First, a recap about my health: I was diagnosed with an Anaplastic Astrocytoma brain tumor in October 2008 (seizures started in May 2008 but they were misdiagnosed). Surgery was not possible given the location of the tumor, and I was informed that the median survival time of someone with this tumor is about 18 months. Thankfully, younger patients do better.
I underwent radiation therapy at Duke Hospital for about 30 days in January 2009 while taking oral chemotherapy at the same time. I then began a regimen of oral chemotherapy: 5 days of high-dose chemo, followed by 23 days of rest. This lasted for about a year and kept the tumor stable, but it started to grow during the Spring of 2010. Brain tumors are known for "adapting" around chemotherapy.
All conventional treatments were exhausted at that point, so I was offered a clinical trial of a new combination of chemotherapies at Duke Hospital. I didn't feel comfortable with the proposal, so I traveled to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC to participate in a clinical trial going on there. I underwent this trial, which involved IV chemo for about 3 months, but unfortunately there was no improvement. I was then referred to Johns Hopkins hospital for a clinical trial that was about to open - trials were my only medical hope!
The trial was still awaiting FDA approval, so in the meantime the doctors put me on a daily low-dose chemotherapy to "hold me over" until the trial began. While this isn't a standard treatment, it stabilized my condition almost immediately and the tumor stopped growing. This began in September 2010, and my most recent MRIs show that the tumor may in fact be shrinking. In addition, the side effects are minimal because the daily dose is so low. It was a bit of a surprise, but each person is different and the Johns Hopkins doctors are happy that we stumbled upon this treatment that happens to be working for me at the moment. Throughout all of these treatments, I made many trips to Lourdes to pray for Our Lady's intercession. Please keep praying for me and for my doctors.
Seminary: I attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia during most of this treatment (2009-2011), and completed Philosophy studies. I had to spend one semester of Philosophy and one semester of Theology at home near Raleigh because of the effects of the chemo - I just couldn't keep up with the pace. A priest in North Carolina was tutoring me in my classes while I was home so that I wouldn't fall behind. I returned to the seminary in January 2012 to finish my first year of Theology studies, but the schedule proved to be detrimental to my physical and spiritual health. I was constantly sick with the flu, couldn't get the sleep I needed, and most distressing, I wasn't able to keep up with my daily prayer and holy hour due to fatigue. It became apparent pretty quickly that I needed to return to the diocese, and my bishop, His Excellency Michael Burbidge, agreed. He has allowed me to return to Saint Catherine of Siena parish in Wake Forest, has retained me as his seminarian, and in the coming months I will resume my studies and formation from within the diocese. How blessed I am to have such an understanding and caring Bishop. I thank him for his fatherly understanding and care, as I must now follow a very different path than most seminarians. Only God knows how things will progress from now on, but we know that even if we don't understand it, anything that God permits in this life is aimed at our eternal salvation - the only thing that matters in the end.
Blog: I want to dedicate more time to this blog from now on, updating it at least once or twice a day. I have received many emails from Catholics and non-Catholics alike who thank me for many of my posts. Many non-Catholics have enjoyed learning about what the Catholic Church really is - not what they have been told it is. Many Catholics enjoy the reflections on Saints and my photos from my travels - I admit that I love traveling and perhaps I do it too much. Traveling too much can be a form of consumerism (always needing something different), so I pray that I don't fall into that. As a seminarian, I am often able to stay for free (in Lourdes, for example), so I take advantage of it. I post the photos and experiences for those who may not be able to visit those places, and that is the only reason.
I was not looking to be popular when I started this blog, but as of last year it became the #55 most popular Catholic blog based on Google subscription. I would like to hear from the readers and from now on provide what they would like to see - what sorts of posts are you interested in from now on? Saints? Doctrine? History? Catholic news? Please leave me a comment or email me and let me know what you enjoy the most. I enjoy blogging and consider it a sort of apostolate, but I know I could do a better job and update more frequently, so this is my new goal.
Be assured of my prayers, and please pray for me!