Sunday, November 18, 2012

A little heartbeat...and a BOW

Blogging isn’t really my thing. To say that I am a little out of sorts trying to construct this entry would be an understatement. Typically my writing is for myself—to myself, read by me. I am also comfortable writing for an assignment; that comes with direct parameters and expectations. Even facebook has a semi-defined audience of “friends” with whom I share my, often, incomplete and non-politically charged musings. This is different. This is way vulnerable.  And I’m a feelings person.
I am not against blogs. I am not really for them either. I will say this—every blog post involving cancer that I have ever read turned out pretty ugly.  Jaded is a good word for my stance. I mean no disrespect to anyone who has experienced loss and used digital public journaling as a tool for comfort, venting, and healing.  This sort of thing has great value in hard times. As a counselor, I would be telling myself to do this very thing. As a counselor, I would also be telling myself not to eat an entire plate of cookies when it feels sad around here. What do counselors know anyway?

I was adamant that Brittany write the disclaimers in the first post. I asked her to use as many of my own words as she could—that way all of you would know how serious I am about them. Our purpose in writing is not to give you a glimpse into how bad life is living with this tumor while expecting a baby. This is also not a place where we are recording the bright spots from our “last days together” so we can cherish them when life gets really hard. Rather, this is a place where I will eventually share how God healed my wife and gave us a baby. And faith will grow all along the way.  Ours.  Yours. These are thoughts and updates from our life so that you can see that we are LIVING—not just surviving. We are living in anticipation of God making this all right, and in doing so, glorifying Himself.  (Have you read Exodus 32 and Psalm 106 recently?) That is the hope that we live with every day.  That is the strength that allows us to stand up and walk out one doctor appointment after another. Your texts and emails have been so encouraging because you have been so good to remind us WHO GOD IS in the middle of this--please don’t stop them. Please.

Ok, so want a little update now that I take off my preacher collar and counselor hat?
Let’s pick up from last weekend.  Brittany failed to mention that I turned 30 on Sunday. We celebrated all weekend long.  Saturday night was progressive dinner at Burger Republic followed by Cantina Laredo Mexican Hot Apple Pie with Cinnamon Ice Cream steam-fried in Brandy Butter. The capitol letters direct you to the most important parts of that sentence. On Sunday, we did birthday lunch with my family and then Brittany and I got to spend the day together.

Sullivan family Birthday lunch

On Monday we received the MRI results from Friday’s tests. Brittany’s Oncologist called to let us know that the scan revealed that there in fact was a tumor in her heart, but there was no clotting. She added that her plan was to get us through pregnancy before starting any  sort of medical treatment for the tumor, though Brittany would need to start a blood thinner to help prevent clotting in the future. The significant piece of this plan is tumor growth; the doctor feels that this plan could be successful if the tumor doesn’t grow enough to present significant problems during our pregnancy. This was a tough day for us because it confirmed the news we had received one week prior. We gave thanks that there was no clotting but were sad that it looks like we have a tough journey ahead.

Brittany spent time on Monday and Tuesday communicating with Harding’s PA program about finishing school. We were sad to put this very important piece of our lives on hold, but it is the best decision with all that is on Brittany’s plate right now. We are still working on details, but as of now she will delay graduation.  This gives us something to look forward to in 2013!

On Wednesday we had our first visit with the Cardiologist at Vanderbilt. He spent a lot of time with us during our visit—that was a nice change. He concurred with our Oncologist and the Heart Surgeon that Surgery is not our best option, and he would like to monitor Brittany through pregnancy before medically treating the tumor. This visit was mostly full of good news, but he did mention that any treatments in our future would come with some risk. We mostly suspected this type of news but were holding out hope for an obvious treatment with record of high success. This made us sad for much of that afternoon, but God’s comfort came quickly! Our dear friends came over for dinner and ended up staying pretty late. We ate pizza and talked about living in Allen Dorm until we couldn’t laugh any more. It was a much needed escape from the valley, but our night wasn’t over yet. When they left, my prayer group from Searcy conference called us to pray for Brittany and the baby. It was a hard day that ended in joy—God is faithful.

Thursday was a day that we have had circled in our calendar for more than a month, because that was the day for our OB 17 week check-up and “gender ultrasound.” It was difficult to get overly excited for this appointment since the last 6 doctor visits ended in sadness and more questions than assurances. So mixed in with our eagerness to know if we were having a little boy or little girl was a familiar tense stomach knot. I don’t know that I could have handled bad news in this doctor visit—I prayed that I wouldn’t have to do that. When we went back for the ultrasound, I immediately looked on screen for the little heartbeat that I had seen the previous 2 OB visits. And there it was!  God is faithful—His goodness extends from everlasting to everlasting! Not only did I see a little heart beating, but we saw LOTS of movement. Our little baby could not sit still; we even saw a little thumb in its mouth!  With just a little more navigating of the instrument, the ultrasound tech was able to bring up a picture of our baby from a different angle. “Are you ready to know the gender?” she asked overlooking our eyes welling up. When we said yes, she typed, “I am a girl!” on the screen just above the image of our baby. And just like that, all of the health problems and concerns floated away. I was going to have a daughter. I didn’t have to imagine what this would all look like anymore. It was right in front of us, and nothing else could snuff the joy we were feeling. We had renewed hope, and I was given strength knowing that a little girl was counting on me being strong.

It's a girl!
Lunch at The Puffy Muffin after OB visit

Finally, we moved out of our one-bedroom apartment into a two-bedroom unit on Friday. I enlisted the help of my first period seniors to help us move; they are my warriors. As part of my job at Ezell-Harding, I teach Senior men Bible class. We get to spend about an hour together every morning, and I have come to love that time during my day more than any other. These men have prayed for us. They gave up a free lunch at school last Friday because they were fasting for our MRI test. They have bought us multiple meals, and have reminded me that, no matter the circumstance, they have my back. So when I asked them to help us move out of our old place and into our new, they answered the call. I am so thankful for them. They truly show me the love of Christ and the beauty of the church every day. Thanks to them, we had all of our furniture and belongings transferred in just over an hour and a half. They served us with wonderful attitudes and great respect to our parents.

Sometimes life is pretty heavy. Even still, I never want to stop learning. I have never had to bear the burden of life like this before, but with it has come great perspective change. These lessons that I have learned will serve as an appropriate conclusion to this post.

1. God is faithful. This has never been in question, but never has it meant so much. We weren’t even supposed to be able to get pregnant without a lot of assistance. God gave us our little baby girl in the perfect timing. We now live less 15 minutes from incredible health care. We found out about the tumor growing in Brittany’s heart because of a routine checkup ordered by our OB. Our little girl showed us that something was wrong; we never would have known otherwise. Praise God for His gift and His timing. We trust our every step to Him.

2. The church truly is the body of Christ. We have received calls, cards, texts, notes, letters, and prayers from the people of God every day that we have gone through this tough time. John gave us a brand new mattress set for our second bedroom. Emily has showered us with love and gifts for our new baby. The shepherds at Woodmont Hills have poured themselves out before the Lord on our behalf. My mentor from Harpeth Hills covers me in scripture and prayer. We have had bills paid, food delivered, and tabs covered for us. I am humbled at God’s people being obedient and compassionate on our behalf. My heart trembles at the power of the concern of so many.

3. Our hope does not and will not come from medicine. We are truly thankful to live so close to Vanderbilt Hospital. We are very thankful to have a team of specialists that are taking great interest in our case. We are so thankful that they look at our situation from every angle so that Brittany and our baby girl will be protected. But I am making it known that our hope is in God’s hand working powerfully in this situation. Doctors are trained to practice based on results and data. Our God knows no boundaries, needs no baseline, nor faces any surmounting obstacle. He is the author and giver of life. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

May He honor the confidence we have in Him and the controlling fear we have surrendered to him with a miracle—for He is able.

We would like for you to be praying that the tumor is taken away, reduced in size, or grows no larger. This appears to be the most pressing aspect of Brittany’s health right now.

Thank you for reading and loving my family.


  1. Praying fiercely for all three of you daily. God knows no boundaries. We love you all, deeply.

  2. Praying so hard for you guys and your sweet baby girl! God is already being glorified in this incredibly difficult situation, and I SURE that He will bring you through it in a better way than we could ever imagine. Sending love.

  3. Brittany and John, just to let you know my thoughts are prayers are with you. I believe, without a doubt, that God answers prayer. Prayer for your healing and strength........for you and your baby girl!
    love, Sheri

  4. Dear Brittany and John,

    Bona and I are from Tirana, Albania and as you have correctly guessed are friends to Morgan grandparents. Through the years we have had Brittany's health in our prayers. We will continue to pray for all the three of you for a smooth, full-term and healthy pregnancy, delivery and life to your baby girl. In His service, Bledi and Bona Valca.