Fear, Faith, and Follow-Ups

SMadsenHope25-2“I don’t know about you, but I feel really good about this scan. You’re going to be cancer-free. I just know it.”

You’d be surprised at how often I hear this from family, friends, and sometimes strangers around the time I’m due for my latest follow-up scan. While my initial reaction is to bristle in response, it also breathes life into the dark and doubting places in my spirit. It’s a double-edged sword. I love and hate hearing it. I appreciate the words because, deep down in my soul, I feel them to be true. Yet, history glows on my medical reports. Having experienced three recurrences, I’m cautious and timid about predicting what’s to come. The truth is, we never know what the results of each scan will be until my doctor presents them to me face-to-face.

There have been seasons when I have felt, with every fiber in my being, that the cancer was gone. And I’ve been wrong. Likewise, there have been moments when my fears were overwhelming and I was convinced that the disease was infesting my body. And again, I’ve been proven wrong. I’ve had more scans than I can count, so I’ve learned to maintain a specific posture while facing them. Cautiously optimistic and abundantly thankful.

I stand with cautious optimism to maintain balance. It’s neither healthy to be ridden with the anxiety of looming bad news, nor to be preemptively and naively excited for positive results. It’s crucial to rest somewhere in the middle. Cautious and optimistic. Additionally, I remind myself to be thankful when scans are on the horizon. Depression, fear, and doubt cannot penetrate gratitude. Joy is birthed in a thankful heart. I reflect on how far I have come, all that I have, and all that God has waiting for me in the future. Second to salvation, life itself is the greatest gift of all.

“I feel good about it.” My dad actually said this to me yesterday. As soon as the words hit my ears, my insides shuddered. And as quickly as I recoiled, I also smiled. What an odd experience. I am full of faith and hope, yet fear pricks at my heart. You see, fear and faith are not mutually exclusive. So often we believe they are. That if we are afraid, we are simply lacking faith. How defeating must that be, for us to be faithless if fear is present? It’s simply not the truth. Fear is a human response, yet faith is a supernatural assurance. They can be felt simultaneously.

Likewise, I’ve grown to understand the difference between fear and fearless. Fearlessness is not a lack of fear but rather a resilient determination to push through the circumstance that makes us most afraid. Fearless means forging a way amidst paralyzing doubt and trepidation. Fearless is a mindset and a commitment. To be fearless is to overcome.

I am full of faith in a God who redeems, restores, and heals. Faith is an assurance in what cannot be seen, and while I have not tangibly seen God, I have seen Him to be true in my life. He is present, at work, and carefully orchestrating every detail. He has gone before me. He has written my story. He has rescued me. My God is alive, and I have faith in Him. At the same time, I struggle with the fear of my earthly opponent. My flesh is quick to breed anxiety and doubt. Rather than reflecting on the miracles woven in my story, my mind falls prey to the memories of past disappointments and recurrences. Fear is a looming shadow, stealthy to entrap me.

My faith is unmoved and unwavering, though my flesh is broken and afraid. Simply put, my faith is abundant because it rests in my Savior, and my fear is present because it rests in a scan. God does not change, our circumstance does. And right now, as my latest follow-up scan approaches, I am choosing to maintain a posture of cautious optimism and an attitude of gratitude. Am I afraid? Not overwhelmingly so, but enough to put me on edge. Scanxiety is real, no matter how long you’ve been cancer-free. Do I have faith? 100% YES! God is bigger than my fear and mightier than my disease.

As you read this, Matt and I will be in between appointments at MD Anderson for my next round of scans, tests, and doctors visits. If you remember my last trip to Houston, I officially reached the two-year mark of being NED, which means my scans have now switched from every three months to every six months. It’s hard to believe that it’s been only six months since my last trip to the hospital! We’ll be venturing to MD Anderson once again to not only meet with my specializing gynecologic oncologist and receive a PET/CT scan, but additionally to meet with a new team of doctors for further tests. (I’ve been experiencing intermittent nerve pain in my breasts and want to be extra sure it’s nothing, therefore I’ll be receiving a mammogram to be precautious.)

While I rarely look forward to these appointments, I find myself with excited anticipation for my last appointment on Thursday. It’s something I have looked forward to for years, and it’s hard to believe it’s finally here. Barring no new spots on my scans, my port will be removed! A momentous occasion indeed!

As we spend two solid days at MD Anderson with eight separate appointments, we ask that you stand with us in prayer. Though this isn’t our first rodeo and we aren’t expecting news other than the positive kind, fear and anxiety are present, but we are full of faith and cautiously optimistic for good results!

Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Unshakeable: 5 Tools to Equip & Strengthen Your Faith

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There are seasons in life when God seems overwhelmingly present and others when He seems far away. As our lives progress, so does our faith. We experience both peaks and valleys throughout our journeys. We can be ignited and on fire for the One who has shown Himself tangible in our lives, and then doubtfully contemplative of His existence when we cannot feel Him near.

When life gets hard, everyone responds differently. Some cry out to God in desperation, some turn their backs on Him in anger, and some worship with the full faith that He will redeem. It can be easy to praise God when life is comfortable, but it is in times of devastation when our faith is tested. We can be sharpened and refined, or defeated and crippled when we face seasons of suffering.

Do you know how you would respond in times of catastrophe? Maybe you have walked through a difficult season, and you felt spiritually ill-equipped to handle the burden. Before being diagnosed with cancer I would have said that I had strong faith, yet it wasn’t until I faced my own mortality, devastating loss, and overwhelming grief that my faith in God was fortified.

Suffering is the most powerful way of revealing the inner workings of our faith. Yet we shouldn’t wait until we face the storms of life to build our faith and equip ourselves for those seasons. Below are five life-changing strategies to grow your faith. My hope and prayer is that when struggles come, we would be equipped, ready, and full of unshakeable faith.

  1. Prayer. Think of your closest friendship. How was that relationship bolstered, created, and cared for? Communication! God wants to hear from us. Too often we are waiting for Him to speak and we forget that we can initiate the conversation. Prayer doesn’t have to be formal. You don’t have to brainstorm what you will say — God knows your heart, He asks that you share it with Him. Establish open communication with Jesus through prayer. Rather than using prayer as a way to ask for something, begin to thank God for all that He has done. Gratitude in prayer will transform your heart in suffering.
  2. Fellowship. “You are who you surround yourself with.” Did you parents tell you this growing up as well, or was I the only one? While I might have rolled my eyes in my adolescence, there is deep, resonating truth to this. Examine your relationships. Do you surround yourself with cynics full of sarcasm, gossip, and snark? Or are you around those who encourage, support, and speak life-giving words? Re-evaluate your company. Your friends are a direct reflection of who you are. Your faith will grow when you are in an atmosphere of positive, faith-filled believers.
  3. The Word (and Worship). I find my faith wavering when I become too enveloped with what is happening around me, rather than focused on what is happening within me. Through seasons of suffering, it’s easy to wonder where God is. Does He even care that I’m struggling right now? We lose sight of the work that He is doing within us. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of what we cannot see. Though we can’t always see God moving in our lives, we must believe that He is here among us. Closer than we can even fathom. Our faith is strengthened when we dive into the living, breathing word of God. It is a tangible tool to sharpen our faith. It is water in our deserts. Food in our hunger. It is life. Worship is also pivotal in transforming our view of who God is. I find that in moments I cannot pray, I simply worship — singing praises of gratitude for all that He has done. Worship is the outward expression for the work being done within us.
  4. Service. Nothing is more uplifting to our faith than serving someone else. Blessing others blesses us. When we step outside of our circumstance and step in to someone else’s, we not only grow our faith, but we encourage theirs. We are not called to be quiet believers. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Bold, brave, and benevolent. Serving others softens and molds our faith in not only God, but in humanity. Our faith is strengthened when we actively live a life of service. By loving others, we are loving God.
  5. Guard Your Heart. It is of utmost importance that we filter what we are allowing inside of our hearts. Everything we watch and listen to soaks into our spirit like a sponge. Though you may really enjoy that show on Netflix, is it feeding your soul? Are you allowing the wrong kind of media in your home? I get it. Believe me, I too am guilty. I say this to you as much as I say it to myself: We need to be mindful of what we watch. That show you watch that you think probably isn’t the best choice, probably isn’t. A great resource for family-friendly and wholesome entertainment is Pure Flix. It’s exactly what is sounds like. At Pure Flix (a subscription service similar to Netflix and Hulu), it is their mission to influence the culture of Christ through media and family-friendly content. When you subscribe to Pure Flix, you can be assured that every movie, documentary, and educational series is family-friendly and faith-centered. (Currently, they are offering a free month’s subscription!)

Hebrews 11:1 (MSG)

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”

Stepping Back to Move Forward

I try my hardest to look forward. I encourage others to do the same when exiting the gates of Cancerland and transitioning into life after. Don’t look back. Push forward. Look ahead. Yes, it’s true. Vital to let go of the past in order to embrace what lies ahead. But sometimes healing requires us to step back in order to equip us to move forward.

I always told myself that one day I would visit the hospital in Denver where I received all of my treatment and surgeries. I thought fondly of the moment I would visit my doctors. I imagined that we would rejoice and celebrate at the hard work we all put in for me to be able to sit here today and be cancer free. Hugs and tears flowing as we would reflect over the difficult road that led us to this very moment. The numerous surgeries and chemotherapies. The middle of the night calls of desperation to my oncologist. Each needle poke in my chest to access my port. Every encouraging word and prayer that pushed me over the finish line. I dreamt of the day I would walk back into my doctor’s office with long, flowing hair and without trace of disease.

As time continued to go on, I thought less of the wonder of walking back through the doors of the hospital and more about the dread and anxiety it would cause if I were to do so. Thinking about the sterile smell of the infusion center would trigger instant nausea. I cried fearful tears as irrational thoughts flooded my mind. Would stepping back into the place I fought cancer cause my cancer to recur? Irrational, I know, yet it felt so real and valid and true. Why would I subject myself to the very place that housed my darkest and most painful memories? My life has moved forward, there’s no need to step back there. We live in Austin now, and though we’d be back to Denver to visit family and friends, there was no reason to go out of our way to get to that hospital.

I recited to myself what I’ve encouraged others to do… Keep your eyes forward. The past is the past, let it go. Yet no matter how determined I was to walk the talk, everything in me was pulling me back. I was tethered to that hospital. Tethered to the nurses, technicians, and doctors that saved me. Not only did my medical team save my life, but they invested years into it. Never once giving up. Always willing to try again upon each recurrence. They had become family, and the reason I found myself longing to go back was to reunite with my DNA. They had become a part of who I am, and denying it would be rejecting my very self. I had to see them. The longer I avoided this, the longer my complete healing would be suspended — trapped in some version of recovery purgatory.

We flew to Denver last month to celebrate my brother and new sister-in-law’s wedding. We extended our trip for the entire week and made plans to visit family and friends. We even made sure to leave a couple days open to ensure that we weren’t booked solid. In the back of my mind, I knew this was it. The time had come when I would walk through the hospital doors for the first time in nearly two years. I called my doctor’s office and let them know that I would be in town and would love to swing by and say hello. The receptionist gave me a day and time that was most optimal for my doctor and nurse. Once I hung up the phone, I was flooded with anxiety. Technically, I didn’t schedule an actual appointment, so if I decided to miss, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I noticed myself already backing out. I wasn’t so sure I could do it.

The day arrived and I could barely contain my racing thoughts and unbridled emotions. My husband was calm and quiet, providing stability and reassurance. As we drove down the familiar roads that led us to the hospital, I was becoming increasingly nervous. How would I feel when we arrived? Could I actually do this? Was I ready? The closer we got, the more of a wreck I became. Past memories washed over me and, without success, I tried to sort through them. Before I could fully wrap my mind around what we were doing, the hospital was in view. There was no turning around now.

I was instantly transported to the past. I saw myself bald and weak, barely alive, making my way to chemotherapy. I reached up to touch my head, in order to remind myself that I did in fact have hair, was cancer-free and beyond treatment. My body was physically urging itself to stop. White knuckled, sweat forming, I became antsy. “I don’t think I can do this,” I whispered. “It’ll be alright,” my husband encouraged in response. We drove through the parking garage to the roof, where only one parking spot remained. As Matt unbuckled his seatbelt, I stopped him from opening the door. I needed to sit in the moment. I needed to breathe. I needed to overcome the crippling fear and anxiety that glued me to my seat. I cried.

Soon, I gave the okay, and we walked toward the wing of the hospital where I had been over one hundred times previously. All so familiar, the smells and sights ushered floods of memories. Under my breath I tried to convince myself, “I can do this,” and while shocked I also repeated, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” In a few minutes, we were standing in front of the entrance to my doctor’s office. Before pulling the handle on the door and entering my home away from home, I took a moment to center myself — remembering how important this was for my complete recovery — and without thought, we were standing in the middle of the waiting area, a beaming smile plastered to my face.

It all happened so fast. A smile reciprocated from the receptionist who I had spent hours with on the phone over the course of five years, scheduling appointments, leaving messages for my doctor, and paying bills. Everything had changed, yet nothing had. We hugged, and my eyes quickly shifted as my nurse walked in to grab a patient. Without shame, I interrupted and hugged her. No words needed to be shared just yet, smiles would do. She jubilantly told me that she would let my doctor know that I was here. Matt and I picked the two seats in the waiting room that we sat in countless times prior. I breathed it all in, and pouring over me came a loud, crashing, undeniable wave of gratitude.

My doctor peeked around the corner, smiled, and motioned that we follow her. I practically ran and found myself in a tight embrace with my dear friend, my oncologist. Neither of us let go. No words needed to be said. We cried into each other’s shoulders, and laughed at the precious miracle that was and still is. I’m alive. I’m alive. I’m alive. We pulled apart and looked at one another, taking it all in. We caught up on the goings on in each of our lives. With joy abundant, we reflected over the past five and a half years. Seeing the woman who fought for me, cried with me, and encouraged me countless times through my battle against this disease was more beautiful and fulfilling than I ever dreamed it would be.

Had I not stepped back, I could have never moved forward.

After making a surprise trip to the infusion center to visit my chemo nurses, I walked out of the hospital with my head held high. Healed. Death did not win. The enemy did not succeed. What was meant for harm was made beautiful. Restored. For the first time since I was diagnosed with cancer, I saw the whole picture. Not just a peek, or a glance, or a flash of its beauty, but a deep knowing that there was purpose in my pain. God’s redemption over my life overwhelmed me. He saved my life. He formed a team of doctors and nurses to come alongside me, and he knitted them into my story with deliberate intention.

It would have been easy to go the rest of my life without stepping foot into that hospital once more. Easy to avoid the pain, post traumatic stress, and anxiety. Easy to shove the feelings down deep into my soul. But it would have dishonored and dejected the journey that led me here. Sometimes we think healing involves forgetting or avoiding. That in moving forward, we shouldn’t dare look back. But there is power in addressing the place of our deepest pain. There is redemption in stepping back to reflect over how far we have come. There is honor in gratitude. There is healing in acknowledgement.

Sometimes we must step back into the depths of our grief in order to walk in confidence towards the future.

MJ and Steph

Lamentations 3:21-23 (The Message)

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all — oh, how well I remember — the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.”

Suffering Has Refined Us, Not Defined Us

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Seven years.

Today marks seven years of marriage for my husband and I, and I find myself reflecting over the gravity of our journey in learning what love and commitment really are and what vows really mean. For those of us who are married, many could say that we never fully comprehended the reality of the vows we shared with our spouse on the day we wed. Excitement and naivety clouded the promises we spoke to one another. Many are simply looking forward to the party to follow or the evening ahead. For Matt and I, we were just so happy to finally live in the same house. No more driving hundreds of miles to visit one another in our long distance relationship. We could fall asleep and wake up to each other forever. It was us against the world.

Marriage then is not what marriage is now.

In sharing our story with married friends recently, Matt and I have realized just how grateful we are to have endured suffering early on in our relationship. At first it seemed unfair, cruel, and isolating. We were the only young couple we knew walking through such a treacherous journey. Most of our mentors hadn’t even experienced the depth of tragedy and trauma in their own decades-long marriages. We were treading through waters that hadn’t yet been discovered.

Matt and I had only been married for a little over one year when his mother suddenly and unexpectedly passed away at the age of 54. We were 24 and 25 years old, left to navigate such a burdensome loss. Alongside his sister, we were responsible for making the tough decisions following their mother’s passing. The hours and days we spent in the funeral home speaking with the coroner and funeral director will forever be etched into my memory. We made the decisions on cremation, burial, funeral plans, and were even in charge of cleaning out her home. Everything was up to us.

It’s something many don’t face until much later in life, yet there we were, newlyweds in our twenties. Closing my eyes, I can picture myself sitting in the front row of the auditorium during her memorial service, watching my gentle husband deliver the eulogy with words full of encouragement, love, and faith, just days after his mother died. He was a pillar of strength when our world was crumbling.

Only five months after my mother-in-law passed away, Matt and I sat in a cold and sterile examination room receiving the news that I had cancer. Still in a fog from our recent loss, we were facing yet another season of suffering. Initially, I had been diagnosed with stage 1 cervical cancer, but soon discovered that I was actually stage 3, high-grade, metastatic large-cell neuroendocrine cancer with a less than 20% chance of surviving the first year. Our marriage was on the line. My life was on the line. We had a decision to make. We thought back to a quiet moment in the funeral home months earlier when the coroner looked at both of us and boldly said, “I have seen tragedy like this break marriages. But it doesn’t have to. You either choose to let it separate you, or you choose to let it unite you.” Upon hearing my diagnosis, we made our decision.

Life sped by quickly as we met with several doctors and began forging a treatment plan. With my husband by my side, I was diagnosed by my gynecologist on a Wednesday, met with my oncologist that Thursday, and was sitting in the office of our fertility doctor that Friday. Because of the aggressiveness of my diagnosis, we had to make life-changing decisions quite rapidly. We were given one hour to decide whether we would pursue harvesting my eggs to preserve my fertility, or move forward with the necessary radical hysterectomy. We were in our home, drenched in tears, full of fear, sorrow and grief clinging to each other, and we began to pray. We asked for clarity, direction, and peace. Soon our tears dried and our prayer stopped, and Matt, with strength and tenderness said, “I didn’t marry you for the children you could give me. I married you for who you are. And I need you here. Our future kids, no matter if biological or adopted, need a healthy mom.” The following week, I underwent a radical hysterectomy. 25 and 26 years old.

In the last seven years, we have faced suffering we could have never prepared for. Death, grief, infertility, pain, trauma, cancer. Though Matt’s mother died, we were both stripped of a mother. Though I was diagnosed, we were both diagnosed with the disease. That’s what marriage is. Not only sharing the “us against the world” moments when together you feel undefeatable, but also when your world and everything in it crumbles away and you feel weak, vulnerable, and afraid. 

Too often, marriages fail because of seasons of suffering. And while I can’t speak into individual circumstances and won’t chide those whose marriages haven’t lasted, I will say that marriage takes more than just love to succeed. We often get asked how our marriage survived all that it has. Seven years ago we thought commitment meant fidelity and loyalty, yet now we understand commitment as a decision to choose each other above all else no matter what. For Matt and I, there can’t be anything that comes between us. And not that plenty hasn’t tried, believe me. Years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, multiple surgeries and hospital stays, sudden infertility, early onset menopause, and the death of a mother all attempted to separate us. It’s only by the grace of God and our willingness to unite through it all that our marriage is beautiful and flourishing.

Our marriage then is not what is now. Marriage isn’t simply being together forever. Marriage is commitment through circumstance. It is love above fear. It is unity over division. After the majority of seven years full of suffering, our gratitude for one another is overflowing and much deeper than it has ever been. We have faced tragedy and chose to overcome together. We continue to choose each other above all else, letting nothing stand between us. We have a common goal, with eyes always focused on God. We’ve gained greater perspective through our suffering and are much better individuals and a much better couple for it. Suffering has refined us, not defined us.

Today, rather than letting these last seven years separate us, we celebrate our continued decision to let it unite us. Happy anniversary, my love. May we have seventy more, not without suffering, but with commitment, faith, perseverance, and unity.

Mark 10:9 (ESV)

“What therefore God has joined together, let nothing separate.”

5 Ways To Cope With A Recurrence

This week I had the pleasure of being a guest on The Nalie Show where Nalie and I spoke about one of the toughest topics in Cancerland… Recurrences. When I think back to when I was first diagnosed, recurrences were so far from my mind. I rarely heard anyone speak of them. Not doctors, not friends, not even co-survivors. Recurrences are taboo, merely a whisper in the cancer community. After all, we never want to consider our cancer returning after we’ve already beat it.

As someone diagnosed, a recurrence is, quite literally, the worst nightmare. It’s a subject that is hidden away in the deep and dark corners, rarely to be addressed. And because of that, those of us who suffer recurrent or metastatic cancer more often than not feel isolated in our grief, circumstance, and emotions. By shedding light on this difficult topic, my hope is that you will be empowered and full of strength, grace, and wisdom moving forward. Your feelings are valid and what you are going through is real and raw and vulnerable… and devastating. But, take it from me, you can (and will) get through this. I did, four times!

Below are five practical, applicable, and tangible ways to cope with a recurrence. I encourage you to let these penetrate your soul and transform your perspective. After having overcome three recurrences since my original diagnosis, these are tools that equipped me in the lowest points of my fight(s).

  1. Allow yourself to grieve. Feel the feelings! Often, our fears become scarier when we don’t face them. Allow yourself to face the “what ifs” and the deep, dark, nightmarish places that you try to bury. Avoiding fearful thoughts or depressing feelings will not help you nor anyone around you. This is not the time to put on a brave face. The way that you build your strength for your fight is by getting to that deep, dark place, knowing what the end of the road could be, but then stepping back, and preparing yourself for what lies ahead. Bring a picnic, don’t pack a tent! Sit in your grief and devastation for a little while, but don’t allow yourself to stay there. Don’t camp out in your grief!
  2. Breathe and make a plan. Once you’ve packed up your “grief picnic,” take a breath. Feeling the feelings is exhausting. Take a breath and get to work formulating your plan for the days and weeks ahead. Remind yourself that this isn’t the first time you’ve been through this and thus you’re already a chemo (and/or surgery, radiation, even grieving) pro! You have cancer fighting skills already on your resume. You know what you’re doing. Take this time to reflect on your previous fight against cancer. Not from a place of wondering if you did anything wrong, but rather reflecting on what you would do differently this time. Maybe you want to try different modalities of treatment or include integrative therapy such as acupuncture. Your new plan could involve juicing, reducing sugar and processed food intake, or supplements. You have the unique (though unwanted) opportunity to build a stronger plan for this time through.
  3. Remain hopeful. Numbers and statistics can get in our heads and rob us of our hope. Don’t let the numbers define your fight. Just because x number of people didn’t survive this doesn’t mean you won’t. Just because your doctor gives you an expected survival time, doesn’t mean you can’t live longer than that. I had to completely block out the statistics in order to remain hopeful. I didn’t want nor need to know what happened to everyone else. So what if your statistics aren’t encouraging? There always has to be someone who survives. You can beat the statistics. Think back in time to when cancer was fairly new. There was a first person to survive metastatic breast cancer. There was a first person to survive glioblastoma. And if there wasn’t a first, you can be the first! No one but God knows your last day on earth and until you take your last breath, don’t you dare give up hope.
  4. Set goals and look forward. Recurrences are harder to cope with than an original diagnosis because it’s a fight you thought you had already won. Recurrences can be paralyzing because you know exactly what you’re facing. Instead of being crippled in your fear, continue to set goals. Both short-term and long-term goals will keep your eyes focused ahead. Short-term goals can be scheduling a dinner date with your spouse this weekend, or vacuuming your house on Wednesday, or meal prep for your upcoming week. Long-term goals can be scheduling a vacation to celebrate your upcoming finale of treatment or planning your dream wedding (like Nalie!). Setting goals gives us eyes for the future and propels us forward. Recurrences often cause us to look back and wonder why treatment didn’t work the first time, or what we did wrong, or why me. Looking back steals your strength, but looking forward with excitement and anticipation gives us motivation to push through.
  5. Choose joy. Above anything else, choose joy! But first, you must understand the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is an outward expression that is dependent on what is going on around you. Happiness occurs when something or someone makes you feel a certain way. Whereas joy is an inward decision that only you can make for yourself, completely independent of the circumstance around you. We live in a society that constantly tells us to be happy. However when facing a recurrence, happiness is the last thing you’re probably feeling. When you strive to be happy and come up short, you feel like a failure. But by choosing joy, no matter what your diagnosis or doctors tell you, you can overcome. Joy is not a decision that is made once, but rather one that is repeatedly made even moment by moment. By choosing joy, you are saying that you won’t let your suffering dictate the condition of your spirit.

Romans 5:2-5 (ESV)

“Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The Power of Adventure

These past few weeks have been full to the brim with fun and new experiences. We were blessed by a friend who gave us two badges to SXSW here in Austin and several of our days were spent downtown shuffling to and from events among tens of thousands of locals and visitors. SX is a large, eight-day festival that quite literally takes over the city. It incorporates interactive technology, music, and film and brings in tens of thousands of attendees each year. While we had heard of this festival, we could have never prepared for its grandiosity until moving to Austin. Not only does SX converge the smartest minds from across the globe, it’s also a weeklong party. Needless to say, we had a blast. We networked, we learned, and we loved every minute of it.

During the interactive portion, we had the opportunity to listen to several great speakers. Casey Neistat, Gary Vaynerchuck, Michael Nieling, Tim Ferriss, Cheryl Strayed… the list goes on and on. We met people from Denmark and Germany, ate free tacos, and learned the correct pronunciation of our last name (courtesy of our new Danish friends). We left the conference inspired and tired and we’ll certainly be looking over our pages of notes for weeks to come.

SXSW ended on a high note. During his keynote that Friday afternoon, Garth Brooks announced that he would be offering a free concert for Austin residents only. Though tickets sold out within one minute of going live, we were two of the 50,000 other Austinites to get lucky. So that Saturday evening, in 80-degree weather under a gorgeous, star-filled sky, we rocked out to Garth Brooks. It was a moment that will be remembered for years to come. The glow of the city, the reflection on the lake, being surrounded with vibrant energy and smiles, and the sweet hum of country music… it was perfect.

Having cancer has taught me to live, experience, and soak it all in. No matter if it’s a concert under the stars in the city you love most, or a two-hour drive to find a remote winery with breathtaking scenery, or a kayaking adventure on a beautiful summer day, or enjoying tacos and margaritas with friends, or hiking to the top of a mountain simply for the view… life is meant to be experienced!

It’s easy to get stuck in life after cancer or any other trauma for that matter. It’s easy to curl into a ball and rest because the battle fought was exhausting and you’re beyond tired. It’s easy to stay home in your comfort zone. It’s easy to stick to your usual routine, not stepping too far out of the boundaries you created in order to feel secure. It’s easy to use the excuse of, “I’m too busy” or, “I don’t have time.” It’s easy to settle into monotony. But I’m learning that easy isn’t best. Easy is comfortable, and comfort is oh so good. But adventure and experience and really living life instead of letting life live you is what it’s all about.

With the start of the new year, my husband and I decided to take one small step to actively LIVE our life. We have deemed each and every Saturday our “Adventure Day.” To us, this means that no matter how big or small, detailed or straight forward, an hour or all day, we do something NEW. And I must say, it’s been the most rewarding decision we’ve ever made. It not only strengthens us as a couple, but pushes each of us out of our comfort zones and helps us grow.

Adventure Day not only represents spontaneity, but it also symbolizes a life well-lived. How many of us, at the end of our time here on Earth will think, “Did I live enough?” Right now, ask yourself that question. If you had eyes to the future and knew your last breath was around the bend, would you be satisfied with how you chose to live? It’s okay, you’re not alone in your answer. I’m still not satisfied and feel I have an incredible amount to do before entering the gates of eternity. Why are we often required to face our own mortality in order to really learn how to soak it all up? Cancer stole so much from me, but it gifted me eternal vision and has radically changed my perspective on the purpose of this life.

Adventuring removes barriers, manifests breakthrough, unites, births joy, and uplifts the dark corners of our souls. It ignites in us a passion for this life that we often forget is meant to be experienced actively, not sedentarily. It pushes us off the cliff of comfort and gives us wings to fly in vibrant ways. It freshens stagnancy, quenches deserts, and elevates us to living the way we are called to live. Adventuring gives us new perspective and creates vision. Though comfort is easy and adventure is often hard, the rewards for the latter are much greater than comfort zones can ever provide. Adventure is powerful.

Ask yourself again, “What am I doing to LIVE?” I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and experience something new, letting adventure take hold in your life.

Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 (ESV)

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”

NED, Now What?

The transition between cancer and life-after isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. As I shared in my last post, celebrating my five-year cancerversary and two years NED (no evidence of disease) wasn’t as exciting and celebratory as I expected it to be. Now that the confetti from my two-year NED scan has settled on the ground, I find myself questioning what my goals are since being cancer-free can be checked off the list.

As you’ve probably noticed, my writing on this blog has diminished in frequency. I went from posting weekly, to now monthly. And to be honest, I struggle with being okay with that. I feel pulled between regularly writing on this blog and focusing on a much bigger and more pressing goal. I’m still trying to work out the kinks and pave a new path for what lies ahead, and it’s proving to be quite the task. Not only do I find myself juggling the grief and emotional triggers of surviving cancer, but I’m also juggling what most everyone does when one chapter closes and a new one opens. I’m navigating new waters, and it’s, well… new! (And scary, and overwhelming, and joyous, and wonderful, and all the feeeeeels!)

Many of you have asked about my future endeavors. From questions like, “What will you do now that you’ve gotten a second lease on life?” and “Are you still traveling and speaking?” to more pointed and direct questions, “Are you writing a book?” and “What happened to the adoption process?” I thank each of you for being so invested in my life. For following along this arduous and quite emotional journey of mine. For rallying beside me to support, encourage, and pray me through the most difficult years of my life. In all honesty, I couldn’t have done it without you… My team. And because you’re on my team, you deserve to know what’s next!

While I can’t share many details because I’m still trying to wrap my mind around and navigate the road ahead, I will answer both yes and no. Bear with me. I’m learning so many valuable lessons during this new season of life after cancer, but they aren’t all easy. I’m learning that release is as important as focus. I’m learning that I don’t give myself hardly enough grace, forgiveness, and mercy. I’m much too hard on myself and I place exorbitant amounts of pressure and expectation on my shoulders. I set myself up for failure more than I do success because my goals are vast and innumerable. This last lesson learned has been eye-opening and revelatory for this next chapter of my life. I’m learning that redirection, regrouping, and refocusing is necessary. And as cliche as it may sound, I’m learning that we are meant to live life, not life to live us.

Yesterday I found myself having one of “those” days. As usual, I woke up early to work out, then sat and had my coffee and quiet time, and began getting ready for my day. As the sun was shining and birds chirped outside my window, a dark and looming cloud settled over my spirit. I tried to push through my day and continue on with my list of to-dos, but I simply couldn’t get out of my funk. The worst part was that I had no discernible reason to even be in a funk at all. Life has been grand and wonderful and so much fun recently. So why was I on the verge of tears for an entire day? That night on a drive to the grocery store, Matt and I began to talk. Let’s be honest, it was more of me talking and him graciously and patiently listening. But in our conversation, I realized something. Some of the pressure I have put on myself has stemmed from a season that I have just stepped out of. And frankly, it doesn’t deserve a seat at the table anymore.

My fight(s) against cancer has brought tremendous blessing and opportunity. Through my chaos came my calling: to write and share about the deep dark pits of despair and use my platform as a way to encourage my readers to focus not on what we are facing, but instead through faith to find joy and hope amidst it all. To inspire you to look beyond your circumstance and see the beauty in the journey. I’ve been privileged to walk through cancer with such an abundant amount of support and am incredibly honored that you’ve celebrated each feat with me. But I’m realizing that cancer can’t have a seat at the table anymore and I must move on.

Am I causing more confusion than clarity?!

Derailing My Diagnosis was birthed with the mission of living life beyond cancer. It’s in the name… I am more than my diagnosis. There is much more life to be lived beyond the constrictions of a circumstance. And now that cancer is in the rearview, I need to continue with the mission. Because cancer isn’t the focus in my life anymore, it can’t be the focus in my life anymore. Are you with me? Frankly, I need to build healthy boundaries and cancer can’t steal my energy, focus, time, and emotional well-being any longer. I need to begin the process of compartmentalization. And cancer needs to be redirected.

All of this to be said, cancer will always be a part of my story. And as much as I wish I could put it in a box to be hidden away in a dark corner, it still affects me everyday. I will carry it with me forever. But my focus is shifting and if you haven’t noticed it already, you will. I will continue writing on this blog because it’s important to speak life into darkness and  simply because I love it. However, from here on out, not every post will fit in the cancer category. I’ll be sharing life lessons and the truth that Jesus is speaking to me in the hopes that through my words He will speak to you, too.

Though cancer no longer will be the focus on my blog, it will be shining bright in another area of my life. This brings me to the answer of one of the most popular questions I receive. YES, I am writing a book, and NO, I can’t give details! It’s crazy and I still can’t believe it’s actually happening, but I’m thrilled for it and believe that God is preparing beauty through its pages. This book will encompass my journey to survival; The highs and lows, the grief and loss, the celebrations and, ultimately, the victory. It’s authentic, raw, and beautiful. And I’m believing that it holds treasure waiting to be revealed. I ask that you pray for me during this process.

So yes, life is changing and I’m entering a whole new season. My blog is shifting, my book is being birthed, and I’m still pinching myself that I’m actually alive to experience all of this. God is good. All the time.

Stay tuned. The best is yet to come!

Philippians 3:12-14 (MSG)

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”

Photo: K Mitiska Photography 

Life Awakened: Five Years Later

IMG_2404

Life after cancer is more confusing than anyone told me it would be. Honestly, they didn’t tell me much of what to anticipate when the disease was gone and the dust settled. Possibly because most didn’t even expect me to survive the first year, let alone the second, third, fourth, and least likely the fifth.

From the moment I was diagnosed and through the subsequent years during treatment, the focus for all of us was to simply get through it. To survive. To make it out somewhat intact. Yet, there was never any conversation beyond survival. Merely congratulatory well wishes upon my last treatment and the classic line, “We hope to never see you in here again!”, as if I were a prisoner released from a lengthy stint behind bars.

No one told me what life would be like back in the “real world.” No one told me that I’d experience post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by sights, smells, experiences, relationships, and even food. I wasn’t aware that I’d feel like I didn’t belong in this seemingly regular, normal, everyday life. I never imagined being more comfortable in a hospital than in a grocery store. I didn’t think I’d be shy about regaining my independence. I had no clue what life was supposed to look like or what I was even supposed to do when I arrived at my destination, when I reached my goal, and when I survived the statistics that labeled me. I didn’t know what to expect because I wasn’t expecting this… Life.

We had conversations about notarizing wills, what items would go to who, if my husband would remarry, and that eventually, grief would settle and everyone left behind would learn to cope with my death. We clung to the hope that maybe, just maybe, this period in time would fade away into the history of my life’s story. That, as a grandmother decades from now, I’d share tales of a battle won with my grandchildren. I never thought I would die from cancer, but as oxymoronic as it may sound, I wasn’t sure if I would live through it either.

I wasn’t prepared for the difficulties that a life almost lost has brought me. It’s been a recurrent struggle, a back and forth tug of war between then and now. Cancer isn’t just a moment in time. It’s not just something that happens and eventually goes away. It doesn’t sit on a timeline nor does it have a beginning or an end. From the moment it physically rooted itself into my anatomy, it also marked my very DNA and soul. Though free of disease, I will forever be marked by it. Though I walk without cancer, I will forever carry it with me. It has changed who I am, and the biggest conflict I now face is rediscovering who that really is.

Today marks five years since I heard those life-altering, fateful words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” And Friday marks two years free of this disease. I always thought that time healed all wounds, and though I still believe there is some truth in that, I think that healing requires more than days gone by. If only I could go back to that very moment when life as I knew it was forever changed. If only I could look that Stephanie in the eyes and say, “There is no right way to heal. There is no correct way to grieve. There is no road map nor compass. You will learn as you go, and you must trust that God has given you the grace for each obstacle you will face. Cry when grief falls upon you. Dance when joy is overwhelming. Laugh from the very pit of your soul. And love like your heart knows no bounds. There is no destination to be reached but rather a life to be well-lived. Keep looking forward and never let what happens today steal your joy for tomorrow.”

This new year has been full of incredible abundance and freedom. It’s the beginning of regaining my life. For the first time since diagnosis, I finally feel free. Free to feel. Free to release. Free to let my guard down. Free to really live this life that I’ve been gifted. I feel like I’ve finally awoken to the life that I so longed for after cancer. I think it’s due in part to the fact that I’ve ultimately given myself permission to.

As a cancer survivor, there’s a balance between recognizing and honoring the journey itself and also accepting survival with open arms. Though survival is the one thing I vehemently fought for all of these years, it’s also the one thing I must face head on. I’m alive, now what? It’s easier to live with a victim mindset always focused on what once was and what should have been; It’s more difficult to move forward with victory on my side, accepting that though cancer has forever changed me, it will not define me.

I expected that on this day, my five year anniversary, I would be in jubilant celebration, reflecting in awe of the miraculous road I’ve walked. Without a care, concern, or any hint of grief or sadness. After all, it’s been five years. FIVE. My doctors said I probably wouldn’t even make it to ONE, so this moment in time truly is a milestone. But here I am, and though I absolutely feel elated to be free of the shackles that bound me for years, I’m still coping with the grief that lingers after trauma. And you know what? I’m okay with that.

Though no one told me what life after would feel like, I’m learning that there is no “right” way. I’m learning to embrace what was was, what is, and what will be.

Isaiah 43:18-20 (ESV)

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

The Comparison of Callings

Comparison

I’ve spent a decent portion of my life looking up to people. I think we all have. In school, we were asked who our heroes were. We were assigned projects that detailed the lives and accomplishments of our idols. We spent hours studying the success of others. From an early age, we’ve been trained to view others’ achievements in order to learn how to achieve our own. This has benefited us, teaching us determination and perseverance. It has honed our skills and given us the courage, confidence, and motivation to achieve our dreams. Emulation has resulted in garnering us the essential tools we’ve needed in order to reach the peaks of our own success. We all know the popular phrase, “If I can do it, so can you!”

Unfortunately, the idolization of others has also created an unforeseen and unspoken backfire. When we spend our lives looking up to the achievements, skills, and accolades of others, we fall prey to the natural tendency of comparison. The aforementioned phrase mutates into, “If they can do it, I should be able to as well!” That’s simply not the truth. No amount of emulation, idolization, or even practice can equip us with the tools necessary for what someone else is called to do. We may be able to similarly accomplish what our heroes have, but our successes will never match. The outcome will never be the same because the journey isn’t either. We will always sink into the quicksand of inability and incompetency when we compare, because we forget the difference between skill and calling. Skill reflects who we are, while calling reflects who God is.

Skill can be learned, practiced, improved, and even perfected. Sure, some people are more naturally capable of skill in specific areas, but overall, skill is something that can be obtained with practice. Writing comes naturally to me, but if you practice enough, you could become a decent writer yourself. And likewise, though I am not naturally inclined towards science and math, with enough learning and studying, I could probably achieve a decent score on an exam.

Calling, however, is much different. Calling is a God-given destiny placed over our lives. Calling happens when the composition of our soul — our talents and aptitudes, our failures and shortfalls — is used and interwoven into a greater commission commanded by God. When the supernatural and natural combine, that is calling. Calling isn’t always a desire or a dream. In fact, we are often called in the midst of our greatest chaos, when our reliance on Jesus is at an all time high. No two callings are the same, because no two persons are. We were each created with such intricate distinction that comparison is not only unnecessary, but entirely irrelevant.

How often have you felt incapable or unworthy? Maybe you’ve been aiming for a goal that you can’t quite seem to reach. Have you been wishing your path was like that of someone else’s? That their fame, fortune, and success was your own? Have you, like me, compared your calling to another’s? You’re not alone. I’ve found myself falling prey to the slithering sleuth of comparison, too. I know without a shadow of a doubt that God has called me to walk through the valleys of the shadow of death (figuratively and literally) in order to walk beside those who face similar sufferings. God has given me a voice to speak into the darkness and to call out those trapped in fear, doubt, and shame. Yet even though I know my calling, I compare what God has given me to what He has given others. Because there’s still a part of me that feels entirely unworthy and incapable of the call He has for me.

Confusion, comparison, and doubt are exactly what the enemy wants. He seeks to steal, kill, and destroy us, our dreams, and our callings. If he can cause us enough doubt to lead us into comparison and create in us a fear of unworthiness and inability, he wins. Satan tells us that we are all the same, capable of attaining the skill of others while camouflaging his intentions as good. There’s a fine line between looking up to others in order to gain inspiration and motivation, and idolizing others in a way that causes us to compare our own calling to theirs.

Comparison also leads to competition. We become tricked into thinking that our lives are a race to the top, and whoever gets there the quickest wins. We look to the left and to the right of us to calculate how much more effort we need in order to get ahead of others. We look ahead and think if only we can try a little harder and push through a little more, we can reach our dreams first and best. But it’s a lie. We disservice ourselves by comparing and competing. And if only we can imagine what God thinks of this… I’m sure He’s saddened at our simple minds and deceived hearts. I’m sure He’s saying, “Oh, if only you could take your eyes off of them so that you could finally see ME! I have so much in store for you, I have called you for something greater than this!”

Until we stop looking at the achievements of others and begin to focus on who God has created us to be individually, we will continue to compare and lose sight of our calling. Because we are human and lack eternal and supernatural vision, we believe that God determines the greatness of our calling based on our own measure of self worth. The funny thing is, God doesn’t call us to things we excel in. He takes our weakness and makes it a strength, our brokenness into wholeness, and our fear into courage. He calls us to rise above our flesh and step into the armor that we are given as children of the One Most High. We are called not for ourselves, but for the glory of Jesus to be shown throughout the world.

Many of you aren’t sure what it is that God is calling you to do. I wish I could give you an instruction pamphlet on how to find out, but the truth is simpler than written instruction. When we press into Jesus with our soul, mind, and heart, letting no fear of failure, no thought of comparison, and only eyes on Him, He will reveal it to you. Your calling is distinct. It will not look like mine. It won’t look like those you idolize. It won’t look, feel, or seem like anyone else’s because it’s been created specifically, intricately, and purposefully for you alone.

Maybe you’ve been burdened and stirred in your spirit but aren’t sure what that means. Pray, press in, and seek. When we ask, we know that God answers. He wants us to know our calling because it is with an excited anticipation that He awaits our obedience to what He has destined for us.

Today, if you are comparing what God wants you to do, the gifts He has specifically given to you, or the direction of your life to those who surround you, I encourage you to remember the distinguishability between calling and skill. If you are comparing success, you have lost sight of what calling truly is. Calling cannot be compared to success because it has no measurement, it simply is. Calling is a gift given by God, a destiny placed over your life. Your calling cannot compete because it stands alone. Remember, skill reflects who we are, calling reflects who God is.

When we stop focusing on comparisons, we find that God’s calling is greater than anything we could have imagined for our lives. Believe in and pursue the individual distinction that God has called you to.

1 Peter 2:9-10 (MSG)

“But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”

Wig Wisdom: 10 Tips for Buying and Wearing

One of the first questions I asked after being told I had cancer was if I would lose my hair. I quickly processed the news that I would need a radical hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, but couldn’t quite swallow the reality that I would lose my hair from treatment. Though I never quite appreciated my locks prior to cancer and would often complain about bad hair days, I now treasure each strand and am a firm believer that bad hair days simply do not exist.

They always say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone and let me tell you, they are right. Over the course of these last five years, I’ve lost my hair five times. I was bald for nearly three years straight as I fought cancer over and over again. I’ve worn hats, scarves, and wigs, and sometimes wouldn’t even bother. Because I had no prior experience with baldness, upon diagnosis, I had no clue what to expect. Not only did I feel unprepared to fight cancer, I felt utterly ill-equipped on how to cope with my hair loss. Where was I to start? What type of wig should I buy? Will it look real? Is it going to itch and make me hot? Should I try to match my hair color or try something new? Short or long? Bangs or no bangs? The growing list of uncertainty was overwhelming.

Chemotherapy induced hair loss is common for patients fighting cancer. Unfortunately, many of us have too little information on how to buy or wear hair pieces. This often leads to sadness, fear, and lowered self-esteem. We become afraid to be in public for fear that people will stare at us. We have nightmares of our wig flying off in a sudden gust of wind. We’re unsure if we should even invest in a wig or just stock up on hats and scarves. I tried it all. My scarf collection grew, and though I never enjoyed wearing hats, I soon bought many. I knew I wanted to feel as normal as possible while battling cancer, and felt that wigs may help my self image. Thus, I began my adventure into wig buying and wearing. I went to multiple wig shops, tried on various styles, colors, and hair types, and soon learned all about the wide open world of wigs. Because many of the popular questions I get asked are in regards to wigs, I’ve put together a comprehensive list of what to know before you buy. Below are my top 10 tips for both buying and wearing.

  1. Quality and Type: First, you’ll want to narrow down if you would like a synthetic or human hair wig. Synthetic wigs are made from pre-set fibers that allow the wig to maintain its style after washing. Waves, curls, and volume are set into the strands and remain throughout the life of the wig. Synthetic wigs are great for women who don’t want the fuss of having to style a hair piece. Most can be worn right out of the box. Though they offer ease, because of their pre-set fibers, they lack versatility. Don’t expect to be able to style your synthetic wig in a variety of ways. Human hair wigs are a more natural alternative and offer more customization than their synthetic counterpart by creating a beautifully natural appearance. Human hair wigs offer high versatility and can be cut, styled, and even colored based on your personal preference. Though the superior option, human hair wigs need to be regularly maintained. Expect to wash and style your human hair wig frequently (as you would your own hair) in order for it to last longer.
  2. Cut, Color, and Style: A benefit to wig wearing is the opportunity to try something new. Many women use this time to choose a wig that looks completely different than their natural hair, while others choose wigs based on their usual style. Hair pieces are made in a variety of lengths, and colors, so the possibilities are endless. From deep brunettes to vibrant reds and soft blondes, highlights and lowlights, and even natural grays, you are guaranteed to find the shade your looking for. Maybe you’ve always wondered if blondes really have more fun, now’s your chance to find out! Maybe you’ve been too nervous to cut your long hair into a short bob, or vice versa and have wanted to have long, cascading locks… Try something new! In addition, keep in mind skin tones can often change during treatment, tending to become more pale. Choosing a wig with warmer tones may help you look and feel brighter. If you prefer to find a perfect match between your natural hair and a wig, I suggest wig shopping before you lose your hair. This will allow you to do side by side comparisons and increase your chances of getting a more accurate match. Finally, don’t feel limited to buying one wig. Some women choose two to three wigs in order to change their style periodically.
  3. Customization: While synthetic wigs offer little to no customization, human hair wigs are extremely versatile and can be cut, colored, and styled to your preference. When purchasing your wig, ask yourself if you like it the way it is. If it’s synthetic, your answer should be yes. If it’s human hair, you will have the ability to adjust and customize. If you choose a human hair wig and would like to customize it to fit your needs, make sure you verify that your wig of choice allows for changes. Your wig retailer will be able to give you details about the specific hair type your wig has been made with. Always check with your wig retailer or manufacturer before customizing the color. Some human hair wigs are pre-dyed with low grade hair color that is not meant to be changed, while others are high quality and allow highlights or lowlights to be added. Most importantly, choose a wig with your preferred hair color. Adjusting the overall color from brunette to blonde or blonde to red may not be realistic. Because of their quality, human hair wigs are even more beautiful when trimmed to fit your face shape. Find a professional stylist who has wig styling experience, and ask them to trim your wig for a more tailored and personalized look.
  4. Accessorize: Where will you be storing your wig? Will you be traveling with it? Where will you style your wig? Both human hair and synthetic wigs require specific accessories. First, your wig will need a place to rest when you aren’t wearing it. This is called a wig stand. There are many different types of stands, from mannequin busts to metal tripods. Some are free standing, while others clasp to the end of a counter or tabletop. Mannequin and foam heads both help the wig to maintain its form in times when you aren’t wearing it. If you choose to purchase a head stand for your wig, you’ll need t-pins to hold it in place on the stand. If you are traveling with your wig, mannequin heads can oftentimes be too bulky to bring along, while metal tripods are great travel companions. Metal tripods don’t require t-pins, but often interfere with the set style of your wig by creating unwanted creases in your wig hair. They are perfect for travel but may not be your best choice for everyday use. In addition to a wig stand and t-pins, you will also need to purchase wig caps. These are breathable, thin caps that you place on your bare head prior to putting your wig on. These not only protect your scalp from the wefts of the wig, but create a grip for your wig to hold onto. Wig caps are made from a variety of materials, but a stocking cap is very popular because it’s thin and lightweight.
  5. Maintenance: Like all hair, wigs need upkeep. As previously mentioned, synthetic wigs require much less maintenance than human hair, but you will still need to take special care of each. Make sure you know what type of hair your wig is made from in order to know what products you will need to use. There are wig-specific shampoos and conditioners that will not only properly clean your wig hair, but also extend the life of your hair pieces. Do not use your typical cleansers and styling products on your wigs. This can weaken the bonds of the wig weft and may damage the hair itself. In addition, you will need a brush suitable for wigs rather than your regular brush and comb. Some women opt to take their wig to a professional stylist like they would their own hair for washing and styling. If you choose to maintain your wig yourself, be sure to know how to wash, brush, and style your wig beforehand.
  6. Try before you buy. Wigs are not one size fits all! Some have tighter wefts for smaller heads, while others have wider wefts for large heads. Most have adjustable straps woven into the weft for precise fit, but because of the grand variety of wig manufacturers, types, and styles, you will need to try before you buy. For instance, what may work for me may not be as flattering on you. Lace fronts look natural on some, but on others they never lay flat. Some wefts are itchy, while others are smooth and comfortable. Like you would a pair of shoes, try on wigs until you find your perfect match. A wig should feel comfortable on your head. Not too tight, but not loose enough to fall off if you shake your head from side to side. What may look like a long style on a wig stand may look shorter when worn on a human head. Never purchase a wig if you aren’t certain it’s going to fit correctly and feel comfortable.
  7. Retailers: A quick web search will bring up several sites for wig retailers. By following the above rule of “try before you buy,” you should find a local retailer in order to see, feel, and try on wigs before purchasing one. Most major cities have wig shops, just be sure to call ahead to learn if they carry both human hair and synthetic wigs. Quality wig shops will have private fitting rooms where you can try on a variety of styles discreetly. They should also have highly knowledgeable employees who are willing to help you with any questions or concerns you may have. Once you have tried on various wigs and have narrowed down what type you prefer, you can take note of the brand, style number, and color and possibly order for cheaper online. However, if you fall in love with a wig in store, it may not be worth the risk of hunting online for an identical one. Websites such as wigs.com and hairuwear.com are great online resources.
  8. Cost: The price difference between human hair and synthetic can be tremendous. When it comes to wigs, you truly get what you pay for. Higher quality wigs will cost more than their lower quality counterparts. Because of it’s desirable versatility and beautifully natural look, human hair wigs tend to be vastly more expensive than synthetic wigs. Human hair can cost between $700-$2500, depending on the length of the wig. They will, however, last more than a year with regular maintenance. Synthetic wigs can cost between $30-$500, but will only last up to six months. There are many factors to consider when purchasing a wig, including how long your chemotherapy will last and how long you are expecting to be without hair. If your treatment extends beyond six months, a human hair wig may be a better investment, whereas if you will only experience hair loss for a few months, a synthetic wig might be the preferred choice. Regardless of whether you choose human hair or synthetic, know that purchasing a wig is always an investment. This is something you will be wearing several times a week, if not daily. *Insider tip: Call your insurance provider and ask if they cover the cost of a “cranial prosthesis.” In some cases, insurance companies will offer full or partial reimbursement for the cost of a wig.
  9. Have fun! Shopping for and purchasing a wig can be overwhelming, but it can still be an enjoyable experience. If you’re like me, you’ll encounter a wide range of emotions while searching for the right wig. While I did cry grieving the loss of my treasured locks, I also laughed throughout the shopping process. Allow yourself to be silly and light-hearted. Be adventurous. Try on different styles, lengths, and colors. Step out of your comfort zone. A cancer diagnosis is a heavy burden to carry, and shopping for a wig can be the cherry on your proverbial mud pie, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Invite your close girlfriends and/or family members and make a day out of it. Start by scheduling a manicure and pedicure, then grab lunch and cocktails before heading to the wig shop. Laughter can be the best cure for an otherwise somber occasion.
  10. My personal favorites: I’ve tested and tried many wigs and have found favorites along the way. I know what works best for me and is most flattering and comfortable. A good wig should be so well camouflaged that everyone assumes it’s your natural hair and, through trial and error, I’ve found just that. Please note that these are not sponsored products, they are simply my personal must-haves. My favorite wig manufacturer is Raquel Welch. I own two — One blonde and one brunette. Both shoulder length. She produces high quality, natural looking human hair and synthetic wigs. They tend to be more costly, but are worth every penny. You can find Raquel Welch wigs at hairuwear.com. In addition, as far as accessories go, I prefer a mannequin head and clamp stand for everyday storing and styling use, and a metal tripod for travel. I’ve also found that stocking caps are more comfortable and lightweight than cotton ones. Remember, what worked for me may not work for you.

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Proverbs 3:15 (ESV)

“She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.”

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