The following is Kelly McCarville’s story. It chronicles her family’s battle with cancer, infertility, pre-mature birth, and how through all of that, they found hope, rest, and peace in God. (If you are a VU employee and want to share your story, contact Matt today!)
My name is Kelly McCarville and I’ve had the pleasure of being part of the VU family for over 2 years now. I would like to take this opportunity to share my story in hopes that I might be able to help someone in the VU family who might be facing similar challenges.
Almost 16 years ago, I met my soul mate and our bond continues to grow strong with each new challenge that we face. Moreover, these experiences have led me on a new spiritual journey and helped build my faith.
In 2005, my husband proposed, I said yes, and we excitedly started to plan our wedding. Meanwhile, my husband complained of health problems including lack of energy and extreme water consumption, so he saw his doctor for a check-up. Unfortunately, we received some jarring news: My husband’s lab results were not normal and he was scheduled for an immediate MRI. His MRI revealed a brain tumor and so our journey fighting cancer began. We made an appointment with a highly recommended neurosurgeon in St Louis and followed the growth of his tumor for a few months. Due to the location, there was no real way to tell what the tumor was without a very invasive biopsy of his brain. In early November, we received a frightening call that tumor growth was suspected and we were needed in St Louis in a few days because his biopsy surgery had been scheduled. I will never forget that sick, scared feeling in my stomach.
This was the real start of my spiritual journey.
I had no real control over the situation, so I turned to God. Doctors warned us that my husband might have complications from the surgery and that it was a big risk. The neurosurgeon could see the fear in my eyes and told me that he would take care of my husband as if we were a member of his own family. I remember sitting in the waiting room during the surgery, time standing still, waiting to hear how he was doing. Several family members asked me about wedding plans, but I just didn’t have the energy to answer. Many people prayed for him, and ended up making it through the surgery. Although they removed a small piece, the doctor said the tumor was inoperable and that we had to wait for the pathology results to find out what the tumor was. We asked if he had cancer, but no one could give us an answer.
While he was in ICU recovery, we waited 2 days to find out the pathology results. They told us it was most likely a Germinoma or a Glioblastoma. My co-worker at the time was recently diagnosed with a Glioblastoma and was only given a few months to live, so I knew that it was not good news. If he had a Germinoma, which is most commonly found in children, then we had a chance to fight it. Glioblastomas are fairly common but, Germinomas are very rare, especially in adults. In those anxious waiting moments, I was literally sickened to the point of nausea.
The reverend from our church visited me in St Louis and prayed with me. I didn’t really understand the significance of her prayers at that time, but I do now. Her husband was a recent cancer survivor, so she knew how hard it can be to be a caregiver. The results came back that he had a Germinoma. My husband experienced some complications in the hospital and after 10 days of ICU recovery, just in time for Thanksgiving, he was discharged from the hospital. After recovering from his very invasive surgery, we started the process of meeting with oncology and radiology to develop a plan to fight his tumor. The recommended plan was to receive several weeks of chemotherapy, followed by multiple doses of radiation to fight his tumor. Our focus shifted from planning our wedding to his treatment. We were nervous that he was not going to be able to stand at our wedding because of all that he was going through. We even planned to have a chair available for him at the altar in case he couldn’t stand. After an aggressive treatment plan, and just a month out from our wedding, he went into remission. A lot of prayers had been answered.
On June 24, 2006, we celebrated our lives together and had an amazing wedding ceremony and reception. The reception was a joyous celebration with family and friends of both our marriage and his health.
After a few years of marriage, we decided that we wanted to expand our family. Unfortunately, we went through a lot of challenges and struggles in trying to get pregnant. As we were attempting to add to our family, we received some devastating news—the cancer was back. I had gone to every follow-up appointment with my husband, except this one. I vividly remember him calling me after the appointment and telling me everything was fine. When I got home that night, he told me at dinner that the MRI showed that his cancer had returned. I was overwhelmed and felt so bad for not going with him to that appointment. So here we were going through obstacles with our family planning and now his cancer was back.
At this point, it was so easy to just fold and think the world was out to get us. This was another spiritual opportunity for me. After a follow-up visit with his former doctors, we decided it was time to switch to a different hospital for care in St Louis. As we meet with doctors to iron out a plan for a second treatment plan, we knew our window to grow our family might be small and closing fast. Luckily (or as I later realized with God’s help) we got pregnant.
So in 2009 my husband set out to fight his second round of cancer with an even more aggressive plan, while I was experiencing the fun (and not so fun!) joys of pregnancy. The doctors were very concerned with the amount of stress that I was under during my pregnancy. I spent the first half of my pregnancy frightened that something would go wrong. Meanwhile, my husband went through several rounds of chemo and had a very bad reaction to one of the chemo drugs. Unfortunately, that reaction shifted us to a totally different plan and all of the chemo that he had received was virtually a waste. We met with the doctors and they suggested that we meet with the stem cell transplant team. At the time, this was something I had never heard of before. I remember being pretty freaked out by this suggestion. In early 2010 and later 2010 my husband underwent two transplant treatments, called a tandem. Basically, they collect your stem cells through a painful injection process and then they give you so much chemo that they kill all of your good and bad cells. Then they give you back your own cells (called an “allo” for allogenic, or in my husband’s case “auto” for autologous) and get you back on the road to recovery.
Each stem cell treatment was around 21 days in the hospital for him. I’m not sure how we had the courage to go back for the second treatment, after experiencing how hard the first one was. We prayed every day for him and setup a Caring Bridge site. I highly recommend this site because it is a good way to give people updates and ask for prayers. Every day, I would read him the prayers that people were posting. It was really inspiring to see people from literally all around the world posting prayers for him.
In late May 2010, he finished his treatment and was officially in remission again. At the end of July, my amazing daughter was born. It was hard being pregnant at the same time that he was undergoing treatment. Sometimes we would both be racing to the bathroom to get sick. But there was always the light at the end of the tunnel: an amazing child to look forward to, a reason to fight.
Life settled down for us and we spent a couple of years enjoying our daughter. We started to talk about the opportunity to grow our family again. We thought it would be nice for our daughter to have a sibling, but we were really torn on whether or not we wanted to try for another child. After praying on it for a while, we decided to give it another try. In the fall of 2012, I found out that I was not only pregnant, but pregnant with twins. I had enough hormones in me for triplets. I was so sick through the majority of my pregnancy that I couldn’t hold much down, even with anti-nausea medication. It was tough being so exhausted and taking care of a two year old at the same time. In the beginning, I wondered if I made the right decision. This was another spiritual growing opportunity for me to realize that it really wasn’t my choice and that it was all in God’s plan. After the first trimester, things started to get a little easier for me. And at around 23 weeks, I started to feel a little more normal. Unfortunately, this didn’t last very long.
In late Feb 2013, I woke up in the middle of the night, fearful the babies were coming. My husband raced me to hospital. I remembering thinking that this was bad and that it was too early to deliver; they needed more time. I was praying with all my might to God to give me strength and watch over the twins. An emergency ultrasound showed that the babies were okay, but they couldn’t figure out what was happening. My normal doctor was out of town, so I was put on hospital bed rest until she could check on me. Because of her thoroughness and determination to figure out what was going on, she ordered some more tests and they figured it out. In short, the babies were trying to come early. I was put on strict hospital bed rest. I was even required to lie upside down for 48 hours and receive lots of medications to stop the labor. I then graduated to flat strict bed rest. Hospital bed rest was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was especially hard, because I couldn’t be with my daughter and husband every day. I couldn’t give her the motherly care that I wanted to. Every hour of everyday was a struggle to make it through. I was so blessed to have lots of loving family visit me and help with my daughter, so my husband could be there for me too.
They told me when I went in, if the babies were born at that time they only had a 10% chance of surviving and their quality of life wasn’t too promising. A big goal was to make it to 28 weeks, which was around my birthday. When I hit my birthday I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This was a pretty low point for me because I was already struggling to find hospital food that I liked to eat and now I was on a diabetic diet and had to receive blood draws after every meal. I was ready to give up. A few members of my church stopped by an offered to pray and anoint me. It was one of the most amazing experiences. It was a great opportunity for me to let go of my worry and literally leave it up to God. This sounds easy enough, but it is actually a very tough thing to do, but it sustained me through my lowest moments.
In all, I spent a total of 9 weeks on hospital bed rest. My boys were born at 32.4 weeks. They spent around 4 weeks in NICU and then they got to come home. It was such a surreal experience to come home after 9 weeks of hospital bed rest, try to recover and not be able to take my babies home with me. I would just lie in bed at night and be so thankful to be home, while staring at an empty crib.
Today, I am so blessed to say that I have a healthy husband and 3 healthy kids. This sounds like a minimal thing to be grateful for, our health and family, but it is actually a miracle that was only achieved by God’s gracious hand. I learned through these many struggles in my life not to worry because God has a plan for me and my family. This is sometimes hard to embrace because we cannot see his plan, and we don’t always agree with it. But in trusting Him comes comfort and peace. God bless.