Thursday, 23 July 2015

Dad is half-way there!

Dad went over to Bethany Hospital this morning and met his oncologist.  They looked at the blood reports from yesterday - and with his WBC count over 4000 and his neutrophil percentage above 60 it seems that it is all systems go for his 3 dose of chemo in his 3rd cycle.  Dad 'booked' a room up on the 5th floor (his favourite) and came back.  So good.  So normal.

Tomorrow's dose marks a 1/2 way point for this course of chemotherapy.  Dad has done very well through it all.  There have been no side-effects to speak of so far.  A bit of dizzyness in the second cycle, and a few low blood counts which 'delayed' the onset of a few doses - but by and large very smooth sailing.  In fact, the sails have been filled by the wind of prayer that has blown in - some gusts from nearby, others travelling in jet-streams from around the world.  Every breath most gratefully accepted by Dad and the whole family!

So.  Three months down - well - make that four.  Another three or so to go.  Who would have thought on Jan 7th when we celebrated Mum and Dad's 100 years of combined service in India in the suprise time for them, that 7 months later Dad would have gone through the major life-saving cancer surgery and would be 1/2 way through a course of chemotherapy!

Goes to show again just how grateful we need to be for every move we make, every breath we take, every cake we bake...

We had a lovely dinner tonight with Mum having rustled up a spagetti and sauce delight with garlic bread to go along with it.  And we got to talking - and thanking God for His goodness in letting us see the 22nd of July 2015.

There are so many reasons to be thankful - amidst all the confusion that swirls around the day to day challenges of living.  Dad's getting 1/2 way through his chemotherapy with so much grace and his own brand of being who he is ranks up there!  Thank you God, for letting us experience grace in action.


Monday, 20 July 2015

Bangalore bound - and visitor from that Garden city

This morning three people got on a train bound for Bangalore (ok - it is now called Bengaluru).  Two got on at Kalyan - another joined at Karjat.  All three are currently on the train as it speeds south for a new beginning for one of them.

In what can only be called a series of acts of grace - we now have our dear boy Kim along with his uncle and Vikas - one of our JSK staff on the train.  Till the last minute we were wondering whether the uncle would cooperate after all.   Over the last 2 weeks tickets were booked (twice), authorities met (largely unfruitfully), legal declarations  were signed, Kim's 2nd line ART transfer received, his medical papers sorted out, calls and emails made to ACCEPT in Bengaluru, prayer, prayer and more prayer since Kim's uncle seemed to hem and haw.

But this morning they got on the train and tomorrow morning they should be picked up at the statoin and Kim will be welcomed into the next step of his life.

Our Yohan spent some time with Kim yesterday evening after the gospel meeting at JSK.  They parted as friends - Yohan had been praying for Kim during the dark days of his touch-and-go hospitalisation at the end of May.  Kim had come weighing 1 kg for each of the 14 years of his life.   He leaves having gained 8 kgs - still very very thin - but with hope in life and a sparkle in his eye.

Speaking of eyes - here is a shot of Kim and Yohan:



For confidentiality reasons we are not showing more - maybe you can visit us and we will show you more shots.

But we are so grateful for the fruit of many prayers.   Many of them which are sending Kim and his uncle and Vikas with God-speed through the night to a new day in Bengaluru.

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This morning we had a visitor from Bengaluru.   Pastor PM John - uncle to me - has worked with my parents for many years in the early days of OM India.   

We have not met for at least 2 decades - but when uncle hear of Dad's condition he called up from the US (where he was at the time) and said that he and aunty were praying and that he would surely come and meet Dad and Mum.

Today he did.  

How amazing to see the bonds of love - that stretch across the years.   

We were further blessed by another dear couple from that era - uncle John and aunty Priscilla Gladstone.

Lunch was a blessed affair.  




Uncle PM John has been involved in setting up rehabilitation centres for drug users and people struggling with alcohol.  They started from their own home and church in Banglore.  Today Life Challenge has centres in Bangalore, Kerala, Rajasthan, Manipur and Nagaland.  How amazing to see what God is doing through His faithful servants.

Uncle John and aunty Priscilla have been working with abandonned children through the Friendship Centre in Airoli.

What a joy to have these saints with us!

Blessings all mine with 10,000 besides.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sunday Afternoon Bakes - Sunday Night Surprise

Sunday afternoon.  A big rice and dal and bhindi sabji meal behind us - our oval table having 8 around it with Rekha joining us for lunch after we got back from worshipping Jesus together with the saints at Jolly and Suma's home...

A pile of dishes to be washed.  Some milk to be boiled.  Why not redeem the time... with a chocolate cake?

Out comes the trusty (and heavily stained) Landour Cook book.  An old favorite recipe is culled - Alfie Campbell's chocolate cake.  Here it is (for a 13" x 9" pan):

Sugar -  1 1/2 cup
Oil -  6 tbsp  (I used some old cream that we had lurking in the fridge for 1/2 of this).
Eggs - 2
Flour (maida) - 2 c less 2 tbsp
Cocoa - 6 tbsp
Soda - 1 1/2 tsp (I don't know how old ours was so I rounded it up to 2)
Salt - 3/4 tsp
Cold water - 1 cup
Vanilla - 1 1/2 tsp

1. Mix ingredients conventional or muffin method  (I chose to cream the oil and sugar first - then add eggs, salt, water and vanilla - then sift the flour, cocoa and soda together - and then add the solids to the liquids).

2. Bake at 350 F (which we have converted to 180 C - but our oven seems a bit too 'hot' so we did it at '160' according to our dial).

I doubled the above to make more - as I decided to do two trays of muffins as well.  Looking around the kitchen I found a few almonds which I ground and sprinkled on top of the muffins just before sending them into the oven.


And here is the outcome!
 


A close up you ask?  Sure - here are the mini-muffins (before they were devoured) - the big ones are still in the tray... but we don't know how long they will last!



And here is the aftermath!

Yes, the baking is not over until the place is cleaned up.  And so it is in the Eicher household.  I have been turned into a neatnik... so while the muffins and cake was swelling and being baked - someone was scrubbing away (and taking the odd look at the BBC website to follow the progress of the 2nd Ashes test in far-away Lord's).

Scrubbing works!

Here is the counter - after the labour of love... and ready for the next meal to be prepared!   While the baking and scrubbing was taking place - Asha and Enoch went out of the house with a list of things to buy as they are making something special for supper for us!



Sunday afternoon bakes - has handed over the baton to Sunday evening special supper (courtesy the older 2 Eicher siblings!).

Good times - and a blessing to be together in these days.

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I had published the above at 5.37 PM and had gone over to the Sunday Evening gospel meeting that we have at the Lok Hospital building.  Asha and Enoch had pulled the curtain to the kitchen and forbade anyone from entering.  They were cooking up a storm.

In the meantime we had a good meeting - and prayer afterwards as Kim will be leaving for Bangalore tomorrow (lots of photos of course).  Then I had a special meeting with a couple who we are challenging to listen to whether God is calling them to make a big step forward.  By the time that was over, Enoch had showed up.  He had come to say good-bye to Kim.  England were teetering to a comprehensive defeat to the lads from Down Under up at Lords.  And when I walked back home with Enoch I saw Sheba and the bus stand saying good-bye to Rekha.

And when I walked in the door, - this is what I saw on our table:


Tomato rice with paneer kebabs with dip  and mint lemonade.  Wow!  What kids!

Some Sunday Evening surprise.  Needless to say - all of that was quickly wolfed down by a very proud (and hungry) Dad.   Perhaps the next time you come and visit us, you can ask our two master-chefs to give you a treat too?  In the mean time, here is a close-up of their creations! 

Bon apetit!




Thursday, 16 July 2015

Beauty at the edge of where we know

Some where in the mid 1970s - which is many years ago now, on some long hot days in the (then) small town of Akola in rural Maharashtra, a small boy avidly read old issues of Popular Science from the late 1960s.

The magazines had lavish stories about what the future will be like.  Space travel and colonisation were prominently featured.   Fanciful descriptions of personal rocket propelled vehicles, terraforming and high-tech mega cities that swirled around new and distant planets were devoured by the boy.  Images of sleek future dwellers were pored over.  Work colonies on other planets - with large bowl like covers to keep an atmosphere congenial to humans were pored over by the lad.

That fellow was me.  The stash of magazines was at some library which the Christian and Missionary Alliance Mission had started in Akola.  We were there to be with our 'adopted grandparents' the Carners - and for me the old library was heaven on earth.

I have shelved most of my interplanetary dreams... and then a spaceship actually illuminates the face of that remarkable body Pluto.  We grew up calling that tiny celestial object (1/3rd the size of our moon) that takes 248 earth-years to orbit the sun a planet.  A decade ago Pluto was (in my view) cruelly demoted by the astronomical powers to be to a 'dwarf-planet' - most likely the nearest one of what may by myriad such frozen mini worlds in the kuiper belt.

So yesterday the first pictures arrive back here on earth of Pluto.  The first real pictures that show what this world looks like.  The first time we have had a glimpse of that which we only had a name for - and the most grainy of speculations about what this world and her 5 moons ('satellites') may be like.

And what a set of pictures the first ones are!

Here is a NASA set of images of Pluto - taken as the New Horizons craft came closer and closer to it!

video

The final images are just the first of what will be a treasure trove of first views of a world till now largely unknown.  Almost 9 years after it was launched, the New Horizons craft has gone a jaw dropping 4 billion kms through space and has sent images that caused the head of the programme Alan Stern to react like this when he saw the first images:


Those eyes look about the size of Pluto - but that is sheer excitement about seeing things like this:

Wow - a whole new world.  And one which is being looked at right now with amazement and delight.  Especially when you get detailed shots of the surface with show what appear to be 'ice-mountains' that are over 3000 meters high.




So there we have it.  Beauty at the edge of where we know - and stunning images of places seen for the first time.

How about a bit of Keats to enjoy the moment fully:

Then I felt like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific - and all his men
Look'd at each other with wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

                                                                   - John Keats (On first looking into Chapman's Homer)

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Hooray, hooray, its a chemo day today!


Dad met his oncologist today.  And the oncologist was happy.  A week into Dad's 3rd round of chemo, his White Blood Cells are up.  Way up!

2 weeks ago Dad's WBC count was 2800 and his neutrophil percentage was 20.  Both pretty low.  Dad's oncologist decided that he would wait for a few days to see if Dad's counts would go up.  They did.  5 days later his overall WBCs were 4800 which is in the realm of the 'normal values' (4000-10000), and though his neutrophil percentage was still low at 22%, Dr. Bakshi decided that Dad should go ahead and start the first dose of the 3rd round of chemotherapy.

Today Dad met Dr. Bakshi with is latest blood report.  Dr. Bakshi smiled.

Dad's counts have gone up to 9000!  And his neutrophil percentage is at 60!  And that after the first dose of this round...   We are so grateful for these mercies.

So tomorrow Dad is scheduled for dose no. 2 of this round - and then next week he should be getting dose no. 3.   The Lord is good - His mercies endure forever.

Each day we have Mum and Dad with us is a miracle and a blessing.  Yes those are words that people fling about, but they are true.  Yes, every day is not always happy-clappy - but we are just so grateful to be going through these days together.

Today Sheba and I were able to spend some time with Mum and Dad, praying before we went over to have an important conversation with Dr. Stephen Alfred.  Later in the evening, Mum was there with the other ladies from church and JSK who come for prayer from 6-7 pm on Wednesday evenings - and Dad met with us from 9.30-10.30 pm when a handfull of us men get together to pray.   At other parts during the day our lives intertwined in various ways both mundane and special and now the whole household is asleep except for yours trully typing in the quiet cool darkness (with the screen on of course!).

In a few minutes we will be able to say...  Hooray, hooray, its a chemo day today!

We have been blessed by generous gifts towards Dad's therapy which means that Dad now has a positive credit at the hospital.   And so we step forward into the next bit of chemo, the next tone in the melody of our lives, the next opportunity to see value and joy.

Thanks for being with us on this journey!

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P.s.  the photo is from the time Stefan and Neeru and kids were with us 3 weeks ago.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Kim's next steps


When Kim came to Jeevan Sahara in 3rd week of May, he was fighting for life.  Again.

At the age of 14, he only weighed 14 kgs.  He was dying.  A painfully thin orphan boy, who had stopped taking his ART medicines and stopped eating.  Who cried as he pleaded with our staff to be admitted back at Jeevan Sahara where he had been twice admitted before.

We brought him back, but none of his relatives were willing to come here.  And so Kim was admitted with very slim hopes that he would survive.  Hopes almost as slim as his emaciated arms.

We have seen a miracle take place over the past 2 months.

Kim has come back to life.  His empty listless eyes are sparkling.  He has gained 7 kgs.  Kim is still very, very thin, but he is not battling for life at this point.  He has turned a corner.  The love and prayer and love and prayers and love and care that our nurses and other staff have given Kim have brought him back to the land of the living.

We now have the challenge of seeing what the next step will be.

One this is sure.  Kim is not going back to his relatives.  His maternal uncle kept Kim in a small shed and sent food to him.  He claims that they wanted Kim in their home, but Kim refused and wanted to live in the shed.

Whatever the truth of that absurd story may be - we know that if Kim goes back, we will never see him again.  We have had toxic families before - and we don't want to lose this boy.

So we have been looking around for other options.  None of the HIV care centres / orphanages that we know of in the locality are willing to take a 14 year old boy.  Most take kids below 6 years old.

At Jeevan Sahara we are not licensed to be a children's rehabilitation home (does anyone want to join us to do something like this?).   So we have looked further afield - and have found our dear friends at ACCEPT in Bangalore ready to take care of Kim.   We have a family who loves Kim and has been praying for him and will be helping out financially.  How we wish a family would come forward to foster and/or adopt him.  Let us see what the future holds!

So over the past 2 weeks our staff of Mahesh and Vikas have worked to get Kim's papers in order, to get his uncle to agree to come along with Kim to Bangalore, gone through painful rounds of negotiation with the uncle to get him to sign off a legal document stating that he is handing over Kim to ACCEPT for care.  Our staff have also gone to the govt. hospital and got a transfer of Kim's second-line ART treatment.

It was all the more difficult to do as Kim's uncle lives 2.5 hours away and is not the most friendly man.   But our staff prayed and persevered.  To have Kim's uncle's signature on an affidavit this afternoon has been a huge break-through!  We even had to put a very clear statement to this man we would not allow him and the other family members to once again abdicate responsibility.  Not going along with us may have invited  some form of investigation into their appalling neglect of this boy.

We have booked and cancelled one set of train tickets already - and now have a second waiting for a week from today.  On the 20th of July, Kim, Vikas and Kim's uncle are taking the train to Bangalore.

So this may be the last week Kim is with us for the forseeable future.  Last night at the gospel meeting in the JSK hall I was praying with Kim and Yohan and Abhishek afterwards.   Kim said that he wanted us to pray that when he grows up, he will meet his best friend again: Yohan.

What does the future hold this young man?

We are amazed that Kim is still alive.   Thanks for all who have been praying for Kim.   He is a living, walking testimony of grace.

Would that one day he will be able to go to his relatives and tell them how he forgives them for what they have done to him.  

We want to see Kim be a blessing.  To touch the lives of others.   In a small way, he already has.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The new normal

It's a normal rainy July morning.

Asha and Enoch were bundled off on the school bus just after 7 AM.   They were up at 5.30 and had their Bible time and breakfast.  Asha was in her white sports uniform today.  Enoch in the normal grey pant and white shirt and blue tie that BSS Powai has for most days.  The cement-grey pant mirrored the grey cool monsoonal skies.  An occasional spitting of rain.

Yohan woke up and had the first pill of his day (he now gets meds at 7 AM, 8.30 AM, 1 PM, 7 PM and 8.30 PM to cover the big three diseases this little fellow is battling).   By quarter to 8 he had his bath and breakfast and we prayed for him.  Oma normally takes him at this time to Mrs. Priya S. for his morning classes - but today I dropped him off in the Papaya.

The reason is that Oma will be going with Opa to the Bethany Hospital to start round 3 of chemotherapy this morning.   Last Friday his blood counts were at 2800, and were considered too low for chemo, so the oncologist said to wait a few days.  Yesterday night Dad met Dr. Bakshi again.  Looking at yesterdays report, he saw that Dad's blood counts had gone up to 4800 (in 4 days).  Though the neutrophil percentage is still low (22%), the oncologist had decided to go ahead.  And so as I write this, Mum and Dad will be getting into an auto and heading over to be admitted for the day in order to get his latest dose of chemo.

This is our new normal.  Dropping of kids to school and Dad for chemo.  And moving on with all the things that need to be done. I am off in a few minutes to go to Dadar for a meeting of the CORINTH network - a group of HIV charities in greater Mumbai who are living out their mission in the name and spirit of Jesus.   Sheba will be coming over to JSK to see new patients.  The world spins around and the prayers of the saints are being heard and acted on by our loving Father.

We are coming up on 13 years with Jeevan Sahara Kendra in Thane, 14 years being in the greater Mumbai area as a family and 20 years since I came back from a lengthy bit of study in the US.  It's time to pray and ask the Lord for what He wants of us.  Your prayers are much appreciated during a time when we listen to what our Lord is telling us about the next steps.

Getting back to Dad, one of the mercies is that the CA 19-9 test that he did last week seems to show that the chemo is working.  The test measures whether sugars (oligosaccharides) that are linked with pancreatic cancers are being produced at higher than expected levels.  We are glad that Dad's level's seem in the normal range - a peep into what is happening in his body - an indication that if there are cancer cells left, they are not at this point reproducing strongly.   At the same time, as with any test - there can be false negatives, so we take this result thankfully, but also a bit lightly.  It's good that we don't see a very high CA 19-9 level - but just having it at the normal range is not 100% proof that all is well.

Every day is a blessing - and we move forward into our new normal!