HOPE. The word itself has many different meanings; it can imply confidence, reflect faith, and instill trust. We use the word to express the interior of our hearts. Going to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, last week provided us with an opportunity of hopeful validation that we were doing everything possible to ensure that Nick was receiving the best care and most advanced therapy. The doctors there confirmed what we already knew- there is no cure for this rare cancer and the best mindset was to remain hopeful Nick’s body will respond positively to the treatments. It is our Hope that one day will lead to the next week, the next week to the next month, the next month to the next year. And we abide in Hope that in those upcoming months or year, medical research will continue to advance and further clinical trials will become available.
I’ve lived in a state of perpetual HOPE since Nick’s diagnosis; my hopes change from week to week, day to day, even hour to hour. I’ve gone from hoping it’s not cancer, to hoping it’s operable, to hoping it hasn’t spread, to now- hoping we can slow its progression. Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma is an aggressive cancer. The Mayo doctors told us their tests revealed new tumors had developed since the surgery in Nick’s remaining right liver lobes; yet we are hopeful because he is young, he is strong, and he is a fighter.
Nick will undergo chemotherapy at UNC while further genome testing is completed at Mayo Clinic in hopes that immunotherapy can be provided as the second line of treatment in six to eight weeks; which means we hope to return to Mayo. Meanwhile, the oncologists at Mayo and UNC collaborated on the best drug protocol allowing Nick to return home.
HOME. The word itself has many different meanings; it can imply comfort, reflect family, and instill love. We use the word to express the needs of our emotional and physical well being. After we finished in Minnesota, we were blessed to be able to spend time with my family in Iowa. Nick enjoyed time with his grandparents, aunts & uncles and cousins and his 104 year-old great grandmother. We drove by the house we lived in when he was in pre-school, ate at hometown restaurants, and laughed together at embarrassing family stories. He even got a haircut from his favorite barber- his Auntie Lynne (who also gave him his very first haircut). But the best part of the week was Friday night when we all went to the Iowa wrestling meet. While Nick sat in the stands surrounded by his family, I realized this family consisted of a two-time state champion, former Iowa wrestler and wrestling coach at the high school with the most state championships in the history of Iowa (his GrandDad), a member of a two-time state championship wrestling team (his cousin Patrick), a collegiate national champion runner (Patrick’s wife Laura), and the wrestling coach of the Holly Springs Golden Hawks- the 2015 North Carolina Regional Dual Team Champions and four time consecutive SWAC Conference Champs. That’s a lot of champions. That’s a lot of winning. Nick’s body may be invaded right now with cancer, but his heart is that of a champion. Champions are always in for the fight, and always in for the win.
Depending upon the profession, it’s referred to differently: Steve calls it the Army’s motto “Hurry up and wait”; I call it an oxymoron such as “silent scream”; The National Cancer Institute calls it DTT “Diagnosis to Treatment Time”- 44 days. Whatever the name, the side effects are the same: anxiety, stress, fear, impatience, and frustration. 44 days- it seems like a lifetime. And upon reflection, that’s exactly what it is- time of “life.”
During these 44 days, I have gone from praying it’s not cancer, to being thankful the cancer is still operable, to praying the liver resection is successful, to hoping for the best prognosis from one doctor, to searching for the most medically advanced treatment from another. So maybe the whole purpose of DTT is to help you understand that “survivorship” is a marathon, not a sprint; and as long as we are still in the running, life is good.
Yesterday we received hopeful news- the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, accepted Nick as a patient to review his prognosis and present a treatment plan. The US News & World Report ranks Mayo Clinic as the third best cancer treatment center in the country. Specifically, Mayo has a targeted Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program researching a new type of cancer treatment- a therapy in which early studies have shown impressive responses in cholangiocarcinoma. Because cholangiocarcinoma has such a high recurrence rate, winning is about preventing.
Thanks to the generous donations from Apex Friendship High School and Cape Fear High School’s athletic departments, we were able to quickly make arrangements and purchase plane tickets to get Nick and Melissa to Minnesota for tests on Jan. 31st and doctor consultation on Feb. 1st. My spirits were uplifted yesterday. At one point I turned to Nick and said, “I’m so happy!” and went in for “my snuggle kiss”- which was promptly rebuked by my 28-year-old baby with a “Mom-stop!” and then he preceded to remind me that this is just mile marker three in a very long marathon. Typical coach- always looking forward.
Many of you have asked about helping support Nick and Melissa. I have updated the Win and Advance page on this site to include a widget for online donations with a credit card and/or the banking information that has been set up in Nick's name for check donations. While they have excellent insurance, clinical trials are rarely covered and incur expenses- both travel and medical related- beyond its coverage. I am confident together we can move to the next...
Mental toughness, courage, and perseverance, - the key elements to every remarkable story of triumph. Without them, it's just a story. The stories remembered are those of the underdog who defeats the champion, those of the soldier physically imprisoned but refuses to be a prisoner, or those of survival in the midst of devastation. So as 2017 begins, a year in which we will be required to overcome fears and confront pain, I know when it becomes the old year, Nick is going to have a remarkable story to tell.
The Lord is my light and my salvation- so why should I be afraid? Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will not tremble.
This is a funny I do each year (well I think it's funny, Nick just thinks it's corny). A couple of years ago, I started cutting out Nick's picture from his first year of teaching and gluing it on Parade magazine's "Back to School" cover in August. This year was perfect because it had two teachers, so I put both our heads on it. For me, the year never really begins in January- the new year is always the first day of school. I think today was a little emotionally rough on both of us because we knew that everyone was returning to school tomorrow- except us. Nick and I love teaching, but we love our students even more. We laugh with them, get our energy from them and develop bonds we will always remember with them. Nick's students and wrestlers (past and present) and their parents have been so encouraging- their words of encouragement, prayers, and visits when he is feeling up to it, all uplifts his spirits. We have had meals delivered, wrestlers over to play board games, and Nick has received so many special gifts- autographed pictures of Olympic wrestlers, a signed NC State wrestling poster, ECU hockey jerseys, and much more. Thank you to the Meyers family for taking down all of his Christmas lights. Over Thanksgiving Nick had decided to become a Griswald and lit up his house to rival Clark's. Melissa was getting a little tired of pulling into the driveway and seeing the deer. The Team Noz Golden Hawks are ...
Nick was discharged from UNC Hospital Thursday- one goal. Just in time for Christmas- one win.
I sent Max out in the morning to get a Christmas tree. All the tree places had shut down; however, he found two little brown straggly ones left at Lowe's. He bought both, because he either wasn't sure which I'd "prefer," or he couldn't decide which was the least pitiful. I imagined Max rushing to get the trees home before Nick and him throwing them into the back of the Jeep- somewhat like the Grinch when he shoves Cindy LooHoo's tree up the chimney. You see, Cancer HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
"IT CAME! It came with out ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!" Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
We spent yesterday decorating those Charlie Brown trees with all the homemade ornaments the boys had made when they were little- the wreath out of pasta, the popsicle stick reindeer, a blue bauble one of them brought home from a Santa's Secret Workshop at school, and placed the toilet paper roll angel on top. I put out a cloth Santa I got at the first craft fair I went to in 1988 (Nick called it the original Elf on a Shelf) and set out the old Dickens Village from 1992- I turned on the lights in the bakery shop (Wonder Bread) and church (First Baptist), but left the old schoolhouse (Independence High School) dark like I used to do back when we were just a family of three. Then I remembered Christmas Eve 2011, when Nick put a ring on Marcey's collar and called Melissa out into the back yard- and then proceeded to lure them both around the side of the house so all of us peeking out from the back sunporch couldn't see him propose to Melissa. And I decided one of my best friends, Dr. Seuss, did have it right...
Christmas does really mean something more!
Through the "Super-Soldier" serum and "Vita-Ray" treatment he is receiving at UNC, Captain America's strength and endurance is returning to its natural state of maximum human potential. Meanwhile his alter-ego continues to make progress and is hoping to be discharged Thursday. Captain America hangs suspended from the IV pole as a reminder to always fight the good fight and "If you get hurt, hurt 'em back. If they kill you, walk it off!" - Captain America
These last four days have been a testament to the power of prayer and a demonstration of love from the Golden Hawk community. Three nights ago my son was lying in the ICU, tonight he was sitting with his wife, parents, grandparents, brother and friends cheering on his wrestlers while receiving match updates from Wrestling Mom Lynne Meyers. He was so confident in Coach Long and the boys. After Matt Nordberg clinched the win, he tweeted at Nick, "That one was for you Noz." Nick replied with an exchange familiar to the team..."Just keep going...just keep wrestling."
I believe in the difference everyone's support has made in his recovery. He's been up walking and pushes himself to walk farther each time. I think in his mind he hears himself saying, "Just keep going...."
Mr. Herrick brought a special visitor up to Nick this afternoon- a Golden Hawk!
After a seven hour surgery, Dr. Calvo delivered the great news- that things went well. Chololangiocarcinoma tumors in the liver and lymph nodes were removed. Spent the night in ICU, but he is looking forward to being moved to the surgical oncology wing sometime today. Melissa never leaves his side. She is so patient and supportive. Together they can't be beaten- both are strong fighters. Nick asked to see his cousin Patrick and Jack for a few minutes last night. As soon as he was out of surgery, he wanted Melissa to contact Golden Shoes (aka Hunter Morton) right away and let him know he was alive and well. He watched the movie Mighty Ducks all through the night, and I had flashbacks to him tooling around on his roller blades pretending he was Gordon Bombay on our back patio in Germany when he was in 3rd/4th grade. Thank you for all the prayers and support. And a huge thank you to my brother Dan for coming out and helping us all get through these first days. Everyone's kindness has uplifted our spirits and keeps Nick focused on the next....
4 1/2 hours into surgery. Nurse came out about an hour ago and said things were going well. Lighter moment from this morning- in typical Nick fashion- made the nurse give him a bracelet to wear that said, "No Med Students". He got a little ornery last week with all the students "practicing". He's a better teacher than student I guess.
Arrived at the hospital at 9:30, prepped for surgery and has just gone back to the Operating Room.
Lots of prayers this morning at the high schools and hospital. Thank you to everyone for coordinating the prayer circles and offering such an outpouring of support. It really has made a difference. Today has been one of the better days of the last ten- he is ready to get on the mat and had his classic Nick Noz game face on. One win.
After his diagnosis, Nick returned home to prepare for his surgery scheduled for Monday, December 12th at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. His goal is to remain focused and positive. He is spending time with Melissa, and his brother Jack came home from The Citadel with his girlfriend Sara this weekend. Together they watched a lot of Jimmy Valvano and 30for30s on ESPN.