Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Faith as a grain of mustard seed"

There is so much uncertainty in my life right now.  I have held off writing, hoping for more answers.  Well answers will come as they do.  It is challenging to not see more than one step ahead of you.

Last week we left for a family vacation in Boston.  On son Seth is there in medical school and we were looking forward to having the whole family together again with him in Boston.  I have had a small growth in the back right side of my mouth for some time.  We have had a biopsy of it done and it was simply scar tissue.  I had been feeling great.  No pain meds, running in the mornings, swimming and biking.  Almost normal.  Just before we left I thought the bump seemed a bit bigger and looking at it with my intra oral camera it did seem bigger.  I showed it to the doctors but they said not to worry, we were having a scan done August first and we would look at it then.  It had never shown activity on any previous scans.

So we left for Boston.  First night we came in late and went to dinner with Seth.  It was great.  Then we rented a car and drove to New York to watch the pagent, go the sacred grove and other church sites.  It was really wonderful.  Many years ago, I spent a whole summer living on the back of the hill Cumorah helping to build the stages and sound system  It was a remarkable time in my young life.  We lived in a barrack on the back side of the hill and the church hired a cook to keep us well fed while we worked.  There was about a dozen of us young 17 year olds.  This was my first time back to the pagent since I was 17.  It was great to be back there.  Walking through the sacred grove filled my heart with joy.

In the meantime, I was starting to have more pain.  Back to tylenol and ibuprofen every six hours.  I was feverish and having trouble swallowing.

When we got back to Boston we contacted our doctors at Mayo.  They advised us to go the the ER there in Boston.  We went and spent a whole day there.  They took a CT scan and finally came in to advise me that it appeared that my cancer had returned and had spread up the right side of my head, behind my eye and into my brain, temporal lobe.  They felt like with my case complexity and all that I would be better off at Mayo where the doctors knew me.  There was a lot of discussion about an emergency tracheotomy (where they cut a hole in your throat and put in a metal plate to keep the hole open.  this insures an airway)  They also talked about life flighting me to Mayo.  I finally told them, "look, I'm having no trouble breathing, I don't want an emergency tracheotomy.  Call an ENT if you don't believe me about the airway."  The ENT came in and confirmed that my airway was wide open.  The crazy talk continued though.  I have decided that some doctors are just crazy.  One oral surgeon came in, one of the senior residents, and said, "open your mouth"  Well, I can't really open very wide these days.  I did the best I could.  He said "Why aren't you opening?"  I told him, "That's as far as it goes".  He said,  "I don't believe you, you're just not trying"  At that point he grabbed my upper and lower jaw with both hands and tried to force it open.  Of course it wouldn't move.  Then he got all frustrated and said, "Why are you even here, what do you want from us?"  Yup, the king of bedside manner.  Finally we just told them,  "We are done,  give us a copy of our CT scan.  We are leaving"

So, we left our children in Boston with Grandpa and Seth and we got a flight to Mayo.  The doctors there were super accommodating.  They all squeezed me into their schedules.  The did a PET/CT scan, new biopsies and a lot of consults.  No one could say much without the biopsies but the assumption was that the cancer was back.  The surgeon said "inoperable, incurable, but with the right chemo maybe we can buy you some time"  Everyone else pretty much concurred with that.

Thursday we went to the temple.  On our way home the first biopsy came in.  All was negative for cancer.  We were elated.  They wanted more biopsies from other areas.  Friday they did 6 more biopsies with an 18 gauge needle.  That is a pretty good size needle.  Think pencil lead size.  They were tracking the position of the needle with ultra sound.  I watched the first couple that it got to be too freaky and I quit watching.

At that point there wasn't much more we could do but wait so we flew back to Boston to be with the kids again.  Seth had done such a good job entertaining them.  They had swam in Waldon pond, kayaked on the Charles river, Gone to all sort cool historical places.  He is a great brother and tour guide.  We only had a day and a half when we got back but it was good.  We went to the horse race track.  I had never been to one of these before.  We figured out how to place bets and then made our bets using swedish fish.  Natalie was the "bookie".  Most of us lost all our fish by the time it was over,  Obviously the bookie came out best overall.  She was nice and shared her fish with us.  We went out to tangle wood to a Boston Pops concert that night.

We got back to Utah on Sunday night late.  Because of the swelling we got an appointment with the infectious disease doctor who had treated me earlier.  We had Mayo send out any records that they had.  This was a hard visit.  The doctor read through every thing from Mayo and then told us that the biopsies showed positive for osteosarcoma in every area.

Have you ever had a dream where you were falling and you could hardly scream because you were so scared.  I guess that is kind of how it felt.  Like a terrible bad dream and you just wanted to wake up and find out it isn't real.  The doctor basically said, "What are you going to do?"  At that point we were kind of in shock but neither JoLynne or I are ones to give up easily and we told him so.  He said "There is no reason for you to suffer, we have lots of medicines that can stop your pain"  I have had a lot of pain lately.  He was concerned that there may be an infection on top of the cancer so he started me on IV antibiotics that same day.

So, here we sit.  I have an appointment with Dr. Wallentine on Tuesday.  Mayo has ideas about chemo agents that have worked on others in the past who didn't respond to first line drugs.  There are some clinical trials we are looking at.  There have been a lot of tears.  Tuesday night I ordained Spencer and Elder, preparatory to his serving a mission.  Right after that he helped his brothers give me a beautiful blessing.  Wow, I didn't know I could cry that much.  Then he helped while I gave JoLynne a blessing. How grateful we are for the priesthood.

We don't know what the future holds.  But there are things that we know without any doubt.  We know that God loves us and is aware of our situation and is standing by our side through the hardest parts.  There is nothing in this world that we are more sure of than that.  JoLynne and I know that we have made covenants in the temple of God.  Those covenants promise us that we will be together for eternity if we are faithful.  We know that Christ conquered death and because of Him we will live again as well.

So right now we are just begging God for more time.  We have laid before Him our best arguments and poured out our hearts to Him.  We know that if it His will, a miracle will happen and my life will be spared.  We love Him and we trust Him.  We know that many of you have offered up prayers in our behalf as well.  We are so grateful for your love and faith.  Yesterday, while I was waiting for an MRI a stake member, who has his own challenges, saw me.  He hobbled over to me with his cane, put his hand on my knee and said, "President Vogel, I love you, My family loves you, we pray for you every night" He then picked up his cane and made his way back to his chair.  Even though I have serious challenges, I am very blessed.

JoLynne keeps telling me "We just need the faith of a grain of mustard seed.  If it can move mountains, it can certainly cure this cancer.  So, I have never seen a mustard seed but maybe I should study them closer.  Thank you for all that each of you have done and continue to do for me and my family.  We love you.

Friday, July 25, 2014


2 Kings 20
Chapter 20

Hezekiah is told he will die and pleads with the Lord; his life is lengthened fifteen years--The shadow goes back ten degrees on the sundial of Ahaz--Isaiah prophesies the Babylonian captivity of Judah. 
1 In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.
2 Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying,
3 I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
4 And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying,
5 Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord.
6 And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.
7 And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.

It has been a tough week for us. We have taken hope in the story of Hezekiah

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Do you ever have those "Woe is me" days?  I have to confess, I do.  The other day we were at a family event with JoLynne's family.  It was a dinner at her sister's house and then we were going to look at some family pictures.  Since my cancer and all the associated surgeries and radiation my ability to eat is not so good.  To start with I am completely numb on the right side of my face from my lower eyelid to my neck.  So, I can't really feel even if my lips are touching.  The end effect is that I put food in my mouth and it doesn't always stay there too well.  Often it drips down my face and I am totally unaware due to the numbness.  Drinking is especially hard since I can't feel my lips touching the glass.

Also, I have a lot of scarring so I can only open my mouth just a very little bit.  I can barely fit my smallest finger in my mouth.  That is my maximum opening.  So eating is a very slow process.  I have to cut up the food into super small bites so that it will fit.  My tongue doesn't work too good to guide the food around so I have to use my fork to guide the food to where my teeth come together.

Well all of this doesn't make eating very fun, especially in public settings.  I feel like a spectacle when I eat.  I don't know if you have noticed but so much of our social interactions revolve around eating.  This makes my life challenging at times.

Flora Zella McCarther and JoLynne's mother
So, back to our family dinner.  I was struggling through the meal, as I always do.  I was feeling sorry for myself, wishing I could be more normal and feeling self conscious.  Well I finally finished the meal and we went downstairs to look at family pictures.  I wasn't feeling very happy.  The first picture up was my wife's grandmother.  She was afflicted with terrible rheumatoid arthritis.  In the picture she was shriveled up with that terrible disease sitting in a homemade wheelchair.  Really just a kitchen chair with small wheels screwed to the legs.  My sister in law proceeded to talk about how she lived like that for 14 years,  unable to walk or even feed herself.  They would lift her into the chair in the morning, feed her and set her on the porch to wait until people came in from the fields at lunch time.  They would feed her again and leave her on the porch again while they went back out to the fields.  And that is how it was for her day after day for 14 years until she finally passed away.

The next slide was of an uncle.  He was stricken with stomach cancer that moved into his bones.  He was a veteran so they took him up the VA to be cared for.  He couldn't move without his bones breaking so he lay in bed for three years unable to move.  Every few hours they would restrain him with a second mattress and flip it over to try and prevent so many bed sores.  JoLynne's dad, who was watching the slides with us talked about going up to visit this uncle and what a positive attitude he had despite
his disease.  In his words, "You could never visit with him without going away feeling uplifted"

By that point I began to see how foolish I had been.  Here I am complaining because I eat slow and drip a little and yet I can walk and run and feed myself and work at my profession.  Sometimes I just need a little reality check.  That night was a pretty good reality check for me.

Friday, July 4, 2014

My independence day

Today people across the United States are celebrating independence day, recognizing this country gaining their independence from Great Britain.  In addition to that, today is my own celebration of independence,   Today marks one year free from cancer!

On July 2nd 2013 I finished my last SBRT treatment at Mayo and we returned home on the third of July.  That memory stands so clearly in my mind.

A year and 2 weeks ago my cancer had returned.  I had three tumors, about 4 cm each, growing right next to vital anatomical structures.  After looking at my images my surgeon at Mayo told us that I was "inoperable" and that there was no hope for recovery.  I asked him if he had other patients as serious as me and what they had done.  He told me that he had others as bad off as me and that they had tried all sorts of things including holistic and conventional therapies and that he had never seen anyone at this point survive.  He is a world class surgeon, these were terrible words to hear.  JoLynne and I took a long sad walk by the river there in Rochester.  It was overcast with a slow rain.  That was a very hard day!  Despite  his words we thought that perhaps God still had a plan for me that included my recovery.  Even driving to the airport in Minnesota after that unpleasant visit I remember telling JoLynne, "I just think that there is something more that we haven't heard yet"

I remember at Church a day or so later.  A dear friend of mine, my former Stake President, came up and asked to know what was going on.  I told him what we had been told.  He listened patiently and when I finished he said "That's perfect".  I was so startled at his response and asked him how he could possibly feel that way.  This was his response "It's perfect because men have done all that they can to cure you, now when you are healed you will give the credit to God."  My friend is an wonderful, unusual person.

Well a day or two passed and we had another call from Mayo, this time from Dr. Foote, inviting us to return and attempt a cure using SBRT.  He told me that at that point they had 9 months of data using this treatment against osteosarcoma and so far the results were promising.  We chose to return and undergo the treatment.  Today marks one year since that treatment completed.  Every three months since that time I have had PET/CT scans carefully looking for cancer and so far I am free, NO CANCER!

It has been a hard year in many ways, the pain from radiation burns has been challenging.  I spent at least 9 months of the last year using dental anesthetic to control the pain.  I have had set backs and challenges but here I am.  As of now, my pain is very manageable, I am able to work full time, my energy is good.  I even ran four miles the other day.  My legs were sore and I laughed all day whenever I felt my sore legs.  There was a time when four miles wasn't even a warm up run for me.  At the same time, I am so grateful that I can run.  I even order new running shoes the other day off of eBay.  (They don't sell my favorite shoes in the store anymore).

True to my friends words, I was healed and I gladly give the credit to God.  I live a life redeemed.  My life was at the edge and God chose to pull me back and to allow me to remain.  How does one live a life redeemed?  I think about that every single day.  Every morning I ask God to lead me to someone whose life I can bless, whose burdens I can lighten.  I want to show God my appreciation through the way that I live my life.  I can honestly say that nearly every day that prayer is answered and that makes me happy.

As that anniversary approached I sent my dear friend, Dr. Foote, an email expressing my feelings.  His response back was very sweet, perhaps I will share that.

Dear Dr. Foote,
I send you my warmest greetings from Utah.  I am approaching a one year anniversary of being cancer free.  This is a major milestone for me.  I feel that my Life was spared by my Heavenly Father but I see your hand as well.  Thank you for your role in this miracle.
I am not sure if  you are aware that near the end of June, last year,  when my cancer had returned, we went out to meet with Dr. Moore again to see what could be done.  He was not optimistic.  In his words, "If I operate on you again there would be nothing left of you.  You would have no life at all."  "Don't spend any more on medicine, go on a cruise or something".  When I asked him if he had other patients who were in as dire circumstances as I was and he said he had several.  I asked him if any had survived and he told me "No".  That was a somber week for JoLynne and I.  My former stake president and a dear friend sought me out on Sunday wanting to know what was going on.  I explained what we had been told by Dr. Moore.  My former stake president is an amazing man.  He listened attentively and when I had finished he said "That is just perfect!"  I couldn't understand why he would say that.  Then he said "Men have done all that they can, now God can save your life and you will give the credit to Him"  How I love that prophetic man.
As I celebrate a sweet one year anniversary I want you to know that I do give the credit to God and I thank you for being his hands in my miracle.
Eric Vogel

Bro. Vogel,
Thanks for sharing this with me.  It really means a lot to me.  I would like to believe that my thoughts were inspired and directed by the Holy Ghost as I pondered and prayed about how we might be able to help you.  The glory and honor certainly belong to our Father in Heaven.  It is humbling to be a tool or a servant through which He accomplishes His purposes.
I am grateful that our Father brought us together for a brief season during our sojourn on earth!
God bless you!

Well, for those of you in the United States I hope that you enjoy your celebration of independence day.  For all of us, irregardless of where we live, we can each live a life redeemed.  In my case my physical life was spared but for all of us, our lives have been redeemed spiritually through the atonement of Jesus Christ.  If we accept him as our Savior we will be spiritually saved.  This is far more profound than being physically saved.  The consequences will stretch thoughout the eternities.  How will one live a life redeemed?  That is a question worth asking.