You will have significant experiences.
I hope that you will write them down and keep a record of
them, that you will read them from time to time and refresh
your memory of these meaningful and significant things.
Some may be funny. Some may be significant only to you.
Some of them may be sacred and quietly beautiful. Some
may build upon another until they represent a lifetime of
special experiences.
- Gordon B Hinckley

Monday, May 25, 2015

Radiation Starts Tomorrow...

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you for your continued support!  I’ve received so many texts and emails lately just checking in on us…it’s been so heartwarming.  I must apologize for the delayed update.  These days I’m barely getting everything accomplished before it’s time for bed.  Then, it’s wake up and repeat.  I’m not wanting to complain but things have been overwhelming.  I remind myself every morning that all this is temporary.  How anyone would ever survive this experience without their family and the multitude of supportive friends is beyond me!  We are so blessed to have people we can lean on.  Ok, enough whining.  

Zac starts radiation tomorrow.  Our insurance never did budge on their decision.  I can think of a few choice words to call them but instead I choose to believe that this alternate plan is part of God’s greater plan for Zac and our family.  His radiation oncologist came up with a “comparable plan with a negligible increase in radiation runoff to the surrounding organs” to quote him exactly.  This new plan is really the best we can do.  We can’t wait any longer to fight the insurance as it is the radiation that is holding Zac back from returning to work.  We’ve already lost two weeks to this battle.  It’s time to accept the things we cannot change and move on.  

Zac’s apprehensive about the radiation.  The doctor discussed the side effects at such length that I think we are both nervous about how this is going to go.  Nausea is most common and hits patients immediately after treatment.  Zac will  take an anti-nausea medication 30 minutes before every treatment to help with that.  Luckily the nausea dissipates in the hours following the treatment, unlike chemo where is can linger all day, every day.  The second most common side effect is extreme fatigue.  He’s so tired already that imagining more fatigue is almost incomprehensible.  I know he’s feeling bummed as he’s just started feeling better.  However, the effects of radiation are cumulative, so I’m really hoping that he will feel pretty good for the first few weeks as the radiation cumulates.  But only time will tell.  

This week Zac finally started feeling closer to his old self.  He’s still very fatigued and sore and he’s still learning to accept his physical limits (although they are temporary), but he’s felt his best since the surgery.  He’s started getting out of the house more and now that he can pick up Reece, he’s able to participate more in family life.  That’s been very helpful for all our attitudes ;-)  He continues with physical therapy twice a week.  Zac’s uncle, who is a physical therapist in Folsom, took the time to find Zac’s physical therapist here.  She has experience in rehabilitating back surgery patients like Zac, where the area of insult is very large.  Coming back from this type of surgery isn’t a few month process…it’s likely to be a year before Zac’s back at his baseline function.  Reminding him that his progress is going to be slower is a daily conversation in our house.  He is impatient and frustrated (rightly so) and all of this has been a lesson in learning how to support him in the way he needs.  

This upcoming Saturday we will march in the 2nd annual Central Coast March for Babies to honor Everett.  I’m giving the opening speech and am so excited to march again.  It’s been nice to have something to look forward to and another place to put my mind.  Last year’s walk was so inspiring and I’m looking forward to feeling that closeness to others who have walked our journey.  Last year, Everett was the only surviving child being honored that day…the only surviving child.  We have been so blessed in this life!  If you want to walk with us, let me know and I’d be happy to send you the information.  

As we start on this new challenge, please pray that Zac experiences minimal side effects from the radiation.  Please pray that the radiation only touches the tumor cells and none of the healthy tissues near the tumor.  Please pray that this treatment will bring healing and closure to this chapter in our lives.  Thank you for loving us.  We couldn’t do any part of this without you.  You have blessed our lives and made a difference for us just my being you.  Thank you!

Love, 


The Bollinger Family

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Radiation Prayers Needed!

Dear Family and Friends,

Today we found out that our insurance has refused approval for the type of radiation that has been prescribed for Zac.  He has been ordered IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy), which is the newest type of radiation.  What makes the technology novel is that this radiation can essentially be given in a 3-D manner.  Technicians are able to focus the radiation photons to the shape of the specific tumor, thus minimizing the radiation”run off” to the surrounding tissues and organs.  Since Zac’s area of radiation will be very large (over 12 inches), and he is so young in age, and because his spinal cord will be involved in the radiation area, this type of radiation is his safest option for short and long term side effects.  

Our insurance company does not see it this way.  They are calling IMRT in relation to treatment of ependymomas “investigatory.”  They went so far as to say there is no evidence that IMRT is more effective than traditional radiation for treatment of his type of tumor.  While that might be true, it’s not the effectiveness of the radiation we are worried about…it’s the side effects.  His radiation oncologist already appealed the denial, which our insurance company denied again.  The second step was sending Zac’s case to the the insurance company’s peer review board.  They also denied approval.  So, we’ve filed a formal grievance, which unfortunately could take 30-60 days to get a response.  Our doctors here and at UCLA are doing their best to get information to the insurance company, hoping to persuade them into approving the treatment.  We get one chance to try to change their minds.  

So I’m asking for prayers that the insurance company would be moved to approve the treatment.  Zac is so young to be enduring radiation and this therapy will give him the best chance of continued health in the long term.  I’d also like prayers for their decision to be hasty, as Zac cannot return to work until four weeks after radiation is complete, so time spent waiting now is time keeping him out of work later.  This is very frustrating for him.  It is equally frustrating to have people with little medical knowledge, who are often focusing on a bottom line, determining the health and well being of our family.  Of course to us, none of this is new.  We fought the same battles with Everett.  Fortunately, we are experienced in what to say and how to say it.  We understand how the system works and how to make it work for us.  But all this requires energy, which we find in precious little supply just now.  I know with your prayers, we can get this accomplished!  It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve moved mountains :-)

Love,


The Bollinger Family

Monday, May 11, 2015

Finding Normal...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac and I are slowly finding our temporary normal.  I went back to work two weeks ago (thus the slow down in updates) and Zac has started physical therapy.  He is doing very well physically.  His therapy has been focusing on strengthening his legs and core, with the exception of his back.  Therapy wears him out but he’s so happy to be working on his recovery.  His pain has increased a little, as he’s pretty sore after his sessions, but the type of pain he’s experiencing is totally different than what he was enduring before.  For that he is thankful.  He will start radiation sometime this week.  He is able to drive himself which is a huge blessing.  He will not be able to return to work until four weeks after his course of radiation is complete.  So it will be quite a while before he’s back into his normal routine.  He been focusing on getting out of the house everyday, even if it’s just to pick up Everett from school. 

Emotionally this past week has been hard.  I’m not home during the day (I’m working an extra day while he’s off to bring in some more income) and he’s not used to being home during the week.  He has cabin fever combined with a feeling of loss of purpose.  For a man who is so dedicated to his job, to not be able to provide for his family has been frustrating.  He’s also just starting to process everything that happened.  I don’t think he quite realized how sick he was and how close he came to a less functional life.  He’s working through the emotional toll of being hospitalized and the ramifications of his current physical state.  There is also a fear of the unknown as he starts radiation.  He’s dealing with a lot.  

The kids are doing great!  It’s been so long since Zac was physically able to care for them that they’ve required very little coaching on being cautious around him.  Everett has developed some new independence out of necessity.  Reece is walking everywhere, which adds a new level of fun to our house.  We continue to have so much support.  I haven’t had to cook dinner since we came home!  And there hasn’t been a day without an email or text just checking in on how we are doing.  You all are so amazing and have done so much to lift us up!  You may think a simple text or quick meal can’t really make a difference but trust me, they do!  We love you all and are so thankful you are on this journey with us.  It really does take a village.  

Love,


The Bollinger Family

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Follow Up...

Dear Family and Friends,

This week has been full of follow ups and acclimation to being at home.  Zac is doing so well!  His back pain is the best it has been in over a year.  Except for the surgical pain, which is very tolerable, he is feeling “awesome.”  His tolerance for activity is steadily increasing.  He can be up about an hour now before needing to recline and rest.  He has stopped using the cane altogether.  Each night he is sleeping better.  I’ve been very, very pleased with his healing.  

On Wednesday, we met the radiation oncologist who will be prescribing Zac’s radiation therapy.  The course will be longer than previously recommended; he will go to radiation five days a week, for six weeks straight.  His treatments will start the second week of May.  The area of radiation will be from T11 (just above the tumor) to the dural sac (the end of the cauda equina).  This will guarantee radiation of not only the tumor area but also the borders and a little beyond.  The daily dose of radiation will be relatively small, but with a large cumulative effect on the tumor.  He can expect minimal side effects from the radiation itself.  The most common side effect being fatigue.  Nausea is also common in radiation of the spinal cord.  He will be treated with nausea medicine before each treatment.  Other than that, he has no precautions for handling the kids.  The treatment itself takes very little time, lasting only about 10 minutes.  The machines take longer to set up than it takes to actually deliver the radiation.  He will have a CT scan next week to determine anatomical markers for where the radiation will be focused.  Then he will be tattooed with those markers on his skin so the radiation hits the same area each time.  

Also in the next few weeks, we will be banking his sperm.  It’s a delicate subject and one that most people our age don’t have to think about.  Because of the location of the radiation, there is a chance that Zac will be sterile after the treatment.  While we have no formal plans to continue expanding our family, it was not a decision we had come to before his diagnosis.  And because it is a HUGE decision, which I simply feel I cannot make in this moment, we will be banking some just in case.  This is one of those things we thought we’d never have to do in our lives, and yet here we are.  

His follow up with the neurosurgeon was on Friday.  He had a MRI with contrast which showed NO CSF leak!!!  The surgeon said he’s doing great for the rough hospital course he had.  His staples were removed and he no longer has to wear the corset brace (which he is thrilled about).  He is allowed to lift 10 pounds now and will start physical therapy in a week.  From here, the radiation oncologist will order his follow up scans.  

I can’t even begin to tell you how loved we feel.  My parents have been saying that they’ve overheard strangers talking about Zac and our family at gatherings not knowing that my parents are part of our family.  All of this touches me so deeply.  Over the years, Zac and I have toyed with the idea of moving out of the area.  But the one thing that has always kept us here is the amazing friends and family that we are so blessed to know.  This community that surrounds us is incredible.  We know how lucky we are.  And we wouldn’t leave here for the world!

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Being Home...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac is all settled in at home.  He still wakes up thinking he’s still in the hospital.  After 23 days of being there, I can’t blame him.  Overall, he’s doing well.  He has to wear a back corset continuously for the next six weeks.  It’s to help place constant pressure on his back and prevent any future CSF leaks.  He’s become pretty accustomed to it already.  He can walk around as tolerated, but about 15 minutes upright tires him out.  He can’t lift any more than 5 pounds, can’t bend over, and can’t drive.  He is walking with a cane as it’s still difficult for him to completely straighten his back.  His pain is tolerable.  I’m very pleased with his healing.  He is loving being home, especially sleeping in his own, comfortable bed!

Everett was thrilled when Zac came home; he came running out the front door screaming “Daddy!”  Reece stared at him for about three minutes, then put his arms out for him.  A few friends came over and decorated our house with welcome home balloons, a huge sign, and a ton of cards made by all our friends’ kids.  Zac was touched when he saw everything.  

We have our consultation with the radiation oncologist on Wednesday and our follow up at UCLA on Thursday.  Thursday will involve a MRI first to check for any CSF leaks, then we will see the neurosurgeon again.  As long as everything still looks good, Zac will be able to start physical therapy.  Radiation will begin in probably 4-6 weeks.

Thank you all for your love, support and prayers.  We are continually in awe of the outpouring of love from those around us.  We are so blessed to have such people in our lives!

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Look Who's Home...




Dear Family and Friends,

Zac is home!!!  Praise God.  Our family is reunited and sleeping under one roof!  We are so blessed!

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family  


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Making Progress...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac is now post-op day #2 and just moved out of ICU.  He has completed his 48 hours of lying on his stomach and is now getting up and walking to the bathroom.  His pain is better today than yesterday but is still quite substantial.  He has completed two hyperbaric chamber therapy treatments.  These sessions use a steel tube with pressurized oxygen to force oxygen into the tissues and promote healing.  From the research I did online, the results can be quite effective.  Each session is two hours of lying in the tube, which is completely enclosed.  It doesn’t sound fun; luckily Zac isn’t claustrophobic.  

The big, great news is that we got the approval for Zac’s radiation course to be done at home!  The oncologists were originally indicating that the treatments would need to be done at UCLA because of the rarity of his tumor.  But today the attending said our facilities are very capable of completing their plan.  Whew!  Those treatments will start 2-6 weeks after discharge, depending on Zac’s healing.  

We are making progress…hopefully toward home.  On a side note, I wanted to include this short conversation that I had with Everett today.  I was running a little low on faith this morning and God answered my need and then some.  Our miraculous boy certainly is a gift from God.  I know he is destined to change the world.

E: "Mom, who is God?"
Me: "He is a righteous man who listens to our prayers."
E: "He takes care of us."
Me: "Who told you that?"
E: "God."
Me: "When did he tell you that?"
E: "On the day I was born. He said I had to be brave. He said I could do it. He said He would take care of me."

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Very Confident...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac’s second surgery took about five hours.  The surgeon had to completely open his original incision in order to visualize the entire area of sutured dura.  He did locate one pinhole leak from a suture, which was actively leaking.  He micro sutured this area, created a muscle patch over it, then placed an artificial patch just for good measure.  He feels “very confident” that this will work!  Zac will start the hyperbaric therapy tomorrow in order to speed his healing process along.  

He’s in ICU again tonight but should transfer out tomorrow.  He is back on a pain pump and was very uncomfortable immediately after surgery.  Since then, the pain medicine has started working and he’s much more comfortable.  The next 48 hours will involve limited activity as the area (hopefully) closes.  

The surgeon has never used the words “very confident” with us thus far so I’m taking that as a really good sign!  We pray that this is the last hurdle before we end this race.  We thank you all for your prayers and good thoughts!  You continue to humble us with your love.

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Disappointment...

Dear Family and Friends,

Disappointment actually doesn’t even begin to cover what we are feeling.  They should invent a new word for feeling like you’ve had every part of your body and mind pummeled for three straight weeks.  Maybe I will come up with one but right now, I’m too tired.  Zac has to have another surgery.  The artificial patch didn’t work and he is still leaking CSF fluid.  The area that was drained has completely filled up again despite him lying on his stomach for 48 hours with a weight on his back.  Ugh.  We were given options to wait and watch or go back to surgery and have the covering of his spine (the dura) re-sutured.  Zac has opted to have the surgery.  

It will be done tomorrow.  After the surgery he will have to lie on his stomach again for another 48 hours.  After that he can get up and start moving.  After a day or two of activity he will have another MRI to evaluate if the surgery worked.  The chance of success is 80-90%.  The surgeon also mentioned possibly instituting hyperbaric chamber therapy to promote healing in Zac’s body.  I suppose this would start the day following surgery and would continue for two days.  If everything goes according to plan he could be home by the end of next week.  At that time, we would be approaching one month in the hospital.

We could really use some prayers for strength and a good outcome.  This has been an exhausting and all-consuming experience.  But we continue to have faith that there will be a benefit larger than the suffering we are feeling now.

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tummy Time...

Dear Family and Friends,

The procedure to drain Zac's back was completed yesterday at 5:30pm.  The surgeon drained 24ml of CSF fluid out of his back.  This is about 15% of the total circulating CSF fluid in the body.  After the fluid was removed, the surgeon injected a two part patching agent into the hole where the CSF was leaking from.  According to the surgeon, there were two positive things that draining the fluid told us.  First, the fluid was a rusty, amber color, implying that it was old fluid.  Fresh CSF fluid is typically clear.  Second, during the procedure there was a 10 minute delay when the surgeon was able to watch the leak area.  During that time he saw no active leaking.  All great news!  The surgeon feels that the leak had likely sealed itself off, but he was glad to  get the fluid removed and the pressure released.  Zac has done really well with staying on his stomach for the past 24 hours.  He has a back brace on, a 10 pound weight in the middle of his back, and he is only allowed to use the restroom and sit up to eat.  He's taking the positioning like a champ!  Just looking at him is uncomfortable.  I can't imagine what he is feeling not being able to move.  But he knows this is necessary to avoid another surgery.  

We received the pathology results today and we are happy to say the tumor is BENIGN!!!!!!!  Praise God!!!  It is a stage II which means it is slow growing, but not the slowest growing (which would be stage I).  So, radiation is pretty much definite.  We are meeting with neuro-oncology tomorrow to determine a course of treatment.  

Overall the news of the past 24 hours has been so, so encouraging.  I know that is in huge part to all of your prayers and positive thinking for us!  Thank you for continuing to give us your strength.  

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

P.S.  Zac has lost over 30 pounds since being admitted!  He looks great!  Not the best way to lose weight but we will take it :-)  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Interventional Radiology...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac was just taken to interventional radiology to have the fluid in his back drained.  His neurosurgeon decided that he still has a small leak.  This leak is too small to produce symptoms but might become a larger leak with increased activity once Zac comes home.  So he decided that the fluid needed to be drained and an artificial patch placed over the area.  After all this is done, Zac will be placed on his stomach, with weights across the incision on his back.  He will have to maintain that position for the next 72 hours.  Ya…three days…stuck on his stomach…not fun.  

I can’t imagine how uncomfortable Zac is going to be.  I can’t imagine not being able to move after already being bed-bound for the past week.  How he (we) will make it through this, I don’t know.  This treatment is an attempt to save Zac from having to be opened back up and the leak sutured closed.  So it’s a worthy cause.  But still, at the moment, it seems an unsurmountable task (without the use of large amounts of sedatives).  

Please pray that this procedure closes the leak.  Please pray for Zac as he holds this position.  Please pray for me as I try to keep him calm.  Please pray for our children who are forever being left by us.  Please just pray that this time in our lives comes to an end soon.  We are strong, but my goodness…this is hard!

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Scare Tactics...

Dear Family and Friends,

Today. Was. Exhausting.  At 7am, a neurosurgical resident told us that the newest MRI result showed a larger leak than in the previous scan.  That resident wrote orders to make Zac nothing to eat or drink for the rest of the day and restarted IV fluids, implying that a second surgery was needed to suture the leak closed.  However, nothing was scheduled or definite.  We spent most of the morning reeling, as this wasn’t expected since Zac’s symptoms have been improving.  Around 1pm, the neurosurgeon’s PA told us that the residents were “puzzled” by Zac’s lack of symptoms with the larger leak scan result and that they weren’t quite sure what to do about it.  Finally around 3pm, the actual neurosurgeon determined that the larger leak is just residual from the original leak and that Zac does not need a second surgery!  In fact, he will probably be discharged tomorrow.  Thank goodness!!!

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of an experience at a teaching hospital, the hierarchy of doctors goes as follows: residents, fellows, attendings.  Attendings are the big shots (like Zac’s neurosurgeon) who train new doctors and come up with cutting edge techniques.  Fellows are doctors with some experience but not as much as the attending.  Then there are residents…who can act like teenagers thinking they are grown-ups.  Ugh.  The resident today was one of those.  Overall, our experience has been pretty positive.  But today was beyond frustrating and scary because of an overly ambitious and minimally communicative staff.  Arg!  

Anyway, it is behind us now and the important part is that Zac is hopefully coming home.  He’s been walking the halls and is feeling really great.  The emotional toll of today left both of us fatigued but that should give way to total happiness when our family is back together under the same roof.  In all the fuss, we forgot to ask for the pathology results.  We are hoping to have those before we leave, so please keep praying that the tumor is benign.  Also, please pray that Zac gets to come home tomorrow.  We are so ready!!!

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Monday, April 6, 2015

Big Improvements...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac is ten days out from surgery and finally feeling much better.  He was taken off of bedrest this afternoon.  He was able to shower and walk without a headache.  He is doing really well moving around; he walked the halls without his walker today.  His back is sore but he’s weaned himself off all the extra pain medicine he was taking after the surgery.  So he’s on nothing more than what he was taking before his diagnosis.  He’s done really well.  

He had a follow up MRI this afternoon to evaluate the CSF leak.  His symptoms imply that it is improving but the surgeon wanted to verify.  As long as it doesn’t show a change, I think he will be discharged tomorrow or Wednesday.  We can’t wait!!!  We are still waiting to hear on the pathology results for what type of tumor it is.  Those results should be in tomorrow or Wednesday as well.  

Thank you all for your continuing support, love and prayers.

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Answers...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac’s MRI from yesterday showed a small CSF leak.  That leak is responsible for his headache.  The prescribed treatment is another 48 hours of bedrest, lying as flat as possible.  Doing this will hopefully allow the leak to seal on its own, thus avoiding a second surgery to close it.  We are hopeful the leak has already started to resolve as Zac is feeling much better today.  He was able to shower and be vertical for about 10 minutes before his head started to hurt, which is a huge improvement over the 1 minute of tolerance he had yesterday.  His physical therapy orders have been converted to bed exercises only while he’s on bedrest.  So he’s here until at least Monday.  His back pain continues to improve.  Today his dressing was removed and he was able to shower over his incision.  It looks good and is closed with no fewer than 45 staples!  

While we are disappointed to be spending Easter apart from our family, we are so thankful for Zac’s improvement.  We pray it continues in the days to come.  We are so thankful for all of your love, prayers and support and hope you all have a wonderful Easter.  We are thankful for all of you and also for my mom who remembered to make Easter baskets for the kids :-)

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Headache Continues...

Dear Family and Friends,

Sorry I didn’t update yesterday.  I spent the entire day with my kids, enjoying them and drinking them in.  I had envisioned this grand reunion after 10 days apart.  Something like Reece reaching out for me while Everett ran toward me in slow motion calling out “Mama.”  Instead, I came home to a baby who wouldn’t let me touch him and a five-year-old who immediately asked where his present was.  Oh well, so much for that perfect moment.  After an excruciating 20 minutes, Reece finally let me hold him and Everett started professing just how much he loved me.  We played legos and took pictures and pet Jack and wrestled.  The TV stayed off, a friend dropped dinner by, and we were just together without distraction.  I needed that.  

Zac’s dad and I returned to the hospital today.  Zac still has a headache.  It seems to worsen when his head is above 30 degrees.  He is unable to do physical therapy because his head hurts anytime he is upright.  He had a CT scan yesterday which showed no CSF leak.  Today, because his symptoms persist, he had another MRI.  We don’t have the results yet.  Other than the headache, Zac says he’s feeling pretty good.  His back pain is manageable.  He coughed yesterday without pain for the first time in over a year!

We are praying that Zac’s headache either resolves or has a cause which can be treated.  We are so ready to go home and this delay is crushing.  We are still hopeful to be home by Easter…

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Complications...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac woke up this morning with a headache.  In a typical post-surgical patient this wouldn’t be a big concern, but in a neurosurgical patient, it could be a sign of a complication.  The possibility being that Zac’s spine has a small leak of cerebrospinal fluid, thus causing the headache.  His MRI from yesterday showed no leak but a small one might not be detected on the MRI.  His headache worsens when he’s upright and is almost alleviated when lying flat.  It was so bad this morning that he declined physical therapy until the afternoon and only walked once in the hall.  The doctors feel confident that he simply did too much too fast, and yet the symptoms have earned him another day or two of observation. 

My mom and I are headed home tomorrow for one night.  I NEED to see my kids.  I need to hug them and smell them and talk to them and put them to bed.  I am exhausted and need to be home to get grounded again.  I will come back on Friday, hoping to bring Zac home before Easter.  His mom and younger brother will stay with him until I return.  To say this is frustrating is an understatement.  But we are patient and confident and know that he will heal with time.  We thrive on your love.

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Turning Point...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac turned the corner today!  His pain is under control on oral pills, he’s getting out of bed almost independently, and he accomplished the tasks needed to meet discharge criteria.  Woohoo!!!  He walked the halls of the entire unit four times.  He did so well that physical therapy released him to get up on his own after his first session.  That means no rehab facility.  Woohoo again!!!  We spoke with our case manager and started making plans for equipment and home health visits once we leave.  As long as his bowels continue to wake up, I’m thrilled to say it looks like we will be home by Friday!  I’m so excited!!!  I’m equally proud of Zac who really worked hard to do what needed to be done.  

We still don’t have the pathology results, but continue to pray the tumor is benign.  Tomorrow should bring the new MRI results, which will tell us exactly how much tumor remains and how we will plan to treat it.  We pray that so little is left that radiation won’t be necessary.  We also pray that Zac’s bowel will resume its normal function tomorrow so that he is finally more comfortable.  I’m just so happy that we are so close to coming home, I’m counting the minutes until I can hold my boys and cover them in kisses.  

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Monday, March 30, 2015

Brutal...

Dear Family and Friends,

To quote Zac, today was “brutal.”  He spent most of the morning in an incredible amount of pain.  Through that pain he did stand up twice and even sat up in a chair for almost an hour.  But it was hard on him.  He was moaning, crying, and shaking as he moved.  When he coughed, he screamed out.  As the day wore on, it became evident that his bowels have yet to wake up from surgery.  That has left him feeling distended, bloated, and very uncomfortable.  This evening I convinced him to walk about 10 feet, as walking is the best thing for sleepy bowels.  He did great, with less shaking and less moaning, but he’s still very uncomfortable.  Overall he’s making progress.  I’m proud of him for working through the pain.  

He was referred to the pain management team today to see if they could get him more comfortable.  They tweaked some of his meds and I’m hoping that tomorrow will be better.  I also hope tomorrow will bring less bowel discomfort.  He has orders for his follow up MRI as well.  He declined having that done today due to his pain so hopefully we can do it tomorrow.  He should also start physical therapy.  I pray that tomorrow brings more comfort in all areas of his body.  I pray that tonight brings him good rest.

Today several friends came over to watch our kids, with their own kids in tow, and another friend stopped by to clean our bathrooms and vacuum our floors.  My dad said it was such wonderful sight to see all these women and kids running all over our house, making sure our needs at home were being met.  He texted me that we have such amazing friends.  I know we do.  I’m so thankful for all of you, for everything you are doing to lift us up.  We couldn’t fight this fight without you!

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Post-op Day #2

Dear Family and Friends,

Post-op day #2 brought more pain for Zac.  The nurse increased his medication dose and he’s feeling a little better.  The nausea still comes in waves and now he’s battling wicked heartburn because he’s had to lie completely flat for two days.  He transferred out of ICU after noon.  He now has his own room, which is much quieter.  He got a few good naps in today.  His vital signs have been perfect and his blood pressure is the lowest it’s been in a year..a testament to how much pain he was in before the surgery.  Overall I think he is doing very well.  Tomorrow morning he will sit up for the first time and hopefully stand.  From there, we will literally take it one step at a time.  

Zac’s mom and brother left today.  His dad left yesterday.  My mom and I remain at Tiverton House and spend most of the day at Zac’s bedside.  We are discussing a trip home to see the kids, but all that depends on whether this looks like it’s going to be a longer hospitalization.  I feel like we will have a better idea after he tries to get out of bed tomorrow.  

He was a little tearful today thinking about all the prayers and support we’ve been receiving these past two weeks.  He reiterated that he just doesn’t feel worth it but I assured him that he is.  Thank you all so much for continuing to check in with us.  We miss home but know this is the best place for us to be.  

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pain Control...

Dear Family and Friends,

We’ve made it through the first day after surgery.  Zac has been in a lot of pain.  He has been very reluctant to move, as pretty much everywhere in his body hurts.  He is feeling overwhelming soreness.  After a very rough morning, he was able to treat his pain using a self-dosing machine.  After a few hours of being reluctant to give himself medication, he understood that he was better off using more of the medicine than less.  He’s been far more comfortable this afternoon.  He has been nauseous with any movement.  The nurses have been turning him from side to side to keep his skin from getting pressure points.  I’ve been gently encouraging him to do his pulmonary hygiene.  His incision is much larger than I expected, approximately 8-10 cm!  It’s also higher on his back than I expected, from about his mid back downward.  Fortunately, he has been cleared to move out of ICU tomorrow.

I spoke with the surgeon at 5:30am, just after I got back from the hospital.  He was unable to remove the entire tumor, as several nerves were too involved with the tumor tissue.  Therefore, he is 90% confident that Zac will require radiation.  On the good side, preliminary pathology results found no cancerous cells.  The surgeon feels that we are almost definitely dealing with a benign ependymoma.  Thank God!  In other good news, Zac has already regained sensation to his left foot which has been numb for several months.  I hope his symptoms continue to improve as his back heals.

Last night, not 30 minutes went by without my receiving a text, email or message of encouragement.  It was as if I could feel all of you waiting with me.  Your words helped those 12 hours pass just a little bit quicker.  Thank you for taking the time to care about Zac and our family.  You continue to humble us!  

Even with the news that Zac will likely require radiation, I continue to pray that he will defy the odds and that the tumor will not require that treatment.  I pray that each day Zac becomes more comfortable and more mobile.  I pray for our children who are desperately missing their parents.  I pray for our families who are feeling the emotional strain.  I pray that soon we will be home and recovering from this time in our lives.  I thank God for this amazing support system that He has built for us.  

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Complete...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac is out of surgery and in the Neuro ICU. Initial reports state that the surgeon feels he resected most of the tumor. They will do a scan in a few days to see if there are any small stragglers. They removed four lamina, the back of the spine, on four vertebrae and did not replace them.  The surgeons tells us he will be in a good amount of pain. He's moving all extremities. The pathology was inconclusive (because of the pathologist, from what I can gather) so we have to wait for the pathology results to find out exactly what the tumor was. He has been extubated and is breathing on his own.

All in all it was a 12 hour surgery.  I'm hopeful that the scan result later in the week will show no remaining tumor. We are so thankful to God for answering our prayers and caring for Zac. Thank you all for praying for him. And thank you for showing your endless support with calls, texts and messages. They lifted my heart more than you can imagine. We love you all!

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

Update #3

Dear Family and Friends,

Hour 10 with at least two to go. All we know is he's "fine."  We are hoping this prolonged surgery means the surgeon is making a huge effort to get the entire tumor out. We've sent all the "parents" back to Tiverton House and Zac's brother and I are sitting in the lobby watching people come and go. We continue to turn our eyes to Heaven praying for a miracle.

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Update # 2

Dear Family and Friends,

Seven hours down, two to go. The OR just called to say one more hour of active surgery before they will start closing (meaning stitching him up). We are officially the last people left in the surgical waiting room, which closes in an hour, when we will be booted to the front lobby.  Such a long, rough day. But we are still praying for complete removal with no complications!  Love you all!!!

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

Update #1

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac has been in the OR for 4.5 hours.  The first two hours of that time were spent prepping him for the actual surgery itself.  He had an arterial line placed to monitor his blood pressure, was intubated to help him breathe, was turned over on his stomach and was prepped for the procedure.  We just got our second update saying that everything is “fine” but that they still have “a way to go.”  We are holding down the fort in the surgical waiting room, just us and another family.  We are hoping he is done before midnight.  We continue to pray for complete healing and a successful surgery!

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family  

He's In...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac just went into the OR.  He got bumped so we waited the better half of the day for his surgery to start.  But he’s in now and that’s what matters.

The last thing the neurosurgeon said before he went in was that there is a less that 50% chance that he will be able to remove the entire tumor.  He told us that we should prepare that Zac will require radiation.  I’m asking for specific prayers that the surgeon is able to remove the entire tumor.  God has answered our prayers before and I have complete faith that He will do it again!  We are hoping for a miracle as we show the surgeons that prayer has the power to heal.  

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Friday It Is...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac’s surgery is a go for tomorrow at 7:30am.  He is on the OR schedule so it’s a for sure thing.  Please keep praying for a miraculous outcome.  We are “excited” to get this tumor out and start the healing process.  

Tomorrow will be a long day and I will update once I know the outcome.  Thank you all for your unending love!

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Praying for Friday...

Dear Family and Friends,

We have a date and time…kinda.  Zac has been scheduled for surgery on Friday as an add on case.  This means that they can take him to the OR anytime after 7:30am.  However, he doesn’t have a specific OR time dedicated for him.  In order to do his surgery there needs to be a cancellation or other surgeries need to be completed ahead of schedule.  While none of that sounds very promising, the doctors assure us that there is almost always a cancellation.  If they are not able to perform the surgery on Friday, then it will be pushed back to Monday, as this type of case isn’t something they want to perform on a weekend.  Harumpf!  

The chief of neurosurgery has selected two spinal specialists at assist in the case.  By all accounts, each are very experienced without being too experienced (if you catch my meaning).  All of Zac’s pre-op labs and tests are normal.  The surgery will last a minimum of eight hours.  Upon completion, he will be transferred to the Neuro ICU, where he will stay for 1-2 days.  From there the length of his stay depends upon how quickly he recovers.  

Zac is in ok spirits.  Today he seems calmer than yesterday.  He’s asking for legos to build and we got “patio privileges” ordered so he could walk outside with me.  He’s taking the same medications he was on at home, nothing more, so his pain level is stable.  His mom and my mom are here with us.  His older brother came this afternoon and his dad just arrived as well.  We had been staying in a hotel until today.  We’ve now moved over to the Tiverton House, where we will probably stay for the rest of the hospitalization.  Depending on how prolonged that is, we might bring the kids down.  

I must say that I am overwhelmed by the love and support we’ve received.  We have AMAZING friends and family.  For all of you who have picked up our kids, cooked a meal, sent a text, donated money, offered a place to stay, offered a hand to hold, said a prayer…I’m just overcome with the feeling of love from all of you.  I feel guilty because you’ve all already done this for us once…and I feel like we need to stand on our own two feet…but that just sounds impossible right now.  I can only be apart from my kids because I know what loving hands they are in.  I was telling Zac’s aunt today about the arrangements that we’ve made to care for things at home and she commented on how blessed we are to have so many helping hands around us.  She is right…we are so, so lucky in knowing all of you.  Thank you!  You continue to humble our hearts.  

We are praying that the surgery actually takes place on Friday.  We continue to pray for a miraculous outcome.  We also pray for the boys, who both are throwing up with the flu, and my dad who is caring for them.  

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Surgery Pending...



Dear Family and Friends,

We have arrived at UCLA, one of the cleanest and prettiest hospitals I’ve ever seen.  Everything is new, well thought out, organized and did I mention clean?.  The neurosurgery department is equally efficient and detail oriented.  Everyone is friendly and helpful.  The grounds are beautiful.  The buildings are modern.  The neighborhood is full of medical students running around in their scrubs and apparently is very safe.  

The chief of the neurosurgery department has taken an interest in Zac’s case and will be heading Zac’s surgical team.  He is bringing in his “spine specialist” to assist in the case as well.  As of yet, we do not know who that surgeon is.  The neurosurgeon came very highly recommended by so many people here and at home.  From the desk receptionist to his physician’s assistant, everyone has been beyond complimentary of his skills.  He is a calm, matter-of-fact sort of man.  He agrees that Zac’s tumor is likely an ependymoma.  It’s not the largest he’s ever seen, but he does feel it needs to be taken out immediately.  He has reiterated what the previous neurosurgeons have said, that he hopes to remove the entire tumor.  However, its location might make that very difficult so radiation is still a definite possibility.  He also reiterated that most ependymomas are benign, so we are hopeful that is the case.  The surgery will be long, followed by 5-10 days of hospitalization here before Zac may be transferred to an acute rehab facility to heal the rest of the way.  It all depends on how much of the spine the surgeons have to access to take the tumor out.  

We are staying in a hotel tonight then are moving to Tiverton House (like a Ronald McDonald house for grown ups) starting tomorrow.  It’s cheaper and very close to the hospital.  Parking here is $12 per entry (that’s $5 more than CHLA!).    But the neighborhood is walkable and nice.  

Zac is holding up.  He is noticeably nervous.  He keeps saying that he feels like he’s in a dream state and he’s waiting to wake up.  He is tired; exhausted physically and emotionally as the pain of the last year has taken its toll.  We are excited to know that pain will be coming to an end soon.  All his pre-op work has been done today so we are ready to go as soon as the surgeons are.  We are hoping for tomorrow but there was mention of the goal being before the weekend.  I can’t imagine having to wait that long, but we have no control.  At least he’s admitted now and has access to medications to make him more comfortable and help him sleep.  I will send out an update as soon I know something concrete.  

Zac has been truly touched by all your attentiveness and prayers.  He’s a man of few words, but he did tell me that he doesn’t feel he deserves so much kindness.  As his wife, I feel that he deserves so much more than I can give him.  Please keep your prayers coming.  Please ask that the spinal surgeon would be the perfect one for Zac’s condition.  Please ask that the entire tumor would be removed and that it would be benign.  Please ask for radiation to be unnecessary.  Please ask for no additional injury to his nerves.  Please ask that Zac would understand how worthy he is of prayer and support and complete healing.  We love you all so much.  

Believe in Miracles,


The Bollinger Family

UCLA or Bust...

Dear Family and Friends,

For the second time in our lives we have rushed to LA with overpacked suitcases in the dead of night.  The similarities between this experience and Everett’s hospitalization are eerie.  We have arrived at UCLA with an appointment scheduled at 8 am tomorrow.  After that appointment we should be given a surgery time for (hopefully) the following day.

Today we spent hours in the offices of two neurosurgeons who both agreed that this tumor is too extensive to tackle at home.  They also both agreed that the removal of the tumor can’t wait much longer.  We were given the recommendations of UCLA, Stanford and UCSF, all with equal standings and ability to remove this tumor.  UCLA returned our call first.

Zac’s pain has been steadily increasing over the past few days.  He’s been having more debilitating back spasms.  We are relieved to be here. 

The outpouring of love and support from all of you has humbled us.  From the meals, to the childcare, from the prayers, to the texts just to check in, from the gifts, to the donations…we are so blessed to be surrounded by such generous people!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  You have once again touched our lives in a way that has made such a difference.  We appreciate you!  

Please keep us in your prayers tomorrow that we will be given the perfect surgeon to successfully remove the entire tumor.  I will update again when we have a surgery plan.

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family



P.S.  I apologize for my little temper tantrum in my last email.  I think I just needed to vent.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

What We [Think] We Know...

Dear Family and Friends,

Today has been a not-so-great day.  Zac had another MRI, with contrast this time, of his brain, thoracic and lumbar spine.  I failed to mention, to anyone I guess, that he needed to be checked for tumors in his brain.  Thankfully, his brain is clear.  Praise God!  His thoracic spine is also clear!  The tumor on his lumbar spine, however, is larger than previously thought and will take an extensive surgery to remove.  The surgeon prepped us that it will be very difficult to remove all the tumor, so radiation is likely in Zac’s future.  

The surgery will require several teams of surgeons to work eight hours or more to remove all of the tumor.  All the neurosurgeons here have offered to help on the case, which is pretty awesome.  As best we could tell, they would work on it in shifts.  However, these types of tumors are rare and the neurosurgeons here haven’t seen many.  While they feel confident that they could do the surgery, they might not be the best choice.  Therefore, we are seeking treatment at a university hospital.  The neurosurgeon here is working on the transfer of care this weekend and we hopefully will have a plan by Monday, if not before.  Again, time is of the essence.  If we were having the surgery here, the plan was for Tuesday.  So we know wherever we go, it will be this coming week.  We have no idea the duration of his hospital stay or the length and intensity of his recovery.  There are risks which I dare not even mutter quietly to myself.  

The flood of emotions that have come with this is overwhelming.  All these emotions from Everett that we’d boxed up and put away in the back of our minds are suddenly drowning us.  I feel like we just need to breathe but can’t find enough air.  I hate this!  I hate that this is happening to our family!  I hate that we are going to be separated from our children and that they feel the tension in our home.  I hate watching my husband suffer and try to be strong!  I am so, so angry.  And so, so, so scared.  I am strong.  He is strong.  We are strong.  But I DON’T WANT TO BE STRONG ANYMORE!  I want to ball up in a corner and cry and pretend that this isn’t happening.  I want to yell and scream and curse and punch something until it hurts as badly as we do.  I don’t want to do that part of our lives over again.  We were just getting back to the good stuff.  We have worked so hard to overcome, physically, emotionally, financially.  I don’t know where we will find the energy to do it again and yet I know we have to.  We have no choice.  

So, we trudge on.  We place our faith in God.  We pray and pray and pray some more.  We try to laugh.  We cry.  We hug.  And we shake that uncontrollable shake that comes from being so completely overcome that your body can’t process fast enough.  And we love.  We love each other so much and so hard that it is enough to make things better in just this one moment.  Because the next moment is too scary.  That’s the honest truth.

Please pray that the transfer happens quickly and that Zac doesn’t get worse while we wait.  Please pray that the doctors are able to remove the entire tumor so that radiation will not be necessary.  Please pray that it isn’t cancer.  Please pray for pain control.  Please pray that there is no additional damage from the surgery itself.  Please pray for strength for all of us.  Pray for faith and trust and peace.  Just please pray…

Love,


The Bollinger Family