October 10, 2012

Alisa Got Her Miracle!

It’s been a great week!  My daughter Shellie delivered her third child on Tuesday morning, so I have been involved with babysitting her other two for the last few days.  It’s reminded me of how sweet families are.  Holding a brand new baby, so delicate and pure, is satisfying and wonderful.  

I wanted to share a story about a woman who was given a new life just a week or so ago.  It’s an amazing story.  We have been praying for her for a long time.  Those prayers became a miracle.

Alisa is my niece—she lives in Utah with most of our other relatives.  When she was 28 in August of 2007, she found a mole on her upper thigh that looked ugly.  She noticed that it bled when bumped, so she went to a dermatologist to have it removed.  Although the dermatologist reassured her that it didn’t look cancerous, the pathology report confirmed it as melanoma.  

Surgery to remove the area around the cancer followed, it looked like a shark bite on her leg, then more testing.  The news was grim—her lymph nodes were full of cancer.  Alisa did what any mother of three little boys (ages 2, 4, and 6) would do with such news: she took her family to Disneyland!  Suddenly she wasn’t sure if she would ever have a chance to do this again. 

Although Alisa’s parents had just left for Peru as a church assignment, her extended family and friends took care of her kids and family as she began her treatment.  Alisa had been keeping a blog—it became the way she kept her parents informed about her progress.  After more surgery, and Interferon, doctors still only gave Alisa a 50% chance of surviving this cancer.  She endured the treatments over the next year and experienced a miracle:  she was cured.  She had beat the cancer and just had to have scans periodically to make sure it didn’t recur.

I wish the story ended here, but Alisa’s fight wasn’t over.  She enjoyed a few years of freedom from cancer and then noticed a small wart growing on her leg in February 2011.  The dermatologist again reassured her when he took it off, that it didn’t look like cancer to him.  But tests confirmed that it was the original cancer recurring, rated as Stage 3c melanoma.
Alisa and her family were crushed.  Although she had responded well to interferon, the cancer’s return meant it hadn’t worked completely.  She had surgery to enlarge the ‘shark bite’ area and remove the cancer.  Then she just watched and waited to see if it grew back.  If it did, her chances were down to 10% of surviving this new onslaught of cancer.  And her options for treatment were very limited.

Months went by with scans every three months.  Each scan was clear until Alisa’s 33rd birthday in January 2012.  The scans showed that more tumors formed all over her body.  Now she was considered Stage 4.  Doctors recommended that she try a new experimental treatment called IL2 that boosts the body’s immune system to recognize and kill the cancer.  They radiated the shark bite area and settled in for a long fight, as IL2 has only a 4-6% cure rate.
As Alisa explained this to her young boys, she stressed that it would be hard.  She would feel sick a lot in the next several weeks.  And she’d be at the hospital often to receive the treatments, so they’d be with babysitters and other helpers.  But she ended with, “This is going to be hard, but guess what?  We can do hard things!”

Alisa endured the miserable treatments like a trouper.  The infusions made her start to shake uncontrollably as her heart raced.  Then diahrrea set in with skin itching and thrush in the mouth.  They tried to manage the side effects but allow the drugs to force the body to fight the cancer.  They gave her ten doses over several days, monitored her and sent her home.  This left her bloated, nauseated, feverish, sunburned, and weak for several days.  But the tumors would shrink markedly, then begin to grow again once she recovered enough to take another round of treatments.

After undergoing treatments as often as she could take them, Alisa had a setback and had to stop the treatments.  By June, her tumors had grown considerably.   Doctors counted over 100 tumors all over her body and of those, 25 were in her brain.  Alisa couldn’t risk problems associated with driving, so suddenly she was grounded.  For spontaneous Alisa, this was hard to handle.

Alisa’s chances for survival dropped dramatically enough that she qualified for a clinical trial.  She started treatment using IPI or Yervoy with Temador.  This combination caused an immune response that caused Colitis, or intestinal issues.  She again had to stop treatments long enough to heal.  By the time she started treatment again, the family was looking at long term nanny care for her three boys.  Her chances were so slim that it became important to plan for when she wasn’t there anymore.  But Alisa held out hope.  

“The thing is, I am also prepared for a miracle.  No work required there (or do I need more faith?)  A heart is always prepared for a miracle.  It would be so easy to fit into this story.  It goes along with everything I said, and believe.  It matches everything I wear.  It would be the most becoming addition to this pretty existence.  So, when the kids still pray for all Mom's cancer to go away, I let them.  Let them lean to that side.
“It does seem at the end of a day (especially a summer day) I find myself loving my life.  Despite the bad parts.  It is not to scale.  The good, every time I think about it, outweighs the bad.  The surplus is astounding.  I love the very body that is attacking me.  The things that are breaking my heart I cherish above anything.  The kids that have to hear and consider some really hard stuff...they are thriving.

“The world is a beautiful place.  And here I am.  On two feet.”

After continuing the IPI and Temador for several months, Alisa had a great scan last month in September 2012.  All of the tumors were gone!  She got her miracle!  She said,
“How can I describe it?  Like I have been born again, really.  Resurrected from the dead.  

“For example, last night I went for a run.  I had a loose, long-sleeved, thin shirt.  On the way home, the wind was blowing just so to make ripples in the sleeves up the entire arm.  It tickled and made me laugh, wild with delight.  I have worn that shirt quite often.  But it has never thrilled me before.

“That is the latest.  This kind of thing happening to me throughout the day.  I am just so excited about being here.  It is an incredible way to live!  Like a newborn.  Wide-eyed and grinning.” 

We all realize that this isn’t over for Alisa.  She will continue treatment and hope that the miracle holds.  She trusts in Heavenly Father that He knows her and her family, and that the right things will happen for them.  But for now, she’s grateful for the miracle that has extended her life, perhaps even saved it.  She’s savoring every minute of this miracle, just as we all should.  We can keep trusting that Heavenly Father knows us and hears all of our prayers. 

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