Wednesday, December 16, 2009

the journey begins

I never thought I would be writing an update blog for anyone in my family. Never. But this is where God has us today and we want to keep all of you, our dear friends and family, up to date with Craig's condition (and all of our spirits). So I'll just begin at the beginning. . .

Craig passed several blood clots/blood in his urine. He poured over medical texts all day and didn't sleep at all Sunday evening. As he tossed and turned, I prayed what would be the first of so many urgent prayers these past days.

He contacted a urologist, Dr. Robert Elkins, for an appt. God was already working: his office made time for Craig Monday at the Lees Summit office. He wanted Craig to come with a CT scan of his pelvis to speed diagnosis. This was complicated because Craig has a new primary care dr that he has never seen and wouldn't order a CT scan without a visit. He called the primary care doc, they worked him in AND pushed like crazy to get Craig scheduled for the CT scan in time for his urologist appt. I received a text message from Craig later in the afternoon that he had his CT scan in hand and was waiting to see the urologist. Yes! Blessings.

I was in the kitchen making dinner when Craig came home. He didn't say anything, just motioned for me to follow him upstairs. He closed the door and delivered the news: he has a cancerous tumor on his left kidney.

I was stunned. I was sure he was going to say he had a kidney stone or cyst, not cancer. It was such a blow. We cried and prayed together and decided we had to tell the kids after dinner. I don't know if it was the right decision or not. We just didn't want to start this journey by not being truthful with them. We also realized that we need to live our faith, not be paralyzed by fear, starting NOW.

Hannah and Hans were so brave! We held hands around the table and told them everything we knew so far. We prayed together, cried some more, answered questions and held each other. I told the kids that this is one of the lessons we've learned so many times: We have choices when we face the hard things (and we will face the hard things); we can turn to God for strength and allow the hard stuff to grow our faith and trust in God or we can sink into despair and fear, and let our faith grow cold. I later shared with a friend while I don't want to be in this place today, I am glad to be here with Hannnah anad Hans, to walk with them through this, encouraging them and pointing them to Christ. We also told them we wanted our journey through this to glorify God. We wanted every person, doctor, nurse, friend and stranger to see the light of Christ in us.

Craig had an appointment with the urologist for a bladder cystoscopy Tuesday morning to check his bladder. Everything looked good but he was having alot of discomfort after the procedure. Later in the evening, Craig was unable to urinate. We debated about calling the dr./going to the hospital but he wanted to wait until morning.

I need to insert here that Hannah's dear friend, McKenna, came to our house around 1 pm for her first sleepover at our home. Craig had insisted that we not cancel the sleepover. He felt it was important to keep living life and for Hannah to have her friend to talk with. When McKenna heard the news, she held Hannah in her arms for the longest time, both of them with tears spilling down their cheeks. Kendra held all of us in a group hug and we cried and prayed together before we left.

McKenna was such a beautiful blessing and light to Hannah and to our family for those next rough hours. The girls made gingerbread houses, laughed at funny Christmas movies and kept the mood in our home lighter.

I slept with Hans in his room so Craig could get his rest without me, Hans and Stella disrupting his sleep. He was planning on going to work on Wednesday morning if he was feeling up to it. We set our alarms for 5 am.

We woke at 5 am. Craig was still uncomfortable and not urinating but he had not had much to drink or eat. He decided to drink a big glass of water and see if that would get things moving but told me that I need to be ready to go to the hospital if this failed.

I was feeling anxious but still praying, hurrying around to collect what we might need for a trip to the hospital. I woke the kids at 7 am and urged them to hurry.

Craig called Dr. Elkins and he told him to come to his Overland Park office and he would insert a Foley catheter he could wear home. When the catheter was inserted, blood gushed (Craig's description) out. On the way out of Elkins office, Craig stopped at the restroom because he felt the urge to go. When he opened the catheter (it did not have a bag) blood again gushed out.

When Craig came home, the bleeding was the same or worse. He called the dr. and was told to go to Lee's Summit Hospital. We piled our kids and McKenna in the car and drove the 10 minutes to the hospital. It was so quiet in the van! I prayed over all of us but peace was hard coming.

On the way, my sweet friend Stephanie B. phoned to say she had read Hannah's blogpost (I think this is how she found out; forgive me if that is wrong.) I told her I would call her later and fill her in but I couldn't talk because we were almost to the hospital. She said she could see us and at that precise moment, she was heading in the opposite direction on the highway parallel to the frontage road we were on! I cannot tell you how my spirits were lifted to see her grinning face, arms waving wildly, while her voice on the phone promised prayers for all of us.

Craig was given a room in the ER and I moved between Craig and the kids, comforting and praying, holding hands and wiping tears.

I need to say that at this point, we had not told any family. The drs. were still waiting for tests and surgery was going to be scheduled for two weeks or later. We wanted to have as much info as possible before told everyone. Dr. Elkins wanted Craig transferred by ambulance to Menorah Hospital. He works with a radiologist there who wouuld perform a procedure to get the bleeding stopped.

I had to call Jan, Craig's mom-in the waiting room, before he was being taken by ambulance for a risky procedure! My mind was exploding! Jan handled the news well and we agreed to have Kendra take the kids to her. She needed them and they needed her. I wanted them to be in a safe and comforting place but it was killing me to let them go. I wanted to be with them to encourage them and hold them but sending them to Jan was the right decision.

Taking them to say goodbye to Craig was one of the most difficult things we have yet endured. In my mind I knew he may not make it; he was bleeding that profusely. We held hands and prayed and hugged each other then Kendra whisked them away to Grandma. I spent a few more moments with Craig, trying to keep it together for his sake. And I made him promise not to die in the ambulance!

In the lobby on the way to the parking lot, I see another dear friend. We laughed later because when I first saw her, I thought she was in the ER for someone else! I will never forget her coming towards me with a mug of steaming tea, covered with a towel to keep it warm. Through Amy, Jesus provided comfort and the release I was so desperately needing. Amy held me as I cried and poured out my fears. She stuffed granola bars into my hands for sustenance but my soul was fed and refreshed by her generous outpouring of love.

Alone in my car, on the way to Menorah Hospital, I cried out loud to God. I did not want to be this wife, this mother! I told Him I could not do it but prayed for strength, reminded Him of His promises in scripture. I wasn't in the car but a few minutes and my phone rang. It was Margaret, faith like a rock, checking in to see how we were doing. Margaret cried with me when I told her about the kids telling Craig goodbye but reminded me of God's great love and faithfulness. She prayed for Craig and for me and the kids then shared this scripture she had emailed to me that very morning (but I had not read yet):

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds' feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble suffering, or responsibility]! Habakkuk 3:19 AMP

Thank God for friends who come and carry the burden with me! God knew what I needed and provided abundantly, quickly through so many. More blessings.

At the emergency room, Dr. Elkins explained by phone, the procedures of the day and the next. He said Craig would be very sick with pain and fever but this was necessary to stopped the bleeding so the kidney could be removed on Thursday. In walked Kendra, love and comfort with her, to hold our hands and pray with us. The radiologist came to explain the procedure to destroy the kidney and stop the bleeding in detail and it was more information than I wanted in my brain! I didn't want to know all the risks; we had no other option at this point.

We were quiet, trying to breathe and take it all in. Margaret came just before they took Craig for surgery. She brought the email she had sent for both of us and read from it, told Craig she loved him and we all prayed together one last time. Craig and I kissed goodbye then the girls and went to wait.

The waiting part reminds me that someone, Margaret I think, reminded us not to wait on the thing we wanted (or dreaded, for that matter), but to wait on God. That kind of waiting never disappoints. Aaaah (deep sigh). I need to remember that every day of this battle.

As we waited, Margaret pulled from her bag of goodies, bottled water, kleenex, a prayer book and yarn and crochet hooks to occupy our hands. We were soon joined by a dear homeschool friend, Stephanie B. That these girls were with me and planned to saty with me for as long as needed is amazing. They all have busy mom lives, kids' activities, holiday errands & shopping. I have been blown away by their sacrifice of time to me and our family-more blessings, more grace.

Sometime in the early afternoon, I think, we were told that Craig was in recovery, would be taken to his room soon and that we could wait for him there. The girls (my prayer team!) and I walked through the doors to the most beautiful room! It was as large as our first apartment and two of the adjoining walls had floor to ceiling windows that were breathtaking. We all just stood there taking in the light and tranquility. We were there for a long time, in the end I think it was a couple of hours but my mind has little concept of time for those first days. As we waited, we prayed and they encouraged and we laughed. I told the girls I had wanted to write scriptures on paper and tape them up all over our house so that everywhere we turned, we would see God's Word and hear His Truth. Kendra found a dry erase marker and wrote across all the windows, the scriptures we had been reading that day. It was amazing, breathtaking, really. It looked like the verses were written acoss the sky. When Craig was in his bed, his gaze would fall directly on the windows. The first of many wonderful nurses told us Craig would be arriving soon. The girls said goodbye and left with promises to return the following day. Blessings abounded.

Jan and the kids came for a short visit. She put on a brave face but it was so hard for her to see her baby boy like this. The kids saw that he was okay and I am sure they were relieved. It was such a comfort to know they were taken care of so I could focus on Craig.

Craig had a long painful night. He was on various pain medications; sometimes his pain was tolerable but most of the time it was excruciating. For the moms who have experienced back labor, his pain was much like that. Craig's sister, Stephanie, stayed for support through much of the worst, difficult as it was to witness. She has been an angel to us, keeping us company, bringing meals and praying.

I slipped home at 3 am in much need of a shower and some quiet prayer time. Stella, our dog, was most glad to see me. I knelt down and put my face close to hers and closed my eyes. She gently and calmly (most unusual for Stella) sniffed around my face, over my eyelashes, my hair. When I opened my eyes, she looked at me with her big calm brown eyes. It was like she was taking in all the hospital smells and the stress that must have been permeating my skin. Don't dogs just know?

I cried and prayed on each part of my drive but felt renewed when I arrived back at the hospital. Through each breakdown, God has faithfully responded and strengthened me when I needed it. Craig and I had a very peaceful hour as we waited for the nurses to come and take him to surgery. I waited with him in the pre-op room; Stephanie (sister) came a few minutes later. I think we prayed, said goodbye then left to wait some more.

In the surgical waiting room, I had intended to call everyone who still needed to know but we were busy! My friends, Stephanie, Margaret and Kendra came to be with us. We were quite a large group; we had circled together a sofa and some chairs. We prayed, laughed and talked, waiting for phone call from the surgical nurse. If the tumor had not grown to his ureter, surgery would be quick and incisions small. If it had traveled to the ureter, the kidney and ureter would be taken and more incisions made to explore. Craig and I had expected the latter; his bleeding indicated cancer in the ureter. When the nurse told me they were done, his ureter was intact, I almost fell over!

Back in our "prayer circle" we rejoiced! We laughed, cheered, hugged. We joined hands, bowed our heads. Margaret prayed, then me (I think). I said, "Amen" but Kendra said, "Hold on! I'm just getting fired up!" We all laughed, she finished praising and praying and we just soaked in the joy. One of the assisting drs. came out to confirm the news relayed by the nurse. We clapped and cheered like we were at a rock concert! We had more than a few curious glances during our vigil.

We had lots of visitors and phone calls that afternoon; it was a whirlwind of activity. Everyone that knew, kept in constant contact by phone, praying with me, encouraging and rejoicing with Craig. One late night conversation with a friend made me realize just how many people love us and are praying for us. Many, many people we don't know or probably ever get to thank have been lifting Craig's name to heaven in prayer. What it must look like to God as He looks down on His creation, all the circles, connected and overlapping like raindrops on water, praying sweet and fervent prayers on His child's behalf! When Craig and I talked about this, his eyes teared and he was so humbled to think how many people are carrying this burden with us. Thank you, precious brothers and sisters, for coming alongside our family! Lavish grace and blessings.

Jan has been so good, carting the kids back and forth, making extra trips to retrieve my necessities or take care of Stella. She has brought magazines, chocolate (many thanks!), snacks. She surprised Craig and I Thursday evening with new, soft slippers. So many blessings.

I have to say we were so blessed by the nursing staff. Shin was our nurse on Wednesday, the night Craig was in such agony. She did her very best to keep him medicated and tolerated Stephanie and I as we urgently requested her help so many times that night. She cried as she struggled to get his meds going, trying to speed his relief. The next morning she made certain that Craig would have medication before he was sent to wait in the pre-op. This caused her some trouble I am sure. She was Mercy to us all night.

There was also Gary, who helped and checked on us even after we had a shift with him. And Amanda, and Michelle, and Karla, and Edna. . .So many blessings from God in the form of caring hands and hearts.

As Craig progressed and began to walk, have tubes and cords removed, we were fall-on-your-knees-grateful. We could actually see an end. Our conversations were more relaxed, we laughed.

Dr. Elkins came early, around 6 am, and asked if Craig wanted to go home that morning! We couldn't believe it! I had that car loaded so fast! I did feel a little sad to be leaving that room where we had felt God's presence so closely. Throughout this ordeal, I have had the sensation of being held.

It was pretty amazing driving home with Craig beside. There were times in this journey when it was a real possibility he would not be joining me. I shed more than a few grateful tears on the drive.

Craig was welcomed home by Stella, had a hot shower and dozed on the couch.

It felt good to be in our own cozy bed! Craig woke a couple of times, probably because of his naps yesterday.

We have an oncologist appointment tomorrow. After Craig's initial visit to the urologist, the dr. thought Craig might have something going on with his blood because of the slow clotting. I think we also talk to him about the cancer returning, floow-up scans, etc.

Thursday we will see the urologist and get the information from the pathology report-cancer stage, etc. Thursday afternoon, the cardiologist (this appointment was made before).

Pray for us to be filled with "perfect peace" as we wait on appointments, results and statistics. Our minds are most under attack in the middle of the night and fear creeps in so easy when it's dark and you're exhausted. If you know someone who is willing to pray for us, by all means pass along this link:

God has grown our faith to be sure. Even in the middle of fear, I cried out to Him and could feel Him faithfully with me, fear draining away. I have never had a spiritual experience with God quite like this and I never want to forget the lessons He has taught me.

I will update this blog each day and I promise future posts won't be so lengthy-ha, ha! Craig is going to amend my posts with all the correct terminology. Thank you for your prayers and love.

We love you,


  1. Jennifer, I sit here reading your blog...I am crying. As I read your wonderful words I have so many emotions. You are truly blessed even in the dark times. I see hope and promise and know that God is going to continue to take care of you guys. Craig is very lucky to have such a wonderful wife by his side as you go through this. If I can do anything for you, I will. Please know even though I live far away you are in my thoughts everyday and I am praying for you. Love you, Jodi

  2. My arms around the Ostrander family, sending love, prayers and healing thoughts. Enjoy Christmas and celebrating the New Year with your precious family! Craig-we graduate soon!!! Look forward to seeing you when you are better. Poppi

  3. Jennifer--
    I didn't know about this until today, and Tammy sent me a link to your blog. You all will definitely be in our prayers. I appreciate your resolution and commitment to face all this with faith, contrary to your emotions. I know sometimes you have to just do the next thing, and hang on, trusting.

    God bless you and your family!

  4. Hi Friend,
    I came home today and saw your update and I broke into tears. This is the first time I've heard of this. The reason being is I don't know why things like this happen to good people. You are the nicest and most down to earth person I know. You relate to people very well. You will be the best doctor in the world. I miss those days in Ricci where we all gather in small groups and gossip about tests and how poorly questions where written. Truth is, we always complain, even to this day. Medical students really do complain a lot. But at least we have our circle of friends to complain to and understand what we go through. First two years was very challenging, mentally and physically but we made it. Here we are FIVE months from bieng called DR. Scary! lol.
    I Hope you recover soon, continue to be positive, keep your spirits up and have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.