Saviour!

We have had, in many ways, a wonderfully normal week.  Last night Christie and I got to play music with our friends Don and Kristin Wood at the Icicle Ridge Winery for a dinner there.  Our quartet had not played since before Christie's surgery and it was a satisfying thing to have Chris feeling well enough to do that.  It was another foray into normal living that reminded me again how much better Christie is feeling these days. 

I should clarify that my wife is not feeling great.  But she is feeling so much better that it has the look and feel of feeling great.  Her Taxol side-effects are there, but they are not anything like what they could be and for that (and much else) we give thanks to the Lord.  He is merciful. 

On Sunday we were driving through a different part of town after church and we happened upon two rather junky looking houses next to each other on one of the side streets in Leavenworth.  Our nine-year-old saw them and considered for a moment.  Then she said--in all seriousness--"Dad, look at those run-down houses.  I think they must be lived in by bachelors or something"  I responded that she might be right.  Little did I know how notorious bachelors could be for being messy, unkempt people who are a threat to any decent neighborhood!  I am not sure that she realizes that her own father used to be an actual bachelor.  The poor girl.  When she finds out, it will, no doubt, make her ask lots of big philosophical questions .

That nine-year-old had her birthday party a little over a week ago.  She also got to spend five days in Seattle with her Aunt Cathy.  You can see from the picture that she was utterly happy with the gift we had given her.  She has been asking for a pocketwatch and we found one for her in Wenatchee.

You can see also that Isabella continues her tradition of sleeping through significant family gatherings.  I almost wonder if this slumbering is actually an act.  Perhaps she is feigning sleep on the outside, while she is internally engaged in acute data-gathering, listening in on all of our conversations.  Maybe she is an industrial spy and is sending reports to her agency's headquarters in Geneva.  Or maybe she is just a beautiful baby girl who continues to relish her naps. 

Thank you many times over for continuing to pray for us.  When we were on our way over the pass to Christie's MRI last week we came upon a terrible car wreck at the top of Blewett Pass.  Three young girls were injured quite badly.  Both Lindsay and Laura are out of the hospital and at home, but Mora continues to be in serious condition in the hospital.  Please join us in praying for them and their families.  Already God has been allowing us to see the work He is doing in the midst of a tragic event. 

Thursday, July 2oth.  An inexplicable thing is happening.  Christie's hematocrit (a crucial part of her blood count which measures what percentage of her blood is red cells) is rising.  It would make sense if it were gradually falling.   Red cells are often casualties in the war on cancer. And Christie's hematocrit fell steadily and significantly for the first three weeks of Taxol.  But since then it has made a slow U-turn and is on the rise.  I don't get it.  She has continued to have Taxol week after week.  It should be lower than ever. Rather than trying to understand it all, we give thanks to God for helping Chris in this very essential way.  Thank you for praying.

On Tuesday we drove over the mountains to Seattle in order to go to First Hill Diagnostic Services for Christie finally to have an MRI on her other breast.  We have wondered all along if there was cancer there, too, but have not been able to determine that since she was pregnant and could not then undergo the test.  Now that Isabella is very substantially ex utero, the time had come.  You must know that my wife tends to be somewhat claustrophobic and thus she was not looking forward to spending half an hour in the middle of a gigantic, loud, metal tube.  She anticipated it as one would aniticipate a meeting with Stalin, as opposed to meeting Mr. Rogers for the first time.   As it turned out, every nurse and assistant and technician and doctor we met and were helped bywas considerate and professional.  And, her trip into the torpedo shaft did not hardly bother her.  That was clearly God's direct grace to Christie to allow her to possess such equanimity in those circumstances. 

The MRI showed three spots that were a matter of concern.  As a normal procedure, the doctors perform a very unique kind of ultrasound on any spots they discover in the MRI.  Dr. Porter and Dr. Navid and the ultrasound technician were all convinced--after thorough examination and consultation--that these spots were normal lymph nodes or other benign things.  This was a great relief since there were a few minutes then when we were wondering if we were indeed seeing more cancer.  They asked us to return in six months to recheck those spots to insure that there is no change in those areas.  We want to thank you for praying for Christie for this appointment.  Praise be to God for strengthening our family.

Christie's sister, the famous Aunt Cathy, has been at our house for several days over the last two weeks.  She stayed with her nieces and nephew while we went to Seattle and, because our kids were in good hands, we spent the night and enjoyed time together in the city. One of the best things we did was to drive to the Hiram Chittenden Locks for a picnic dinner.  We met a man as we were walking through the gardens who said he has come there every week (or maybe it was everyday) for the past thirty years.  He told us there were over 1500 varieties of plants at that park and I believe him.  It was a great time and my wife recommends it as one of the most romantic parks in the Northwest.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders.  Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad. Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually. Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth     --Psalm 105:1-5

Saturday, July 8th.  Christie found a unique surprise awaiting her on Thursday evening when she started to tackle the laundry.  Our three-year-old had placed every stack of clean laundry sitting on the stairs waiting to be delivered to the various dressers in the house, back into the belly of the washing machine.  So, when her mother opened the lid to put the dirty clothes in, there were all of the clean, folded clothes ready to be washed again!  Fortunately, at that girl's age, she has neither the knowledge nor the height to turn it on. 

Christie's treatment went very smoothly yesterday.  Her port should someday be featured in "Modern Portacath" magazine.  It always works these days, just as it was designed to.  Praise the Lord for that change from the old days. Additionally, my wife's blood levels looked fairly good on the lab report yesterday.  Her HCT count had actually climbed this week!  That is God's grace. 

Someone asked Christie this week how severe these Taxol side-effects felt in comparison to those she had when she was taking Adriamycin and pregnant.  Her one word response was, "vacation."  Now I could hardly call what my wife is currently experiencing a vacation in the classic sense of that term, which denotes things like restful leisure and some form of tranquility.  But, in relation to what she had endured, this season is so much more tolerable.  Part of that has to do, I believe, with the fact that my wife is growing into an even more patient and steadfast person than she already was. And part of it is a direct function of the truth that she is receiving weekly and therefore lower doses of this kind of chemo and also that it is just not as punishing as previous treatments.  The really enjoyable surprise is that Christie is not losing her hair as had been predicted.  And, since I had a haircut just a few weeks ago, we form a matching pair.  We look like one of those shallow couples that choose each other just because of their hair-do's. 

Our meeting with Dr. Carlson, the radiation oncologist, was very helpful last week.  He answered many of our burning questions about radiation and its effects and side-effects.  Itappears likely that Christie willhave radiation in September and October.  This means daily trips to Wenatchee for five weeks and more physical therapy.  While that adds yet another daunting therapeutic chapter to this saga, if it will significantly reduce the risk of recurring cancer, it is worth it.  Please pray for us as we do further research and thinking on this matter. 

Another matter I have been thinking about is God's gift of salvation to human beings.  I spent a sufficient number of years in the first portion of my life wandering in spiritual darkness--trying to run my own life under my own power toward my own objectives, and all the while becoming more and more powerless to direct my life--to realize that if anyone was going to have made themselves fit for God's choosing, it wasn't me.  On the surface I think I might have appeared to be a good fellow, but if anyone had an ounce of spiritual discernment they would have seen the seeds of my own slow-motion demise forming solid roots and burgeoning under that surface.  It doesn't take too much time living with oneself to realize that the Scriptures do not exaggerate when they say that, left to ourselves, we are "dead in our trespasses and sins . . . indulging in the desires of the flesh and of the mind . . . by nature children of wrath."  That section of Ephesians chapter two is a trenchantly accurate appraisal of our condition.  But many people in our culture balk at such descriptions of human nature.  They believe it is too grim. And they know for sure that terms like "dead" and "children of wrath,"  while fitting descriptions of certain neighbors they may not like, cannot apply to themselves personally. 

But it all has to do with the standard one uses to measure oneself.  For example, if I compare myself to Hitler whose grossly sinful expressions of evil are so monstrous as to makemere murderers appear as petty criminals, I will see myself as a relatively decent guy.  I have not committed genocide. But if I fix my gaze on the Creator of the universe, who is described by the Scriptures as morally perfect, completely faithful, and wholly unaffiliated with any hint of evil, then I gain a new perspective on myself.  Suddenly I see that even the thought of hating someone or relatively "minor" transgressions such as being impatient with my spouse or indulging in a temper tantrum, while not grounds in our society for dismissal from the Decent Fellow Club,  are as out of place andstark and jarring as graffiti on Michaelangelo's "David", or as areeking garbage can in the middle of Monet'sgarden. To consider that we were made in God's image and that every sin we commit (though each act or thought may be run-of-the-mill living in a culture that is self-consciously distancing itself from Christian ethics) is an appalling defilement of that image is to see that our need for the mercy of God is absolute and critical.  To put it another way, to compare ourselves to ourselves, is to miss the point.  Whereas, if we look at God in His excellence, we can really only join Isaiah the prophet in saying "Woe is me, for I am ruined."   That is why the next section of Ephesians chapter two contains some of the most hopeful words in the Bible.  After it states in verse three that we "were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest," verse four gives people in certain peril certain hope: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)."  Note the descriptions of God in that verse: He is rich in mercy; He is greatly loving.  Note also that the subject of the sentence is God.  God is the center of this story.  He loved us.  He made us alive.  God saves human beings who are by nature spiritually dead and children of wrath.  He saves us not on the basis of deeds we have done that are righteous, but precisely and only because He is merciful and delights to show His mercy and love to people who would otherwise be eternally lost.  That is utterly amazing.

Speaking of things that are not as they appear on the surface, our one-year-old allowed us to see that Santa Claus is not actually the jovial, genial, generous, kind old man we all took him to be.  In fact, as this undoctored photo shows, he is actually a marauding viking who is not afraid to spill blood.  I had always wondered where he got all of those presents to give to little girls and boys.  Now we know.  He pillaged them.  Thanks for helping shatter those cultural myths, son.


Friday, June 30th.  Last week, Isabella was the child who sleeps and eats for a living.  This week (just 10 days after her due date) she is starting to become the girl who opens her eyes.  She has begun to have some lengthy periods of alertness during each day and she spends much of that time with her eyes open as far as they will go and, though she doesn't yet have the muscle for it, she is straining to focus on the shapes and things around her.  But, probably nothing can be as eye-opening as a cranial examination performed by one's one-year-old brother.  You can see from the photo that this kind of preface to brain surgery can be so serious that the "doctor" needs to wear a helmet.  What about the poor patient?!  Regardless of the danger, mom (see her arms) is (like an attending nurse) simply watching it all happen with professional detachment. 

Don't think for a minute, however, that she can't still sleep like one of the all-time sleeping champions from ancient times like Rip Van Winkle or Sleeping Beauty.  She can.  In fact, at my birthday party last week we tried to wake her up for the 4:oo p.m. feeding as we were celebrating out at the picnic bench.  She simply refused to open her eyes or show any interest in consuming her repast. She was so tired that she very inconsiderately slept completely through my birthday party without even singing to me or acknowledging that her own father had spent a big portion of his last year of life acquiring a whole crop more of gray hair on her behalf.  This new generation just does not know how to show appreciation.  She was so drowsy that she was happy to lay down on the table. So, seizing the opportunity to eat her birthday pie before she had to feed her daughter, Christie experimented with the idea of having Isabella become a placemat.  She did not actually do so, but we thought it made a good photo to prove just how worthy she is to enter the ranks of the world's best sleepers. 

Christie's fourth infusion of Taxol took place today and went as well as it could.  Her port worked perfectly.  Last week we noted on the report that since she started Taxol several key facets of her blood count were dropping steadily.   We were concerned and have been praying about it.  This week, her blood counts showed that on one of these facets she is holding steady (yahoo!) and on the other, she only dropped by one point instead of two.  That might sound like a minor deal but we are thankful to the Lord for it.  Thanks for praying for us! 

I got to teach again last Sunday--this time on the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem as recorded in John, chapter 12.  That passage shows Christ at the height of His earthly popularity just five days before He is crucified and it contains two very precise fulfillments of prophecies that were given hundreds of years before the event.  Here is the text of the message. 

Thursday, June 22nd.  Contrary to appearances, we haven't been on vacation.  Nearly everyday I have been intending to sit down at the end of the evening and issue a report on Christie and her progress.  Unfortunately, as you can see, that hasn't happened and so here is a very late update. 

Last Friday Christie had her second treatment of Taxol and Herceptin.  Her port worked, but when they accessed it, the needle punctured a capillary.  That made for an uncomfortable treatment session and it wasn't until it was over that they discovered why her port stung.  Thankfully, however, her port is continuing to work as it was designed to. 

The side effects from this kind of chemotherapy have been thus far very tolerable for her.  She does not always enjoy talking about the details of her symptoms, but I gather that they are just not as severe and that she continues to feel infinitely better than she did when she was carrying Isabella and taking Adriamycin. She has her third of 12 treatments tomorrow morning in Wenatchee. 

Speaking of Isabella, she is growing and thriving and looking more and more like her three-years older sister.  There are a couple of outfits that she is beginning to fill out and will soon outgrow.  That is a great sign as it means that she is making steady weight gains.  (Remember, this is the beauty kind of weight gain.)  When she was weighed last week she was seven and a half pounds!  Right on, little girl!  She continues to spend big sections of her days in dreamsville and it is always enjoyable and a little bit spooky to watch her dream.  Many times she smiles in her sleep, then she will look like she is about to cry or she will purse her lips as though she is going to break out into loud whistling.   The spooky part is that she often has her eyes wide open. All of that is classic sleeping baby tradition.  Here are some more photos of God's mercy in our lives. 

Because Christie is not nursing, I can can easily take the job of feeding Isabella when she wakes up hungry at two or three in the morning.  There is something about that hour that makes rational, coherent thought a challenge.  Usually it is Chris who wakes me up to tell me the baby is crying.  Then I sit up in bed for a few seconds not sure where I am.  After I manage to ascertain that I am not actually a crew member of the Starship Enterprise, I head downstairs to get her bottle ready.  My wife is always impressed with how long it can take me to get a simple bottle ready for feeding, particularly now that microwaves are on the scene and I can heat the water in there instead of over the woodburning stove.  Finally, by the time I make it back up to the crib to retrieve her, she has been crying so vehemently that my wife is hopelessly awake and our baby is in the grip of emotional trauma.  I settle her down and begin to feed her.  Everything proceeds fairly well until it is time to place her back into the crib.  Then, as though she knows I am not her mom and therefore a veritable newcomer to nighttime feedings, she begins what could be called the "Wee Hours Guess What Is Bothering Me" game.  This is the part where Dad gets to try to figure out why Isabella is wincing and sputtering and crying when he puts her gently back in the crib.  Like all game shows, I have to choose the right answer, and if I get it wrong, the game keeps going, sometimes infinitely.  Do I need another daiper change, Dad?  Or, do you need to burp me some more?  Perhaps you should try to feed me another  bottle.  Should you reswaddle me because my arms are too loose?  These options, and exciting combinations of these options, are all elements of the game.  Now the really funny part is that, after three successive nights of longer versions of the game this week, I asked Christie to try her skills at it on Wednesday night.  Instead of taking an hour and forty-five minutes to feed her daughter, like I did, she took only forty-five.  It seems that Isabella sensed that an expert had things in hand, and so decided not to play.  Hmmmmm. 

Last weekend our six-year-old became seven.  We had a great party with her grandmother (see picture).  Then, some adopted grandparents came over, two of them from Seattle, not necessarily for the birthday only, but just to be back in Leavenworth (see picture).  It was an excellent weekend with our great friends and family.  On Sunday, because Tom is out of town for some well-deserved vacation, I got to teach at church.  Here is the text of that message. 

Thank you for your continual prayers for our family.  Thank you, too, for all of the necessary and excellent food that many of you have provided for our family.  Thank you also to those ofyou who have consistently given my wife flowers or gifts or encouragement.  We are making it because God is communicating His grace to us through you. 

Sunday, June 11th. The encouragement from our friends and family has been remarkable.  We have seen the people who have been praying for us literally carry out the Scriptures that admonish us to "rejoice with those who rejoice."  Thank you for rejoicing in God with us. 

Many people have asked us what precisely it means for Christie that her CT scans were clear.  One year ago we would not have known what it means.  Now we do. Breast cancer, when it spreads from its original location, travels through the lymph nodes and on into other parts of the body.  When it travels and then forms a tumor in another location it is called metastasis.  There are four places in the human body where breast cancer almost always metastasizes if it is allowed to travel: the brain, lungs, liver and bones (usually ribs).  Those were the prime areas that Christie's CT scan covered.  So, what a clear scan means is that Christie has no tumors in the places where there would be tumors if her cancer had progressed to that stage.  There is no way to communicate the relief we feel.  Actually, I can't even feel it right now.  Moreover, I can't really believe it either.  I feel I can relate precisely to the servant girl and her fellow Christians in Acts 12.  Though she and the others had been praying fervently for Peter's release from prison since they knew Herod was planning his death, when he appeared at the gate of the home where they were meeting for prayer, and Rhoda announced him, they said to her, "you are beside yourself!"  Although they were asking God over and over to rescue Peter, when He did, their small minds could not grasp it.  We, too, have small minds and this is too big of an answer to prayer to grasp.  Wow.  Thanks be to God. 

What a clear scan does not mean is this.  It does not mean that Christie does not have any cancer cells floating around in her body.  Though there are no tumors (by God's grace), there may be individual cells running around.  So, we continue with the chemo treatments (and possibly the radiation later) as the customary mode of demolishing cancer cells.  Any cells left in her body would be the potential cause for recurrence of cancer in the future.  That is what we are seeking to prevent with the same fervor that the Allies sought to prevent an invasion during WWII. 

Last Friday, Christie's new treatment regime of Taxol and Herceptin commenced .  It was a remarkable day. First of all, in preparation for the first dose of Taxol, it is standard procedure to take a steroid the night before to hedge against an allergic reaction to the first treatment.  Well, the steroid Christie had to take was the same steroid that accompanied her infusions of Adriamycin and Cytoxan back in the old days.  That steroid would usually keep her from sleeping for most of the night on treatment days.  The remarkable thing was that, though she took a sizeable dose of the nefarious sleep-depriving steroid at ten and at four during the night before the first round of Taxol, she actually slept well.  We really cannot explain it.  (Secretly, I think God had mercy on her in answer to prayer.)  However, the small wonders were just beginning. 

We arrived at the infusion room where Jacquie was going to begin with a blood draw on Friday morning.  Believe it or not, Christie did no acrobatics, Jacquie did nothing unusual, but Christie's port worked perfectly!  I know that most people would not be so terribly excited, or even write home about a surgically implanted portacath working according to specification.  But we have to.  It was another wonder to behold and it means that very likely Christie will not have to have surgery to implant another port.  Yahoo! 

The rest of the morning was wonderfully boring in a medical sense.  There were no problems or surprises or allergic reactions.  Christie received her first dose of Herceptin and Taxol and is actually feeling very well today. 

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  --Ephesians 3:20-21

Thursday, June 8th.  Yesterday, Isabella visited Dr. Eisert to be weighed.  She was just one ounce shy of her birth weight!  Right on, little girl! 

This morning Christie had her CT scan.  She endured it and the radioactive cocktail she had to swallow bravely.  Thank you for praying for her.  We returned to Wenatchee this afternoon to meet with Dr. Smith to discuss the results of Christie's scan.  Remember that, aside from getting an idea of what is happening with the other side of Christie's chest, this scan examined all of the other major sites for breast cancer to metastasizeher brain, lungs, liver and ribs.  By God's great grace, like the water in Lake Colchuck or the sky on a cloudless day, Christie's scan was clear!  Let me repeat that for emphasis: it was CLEAR!  Thank you for praying for us.  Thanks to God for His mercy.

Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!  --Revelation 5:13

 Sunday, June 4th.  Isabella continues to enjoy long naps and lots of nourishing sleep.  She also has taken to eating more at almost every meal, which undoubtedly means that she is doing some good growing these days.  I don't know if she is heavier or longer than she was last week, but her beauty is only growing more pronounced everyday.  Maybe that food is actually being converted into loveliness cells.  And maybe that sleep is literally beauty sleep.  Here is some supporting evidence to that theory. 

The next big event in the cancer treatment happens at the end of this week.  On Thursday, Christie has a CT scan.  This is the first scan that she has had since she was diagnosed with cancer.  The purpose of this test is to determine if there are tumors at any other place in her body.  Please pray for her on that day, and particularly about the dreaded task of drinking the contrast dye for the scan.  She is a bit nervous that she might not be able to keep it down.  Then, on Friday, she has her first treatment of Taxol and Herceptin.  This is the first of twelve weekly doses of Taxol and we are naturally wondering how she is going to react to it.  God willing, the cancer cells (if they even exist in her) will wilt under its effects.  Thank you again for praying for Christie and her family. 

May, 2006


Wednesday, May 31st. About six weeks ago a "Big R" store had its grand opening in East Wenatchee.  When the flyer came through the mail the kids were ecstatic.  They have been watching with interest as it was in the process of construction just across from Costco over the winter.  Well, today while Isabella and Mom and a big sister were at Dr. Eisert's to check the baby's weight, Dad and the rest of the Turnbulls crossed the threshold of "Big R."  It was an electric moment.  The first thing we beheld was a row of horse saddles.  Then, we saw such items as truck strong boxes and fencing.  It only got better.  We moved onto the garden section where we found a new sprayer for the hose.  You would not believe how exciting that can be.  The girls have been using a sprayer purchased about ten years ago and now they have one that allows them the freedom to water plants on settings like "mist" or "shower" or "cone" or "soaker"!  We have joined the modern age!   One of our projects in homeschool this Spring was planting starts for a garden. This will be the first garden that the girls have been a part of and we are all looking forward to planting it very soon.  And now, they will be able to water it in utter style.  Thanks "Big R."  (Yes, this is an unpaid advertisement.) 

Isabella has lost an ounce of weight since last Friday.  We were hoping she was starting to make up that lost half pound and get back up to her birth weight, but Dr. Eisert reminded us that it is normal for it to take a while for a baby to reach that mark.  Nevertheless, we would appreciate your prayers that we would do a good job of feeding her and that she would do a good job of eating.  Right now she is still in the happy throes of newborn grogginess and endless napping so feeding her can be like trying to coax a sloth into actionSometimes I watch her dozing and I begin to grow jealous of the special relationship she and sleep have.  I am thinking of submitting a resolution to Congress to the effect that newborns take care of their parents for the two weeks after a birth so that those tired old people can catch up on their sleep.  Something tells me that she probably needs a nap more than I do.  Sleep, Isabella, and get nice and plump. 

We had a birthday party for her on Monday.  See the photo of the celebrity sleeping through her party and all of the loud cheering.  She is wearing the hat that Trinity, a friend of ours from church, gave her.  The reason she is wearing it at the time is because her one-year-old brother doesn't like people to have hats without wearing them.  He insisted that she keep it on.  She did not refuse him. 

Already I find that I am beginning to take her excellent health and her existence as a given in this household.  Then I stop and remember that just over a week ago we were wondering how she and her mom were going to be.  And today Isabella is healthy and strong and beautiful and alive.  She is like a soft refrain in a song. Every time we really look at her and think what she has been through, she seems to sing in quiet tones that we should gladly give thanks to God for the mere fact of her existence and for His mercy.

Saturday, May 27th.  While this week has been naturally busy for Christie and I, Jane, Christie's cousin from Oregon, has been here serving our family, feeding our children, helping them make the kind of crafts that Dad and Mom never have the energy for, taking them to the museum, teaching them to cook new recipes, encouraging them and making our house function.  I can't imagine how we would have coordinated this week without her superior help.  Thank you, Jane. 

Yesterday, Brian and Paula came over to give our flower beds new life.  They packed a lot of work into one afternoon and they designed the results to be something that will bloom into color that Christie can enjoy throughout the summer.  Of course, the Turnbull kids became instant gardeners when they arrived.  Here is a look at part of the transformation.

While they were working on the lawn, Christie and I took Isabella to Wenatchee to see Dr. Eisert.  You may recall that he came immediately after she was born to examine her.  It was a great comfort to us and so we were eager to see him again to show him how well his newest patient is doing.  We think she is probably the best one-month-early baby he has ever seen.  One of the things he told us the day after she was born was that it was highly probable that Isabella would have a generous case of jaundice.  It is not uncommon for early babies to develop jaundice because their livers are immature and unable to process the waste in the bloodstream efficiently.  Besides being premature, because Isabella's blood type is different from her mother's, she was, for that reason alone, quite likely to become jaundiced.  In most ways, she was set-up to turn pretty yellow and, Dr. Eisert said, would likely need to spend two days or so in the hospital under the special light.  However, in keeping with this week's theme of joyful surprises, she has no jaundice.  You can see Dr. Eisert in action in this picture.  As a precocious child, Isabella is trying to place his stethoscope slightly to the left to help him hear her heartbeat more accurately. 

As I have been pondering how God is going to glorify Himself in this little girl's life, it occurred to me that He has already brought great glory to Himself through Isabella Vivian.  For anyone who knows that she has spent the majority of her gestation potentially exposed to harsh chemotherapy and all of its side-effects, the fact that she is healthy is a glorious miracle.  And when we consider that she is one month early and weighs and measures just like a full-term baby and so far has suffered none of the very normal struggles that a premature baby usually experiences, it seems merely reasonable to attribute great praise to God for His mercy and strength and kindness.  And so, in one sense, just by living, Isabella brings glory to God.  So be it. 

Here are two pictures of that girl.  I have been trying to capture some fitting photos, but it is not easy.  In the second picture you will note that she has already mastered the face-occluding outthrust hand as if to say "no comment" to all the photographers and reporters who will undoubtedly be following her around.

Shout joyfully to God all the earth; sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious . . . All the earth will worship You, and will sing praises to You; they will sing praises to Your name. Come and see the works of God, who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men.  --Psalm 66:1-2,4-5

Tuesday, May 23rd.  Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!  --Psalm 34:8

Come and see what God has done; He is awesome in His deeds toward the children of man. --Psalm 66:5

We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks, for Your name is near. We recountYour wondrous deeds.  --Psalm 75:1

At 7:22 p.m. on May 22nd, Isabella Vivian was born.  The first thing we looked for and the first thing we saw was that she had lots of hair.  She had more hair than her mom.  If I was a more demonstrative person I would have let out a wild war whoop or at least done a backwards flip.  As it happened, all we could really pull off was a lot of crying.  She breathes well.  She eats well.  She sleeps like a professional.  And also, I should mention, she has lots of hair.  Although she came four weeks early, she weighed six pounds and 11 ounces; and she stretches out to be 19 inches long!  For all that we and the doctors and nurses can tell, she is perfectly healthy.  That is God's own kindness to us.   We thank You, our merciful Lord Jesus. 

So many specific prayers were effectively answered that it is impossible to recount them all.  The big ones include the fact that Christie and Isabella are doing remarkably well.  The moment that Christie finished the great work she had begun that morning, she felt immediately better than she had since November.  We are also quite sure that Isabella feels much better than she did when the induced contractions began in the early afternoon. We are thankful that Christie did not have to have a Caesarean section and that her labor was not terribly long. And the significant labor that she had to endure, she really had the strength for.  One could say this is all a function of coincidence.  Rather, we are sticking with the truth of the Scriptures which tell us that we should "draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  That's what we experienced: His grace in a time of need.  He deserves great thanks! We also thank all of you who prayed for us.  And we are grateful to Dr. Pitts and Dr. Eisert (who have been great friends to us as well as eminently competent professionals) and Rita and DeAnn and Laura and Barb and all of the other nurses who cared for us and Isabella.  Thank you. 

Though she had recently finished eating and didn't quite have the manners to wipe her mouth when we took the picture (or maybe it was her uncivilized, giddy parents), we certainly think this kid is beautiful in the extreme.  Here is the first, free, unretouched, but unautographed published photo of Isabella. 

In the next installment we hope to have more actual photos of the legendary baby. 

Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!  --Psalm 34:3

Sunday, May 21st. Tomorrow brings a new day and hopefully a new baby to our household.  I cannot find words to describe how feverish the anticipation is around here.  Christie has spent the last two days in a fit of cleaning that even surpassed her past efforts these last two weeks, just as a hurricane excels a thunderstorm.  Every child over two knows exactly what is happening tomorrow and simply cannot wait to see their new sister.  Mom and Dad are also tolerably anxious. On the one hand we are relieved and excited that this long waiting is going to be over and we will get to enjoy our daughter.  On the other, we are fairly nervous about the unknowns.  For instance, many mothers who have had their labors induced have told some frightful stories of two or three day labors.  Also, we are naturally wondering how Isabella's health will appear. And, additionally, I am concerned about how Christie, having just completed four months of chemo, is going to have the energy to deliver a child!   It puts us in the actually enviable situation of having our only hope in God for strength and help and health.

Please pray for Christie.  I am asking God to provide for a smooth and unlengthy labor.  We are praying that Isabella would be in the right position for the big event.   I am praying that God strengthens and provides in every aspect for this mother and her baby.  We are also praying that God would receive honor and glory through all that happens this week.  Thank you for praying with us.

But as for me, I will sing of your strength; yes, I will joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold, and a refuge in the day of my distress.  O my strength, I will sing praises to You; for God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.  --Psalm 59:16-17   

Tuesday, May 16th.  When we met with Dr. Smith ten days ago, just before Christie's last treatment, we got a new view of the plan for the summer months and beyond.  After the baby is born, Christie will begin Taxol and Herceptin in the second week of June. Taxol is a chemotherapy drug derived from the bark of the yew tree.  (If predictions come true, it should finish off the rest of Christie's eyebrows and eyelashes.)  Herceptin is actually an antibody that helps disable the receptors on those cancer cells. From what we have learned, it has relatively minimal side-effects.  Both of these medicines will be administered weekly through the end of August.  At that point, she should be done with Taxol and will have nine more months of Herceptin.  Then, in September, we are scheduled to begin radiation for six to seven weeks.  That is to be given five days a week.  We have much more to learn about the effects and benefits and detractions of radiation before we are ready to tackle it.  Sometime also in June, Christie will have a CAT scan to determine if any other locations of cancer are apparent. 

Meanwhile, there are just six more days until labor is induced to set the stage for the long-awaited appearance of Isabella Vivian.  We are naturally eager and thankful that this moment is on the near horizon.  Thanks be to God for his grace and kindness and sustaining mercy during these past months.  I am very grateful for His care for my wife during her pregnancy and for the hope that Isabella can be done with chemotherapy and that Christie, though not finished with that stuff, can now be more assertive in treating her symptoms. 

I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.  Psalm 34:4

Monday, May 15th. Our three-year-old was playing upstairs while her mother was cleaning this morning.  She brought a suitcase to her mom (an old one we had found in the basement several years ago and allow the girls to play "dress up" and "travel" with) and asked her to open it.  Mom complied.  Then, the daughter tried to carry the open suitcase, which was filled with toys, back to another bedroom.  That is no easy task.  As she walked through the hall, while just perched at the very top ofthe staircase, she fell down. Fortunately she fell onto the open suitcase and not down the stairs.  Gradually, she recovered from her shock, picked herself up out of the suitcase and said aloud (to no one in particular), "That was trippy . . . so trippy."  We have intentionally not invested a great deal of time in stocking our children's vocabulary with 60's slang.  I am quite sure she does not know what copasetic means, nor groovy, and neither would she have ever heard the word "trippy" coming out of her parents' mouths.  So I guess I must assume this is just another manifestation of her tendency to genius.  It may be hard to classify what type of genius (that is genus of genius) this indicates, but there is no doubt it is a sign of it. 

Wednesday, May 10th.  This past five days--since her final treatment of Adriamycin--have been some of the best of the bunch for Christie.  Her systems are working relatively well.  Each morning and evening I interrogate my wife.  I don't have a clipboard or hang a bare lightbulb over her head, but I do run through a checklist of her various systems and their status.  Thankfully, they have been checking out on the positive side. She's got energy!  Actually, there has been a controlled nuclear reaction in the central nervous system that has just one, simple cause: childbirth.  As it happens with every Turnbull baby's arrival, the nearing date of this one's birth has sent Christieinto some kind of hyperdrive that usually lasts for a week or two and that results in the reclaiming and recivilizing of every room and corner of our house.  Entropy, tremble and shake!  Your days are coming to a quick end in this house!  Nothing, not even the laws of physics, can withstand the organizing power of a pregnant woman soon to deliver! At this moment, nearly the entire upstairs has been cleansed and purged of microscopic dirt, useless items, dishevelment and oafishness.  The next phase is the main floor. It is so heartening to see that not even chemotherapy can suppress these great welcoming preparations.

Saturday, May 6th.  There was general rejoicing and celebration for us on Friday as Christie completed her final installment of Adriamycin and Cytoxan.  I am really proud of Christie.  She has endured this phase of the treatment plan with great determination and we thank God it is over.  Thank you for praying over the course of these several months for her.  

Strangely, the day began with a series of unsettling happenings.  First, as we were running late to get on the road to Wenatchee I was forced to bring my bowl of oatmeal into the car to finish it while driving down the valley.  We had progressed a sum total of two blocks when I looked down to realize that the bowl I had set next to me on the seat had tipped over and covered the side of my pants and much of the seat with sticky, warm oatmeal.  Needless to say, it would not have been a fashion statement to the nurses and doctors we were to meet that day.  We circled by the house for new pants and some other things I had forgotten.  In a demonstration of her supreme composure, my wife actually said very little and maintained a patient demeanor as this side trip added yet more lateness to the time deficit.  We had to scramble, but made it to the clinic in time and then the next difficulty ensued.  It will not come as a shock for me to say that Christie's port did not work.  By the time they had given up on it in earnest, three nurses had tried all of their tricks including things like having Christie hold her breath, raise her arms, and lay down.  When it works we should call it "Port Royal," when it does not, it earns the name "The Port of No Return." The nurse had to use an IV which, once again, also did not prove very cooperative.  However, that is where the trouble stopped, andthe rest ofthe day was as pleasant as it could be.  The nurses in the Infusion room are remarkable people.  When I watch them working with Christie and other patients who have cancer, their patience and dedication and competence and consideration are very notable.  We are thankful to be able to receive this kind of excellent care.  Finally, in order to properly commemorate the event we went out to lunch (and bought shakes for the kids) and then on to Costco for celebratory shopping as a family.  (Maybe it is just us, but our whole family likes going to Costco to buy things.) Thank you for praying for the Turnbulls. 

Of course, all of our attention is plastered on the place on the calendar where one reads the number 22.  On that date, we meet with Dr. Pitts for the big determination of when Isabella will be encouraged to take the stage.  If things go as planned, we should meet her on that day or the next.  

April, 2006


Sunday, April 30th.  Over the past six days our kids have had many adventures thanks to some very kind friends who love our whole family.  On Monday, while Mom and Dad were at the hospital for Christie's transfusion, Lin drove them back from Wenatchee and happily spent the evening with them.  On Tuesday, two ladies and their husbands concocted a day camp that could not and will not be equaled in this time/space continuum.  They titled it "Camp Run-A-Muck" and the day included making T-shirts, swimming in the river, roasting hotdogs and marshmallows and playing miniature golf.  And all that is just a sampling of the activities our kids got to enjoy with these friends.  Then Mrs. Gross took them for an afternoon to play in the woods near her house on Thursday and on Friday the Goehners invited our family to their orchard for a picnic and smores.  Finally, yesterday morning, Lin walked over to our house and took all six of them over to the schoolyard to play on the swings and slides.  To all of you this week (and many others over the past months) who have loved our children during this different season in their lives: Thank You!  

Christie continues to feel markedly better than she did before the transfusion.  Although she still battles some very significant heartburn and stomach discomfort and often has difficulty sleeping, she has more energy and is fundamentally improved.  Thanks to the Lord for His provision and for your prayers.  We are happy to have you continue to pray for her and her many symptoms and for Isabella.  The birth is likely just three weeks away.  We would appreciate you praying that Isabella would turn herself in the right direction in time,  and we are asking God to provide that it will be a natural delivery.  To recover from a C-section in the short hiatus between the two types of chemo seems like a tall order (particularly with compromised white blood cell levels) and we are hopeful that Isabella could be born in the "easier" way.   Please note the use of quotation marks around the word "easier" in the previous sentence.  For any of you who have given birth and for those who have not but have some kind of familiarity with the reality of the biblical prediction that "in pain," Eve would "bring forth children," you will recognize that there is nothing especially easy about delivering a baby into the world.   But as Christie often says right in the middle of being nauseated during her first trimester or in the middle of not sleeping much during the final few months, "Oh, well, it is such a short suffering and such a glorious outcome."  She bears all of this pain valiantly and with a sincere appreciation for the privilege of being a mom again. 

Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let those who love Your salvation say continually, "The Lord be magnified!"  Since I am afflicted and needy, let the Lord be mindful of me; You are my help and my delverer; do not delay, O my God.    --Psalm 40:16-17

Tuesday, April 25th.  What a day yesterday was.  I began to be quite concerned about Christie's well-being on Sunday and resolved that on Monday morning I would call the doctor to express my worry.  Monday came. I called.  They were happy to see her, so she and our ten-year-old went down to Wenatchee in the late morning to meet with the oncologist's assistant and to have a blood draw.  The results were disturbing.  Her red and white and hematocrit levels were more depressed than ever.  It was clear that Chris needed help and so they scheduled a transfusion for the middle of the afternoon.  Meanwhile, I was bringing the rest of the clan down the valley so that we could all go to the ultrasound to see if Isabella's growth was up to the predicted extent.  All ten of us (including the ultrasound technician) met in the tiny ultrasound room and watched the monitor with great anticipation.  This was the really great part of the day.  Isabella shattered the charted levels.  By God's merciful grace she even looked wonderfully large (for a 32 week-old) and, as the technician stated it, she likely weighed about five pounds!  Five pounds!  5 lbs! As our three-year-old often said at the age of two, "Yay-hoo!  From there we met with Dr. Pitts and he put the baby on a monitor to insure that she was moving plenty and had a healthy heart rate.  She was and she did. 

Then we went upstairs for Christie's first blood transfusion.  The nurses were excellent and they made the whole long process quite comfortable.  Since then it has been obvious in her increased energy and general improvement that this is precisely what she needed.  As much as we did not want to have one, we are thankful that there is such a thing as transfusion to help in time of need.  We also realize that we could have been needing transfusions long ago and so we are grateful that she made it almost to the end of the A+C treatments before she had to have one.  Another thing we thank God for providing yesterday was that the soap opera relationship between the nurses, Christie and her port took a bright turn when her port actually drew blood for just the third or fourth time.  Yay-hoo!

On a random, unrelated note, I am sending this message to the candy and candy bar manufacturers of America.  This message comes from my desk to yours.  I know what you are doing!  I am old enough to realize that Three Musketeers bars and Snickers bars don't just feel and look smaller because the ratio between the size of my physical body and the candy bar itself has changed.  It is not merely that when I was younger the candy bar appeared to be as long as my forearm and now--as my forearm has grown--the candy bar has seemingly shrunk.  It doesn't just appear smaller.  It is smaller!   This goes double for the makers of M&M's.  Not only are there probably twenty fewer M&M's per package, you have kept the total size of your packaging the same while actually increasing the width of the sealed edge, thus reducing the space left for the candies and thus giving the appearance that there is the same candy-to-space ratio.  I remember the old packages of M&M's that had so many candies stuffed in there thatone could actually just start to feel sick if one ate the whole thing.  In the old days it had a sealed edge no wider than a paper clip.  Now, one could almost drive a Matchbox car around the perimeter of the package.  It is not that these things appear to be so.  They actually are the case!  You are banking on the fact that we Americans aren't paying attention to incremental changes executed over a twenty-year period.  But you are wrong.  We notice.  You are charging more for lessand it is jading the candy-bar idealism of people like me who thought that Snickers bars were something that not only granddad, but also Thomas Jefferson ate.  If he had and he had lived long enough to see this, he would accuse you of taxation without representation--or at least cheating. 

Wednesday, April 19th.  Thanks to the many of you who have not ceased praying for Christie even with no current news.  This continues to be a very difficult time for my wife.  Perhaps her physical maladies are becoming more pronounced because the effects of the chemotherapy are cumulative to some degree, or it may just be that when one is seven months pregnant (a state I have witnessed on many occasions, but never experienced personally), one is seriously uncomfortable already, even without the added challenge of chemo side-effects.  It is likely that both factors are working in concert to make this an arduous stretch.  We really appreciate your praying for her.  It is what God provides for her endurance. 

The good news is that the phantom cough has disappeared.  Thanks be to God!  For a few nights last week Chris was nearly sleepless and we were convinced that Isabella (in utero) was making plans to vacate the place for another, quieter apartment.  There can be no doubt that the constant earthquakes and tremors had sent all of her china and her pictures careening off the shelves and that she, too, had no peace and quiet or sleep during the whole calamity.  She endured, thankfully, and is happy to keep her digs until late May.  Which reminds us that there are less than five weeks (just around 35 days) until we can greet her!  Right on! 

Unfortunately, Christie's last treatment (last Friday) was semi-dreadful.  Actually it was mostly dreadful.  Not only did her port fail to work, her IV would not even allow blood to be drawn!  Though her nurse did an exceptional job of working with Christie's veins and trying to position things so that all could proceed, it nevertheless took a long time to get it all set-up and when it finally was ready, there had to be continual adjustment.  It was a difficult day and that was coming right after a couple of trying weeks.  Since then Christie has had energy but has been subject to four or five various side-effects that come at her singly, in pairs, or sometimes in deadly trios to play havoc with her digestion, her sleep and her overall health.  She is persevering with great determination and elegance, but we are counting the days until we say good-bye forever to Adriamycin and Cytoxan. 

By the way, one thing I have learned from this last few months is that chemotherapy is simply brutal.  I am thankful that there are medicines (or poisons, actually) that we have discovered that do have deleterious effects on cancer.  Without these treatments, we would possibly just watching the cancer grow. But the philosophy of chemotherapy is of a kind with nuclear warfare.  As a bomb makes no distinctions between good and bad guys when it detonates, so chemotherapy (at least the kind we are using) merely kills fast-growing human cells.  It creates just as many casualties to friendly fire as it does of enemy soldiers.  While it is hostile to cancer cells because they are typically fast-growing, it also ruins things like hair-cells and stomach lining, etc.  No wonder the treatment can often create more conspicuous affliction than the disease initially does.  I am sure that in 100 years when we have (by God's mercy) developed more precise methods for eradicating cancer, the people of that time will look back on us and our treatment methods with the same sense of sympathetic wonder with which we look back on the "barbaric" practice of bloodletting.

 I had the opportunity to teach this Sunday at our church.  Here is the text of that message if you would like to read it.  The passage was appropriate for our celebration of the resurrection, but it was perfectly encouraging to us in these days of cancer, too. 

1 Peter 1:3-6
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,

So many of you are doing so many things to help us.  Thank you.  The greatest way you assist us is by praying to God on our behalf.  Thank you most of all for doing that.

Saturday, April 8th.  It has been far too long since we have written and there is much to tell.  Ifyou will recall the account of the stomach flu episode in our house from the last update, you will be in a position to appreciate how remarkable it is that the day after the last patient recoveredfrom that flu, the sewer backed up into our basement.  So, for the next 24 hours I was removing things from that part of our house and cleaning and disinfecting.  In a memorable act of bravery and heroism, our friend Tom Keziah came over to help me clean. To me, it was one of the defining moments of true friendship.  Thanks, Tom. 

It should please you to know that no other disasters of a grand magnitude have befallen our house since that time.  However, this has been, by far, one of Christie's most difficult treatment cycles.  She has been suffering from an intense case of heartburn for two weeks.  It was so bad that when she took one of those allegedly super-effective Pepcid Complete tablets--the pill that is supposed to provide relief for close to twelve hours--she felt better for an entire 24 minutes.  (She was timing it.)  (This may or may not be an advertisement for or against Pepcid.  It is likely that Christie's case of heartburn is a stiffer one than many people experience simply because her condition is further aggravated by being pregnant and being on chemotherapy.  However, if a wonder-drug was ever going to manifest its powers, this would be the scenario in which to shine.)  On top of her struggles with her stomach, she also has acquired a forceful cough that could subdue Alexander the Great with its persistence. In typical Christie fashion, whenever she contracts a cough while she is pregnant, she ceases to sleep very much due to the fact that her body would much rather stay up coughing than get rest.  The cough is almost like a hibernating bear, or a talkative cat.  During the daylight hours, it barely utters a word.  In fact, one could almost think that Christie was coughless if one were to meet her at noon.  But during the night, the cough emerges from its den and will not be quiet.  She has taken several doses of some pretty serious medicine for this purpose, but that has been ineffective.  It would be much appreciated if you would pray for her so that she could rest and eat.  Thank you. 

This past week was Spring Break for me and for our homeschool as well.  We decided to make a few outings for the sole purpose of having fun during the past few days.  On one outing, we decided to eat dinner at Red Robin.  (This is not necessarily an advertisement for Red Robin, although it must be said that their original hamburger is quite delicious.)  Now, since I don't go there but once every few years, I just did not know that there could be that many people having a birthday on the same day at the same time.  But I was very wrong.  In the course of our meal I believe that the waitresses sang their special "Happy Birthday" clapping song at least seven times.  After the first two birthday songs, our six-year-old's eyes got wider and wider with every celebration.  She could not figure out what was happening.  Did the act of entering this restaurant somehow induce rapid aging?  Could only those with birthdays on April 6th eat there on April 6th?  It was fairly mystifying.  Even more mystifying to one of our number was the acceptability and safety of the actual "Red Robin" as he or she passed through the restaurant.  For everyone in our family (save one) that person dressed up in that Red Robin suit was a cause for rejoicing and mirth.  But for the boy, this "innocent" diversion was actually a cause for terror and alarm.  Although it appeared  that his sisters were not hurt by shaking hands with the Red Robin, and although it appeared that they were laughing and enjoying the moment, in actual fact, our one-year-old knew that something sinister was lurking behind the big yellow beak.  If only he had access to them, he would have recognized the elements of a good Star Trek episode in the whole affair.  Remember how Jim Kirk and the rest of the landing party were--in many episodes--seemingly welcomed by apparentlygood-natured and friendly natives on the planet's surface.  And once they allowed their guard to drop, the kindly natives turned sinister and malevolent.  Having watched each episode at least three if not five times, it is, regretfully, a theme of many of my dreams.  And now, our son was living a Star Trek episode at the Red Robin!  Well, when the nefarious Robin came over to his side of the table, he began quaking and latched onto my arm.  He threatened to cry but was too busy keeping a wary eye on the dread bird to afford the momentary blindness that crying creates.  As you might imagine, his sisters thought this was hilarious.  His mother and I were amused but also understanding.  Fortunately, the Red Robin sensed, with bird-like apercu, that something was amiss and moved down the aisle to visit other unsuspecting children.  That was just fine with the boy. 

We are thankful for your prayers on our behalf.  We are also thankful that God reminds us in His Word that even things like cleaning basements matter:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom . . . singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.  --Colossians 3:16 and 17

There are only six more weeks until Isabella's scheduled delivery!  
Wednesday, March 29th.  This was the scene at our house this afternoon.  Many of our neighbors and friends organized a raking and yard reconfiguring party for us today.  To all of you who made the outside of our house look like human beings actually do live here, THANK YOU!  It was a great gift to our family. 

In other news, Christie had her fourth treatment last Friday.  The biggest shock of the whole procedure was that Christie's port . . . actually . . . worked!  When my wife called me during the treatment with the staggering news, I could not quite comprehend it.  What a blessing from God! I still can't really believe it and I have to confess that I had given up praying that it would function again.  Another exceptional answer to prayer was the fact that her blood levels had rebounded well from the previous treatment.  That has been (and will naturally continue to be) a major concern and God has provided for her to be holding fairly steady from treatment to treatment. 

As our 12-year old mentioned in the update of the 21st (below), our one year-old son had acquired the stomach flu last Tuesday.  Well, he had it for five days and it appeared that all the rest of the Turnbulls were going to escape it.  It appeared that way . . . until Saturday night!  In one single night that has become a blurred memory of cleaning floors and cleaning products and that will live in infamy in the darker pages of the history of this family all five daughters gave hearty evidence of their having shared in their brother's affliction.  Naturally, mom and dad slept little.  But the real tragedy of the whole affair was that Christie got it on Sunday night.  That is not good for a woman so pregnant and on chemotherapy.  As a consequence, we spent a big part of Monday at the clinic where Dr. Pitts prescribed for her what Dr. Bracket always prescribed on Emergency!  She had 2000 ml of Ringers Lactate.  Even so, she has continued to feel poorly since then and we may visit the doctor again tomorrow.  As it is in so many other situations, it was our three year-old who came through with the utterance that makes the whole ordeal worth it.  Last night, very shortly after throwing up, she heard me talking to her mother about my intention to leave to go to the store for some supplies.  "Dad," she said, " I need a cheeseburger and a Carmel Macchiato." 

Saturday, March 25th. I spent a really long time writing some thoughts on the structure of the universe and where we came from and realized quickly that it really did not belong as part ofthe chronicle of Christie's progress.  If you are interested, please click on this link:  On Design   

February, 2006


Tuesday, February 28th.  We have taken an unintended vacation from these updates, which does not mean that we have ceased to be grateful for your praying for us.  Thank you for continuing to pray for Christie and our baby.  Over the past week, Christie has, on the one hand, continued to struggle with periodic stomach issues and nausea and fatigue, and on the other, has experienced a gradual return of her energy and some fairly good days.  Her sister Cathy and our nephew Tyler spent the whole week here. We enjoyed being with them and I had many an invigorating political discussion with Tyler.   He happens to hold that the current presidency is one of the greatest threats to freedom and reason in the developed world.  I, by contrast, don't.  As a consequence we wrestled--as the Tick says--braino a braino over that and other pertinent socio-political items of interest. 

The third installment of chemotherapy happens this Friday.  They will check to see if the port still is not functioning.  Though there has been trouble with the port, when we think about how bad the side effects of these treatments could be, we are reminded of how much we have for which to thank God.  Additionally, it is encouraging to think that this is the halfway point for this type of chemo.  And, furthermore, there is the the shining hope on the horizon that in just about 12 weeks we will get to meet this still unnamed baby girl.  I would greatly appreciate your prayers for Christie's stomach and her next chemotherapy treatment and for our baby and our baby's birth.  Also please pray that there would be no more cancer to be seen in my wife's body when they finally get to do the MRI after the baby is born. 

Christie wanted this picture posted so that all the world could see that we have the most considerate girls in the world.  Why are they considerate?  This Sunday they all participated in the ski races at our local ski hill that were part of the end of the year carnival.  The amazing thing is that although each child was in a different age classification, they all managed to gather second place ribbons (as is shown in the picture).  How could they so carefully time their turns so as to finish second in their respective races and thus each match the others' achievements?  I am unable to explain.  But they did it, nonetheless.  Any girl can win a race; it is the greater woman who can strategically and purposefully come in second. 

Monday, February 20th.  I love this time of year.  It is getting so dangerously close to Spring and that is the best season God devised.  Just last Wednesday, in the early morning, I heard an actual Robin singing in the top of a pine tree in the neighbor's yard.  Why do birds sing?  Who teaches them their songs?  What music do they hear that we can't yet?  He had to be frost-covered and shivering, but he zealously flung his song into the air, and it certainly said something like, "God rules the earth and heaven and, as He decreed, Spring is hastening her steps and is soon to appear."  I know that is what he was singing.  How else is it that such small but sturdy creatures can create such warm and bright music on ashen gray days?  As Thomas Hardy said about the Darkling Thrush, in his poem:

So little cause for carolings  
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things  
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through  
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew  
And I was unaware.

By God's grace, we know that hope of which the Robins sing. 

Speaking of hopeful things. Christie had her blood draw today and the levels looked remarkably good.  Thanks be to God.  Her stomach is creating some pain and angst and we are trying to figure out how to help that.  This has occurred before as a symptom of other pregnancies but it is definitely more pronounced this time.  It is likely that whatever bothers it (besides this growing human being inside her who uses her stomach and all other internal organs as available targets for knife-like foot and hand jabs) is aggravated by the medicines that she is taking.  Yet, overall she has had a good weekend.  In fact, yesterday she spent the morning at church and the afternoon at the local ski hill watching her kids ski (and take lots of jumps).  In addition, Aunt Cathy and Cousin Tyler came over from Bellevue to spend the week with us.  It is hard to think that President Bush would get a bigger reception from our daughters than Tyler and Cathy. 

To the right you can witness the latest antic of the three year-old.  One morning last week, Dahlia Prenderby (the cat) strangely jumped up on the picture window ledge and started telling us how badly we had treated her.  At least one youngTurnbull decided to take some form of pity on her and console her in her troubles.  I am not sure that Dahlia really perceived her love through the double-pane glass.  It almost looks like a visitation at a feline penitentiary.   

Thanks a lot for praying for us. 

Thursday, February 16th.  Even though today has been a moderately rocky one for her, the days since Christie's second treatment (last Friday) have been miraculously good.  She experienced no nausea during the usually difficult first four days in this cycle.  She had great energy.  She slept well.  She got lots of flowers for Valentine's Day.  Overall, we are very grateful for the way God has made this second round so manageable thus far.  Thanks a lot for praying for her.  Thank you, too, for your cheering notes to her this week.  Thanks for the books and the care packages and the gifts. 

I do the double-take sometimes when I look at Christie when she is doing well--as she has been doing this week--and the idea that she has cancer and is taking chemotherapy seems like a made-up story.  She does look quite pregnant, which is exciting.  She also looks like she is trying to match me crew-cut for crew-cut, except that hers is significantly shorter and patchier.  But it is somewhat surreal to think she has (or had) cancer.  It is like reading about an earthquake in Antarctica. It seems five stages removed from real life.   But then, even when she is feeling poorly, our lives have become adjusted to accommodate her health challenges so that even bad days can almost feel normal.  In a certain way, that is a good thing. God has made us infinitely adaptable creatures (this is not a promotional advertisement for macro-evolution or punctuated equilibrium or any other such temporary fashion of science) and I marvel at how persevering and patient my wife is with the many sizeable and permanent changes that have occurred in her life.  Of course, we still feel like pineapple upside down cake turned right side up, but we really have begun to adjust to our new life.  That is a credit to God and His daily gift of strength and grace. 

On the other hand, I certainly don't want to institutionalize cancer as part of our lives in the bad way. The best part of my wife's health crisis is that it has put us into a very real crisis.  And the good thing, according to the Bible, about real crises is that the people in the middle of them get to be humbled in the good way and get to see their own smallness and, by contrast, God's majestic greatness.  So while I wonder at God's mercy to provide for us enjoyment and encouragement and normalcy in the midst of this time, I also trust and pray that He will not cease to use this hardship to continually wake us up to the reality of the life that is much longer than this one and to the truth of the words of David that God's "lovingkindness is better than life."  In a real way, this cancer is God's prickly gift to the Turnbulls to give us something much greater (get ready, this is hard to believe) than materially rich, comfortable, manageable lives.  May God use this (and every trial He allows everyone of us to walk through) to allow us to escape the narcotic, drowsy sleep of materially-saturated, personal comfort-oriented living and to breathe the rarified air of truth and beauty and goodness. 
 

Saturday, February 11th.  As many of you know, Christie's second chemotherapy treatment was administered yesterday.  There were two great frustrations for her husband.  First, due to unanticipated circumstances our kids could not go to a friend'shouse for the afternoon and so I spent the day with them and missed being with Chris.  That was completely unpleasant.  Second, (and even more unpleasant) was the fact that Christie's port still did not work.  It flushes faultlessly.  However, it will not allow the nurse to draw blood.  In the overall view this is an inconvenience, but at this moment, at this altitude, it is an exasperating mystery.  As you may know, installing the port was a full half-hour of the surgery in November.  It only worked once (after coaxing) for her first treatment and it has been a nuisance since.  I have prayed much for that port to work, and I know many of our friends have, too.  So here's what I think about it.  I think I am super-frustrated! AAAAAHHHH!  I also think that God knows exactly what is going on and that He is at the very least using this port to help me trust Him more earnestly and to learn to relax and surrender again my wife's needs and the progress of her treatment into His hands.  It would be ridiculous, though tempting, to lose all perspective over a measly port, given the many ways He has demonstrated His involvement and care for us over the past few months.  Also, I clearly remember that He has told me and everyone else to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all things, for this is God's will for [us] in Christ Jesus."  That is as clear as crystal.  At a time like this the question is, will we obey Him? 

The beautiful thing about yesterday was how God provided in the midst of frustrating circumstances.  Though I could not accompany her, two good friends spent almost the entire afternoon with Christie.  She was positively encouraged by her time with those friends and that is a direct blessing from God.  And though the port malfunctioned, the nurses were able to give her the chemotherapy via an I.V. that was started and worked smoothly.  While it is better for Chris (according to our understanding) to receive her chemo through the port, this nevertheless worked and will have to be the system until the time when the port can be replaced.  I still refuse to give up praying that the port will work next time.  However, He deserves great praise for granting this second treatment to go well.  Thanks be to God. 

In the 24 hours since her treatment, Chris has slept well and had lots of rest and has not been nauseated.  That, too, is a blessing from God. 

Meanwhile, the search for the finally authenticating name for little-girl Turnbull still continues.  For some reason, one of my latest suggestions--Cleopatra--did not make my wife's short list.  I'll have to keep thinking.  Maybe something like Nefertiri, or Bodaciea? 

Monday, February 6th.  Last Friday we spent a big part of the day in Wenatchee trying to figure out what is awry with Christie's port.   Late last week the port was causing some significant discomfort and the doctor wanted to take a look.  Well, taking a look at something under one's skin means an x-ray.  And it also means injecting a dye into the port to be able to take pictures of it.  We have become professionals at asking the crucial question: "Is that [place drug name here] safe during pregnancy?  What is the safety rating of that drug?"   After what took great effort to persuade the Radiologist to communicate with Dr. Pitts (uberObstetrician) about the safety rating of the dye, Christie had several x-rays.  The good news is that the port looks good and has no blockage or kinks or strange appearances.  The disenchanting news is that the baby had to have her mom's upper torso x-rayed which makes her mom uncomfortable about baby's safety rating.  Also, the port continues not to work like it should.  We continue to pray and ask God that he would provide for this small but troublesome issue to be resolved. 

In other news, the author of this website has been sick.  Now I don't usually care that much about a cold, but my wife is having chemotherapy and has a (thankfully only slightly) depressed immune system and naturally Ido not want to be the bearer of bad germs.  It looks like I am pulling out of it and that although I have actually kissed the lady, she seems to have weathered it well. 

I want to use this space to thank every single person in our valley who has made dinner for our family.  There is no possible way for you cooks to realize the extent of the boon you have given to my wife and children.  To get a sense of what I am trying to say you need to imagine how horrifying it would be to be a Turnbull child left with no culinary option other than to eat whatever foodstuffs Dr. Frankenstein produces by way of mad science in his laboratory.  In the kitchen I turn into a crazed lunatic, incapable of using such rudimentary tools as measuring cups and oven controls.  You have helped--no, rescued--no, ransomed--six children and their mother from prandial torture.  Thank you for your generous gift of great food. 

Finally, the quote of the month came last week from our three year-old.  She was peering over her mother's arm as her mother was perusing the pages of a home furnishings magazine.  As the page flipped and stopped she announced: "That's Judge Alito's house."   Christie was sure she had heard her amiss.  She asked her to repeat what she had said.  Our little girl confidently pointed to the furniture in the picture and simply stated again: "That's Judge Alito's house!"  How is that for judicial awareness in a future interior decorator? 

Wednesday, February 1st.  This was another landmark day.  We went to Wenatchee for an ultrasound to see how the baby is thriving.  As you might assume, we have been praying for that personpersistently and specifically that God would shield him or her from the effects of chemotherapy.  The other purpose of this ultrasound was to discover what brand of child this is.  The older Turnbull children have been looking forward to this day for several weeks.  Our eldest has been as certain that this baby is a girl as she is that dogs are God's best creation.  As it turned out, she was right.  (About the baby, of course.)  After the ultrasound technician checked the heart and brain and measured various dimensions to compare with the gestational age, she told us that our baby is a girl.  That's right, the Turnbulls are having a girl!  The best part of the whole thing was seeing that this little girl looks good and healthy.  Note the raised hand in the photo. It appears as though she knew there were hundreds of friends praying for her, and so she waved.  Of course, now we get to select a name for this child and we have already used our five favorites on her sisters.  To that challenge we add the natural desire to choose the finally authenticating name for a baby who must endure what she is enduring. Stay tuned for that announcement.  Thank you for praying for us.  

January, 2006


 Tuesday, January 31st. Christie trekked to Wenatchee yesterday to have her blood drawn and to meet with Dr. Smith, our oncologist.  As it did during her first chemotherapy treatment, the port would not allow the nurse to draw blood.  After several attempts to try to get it to work, she had to give up and they took her blood the old-fashioned way.  This is somewhat distressing.  My wife seems to be handling this with much more patience than I am.  This is probably a minor matter, but the great thing about havingred hair is that it gives one a pretext for blowing small things way out of proportion and having a cataleptic fit over them.  Fortunately over the years I have learned to moderate my Panic-Alert Knee-Jerk Response and pray first (usually).  So, we had a good, earnest session of prayer about the port yesterday.  The thing that concerns me is that it is within the realm of possibility that if the port continues to malfunction Christie will have to have another surgery to replace it.  However, Dr. Smith assured her that there were a few other tricks to try before that would happen.  I have calmed down since then and am trusting that God is in charge of this relatively minor thing and is going to work it out.  Please join me in praying about that.

There was some good news yesterday, too. In fact, it is remarkable news.  The reason Christie has to have her blood drawn ten days after each treatment is to check her blood levels, particularly the white count.  This part of the three-week treatment cycle is supposed to be the low-point for blood counts and, as a natural result, a very low point in Christie's energy.  Amazingly, her blood counts were relatively strong and she had excellent energy.  In fact, just to prove it, she made bread yesterday. We thank God for His kindness in giving her strength and in granting her grace through this first cycle of chemotherapy to be doing so well.  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.  Give thanks to the God of gods, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.  --Psalm 136:1-2

Sunday, January 29th.  Christie had a great day today.  First, she spent the morning with her friends (and family, of course) at church.  Then her husband and second daughter made the best Dutch Babies known to man for lunch.  In the evening, Christie, herself, made dinner.  It was so much like a normal day that we were realizing how God is providing strength and energy and endurance in wonderful measure.  Speaking of energy, you will recall that on Tuesday Christie's was so low that it was as though the fires of the sun had been extinguished.  We asked friends at our Tuesday evening Bible study to pray for her and we also asked those of you who read these updates to pray for her.  I know that some human beings would like to attribute events like these to "coincidence" or "natural causes" or (the most nebulous, but omnipotent agent) "chance."  But, since I have become a Christian, I have been the victim of too many "coincidences" that just happen to coincide directly with intentional praying to think that I can give thanks to Nature or Chance for the remarkable resurgence of physical energy that Christie experienced on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  In addition, the Word of God blatantly predicts that those who call on God will be the happy victims of God's merciful work.  "Call on me," says God in His Word, "and I will answer."  Thank you, Lord, for your kind provision of strength to my wife.  And thank you, the many of you who have been praying for us. 

Tuesday, January 24th. For all of God's keeping and kindness to us as a family we are thankful.  He has provided faithfully for us these past few days after Christie's first chemo treatment.  Her nausea was non-existent for the first day and a half.  Since then, it has been very similar to the kind of nausea she had a few weeks ago.  That is a great answer to prayer.  It could have been so very much worse.  However, yesterday she began to experience serious fatigue.  I think that is a predicted symptom, but we were expecting it more in the ten-days-out range when blood counts typically get low.  She is so overwhelmingly tired that tonight she told me (while standing) that she does not have enough energy to lay down.  That sounds fairly tired.  She also told me it takes great concentration and exertion to move her arms.  At least we know that this is a "normal" side effect of the treatment.  It would stand to reason that these effects are likely amplified since Christie is also presently manufacturing a baby.  That, in itself, requires a great outlay of energy.  When you add chemotherapy drugs into that process, that have as their express mission to attack cells, it would naturally add up to some serious depletion of resources.  Anyway, we would appreciate your praying that God would strengthen her with energy and that Christie would not suffer from anemia during this season.  Thank you. 

The most amusing part of the week was the moment when our three year-old came into my office when her mother was at the computer.  She had her blanket in her hand and looked up at Chris with those large, brown eyes that resemble those of an innocent fawn.  In total sincerity, and with a voice loaded with tenderness--as if she were saying "Mommy, how do I love you? Let me count the ways"--she uttered this memorable expression (worthy to be quoted in greeting cards): "Mommy, if your hair falls out . . . I will not love you anymore."  She batted her eyelids several times and proceeded to have some time with her blanket.  Christie held in the laughter and we both assured her that she really would keep on loving Mommy even after her hair fell out.  Our best guess was that this was her premeditated effort to grant her mom some needed encouragement.  She has a little bit more reading to do in the New Testament to understand what biblical encouragement looks like, but fortunately her look and intonation made up for whatever may have been lacking in the message. 

Friday, January 20th.  Well, this morning was the big morning for our family.  My mom came over to the house to spend the morning with her grandkids and we drove to Wenatchee for Christie's first chemotherapy.  First, we had an appointment with Dr. Pitts (uberObstetrician) and his nurse, Lisa (wunderNurse), to check up on how the pregnancy is going.  The great thing is that my wife is gaining weight.  That's right, I am excited that my wife is gaining weight and Dr. Pitts was--I would say--sincerely proud of her.  Good work, honey. 

From there, we walked to the Chemotherapy Room at the Oncology Center.  We were happy that Jacquie, a very kind and patient nurse who is always willing to answer questions and provide clear explanations, was Christie's nurse again today.  Probably the most trying moment for all of us occurred at the beginning of the treatment when the port would not flow both ways.  It would allow fluid to flow in, but it would not allow blood to be drawn out.  For many reasons, that is a bad thing.  For about ten minutes Jacquie carefully tried several different approaches to get the device to work. Of course, it finally did and it was a big relief.  After Jacquie set everything up, we met with Dr. Smith and had several more questions answered.  Then, for the next two hours, Christie had her first treatment.  She did very well and even now (in the evening) she is feeling like herself.  I realize that this is only the beginning, but it is a great beginning and God provided for us throughout every phase of the day. 

Our next stop was at Dr. Monson's to have him look at how she has been healing.  He gave Christie an A.

Thanks again for praying for us.  And thanks to my mom and the friends who helped this be a big day for our children as well. 

Wednesday, January 18th.  There have been some great happenings over this past week.  At the top of the list is the inconceivable truth that my wife is not nauseated.  Based on her seven previous experiences with pregnancy nausea, we had anticipated that sometime in the middle of January she should be feeling better.  Well, so it happened.  That is a great blessing from God.  Consider it, will you, for a moment how it might feel to be nauseated for weeks on end. There is that consistent sense that things in one's middle are about as stable as Plutonium. (I know there are some enduring mothers who know this too well.)  And then, one day, it's over.  What great relief!  That is what Christie is experiencing this week.  It is perfect timing and we thank God. 

Another significant thing occurring this week is the strange relief my wife is experiencing that she is finally going to begin chemotherapy on Friday.  That sounds odd.  However, the daily dread of anticipating this day has been a burden in itself.  As bad or good as chemotherapy may be, she is glad that the waiting is over.  So, when she told me on Tuesday that she felt actually quite encouraged about Friday, I figured it must be because it was finally here.  I also pondered that her attitude is likely a direct function of God's work in her heart and mind as a direct function of her friends and family praying for that very thing.  Thanks for praying for my wife. 

 Just to remind those of you who want to know, this is what the next year looks like for Chris.  She begins a six-treatment cycle of Adriamycin and Cytoxan on Friday.  Those doses are scheduled for every three weeks.  In early February we are hoping to get a picture of the baby with sufficient detail to determine if he is a he or she is a she.  Then, at the end of May, the young Turnbull is going to be persuaded to arrive four weeks early.  About one week after delivery, Christie begins a weekly regimen of Taxol and Herceptin.  The Taxol lasts through the end of August.  The Herceptin lasts for one year.  Sometime in June she will also have a full MRI to find out if and where the cancer has traveled in her body. The big concerns during these treatments are nausea and especially blood levels and infections. In light of all that, we ask you to pray for God's strengthening of Christie through this time and for her health to endure these treatments.   And please pray for our baby.   Thank you to so many of you who have been so committed to pray for us.  

Monday morning I came into the living room to find that "the boy" had again raided the utensil drawer and was marching in circles on the carpet, chanting and grunting.  This kind of behaviour is so variously interpreted depending on which parent is giving an opinion. Christie calls this the "spoon dance." I think it is actually swordplay disguised (for Mom's sake) as a yearning for culinary experience. He has to keep his cover.  If his mom knew that he was actually dreaming of slaughtering Barbarian invaders, she would move all of the spoons and spatulas out of the drawer--and those are the sharpest objects to whichthe innocent child currently has access.   As it is, he is surrounded by girls who think that when you play with little playmobil people on horses that you are supposed to make noises for the people!  His sisters actually have the people talk to each other while they are playing. In the words of Hank the Cowdog: "Huh?"  They've got it all wrong. The point of playing with people and horses is to make the noise of the horse!  Even though he can't yet articulate it, he knows there is a whole lot of reeducation that needs to go on around here when he comes of age.  
 

Wednesday, January 11th.  The really amazing thing about the suffering and death of Christ is that it shows the power of God.  How could the fact of the Son of God being beaten and excoriated and humiliated and shamefully killed be considered as evidence of the power of God?  If we put ourselves in Jerusalem on the day of His death, what do we see?  We see the Man whom most considered to be a prophet sent by God being rejected by the trusted religious establishment, being handed over to the hateful Romans for torture, and being then severely scourged, violently ridiculed, spat on, punched, scorned and then displayed in that condition for all to see by Pontius Pilate. Furthermore, He is then paraded through Jerusalem carrying his cross to bederided by the people.  Finally, He arrives at Golgotha and--in what appears to be the complete triumph of evil over good, and thus the end of anything like hope or goodness or truth for His followers--He is nailed to a cross and set to die a slow and ugly death. 

Consider how that must have appeared to us if we had been there.  Wouldn't we, who believe Him to be the Son of God, be compelled to conclude that we had been wrong?  Wouldn't we be forced to conclude that our view of God was mistaken?  Surely God would do something to stop such treatment.  Surely God would not allow His Son to be so abandoned to the powers of the world and of evil.  Certainly, as we look on Christ bleeding and suffering, we can not say that this is the work of God!  For us to turn to one another in those hours of the crucifixion and say, "God is being glorified and the Kingdom is triumphant right now" would seem to be one of the most ridiculous utterances that the human mouth has ever spoken.  But that is the tremendous thing about that day. 

To all appearances it was the ultimate triumph of evil over good.  This sinless Man who rightly deserved the thanks and worship and kindness that all humanity could bestow received instead the fiercest hatred and malice that the world could summon.  And God allowed the world to do that to Him.  In fact, He did not just allow it, it was, as Peter said (in Acts chapter two) completely in accordance with "the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God."  To me, that is the truly remarkable thing about God and His ways.  He uses this seemingly hopeless day to create the greatest hope that men can enjoy.  He trumps the evil of Pharisees and Roman governors by allowing them to have their way with His Son, knowing all along that they are merely doing precisely as He willed.  He shows appearance to be what it so often is, a lie and a cheat that keeps men from believing the truth.  He shows evil to lack the fangs it boasts and he manifests that Good--though sometimes hard to discern in the midst of a fallen world, though sometimes quiet in the jangle of earthly noise--rises surely and inexorably over all and, like the sun breaking through a sullen, cloudy sky, blazes supreme over earth and heaven.  He takes the darkest malignity that corrupt society can foist upon one Man and uses it to effect the salvation of the world!  That is the power of God. 

Without the eyes of faith we look at the cross amiss.  We see defeat and death.  In reality, it is victory and unconquerable Life.  When Christ dies on the cross, it is not merely a man wrongly accused, tragically suffering.  It is God, taking on human flesh, and suffering in our stead, for our own sin, and in so doing, granting us new life.  Who else, but God, can receive the wrath of the world into Himself and use that very wrath to fashion ultimate mercy?     If we are not going to follow the God who can do and has done this, who else will we entrust our lives to?  Where else shall we go for hope?  To whom shall we turn?  He alone has the words of eternal life. 

Tuesday, January 10th.  This morning Christie had another meeting with her physical therapist, Annie.  Annie has been a Barnabas to Christie over the past two months.  If it weren't for her, my wife would really have no idea how fast or slow a person should recover from surgery; she would have no sense of how much or how little progress she was making with her arm.  But because of Annie, my wife has wise perspective on what to expect from her arm and has been encouraged every week that her arm is gaining strength and motion (which it is).  Today, Chris went into Annie's office and raised her arm way over her head and Annie's eyes almost leapt clean out of their sockets with amazement.  She was stunned.  As she has so many times, she sincerely encouraged my wife.  We are grateful for her work and also to God for His work in my wife's arm and life.  It is another evidence of God's mercy that He imparts strength to those who need it. 

Thursday, January 5th.  With the passing of the first week of the new year our focus is on preparing for the start of chemotherapy on January 20th.  It is grim reading to survey all of the possible side-effects of the various chemotherapy drugs as well as the drugs that are taken to help alleviate some of those effects.  It is a sort of side-effect of the side-effect effect and it leaves a person feeling like they must climb the side of the Grand Canyon without a rope . . . and with only one arm.  It's not that it cannot be done; it is that it seems overwhelming.  From Christie's perspective this is one of the biggest deals in her life.  She looks ahead to four months of Adriamycin and Cytoxin, then a childbirth, then three months of Taxol and that all starts sounding a lot like the valley of the shadow of death or like battling a man whose "height is six cubits and a span" and who carries a spear the size of a weaver's beam.  I cannot believe how well she is bracing herself for this.  God is obviously giving her grace, but part of His grace is to allow us to suffer and need Him more than otherwise. 

It is reminiscent of the time when the Lord led the people of Israel through the desert and had them camp at Rephidim where "there was no water for the people to drink."  Of course He knew that there was no water there and He brought those thirsty people to that spot to camp on purpose.  To them it appeared that He had misled them or abandoned them, or at the very least, it looked like it would be wiser to lead themselves than to follow the Lord.  They questioned Moses and bitterly accused him of trying to kill them.  Moses rightly pointed out that they were really testing the Lord.   This was their response to their severe thirst, but it was a thirst that God had intended. He allowed them to suffer so that they could see His mighty acts and know Him more deeply.  The Lord told Moses to take his staff and the elders of Israel and stand at the rock of Horeb.  "I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink."  And so God led them to a place where they would see that He is the one who satisfies the thirst of the thirsty.  They doubted Him.  He was faithful.  He satisfied their thirst, and He also revealed His grace and power to them in the process.  That is probably what they needed more than water.  Thanks for praying for us to look to Him during this waiting time. 

Here is a poem that our second daughter composed over Christmas.  I am pretty sure that William Wordsworth wasn't quite this good at age 10.

Swirling through the forest, the leaves in Autumn swarm.

Twirling like butterflies, they verily warn,

That snow will soon be coming, and Autumn then will leave.

And through the forest falls the snow, lighter than the leaves.

The snow is falling slowly, and the trees from snowloads sway,

Many tiny snowdrops make a burden for a pauser in their way.

The Autumn has glided away, the snowfall now has come.

Spring will be here any day, surprising anyone. 

Finally, on Tuesday night after dinner, the youngest girl came into my office while I was away.  When Christie looked for her, this is what she found. Christie tried her best to keep her in a state of slumber and transfer her to her bed, but it failed and a grumpy child replaced our daughter until she fell asleep again.  Anyway, we thought this picture was a classic.  
 

Monday, December 26th. It has been a monstrously long time since we updated this page.  We extend our thanks to many people.  First, to all of you who have prayed for us recently we are grateful to say that God has provided for my wife to be doing quite well.  This past week she has felt like a standard human being.  In fact, with avid glee, she told me last Thursday that she felt like a normal woman in her kitchen, helping her kids.  That is saying a lot given how shefelt just a few weeks before.  She does have some substantial nerve pain in her arm much of the time, but she is gaining back most of the range of motion and her strength is excellent.  And though Christie's normal pregnancy nausea rolled back in last month and continues to be a daily struggle, she has also experienced several days of relatively nausea-free time that would have resulted in cartwheels if only our living room was bigger.  In fact, yesterday (Christmas) my wife enjoyed the act of fixing dinner for her husband, her mother-in-law and her children.  Here is a pre-prandial action photo.

You should note several things in this photo. First, there is my uncanny talent for taking pictures that have some major element out of focus (in this case, my wife) or missing or (best of all) have people with eyes half-open as though in a hindic trance.  Second, the youngest child (the boy) in the picture is about to eat uncooked fowl for Christmas dinner.  Third, the sharp tablecloth was given to us by my sister for Christmas.  She could easily start a gift-buying business.  She has great talent.  Call her for gift ideas.

The second group of people we would would like to thank are all of those who have sent us money and presents, many even anonymously.  Thank you!  If one of your names is "Anonymous," I am talking toyou.  Last week we got back from one trip to Wenatchee to find two large garbage bags filled with presents for our children.  On another occasion, we found gift bags containing hand-knit scarves for our kids and Christie on our porch.  These are just two examples to illustrate the theme.  To all of those people in our church, to all of those who are part of the Leavenworth community, to all of those in far away places who have shown us kindness and encouraged us through your words and gifts: THANK YOU!  It is quite frustrating to figure out how to convey our thanks in some way that is satisfactory.  Merely saying "thank you" seems a parody.  But that is the primary tool we have and so that is what we are saying to you.  If only I could figure out how to relate the width and breadth of the kindness of God manifested through people to us; He is actually "rich in mercy." 

Of course, I have to talk about my favorite presents.  This year my mom gave me a book of Maynard Dixon's paintings that I have been drooling over for five years.  Dixon was a famous illustrator and a painter ofsouthwest landscapes.  In my opinion, he was a master of light and the tone of the desert.  Here are a couple ofexamples of his painting.

And from my wife, Iwas given The Art of Memory by Frances Yates, which is a survey of the system used by the Greeks, Romans and Medievals for memorizing very large quantities of material, sometimes entire books.  It is also a history of Western Culture along the way.  And Tom (a best friend from Cornerstone Bible Church) gave me Mere Discipleship, a book which he has been reading and thinking on for a few months.  I am hopeful that I can read them soon, but even if it takes me a several months I continue to believe that books are the best form of gift a person can give to another person.  Our house is a better place for the sole fact that we have some new books in it.  This is a philosophic truth my wife has a hard time grasping.  (Possibly it is because we have moved too many times in the past 15 years for there to be anything funny about another box of books.) She seems to think that value resides in a book only if one reads it within five years.  Just five years!  That is to miss the fact that some books make life better just as a function of theirpresence, similar to the benefit that having a life-sized statue of Alexander would bring to our living room.  Just having him in your house, presiding over coffee and conversation, would make it hard for one's friends to say things like "those Turnbulls are so modern and flighty."  Other books are worth the space they occupy until we require them when we get old and gray.  Others are waiting for the days when our children get older.  It is almost as if my wife thinks we could have too many!? To that, I say "Bah!"  Robert Southey, the poet, quipped that "old friends and old books are the best things this world affords."  It is pretty hard to argue with that.  So, I just gained three new friends for Christmas. 

One more highlight from this past week was the great Christmas tree hunt.  We like to go into the woods to find our tree and this year, because we were so late in getting it, we went just a ways up nearby Icicle canyon.  The best part of the outing was this picture I took of "someone" who looked exactly like our eldest. I can't quite remember precisely, but I think she waspretending to object to the idea of actually working hard in order to gather the tree and take it home, (she was actually happy to help carry it to the road).  It should be titled something like, "The Lady Rowena Properly Refuses to Touch the Tools of Tree-slaughter" or "Picture of a Lady in a Snowsuit with Saw and Backpack" or "Aspiration and the Forest."

In recent readings through the Old Testament, I have been re-impressed by the majesty of Isaiah's prophecies.  Brian O'Dell reminded us of this one:

Behold, the Lord God will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.   Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs, and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. --Isaiah 40:10-11

Friday, December 16th. This week contained no less than five doctor's appointments for my wife.  That seems like a bunch, but they are becoming somewhat routine.  We are thanking God for all of the kind families and grandmothers and aunts who have been spending time with our children while we have been in Wenatchee.  On Wednesday, Christie's had an ultrasound performed on her liver.  The liver is one of the classic places in which breast cancer can metastasize when it spreads.  Initially, when the image of her liver came on the screen, my wife was bordering on shock.  It was full of spots.  As her blood pressure rose, the technician explained that those spots were very normal and of no consequence.  (I guess all people are victims of the silent spotted liver affliction, a disease so insidious that it has absolutely no other symptoms and causes absolutely no health problems!)  Anyway, did you know that the liver is the largest organ in your body?!  That was a medical fact new to our family.  But Christie's liver looked perfect.  Thanks for praying for her.  Also, on a side note, while they were looking at her liver, the technician took some time to view her pancreas.  I do not lie when I tell you that the ultrasound specialist was so completely impressed by the perfection of Christie's pancreas that she exclaimed, "your pancreas should be in a textbook!"  Of all the things a woman could boast of, I will bet forty dollars none thought to be proud of their pancreas.  As it turns out, Christie should be broadcasting the perfection of hers to the 50 states. 

Today, Christie had her portacath flushed to keep it open for the upcoming chemotherapy treatments.  Her nurse, Jackie, was as considerate and kind as a person could be.  However, it was not a very comfortable procedure and the fact that there is a long road of lots of treatments and discomfort ahead has been weighing on my wife's mind.  I think it will be almost a relief to start chemotherapy so at least the unknown can become known and the anticipatory dread can cease. 

After her appointment we spent several hours in Wenatchee shopping for presents.  We enjoyed our afternoon together and returned home in the early evening to see that our once dignified house had undergone a material change.  In fact, we were not quite prepared for what we saw.  To give a little context, you should know that the day after Thanksgiving, the girls and I put up the Christmas lights on the outside of the house.  This included putting icicle lights around the top of the porch, some white lights around the dining room window and some classic-style colored lights down the fence.  Well, that was not all that was alight when we drove up this evening.  I took some pictures in case we decide to press charges on the culprits. 

Please note that there are an infinity of Christmasey items added to our original decorations.  Now, I would have to say that the garlands on the front of the porch, the added lights around the columns and the wreath on the porch possess their proportion of taste.  However, as we all know, there is a reasonable limit.  The human ear can only support a finite number of earrings.  The American house can only support a finite number of decorations and still retain its self-respect.  As of tonight, our house has exceeded that limit and if a house could weep, oh, how great would be its cry!  I wish I had recorded our comments and laughter in the car for posterity when we pulled up, so the secret decorators could know how supremely they had triumphed.  It had to be almost as satisfying as Marius' victory over the Barbarians. 

After we got over the initial shock, we stood in the street to get the full effect.  Of course, the most shameful element would have to be the light-up, inflatable snow man.  I cannot tell you how many times I have muttered biblical imprecations upon those things as we have driven past them during this season.  And now,  I HAVE ONE!  AAAAHHHHH!!!!  What must my neighbors think?  How can I look even one of them in the eye ever again?  

As I said, the most obvious element was the snow man.  But the crowning achievement of these conspirators took us a while to perceive.  You can barely see it in the picture above: there was some pause before it really hit us.  Here is a close up so you, too, can absorb the drama. 

That gold cherub/angel thing suspended by the white chain with the snowflake garnish has got to be the finest example of kitsch the world has ever seen.  Now, in a different context, it might actually "work."  But as a part of the montage on our porch, it only serves to herald the end of stateliness and dignity.  For this golden angel to appear in the same frame as the snowman from Wal-Mart must mean that Art is dead and that Western Civilization has finally been swallowed by consumerism.  I somehow think that those people who decorated our house did not intend to be quite so profound in their social commentary.  At the very least, I hope they do know we appreciated, and do appreciate it.  Thanks for brightening our porch and our day.  We know what it really means.  It really means that you love us. 
Tuesday, December 13th.  Throughout this season in the Turnbulls' lives we have been renewed in our strength and hope by remembering (over and over) the really important things.  For one, there is the bare fact that nothing really matters more than human beings.  As much as I love our house and our yard and the mountains and our old Subaru and the red rocks of Utah and the old desk in my office and certain 60's music,  all of that recedes into the background when something like cancer becomes a part of one's life.  I can't think of anything on the earth that is more important than my wife and our children and our family and friends.  I don't treasure anything on this earth more than those people.  Really, what could be more important than a person? 

But even more significant in our lives has been, and certainly now is, our relationship with God.  In some ways, going through a time like this resembles trekking through an August desert, or being put into an oven to bake at 375.  It cooks away all of the excess and nonessentials, and we are left to survive on what is really substantial.  I think you know how it is when you have been hiking or working outdoors all day in the middle of summer and the only thing you really want is the one thing you really need: water.  Americans spend a whole lot of time drinking soda pop, but that would not be the thing to give someone who issuffering real thirst..  At that moment of true need, there is nothing that tastes better than water.   This parallels the effects of this trial for us.  It makes our desires mirror our true needs.  We begin to want what God says we really need.  Instead of trying to draw nourishment from evanescent things like Herb Alpert's music, we are forced (in the good way) to find our delight and satisfaction and hope in the one thing that lasts forever and is unperturbed by small things like cancer: God Himself.  This fact makes the words of Christ in John 7:37 and 38 even more pointed: Jesus stood and cried out, "If any man is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.' "

It is during this season that we are reminded of the essentials that bring us spiritual life and hope in the face of death.  Here are some of the most important I know:

1.  That God created the world and everything in it and that because of that He has the rights (as all inventors and creators do) over what He made.  I belong to Him and Christie belongs to Him and He can (and should) do with our lives in accordance with the good purpose for which He made us.  As the Scripture says, "it is He who made us and not we ourselves." 

2.  That God, who made the world and us, has also mercifully revealed Himself to us.  He is holy and righteous and good.  This is the great hope of people living in an imperfect world (like you and me)! God is good and just and will ultimately make all things right.  His excellent character means that evil will not go unpunished and that suffering is not the end of the story, although it may be a significant part of the middle.   As the Scripture says, "proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!  The Rock!  His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He." 

3. That His goodness and righteousness are not only our one true hope but also the ultimate standard by which all men will be measured.  God's character is the pattern that we were made to imitate.  When we go astray from His ways and His goodness in the way we think or act or treat our neighbors, we are missing the mark and naturally guilty.  This going astray is what the Bible calls "sin" and has just as much to do with what we omit as what we commit.  For example, the Scripture says, ""You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."  In this excellent command I see God's goodness as well as my own breaking of that command. 

4. That cancer is a great metaphor of sin.  Cancer is a cell that is meant to be part of a larger organism, that decides to live for itself and grow at the expense of the organism.  In the same way, I have sinned personally against my Creator (ask my wife for details) and--it may be hard to believe-- Christie has also sinned.  In fact, the Scripture says, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  And just like cancer, something has to be done about sin.  It cannot be allowed to grow and prosper.  If it does it will kill whatever it touches.  That is why it makes sense when the Scripture says that "the wages of sin is death."  Death is a final separation, and sin will ultimately separate me forever from the people I love and God who made me.  This is probably the most culturally uncomfortable teaching in the Scriptures, that people like you and me will spend the rest of forever separated from God and everything that is good (since all good things come from ultimately from Him). But it is realizing the accuracy of this truth that allows us to even begin to really see another facet of God's goodness.

5. That God is merciful and kind beyond all comparison.  The wonder and scandal of the Scriptures is that they tell the story of a God who loved us so much that, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  Who would give his life for a friend?  Many heroic men and women have done so.  But the amazing thing about God is that He gave His life for His enemies.  Christ offered His sinless life in the stead of those who deserved to die because of their sin.  That's me.  And, to add to the wonder of this story, after His death (because He is God) Christ rose from death as the conquering Saviour.  Can you see how that is the decisive hope for the Turnbulls?  If Jesus Christ loved us so much that He would offer His life for ours, how will He not also be faithful to help and keep us through such a trial as this cancer? If Christ shattered death itself through the power of His own indestructible life, how can we refuse to have hope in the face of death?  

6. That God also mercifully applied these truths to our lives personally.  It wasn't just enough for us to know about these ideas.  We had to come to the point where we acknowledged that we had indeed ignored and disobeyed God and that we, personally, were rightly vulnerable to His righteous judgment.  Then we could actually see Christ not merely as some figurehead of a major world religion, but we could embrace Him as the living God who saves us and gives us life.  As the Scripture says, "God commands all men everywhere to repent."  That word, "repent" means to turn away from sin and to march toward God.  This all happened at a particular point in both of our lives.  It involved admitting to God our sin, and committing our lives to Him and thanking Him for His forgiveness.  That personal interaction with God has become a daily way of life.  Paul ideally describes this type of life (in the book of Galatians) when he says, "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me."   Of course, this is the very kind of life that we are seeking and that we seek for every one of our friends and family. 

On an unrelated note, we had a great birthday party for the oldest Turnbull girl this weekend.  Aunt Cathy (that's right, the Aunt Cathy) and her son Tyler (known as Ty-Ty to the kids in this house) and my mom (who has served her family so wonderfully this past month) all came to celebrate.  Here are some pictures from that very celebration.  (Note the striking Finnish wife in these photos.) 

                       

Friday, December 9th.  To all of you who were asking God to give us wisdom in our appointment today, we thank you for praying.  Our meeting with Dr. Smith, the oncologist, went magnificently.  After having consulted with the breast cancer Big Wigs (Where in the world did we get that phrase!? I'll have to look it up.   Maybe it is a reference to hairdos associated with the 60's in the vein of the Mod Squad) in Seattle, and some of the other cancer professionals in Wenatchee, she and we came up with a new treatment plan for Christie.  We are superthankful for the care with which Dr. Smith has approached our case and for the insightful advice of the doctors in Seattle.  In order to maximize the effectiveness of using Adriamycin and Cytoxin to attack any other Her2neu cancer cells or tumors that might be covertly growing somewhere else in her body, it is ideal to follow that with another type of medicine called Taxol.  The "A and C" are proven to be safe during pregnancy.  The Taxol is definitely not.  Here is the tension: we want to have the chemo start as soon as we can so as not give any cancer cells the freedom to grow, but if the A and C is started too early, it will mean the break between it and the Taxol will be too long, thus neutralizing the effectiveness of the sequence.  Dr. Smith worked out a way to resolve much of this tension. 

Here is the new plan.  Christie will receive six doses of A and C every three weeks, beginning on the 20th of January.  Dr. Pitts, our obstetrician from the Light Fantastic, has wisely proposed that our baby (as of yet unnamed) could be delivered early.   After the delivery, Christie would begin treatments of Taxol and Herceptin (which, by the way, has been in the news yet again this week).  This plan allows for the maximum doses of A and C and also permits the Taxol to begin in quick enough succession to maximize its potency.  We are very encouraged by this plan.  At the tail end of the appointment, Christie and I were able to visit the place where her chemotherapy will be administered and had the chance to meet some of the nurses there.  That was one more step in removing some of the dread out of the prospect of chemotherapy.  Thank you again and again for praying for us. 

Wednesday, December 7th. Christie's current medical schedule has included two visits to Ann, her physical therapist, in order to restore the normal range of motion to her arm after surgery.  Ann has been uber-competent and encouraging.  In fact, today Ann kept saying, "Wow, I can't believe it!  You are doing so well!"  After only two days since her first appointment (on Monday) Christie has gained 14 degrees of motion in her worst rotation.  Now, one could say that is due solely to the diligence of my wife in performing her prescribed exercises.  But we are not fooled.  We know that is part of the story; the other secret side of the story is that God is mercifully strengthening her as she heals.  Thanks again for praying.  Her appointments with Ann are a highlight to her recovery.  Additionally, the fluid that was such a factor last week continues to be a decided nonfactor this week.  The pressure on her shoulder is steadily minimal and that, too, is hopeful. 

Meanwhile, we are waiting for a meeting with Dr. Smith on Friday to discuss the treatment options and ask our catalogue of questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the various plans for types and sequences of chemotherapy.  We are looking forward to that time.  Fortunately, Dr. Smith is a great question answerer.  Perhaps that meeting will lead to a visit to the Seattle doctor.  That is one of the many things we are wondering right now and look forward to discovering.  On the one hand we are eager to begin any treatment that would disrupt any cancerous activity that might be occuring unknown to us in Christie's system.  Waiting seems dangerous from that vantage.  On the other hand, we are beginning to understand that which treatments and when, and which drug follows which, may be as crucial to effective treatment as timing is.  At any rate, we are enjoying this week as our kids' lives are gaining more normalcy and Christie is feeling better.  To God be the glory for that very routine but blessed state of affairs. 

Monday, December 5th.  Newsflash!  Late this afternoon, as I was working on material for my classes, my wife informed me that the "egg" on her shoulder is improving.  This is quite remarkable.  Over the course of the weekend she was getting more and more pressure building up in her shoulder and was completely certain that she would need to see the surgeon tomorrow or Wednesday to have it aspirated.  In a sudden turn of events, today her shoulder actually feels better.  Whatever happens tomorrow, we thank God for answering our (and many others') prayers regarding this very thing.  Thank you for praying! 

I cannot understand how it is that God shows us such kindness through our church and the churches and the people in this valley and the people in America.  As I think about the people in Pakistan who are still suffering so extremely from cold and hunger and lack of shelter from the big earthquake this fall, I realize that even though my wife has serious cancer, our sufferings are not the worst.  And even so, God has daily shown His care for this family in regular installments of encouragement from His word and warm meals and generous gifts and notes to my wife.  I could not imagine navigating this storm without the provision of a sovereign God and the people He brings into our lives.  Events like this shred the delusive ideal of the independent, self-made, gun-t0ting, cigar-chewing loner who needs only his one-eyed dog and his Colt in order to overcome impossible odds all by himself to rule the West.   The problem with that picture is that it doesn't work.  We, frankly, could not make it without Jesus Christ.  We also could not make it without our family and friends. And so we find in times like this that a one-eyed dog is not much help.

All that a season of suffering like this does for me is to show me in practice what God's Word (the Bible) has all along been speaking as truth.   Virtue has more to do with living humbly in a community than living proudly apart.  It is almost as if we were made to need each other.  As the Scriptures say: If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.  Now you are Christ's body and individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12:26, 27). 

Friday, December 2nd.  Can you believe it is December already?  For that matter, can you believe that 2005 is almost over?  Each year at about this time, I finally adopt the correct year when writing the date on my checks at the store and then the number changes again!  Is it just my perception, or is someone giving vitamins to the calendar?  I had intended to give the question about the passage in the book of James just a day to percolate in our minds, but it is suddenly Friday and I have not picked up the thread.  Thanks for your patience.  Before we reflect on that passage from God's Word, let me tell you what has been happening with my wife. 

Today she saw Dr. Monson's partner to have the swelling on her shoulder drained again.  It became quite uncomfortable yesterday and seems to be collecting fluid fairly steadily.   After about two days it starts to build up quite a bit of pressure and makes part of her arm numb and the surrounding area hurt.  Thankfully, the doctor was able to remove that excess fluid and she was considerably relieved.  He also said this was every normal.  As Christie was telling me in the car, that swelling is the worst after-effect of her surgery and she can't believe it.  She was prepared for much worse.  Her recovery has been swift and she has had so much less pain than the surgeon had predicted as likely.  Thanks be to God for giving my wife strength after surgery and answering prayer. 

We heard from Dr. Smith, the oncologist, on Wednesday.  During our meeting with her last week we had requested the opportunity to get a second opinion on the proposed chemotherapy regimen before we embraced it as "the plan."  Graciously, she offered to contact the breast cancer specialist at the University of Washington to consult with her about the proposed treatment.  When she called on Wednesday, it was to bring us news of their conference.  As you know, the original plan has been to begin chemotherapy on December 16th and continue it for the ensuing four months.  Then, the proposal was to follow that with Herceptin for 52 weeks.  The oncologist in Seattle had another idea.  She thinks it would be wise to consider a later start date (in third trimester of pregnancy) for the chemotherapy and then after the boy or girl is delivered, to follow with another, very potent type of medicine called Taxol.  We are thankful to have received a second opinion, not because we are going to adopt it blindly, but because it allows to see that there are several approaches to treating Christie's cancer and there is some time to make a careful decision.  We will likely meet with the oncologist in Seattle in a couple of weeks to have a consultation and have our many questions addressed.  In the meantime, Dr. Smith is handling our case very professionally.  Please pray for us regarding this meeting in Seattle and that we would have direct wisdom from God (who gives to those who ask of Him) to consider all the pertinent questions and options.  Thank you.

The medical theme to our daily lives seems to be widening its scope as time goes by.  I hadn't realized that our kids have latent powers as paramedics, but, as you will see, they really do. 

In the past few weeks, our six year-old has been developing a preference for Altoids breath mints.  (This is not an advertisement for Altoids.  Neither I nor my wife are related to Collard or Bowser or their company employees or their subsidiaries.)  She likes the classic tin that they come in and she also savors the look and feel of having some mints in her purse and popping one into her mouth at will.  That tin of Altoids often gets misplaced and spends periods of its life at random locations throughout the house, even, at times, in places that the one year-old boy who lives here likes to frequent.  Perhaps you can see it coming.  At about 11:00 a.m. this morning, the eldest raced into my office in a 3/4 panic.  She had our son stuffed under her arm like she was toting her pillow, his head and legs were bouncing up and down as she ran in.  "He has an Altoid in his mouth!" she shouted first to me and then to her mother.  Due to the years of experience of overreacting to "emergencies" we both looked at her for a few seconds like the townspeople did at the boy who cried wolf.  Unjaded by so many false alarms, however, our 10 year-old rocketed off the floor and had her hands in his mouth before her feet had hit the ground.  She performed the classic finger sweep three times and had every particle of Altoid mint out of his mouth and onto my favorite office rug before the parents had fully engaged the situation.  If he had truly been choking, I have no doubt that our son could not have received better care from Dr. Brackett (think "Emergency").  After our son was out of "danger" his ambulance dropped him like he was a sack of grain and left the office to go eat.  The ten year-old returned to her schoolwork on the floor.  Our son got up, looked at his mother, looked up at me, and as though he were trying to say, "Dad? What was that all about?" remarked "Baaa,  Daaa," and left the room with a sly smile. 

By the way, as I was writing this installment I was actually listening to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Isn't it great!  If you read the entry for November 21st, you know that there is some significant disagreement between my wife and I over the relative value of Herb Alpert's music.  I was subject to endless hours of Herb in the car (on the 8-track tape player) as a child and grew to love the lazy sound of his trumpet and his snappy arrangements.  My wife, by contrast, finds no nostalgic associations warming her heart when she hears him and--if you can comprehend this--actually prefers not to hear his music.  If you, like me, recognize real art when you hear it, feel free to encourage my wife to rethink her position by sending your insights to polycarp65@verizon.net.  Now, on to something that really does matter.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing ofyour faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  This passage from James, chapter one, in the New Testament naturally gives rise to many questions.  One of them, I raised on Tuesday: How can God command us to find joy in suffering when it is the very thing that seems to vanquish joy?  First, we need to at least acknowledge that God is actually commanding us to rejoice in the midst of trials.  Even if on this side of death, we cannot make full sense out of it, it is clearly a command of God and as such deserves our trusting obedience.  If I only obeyed those commands that I could wrangle thorough sense out of, I wouldn't be trusting God;  I would be forcing Him to accommodate to my understanding.  But because He is our good God, we can trust that His commands are for our good and are, in themselves, good and thus reasonable to obey. 

Second, we are given a reason to rejoice in the midst of trial.  Indeed, we are to consider the encountering of the trial a joy in itself, but that becomes reasonable and possible as we see the ultimate effect that various trials can work in our lives. Endurance and maturity is that effect..  It is an obvious truth that human muscle tissue develops in direct proportion to how much resistance it encounters.  As a man learns to lift a weight that is initially painful or uncomfortable to lift, he grows in strength.  In the same way, a young mind that must repeatedly work over and over on a set of math problems in order to finally grasp and solve them actually grows in the process.  It appears that God has constructed the universe in such a way that real growth does not really occur but by overcoming difficulty and pain.  The child who refuses to apply himself to math problems that are initially beyond his understanding will find that he is not growing in his understanding.  The man who never works harder than is initially comfortable will never become stronger.  So, this verse shows the reader that God cares more about endurance and maturity than temporal comfort.  In fact, He teaches us that any comfort that is not a function of real maturity is actually not real comfort, but a deceptive substitute.  The glorious hope found in this passage, and the one we have been thinking about over this past month, is that God brings trials into our lives in order to make us better than we ever would feel comfortable becoming.  He is producing endurance in our lives and there is only one way to acquire that precious trait and that is through suffering.  He is seeking to make us what we were created to be, complete and perfect in Him and there is only one road to that destination and that leads straight through a valley of trials.  It is not as though my wife's cancer is a detour from the rich life of finding joy in Christ; it is  theroad to that rich life for us.  This passage of the Bible, liketrials themselves, runs us right up to the foot of one of the big, towering questions every person must answer. What am I going to live for?  What makes life, real life?  If we follow the logic of the Scriptures, we soon see (through the life and teachings of Christ and the lives of His disciples) that real life is not about being comfortable, it is about growing in our capacity to see and hear and know God, Himself.
 

Monday, November 28th.  Tonight I updated the information in the section on Christie's Current Treatment.  Here it is:

On Friday, November 18, Christie had a modified radical mastectomy.  After her surgery, the pathologists analyzed the tissue and lymph nodes removed during surgery to determine how far the cancer had spread and what treatment will need to be considered.  The results showed that Christie had another, larger tumor in her breast that had gone undetected.  For that reason we give thanks to God that our son or daughter in utero made a mastectomy the only option, since it was exactly what was warranted by the progress of the cancer.  The tests also clearly showed cancer in three of the seven lymph nodes that were removed.  All of these features taken together put her cancer at Stage II.

These lab results indicate that Christie will need to receive six doses of chemotherapy.  They will commence on December 16th.  The chemotherapy will be administered every three weeks.  Over theyears, these specific types of chemotherapy have (amazingly) been used on pregnant women with no adverse effects on their babies.  That is what we are praying for.  After the chemotherapy is completed, she will start a regimen of Herceptin, which is an antibody that inhibits the growth and division of cancer cells.

Now, here is the rest of today's thoughts:  Over the past several days, Christie's shoulder has begun to swell considerably and is quite uncomfortable.  We are visiting the surgeon again tomorrow afternoon to have him decide how things are progressing.  We also worked to begin a series of appointments with a physical therapist to assist her in gaining back the full use of her arm.  Thankfully, Christie has been sleeping fairly well.  What a gift sleep can be.  If you are a parent you know exactly what I am talking about.  I never knew as a teenager, bachelor, or young married man how privileged I was as a member of the class of human beings who could sleep at will.  How many years of nights did I waste in reckless, thankless slumber, never realizing that just being able to close one's eyes and doze for an uninterrupted chain of hours is one of the good and perfect gifts that comes down from above.  How many naps did I actually take and enjoy to the fullest when I was young?  O, my wasted youth.  After our first baby was born, my eyes were (as you might guess) opened in both the metaphorical and literal senses.  Now, several children later, I usually do not forget to be thankful for those nights that have the look and feel and duration of real sleep.  In fact, there have been times when sleeping actually seemed more compelling than other normally premier attractions like eating or reading.  I never thought a person could thirst for sleep, but all mothers and fathers know it by experience. 

Last night, my wife and I spent a while constructing some schedules for the Turnbull kids' school subjects and chores.  Naturally, Dad and kids are going to absorb (and have been absorbing) the many responsibilities that Mom carried everyday.  I had a briefing with the troops at 0800 hours.  They were willing and cheerful and have been adjusting not only to this new schedule, but also to every bump and change of direction that this situation has introduced with great fortitude.  I am quite proud of them.  Of course, they have their moments of feeling overwhelmed by everything, but they have acclimated so well I have to conclude that many of you have been praying for them and that God is answering their parents' prayers that this trial will allow them to see and know and trust God like they never could otherwise.  Thanks again for praying for us.  Please pray particularly that my wife's shoulder will heal and that we would all be prepared for the hardships that come with chemotherapy.  Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. --Psalm 73:25-26

Here are two pictures captured this afternoon as our son submitted to his first ride in a girl-drawn sled.

Saturday, November 26th.  We really want to find out if this baby is a girl or boy, because we are overready to give the child a name.  That will be a break from tradition since we have appreciated the suspense and anticipation that not knowing brings to the last stages of being pregnant.  (I personally don't know what it is like to be pregnantbut I have been around a pregnant lady for many years.)  Our three-year old has related to us repeatedly that this baby is actually "Olivia."  That is a great name but it might not fit a boy.  Besides, it seems obvious that this baby needs a very meaningful and heroic name.  If you had to endure your mother's surgery and chemotherapy while you were being formed in her womb, you would have already conquered much by the time of your delivery.  It seems inappropriate and lacking in dignity to allow a baby who is the companion of so much of my wife's suffering to be called "him or her."  It is akin to Paul having to call Timothy(his fellow-sufferer for the sake of the gospel) "that guy."  Therefore, we are keen for the day when we learn if "he or she" is "him or her" and we can bestow a fitting name on thisyoung Turnbull whose very life will be an evidence of the strength that God gives to the people He makes. 

 Friday, November 25th.  I was thinking yesterday about all of the reasons why we should give thanks to God on Thanksgiving.  One of the most significant is that we get to be together.  It might be just me, but as I get older, the more simple, mundane things that are a part of each day--things like sharing a meal together as a family--show themselves to be actually some of the greatest gifts of God.  And it is partly tragic that those daily things are the very blessings we often skip when it comes to genuinely giving thanks.  It should be obvious that we did not skip thanking God for the honor of being together as a family yesterday (or today).   My mom did a first-rate job in hosting our family and my sister and her boyfriend for dinner.  Mom, if you are reading this, thank you.  By the way, Kenny introduced all of us to an ancient Chinese secret.  For truly delectable mashed potatoes (called Mashies by our third daughter) add an entire head of cauliflower to the potatoes when you boil them, then mash them up together.  You may be a skeptic (as we all were) but we our palates were given a meteoric ride through the milky way galaxy at light speed by those potatoes.  If you have a mind, you have to try them. 

One of the other reasons we have been thanking God is that He has done something quite unusual during this pregnancy.  In each of the previous seven pregnancies, Christie has been exceedingly nauseated for the first four or five months.  This feature has made her eagerness to mother more children even more admirable.  Some women waltz through pregnancy.  Christie has to climb uphill through it.  But she does so very steadfastly.  Anyway, in a suprising shift, she has experienced almost no nausea this time.  Now if you were used to feeling like throwing up every day for months on end as standard procedure, and then you didn't, it would be somewhat startling.  It was actually alarming.  That is why she requested an early ultrasound, because she concluded that if she was not nauseated, something must be wrong with the baby.  However, several ultrasounds (as well as all of the other classic symptoms) have shown that she is very pregnant and that the baby is growing as he or she should.  So, our conclusion has been that Jesus Christ has once again shown tender-kindness to my wife in the midst of a difficult situation.  That is another remarkable thing for which we directly thank God.   

Wednesday, November 23rd.  It might sound trite because we have stated it so often, but we are really grateful for you all who are praying for us. We really mean it.  Thank you. 

Of all the afternoons in November thus far, this was one of the biggest.  At the first appointment with Dr. Pitts, he and Lisa (who has always treated my wife so professionally and compassionately) performed an ultrasound on the baby.  It was a great show.  We were naturally very enthused to see his or her heart beating and we were able to see that baby seem to be preparing for an upcoming fight in the boxing ring.  See the action shot of young Turnbull to the left, taken just today! 

Our meeting with Dr. Monson was very informative and we were once again thankful that he has been our surgeon and advisor over the past few weeks.  If you need some kind of organ removed, he should be your first call.  Subsequent to examining Christie's stitches, etc. he declared that she was healing splendidly.  Thanks be to God for that.  Then he spent lots of time thoroughly explaining the results from the pathology report.  (I, personally, was thankful that we did not have to wait longer than today to get that report.)  The lab results showed that the one lump that had been discovered and biopsied was actually the smaller of two tumors.  The other had been undetected.  Dr. Monson expressed emphatically how grateful he was that she had had a mastectomy.  If she had not been pregnant, then the normal treatment would have been to remove the lump and do radiation or chemotherapy.  That means if she had not been pregnant, that she would be walking around today with a cancerous tumor.  What many may consider a complication to cancer treatment (that human being in my wife's womb) is actually the person God used to force the very kind of treatment that was best for both mother and child (and husband and children, and family and friends).  One could label that serendipity or one could recognize the kind, sovereign hand of our Creator in the midst of this difficult situation. 

Dr. Monson went on to articulate that Christie had many examples of precancerous tumors throughout the tissue he removed in surgery and that, most significantly, several of her lymph nodes were cancerous.  That was the most weighty feature of the report.  It means that it is within the realm of possibility that cancer cells have at least traveled to other parts of her system.  This puts her breast cancer in a much more serious stage than earlier assumed. Our doctor spent a great deal of time with us answering questions and explaining details.  Thank you, Dr. Monson, for your superior service to me and my wife.  Strangely, Christie was relieved by this report; she was bracing herself for even a more advanced appearance of growth to the cancer.  Not surprisingly, I was fairly flattened by the news.   

Our meeting with Dr. Smith, the oncologist, was quite informative, especially in regard to the details of the planned treatment.   Her dedication to helping people with cancer is evident in her thorough knowledge of her field.  From her we learned what duration and effects the chemotherapy would likely assume and had so many questions answered that Christie was again relieved. 

So many people have called us this week and prayed for us and provided meals and written cards.  We are very unable to answer them all, but are thankful for every gesture.  Please pray with us that we would trust God everyday, as each day comes, and that our kids would see God's goodness and His excellence, even through (and because of) this difficulty.  We know that we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:7).   

 Tuesday, November 22nd.  Thank you again for praying for Christie.  She has struggled with increased numbness and swelling near her shoulder, but she has not had to take any medication at all for the entire day. 

We look forward to tomorrow.  While our kids get to spend lots of time with their Aunt Cathy (who has simultaneously telecommuted to work and helped our family motor along smoothly), we will be in Wenatchee for three appointments.    First, we will have an ultrasound to see how the baby is doing.  This is the first ultrasound since the surgery and we are eager to know how young Miss or Master Turnbull is getting along.  Second, we will meet with Dr. Monson who performed the surgery and he will assess Christie's recovery and remove some bandages.  We think and hope that he will also have at least a preliminary pathology report to discuss with us.  Of course, this will be definitive in terms of knowing how extensive the progress of the cancer is.  The comforting thing is that God already knows how extensive (or not) the cancer is.  He is working out His plan in our lives and He only asks us to trust Him.  Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation (Isaiah 12:2).  Our third appointment is with the oncologist, Dr. Smith (not to be confused with the famed doctor friend of Will Robinson).  I assume we will also be discussing the report with her. 

A highlight of the day for Christie and me was sitting in the dining room watching our son eat.  Only a child's parents can find deep pleasure in simply watching that child consume apple slices and Cheerios.  At one year-old, his greatest tricks have mostly to do with eating.  Actually, he can also play the piano quite well, only with some adjustments to normal technique.  He usually plays standing up on the piano bench.  And, he does not obey the normal rules of tonality.  It is almost as if he has no real concept of key.  Hmmmm.  We have a new appreciation for the simple pleasures of being together and being with our children as they grow. 

Monday, November 21st. Besides a few really satisfying naps throughout the day, Christie had lots of time with her family.  Several highlights of the day included clean hair, more substantial meals, fewer Tylenol, and playing the piano.  That's right, Mrs. Turnbull played the piano . . . with both hands! To her husband, the rapidity of her recovery seems incredible, and being able to play the piano three days after surgery appears certifiably miraculous. 

The oldest Turnbull girl has been spending several evenings a week in rehearsal for Leavenworth Summer Theater's production of It's a Wonderful Life.  Proud of her daughter, Christie wanted me to include the link to the promotional for that play on the Leavenworth website.  Here it is:  http://www.leavenworth.org/  Just scroll down to see an action photo of her as George Bailey's daughter. 

The funniest thing that happened today occurred this afternoon as I was working at the couch in my office.  Christie was sitting next to me and our three year-old was playing a computer game for children.  As I was attempting to concentrate on my work, the "musical" background for the game was making work a bit like trying to split wood without an axe.  I began whispering my complaint to my wife through clenched teeth: "I suppose every child's computer game has to be accompanied by annoying sounds."  In an unusual moment of withering severity and acerbity, my wife skewered me with the following reply: "Any man who listens to Herb Alpertshould be comfortable with odd noises." I was temporarily paralyzed.  Odd noises?! Did she not realize that Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass were responsible for producing some of the highest expressions of culture in the late 60's and 70's?  Doesn't she know that Herb was the early seventies?  I am tempted to roll my eyes, but then I remember that my wife may yet be experiencing some vestigial effects from the anesthesia.  Someday she will come to see the profundity of my musical preferences.  At any rate, it was a great day and one marked by increasing strength and that is a gift from God. 

Sunday, November 20th. It would be hard to express how encouraging it is to be a part of the Body of Christ.  If not for other followers of Christ, the weight of this situation would be quite crushing.  For example, the people of our church, Cornerstone Bible Church, have spent so much energy getting things in place to help us on a weekly basis when and if chemotherapy begins and to see that the members of this family will not be nightly subjected to the culinary horrors produced by Dad in the kitchen.  As another example, the families in the Co-op where I teach in Wenatchee have provided the resources and avenue for getting weekly grocery items.  Additionally, my wife has received daily encouragement from friends and family across the country who are praying for her, and even from some people she has never met!   So many are being so generous with their prayers and time that we realize we are part of something much bigger than just cancer.  We see again that the greatest honour a human being can have is to be a recipient of the mercy of God and to be one of His servants and part of a story that is longer than our lifetimes and much more significant than our immediate comfort. 

Over the course of this day, Christie's discomfort has gradually decreased and she was able to stop taking the pain medications and just resort to Tylenol (this is not an advertisement; we actually used Safeway's generic acetaminophen [this is not an advertisement for Safeway, either]. It's not that we don't like either Tylenol or Safeway, it's just that we are not secretly receiving sponsorships from any pharmaceutical companies.  Christie is strictly an amateur drug user.)  At any rate, she is doing so remarkably well that we are thanking God for her great progress.  Thank you for praying.  Spending many hours with her children and sister and husband made this day a welcome change since she left for the hospital on Friday. 

Saturday, November 19th, 10:00 p.m. Yesterday was, naturally, a big day for our family.  Christie and I left early in the morning for Wenatchee as Aunt Cathy (Christie's sister)  was firmly and cheerfully established in the house as the Aunt-to-surpass-all-Aunts in caring for her nieces and nephew.  The preoperation preparations went smoothly with the exception of starting the I.V.  As though part of a subtle conspiracy against her equanimity, her vein collapsed in her wrist and so the nurse had to (according to the fateful phrase) "try again."  My wife looked at me with the look that a young goose gives to its mother as it is going with the farmer to "get ready" for Christmas dinner.  I tried to comfort her by talking about our son's recent antics.  It didn't quite work.  She knew I was trying a not-so-subtle distraction ploy I read about in one of my undergrad psych texts.  But she did ask me to pray, and the second attempt at the IV was very successful.  Shortly afterwards, Dr. Thomas, the anesthesiologist, came in to discuss the surgery and to spend some time praying for us.  That was a great reassurance.  Then Dr. Monson spent some time explaining in very clear and cogent terms what he was going to do.  I think the thing I like most about Dr. Monson is how much time he takes to teach his patients and to answer any questions they have.  He is outstanding, and not just as a teacher, thankfully. 

Meanwhile, there were so many people in our church and many friends and family members praying for us. I can't really believe it.  It is almost perplexing to consider why God would be so gracious to the people in this family by making us the point of so much prayer.  One of the things I can figure is that it is a sign of how God has mercy on human beings because He is actually rich in mercy.  That word "rich" is not just a stylistic textual enhancement.  It is the truth.  God is, in truth, rich in mercy.  And one of the great privileges of going through this trial that God has appointed for us is that we get to see the depth of the riches of His mercy firsthand.  I am sure that must have been at least part of the reason Paul rejoiced in his sufferings. 

Back to the surgery--while Christie was sleeping her way through the procedure, I was waiting in the aptly named "waiting" room.  Five of our best friends came to pass the time and pray for me and my wife and read from Isaiah and John.  It was excellent time.  After about an hour and a half, Dr. Thomas' nurse came to say that the mastectomy had gone very smoothly and that they were going to have time to put the "portacath" in for the chemotherapy.  Both portions of news were very welcome and what we consider direct evidence of God's kind answer to much prayer.  If they had not had time to put in the portacath, Christie would have had to have another surgical procedure and we are eager to avoid too much of that kind of thing for the sake of the youngest Turnbull.  (This summary is becoming a novella.  I must be more concise!)  Later, both Dr. Thomas and Dr. Monson came out to the waiting room to confirm that my wife (and baby) were doing well and that the surgery had been very successful.  Praise be to God! 

It was another hour and a half before Christie was out of the recovery room and in her hospital room.  It was, as you can imagine, great to finally see her. One of my favorite parts about my wife's appearance is her classic Finnish forehead.  I like it when she wears headbands, but early in our marriage (when she used to wear them) I made too big of a deal about how beautiful she looked and she got embarrassed and will rarely dare to wear one. Anyway, her hair was swept back, like a graceful wave retreating from a sandy shore and there was that elegant forehead.  Anyway, you can imagine, that I kissed it.  The romantic feeling that animated that kiss was, however, not fully appreciated by the recipient.  Not fully coherent, she gave me a sort of weak smile.  I interpreted it in the best possible way and proceeded to get her rendition of what she could recall of the morning.

Over the course of the afternoon and evening we (the nurses, doctors and me [as junior assistant]) tried to fine tune her medication to get ahead of the intense pain in her shoulder and arm.  I have to confess that the nurses didn't quite give me the kind of credence that someone who has watched as many episodes of "Emergency" (starring Randolph Mantooth) as I have obviously deserves.  I know what Ringers Lactate means! Hey! I may be a layman, but I am an educated layman!  People are nurses, too!  That pain was worst in the middle of the night, but one very clever nurse realized that some ice packs might give Christie some relief.  They worked, and she actually got some substantial sleep last night.  Every small and big blessing like that warrants praise to God.  We thank Him for providing expert, professional nurses and doctors to care for us. 

We were able to come home this evening and see six children who missed their mom (and Dad) very, very much.  Aunt Cathy and "Gramnda" Turnbull had done a great job of caring for them and it was so deeply satisfying for Christie to get to hug them, even if just with one arm for now.  Over the course of the day, my wife's pain has drastically abated.  Thank you again for presenting your requests to God for her sake.  We have an appointment scheduled with the oncologist on Wednesday and we should learn then what the extent and status of the cancer is.  That is the next big juncture.  But tonight we can look back and realize that God mercifully shepherded us through a hard stretch ofthis trial, and He did so with great faithfulness and in such a way that we got to experience His kindness.  
 

Thursday, November 17th:  Tomorrow morning (at 8:30) Christie will undergo her surgery.  We are thankful to have such a professional and concerned surgeon and to have our anesthesiologist friend involved in tomorrow's procedure.  The surgery will involve not only a mastectomy, but also the removal of some additional lymph nodes.  Before the surgery is over, the doctor will "install" a port in Christie's shoulder to make it more feasible to administer chemotherapy later on.  Of course, the insightful moment for us will come in the middle of next week when we learn what the pathology report shows about the extent of the cancer in the tissue and lymph nodes.  As God is willing, it will be small. 

From the Scriptures we know that God made us and knows the number of our days and the purpose of those days.  This truth feeds our minds with hope and our souls with comfort during what would otherwise be somewhat unbearable anticipation.  Moreover, God gives us other, more urgent things, to fill our attention besides fretting (as we are sometimes wont to do) over possible outcomes: Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.  Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing.  Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him; bless His name.  For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100).  Thanks very much for praying! 

Tuesday, November 15th:  Christie made another journey to Wenatchee today to have an echocardiogram.  The superior results from this scan showed that her strong Finnish constitution and beauty extends even to the very core.  She received this test in order to ensure that she might take one of the newer treatments specific to the Her2neu cancer type. 

When she returned, she found that her daughters had concocted a fruit salad for dinner that combined heretofore uncombined fruits in a montage of flavor that raised dad's eyebrows.  It was all motivated by pure love and a desire to "serve Mom by making dinner."  Regardless of the leftover cherry juice found on the floor and cupboards, it shows that Christie is already getting good care from her family. 

Monday, November 14th:  Today Christie had an appointment with Dr. Pitts, our very trustworthy obstetrician.  A new ultrasound showed the baby doing well and at about nine weeks.  He also plotted the date that Christie's pregnancy will enter the second trimester.  This allows us to set a target for the commencement of chemotherapy.    Dr. Pitts talked through some aspects of the surgery with my wife, which was very heartening.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness by night . . . For You, O Lord, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.  --Psalm 92:1-2, 4

For the word of the Lord is upright; and all His work is done in faithfulness.  He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.  --Psalm 33:4-5
 

In the middle of October, 2005, our family learned that we were expecting a new Turnbull!  For that, we give thanks to God.  The Turnbull girls were fairly thrilled.  The Turnbull boy just smiled, grunted and wanted more cheese. 

On the second of November we learned that Christie (the beautiful, youthful-looking woman on the far left in the picture--not to be confused with the other beautiful young women in that same picture) has breast cancer.  Of course, we were completely shocked, especially considering that with every child a woman nurses, her risk of that disease is reduced dramatically. 

After we had some time to comprehend what we had learned and pray and talk about it together and with our children, we have been encouraged to remember that God is not bewildered or distressed, and that "the Everlasting God, the Lord, [unlike us] does not become weary or tired."  Thankfully, we are not looking to our own strength or wisdom as the means of our endurance or the ground of our hope. 

You are likely reading this because you are one of our friends and are praying for us.  It is because of God's merciful answers to your and others' prayers that we are encouraged.  Thank you.  Already the people of Cornerstone Bible Church and many followers of Christ in our valley have so practically and sacrificially demonstrated the love that Christ has for His children very graphically to our family.  We can hardly express our thanks for each gift and kindness.

On this page we want to keep all of our family and friends supplied with the latest about Christie's diagnosis and condition as we walk through this valley together.  Below are some of the details.

If you would like to send a message to Christie you are welcome to do so at tutor.alexandria@gmail.com


Christie's Diagnosis:

Christie was diagnosed with invasive ductal cancer in November of 2005.   The type of cancer cells in the tumor were Her2neu positive.    Her2 is a type of protein receptor that naturally appears on the outer wall of a cell and aids in cell reproduction and growth.  Christie's cancer cells have too many of those receptorsand thus, the tumor cells tend to replicate and grow aggressively. 

Christie's Treatment: 

On Friday, November 18, 2005, Christie had a modified radical mastectomy.  After her surgery, the pathologists analyzed the tissue and lymph nodes removed during surgery to determine how far the cancer had spread and what treatment needed to be considered.  The results showed that Christie had another, larger tumor in her breast that had gone undetected.  For that reason we give thanks to God that our son or daughter in utero made a mastectomy the only option, since it was exactly what was warranted by the progress of the cancer.  The tests also clearly showed cancer in three of the seven lymph nodes that were removed.  All of these features taken together put her cancer at Stage II.

These lab results indicated that Christie needed two phases of chemotherapy.  The first treatments of Adriamycin and Cytoxan began on January 20th.  That chemotherapy was administered every three weeks and ended in early May.  On May 22nd one of the greatest miracles of our earthly lives occurred when Isabella Vivian was born four weeks early and in apparently perfect health!  For us it was like being with Moses during the exodus.  We were watching God's mighty work. Then my wife commenced her second phase of chemotherapy.  Beginning in the first week of June and lasting until the 25th of August, Chris received weekly doses of Taxol (poison derived from the bark of the yew tree) and Herceptin (not a chemotherapy, but an antibody that inhibits the growth and division of cancer cells).  Though the Taxol was finished at the end of summer, the Herceptin treatments will continue (back on a three week interval) until May of 2007.  

Finally, in early September Christie started daily radiation treatments.  These were complicated by some significant nerve pain and difficulty in positioning her arm for the radiation, but on October 9th, after 25 doses, she bid farewell to that phase of cancer treatment.  As we continue with the Herceptin, she is battling the longer-term side effects of chemotherapy and the challenge of caring for an arm that has no lymph nodes.  The next big event is an MRI in Seattle sometime in January. 

Thank you for your prayers.  We hope to keep this page up-to-date with essentials that will help you pray for her and us.