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Aug 29, 2008

I'm Free!

Praise God, we were able to go home from the hospital tonight. As we were driving away from the hospital Abby got a huge mile on her face, wiggled her little body and danced in pure delight. She kept announcing over and over, " I'm free!" No pictures, since I was driving. I know that my husband appreciates my restraint. Hearing her laughter was such a healing blessing for me.

Thank you so much for all of your prayers and encouragement. I don't even know how to begin to thank all of you. Your willingness to help with meals and childcare has done so much make this tine in our lives easier. Angel, Amy B, Amy, Carol and Phylis, you guys are amaizing. I also want to thank everyone who has mentioned Abby on their blog or pu her on their churches prayer list. Knowing that others care and are praying has been so encouraging to us.

Many of you prayed about Abby's pain. Because of her leukemia, she can't take Motrin. With her liver problems, she shouldn't take Tylenol either. When she is in pain she sits still and wont play or even walk, if it is not required of her. The chemo is making her very weak, and Abby being in too much pain to walk was making it worse. Her doctors were able to find a narcotic that is controlling her pain, without causing any other problems. She is now much more comfortable. She is not taking enough to be sedated, just enough to be a happy active little girl again. She is getting stronger and that makes Abby very happy.

Abby asleep at home, in her own bed.

Aug 28, 2008

Abby is in remission!

Praise God, Abby is in remission! The specialized bone marrow test, that we were waiting for, showed zero cancer cells. Abby's cancer is still categorized as high risk, because it has shown itself to be an aggressive cancer, but we are very thankful that it won't be placed in the higher category. "Ultra" high risk would have meant much more chemo, so we are grateful.

Abby's port surgery was successful, but she is still in a lot of pain. They are treating her pain with IV morphine, but it is only taking away part of her pain. She is crying more than she ever has and is very tired. They are increasing her pain medication in an effort to control her pain more effectively.

They discharged us a few hours after her surgery yesterday, but by the time we arrived back at home her temperature had spiked and her doctor decided to re-admit her after we had only been home an hour. Her fever might be from an infection, it might be her bodies response to surgery, or it could be a side effect of one of the harsher chemo medications. To be safe, we have to remain at the hospital until they rule out an infection. Even if she would have remained at home, she would have needed to come back to the hospital for chemo on Thursday and Friday. We knew that this was going to be a tough week no matter what.

Today, Abby got a clot in her IV port tubing. It was a pretty intense for a few hours, possibly facing another surgery to insert a new port but they were able to use "clot busting" drugs to clear her line. Crisis averted... praise the Lord!

Samrawit has an infection on one of her legs, that is being treated with an antibiotic. It hurts when she walks. She is at the hospital with Abby and I (Michelle). She has her first flag football game on Saturday and is really looking forward to it. I am praying that she is able to play. Sami loves sports and is very athletic. She has been so wonderful with Abby. I really hope that she can play and have fun.

Our other kids are doing fine. Brent and I are very tired. It is hard on both of us when Abby is in the hospital. Brent has been working and taking care of our other children, which is not easy. My family has been wonderful about babysitting and running errands for us. It is very important to us that our children are with us as much as they can, but unfortunately Brent and I are are getting tired and probably are not all that fun or very good parents right now.

Aug 27, 2008

Prayer Request and Red Onions

Two posts under this one tells about Abby's treatment for the next 5 months. It is under her "weenie" post. :-)

Abby was admitted to the hospital yesterday for chemo. She was so brave yesterday, but to be honest she is one tired little girl. One of the procedures that they did was a spinal tap, so that they could inject chemo into her spinal fluid. Because of the risks associated with sedation, she wasn't allowed to eat anything after midnight and nothing to drink after 9 am. Because of delays, she didn't get to eat for 14 hours. She didn't fuss about it, but she was HUNGRY. Unfortunately, she isn't allowed to have anything to eat today either, because her surgery is scheduled for 1:00 PM. They hope that she will be able to go home this evening, and do the last two days on chemo in their outpatient clinic.

The surgery is to place the port that she will need for the next 3 years. I am thankful that she is getting it, because it will mean a lot less "pokes" for blood draws and IV medications. All surgeries have risks, and since this will be so close to her heart and lungs, it carries some very serious risks. I wish that she didn't have to go through this, but she is God's daughter first. He chose this path for us and we trust Him completely.

Prayer requests for this week:

1. Successful surgery with no complications

2. No discomfort from hunger before surgery and good pain control during and after surgery

3. Muscles to regain strength that she lost because of a side effect of the chemo. She looks like an elderly woman when she stands or goes up steps~no exaggeration at all.

4. That we will be able to go home tonight

5. That we will have fun today and be able to minister to others.
6. No nausea from the chemo.

We have had some wonderful people (adoption friends, family and friends from our church) step forward to provide us with meals and babysitting. My mom is even homeschooling Sami during medical appointments. We want to thank everyone who is helping us. You have made this so much, much easier for us and we thank you.

Some of you asked what Abby's food preferences are and I honestly told you that the child will eat anything. Two hours after I said that Abby ate red onion slices like they were candy. :-P She also ate two kinds of pickles, tomatoes, spiced pumpkin seeds, an apple and a bacon cheeseburger. A real blogger would have taken a picture of her eating the onion, but I was in shock. :-)

These pictures were taken on Monday.

The big kids moved slow so that Abby could play too.

Big sisters and good friends are gifts from God.

"L" makes Abby feel like a special little girl.

Landis loves playing with the big kids.

When Abby was trying to stand, everyone had to be very still so that she balance and push herself up. It is so hard to stand back and let her do it by herself, but I know she has to do it on her own in order to rebuild her strength.

Lots of effort for a little jump, but it was worth it.

Abby loves to play and I love to see her being a kid.

Weenie, Weenie, Weenie

Like any family, we have some words that our kids will try out, and then we tell them “don’t say that word.”

Like any family, we have some kids who figure out ways to get around the system.

Abby decided the other day to declare to all of us that “Landis has a weenie”, which of course he does, and which of course we already knew. But “weenie” is obviously one of those “hee, hee… snicker, snicker” words for a three year old.

We laughed the first time she said it, and that just spurred her to greater heights. So I had to tell her, “Abby, don’t say weenie. That’s enough, don’t say it again.”

Not to be deterred, she now obediently informs us:

“We can’t say weenie. Daddy said don’t say weenie. I don’t say weenie. Weenie is not a word we can say. So I don’t say weenie anymore.”

So as you can see, Abby no longer says “weenie”. J

Aug 25, 2008

Abby: The Next Few Months

Thank you so much for praying for Abby. Here's what is going on the next few months:

Originally, we had the impression the first month was the hardest, but evidently, it was just a warm-up for the next 5. Starting this week:
  • 2 weeks- four days of chemo each week
  • 2 weeks- one day of chemo each week
  • 2 weeks- four days of chemo each week
  • 2 weeks- one day of chemo each week
  • 4-8 weeks - chemo 1-3 times a week

That doesn't include the daily chemo at home. Each of the chemo treatments above are at the hospital, with several days of InPatient scheduled in. Any fevers, hospital. Complications... hospital.

Abby will be treated as "high risk", possibly "ultra high" risk depending on some tests we are waiting on. Higher risks don't change the time frame, just the amount, variety and intensity of the drugs she receives.
The chemo will make her to be severely anemic and her immune system will be compromised. Also, because they are injecting chemo directly into her spinal fluid, her brain will be bathed in chemo.

Since Abby is getting such a large amount of chemo, I am trying to feed her as many "chemical free" (organic) foods as I can. She is still having trouble with her liver, so we have to avoid every unnecessary chemical, so that she can handle all of the chemo that she needs.

It's going to be a trying time, and your prayers are deeply appreciated. We thank God for the opportunity to trust Him, both in His power to heal, and His power to divinely guide the Doctors.

Abby has had a week break from steroids
and chemo, so she is looking much better.
It's hard knowing that it is the calm before the storm for her.

Thank you Candy, Kya and Jagger for the gift for Abby. You were so sweet to think of her. Abby wants to play with you all soon.

Thank you to our family at Wildwood who have relentlessly pursued opportunities to help us during this time. Special thanks to the anonymous gift giver this past Sunday. We don't know who you are, but God does. May He credit your heavenly account with abundant treasure.

Slurp, Slurp

We were at the tail end of dinner one night, and a couple of the kids had already finished, were excused and running around playing.

My wife and I were playing cards, and one or two kids were still at the table when we kept hearing, "slurp, slurp, slurp...." Like someone sipping soup from a bowl.

It took us a minute to track it down and finally we found our two year old, Landis, under his chair, laying flat on his belly, retrieving some spilled Koolaid off the floor using only the tongue and lips God gave him.

You wouldn't believe how proud he was to not only be saving his spilled Koolaid, but to be cleaning up his mess too! He had his eye on some spaghetti noodles under another chair, but we intercepted him before he could "clean up" that lost pasta!

Aug 22, 2008

Abby's Home

Abby was able to go home from the hospital last night. Praise God! Thank you so much for praying for us. She was so excited to sleep in her own bed and to play with her toys. It feels so good to be home.

We are still waiting on the results on the specialized bone marrow test. It will tell us if there are any cancer cells left. This test will determine whether Abby will a "normal" high risk patient or a ultra high risk patient. Our doctor met with us yesterday, to talk to us about the next 2 1/2 years of treatment. Since we don't have the test results back, she told us the plan for both the normal high risk and the plan if she turns out to be the ultra high risk. The next phase of treatment is going to be a lot harder for Abby and for our family than we thought that it would be. Since Abby's cancer has shown itself to be very aggressive, she is going to need a lot of chemotherapy.

We are still processing what that will mean for all of us, so we will write more about it later. Thank you so much for keeping us in your prayers. We will be back in the hospital Tuesday, for more treatment. We are praising God for the time we will have at home. We are so thankful that we are together again and that Abby is full of energy and pain free.

Abby is so excited to be a kid again.

A few days ago, when Abby was almost finished
with day full of tests and procedures, she looked up at me and said,
"I am a very brave girl, Mommy. " I am so thankful
that she doesn't need to be brave today.

Abby has a list of things that she wants to do today.
She wants to ride her bike, blow bubbles
and play with her sister and brothers.
I think that it is the perfect "to do" list.

We are blessed to have a wonderful neighbor, who loves Abby and our other children. She is also a great cook. She is bringing us a home cooked dinner tonight, so that we can focus on other things. I am so thankful that I will be able to have extra time with the kids. They all need a little extra time with Brent and I.

Aug 20, 2008

Update on Abby Doing Much Better

Abby had a busy day yesterday, but a productive one. She was really tired last night, but gradually felt much better through the day.

It feels so good to have my daughter back. Yesterday they placed a PICC line, so they won't need to stick Abby when they need to get a sample of her blood or give her IV fluids. Because of Abby's eczema, the PICC line is a temporary solution, but it is wonderful to have it until she can get the more permanent kind of port.

They were able to do the bone marrow aspiration, so that we can get the highly specialized test done. They continue to give her powerful antibiotics (that seem to be working since the fever is down) that made her itch like nuts, then some Benadryl to stop the itch. The ultrasound of her liver showed no problems and they continue to run tests on it.

She has not had a fever since last night. If her temperature remains normal we will get to go home tomorrow after a consultation with our primary Doctor about what the course of treatment is for the next six months (known as the "consolidation" phase).

Abby and Samrawit playing
the hospitals play room. This was
the first time that Abby felt up to
playing in it since we have been here.

Landis liked the tools best.

Abby loved playing with her new toys today.
She kept asking about her "Guatemala friend".
Thank you Phylis and Kristen for brightening her day.

Abby flirting with Daddy.

Thanks to my sister, Abby was able to
eat the food that she has been craving. Thanks you Mimi,
from the Queen of Sheba, for making Abby's favorite
food extra hot. Abby and Sami loved every bite.

Seeing her smile again made my day.

Aug 19, 2008

Immediate Prayer Requests

There is a detailed post under this one, but we have some new requests to add.

Abby's doctors/nurses hope to do her bone marrow aspiration and place a PICC line today, under conscious sedation. This will mean that she will not feel the procedure and will not remember it. With the new PICC line, they will not have to stick her for most blood draws or to give IV medication.

They also want to do an ultrasound of her tummy, to try to find out what is causing her liver enzymes to go up.

They ordered a more powerful antibiotic to be given, in addition to the other antibiotics. Abby is having a reaction to it. It is a medication that she really needs, but it is making her very uncomfortable. She is swelling, has a rash and is itching. She keeps scratching her head, and a ton of hair is falling out, which is making her itch more. They have given her medicine to help her with these side effects, but it took a while for them to go away. She needs this medication every 8 hours. They hope that by giving her benadryl before each dose, that it will be much easier for her.

Her face was so red and swollen.

Thank you so much for praying for her during these procedures.

Update on Abby & the family...

By Brent

Abby is still in the hospital, her fever has not gone down. As of tonight, it was actually up over 102. She’s had a fever now for almost a week. She is supposed to have surgery and a bone marrow aspiration tomorrow, a consultation on Thursday, and new chemo drugs on Monday. All of that is in question because of the fever. It is critical that her next phase of chemo begin before the Leukemia can regroup and attack.

Of course, that is all medically speaking. We know that God is in control, and He is watching over our precious daughter.

There are so many things happening, it would almost be comical, if it wasn’t all so serious. As of today, my wife is getting treated for an infection that she probably picked up in the hospital. Tonight, Sami is in the emergency room with her grandmother downstairs at the same hospital as Abby, with some sort of infection on her leg. My wife thinks it might be a spider bite. It is a grouping of blistered, swollen spots on the back of her leg.

While my poor wife is stuck at the hospital, and sick herself, I'm juggling kids, school, house, laundry and work. We have family and friends graciously helping with the children so that I can give sufficient attention to my job. My employer is having some legitimate financial issues due to the economy, and we were notified last week it would require a 50% pay cut for us. We appreciate, for obvious reasons, that our health insurance will remain in force. I have no negative feelings towards my employer. They are good people, and other people actually got laid off while I did not. I’m thankful they genuinely care about our situation with Abby.

We are not in a crisis financially. We live fairly frugally and do not use consumer debt. We live financially the way I teach other people on Debt-free living anticipates increases and decreases in income. We will certainly have to make some major adjustments, but adjustments are not the same as turmoil or crisis. Our loving God is providing for us, and it is patently clear already that this cut in pay is no surprise to Him. He has never failed us on any level.

Thank you for your prayers and kind encouragement. It is greatly appreciated. Please pray for the health and healing of our family, and most of all, that we will draw people to God by continuing to trust in the Lord. God is so good and we are full of joy to have such a wonderful opportunity to increase our faith and see God answering prayer every day. God’s grace is sufficient for us and in our weakness, His power is perfected.


Landis, Abby and Sami shortly after Sami
arrived from Ethiopia.

This is a fresh pic of Abby tonight.
They have to keep sticking her with needles
to draw blood samples, and they have
just poked her full of holes trying. Please
pray they will get blood the first time
they try without digging around on her.

Aug 17, 2008

Abby's Saturday

From Michelle:

Saturday was the hardest day so far. Abby's fever got as high as 103. They are giving her IV antibiotics and medicine to reduce her fever, but it isn't working as well as we wished it would. She is still laughing and smiling a lot of the time, but there are more moments where she is saying she hurts and she has cried a few times. Boy it hurts to have her lay quietly in my arms and feel her tears drip off of her face. She is so sweet and happy most of the time, that it is easy to forget, for a minute, how much her little body is going through.

We are not complainers. The room that we have been in was very small and only had a foldout chair for me to sleep on. Tonight I asked if we could get a larger room and thankfully they said yes. Our new room has a fold out couch that Abby and I can sleep on together. Abby was so happy that she could be closer to Mommy. It is such a little thing, but it was comforting to her.

This picture was taken of Abby on Saturday. She is so tired.

Friday with her favorite guy, she was feeling tired,
but still able to have some fun.
Here she is signing "L" cast.
Boy, he had to work hard to get her to laugh,
but Abby is STILL laughing about his silly dance.

Abby and "L" coloring. I love seeing her smile.

Here is a recent picture of Landis, just because I miss him.
Sami is staying with her "best" friend. Sami says that she is her glue friend, because they stick so close together. I love it that she is close to kids at our church. With a larger hospital room, they can be here more, as soon as Abby starts doing a little better. I miss them all so much. Daddy has been going back and forth between home and the hospital. Spending time with Abby, making sure that all of the other kids are ok and working hasn't been easy for him, but he does it without a complaint. I am so blessed to have Brent for a husband.
We really appreciate all of your prayers, comments and emails. So many people have stepped forward to help us locally. We are blessed to have great family and friends. Thanks for everything.

Aug 15, 2008

Abby in the Hospital - Aug 15th

From Brent

Abby is in the hospital and looks like she’ll be there for a few days. She has been on antibiotics for 24 hours, and her fever did not go down. This afternoon they gave her a fever reducer, and her temperature went UP… so we’re a little concerned for obvious reasons.

She has to be in the hospital 24-48 hours with no fever, and so far, her temperature has only gone up.

Please pray that the antibiotics they will give her will work quickly and effectively.
Please pray for wisdom for the doctors.
Please pray for us to have opportunity for faith and ministry to those around us.

She has to be in the hospital for 48 hours WITH NO FEVER. As of 7:13pm Friday, she is still floating between 101 and 102, even with a fever reducer.

Abby eating her favorite snack after
waking up from a feverish nap. Like always
she smiles and is loving even though
she feels bad.

Aug 14, 2008

Abby is in the Hospital

The post before this one gives an update on the results of Abby's cancer tests and updated prayer requests.

Today Abby is on her way back to the hospital. She is being admitted to the hospital as of 3:30pm today. She is running a high fever.

For cancer patients doing intense chemo, this is very serious. You don’t wait… you just head straight for the hospital. Abby has almost no ability to fight an infection, which a high fever indicates, and unlike people with normal blood and immunity, anything from a cold to internal bleeding can kill her. Her blood counts are good for a “chemo patient” but WAY below what is normal for you and I.
  • Please pray for her to get to the hospital quickly and safely.
  • Please pray that the antibiotics they will give her will work quickly and effectively.
  • Please pray for wisdom for the doctors.
  • Please pray for us to have opportunity for faith and ministry to those around us.

She’ll most likely be in the hospital two or three days MINIMUM.

Abby's energy is up, because she is off of the steroids. Even though she has an infection, she is feeling better than she did last week. Any improvement is a blessing and we are enjoying our time together.

Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement.

This is Abby a short time before her
diagnosis. You can see in
current pics, compared to the past,
how the steroids have made her tired and puffy.
Her hair is really thick and long here.
She's off the steroids for a while,
so we look forward to her getting
her energy back, and losing the puffiness.

Despite being really tired all the time, and
dealing with the effects of the steriods (bloating,
stomach aches), Abby is still happy
and a joy to be around.

Here is Abby tonight in the hospital. She got
a "poke" (IV) and is running a fever, but like
always is still a joy and ready to smile. She's getting
antibiotics and fluids that we pray will kill off
whatever infection is present. Despite all the discomfort
Abby remains loving, pleasant and affectionate.

Aug 13, 2008

Update on Abby Riggs - Aug 13 - Last Day of Induction

By Brent

Today was a milestone day. It was the last day of “induction” which is the initial treatment phase of cancer. The goal of induction is to attack the cancer with all guns blazing, and get Abby into “remission” (no cancer present in the bone marrow).

Induction is followed by 6 months of “consolidation” which is, in lay terms, “kick’em while they’re down”. The treatments are meant to find and kill any Leukemia that might have migrated in the body to “hide”, and to keep any new cancer forming. After induction, you've got the cancer on the run, and consolidation is meant to be the "coup de grace" (knockout punch).

Consolidation is followed by 2.5-3.0 years of “maintenance” chemotherapy meant to keep any new cancer from forming, and kill it if it does. Each phase (induction, consolidation, maintenance) is less intense.

Within those three phases, a patient has a risk level: normal, high, ultra high. Abby was “high risk” immediately because her white blood cells skyrocketed exponentially the first week of her diagnosis. This was an indication of an extremely aggressive cancer. The higher the risk, the more intense the chemotherapy which comes with greater degrees of side effects, and a lesser chance of survival.

Today we had fully expected, and the doctors as well, that Abby would be declared in complete remission and be cancer free. From the bone marrow examination this morning, the doctors still they think see Leukemia but need a more sophisticated test to know for sure. They are going to try and do the test with the bone marrow they extracted today, but may need another sample, which would happen next Wednesday. If this advanced test comes back negative for cancer cells, Abby will be officially in remission. If not, then her “consolidation” period will be much more intense therapy.

Either way (positive or negative) she will not be treated as "normal risk"; she is either going to be "high risk" or "ultra high risk", both of which come with lesser degrees of optimistic prognosis. This is because she started out high risk, and her remission is in question at this point, when normally, it would not be. So she will be a high risk patient… it’s the degree of high risk we don’t know yet.

Her blood counts look good at this point (for a cancer patient in chemotherapy). Abby still cannot be out in public, or around anyone that sick. She is off the steroids now, so her energy should return quickly, and her poor little bloated tummy should go away.

Honestly, it was not a very happy result today (circumstantially), but God is in control, and we put everything in His hands. We knew this process was not going to be smooth or easy, and there would be lots of opportunity for faith along the way. We rejoice in the peaks and valleys because God walks with us in both.

Please pray with us that the advanced tests will be available (the doctors are cashing in a favor because this test is not officially available right now), that the tests will show her to be cancer-free; that God will heal Abby; and that we will continue to trust God and look for opportunities to minister to others.

Abby just minutes before today's procedures.
Her smile betrays how tired she is all the time. You can see here
that the steroids have puffed up her face (her tummy too).
She will be off steroids for a while, so her energy should return
quickly, and the puffiness will go away. Her hair is noticeably
thinner now. We still pray she'll keep some hair, but the
upcoming chemo, according to doctors, will probably cause
the rest of it to fall out. Abby is looking forward to cutting off
Daddy's hair if her hair falls out (a deal I made
with her when she first noticed other children with no hair).

Dad and Abby going for a ride on the four wheeler
a few days ago. Our neighbor has a big yard that we
take nice slow, but fun, rides across. Abby loves it.
(for all you Mom's out there, we ride on nice soft grass,
about 1mph... so no helmets are necessary.)

Aug 11, 2008

Abby update and more HH pictures

Thank you Maria and Isabella.
Abby loved the shirt that you sent her. You made her day!

Two seconds later, Abby "tooted"
and as you can see, was VERY proud of herself!

About a week after Abby’s Leukemia diagnosis, she had elevated liver enzymes and the doctors were very concerned about it. Abby initially tested reactive to Hepatitis C, so the Docs ran some more specific and accurate tests to verify. Those test came back last week NEGATIVE for Hep-C. Her liver enzymes have also now come back into acceptable ranges (for Leukemia), so we praise God for that, and sincerely thank everyone who prayed for Abby.

The doctors will watch her liver numbers closely as she was 12 times higher than normal when all this began. It is truly an answer to prayer. Thank you for praying with us. We hope you will take joy in this answered prayer too.

Abby has a very important clinic appointment on Wednesday. It will be her 29th day of treatment. Her doctors will do a bone marrow aspiration and spinal tap to determine if she is in remission. If she is not in remission, they will need to continue giving her high doses of chemo until she is in remission. We are praying and fully expecting that she is in remission on Wednesday.

Remission (no Leukemia in the bone marrow), on the 29th day of treatment means that her chemo for the next six months will be less severe and most important to us, her chances of survival (statistically speaking according to the Doctors) are much higher (as opposed to not being remission). We know that God can heal her, no matter what the statistics say, but of course we are still praying for good news on Wednesday. We believe God heals both miraculously, and through the providential gifts of healthcare and medicine as He sees fit to His glory.

So far, Abby has not experienced most of the harsher side effects of her treatment. We are very thankful for that blessing from God. She is weak and very tired most of the time. Chemo has a cumulative effect and each week she gets more tired. She struggles with being constipated and an aching stomach. She is such a sweetheart. She has had the best attitude during the last month. Thank you again for praying for her.

This was my favorite picture.
It is of the girls praying together, before we left the reunion.

The kids loved doing crafts.

At the older girls slumber party, some of the girls
have been home for a year and others just arrived.
Samrawit was at the orphanage longer than any other child.
She new all of the girls and enjoyed continuing their friendships.

At church on Sunday.

Water balloon volleyball was a hit.

Their smiles say it all.