I met my friend Andy Goode in the fall of 2009. He came to our church staff to work in the missions. In the spring of 2010 he started working on me about going on a mission trip. You have to know Andy, he is one of those sly people that sends you down one path and is really taking you down another without you knowing it until it is too late, let me explain. I kept telling Andy that I would not go to Africa, Haiti, China, Brazil, or any other country overseas for a mission trip, so the fall finally came when I told Andy, Ok find one in North America and I’ll go---his reply ok I have one set up in March for Tampa Florida---hook, line and sinker. Well out of sheer shame I signed up and went, reluctantly. Seven days of a much unexpected great time with God teaching me more than I was expecting. I thought we were going to help the church and the community by serving, but every time we went out, I was blessed two fold for the service I gave. In a wind up session in the pastor’s apartment, he asked what we saw that we would like to have done differently. I spoke up and told the whole crew, that I was somewhat embarrassed because in the past I was always confident in sharing the Gospel anywhere anytime. Only one way to fix that and I had to begin now. I was determined and disciplined to complete this by the time we went back to Tampa in August. I did just that, but God had a much bigger plan in mind for me.
I was not going back to Tampa, for one the trip was cancelled and the first week of August my family and I were supposed to go to Gulf Shores Alabama for vacation. The most tragic and unexpected occurrence to date in my life was about to take place. All the studying and preparation was preparing me for my own doubts in God’s ability to restore my trust and faith in Him.
My Journey as I recall:
August 4, 2010 began like any other day, I woke up at 3:45 a.m. had my quiet time, went to the gym for a very vigorous workout as usual. I came home got a shower went to file for the Springdale City Council race I was entering, then went to work as usual. Around 2:30 p.m. I told my assistant that I must have eaten something that did not agree with me, because my stomach was starting to hurt. I went to pick-up Aaron to buy him some football shoes and started home. Aaron asked me to get him some fries at McDonalds, I told him we needed to go on home, he argued, I said “Aaron I am not feeling well”. He looked over at me and said “yea dad let’s just go home” I must have looked pretty bad even to a 9 year old.
Rhenda got home around 6:00 p.m. to find me curled up on the bed in major pain. She said I am taking you to the hospital, I told her no. I agreed to go to a clinic down the street, she called and the Dr. was in and not busy so we went directly in to the exam room. The Dr. looked at me and said you have major problems you need to go to the hospital and get a cat scan, you have a choice you can go with your wife to the ER or I am going to call an ambulance and have you taken. Rhenda once again was right (men don’t you just hate that). We sat in the emergency room at WRMS for what seemed like an eternity, before I was taken to a room. The Dr. ordered a CAT scan and then came the devastating news—you have malignant cancer. I don’t remember much after that the Dr. sedated me pretty heavily. The actual next thing I recall was the next day when the surgeon, Dr. Mullis, came in to explain what was going to take place, and all I remember is that it wasn’t good, he got me alone and told me that the tumor in my small intestine was throbbing, which meant it was about to burst. He said that meant we didn’t have days we have hours and he was preparing the operating room as we speak. He looked me real close in the eyes and said, you need to know that there is a 90% chance that when I open you up the air will cause the tumor to burst. My diagnosis was the pain was caused by a tumor in my small intestine causing an obstruction close to my appendix and it had metastasized to my liver. So out comes the tumor along with 3 inches of my small intestine, my appendix, gall bladder and nine inches of my colon. Next they had found on the CAT scan a 5 centimeter tumor on my liver. It was decided that Dr. Hudac would come in and ablate the tumor off the liver. He did but found about four more small tumors that could not be detected on the CAT scan. The end result was the liver had a big hole in it where the tumor used to be and it was filled with dark colored ashes. During the removal of the tumors some toxins were released and infected my blood stream—I.V. antibiotics anyone? To the tune of $500.00 a bag three times a day. Well they sewed me up and out to I.C.U. I went. Some of the best care I ever experienced. I didn’t remember much except a nurse came in my room and asked if she could ask me a question. I said yes of course- her reply was to this day one of the most humbling replies I have ever heard and still cannot tell this without tearing up. “Are you some kind of dignitary?” With a chuckle I replied, “why no, why do you ask” She said, “because there is over 115 people in the waiting room wanting to spend 5 minutes with you and we as a hospital cannot allow that, so we need you to cut it off.” We acknowledged that was the right thing to do, I turned over as if I were going to sleep, but in reality I cried like a baby, I was so touched. I love those I.C.U. people from top to bottom.
After three days in I.C.U., I was sent out to the floor—the dreaded 5th floor. The day shift personnel weren’t helpful at all, in fact they were downright horrible, but the night shift people were pretty good. At one point I remember looking to the entry door and seeing Pastor Floyd come walking in and I replied “oh no I must be dying here comes senior Pastor”. Two days into the 5th floor, a Monday, we thought I was doing well enough to have our nine year old come up and stay with his dad. Later that evening began a trip I will never forget, my fever spiked and I went into a seizure. Rhenda said my hands gipped the bars of the bed and I was shaking so violently that the bed was literally bouncing off the floor. The hospital called in what they call the TREX (emergency response team) and I don’t remember much, other than a male came running into my room leaped for the bed and landed right on top of me. He said Mr. Bruns this room is getting ready to get real busy, but you are not going to know it because I am going to knock you out. To this date I still have the burn scars from the paddles they used to revive me when I went code. Rhenda sent Aaron home with relatives after that experience. Around 4:00 a.m. I went into another seizure and I really don’t remember how I came out of that one it is such a blur. The next morning Dr. Jackson came in and took a look at me and said, “We are going back to I.C.U. My emotions tanked big time, I was a mess mentally, but you know God has a way of putting people in your life at the right times to build you not destroy you. I went back to I.C.U. and a nurse by the name of Ginny (I think) greeted me. I remember she was young, bubbly as could be, you know just the kind of person that everyone wants to be around, and boy was she good for my self esteem (just what the great physician ordered). Then came the night time nurse, Joe, I had more fun with that guy and he made me laugh, he challenged me in a fun way and he was so kind, I guess I was just flat blessed. I cried in joy for what God had done with both of these. I was held in I.C.U. until Saturday, because Rhenda and I refused to go to the 5th floor in fear of getting that crabby ole nurse we had earlier.
Finally, a room came available on the 4th floor. We were getting settled in when Rhenda comes busting through the door looking like she had seen a ghost and said, “You will never guess who is sitting out at the nurse’s station, yes the nurse we had problems with on the 5th floor. So, much for holding out for another floor, what a strategist we turned out to be, to make things worse she was assigned to me! Who doesn’t think God has a sense of humor! Well, I hadn’t had any good news yet so why should that surprise us. She was so ugly to us; I had to call in the nursing supervisor to get her changed out. With that change we absolutely had no other negatives involving WRMC.
Every nurse after that, night time, day time didn’t matter what great care I experienced. You know the kind that didn’t come in and wake you up just to check your blood pressure, but the ones that let you rest; although, when you called they were there in a flash to help no matter how small the request. It was time to take out the staples, so my nurse came in and said she had an intern that she was going to let take out the staples but she would be there to assist. I did not like the idea, felt I had spent enough time being a test tube baby here, but he was great and so was she.
After, fourteen days in the hospital, Dr. Mullis, decided it might be time to send me home. Dr. Jackson told us that before we went he would like to have Dr. Steve Hennigan, an infectious disease specialist, see me before being released, Dr. Mullis agreed. Dr. Hennigan came on the scene about 6:00 that night, too late to send me home that day, and told me he had been over my charts and felt I was good to go home with an oral anti-biotic. I went home the next day.
As soon as I got out of the van, I knew in my own mind I was not prepared for my home visit, but I wanted to be home so bad. I got up and walked around the block once, but never got that feeling I was getting better. I did go to one of Aaron’s football practices, but only sat in a chair and stared at the field. Every time I went to the Lord in my quiet time I did not get a peace about getting better, I just didn’t feel good. On Sunday we went to Church only and that took everything out of me. We went through the weekend with fever, but controlling it with ibuprofen. On Monday, it was just a bad day. Rhenda took Aaron to football practice around 6:00 pm and no more than they got out the door and I started feeling like I was about to freeze to death. Outside it was 100+ degrees F with real high humidity, so I got the idea I would take my blanket outside sit on the back deck and get warmed up. WRONG! Not long and I felt the fever taking over and knew a seizure was on the way. I called Rhenda could not reach her, but I must not have dialed the right number because we could not find it on her caller id where I called her. I called my neighbor Stan, but got voicemail. I called my sister Donna, who was at Sam’s, told her that I needed her and hung up. Donna showed up first, but it was too late the seizure had set in. Rhenda called and all I could get out was s-e-i-z-u-r-e, then hung up. I told Donna to get me three ibuprofen and she did. I know Donna, Stan and Rhenda were there and Rhenda began calling the Dr. and as I feared back to the hospital.
I was put on the pediatric floor, same place they had put me the first night I came into the hospital ER awaiting surgery. Back to the IV’s and just feeling cruddy again. Tuesday Dr. Mullis came in and said that Dr. Hudac was out of town again, but he wanted to order a drain tube for my liver. I told them I didn’t do these things very well, so they gave me a small dose of morphine and I had a little reaction to it. They thought I was having a heart attack, but I soon calmed down enough to go on down to surgery. Down at surgery I told the nurse that was prepping me that I had a tendency to panic during these kinds of events. She told me to tell Dr. Jon Park when he came in. I did and his response was I do this all the time it is really no big deal. As I looked down on the table beside my bed, I spotted the needles he was going to use, the one to deaden the area looked to be about 6 ½ inches long and the one to put the tube in through my ribs to my liver was at least 9 inches long---not a good day. The first needle was put into my side and I cannot describe how badly it hurt, I wanted to cry. Then, I looked down and he had that big needle starting to stick it into my side, my right foot came up and almost got Dr. Park. He stepped back and said do you do Karate? I said yes and he told the nurse to get the Demerol to put me out. She did, it did and he did put the tube in me without incident---Praise be to God!
Back at the room Dr. Mullis came back by and I told him about the incident involving Dr. Park and Dr. Mullis said that is physically impossible for you to raise your foot that high---but it happened. I spent a total of five more days in the hospital and Dr. Mullis released me on Friday. Over the weekend it didn’t get any better, in fact I could feel myself slipping away. On Monday afternoon Rhenda on her own called Dr. Hennigen. When she was able to speak to him, he told her he had no knowledge that I was in the hospital last week, he hadn’t even been consulted. He wanted to see me that day, so we made the time to go. Dr. Hennigen looked at me in the room and said, “Mr. Bruns you have been sick way too long, if you will give me 10 days, I’ll have you 100% better.” I told him I would give him his 10 days but if I wasn’t better day 11 I am leaving for MD Anderson. He responded, “That’s fair enough.” Well, back to the hospital, but this time it was just to have a pick line placed in under my right arm, up a vein directly above my heart. That afternoon I was back in Dr. Hennie’s office getting medication and training on how to administer the I.V.’s. Ten straight days of twice a day medicine, it was a nightmare, but it worked and the infection was gone—to God be the glory!
The week I was taking my I.V.’s the Northwest Arkansas Newspaper’s called and wanted to schedule an endorsement interview with me the following Wednesday. I explained the situation to them and told them as long as Dr. Hennigen cleared me from the I.V.’s, I would be glad to show up. I still had that dreaded drain tube in, but knew I could hide it well enough not to be obvious. So, on Wednesday I went into the interview and the first thing that was asked of me is whether my health could hold up for the four year term. I explained to them that Dr. Mullis had released me to run this campaign and if necessary would write me a letter telling them I would be fine. The interview went well and I ended up getting the endorsement from the newspapers.
The ten days went by and Dr. Hennigen was right, I was on my way back, lost the fever, felt like a human being again. I was released from the current Doctor’s and sent to Highlands Oncology being assigned to Dr. Beck. We agreed that I would be tested quarterly and with positive results would look to pushing that back to once a year. The tests were going to consist of an MRI, urine test and monitoring vitals. After my first test I was declared cancer free, wow what a ride. The second three months turned the same results and I left celebrating. The next week I went to see Dr. Hudac for my six month check up.
I remember Dr. Hudac walked in took one look from across the room at me and had one of the most fearing gazing faces I had ever seen. His first words that I remember were, “your cancer is back”. I told him that was not possible, because I just got tested the week before and was declared cancer free by Highlands Oncology. He asked to see the MRI results we provided those and he said he could see 6 tumors on my liver, but he was going to send it to the radiologist at WRMC to confirm or disclaim his suspicions. The radiologist came back and stated that he saw what he thought were 9 liaisons which simply means what he saw is not large enough to be called a tumor, but still could have the same effects when it comes to characinoid syndrome.
We contacted Dr. Beck with the findings and he did not believe it, but said he would send the results to a third radiologist totally unconnected to this case to get his opinion. He did and the results the radiologist from WRMC found were confirmed, I never was cancer free. God what is it that you are teaching me here on this rollercoaster?
Dr. Hudac referred me to Dr. Yao the characinoid tumor specialist in the world, located in Houston, Texas at MD Anderson hospital. Rhenda went with me on that first visit and was it ever overwhelming. We met with Dr. Yao at 0700 the next morning and he wasn’t a minute late coming into the room to see me. I remember he walked in with my file and said he had examined my entire file extensively and said, Mr. Bruns I have one question for you. How are you still alive, because I can find no medical reason for you to be living? He said I have been doing this for over 30 years and I am sure this has happened before you probably aren’t the first, but I not only have never seen this, but I have never heard of someone having a tumor bursting in their liver and living to tell about it, how does that happen. My only reply was sir I can only tell you that I am under a higher power than the doctors, his reply that is a good answer.
Dr. Yao sent me to get blood tests and we walked into this very large room with 150 people in it. I know because when I signed up I was the 150th person to sign in. I told Rhenda I cannot do this my patience won’t allow me to do this, she said we have never been here before, so let’s see what happens and then if it becomes too stressful we will leave. Much to my surprise, I looked up and when they started calling patients back you could see technicians lined up as far back as you could see and believe it or not I was called back in 15 minutes! The nurse put me in the chair and said she was going to take 15 vials of blood from me and did. When finished she said ok you can go. I remember getting up out of the chair and the next thing I remember is she is standing over me fanning me and saying breathe deep Mr. Bruns. The next test was an MRI, well nothing new here I have had many of those by now, so guess even though I am highly Closter phobic I can handle this for 20 minutes come on big boy you can do it. The technician took one look at me and said you are awfully clammy is something wrong? I told him about being Closter phobic and he said I’ll take care of that lay down. I did and he took a 50 cent wash cloth put it over my eyes but exposing my nose and mouth that worked. The only thing they did not tell me was they were strapping me in a cage and I wasn’t going to be in there for the standard 20 minutes, I was in the tube for a solid 2 and one half hours.
In six months I returned to MD Anderson for another check-up and they determined my serotonin level was above the safe level and they recommended that I start the sandestatin shot to prevent any growth of the liaisons in my liver and would prevent them from releasing the serotonin into my body. The serotonin has a whole list of complications for the body the worst is that it can eat your right heart valve out within six months. Unfortunately, the shot will need to be taken every 28 days for the rest of my life once started and the liaisons will be there as long as I live. The only complications with the shot are that it pretty much takes all your energy for the first 24 hours, but if after the shot I go directly home and lay down until the next morning, I get up pretty much refreshed. To date I still have not found out what God is trying to teach me through this season of life, other than it has opened the door for me to appreciate those relationships around me and it allows me to see a side of life that I would never have seen inside the eyes a young man that is growing up in my household known as Aaron Bryant Bruns. TO GOD BE THE GLORY, MATTHEW 6:33