Stephanie’s First Birthday (January 1987)
By definition, birthdays are to be celebrated. However, more often than not, society frowns on old age. With face-lifts, age-defying serums, and injections, youth is praised while maturation is muddled.
As a child, I grew up counting down the days until my annual party. The day we celebrated me. My birth. My presence in this world. Every year on the sixth of January, I reached a new age. I was a year older, and always figured, a year wiser. Friends were invited, cake was devoured, laughter commenced, and memories were made. Yet, with every twelve months that passed, celebrations began to dwindle. Balloons were no longer purchased. Cake was no longer on the menu. By my 27th birthday, I found myself in a small, local sushi restaurant with six of my immediate family members surrounding me. Somehow, “How does it feel to be older?” slipped into the conversation just like it does each January, but no “Happy Birthday” song was sung.
Before my cancer diagnosis, age equated wrinkles, aching joints, and hip replacements. Getting older was no longer a momentous occasion, simply one year closer to stepping foot inside a retirement home. “Old” was said with an underlying tone, as if it meant moldy, used, and unwanted. Why is that? Why do we view age negatively with such flippant disregard? The answer may stem from fear of the inability to be our former youthful selves. Fear that death could be closer than we care to admit. As a double-edged sword, death affects all ages. No matter how young, old, vibrant, or frail.
If you woke up this morning with breath in your lungs, you are blessed. You have survived yet another day and are officially one day older.
Since cancer has stormed into my life like an unwelcome party guest, birthdays have deeper significance than before. Receiving a cancer diagnosis often paralyzes ones thoughts about the future. We are left wondering how many more birthdays we may be here for. Will I make it to 30? Will I have grandchildren some day? Some patients on the front lines fighting off this disease are wondering if they’ll live to see next week. Some questioning if they will even wake up tomorrow. As cliché as it may be, each day truly is a gift. Why then, are birthdays not celebrated as the momentous occasion that they are? Why then, are we not more-so grateful when we unwrap the gift of another day?
“I feel so old.”
“I wish I was younger.”
These sentiments are unfortunately expressed by many. Society shares the approach that growing older is an unfortunate occurrence. This is baffling. Growing older is a natural phenomenon. We can’t escape it. It’s inevitable. Therefore, it should be embraced. After all, if you are aging, you are alive.
Age should be recognized, acknowledged, and held in high esteem. Age isn’t just a number. Age is the reflection of an accomplishment we have been subconsciously working for in each and every moment of our lives. Time will come when you will inhale your last breath. When experiences, adventures, and memories will be washed away in the tide of eternity.
After nearly two years in the trenches of this diagnosis and subsequent fight for my life, birthdays have become a symbol. They epitomize opportunity, growth, and life. They represent hope, gratitude, and blessings. Each morning I wake up to see another day… to create new memories… to enjoy my friends and family… to follow my passions… I am blessed. I look forward to my 80th birthday. I look forward to the many celebrations ahead. I look forward to the blessing of a new day.
I challenge you to not view age as a curse, but rather as a gift. One that we cannot give each other. One that has only one Giver.
Proverbs 16:31 (MSG)
“Gray hair is a mark of distinction, the award for a God-loyal life.”
A place where chemo drips freely. Hair is a rare sight to be seen. Tubes, treatment, and trials are common occurrences. Hospital bands are shackles bound to the arms of warriors. And cancer is everywhere.
Welcome to Cancerland.
As I sit here receiving my fourth chemotherapy treatment this season (34th overall), I can’t help but look around, witnessing how cancer has affected the lives of so many. It’s everywhere. Rampant like a rabid monster ferociously feeding on the innocent. Moving its way through the nooks and crannies of both young and old generations. No care that it’s unwelcome. No fear of opposition. No worries in the world.
Once diagnosed, patients, including myself, are immediately propelled into Cancerland. Slingshotted into the abyss, with doctors accompanying us on all sides. Our medical knowledge, once novice, becomes an integral part of our vernacular, and soon we are spouting terms like “hemoglobin,” “neuropathy,” “large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma,” and “CBC.” We become aware what it feels like when our white cells are low, and we equate a shortness of breath to a lack of red blood cells. We become accustomed to aches and pains, leg spasms, and a variety of rare side effects. We ingest pills, supplements, and other magical potions as if they were candy.
This is life. If only we could watch fireworks, eat a chocolate covered frozen banana, and leave the park at the end of the day to crawl into bed outside the gates of Cancerland. However, this disease embeds itself into the pages of our story. It becomes a part of us. A part of our journey. Enveloped in our trials. Overcome in our triumphs. It never leaves us. The shadow of cancer follows us no matter how far we run and no matter how well we hide.
Yet as I am surrounded by my fellow patients, I sense a spirit of camaraderie. We are an army fighting against this horrendous beast. Gathering up arms and standing firm on the hope of success… On the hope of remission. Encouraging one another, exchanging tales of war from seasons past, and dreaming of a bright future. We are more than just patients. We are spouses, children, siblings, parents, and friends. We are people with dreams and goals. Praying to make it through the next year. Hoping for healing. Believing in salvation.
I am touched, moved, and honored to have such an inspiring army of survivors and fighters around me. Everyone who has ever heard the words, “You have cancer,” is immediately part of a unique fraternity. We can say, “nausea,” and as comrades we immediately understand this specific type of sickness. There is something special and deeply personal about the unsaid connection between those who have entered the gates of Cancerland. Some hold their ticket proudly. Some tuck their ticket deep into the crevasse of their pocket. Some try to throw their ticket away, only to find it reappearing every time. No matter if you are proud to be a survivor, in denial of the battle you are in, or not ready to face the fight ahead, we are all a part of this clandestine society.
As for me? I am proud. I have scars, wounds, physical reminders of what I have been through, and what awaits my future. I have aches and pains. I have neuropathy. My insides have been nuked more times than I can recall. My body no longer resembles its form prior to diagnosis. I have been bald, with hair, and bald again several times over. I have lost and gained friends. My life plans have been altered. I am infertile and menopausal. If given the choice on what I wanted my life to look like, cancer would be at the bottom of the list. However, I’m here. There’s no denying it. There’s no getting around it. I have been fighting cancer for the last two years of my life. But I have a choice. One of the largest decisions I have ever had to make and will have to make continuously over the course of my life. Do I want to be miserable? Or do I want to be joyful? Some may think this is not a choice, but I would adamantly challenge that stance. Though oftentimes we cannot choose our circumstances, we can choose our emotions.
I am proud to be a cancer patient…fighter…survivor. I am proud to say that no matter what, cancer will not win because I will never lose. I am proud to belong to this fraternity. My ticket to Cancerland will forever be displayed triumphantly in a frame over my life.
Romans 15:13 (ESV)
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
WARRIOR. (November 2013)
I’ll admit it. I’ve been MIA for the past month. My absence was not intentional. I just couldn’t get the words out into my blog. However, it was nothing like writer’s block. It was much deeper. I couldn’t put a finger on it, but whatever it was, it was looming over me like a dark cloud.
Throughout these past few weeks, I have often felt the urge to sit down and write. To pour out my thoughts. To process. To purge. Yet, no matter how much I wanted to, I simply could not.
Recently I discovered the answer, the reason, and the explanation for this sudden halt. For this past month, and frankly since the day I learned of my enemy’s return, I had been carrying an extra burden of emotions. Emotions that lingered. That weighed me down. That tried hard to steal my joy, hope, and happiness. Call it depression. Call it a funk. Call it what you will, I was being buried by it.
Every season of my battle against cancer has contained different emotional responses and physical hurdles. For the better part of my two previous seasons, I had battled more physical hurdles. I had more days where I felt like crap. More days where I had been in pain. Yet, this season has been different from the start. Not a tumor, only microscopic cells. Praise God for that. Not as physically taxing as it has been emotionally. Yet, sometimes working through emotions is harder than working through pain.
“Do you ever get depressed having to go through all of this?”
A few weeks ago, I was asked this simple question. I actually laughed. Not at the friend asking the question, but at the thought. Depressed? “100% YES,” I said. However, not many people see that from me. Though I walk in the strength and grace that God has given me today, I still stumble into the pit of worry, fear, and despair from time to time. I have never lost faith nor hope. I cling tight to the belief that I will be healed here on Earth. But this season, this battle, this fight had brought with it a sadness that I hadn’t been able to shake off.
This question has been asked many times: “Do you ever get sad?” In fact, several people have inquired if I ever have low days. Many have shared that they always see a smile on my face. That if they had no idea about my diagnosis, they wouldn’t guess that I was fighting for my life every single day. I’m thankful that I don’t appear as a cancer patient. I’m thankful that I have beautiful wigs and that I am talented with a makeup brush. But, believe me… fighting cancer sucks. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s hell. When I was initially diagnosed almost two years ago, some even thought I was in denial. Some thought that because I wasn’t crying every second of every day, the reality must not have hit me. The truth is, it hit me from the start. I did cry. A lot. I did grieve. I had to let go of the plans my husband and I had. At 25 years old, my whole world changed. Yet, from the beginning, I chose to not let cancer ruin me. It would take my health, my fertility, my plans, but I refused to let it steal my joy, my hope, and my faith.
This season I have shed more tears. After all, I was just getting used to a cancer-free life. My hair was gorgeous, growing, and curly! I hadn’t had treatment for seven months, and I was nearly a year cancer-free. I thought that was it. I thought Matt and I could begin to forge our way into our new “normal,” healthy, happy, and whole. And because I was living life free of this awful disease, it’s recurrence this time was harder. I cried every single day for a week straight. I, stupidly and regretfully, watched sappy romance movies by myself and went through boxes of tissues. I also noticed something else. Something far more concerning. I wasn’t in The Word as often as I should be. In fact, my emotions were beginning to interfere with my relationship with Jesus. And, now that I’m finding my way out of the dark cloud, I realize that was the enemy’s goal. To sadden me to the point that my focus was no longer on my Savior, but on my grief.
The struggle through cancer is the single hardest thing I have ever had to do. Fighting for my life every single day is exasperating. No matter how tired, weak, and sad that I get, I still put on my shit-kicker boots every day and head to war. The war against the enemy. Not only against the monster that has repeatedly tried to parasitically take my life from the inside out, but also the monsters that wage war inside my mind and spirit. But I am still human, and on my own am incapable of winning this war. Without help, I will surely die. I can’t head to the front lines without armor and supernatural strength. I can’t let my emotions cloud my sight to the Almighty: the One who can and will save me from this battle, the only One who is more than capable of healing me in a matter of seconds.
Often, we allow our emotions in a circumstance to control our reaction, response, and direction. We let the enemy slither his way inside our minds as he spits venom into our spirits. We become blind and deaf to the sight and voice of Jesus. Our victory becomes dull. Our joy is diminished. And that is why it is imperative to stay focused, with our eyes on the One who can offer us hope, freedom, peace, healing, strength, and joy. No matter how different and difficult the seasons may be… No matter the peaks and valleys of our emotions… No matter… God is never-changing. He is consistent. He is who He always has been. He is the same God when I was healthy. He is faithful, and continues to have my back. He wants the best for me. Therefore, I must seek Him first. I challenge you to do the same.
Let’s stand above our emotions, and let His promises, His goodness, and His power reign.
1 Peter 8-11 (MSG)
“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.”
The one with Bill Murray, not Punxsutawney Phil.
Getting cancer over, and over, and over again is comparable to the movie Groundhog Day. One season ends and I wake up expecting a new one to begin, only to find myself in the same season I have journeyed twice before. Over, and over, and over again. Much to my dismay, this battle is not complete yet.
As you know (or maybe you haven’t read the latest), surgery went better than we could have imagined. God has repeatedly displayed His power. The scan showed a two-inch tumor near my remaining ovary. However, during surgery, my doctor didn’t find a tumor at all, and in fact stated that I had one of the cleanest abdomens she had ever seen – pink and healthy. Just to be certain, she removed the ovary and sent it off for further review. Pathology reports came back showing microscopic cancerous cells… That, my friends, is a miracle… Did you not catch that? From the size of nearly a golf ball, to microscopic cells. Had there not been a tumor on my scan, my doctor would not have operated, and I would have continued believing that I was cancer-free, when in reality, this disease would have had three more months to grow and possibly travel elsewhere. God allowed a tumor to show up on my scan, in order for us to find the beginning stages of a recurrence. A golf ball size shrinking to microscopic cells. If you don’t call that a miracle, I don’t know what you would.
God calls us to focus on the praises and miracles He has performed in our lives and the lives of those around us. Yet, as humans, when another storm arises, we tend to forget those miracles. We often store them in the back of our minds, only occasionally pulling them forward in our memories. Life gets hard again, and we forget all the good He has done in and for us. By doing that, we aren’t fully recognizing God for who He is. His goodness doesn’t come and go. He is the single most consistent being in existence. We must remember the blessings He has poured over us. It’s as vital as breathing.
Since surgery one month ago, I have already received chemotherapy. About 12 days ago, in fact. It was my 31st chemo cocktail, yet familiarity doesn’t always bring comfort. I’ll never say fighting cancer is easy. No matter if it’s your first time, or your third, fighting cancer takes everything you have and more. Frankly, I can’t believe I’m doing this all over again. Twice… okay, that was hard enough. But three times? After being out of treatment for six months and nearly a year cancer-free. Seriously?
I’ve processed this recurrence different than my initial diagnosis and first recurrence. It’s been drastically more emotional for me. Being that so many of my girlfriends are pregnant now, I’d venture into comparing my emotions with those of an expectant mother. For real. This past week, I’ve cried over the silliest things. On one of my good days, Matt and I ventured into Ikea, and noticed a woman training a service dog. I had to keep walking, or I would have needed a box of tissues. I’ve cried to my husband and by myself. Over everything and over nothing. The tears have found their way out regardless of my will to keep them contained. I know that purging these emotions is a good thing, and a healthy cry session can help with the process.
No matter how much I’d love to say I’m always focusing on the positive, I am here to admit that I, too, am human. I have moments where I allow the blessings to easily slide to the back of my mind, allowing the storm to overwhelm my life. My tears are those of sadness, grief, and exhaustion. I loathe the fact that I am faced with this choice again. The choice to fight or die. Fighting cancer is just that… a choice. And it’s a choice that I must make. However, as always, I choose to fight.
Clinging to God’s blessings in the midst of the storm helps us build up our arsenal of tools to ward off the enemy. The enemy is a thief in the night who wants to steal our joy, hope, and positivity. He knows we are weak and preys on our vulnerabilities; doing whatever he can to push us further into the mud. It’s easy to fall into the pit of despair and continue drowning in the muck that tries to suffocate us.
Last week was full of emotions, sadness, shock, and defeat. I was living in a real-life Groundhog Day. But today, I am standing firm in the promises, miracles, and blessings that God has poured over me. I am calling forth every gift He has given me, and every promise He has spoken to me. I am remembering the moment I woke up from surgery to learn that there was no tumor. I am remembering the many times that God has scheduled divine appointments on my behalf. I am clinging to the goodness of my Savior, because I am blessed.
I’m fighting this again, which only means that I will soon be a three-time cancer survivor. This season will be different. I’m not waking up in the same place as I was twice before. Try as you may, cancer, but this chick is standing firm with spiritual armor so powerful, nothing can penetrate it.
Handling business as usual, chemo-style. (October 2013)
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (MSG)
“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”
(Guest post by Matt)
Stephanie and I have spent a few days in the hospital, and she seems to have been progressing better than she has after previous surgeries. When they rolled her out of the post-op area, she was already sipping water. In prior surgeries, she wasn’t even allowed to touch but a few ice chips for about a day afterwards. Aside from a furious bout with itchiness last night (which we think was brought on by the hospital bedsheets, soon replaced by soft sheets from home), Stephanie has been able to do everything they want her to in order to go home.
But, as we have learned on multiple occasions during this journey, life can be unpredictable. I noted in the last post that they had to check the removed ovary for microscopic traces of the cancer. Well, the pathology report came back today and MJ gave us the news: there were microscopic cancer cells in the cystic walls of Stephanie’s ovary, nothing that could be seen with the human eye. That’s the thing with this or any other type of cancer. There’s an obvious battle against tumors and what shows up on scans, but there is also the microscopic battle.
So, there will be further treatment.
Stephanie will once again have to undergo chemotherapy treatments after all. She’ll start in a couple weeks after she heals up from her hospital stay. The good news is that these cells were found in the ovary that was taken out. There wasn’t a tumor, and there wasn’t any spreading to other areas of her body. So this chemo season will be an “insurance policy” to fight the microscopic battle. MJ is confident that it’s nowhere else and if there are still cancerous cells, the chemotherapy will prove effective against them. And, tomorrow morning, Stephanie is getting a PET scan, not a CT scan. That is good news.
In hindsight, we were a little spoiled with the immediate post-surgery news that no cancer was seen. Just because it wasn’t seen doesn’t mean that it still wasn’t present (obviously). It’s so small that the doctor who sees cancer every day couldn’t even see it. But we know that God is still good. He has orchestrated this whole story. Nothing about this is a surprise to Him. He is obviously still working in this story to bring glory to Him. Yes, it’s a bummer that Stephanie will lose her hair again and have to get chemo again. But, this is what we were planning before we even got to the hospital on Monday. We were prepared for another season of treatment and we still are.
Prayer-wise, we would appreciate prayers for emotional strength and endurance for the season ahead. Imagine the amount of stress and anxiety that is endured when you spend months and months growing your hair out just to find out you’re going to lose it again. This is difficult (especially for a woman). Just like everyone else, we have been expecting to be able to plan out our lives a little bit. Some people get further along than others before God reveals HIS plan for their lives. We are experiencing this in the time when we would otherwise be thinking about buying our first house and starting a family. Having to put those things “on hold” has been difficult for both of us, so prayers for understanding God’s will for our lives and being able to handle the “holding” gracefully would be especially appreciated. Also, very short-term, I am bouncing between home and the hospital not only to care for our pups, but it is moving week. So, we also request prayers for a smooth move. Big props to the fellas who will be helping us out this weekend with this task, it means more than you know.
We are praying that the “third time’s a charm” with this treatment. We’re keeping positive attitudes and we know that how people handle what comes their way reveals their true character. Thank you for praying with us and standing beside us.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (MSG)
“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, but if there’s no one to help, tough! Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.”
(Guest post by Matt)
Today was a pretty incredible day.
Stephanie and I got to the hospital around noon and did all the normal check-in stuff. Registration desk, go down the hall and up the elevator to the surgery waiting room, etc. We’ve done all this before. Surgery was running a little late today, so Stephanie got to spend time with family and friends in the waiting area before heading back.
She was in good spirits when I went back to see her. Our friends and family prayed over her and loved on her just like we always do. She’s ready to get this tumor out of her and get this show on the road again. We prayed for no more cancer. At times as I was praying over her, that’s all I could say. The only thing that came out of my mouth was, “No more cancer. No more cancer.”
Needless to say, God heard our prayers.
Stephanie and I said our goodbyes and told each other how excited we were to see each other on the other side. We were in the waiting room for perhaps a couple hours and I was putting a nice, pretty bow on the blog that I was going to post when MJ (Stephanie’s doctor) turned the corner towards me. I looked at her. She looked at me with two thumbs up.
“Two thumbs up, that’s good?” I asked like an idiot.
MJ sits next to me and says: “I didn’t see any cancer.”
My mind hiccuped painfully. What did she mean? Stephanie’s CT showed it… that’s why we’re here, after all…
MJ said that the ovary on Stephanie’s right side that was left over from the previous surgery was shot. She said that it was pretty gnarly looking. So, that went. But, she said that she looked and looked and she didn’t find any cancer. Aside from the scar tissue and lesions from Stephanie’s previous surgeries…
“One of the cleanest abdomens I’ve ever seen,” she said.
The mass that showed up on the CT was likely Stephanie’s remaining ovary tapping out. I can only imagine what chemotherapy and radiation treatments would do to an ovary. Couple that with blood that still flows to a beaten-up ovary and I would imagine that that is a pretty likely source of pain. They will still microscopically check out the ovary and search for cancer cells, and Stephanie will probably have a CT scan in two months.
So, this means it’s likely that Stephanie won’t need to get chemotherapy like we thought. And that means that she probably won’t even lose her hair like we thought. Or her nails. Or her eyebrows. We prayed for no more cancer. Doctor saw no cancer.
Do you believe yet?
Thank you so so much for all of your prayers and support. Not one comment or Facebook like goes unnoticed, and we value and love each and every one of you. I’ll blog another update later, but today was a good day. Stephanie appears to still be CANCER-FREE!
All glory to God! He is good.
Proverbs 21:31 (MSG)
“Do your best, prepare for the worst—
then trust God to bring victory.”
These past few days have been entirely orchestrated by God, of that I am sure.
Tuesday night, our church had it’s monthly women’s event, and I was asked to be a small group leader for the evening. One of my dear friends shared her testimony with all of us, and her message was enriched with His faithfulness. In fact, God’s faithfulness was the theme of the night. I am convinced that both the theme and it’s timing were orchestrated with enormous purpose.
Most of us say that He is faithful. We worship Him with that word. We pray for that characteristic to shine in our lives. But how many of us really know that it is true? God’s faithfulness is not measured by how many prayers are answered. He remains faithful even when our plans aren’t in alignment with His.
As I led my group into discussion, I was given questions to pose to the ladies. Here are a few that stood out to me, and have meaning especially now:
- “Has there been a time where God has made something beautiful out of your hurt or pain?”
- “How is our story part of God’s bigger story? Share a time when it was hard for you to see at first, but in the end you realized that God was doing something for a reason that you couldn’t see at the time.”
- “Why is it sometimes hard to surrender to God’s plan in our lives?”
Notice that not one of these questions mentions an ease to or fulfillment of our plans. Many times God sees our plans and wants something bigger for us. I’m sure He looks at our life goals, plans, and desires and thinks, “That’s it? That’s all you want? My will is far greater that that.”
My follow-up CT scan was on Monday. Our women’s event was Tuesday. And I received the scan results on Wednesday. In the moment, I wanted the results immediately. Why couldn’t I receive them within seven hours like I did last time? I didn’t understand why. But now I do. Tuesday was God’s time to speak to me. To remind me of His faithfulness, regardless of the circumstance. It was His moment to encourage and empower me, and to remind me of His steadfast love. His timing was perfect.
I received the call yesterday morning at 7:03 am. Upon answering the phone, I heard my doctor’s voice. I immediately knew. A tumor had grown near my remaining ovary on the right side of my abdomen. It’s a little smaller than two inches. The cancer has returned for a third time. After listening to the medical details and ensuing plan of action, the conversation ended. My husband slid to the ground with his face in his hands, and began to cry. Tears began to fall from my eyes, as well. Instead of asking “Why?” I uttered, “I don’t understand. What plans do You have for me Lord?” I refuse to question His intentions, but can’t help questioning His plan. The tears of disappointment quickly turned into tears of sadness that I would, yet again, lose my hair. I ran my hands through my thick curls, and continued to express grief over the future loss of my locks. I hate losing my hair. It continues to be the most difficult part of this journey.
From the moment I processed this news, a calm confidence has filled my spirit. Where fear, doubt, and worry could hide, confidence has held residence instead. Large Cell Neuroendocrine cancer is extremely aggressive and, more often than not, fatal. However, this cancer is behaving unusual in my body. Unusually good. Sounds oxymoronic considering it’s return, however, it’s seemingly losing it’s power inside of me. Typically, this disease grows out of control and spreads quickly. Because both my hormonal and nervous system (Neuroendocrine) are under attack, this cancer has no bounds to where it can travel. In fact, in many cases, it heads to the lungs and brain rapidly. Yet, for some reason, it is remaining very localized in my pelvic region. It’s attaching itself to surgically removable organs. It is nowhere else in my body, and is no longer growing out of control. The tumor this time is significantly smaller than the second softball-sized tumor that developed within three months. I have been out of treatment for nearly six months, and was nearing the one year mark for being cancer free. All of these facts are good. They give me great confidence that once we remove this last ovary, the cancer will see nowhere else to grow and will cease residency in my body. I’m not dying from cancer. God has bigger things in store.
On October 6th, Matt and I will be running our very first 5k. We have been training for nearly eight weeks, and have put a lot of sweaty effort into our goal. This race immediately flashed in front of my eyes upon hearing the news that I would need surgery and chemotherapy all over again. “I WILL run this race. We’ll postpone surgery if we have to, but we ARE running this race.” Matt was adamant that I was delusional, but agreed to speak with my doctor. Explaining that this accomplishment would mean so much, I was insistent that cancer not take it away from me. Thankfully my doctor agreed, and smiling, she told us to run the 5k. Thank you, Jesus! Postponing surgery a few more days than expected should not have an impact on my health. If at any time between now and surgery, we feel the need to move forward with the procedure earlier, we can and will. However, my hope and prayer is that my pain will remain at a minimum and that the tumor will neither grow nor spread in this time. Our race is in ten days. Surgery is scheduled in eleven days, on October the 7th.
Through all of this, God remains faithful. Our plans and His are not in alignment, yet I know that His will for my life is far greater than I can imagine. For that reason, I continue to trust in His healing power, and know that He’s got this all figured out.
Psalm 138:8 (MSG)
“When I walk into the thick of trouble, keep me alive in the angry turmoil. With one hand strike my foes, with your other hand save me. Finish what you started in me, God. Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now.”
Yesterday I made the familiar walk into my second home. The hospital. I hadn’t been through those doors in over three months, and the typically all familiar halls were strangely foreign this time. For nearly two years, the hospital environment had been a weekly sight, yet since my latest cancer-free results, I haven’t needed to visit until my most recent follow-up CT scan. I strolled confidently to the floor of high-tech machines and qualified nurses and technicians, checked in, and began the wait with my most favorite oral iodinated “tropical fruit” flavored beverage in hand… Side note: Whoever markets these oral contrast drinks lies. Perhaps they have lost their taste buds due to the amount of taste tests they’ve had to endure. Perhaps they’ve never experienced the true flavor of fresh tropical fruits. Or, perhaps they slap that description on the bottle in hopes that patients will believe them, knowing full well we won’t. Have you smelled antifreeze? Have you smelled something and immediately been able to imagine it’s taste? “Tropical fruit” flavored oral iodinated contrast tastes like what antifreeze smells like. Now imagine drinking 16 ounces of that. Makes your mouth water similar to the way it does right before you vomit, right? I digress…
Scanxiety will forever exist in my life. No matter how far I get away from treatment and the closer I get to remission, scanxiety, to some degree, will persist. It’s the anxiety experienced before an impending scan. The feeling encountered when the “what if’s” begin. When the unknown has the potential to excite, relieve, and overwhelm, as much as it has the potential to disappoint, stress, and underwhelm. In the beginning of my battle against this beast called cancer (I don’t capitalize it for a reason), scanxiety was at an utmost high. The unknown was so unchartered that my weak physical and mental body could barely defend itself against the “what if” bandits. As I have grown and gathered more armor for this battle, I have been better able to fight off these fearful thoughts. Yet, no matter how strong and confident I am in my Healer, the bandits lurk in the shadows, continuously peeking around corners to make sure I know they have not left. The degree of persistence is varied, and as I get closer to fully annihilating this disease, the scanxiety wanes.
Yesterday, I couldn’t identify what I was feeling. The “what if” bandits were as quiet as a whisper, yet I didn’t feel entirely confident. To clarify, I was neither diffident nor afraid. But there was such an internal battle waging inside my spirit that I couldn’t focus on my feelings. Was I fearful that the monster had taken residency in my body again? No. Was I sure that the results would show no evidence of disease? No. My senses were clouded, as I could not differentiate if I was feeling good or bad about the possible results. Yet, no matter how thick the fog on my prediction was, my spirit was focused on the One bigger than any result.
There are many in-between moments in life. Times when we must wait between our dreams and fruition. I’ve spoken about the gap before. In these moments, our patience is tested. Our faith is tested. During the in-betweens, our character is revealed. Do we make the choice to be impatient and allow the floodgates of worry to envelop us? Or, do we stand firmly, confident that He who has been beside us through it all, will be faithful to carry us to victory? Being still isn’t easy. Being still doesn’t mean not moving. Being still means allowing yourself to fall into the arms of the One who saves. For in His arms, we cannot be influenced. We are safe, un-touched, and protected.
Between the scan and the results, I have choices. I can allow the “what if” bandits to turn up their volume and spread fear, doubt, and worry. I can turn off the volume of negativity, and replace it with a confidence in my ability to beat cancer; confident, sure, and self-reliant that I did it. Or, I can turn off all of the noise around me and be still, awaiting His voice, for my God, my Sovereign Healer, already knows the results. These three choices all have differing outcomes. If I choose to listen to the lurking fear and doubt, I will be catapulted into a pit of despair and worry, completely losing sight on He who holds me in His hands. If I choose to quiet the fear, and inflate my own abilities, I will become self-reliant, independently destructive, and will see no need for God. If I choose to be still, press into Him, and allow Jesus to comfort me in the waiting period, I will find peace, assurance, and rest.
Sometimes these three choices are difficult to decide upon, for we don’t see the outcomes of each. But if we are aware of the outcome, the choice should be simple. Peace, assurance, and rest are what I seek, so I must quiet the noise around me and focus on Him, and Him alone. The “what if” bandits and self-reliance will soon become muddled. Resting in God’s hands blocks all noise.
And so I wait. Being still. Patient. Until I receive the news, I will focus my eyes on He who is greater than any scan result.
Psalm 91:1 (ESV)
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”
CT Scan (September 2013)
30 days until the beginning of a new voyage.
Arising while the sun is still in slumber.
Lacing up shoes and adorning the best running gear.
Treading outside, nervous, and anxious for the impending event.
Venturing into the heart of the city.
Gathering alongside the thousands expected to join the expedition.
Stretching muscles in preparation.
Swimming through the crowd of camaraderie.
30 days until we hear the starting signal and launch ourselves into the unknown.
30 days until our very first 5k race!
Proverbs 16:3 (MSG)
“Put God in charge of your work, then what you’ve planned will take place.”
“‘Tis the season for having babies… If only it were that simple for all of us.
From my earliest memories, I have longed to be a mother. I wanted children and figured by now I’d have already been pregnant and delivered healthy babies. I figured that we’d be knee-deep in diapers, pacifiers, cries, and poop. But as our life continues, we are still childless. Some days are easier than others, but we continue to grieve the loss of fertility.
Never did we imagine that our dreams of conceiving, carrying, and delivering would be erased. Never did we imagine that we wouldn’t be alongside our friends with kids in tow. Never did we imagine that we’d never see if our babies would have my blue eyes or Matt’s thick and luscious hair. Never did we imagine that I would get cancer. Clearly imagining doesn’t always produce results.
Being in our late twenties, nearly all of our peers are either pregnant or have newborns or toddlers. I can think of only a couple of our young and married friends who do not have children yet. Everyone else has a baby bump, a child in their arms, and/or kids running through their home.”
This past weekend, I began to think about this entry. This idea of writing about fertility, or rather, our loss of fertility. In fact, I’ve thought about this post for several months. I actually wrote the above section many weeks ago. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t feel ready to complete my thoughts, nor post them. This entry was originally titled, “Infertility Isolation,” however, as time has passed, my thoughts have transformed, developed, and grown. In no way do I want to come across as bitter, angry, or envious. And seeing my written words, I notice that if I were to finish my original idea, it may leave those whom I love feeling guilty for the blessing of pregnancy and children. Please know, that’s not what I want. That’s not my intention. I am genuinely and deeply happy for those blessed with such a miraculous gift(s). Therefore, as I sat in church yesterday (forgive me Pastor Doug!), I began to journal. The sermon was extremely fitting. In the midst of writing, listening to the Word, and reflecting, I heard our pastor say…”We cannot compare our overflow with anyone else’s overflow.” Meaning, our blessings are incomparable to the blessings of others. We must remember that we are given a special story, unlike anyone else’s. And, truthfully, that’s exciting. Below are my thoughts from yesterday and today…
Are we really happy for other people when they experience favor and blessings? Or do we look at them with a jealous spirit?
After cancer, an unwanted fog has seemed to linger in my life. I am abundantly thankful that I am currently cancer-free (for nearly 9 months now). I am grateful that my energy, health, and body are being restored. I am truly blessed to wake up every single morning with breath in my lungs. I am in no way minimizing any of those miracles, yet sometimes the after-effects from treatment don’t slough off as speedily as I’d prefer. The dust continues to settle, and I feel so far behind. I’m looking out from my eyes on a life that doesn’t appear to be my own. My life is not where I expected it to be.
I’m stating the obvious, right? I mean, I should know that by now. After all, my life forever changed on January 25, 2012 at my diagnosis. Duh. But some days, it hasn’t fully set in. I am a work in progress, and my life continually reflects that.
When we get stuck living life clinging to the past and what we “thought” things would be, bitterness, anger, and envy towards others can evolve. My husband and I both believed that by now we would own a home and have children running through it. Yet, here we are, still living in an apartment, with only “fur babies” to call our own. I am barren—incapable of creating and sustaining life within me. It would be easy to view everyone else with bitter jealousy after being dealt such a crappy hand. It would be simple to think, “Look at the abundant blessings that they have. Babies. Homes. Fabulous Jobs. Wealth.” However, like with most things in life, I am making the choice to not live in envy. No matter how natural those feelings may be, I am making the decision to choose joy. Joy in my own story, and joy for the stories that surround me.
Grief is an inexplicable thing. It ebbs and flows. I’ve spoken about it before HERE. Some days are easier than others. But through grief, wisdom is born. Grief can last for weeks, months, and even years. However, once we work through the sorrowful moments, wisdom, knowledge, and perspective mature.
Seeing my dearest friends with the cutest baby bumps warms my heart. They are adorable. Now that I have moved forward in my journey through grieving my infertility, I am genuinely elated for those with the miracle of life growing within them. I am astounded at the true miracle that occurs… astounded that a human being is developing within another. God never ceases to amaze me. I enjoy celebrating the pregnancies of my friends. I enjoy feeling their baby kick from the outside. I enjoy asking questions; Probably too many questions, in fact. “How does it feel when the baby moves?” “Do you think it’s a boy or a girl?” “Are you choosing natural labor or an epidural?” When I hear the news of another friend expecting a child, I am thrilled for them. Who am I to be angry that God chose to bless them? Blessings are gifts. No matter if the blessings are pouring over my life or onto another’s, we are to celebrate joyfully with those who surround us. My heart is healing, and my joy is overflowing. Now, for those few friends who have yet to be pregnant, I can’t help but ask, “When are you having kids?!” And if I haven’t harassed you yet, beware, your time will come!
God blessings on each of our lives are unique. Not one of His gifts are cloned for multiple people. Sure, the gifts of pregnancy and parenthood are gifted to many, yet the blessing is in the child whom is given to us. And no child is the same. Matt and I will be parents one day, of this I am certain. I am joyfully expectant for the journey in meeting our children for the first time. For now, I am choosing to be happy for those who are receiving their gifts today, for mine will soon come.
Today, I challenge you. Rather than envying those who surround us, take a step back and be thankful for what God has already blessed you with. His never-ending gifts are unique to each of us. If He has placed a dream in your heart, He wants to honor that. Don’t give up hope. Blessings are about to overflow!
Living in the overflow of blessings! (July 2013)
Proverbs 14:30 (ESV)
“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”