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Early yesterday morning, my friend, Tricia, drove 100 miles to meet me at Caribou Coffee across the street from Mayo’s Saint Mary’s Hospital. She hugged me with the longest hug I’ve had in a very long time, we chatted, had some tears and covered a whole wide range of topics in just one hour and thirty minutes. After I received the phone call from Mayo’s business office reminding me that my husband’s PET scan had been denied and that we needed to show up to the office and make a $7,500 payment before we had the procedure (which I am absolutely NOT going to do), Tricia handed me a a necklace from which hung the TINIEST of keys with the word HOPE on it. She chose a tiny key because she knows I don’t wear a lot of necklaces and agreed it would be understated. But this morning as I type each uncertain word out on the keyboard, I realize an even better reason for that tiny HOPE key necklace.

It’s okay to have the tiniest bit of hope.

Whether it springs forth in abundance or remains a tiny seed nested amongst a host of worries, HOPE is HOPE.

I wish I was a super-happy, super-hopeful, happy-hopeful, beyond-hopeful kind of person that sprung forth with “everything’s going to be okay” language around every turn. Honestly, I’ve wished for that kind of personality, that kind of perspective, more than I’d care to admit. Christian and American culture has tried to convince me that it’s totally in my power to decide how much hope, how much positivity I have about life’s circumstances. Believe me, if I could turn on a switch and become super happy, super hopeful, happy hopeful, beyond hopeful at a moment’s notice? I would.

But try as I may, God made me a certain way.

I’m the woman whose once-upon-a-time very serious career aspiration was to be a psychologist. I can listen to your stories and your burdens ALL DAY LONG. Bring me your tears, your pain, the things that have hurt you most. Bring me your impossible circumstances, your most unlikely of hopes, your NOT understanding why this or that happened or didn’t happen. I can handle it all. It doesn’t bother me that your life has been complicated, twisting, turning, filled with a whole bunch of things that were hard, don’t make sense or have tested your faith beyond measure. I believe, with all my heart, that there’s purpose for our pain, that beauty and glory are waiting to shine through our stories. I believe that life’s challenges are meant to strengthen us, fortify us, prepare us for an eternity of peace, hope and the Greatest of Loves. I believe the best stories are those in which everything imaginable falls apart, but then there is that flicker of hope, that light of hope, that tiniest key to life, HOPE.

When my husband, Seth, and I walked through Door B yesterday, plopped on the exam room couch, and waited for the oncology doctor to arrive, I must admit that I had the tiniest bit of HOPE for the news we were about to receive. Seth had a MRI of the brain the afternoon before to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread to his brain. To be honest, I was pretty worried. The only physical symptom Seth’s had through all of this is headaches, bad headaches that have required him to take Tylenol almost every day for the past two months. He thought it was just stress, but now that we’d found out the melanoma had spread to his liver, they’d ordered the brain MRI, and said they wouldn’t be surprised if the metastatic liver lesions were “the tip of the iceberg,” there was legitimate reason to fear.

So when Dr. M arrived and announced “the brain scan was clear,” the tiniest bit of HOPE turned to a swelling, overwhelming HOPE. I didn’t believe what I was hearing. I’d been worried, and so had Seth. This was one HUGE blessing, one very big RELIEF. If nothing else good came from yesterday, this huge hit of HOPE overpowered everything.

Dr. M went on to describe immunotherapy treatment in more detail than we’d ever heard. The goal, in layman’s terms, is to “turn on the immune system,” rev it up, and “get all the good guys on this thing.” Immunotherapy has proven to be effective on metastatic melanoma when the originating tumor is choroidal melanoma (eye cancer). With Seth’s very rare version of melanoma, there is at least a 30-40% chance that immunotherapy will “shrink the tumors immediately.” If immunotherapy isn’t working the way they want it to, they will try other more conventional treatments. And then there was the list of potential side effects, questions we maybe didn’t want to ask, treatment in Seattle three weeks from now, treatment and tests at Mayo in Minnesota six weeks from now, more treatments, and the reminder that this is “an unusual version of an unusual tumor.”

HOPE.

Whether it’s bursting and swelling out of us; whether it’s super hopeful, happy hopeful or beyond hopeful; or whether it’s the tiniest of hopes, HOPE is HOPE.

From here on out, I place no judgement on the amount of hope I have vs. the amount of hope Seth has vs. the amount of hope our kids have vs. the amount of hope Seth’s parents have vs. the amount of hope my parent’s have vs. the amount of hope pastors have vs. the amount of hope our friends, family and colleagues have.

HOPE is HOPE.

That is what I will embrace today. That is what I proclaim today. That is what feels right and seems right today.

HOPE is HOPE.

It doesn’t really matter how much you have, how loudly you yell it from the streets, or how quietly you guard it inside your heart.

HOPE is HOPE.

So I had hope, a swelling of hope and a bit more guarded and exhausted sort of hope, when we arrived for Seth’s first immunotherapy treatment at Mayo Clinic yesterday afternoon. Nurse Bert was helpful, hopeful. She’s been working in oncology for 35 years, many of those years alongside Dr. M. She reminded us that he is a world renowned physician, sounded genuinely excited about how much HOPE immunotherapy has brought to the world of cancer, and had a fierce, but friendly positivity to her that made you believe, yet again, that there was TRULY HOPE, even amidst these darkest of circumstances.

The nurse prepared Seth for the infusion. Bag one. Bag two.

The tiniest of hopes. A swelling of hope.

HOPE is HOPE.

When we stood in the sanctuary and said our vows to Pastor Darrell, Pastor Grandpa Selmer and a church full of friends and relatives 20 years ago, we hadn’t a clue about what better or worse, richer or poorer, or sickness and health would look like in real married life. That’s amazing grace, for sure.

So when things started to get really hard in the summer of 2004, just six years into our marriage, we pressed into those vows and learned what it looks like to love in the midst of significant life trials. Trial after trial, we made it through. 15 years in, our marriage started showing signs of fatigue, but we kept pressing on, leaned into God and each other, and made it through.

Then came a major career change and three mission trips for me, an eye cancer diagnosis and treatment for Seth, and a lung transplant for my dad. We had lice in our household four times over the course of two years, and I landed in the ER due to a panic attack I thought was a heart attack. Seth was impacted by a massive corporate reorganization, which was followed by a great job offer and a huge cross-country move from Minneapolis to Seattle for our family of five.

But our next adventure was coming.

In early March 2018, I began contacting Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, as Seth was due for his regular eye cancer follow-up appointments, and we needed to get them on the calendar ASAP.

After a long wait to get in, Seth found himself back at Mayo for three days of eye cancer follow-up appointments on May 30th, 31st and June 1st, 2018. On May 30th, while Seth was sitting at Mayo with his parents, I was at our new house in the suburbs of Seattle for one last walk through with our realtor and the construction manager before we were scheduled to close and receive keys on June 4th.

So that afternoon of May 30th, right after I’d completed the final walk through our new house, I received a call with good news and bad news from Seth. For better or for worse. For richer and poorer. In sickness and in health. Mayo tests indicated that Seth’s eye was doing well, but the CT scan revealed a lesion on his liver. They needed him come back for a MRI on day three, June 1st.

On June 4th, our new house closed and we received keys. It should have been a joyous day, but it was filled with questions and unknowns.

On June 6th, while I was on my hands and knees sealing the grout in our new house, I received a phone call from Mayo. The MRI revealed 8-10 hemorrhagic lesions on Seth’s liver, approximately 1 cm in diameter. They suspected it could be metastasis of the choroidal melanoma diagnosed and treated 3 1/2 years ago. They needed a biopsy within 1-2 weeks, no later.

I literally felt sick.

I called Seth to share the news, we brainstormed a game plan for how you’re supposed to continue putting your all into a new job WHILE moving into a new house WHILE dealing with a significant medical concern WHILE being 1,700 miles away from friends, family and the treatment center of choice. And then Seth reminded me in his normal, but unusually optimistic tone that “This is just another adventure for us.” I tried calling Seth’s parents, but they were on the road, on their way from Minnesota to help us move into our new house in Seattle. I called my mom. Then I heard back from Seth’s parents and shared the news with them.

While Seth’s primary doctor at Mayo was out on vacation for a handful of days, there was debate as to whether we could get the biopsy done in Seattle or whether we would need to fly back to Mayo. But when Seth’s doctor returned, he was adamant that the biopsy be done at Mayo since they’ve seen more of this than anyone else in the country. So by Friday morning, June 8th, our flights were booked to Minnesota for a biopsy and an appointment with medical oncology, “just in case.”

That night, I frantically began packing loads of belongings from our two-bedroom town home into my car. There was no way we were going to stay another night in that stuffy, dark, two-bedroom town home. The lease was going to expire soon anyway. I was bound and determined that we’d start sleeping at our new house THAT NIGHT, even though we didn’t have beds yet. We had the keys. That’s all we needed. We shared the medical news with the kids, had a massive family crying session in that town home, and drove over to the house for our first night’s stay.

On Monday, June 11th, at 9:00 am, the moving truck and three movers arrived at our new house in the suburbs of Seattle. All of our belongings had been in storage for six months, as we’d lived extremely minimally in a two-bedroom town home while our house was being built. This was all part of the relocation package Seth received when he accepted the job in Seattle, but this was all feeling very odd and unsettling, not to mention incredibly difficult to know HOW to FEEL with a major medical concern looming in the background.

Monday we moved in. Tuesday we tried to get as much unpacked as we could. The living room, kitchen and kids rooms were first priority for functional, practical living. By Wednesday, June 13th, at 1:30 pm, we were at the airport making our way to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for Seth’s biopsy.

Two days of me, Seth and my mom at Mayo and a slough of changes and unknowns, we got in with a world-renowned oncology doctor who was supposed to have his Friday afternoon of June 15th off. We had had an answer.

The “biopsy shows melanoma. We are dealing with a misbehaved tumor,” said Dr. M. On one hand, “there’s not a lot of trouble” in the liver, but this could be the “tip of the iceberg.” “Looks like we need to get busy,” he said. “We don’t have great treatments for this, but we have treatments that work.”

Dr. M asked us what our plans were for this coming week. “Well, we were scheduled to fly home tomorrow (Saturday, June 16th), but we want to get moving on this ASAP, so we can stay if that’s what you determine is best,” I said, though the truth was I didn’t want this to be happening in any way, shape or form.

Dr. M got on it. While we were still sitting there, he placed orders for a MRI of the brain, more blood work, a full-body PET scan, another mid-week medical oncology appointment with him, and a first treatment at Mayo.

Dr. M gave us a brochure about Metastatic Melanoma and told us to read it at our leisure when we could process more effectively. He explained that this is a metastasis of the incredibly rare choroidal melanoma Seth had 3 1/2 years ago (diagnosed in 6 in 1 million people every year). He went on to describe three treatment options, then quickly concluded they’ve had the best success with immunotherapy, a new arm of cancer treatment in which they turn on the immune system to fight the cancer. Immunotherapy tries to break control and turn tables on the cancer. Seth is healthy and strong, so this is the best treatment option.

Treatment is every three weeks. Typically, they do 2-3 rounds of treatment and then repeat imaging to determine the efficacy. For Seth, they will do two rounds of treatment and then repeat imaging.

Dr. M gave the scheduler a list of appointments that needed to be made ASAP. We returned to the waiting room and shared the updates with my mom. As we made our way back to central Minnesota where my parents live, we called Seth’s parents who are in Seattle caring for our kids and provided them with updates. A few hours later, we made individual calls to our three children, sharing the news at a level that was developmentally appropriate for each one.

So here we are. In central Minnesota for two days with my parents, then back to Mayo in southern Minnesota for another week. We just moved into our new house in Seattle, Washington, FIVE days ago. Our kids are there, 1,700 miles away, with my in-laws. And our 20th wedding anniversary is in ELEVEN days. We will be at Mayo Clinic for tests and treatments at least FIVE of the next ELEVEN days leading up to our anniversary. What more can I say?

Right now, I don’t claim to know anything about the world, how it works, and WHY things happen the way they happen. But if I had to say what it is that I know for sure, I’d say that we can make all the plans we want, but it is God who establishes and ordains our steps. I have no idea in heaven or on earth as to WHY God would allow this to happen after ALL we’ve been through the past 14 years. I am having a difficult time processing all the WHY GOD questions. I DON’T. UNDERSTAND. This doesn’t feel good, and it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a God who is good. But I also spent the past 14 years developing a sturdy faith, so the Lord keeps spinning me in circles back to Him. I must trust, even when I can’t see, even when I have NO CLUE as to why this is happening.

And then I circle back to the vows.

For better, for worse.

For richer, for poorer.

In sickness and in health.

We hadn’t a clue 20 years ago, but here we are. We’re still kicking. The show must go on. This is what we vowed. This is what we promised. This is the truth.

So we ask for prayers to lift us up during this trial. For us and for our three children. We ask for the high-skilled, world-renowned doctors at Mayo and in Seattle. We ask for clarity as we journey this trial and determine each next-best step. We ask for our new home to become a place of refuge. We ask for new friends to come alongside us in Seattle. We ask for old friends and family to support us while we’re here in Minnesota and when we return to Seattle.  We ask for peace and positivity along the way. We ask for stomach aches to be eased, and tears to be shed and then wiped away with the softest of tissues. We ask for support in whatever way, shape or form we need. Coming off of a 9 1/2 month layoff, moving to a city that has a sky-high cost of living, then moving immediately into a major medical crisis is not easy on the finances. We ask for your friendship, your love, your care. We ask for your patience and understanding as we return calls, texts, and messages…or maybe we’re NOT able to return them at all. We ask that you bathe our marriage, our children, and our family in all the prayer you can muster. We ask that we will come through this. We ask these things with deepest humility, with deepest regard for each human being who knows us and has seen us through 20 years of marriage.

If I could’ve written my own story, I wouldn’t have written it this way.

But so begins our next adventure.

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