Monday, July 14, 2014

When God Doesn't Answer

My son was first diagnosed with neurofibromatosis in 2011.  There was such unimaginable heartbreak in my life that year that I had to fight very hard to stay strong and be the very best mother I could be to both of my children, hiding the dark fears and anxiety that plagued me during a time of great grief and sorrow.  I look back at that time and realize I was desperately holding onto my faith, but also holding my breath and waiting for an ending that I prayed I might share in countless testimonies.   Given my story, it would no doubt pack houses of God with wives and mothers eager to hear how God made good out of utter despair.   I could win the race to make it to God's glorious victory lap He had in store for me.  The race turned into a marathon that is still in progress in 2014.

I am a woman of faith, a faith that has grown deeper due to a journey these past few years that I would not wish on anyone.  I have tried to come up with a more eloquent way to express this, seeking a more optimistic and encouraging story that may be of some use or encouragement to others.   I read the Bible, sometimes intently, sometimes half-hearted, sometimes dismissing it for weeks or months at a time. I seek and read stories of endurance through great trials and even greater heartbreak than my own.  I compare my pain to the misfortunes of others who have the courage to be vulnerable in sharing their stories.   I feel brief solace in the recognition that things could be worse, but I quickly seek forgiveness for such a feeling, overcome by strong feelings of guilt for having the audacity to compare my difficulties to those of others for my own selfish reasons.  I wake up asking for wisdom, and I go to bed asking for wisdom.  I seek wisdom to know God's plan for me, for my son, and for my family.   I believe God has a plan to prosper and not harm me (Jeremiah 29:11) and I repeat this verse to myself often.  I  memorize and hide countless verses in my heart in an effort to bolster my spirit so as not to succumb to the fears and anxiety and let darkness take hold of my heart. Romans 12:12, 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, and my latest favorite, Isaiah 45:3.  

A friend recently wrote to me and said "I pray that should my family ever face struggles like yours, that I would be able to face them with the same strength as you do."  I am so appreciative of encouragement like this.  I am forever indebted for the thousands of prayers that have been said on my behalf, and on behalf of each member of our family.  Something deep inside of me shudders to think where I would be without the power of these prayers in my life.  But in the last few months, the marathon has worn me out.  I am battling with God about what his will is for my life and the life of my child.  My latest attempt to make sense of this side of heaven is in the book When God Doesn't Answer Your Prayer, by Jerry Sittser.  I try hard not to place my hope in this book because I learned the hard way that my hope cannot be rooted in anything earthly.  I do hope that this book provides additional wisdom to me.   Sittser clearly shows a biblical support for why God can handle my anger and my complaints, literally my assault on his power.  He gives examples of Job and Jeremiah, who called God to account. In these stories, these men finally snapped and let God have it.    My fear is that the point of this book, like so many I have read before, is to share that I am to use my pain for the betterment of God's kingdom.  And if that is what I am called to do, I will do it.  I've already accepted that role as a Christian.   But doing it with joy and steadfast hope is the challenge. 

With a clenched and angry jaw I cry out to God...
 What about my son's illness could possibly bring you glory?  
Why would you use a child as your pawn?
Why a mother's desperate love for her child to seek your own glory? 
Where is your grace in all of this?

Why would I share this terribly depressing part of my heart in such a public way?  Perhaps sharing where my faith is right now is more transparent and honest than simply saying "God is good, all the time." I feel myself the greatest hypocrite when people praise me for my incredible faith and spiritual strength.   I desperately needed to confess where I am right now because I know I live in a broken world with other believers who have had their heart torn to pieces by circumstances different than my own.  I want them to know they are not alone and that at the very least, I know God can handle the anger and resentment, the questions, the cries of feeling betrayed, the agony of seeking His grace and redemption when he seems (I stress seems) to turn His back on our fervent prayers.  I don't know anything else but to continue to pray that God will come quickly and reveal to me the light I so desperately seek that only He can provide.  The wait seems insult to a barrage of injury but I am confident He will answer.

The best prayers often have more groans than words.
- John Bunyan

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

July Oncology Consult

Clinic 8 waiting room at Children's Hospital

Today we made the short trip to Clinic 8 at Children's Hospital to meet with Dr. Reddy, pediatric oncologist. We met with her in March, and the recommendation then was not to make any decisions about chemo and to wait until the June 2014 MRI. As a reminder, Philip does not have cancer. He does have a large nodular plexiform tumor in his neck that is displacing his carotid arteries and has begun to push on his airway. It fully involves many important nerves so the idea of surgically removing it is not up for discussion, unless it becomes a life threatening situation.  There is always the 10-15% chance that his tumor could turn malignant.  Surgery is our last resort due to the significant risks and permanent life altering nerve damage that would result. Because of the shape of the tumor, its growth has been measured in volume and has been slow and steady.

There was a growth in volume from January 2014 to June 2014. Over all, the tumor appears to have gone from 80ml to almost 160 ml over 18 months of MRI imaging. Philip has no pain and no difficulty breathing or swallowing, although mom (Renie) notices more heavy breathing lately (possibly her paranoia or what she calls intense concern). Our concern is that we will watch this slow tumor growth take over everything in his neck and be left with no choice but to operate.

 The main problem with chemo options is that there is a low success rate of any available drugs working due to the slow growth of neurofibroma tumors. They just behave differently than cancer and other malignant tumors. The same drugs will not work on NF tumors. We understand that the success rate of the drugs in use today for NF tumors is around 20%. The reason we would take such a low percentage chance is that this is our only option.  Philip does not qualify to participate in one of the latest clinical trial that offers the latest chance of hope until he is sixteen. He turns nine next week. And, as with any clinical trial, there is no evidence that this latest trial is the miracle drug over 2 million people worldwide affected by NF desperately need.

The drug we are considering is called Gleevec. It is a twice a day oral chemo drug with relatively low side effects. Dr. Korf will consult with Dr. Reddy before our appointment with him on July 24th to make sure that our medical team agrees on this step in Philip's NF journey. We want to make sure this decision does not remove us from any future clinical trials in progress that may offer more hope. There are no easy answers.

 There is no clear path. We do not feel confident in this decision. However, we feel even less confident doing nothing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Birmingham NF Walk

How can I put into words what has been running through my mind and heart since Saturday? Family and friends, we are truly blessed this side of heaven by all of you. Thank you so much for sharing your time, your talent, your treasure, to help Alabama NF families host our first annual Birmingham NF Walk. We had over 400 registered walkers, and the Alabama CTF community raised over $52,000 for Children's Tumor Foundation. Team Moss had walkers and donors that are former students or colleagues from Birmingham-Southern College, Samford University, Mississippi State University, Centre College, Wesleyan College, walkers from our wonderful Mountain Brook Community Church family, our current Blind Brook Lane neighborhood, our Vestavia West school community, our Trinity CDC family, our former Montgomery Lane neighborhood friends, our high school friends from Haywood County and Homewood High School, our Faith Presbyterian friends, cub scout friends, gymnastics friends, Bible club friends, friends from our time at Mountaintop Preschool, family that came from Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, from all over Alabama, dear friends from Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, my amazing Samford students and colleagues, and the list goes on and on. I have never liked being in the public eye but when it comes to fighting for my children, I'm willing to put myself in any position to raise awareness to bring us closer to finding a cure for NF in their lifetimes. Thank you, dear ones, for joining us in this fight, and for your continued prayers that so encourage us.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hooray for Dr. Ray

Remember way back in November when we met with Dr. Peter Ray to discuss removing what appeared to be a growing tumor on Philip's forehead?  At that time, Dr. Ray elected to wait, see what the tumor looked like in the January 2014 MRI, and then make a decision.  He wanted to make sure we were not sacrificing any nerve function around the eye and forehead.  We met with him in February and elected to move forward with surgery.  March 24th,  Dr.  Ray removed the tumor, and even though we held out a small hope that the "growth" was not a tumor, the pathology report came back as neurofibroma tumor tissue.  The good news is that Dr. Ray was able to completely remove the tumor without any nerve damage.  He was extremely detailed in reviewing every single concern, and that's the kind of doctor this mama likes.  Give it to me straight, and don't leave anything out. 
We met with Dr. Ray today for our post surgical appointment and gave him a huge high five for a successful surgery.  There will be a small scar on Philip's forehead but it is not noticeable due to his boy band haircut.  We will meet with Dr. Ray again in about six months to double check for any tumor regrowth but for today, we are calling this a victory in our NF journey.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

NF Walk Update and Little Philip Update

We thank you for the sacrifice of your time and resources to support research to fund a cure and treatment for neurofibromatosis (NF).  When we started this medical journey with Little Philip over two years ago, we never expected to be the recipients of so much prayer, so much love, so much support. We are forever changed as a family because of NF but have always been surrounded by your love and for that, we are eternally grateful.

For those that have donated but are unable to be with us on May 10th.  THANK YOU!
As of today, Team Moss has raised $11,040 and currently has 130 members!  Team Moss is comprised of family, friends both near and far, our children's classmates atVestavia West Elementary, former classmates from Trinity Child Development Center, friends from our Mountain Brook Community Church, colleagues and college friends from Birmingham-Southern College, Samford, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and neighbors.  In the name of research we've even let in a few Ole Miss Rebels.  Overall, the 1st annual Birmingham NF Walk is just $5000 from meeting its $30,000 goal with one month to go.  Please share our NF story (attached) with your family and friends to help us meet our overall goal and to increase education and understanding of what NF is.  Here is a quick definition:

Neurofibromatosis  (NF)  is a genetic condition that causes tumors to grow throughout the body and can lead to blindness, bone abnormalities, cancer, deafness, disfigurement, and learning disabilities.  

For those that will be joining us in Birmingham for the walk on May 10th:
We recognize that many of you are coming from out of town and have asked for recommendations for nearby hotels.  We recommend  Holiday Inn Birmingham/Homewoodlocated at 492 Wildwood Circle North in Homewood just off of the Lakeshore Drive exit of I-65. This hotel has an indoor pool and kids eat free in their reasonably priced hotel restaurant. There are several chain restaurants and fast food locations within walking distance, along with a Starbucks for those of you who share Renie's affinity for good caffeine.    Additional hotel recommendations that are in that same area, literally just down the same road -  La Quinta Inn and Suites, and Hampton Inn.  

We are working on plans to have a Team Moss celebration party after the walk on Saturday evening for those that are in town and can join us. 

If you would please reply to and let us know
1.  When you plan to arrive and where you are staying
2.  If you are in town Saturday, May 10th night.  
3.  Your t-shirt size and sizes for anyone else registered within families. (this is very important!)

Your reply by April 26th will help us  in planning a fun and memorable weekend.  If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

For those that are still considering donating to CTF or joining us to walk on May 10th:
Please donate or register at the web page for Team Moss here.  Be sure to select the "Join Team" button or "donate now" button on the right hand side of the screen.  

How is Little Philip doing?
Just over one month after the NF Walk, Little Philip will endure his sixth MRI in less than three years, requiring general anesthesia due to the location of the tumor in his neck.  After four separate specialists appointments and a thorough review of his case in the past few months, his medical team has not been able to agree on a chemotherapy drug that would halt the growth of this particular type of tumor.  As a result, the tumor is slowly encroaching on his airway.  We know there are many worthwhile charities to support but please understand that NF is a a tough contender to receive attention from the "big dogs" at American Cancer Society and larger non-profits who that have huge overhead administrative costs. Philip's doctors are wholly supportive of our support for Children's Tumor Foundation's strategy (financial report here ) due to the low administrative costs, and significant funding directly from the Children's Tumor Foundation for clinical trials that one day, may offer hope for our son.   Here in Birmingham, our doctor, Bruce Korf,  literally wrote the book on Neurofibromatosis.   

If you do not feel led to respond to this NF Walk, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss one on one with you what the Children's Tumor Foundation does and why we endorse and encourage your support.  We are now the state leaders for the Alabama chapter of Children's Tumor Foundation and are committed to four goals: fundraising, advocacy, patient engagement, and support for newly diagnosed individuals and their families.  
Please forward this email and share our family blog at to increase awareness and help us connect with other families affected by NF.  If you have friends that would like to make a donation in the name of Team Moss directly to the Children's Tumor Foundation by mail, I have attached a donation form that can be included with donation.  I have also attached the Team Moss flyer to this email that shares our NF story. 

On behalf of Team Moss, we thank you and look forward to hearing from you soon,
Renie and Philip Moss
View the Moss Family NF video here posted on the UAB Department of Genetics homepage.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Helen's 6th Birthday

We celebrated Helen's sixth birthday this past week.  Six years ago we were ill prepared for the day she was born.  My husband and I were in the middle of a raging stomach bug that had left me incapacitated the previous 72 hours.  My husband had succumbed to it the night before her arrival, announcing at 6:00 a.m. that he was not leaving the bed. With full empathy for what he was experiencing, I started the day with the intent of allowing him the grace and support he had offered me the previous three days.  As I exited the shower sometime around 6:30 am my water broke.  Poor hubby dragged himself out of the bed as we quickly rushed to get two year old Little Philip to day care for the day and make the necessary phone calls to both sets of grandparents to begin their drive from out of town to meet us. Helen arrived a little after 2:00 p.m.. March 18, 2005, a healthy 7 pounds, 12 ounces.  She was supposed to arrive some time around April 6, 2005.  I still clutch my belly thinking about what another three weeks would have shown on the newborn scale.

Early.  If there is one word to describe Helen, that would be it.  She was our surprise gift from God, as we learned in 2004 that our silly earthly plans were out the door, and heavenly plans were in progress for us to become a family of four.  She was an early arrival on March 18, 2008.  And as any friends or family know, Helen is an early riser.  The only time she has ever slept until 8:00 am was due to a fever.  She is a planner, providing early instructions for her seventh birthday within minutes of her sixth birthday party ending. Writing letters to Santa on December 26th each year for the next year.   While the early rising is clearly inherited from her daddy, the early planning and execution of complex event coordination is most definitely inherited from her Type A mother.  

Happy birthday, Helen.  You are such a joy and light to us and everyone that knows you! 

Helen also saw Dr. Korf this week for her annual NF check up. While she has a few new harmless cafe-au-lait spots, common in children with neurofibromatosis, there were no concerns. Now that she is six, we are about a year away from being mostly out of the woods for any potential optic glioma tumors and plexiform tumors that usually present before age seven. Hooray for some good news and the ability to breathe a little easier as spring arrives!  But, as an expert planner and providing early communication for the Birmingham NF Walk, Helen reminds everyone that has not yet registered for the May 10th Birmingham NF Walk to do so today! Visit to register or donate.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Oncology Consult Review

We completed our final consultation today with Dr. Alyssa Reddy, pediatric oncologist at Children's Hospital here in Birmingham.   We checked Philip out of school around 10:00 a.m. and headed to the Egg and I for brunch so that he could use his reward coupon he earned from Mrs. Krusinski for being a diligent reader.  Since it is due to expire March 21st, he has been rather insistent that he be able to use it soon.   This seemed like the perfect day.

All smiles!

From there we headed to Clinic 8 at Children's Hospital for our noon appointment.  Let me just say that it is a place of great hope, anxiety, and fear and probably everything in between.   This is the hematology and oncology clinic.  Many children were wearing masks and some were clearly undergoing intense treatment.  Parents looked tired, encouraged, worried, hopeful, exhausted, and I'm probably missing 90% of what was really going on in the hearts in that room which makes me completely inadequate to communicate.   We observed nurses and other staff calling patients by name, passing through the waiting room greeting children and families with warm smiles, kneeling down to get on the level of each child.  There is a strong sense of dedication and care in Clinic 8.   If this is where we may be spending some time in the future, it was an encouraging observation to file somewhere in the back of my mind...just in case.

Dr. Reddy was very informative and made us feel very confident that she had fully reviewed Philip's medical situation.  I don't think we expected to be given a silver bullet to cure Philip today but I think we had talked ourselves into expecting to hear about an encouraging chemotherapy option for our son.  

Dr. Reddy talked about two drugs that we knew about and gave us the name of a new one (Tamoxifen) to consider as she and the rest of our medical team talk about what direction we take.  None of them offer a guaranteed positive outcome but have shown some improvement for some patients.  I guess we knew this but hearing it again just stinks.  For now, we will remain in the wait and see mode.  We will wait until after the next MRI in late June to have another check on tumor growth rate.  We will wait until summer before a decision to start on a chemo regiment that will be less invasive for a school-age child.  We will wait until July in the hope that a miracle cure will be discovered in the next four months.  We will wait....

That sounds pretty dismal but this is just the reality of living with NF.  "Time is on our side" is the quote I remember most from Dr. Reddy today.  These NF tumors are very slow growing and that is one reason why they do not respond to typical chemotherapy drugs.  Slow growing is good in that Philip is still not experiencing any pain or risky symptoms from his tumor.  Slow growing is bad in that we just do not know if and when a symptom may show up that warrants action.  One month, one year, two years, 10 years?  If the tumor continues to encroach on his airway, what can we do?   Is that action chemo?  What if that fails?  Surgery?  We just don't know.   As of  March 11, 2014, there is no effective intervention to confidently shrink Philip's tumor.   We would love for someone to tell us we are wrong.

So ending on some positives:
1.  Philip is NOT IN PAIN
2.  Philip is not showing any serious concerns other than the obvious cosmetic issue of a large tumor
3.  Fellow students and friends are not bullying or treating Philip differently because of his tumor.  
4.  Philip seems ok with talking to peers who ask him  "what's wrong with your neck."
5.  Dr. Korf is a rock star in the NF world.  We are in the best hands possible.  
6.  God has our precious son in the palm of His hand.  He's got this.  
7.  God has placed such a strong community of support around us through our church, community, and work place.  The outpouring of prayers and thoughts has been incredible.  

No one could have prepared us for how much we would need #7.  #7 reminds us that #6 is true when we find ourselves doubting and then we remind ourselves of #1-5 to return us to the peace of trusting #6 again.  As someone who is a complete control freak, it takes a lot to admit I need something that I can't do for myself or my family.  This is a hard lesson for me in allowing the body of Christ to minister to our family and for me to be ok with admitting that we need it and accept it.  We need it and we are so grateful for all the love and support we have received.

So, if you haven't had a chance to sign up for the Birmingham NF Walk scheduled for May 10th, perhaps this update will motivate you to join with us, Team Moss, to raise funds and awareness that moves the Children's Tumor Foundation towards making our hope a reality in finding a cure for NF in our children's life time.  Sign up to "Join My Team" or "Donate" on the right hand column of Team Moss's fundraising page. 

Image from Philip's January 2014 MRI.  The white mass on the left is the tumor.   His jaw line is on top, spinal column in the center bottom. The tumor is NOT in his brain but rather, in the neck.    The solid black area in the middle is his airway.   This shows why airway is our greatest concern for tumor growth.