Posted by: bellissimanh | October 25, 2009

Just the Facts

Thank you all for your prayers for Joel… for our family. I thought it would be good to give you a rundown of information all in one place so you would understand how we got to where we are. It’s difficult to piece it altogether from the separate posts on facebook. While I’m very thankful to have a great way to get information out quickly, it’s difficult if you’re coming in halfway through. So…. *deep breath*

This past summer, Joel took a spill while he and Noah were out biking. He landed on the pavement, on his shoulder. We thought he might have broken a rib, but since they don’t really do anything for that, he opted to skip the doc and let it heal.

The pain continued through the summer, and at one point, Joel wondered if it wasn’t a heart issue, rather than a rib. He started wearing his nitro around his neck again, and took a pill when the pain came on. It didn’t stop it, just gave him a bad headache… so he knew it wasn’t that.

About three weeks ago, the pain escalated. Joel went to see his primary care physician, who told him it was muscular and prescribed a muscle relaxer and hydrocodone. After about a week, he felt worse, not better. He went back to see Dr. Hubble (Frank) on Wednesday of last week and he thought maybe his back was out of whack, so he did some “adjustments” (think chiropractor-like stuff), and sent him home, telling him he should feel better in a day or two.

By Saturday, Joel was in excruciating pain. He went back to see Frank, who gave him valium (as a muscle relaxer) and oxycodone, a stronger narcotic. He also did a chest xray. In looking at the xray, Frank asked Joel when he was going to quit smoking. He hasn’t smoked in 30 years. The xray appeared to show the lungs of a seasoned smoker. Weird. Frank said he’d send the xray to Boston to be read, and told Joel it looked as though he had two fractured vertebrae.

Joel continued to work this whole time. On Tuesday of this past week, he called me at work and said he needed me to come pick him up. The pain had been so severe he had taken a second dose of the narcotic, and it made him sick. He was sleeping on a cot in the nurse’s office at the elementary school he was working at. The school administrator explained to me what had happened and was very concerned for Joel. My coworker drove Joel’s car back to my office and I drove Joel straight to the medical clinic.

Frank ordered a CT scan. That took place on Thursday. Within an hour of leaving the hospital, another doctor from Saco River called and told Joel he needed to call an ambulance immediately and go to the hospital. The CT scan revealed a tissue mass encasing his spinal column. The fear was that it would touch his spinal cord and paralyze him. They said he needed emergency surgery to cut the tissue away from his spine.

When I finally got to Memorial Hospital, they already had Joel strapped to a back board and wearing a neck brace. The doctor on call told me that while they couldn’t be certain without a biopsy, it looked like Joel had non-hodgkins lymphoma. While not good, it’s treatable and he should be fine. Joel’s PCP also told me that his lungs are actually clear. The cloudiness they had thought was lung damage was actually the tissue mass, behind his lungs. The mass is attached to his spinal column and wraps around his rib cage.

After a horrible ambulance ride for Joel, he arrived at Maine Medical Center where a neurosurgeon looked at the CT pictures and told us the mass, while attached to the spinal column, was NOT in immediate danger of reaching the spinal chord (meaning he didn’t have to have surgery right away). He said that he suspected we needed an oncologist more than we needed his services.

Thursday night they did an MRI that took two hours, and then another CT
 scan in the morning. From those pictures they learned where to take the biopsy. That was done around 3pm on Friday. The results will take a few days to come back. We won’t have them until Monday or Tuesday.

The initial findings (although without the actual test results, these are merely guesses) are that it is either lymphoma or myloma. If it’s lymphoma, it responds well to chemo and radiation, and the prognosis is good. If it’s myloma, things get complicated. This would not respond to treatments well, so surgery would be required. The surgery would be extensive and risky, because the tissue mass is so close to the spinal column. Paralysis is a concern. They would have to go in, cut the tissue away from the spinal column, put in some pins and plates and other things I can’t remember right now, and then he would have chemo and radiation after, as an added measure.

Whoever thought I’d be praying for my husband to be diagnosed with lymphoma?

That’s where we’re at right now. If the result is lymphoma, this coming week will involve lots of testing (some difficult – bone marrow, spinal tap, etc), and then a surgery to put in a port for treatments, and then his first treatment before we go home. That would put us home the end of this week at the very earliest. If the surgery is required, then we’re looking at a completely different (and longer) time frame… one I’m not ready to think about yet.

There is still a miniscule chance that the biopsy will test negative for cancer. How wonderful would that be? Our God is mighty enough to accomplish that… if it’s his will. Being a huge believer in God’s sovereignty is a double edged sword. As I told Pastor Bob this afternoon, it’s comforting to know that God is in control. He’s not surprised by this place we find ourselves in. At the same time, because I know of His sovereignty, it scares me, because I know that His plan is not always what I would prefer. I know full well that His will trumps my fleshly desires regarding the outcome of this biopsy. That’s hard. I know He’s good and faithful and kind. I’m thankful for that. I know that if His plan is not what we would hope for, that He will sustain us through whatever the future holds, but there are still moments where I am just overwhelmed at where we are today, and thoughts of where we could be six months from now. Yet not our will, but His be done. I recently told a dear friend that the center of God’s will is always the best place to b. even when it’s difficult.

In the meantime, we’re looking for ways to bring glory to God, moment by moment. We are purposefully seeking opportunities to point others to Christ. In every interaction we have, whether it’s loved ones visiting, a doctor doing an exam, or the cashier taking our money in the cafeteria… we want our words and actions to have an eternal impact and bring glory to our Father in Heaven. I am in awe of Jesus in my husband. He is speaking Christ to everyone around him with tearful passion. He is seizing every chance he gets to share His Savior with anyone who will listen. He is on FIRE, and it’s incredible to witness. It makes me think of Jeremiah’s words:  “…but His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” (Jer. 20:9) I’m blessed beyond measure by his example. We were talking last night about how we wish it didn’t take having our world come crashing down like this to give us such a passion for sharing Christ with others. But here we are, and so we press on. It has been an absolute joy to watch my husband do that. I’m in awe of Jesus in him. It’s moving, and amazing, and absolutely the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  

We continue to covet your prayers, and will keep you updated as much as possible. Thank you all so much for your love and support… demonstrated in so many different ways. Our hearts are filled to overflowing with gratitude and love for each of you. We’re humbled and in awe of Christ as we sit on the receiving end of His ministry to us, through you all. Words will never be enough to describe it, even for someone who loves words as much as I do.  God bless you all!



  1. Praying

  2. Thanks for the in depth update. Yes – it’s hard to pray for God’s will because as you said His way isn’t always ours. I thought of your this morning in church as we sang “Blessed be the name of the Lord” and you were in my prayers then and will continue to be.

  3. “In Christ, ALONE, my hope is found, HE is my Light, my Strength, my Song. This Cornerstone, this SOLID GROUND, FIRM THROUGH THE FIERCEST DROUGHT AND STORM. What heights of love, what depths of peace! When fears are stilled, when strivings cease. My COMFORTER, my ALL in ALL, here in the LOVE of CHRIST, I STAND!
    No power of hell, no scheme of man, can EVER pluck me from HIS hand.”

  4. This update helps us know better how to pray. I know that you are exhausted, both physically and emotionally, but please know that I am praying for you. I’m going to try to link to your post and ask the readers of The Point to pray for ya’ll if that is ok???


  5. Wow. There are no other words to express. I am praying and will continue to pray. Love and peace to you, my friend!

  6. Heather and Joel,

    I truly pray that God will bless you with the lesser of the two, that is a do-able and that Jesus continue to be evident in the both of you. You encourage me so, in the middle of what seems mundane in my own health, compared to where you are in the current. you truly encourage me to press on, and to not grumble and complain. BUT TO SEEK GOD.


  7. Thank you for this updated post. I know things happen quickly, but I needed you to back up and let us know how this all came about. Now I feel more filled in. Requested prayer for you at church today, thinking of you guys.. Keep posting for those of us too far to come visit you! love, E&S

  8. I can’t get into fb tonight, so I’ll thank you all here. It was a long day, but a good one. We are flat out humbled by the love and support that is being poured out upon us. We thank God for all of you… all the time!

    Leah… I would love for you link and request prayer for us from your page. Thank you!

  9. Thank You for sharing your journey with us. Your family has been on my heart and are in my prayers.
    Blessings ~ Lisa

  10. Heather and Joel,
    I saw your post on FB under Robyn’s name. I am Josh’s mom and have heard lots of good things about your family. I will keep you in my prayers as well and am expecting a good report. You are such a strong family in your faith. What a testimony to others–God will surely bless you for it.

    Trusting in a good report,

  11. God led me here to your blog for a reason…..and that reason is so that I can pray for your husband and family.

    I declare healing in the name of Jesus Christ!

  12. Heather!

    I’ve not read my blogs in months. Perfect timing to drop by. I’ll gather up the children in the morning and we’ll pray.


  13. […] October, doctors discovered a large tumor growing in my husband’s spinal column. Thanksgiving will mark exactly one month (to the day) since we were given a positive diagnosis of […]

  14. […] My friend Heather, and her husband, Joel, are in the midst of a major life storm. Please click here and read about their storm and join me in praying for and with them if you would. Leave a […]

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