Come, Thou Long Expected Drip

Cancer is extremely inconvenient.  I am sure it is like this for all patients.  It is a wonder why the patients sounds a lot like patience.  For those that do not know, I teach high school math.  For all you teachers out there reading, you know how difficult it is for us to miss days.  It is so much easier for me to be at school than for me to be out.  The kids would probably tell you that as well.  One of the greatest things about living in the town that you went to high school and college in (yes I really did that and currently live about 100 yards away from the high school), is that you get to interact with the teachers and professors that impacted you through the years.  I remember a conversation from my 10th grade English teacher a while ago where we talked about missing school.  She said to me that there are so many little things that we do during the day that no one else really knows to do in our classroom.  I completely agree.  No one knows my classroom like I do.  No one knows that the AC/Heat only has two settings low and high and the medium is there to throw you off.  No one knows how to tap the side of the projector just right to get the light to pop on.  No one knows the perfect pathway to walk when passing out papers or how to not trip over the cords to my computer, overhead, and other such technology.  The point is that it is extremely stressful to miss school.  Cancer loves for me to miss school.  Last week I had to miss a half day just to be told that my white counts were low.  I rearranged the entire second half of the week just to help the students not get behind the goals I set out of them.  This week I had to do the same thing.  I am pretty sure I would be a fantastic travel, party, or convention planner.  I am working on a masters of business right now so that might not be a lost dream.  Lesson plans are rearranged and new lessons are thought up and its like a perfect puzzle to figure it out.  Our snow day this week helped too as it pushed a quiz to today that made my absence much easier.  God and the polar vortex helped out with that planning.  Yet again, Cancer is inconvenient.

I talked with one of my favorite MC professors this week as well (again the benefits of going to college in your home town).  Of course I also have to add that I have many favorite professors from MC.  As we were talking about our lives he asked me what word I would use to describe my experience so far.  That word was disruptive, which is what I have used before in my blog.  He shared with me an experience of his and used the word inconvenient to describe it.  I think that is a great word.  Inconvenient.  (You don’t know this but I have misspelled inconvenient each time I have typed it in this blog post.  I am a terible speler.)  When you hear Inconvenient, you immediately have that inner groan of disappointment.  And that’s how I want to describe my cancer now.  I remember the day I got the call from MEA with the news that my lymph nodes were enlarged.  My doctor said this, “I saw lymph nodes.”  He didn’t have to be specific.  Remember my father went through all this, I knew what seeing lymph nodes means.  I cried.  It wasn’t a cry because I was going to die.  It was crying from the inconvenience.  I knew there would be waiting and treatment and pain and waiting and treatment and so on.  I wanted everything to go smoothly and without a hitch.  That’s not life though is it.  That’s not cancer.  But how boring would that make life?  It is the spur of the moment changes and ebb and flows that make life worth living.

Chemo III happened today.  Not many patients in the waiting room either.  Blood work came back amazing.  My numbers were literally mountains compared to last week.  I was prepped and got my heavy dose of number killers.  And then came that last med.  The DTIC, which is a drip that takes about an hour to take.  Let me tell you guys, watching a drip is like watching water boil.  It never seemed to go down and every time a nurse came in to check it, they always seemed disappointed with the progress.  And of course I could hear the whistling from Andy Griffith in the main room.  It was just taking forever and the Benadryl was working its magic pretty good.  You can’t help but look at a drip and think patience.  I know other Cancer patients who have drips that take days to get out.  Thats incredible.  Talk about watching water boil.  I am humbled by this information.  The port intake drives me crazy for the few hours that it is in me.  I can’t imagine multiple days.  Plus that machine beeps a lot and I am not a fan of beeping.  I think it was from watching the drip and thinking about inconvenience and waiting that God spoke.

The Jewish people were watching the drip.  They were waiting.  Where was the Messiah?  The prophet Isaiah spoke of His coming.  And then it happened.  He came.  And you know what, it was inconvenient and it was disruptive.  It was disruptive, because Christ was not what was expected.  He was not some war driven king that took the nations by force, but a king who went to war for the hearts of people.  He was inconvenient.  He messed up schedules.  He messed up expectations.  He commanded that we do things like give up our desires and seek His kingdoms.  How inconvenient.  I have to remember that Christ allows me to go through inconveniences for His glory.  I have very little patience, but I am learning to be a patient.  I have so much that needs work and it takes something disruptive to make that happen.  It takes Christ.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.   – Charles Wesley

A few things that have come from me having to wait a week to get this chemo treatment:

1.  I got to record my last show for TV Talk Parenthood until Feb. 27 with lots of energy with my new good friend and cohost Axel.
2.  I got to be at the Mu Alpha Theta induction ceremony and eat lots of cake.
3.  I got to destroy another half rack of ribs from Sombra.
4.  I got to have Polynesian sauce on the way to chemo two weeks in a row.
5.  But the biggest thing of all is that because my schedule was so messed up, I got to rearrange a test that is supposed to be tomorrow.  Instead I get the absolute privilege to teach my favorite lesson all year tomorrow.  It is not really in the curriculum, but it combines two of my absolute favorite things: Disney and Math.  Tomorrow I will give a lesson on how ratio and proportions are used in theme park design.  You guess it.  I am talking about forced perspective tomorrow.  Minds will be blown.  And because I am losing hair, I will have ears on.  

Inconvenience.  How are you interpreting it?  Are you groaning or are you asking, “what do you have for me instead?”

(for the record, I continued to misspell inconvenience throughout the entire writing of this post)

Build Me Up Buttercup

Why do you build me up, just to let me down.  Here I am, the moment I have been waiting for.  It is time for round 3.  I planned ahead.  I have a sub coming to take care of my classroom.  I have assignments ready for me to be absent.  I ate all the bad stuff (candy) left on my desk so that I could start another week of salads and protein.  We arrived before time for the treatment and were asked back to a room instead of the chemo dock.  My doctor came in and broke the bad news.  I was not going to get chemo today.  Seems that my white counts were down and it would be pretty dangerous health wise for me to take chemo on top of that.  My bone marrow it seems needs another week to build up again.  So after talking and rescheduling, I will extend my cancer journey one week longer than expected.  Treatments will begin again next Thursday.
Expectations.  They really can kill you.  In relationships expectations are what cause the biggest fights. It was hard to not just sit there and weep over not getting the chemo treatment today.  I wanted to fight back and say, “I don’t care if my counts are low, give me the chemicals.”  But I know that God has a plan and He is not ready for the next treatment for me.  I have to accept that.  Unmet expectations can be the most frustrating situations in life.  It was really hard today to have unmet expectations.  This is probably why many relationships suffer when it comes to God.  We expect God to do this and that.  We expect our lives to be certain ways if we do our part in the relationship.  That is just not how life works.  God’s got expectations too.  I expected to get a chemo treatment today.  God expected me to leave without a chemo treatment.  He also expected me to buy 8 cowboy cookies and 6 mardi gras cookies from Broadstreet.  He expected us to go visit my own school Chastain and visit with some very dear friends of mine.  He expects me to have another week where I don’t feel bad and I don’t have the fear of feeling bad.  He expected me to watch the last Parenthood until Feb. 27 and record a podcast with full energy and excitement.  That’s what He expected.
So why should we get angry with unmet expectations?  Yes there is disappointment that must come in many situations.  But why not roll with the punches?  Why not say, “no chemo treatment, alright! a full week of feeling great!”  Why not take the disappointments and look for the silver linings?  Forget the worry about having your expectations met, because in the end they won’t be.  Don’t worry about the ends, because He wouldn’t plan the ends without planning the means.  In the end, the cancer will be gone and if those expectations are not met, I am still going to be where I am now, safe in the care of the Savior.
“The best things in life are unexpected, because there are no expectations.”  – Eli Khamarov
“Well this day’s been crazy, but everything’s happened on schedule.  From the rain and the cold, to the drink that I spilled on my shirt.  ‘Cause You knew how You’d save me before I fell dead in the garden.  And you knew this day long before You made me out of dirt.  And you know the plans that You have for me.  And You can’t plan the end and not plan the means.  And so I suppose I just need some peace, Just to get me to sleep.”  –  Caedmon’s Call (Table for Two)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the flowers of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  – Matthew 6:25-34

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Growing up I never really knew what to do with my hair.  When I was young I had big blonde curls that were frizzy and everywhere.  As I grew older my hair grew brown and still remained curly.  In middle school I tried to cover up my curls by having my hair cut short.  It was 9th and 10th grade when I decided that cutting my hair short and then spiking it up with massive amounts of gel.  Yes this was the late 90s and early 2000s.  It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I found out that I could really grow some hair.  Like really grow hair.  My hair during my senior year was huge.  It was like a chia pet.  I let it grow to.  I did the same thing in college.  After college however, I decided it was time to tame the beast and cut it short for the professional look.  I have always been self conscious about my hair.  This might stem from the episode of Boy Meets World where Cory says his hair is like velcro and has an identity crisis about it.  Yeah that was pretty much my thoughts every time I looked in the mirror.  But I did grow such an appreciation for my hair.  I never had to style it.  I could just wash it and let it do its’ thing.  It also gave me a great outlet for my stress when watching any Mississippi State athletic event.  The closer the margin of victory, the larger the hair gets.

It is the simple things in life that are always the most shocking and distressing when they leave.  I was taking a shower Sunday morning.  Just washing my hair and getting ready to go to church.  I run my fingers through my curls and my hand returns with a massive ball of hair in my palm.  I knew this would happen.  The nurse said it would.  The doctor said it would.  I told myself it would.  However, that moment when it happened, I thought it wouldn’t.  Most people that I told that I would lose my hair would just laugh it off and say, “ah thats no big deal.”  And really it isn’t. I am a guy.  My culture would not look at me oddly for being a male with no hair.  I told this to myself. I have many colleagues and peers who shave their head regularly.  But in that moment when I had my own hair in my hand, it felt different.  It was tough.  And the hair kept coming.  More and more came with each pass of my hand.  It also didn’t help that “Let It Go” from Frozen was blaring on our speaker in the bathroom while this was happening.  I couldn’t believe it.  So at that moment I knew two things.  First I knew that I was going to be bald soon.  Second I knew that the chemo was doing its job.

I lasted one day with falling hair.  Monday night Carly and I traveled to the only hair stylist that was working that evening so it seemed.  She just happened to be the daughter of one of Carly’s PA schoolmates.  God is constantly doing things like that.  So I walked to her and just said, “so I am on chemotherapy and my hair is falling out.”  She took the news like a champ and now I am in possession of a much shorter look.  My hair is gone and that is shocking.  I no longer have the need for shampoo, hair gel, or comb.  It is much colder outside with no hair.  Hats actually fit me now.

I often compared myself to a worship song that was extremely popular when I was in high school.  The Heart of Worship.  The lyrics said, “when the music fades, all is stripped away and I simply come.”  This is in reference to the fact that Christians today sometimes make a spectacle of worship.  The worship then becomes the focus instead of the one we are worshipping.  I always heard the song differently.  I heard the song as me coming to the heart of Christ.  He strips away all the nonsense, sin, and barriers that I put in the way so that He can enter in and mend me.  How can I not look into the mirror and hear that every time I see my reflection.  My hair loss is such a reminder that the stuff here on Earth is fleeting.  It is a reminder that I don’t need that stuff.  I don’t need hair.  I need Christ.  I need healing and not just the physical kind.  Remember to hang on to the real things that are important and forget what the world thinks.  What do they know anyway?

“This world has nothing for me and this world has everything.  All that I could want and nothing that I need.” – Caedmon’s Call

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21

On a side note, I did have one student come up to me last week and said very seriously, “Mr. Yelverton, when you lose your hair, don’t start selling meth.”  Don’t worry everyone, I am not going Walter White, but I am going to grow velcro again.

Chemo II

Another trip to the Chemo dock has come and gone.  Many people have asked how did it go and I really have no idea how to answer that question.  I think people just want to ask about the side effects instead of the actual process of chemo.  But me being typically a sarcastic person, my response has been, “well the chemicals are in me.”  I was dreading this trip more than the last.  My first chemo experience was too disruptive to not dread the next trip.  At least this time I knew what I was getting into.  I arrived at the cancer center 15 minutes early.  I had my numbing cream blobbed on my port and plastic wrap stuck on the top of it to make sure that the cream didn’t slide and my whole left side go numb.  The cream worked perfectly.  I didn’t feel a stick at all.  In the parking lot I finished my chicken nuggets and washed it down with the magical healing powers of polynesian sauce.  We made our way into the waiting room, where we encountered a packed house.  But we were veterans now, armed with a bag full of food, blankets, external batteries, books, and other assorted items.   We arrived at 12:45.  We did not start until 3:00.  Well at least I got in some good reading and playing of mindless app store games.  There were very few people in the Chemo dock, but TV Land was still playing.  We got a quieter room this time and we got to ask the nurse a few questions about the clinic.  The nausea meds take 40 minutes to drip.  DTIC takes an hour.  The other three chemo meds are pushed and take a very short amount of time.  So around 2 hours of chemical injections.  We commented about the wait and the fact that there was really no one in the chemo dock.  I asked who sat in the main room with the big TV.  I figured that was for people who had to come more than me or for different types of chemo.  Our nurse informed us that the side rooms were first come first serve.  As in most people actually sit out in the main room, I come late in the afternoon so I will always get a room.  Of course my next question was, “are there really that many people that come in here everyday?”  The nurse replied, “We give 40 treatments a day here.”

I let that wash over me for the next hour as the drip continued and the Benadryl started to take effect.  40 people a day.  200 a week.  Not the same people either.  I come once every two weeks.  40 families a week are affected by the same or worse stuff than I am going through.  This is unbelievably humbling.  I remember back to the Egg Bowl before I knew I had cancer.  There was an ad promoting cancer research that stated that 1 in 5 people would have cancer in their lifetime.  I looked at my group of six there, my parents, my sister and her husband, and Carly and myself.  My dad had already had cancer and I thought, “good we are covered just about.”  Looks like I was the 1 in the next 5.  I left the Chemo Dock as the last patient of the day.  The waiting room was empty, TV Land was turned off, and the sky was getting dark.  The Benadryl was taking full effect and when we got home I immediately fell asleep.
One of the most poignant statements made in tonight’s heartbreaking episode of Downton Abbey was from Mary.  She said, “It is nice to know that we are not alone and that others are facing the same trials.”
The trials I am facing now have been faced before.  The trials you are facing now have been faced before.  So many people have reached out to me to tell me their story of cancer.  Whether it was a personal story or a family story, people have longed to encourage me through their experience.  It is empowering.  So share your story to those around you.  You never know who you will encourage or help.  It just might be another one of the 40 or that 1 in every 5.

Round the First

I just watched the final BCS Championship Game.  It was a fun one.  A helluva game if you will.  Of course I am sad to see that the SEC did not reign supreme in the end, but what a great season for Auburn and really for the entire SEC fanbase in general.  When watching this game you might think that if there was no pass interference penalty then Auburn would have won or if the coverage was better on that Winston pass to Benjamin, then the winner would be the Orange and Blue.  But when you step back and realize that the game is not won on one play or one moment, you realize a lot more about fighting cancer.  I know we all think back to the one second miracle play in the Iron Bowl, but didn’t both teams have to fight to get to the tie score anyway?  No football games are not won by a mere moment, but by moments.
After my first visit with the red devil and company, I headed off to Lake Bruin, LA.  So what’s the first way to make it through a round of side effects?  Go to a peaceful place with some of your best supporters.  We worked puzzles, ate food, laughed, talked, and all the while I was waiting on the dreaded effects to set in.  Well after a day at the lake we were back home and still I felt like Bryce.  The weekend came and went and I began to think, “hey this is really not bad.”  Monday morning hit me, but not like you would think.  See I thought I would hit like a ton of bricks, but see these chemicals work differently than you think.  I constantly felt like something was wrong from the moment I woke up until I went to bed.  My body was not my own.  My heart was racing.  I couldn’t catch my breath.  The tips of my fingers would go numb and then come back to life.  War always starts softly doesn’t it?  It’s never a huge boom and everyone is fighting. No.  It starts quiet and by the time you are in the heat of it, you realize the signs were there the whole time.  So Monday was bad and Tuesday was worse.
I never miss the chance to watch the Bulldogs play football in person.  Cancer took it’s first victim from me on December 31.  An early morning migraine followed by hours of heart pounding and exhaustion meant no Liberty Bowl visit for me.  It is the first bowl game I have missed since our last appearance in the Liberty Bowl.  Not a big victim right?  Well in my case it was, not because I love MSU football, but because I am stubborn and I am determined not to let this disease affect my daily desires and plans.  Cancer won this one, but hey the Dawgs still won the game.  I still got to watch from a seat in front of a warm fire, but it wasn’t how I planned to view the victory.
The next few days were easier to deal with but still tough.  There was no late night nausea and aching bones.  There was no intense pain.  There was no hair loss.  There was just enough to cause me discomfort.  So why the discussion about the BCS Championship?  Well I decided that fighting this fight is not going to be about the last second of the game where I need a hail mary.  This fight is going to be about every play.  Every play I have to be ready and set to be my best.  That means I have to keep grinding every day through every moment.  Life is not about the miracle moments, but that each moment is a miracle.  I now treat every moment where there is no pain as a blessing.  I can use those times to build myself up for the hard moments that will come with the next round.  It’s like preparing for the big game and then once I am in the game each moment is important.  And when it’s time for a miracle play I am there for the Kick Six.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Round 2 starts Friday.  GameDay.


December 27th was a day that I will not soon forget.  Two days after Christmas, I am feeling great.  I arrive at the clinic right on time or so at around 9 am.  After some waiting it is time for my first chemo port blood work.  I was very much looking forward to not being stuck in the arm, but sadly the stick in the port was worse.  Not bad mind you, but it wasn’t pleasant.  However, it was nice that they took the blood and then left the needle in so that I would not have to be stuck again.  Later we find out that there is a cream we get that numbs the skin for treatment days.  I now have it ready for my next visit.  We visit with our doctor and enjoy quiet comfort in their words, but entering into the chemotherapy area is quite disruptive.  For those of you that do not know, I co-host a podcast that analyzes the great NBC show Parenthood.  Last season one of the main characters, Christina, battled through breast cancer.  The first scene of Christina and her husband entering into the chemo treatment area was just like my experience.  It was so surreal to live it.  You enter into a large room with smaller rooms adjacent.  There are two full rows of large chairs that look actually rather comfortable.  There is a large flat screen television facing the chairs.  The tv is of course tuned to Andy Griffith episodes, which play throughout my visit.  It is amazing how this image of walking into this room is burned into my brain.  I remember seeing only a few patients in the room, each in their own chair.  Some have bags packed with coffee mugs, logic games, magazines, blankets, etc.  Some are just there watching Andy.  It is sad, depressing, and yet it is beautiful all at the same time.  These aren’t just people sitting around watching a utopia television show.  These are fighters working to get back to their Mayberry.  Now I am one of those fighters too.  We are led to a side room where a nurse begins to guide us through the distribution of chemicals that will be sent through my bloodstreams.  I need to take a moment and say that the nurses are fantastic.  They are kind and thoughtful and are most of all understanding.  When you are going through something so unique to those around you it is of supreme importance that there be someone who understands.  These nurses understand, because they see it everyday.

Now for the “treatment.”  Apparently from what I am told I am receiving the normal regimen of chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  They call it ABVD.  Each letter stands for a different chemical: A – Adriamycin, B – Bleomycin, V – Vinblastine, and D – Dacarbazine or DTIC.  Each comes with their own list of side effects.  Adriamycin looks like cherry kool-aid and is known as the “red devil.”  This is mainly due to the intense nausea that occurs after treatment.  Also the “red devil” is given in a shot form into your chemo port, but the shot is huge.  Seriously it looks like Bugs Bunny is giving you a shot.  It took probably 15 minutes to get all the red liquid into me.  Now I should back up because before I received the red devil, I received two anti-nausea medicines.  These came out a few years ago and greatly reduce the red devil’s punch.  It is at this time that I thank God for medical research.  15 years ago when my dad went through this same stuff he didn’t have the anti-nausea medicine and his first treatment wasn’t through a port, but through his arm.  Wow am I thankful for medical research and advancement.  I truly am blessed to live in a place where I can afford to get treatment and the treatment is quality.  The next two meds are shot into me pretty quickly and the last one is given through a drip in my IV for about an hour.  During all this time we are given counsel on all the side effects.  One thing I know is that I will feel bad and I will probably lose my hair.  Really the worry about the side effects is almost as bad as the side effects themselves.  So by the time we are done, we have spent almost 5 hours at the clinic.  I am starving and I have all these new chemical friends swimming around in my blood.  So we hightail it to get a burger and fries and we are back home within thirty minutes.

I wrote this post for those that really have no idea about chemotherapy.  I didn’t until now.  I did learn two things from the experience though as previously mentioned above:

1.  Medicine is incredible and I thank God for the wisdom he has given to those that practice it.

2.  We all want to be in Mayberry, one day we will be, and there is no cancer allowed.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  John 14:3

“In the world you will have trouble, but I leave you my peace
That where I am, there you may also be.” – Rich Mullins


So I have been thinking about starting a blog for a while.  Of course it took a big event in my life to make a blog happen.  That big event occurred a few weeks ago.  After my first ever wellness physical in my 27 years of life, I was told that something was wrong.  Another two weeks of doctor’s visits and tests, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma Stage 2B.  I currently have a tumor that sits in between my heart and breastbone.  Over the past month I have had a double hernia surgery, bone marrow biopsy, lymph node biopsy, chemo port placement, 3 CT scans, and a PET scan.  All this was just the physical, but what you don’t expect is all the emotional scans that happen after diagnosis.  My wife and I first found out it was probably Hodgkin’s on a Wednesday so the first thing we did was head straight to our church to tell our church family.  We knew we needed prayer cover.  Over the next few days there were many meetings with family, phone calls to friends, and conversations with coworkers about my news.  Each time you tell your diagnosis story, it becomes less real.  It becomes something that you are just reading from a teleprompter just off camera.  But my story is real and the struggle is as well.  That is why I am starting a blog.  I do not want to just post things to certain media outlets that are long and in depth about my struggles and journey, but I do want people to have access to it.  This is the best way I can do that now.  I hope that my journey as a follower of Christ through this experience will be an inspiration and encouragement to everyone who reads this.