December 2012 archive

The Difference a Day Makes

I never thought so many things could take place within the span of only a few hours and days. These last few days have proven me wrong. With God, anything is possible. Truly.

Throughout our adventures through cancer treatments, scans, tests, and appointments, insurance has been pretty nutty…to say the least. It’s unfortunate, that while we are so very grateful to have it, these companies don’t often see eye to eye with cancer patients and their doctors. Unfortunately, our insurance takes quite a while to approve much needed tests and treatments. Once we were discharged from the hospital, my doctors made it very clear that I needed to start chemotherapy around two weeks from discharge. Three weeks was pushing it. Last Wednesday, after making the final decision to continue chemotherapy at my current Gyn Oncologist’s office, we made the call to my doctor to, “go ahead and put the order through to insurance.” They made that call this past Wednesday, a week ago, and so began the waiting game. Sometimes, I feel as if that’s all I’m doing. Waiting while I know there is something that needs to be done, really is the hardest part. It’s in those moments that the enemy tries to take advantage of my vulnerable and weary state. He tries his hardest to kick me when I’m down and convince me of things that most likely will never come to pass.

By last Friday, we still had heard nothing from neither my doctor’s office nor insurance, so I contacted them. When facing trials of this magnitude, you really have to be your own advocate. And what you can’t do, God will handle the rest. According to the staff at my oncology office, they placed the order, and had not yet heard anything from insurance. They informed me that sometimes these insurance companies take a while to review and approve certain orders. No duh!? So we waited…and waited…and prayed…and waited. Oh, and I cried…a lot. We prayed that come Monday morning, we would receive a call right away notifying us that we could come in and I could start the long process of ingesting my chemo cocktails. Well, with the weekend, Monday also came and went. I called both insurance and the oncology office again. According to the office, our insurance company technically has fourteen days to review and approve an order. We don’t have fourteen days. That would place me on the day after Christmas to receive chemotherapy, and that is frankly, too far away. We needed to do this now. After tearfully and hysterically pleading with the insurance customer service representative, I was advised to have my doctor personally contact them and request to expedite the reviewing and approval process. So I did. And my doctor called and did just that. Yesterday (Tuesday), we waited, and waited, and waited, and prayed, and waited, and prayed some more that God would push this process through and allow everything to be approved in a miraculously quick fashion. And, I cried some more. My poor husband! Not only has he had to handle the loss of his mother a year and a half ago and having a wife with recurring cancer, she is also a bag of tears lately. Although a lot to deal with, he handles it like a champ. He prays over me, calms me down, reassures me, listens to my worries, and lets me cry. Men, most of the time that’s all we want. He is perfect for me.

By Tuesday, I was extremely nervous. Having experienced my insurance already rejecting a previous PET scan, this only added to my growing concerns. And, boy did the enemy take advantage of that! Pretty soon, I believed that my chemo would not get approved and we would be out of luck. Strongholds of the mind are a real thing, and they take serious strength and spiritual weapons to battle against. I was literally crying out to Jesus to help me in this time of desperation. “Lord! Please help me! I really need you to move mountains for me now. I obviously can’t do this on my own.” Tuesday came and went…almost. Around six o’clock in the evening, my phone began to ring and I noticed it was my doctor’s office calling. Oh my word, could this be it?! Sure enough, my chemotherapy nurse answered and spread the good news…insurance had finally approved my chemo drug, and we could begin the next morning (today, Wednesday). Hallelujah! You may think I am exaggerating these next few sentences, but I assure you, my husband can attest to it. I began wildly dancing around the house, yelling, “Praise Jesus! Thank you Lord!” And pretty soon, I was creating songs full of, “I’m getting chemo, I’m getting chemo” lyrics. I probably looked like a lunatic. But hey, I’m one excited lunatic…as a cancer patient in need of chemotherapy, the green light was an enormous blessing. I continue to share that God does BIG things. He does things that we think are completely and entirely impossible. Although I prayed that I would be sitting in a chemo chair this morning, I wasn’t fully sure it would happen. I still had doubts. I still had fear that insurance wouldn’t approve the order. I was still anxious that I would have to wait until after Christmas to begin this next treatment journey. I tell you what…right when I think things aren’t going to work out, God shows up. Right when I begin to doubt His goodness and sovereign spirit, He stands in front of me and declares,”Child, I’ve got this. Stop thinking I have forsaken you. I’m still here. Watch what I can do.” And yet again, I stand in awe of His power and plan. With every passing doubt and moment of fear, He continues to be faithful and pour out His promises into my life. Praise Jesus.

Stephanie receiving her life-saving chemotherapy. Notice the thick hair that has grown back! (December 2012)

Stephanie receiving her life-saving chemotherapy. Notice the thick hair that has grown back! (December 2012)

Needless to say, this morning, I was sitting in the exact same chemo chair I had sat in the previous twenty-something times. As spontaneous and wild as I can be, I am monotonous and routine in where I choose to sit and receive chemo. It’s in the corner of the room, and it’s my own personal little nook. As strange as it is to be back in that place, I am thankful. God is truly growing my pride for my story. I know He is saying, “Stephanie and Matt, I have chosen you for this story. It’s mine, but I want you to share it. Go and make me proud.” And that we are. With every day that passes and with every new page in this book, we are continually choosing to see the good in this. Everyone is waiting and watching me…Christians and non-Christians alike. Will I fall? Will I denouce God? Will I give up? I can assure you, the answer to all of the above is NO. That doesn’t mean I will be free of bad days, and if you have read the entirety of my blog, you know that those bad days exist, and I don’t hide the fact that they are downright shitty. I do not blame God for allowing this to happen. As insane as it may sound to some, I am thankful for this situation He has allowed us to step into. We have grown dramatically since my very first diagnosis last January. We have discovered more and more about the Savior we worship and praise. We count every single blessing He hands us, no matter how big or small they appear to be. When people say I am an inspiration and hero to them, my only response is, “Thank you. It’s God working through me…it’s not just me.”

Today’s treatment session went swimmingly. Weird to say that chemotherapy was enjoyable, but it’s the truth for today. There weren’t many women receiving therapy today, so it was just me and a couple others. Positive, uplifting, and happy spirits really do rub off. I was honored to be undergoing treatment with two entirely heroic women. Their positive outlooks combined with mine created an abundance of faith in the room. We laughed and shared our stories…and through that, we bonded. I was delighted to see God in their eyes. We proclaimed that we are fighters and will beat this disease. And, I whole-heartedly believe that. Through Jesus, I will be healed.

Donate to the Stephanie Madsen Fund at www(dot)gofundme(dot)com/stephaniemadsenfund

Donate to the Stephanie Madsen Fund here.

Another blessing to share with you is in regards to  financial provision. Those who haven’t personally gone through a battle of cancer can only imagine what the medical bills look like. On average, we are receiving about three to five medical bills a week. Cancer is very expensive. But, God still provides. As most of you know, we had a Baldalicious Bandwagon fundraiser last April to help with our initial financial costs. Because I have now been re-diagnosed, we have been quietly considering having another. However, along with two of our dear friends, God stepped in before us. A couple of friends of ours have let us know that God has put it on their hearts to create an online fund for me. After asking our permission, they have launched the Stephanie Madsen Fund through an online website. Through this site, you are able to donate any amount of money, anonymously or candidly. It’s your choice. As awkward as it is to ask for help, we know that many of you are wanting to offer a helping hand but just aren’t sure how. We know that many of you are in financial straits, and are unable to donate. We ask that you continue to pray on my behalf. For those who feel led to give financially, please feel free to check out this website and do so accordingly. We are overwhelmingly grateful for those who continue to help, support, encourage, and pray for us through this trying time. With a lack of financial burden, we are more capable of focusing on honing our forces to fight against this disease.

Now that I am home from chemotherapy, I am feeling good. I have a slight headache, but I will attribute that to the craziness that has occurred these past few days. Although it’s only the first day, I have not yet experienced any side effects from the poison that was injected a few hours ago. We kindly ask that you pray that side effects will not show themselves in this next season of treatment. We ask that you pray for my strength while undergoing the intensity of this specific chemo drug. We ask prayer for peace on the days that doubt and fear creep in. We ask prayer of thanksgiving for what God has already done in my life, and for what He will continue to do. I am believing for a miracle. I am believing in beating the statistics. I am believing for a complete restoration here on this Earth. Believe and pray with us. In addition I feel compelled to ask you to, especially in this Christmas season, focus more deeply on the blessings that He has given you. No matter how small or big, we know that all good things come from above. Oftentimes we find ourselves only asking for things, and although God wants us to ask, He also wants us to have grateful hearts. Don’t believe you did it on your own…He was there the whole time.

If you feel led to donate and help us in this financial battle through cancer, please click HERE. From the depths of our hearts, we thank you.

Psalm 121:1-8 (The Message)

“I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep. God’s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you- shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moon stroke. God guards you from every evil, He guards your very life. He guards you when you leave and when you return, He guards you now, He guards you always.”

Wigs and Warfare

It’s me again! Stephanie is back and ready to update y’all! But before going further, let me first take a minute to applaud my incredible husband for keeping my readers informed through the entire surgery process. Doesn’t he write wonderfully? I’m pretty proud of this man who I get to call my husband. He’s a total stud. He continues to be by my side through the highs and extreme lows of this adventure…and all the while, keeping you in the loop! I’ll save all the details about him for another blog post, but for now, let me get you up to date.

My stay in the hospital was exhausting. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. It’s been about eight days since I was discharged, and I just now feel like I’m settling into the groove. I was discharged the day after Matt last posted. Like he mentioned, my medical team discovered an alarmingly low heart rate and irregular heart beat, and wanted to dig deeper. Easy enough for them…they didn’t have to undergo those insane tests. Once we changed floors and got comfortable in our new room, I was immediately hooked up to a heart rate monitor. This allowed the nurses to watch exactly what my heart was doing at all times. In addition, the following day, an Echocardiogram was ordered. This test is a Sonogram for the heart and monitors the natural rhythm to determine if my organ is functioning properly. Once that was complete, I was transported to the radiology department to receive a PET Rubidium scan and another CT scan. Long story short, I hope I never have to receive another Rubidium scan. Ever heard of a stress test? That’s exactly what it is. Except, nowadays, instead of having a patient who recently had surgery walk on a treadmill, we are placed in a PET scan bed and injected with a special medicine that acts as stress. Oh. My. Stressed is an understatement. I’m always timid to put exact details of scans, tests, and procedures on here for everyone to see, because my intentions are not to scare you. My intentions are truly just to inform. If you get scared, I’m sorry.

To be honest, once this “stress medicine” was injected, I rapidly felt my heart rate skyrocket. I tried not to panic. I took deep breaths and prayed the entire time. For about five to seven minutes, I experienced what I think most heart attack patients may experience. My chest hurt. I felt as though my heart would beat out of my eyeballs and right into my lap. I was sweating. And all I could do was pray that it would be over soon. I’m not a drama queen folks, but I can admit, I did pray… “Lord, please don’t let me die.” Yes, it was that bad. I had tears streaming from my eyes when I was placed back in the wheelchair to be taken to my room again. Once the doors opened and my husband laid eyes on his obviously distraught wife, I could see the anger begin to overflow. I could imagine exactly what was going through his head, and picture it to be something like this: “What the hell did you do to my wife? Why is she crying? I’m going to make you pay!” Once he understood that I was alright and would give him the details when we arrived back at our room, he calmed down. While he has a tendency of being over protective, I am so grateful that I have a husband who cares so deeply about my welfare.

All that to say, my test results came back fine. They did notice the irregular beat and low rate at which my heart was functioning, but it wasn’t alarming. They ordered these tests to rule out blood clots, and that’s exactly what they did. I was free of any clots, and frankly, free of all tears as well. Because I was unable to ingest any solid food or liquids the day of my tests, I was starving when I got back to my room. It was already around four o’clock, and I had nothing in my system since the previous night. All I wanted was some french toast, fresh fruit, and a big piece of cake. And, because of my sweet nurse, I got exactly that! She quickly dialed the cafeteria, and might as well had said, “You better get that food here in two minutes, or else!” Again, I am very grateful for the strong team God continues to place in this game. To add, all of my nurses during my four-day stay were amazing. God placed each and every one of them on my path, and they were each perfect for the job. I really like to form relationships with my caretakers in the hospital, and did just that. I’ve left wondering how they are doing, and look forward to possibly seeing them again someday…Under different circumstances, of course!

Currently, I am still very sore, bruised, and swollen from surgery. I have a total muffin top beginning at my scar line. My belly just hangs there, and it’s extremely unappealing. Good thing my husband loves me regardless! I am finally able to move around without excruciating pain, and am starting to function a little more typically. Matt no longer has to physically help me in and out of bed, and that is a huge victory! I visited my General Oncologist today and after checking out my scar, he was shocked at how quickly I’m healing. I’m young, fit, and strong…what can I say? I also have an army praying for a fast recovery. God’s got me on lock-down. At my appointment today, we discussed the next phase of treatment. Chemotherapy. We talked about which specific chemo drug all my doctors agree on administering, and the schedule at which I will receive it. Before posting concrete plans, I need to confirm with my Gynecologic Oncologist that this is what she would like to do. Most likely she is on the same page, and in which case, I will begin chemo next week. Again, until everything is solidified I can’t be specific as far as how often I will receive doses or how long this next phase will last. However, I am so ready to get this train rollin’! Chemo cocktails never sounded so good until right about now. The waiting and in-between is really the hardest part.

For those who have followed my story, you know that God is the One for big blessings. He hasn’t ceased dropping down those gifts from above. Some, Matt has included in his previous post, and I’d like to reiterate that God is good. Here is why:

  1. When my Gyn Oncologist/surgeon opened me up in surgery, the tumor popped right up. It was completely encased in a mucus lining, therefore it was all intact. This is not the case for some cancers. Some tumors are not circular and are rather jagged, which makes it nearly impossible to remove the entire mass.
  2. Because of its mucus lining, my surgeon was able to remove the entirety of the mass.
  3. The tumor was not connected to my colon, and therefore I did not need any form of a colostomy.
  4. The PET scan immediately following surgery showed no signs of carcinoma anywhere else in my body.
  5. My surgeon was able to create an incision at my original hysterectomy scar line. In fact, she removed my previous scar, so now I only have one scar right above my pubic area.
  6. I am still alive and breathing. God continues to bless me with more days to glorify Him. Hallelujah!

This past week I have been recovering and taking it easy. My body is beginning to function normally again, which I am grateful. We continue to have wonderful support from friends and family, and at a time like this, it’s been extremely helpful. Like I mentioned, I’m finally able to be a little more up and active, and I even felt well enough to make it to church yesterday. I’ve learned that through the storm, instead of hiding out and suffering alone, it is better to surround yourself with joyful people. The most joyous place we enjoy is our church, in the presence of God and surrounded by friends. Needless to say, my spirits were lifted greatly by being in that environment yesterday. In addition, I’ve picked out a new wig! And let me tell you, she is gorgeous! Most know that when I first began this journey, before I lost my hair, I was blonde. Not naturally, but shhh. This time, I decided to go back blonde, and I have been gifted a stunning wig of human hair. Although I’ve been loving my short curly and wavy hair that has grown, I won’t miss it so much now that I have some blonde to rock!

Back to Blonde! Stephanie wearing her new wig. (December 2012)

Back to Blonde! Stephanie wearing her new wig. (December 2012)

At the bottom of this entry, I am including a link. A link in order for you to make a choice. As you know, I don’t like to sugarcoat anything, and have always remained open and honest. However, I do understand that some of my readers have sensitive stomachs, and for that I have chosen to create a clickable link so you are able to make the choice to view this image or not. This link is graphic. This link will show you exactly what is trying to take my life. This link might frighten you. Please don’t let it. This link is to a medical picture of the cancerous tumor my surgeon removed last week. You may wonder why I have a photograph of it. I want to see what is trying to ruin me. I want to see exactly what I am fighting so hard to defeat. I need to have a visual of the enemy; The enemy that is getting kicked around, poisoned, stomped on… and ultimately defeated. I feel the need to share this with you, so that you are able to see what you are praying against. I understand if you have a sensitive stomach and can not handle a medical picture of this nature. Whether you choose to view my tumor or not, I thank you for allowing me to be transparent and share the entirety of my journey through cancer with you.

Click HERE to see a picture of the cancerous tumor. (Graphic medical image)

John 10:6-10 (MSG Version)

Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. ‘I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.’”

Derailing Our Exit Strategy

(guest post by Matt)

If you're big on coffee, water and ice, this may as well be Elway's Restaurant.

If you’re big on coffee, water and ice, this may as well be Elway’s Restaurant.

In the last update, I left off sharing the great news of Stephanie’s clear PET scan. Since Friday, Stephanie has done well. Very well. Yesterday (Saturday) was a good day. She’s been walking, coherent, eating… she’s been doing everything the nurses have needed her to do in order to be discharged from the hospital. And my oh my, how things change.

Today was supposed to be the day. We thought it and Stephanie’s nurses thought it too. They were so certain that she was going home that they started writing up discharge papers and instructions and even said, “If you feel like you’re ready to go home, you can go home.” Stephanie was unsure and was on the fence between, “I just want to get out of here,” and, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

She and I were on a little stroll through the hallways of her floor, just chugging right along. On our way back to her room, we passed the nurse’s station; Stephanie’s nurse who gave us the choice was there, and Stephanie voiced her decision: “I think I’m ready to go home.”

The nurse’s reply: “Not so fast.”

Well, crap.

During her stay, when the nurses were checking her vital signs, they noticed an irregular heartbeat. They ordered a couple EKGs to be done, but didn’t think that it was that big of a deal. Stephanie was still under the influence of pain meds, she’d just had surgery, her body had been depleted from its regular nutrition… all these things likely played a part in the little hiccup she received on the scan. Well, evidently the medical team thought enough of it that they took our choice away from us. We’d be staying at least one more night.

Not only would we be staying at least one more night, but this involved a room switch. That meant new nurses, a new floor, new just about everything. This switch also involves Stephanie to be hooked up to heart monitors strategically placed on her upper body to monitor her heart rate. Generally speaking, I believe change is good. Change keeps our wits sharp, keeps us focused, makes us pay more attention. However right now, change sucks. It’s overwhelming right now. It’s causing stress. The last thing we needed was one more thing to pop up. Frankly, we thought that a re-diagnosis, surgery, recovery, and the upcoming grueling chemotherapy treatment was enough for the time being.

We don't wear these to be trendy.

We don’t wear these to be trendy.

From where we are now, it’s looking like Stephanie’s electrolytes are low. So, this is a whole different ballgame. For me, when I hear anything along the lines of electrolyte deficiency, I think have some Gatorade and be done with it. But as it turns out, magnesium and potassium (the two she’s lacking) play key roles in heart function. And having just endured what she’s endured, the road to getting out of here seems to be that much longer.

This seems simple enough, but we are drained. Emotionally and physically. Stephanie is over it. She just wants to go home. She’s tired of the pain, she’s tired of the hospital. And I have to say, I’m tired of it too. Personally, I make the 20 minute drive back home to our house twice a day to care for our pup, Scout, before coming back to the hospital. I’d really prefer to not have to do that. I just want to have the green light from the hospital, get Stephanie in the car with me, drive away and never look back. I’m blogging this at 11:30pm. We’re in a smaller room on a different floor with different medical staff. Nights are rough (anyone who’s ever spent the night in a hospital, patient or otherwise, can attest to that). We miss the comforts of home. We’ll never take for granted our own bed or a hot shower ever again.

So, this entry will close with a prayer request. Please pray that the Lord would see fit to strengthen Stephanie enough so that we might be able to go home. Pray for strength and endurance for both of us. Pray for peace despite the situation and for rest and comfort during our stay. Pray for wisdom and efficiency for the medical staff.

We’re discouraged, sure. We’re both running on empty. This in no way signals towards a lack of faith. Our spirit is strong, but our flesh is weak. We still rejoice for the amazing triumphs of the weekend and look forward to the future. Tonight is simply a speed bump. As always, prayers are appreciated, and we love each one of you. Thank you for everything and thankfully, tomorrow is a new day.

Isaiah 40:29 (ESV)

“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”