Comfort in Unfamiliarity

(Guest post by Matt)

I write this blog post at Stephanie’s request while sitting in a vast expanse of a waiting room. This is not the usual waiting room I write from on surgery days. In fact, this isn’t even the usual hospital that I write from. Today’s surgery is taking place at a different location than the others, because today’s surgery is in a different part of Stephanie’s body.

To catch up those who may not know, Stephanie’s most recent CT scan revealed something on or near her left adrenal gland. This comes after months of thinking we were out of the woods with surgeries. After getting the results, Stephanie and I consulted a friend from our church who is a pediatric urologist. This led us to a referral to another doctor, who is regarded as the top adrenal surgeon in the state of Colorado. After meeting with him, the decision was made to get into the operating room soon to remove whatever this mass is. As I write, Stephanie’s patient number is still green on the board in the waiting room, which means that she is currently in the operating room having it removed.

Another surgery is not what we wanted. It’s not what we expected. Nerves get heightened with each surgery that happens. We are both over it, and we never want to have to step foot in a hospital again. But at the same time, we know that God is still good. We are still believing in miracles. We’re believing that whatever this thing is that is on or around her adrenal is benign. As scary as it is, we still have faith.

One of our friends from church told us something a couple weeks ago that still resonates with me. She said that God has provided a stage through Stephanie’s story and, because of that, people are watching. It’s one thing for the miraculous to happen when no one is paying attention, but it’s quite another for God to show off when people are paying attention. That’s what we are believing. We believe that no matter what happens, God will show up and show off to proclaim His name to people who may not know who He is.

Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement. Keep them coming, because there is power in prayer. We’re believing.

Mark 5:36 (ESV)

“Do not fear, only believe.”

Pruning What Doesn’t Belong

A fourth surgery in less than three years? No problem. In fact, I told my doctor if he needed to cut me open from my shoulders to my knees, I wouldn’t care. Just get the job done. Remove what doesn’t belong.

Last week Matt and I drove to a meeting with our newly appointed team member. A urologist, who happens to be the top adrenal surgeon in the state. He’s one of the many doctors on our team who helps navigate and combat this dreaded thing called cancer. I currently have a gynecologic oncologist, radiation oncologist, general oncologist, and now a urologist, among the slew of techs and nurses helping as well. Adding a new doctor to the team is always met with some hesitancy (on my part), as I become comfortable with those who have treated me over the last couple of years. My team of doctors and I have grown as a family. The hospital where I have received 99.9% of my treatment is a second home.

Adding a new doctor is like welcoming a new in-law to the family. Will I like him/her? Is he/she going to be able to keep pace in our conversations? Can I see myself spending hours and hours with this person? Can I place my trust in this person’s hands? As my medical team has become family, it’s quite entertaining to see what role each of them falls into. The one who is like an aunt whom you can cry and laugh with, and tell your darkest secrets to, all the while feeling great comfort. The epitome of a distant uncle who awkwardly hits it to you straight and leaves you hanging mid-air wondering what he’ll say next. The sister figure who has your best interest in heart, but doesn’t mind telling you the truth when you need to hear it. The cousins who greet you and play catch-up for the mere minutes you have to see them. Every person on our team fills a role in our medical family. Each one serves a purpose and is vital in my fight against cancer.

Though we’ve only met my new doctor once (on our four-year wedding anniversary, might I add), I can confidently say that I trust him. Matt and I both do. He is smart, professional, and compassionate and, after our meeting with him, we are ready to move forward in the next step. As I’ve mentioned HERE, I have a tumor on my left adrenal gland. The CT and PET show “activity” in the mass, however, based on its location, there is not 100% certainty that it is malignant. From what our doctor discussed with us, we know that adrenal masses happen and are often completely benign. Of course, based on my history, we have to be cautious. Caution and cancer go hand in hand.

Upon having our conversation, my doctor, husband, and I decided it’s best to proceed with surgery to remove this unlabeled mass. Usually, there is talk about doing a biopsy whenever a spot shows up on my scan, but it’s quickly ruled out. This time was no different. For a minute we passed over the idea of taking a biopsy of this tumor, but the risk of spreading the cells (cancer or not) is too great. IF it happens to be malignant, we don’t want  it to spread and wreak havoc elsewhere in my body. This is a disease you don’t want to piss off. Therefore, I’m going under the knife once again.

This will be my fourth major surgery since diagnosis. At this point, I like to consider myself a professional. I’m not concerned. In fact, I would rather be cut open to remove the entirety of the unknown intruder cells as opposed to just peeking through the door, taking a piece, and testing them. My scan is showing something that shouldn’t be there, and although it may not even be cancerous, I don’t like things where they don’t belong.

Pruning is a must in all areas of our existence. While I have undergone surgery to remove malignant masses in my body, likewise I have undergone metaphorical surgery to remove toxicity out of my life. We often hear certain things being compared to cancer. “He is a cancer in the group. He pulls everyone down with him.” Nothing about cancer has a positive connotation. It is the worst of the worst. It will destroy you from the inside out. Ridding ourselves of cancer and its metaphorical meaning is vital to live a healthy life. We prune gardens, cutting back the weeds to allow flowers to blossom, and likewise we should be pruning our lives.

Is there an area of your life that is so full of weeds, it’s taking over your world? Are the weeds drowning out who you really are? Have you ignored the weeds, hoping that they’ll go away on their own? We must cut back what doesn’t belong and rid ourselves of what shouldn’t take residence in our lives. It could be a toxic relationship, hidden addiction, or unhealthy patterns. We all have areas that need to be pruned.

Just as surgery hurts, pruning hurts as well. Removing what doesn’t belong will cause pain, and that’s often why many people avoid it. But once the weeds are removed, the blossoms can thrive. Though we are believing this mass is not cancer, it still doesn’t belong. Therefore, this coming Monday (6/16), Matt and I will venture into the hospital once more to do some pruning. The doctor believes he can perform the surgery laparoscopically. If this is the case, my recovery will be much easier. We are confident in this process, and are expecting wonderful results.

Please be praying for myself, Matt, and our newly added team of medical staff. While I receive all of the fun parts of surgery (sedation, pain medication, and doting nurses), Matt sits in the wings for hours awaiting the results.

While we prepare for pruning, ask yourself what needs to be pruned in your life?

pruning quote for DMD

John 15:2 (ESV)

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

 

 

Caregiving: A Perspective From Both Sides of The Coin

(As featured on Cancer Knowledge Network)

Most of you know me as the writer in our family. Little do you know, my husband is talented in written form as well. Recently, Matt and I were asked to co-write an article for a Canadian publication. We were invited to share our perspectives on caregiving and the vital role it plays in one’s journey through cancer. I was, and still am amazed at my husband’s words. They have touched my soul, just as I know they will yours…

Stephanie (Survivor):

A cancer diagnosis never affects just the person afflicted with the disease. Though the doctor found a malignant tumor growing inside of me, she might as well have told my husband that he had one growing inside of him as well.

In June of 2010, I walked down the red-carpeted aisle of an old, spacious, and magnificent cathedral to marry my best friend. From our second date, I knew he was the one I would spend the rest of my life with. We shared laughter, adventure, and innumerable conversations. He stole my heart and has protected it from the moment it entered his grasp. Within weeks of meeting each other, we fell in love and began planning our future – when we would have children, where we would live and raise our family, even the color of paint we would choose for the walls of our dream home. We had life figured out and were valiantly prepared to take on the world together, hand in hand.

One and a half years later our plans were derailed. At the age of 25, I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. It was as if the canvas we had sketched our dreams on was wiped clean. The plans we had set forth were redefined and put on hold. We soon entered into the gates of Cancerland and were quickly thrust into an unknown arena. Decisions had to be made, and treatment began immediately.

Through multiple surgeries and treatments, recurrences, and cancer-free scans, my husband has stood firmly by my side in every moment. He has courageously taken the role as my caregiver, and has sacrificially offered to help with my countless needs. Not many realize that I am not the only one in this fight. My husband is firmly planted next to me on the front lines. When I rested in hospital recliners receiving treatments, Matt sat on the uncomfortable chairs beside me without complaint. When I was weak and pitifully sick, he would assure me and rub my back in comfort. When I had moments of depression and couldn’t battle fearful thoughts, he would encourage and pray for me. He shaved his head when I lost my hair so I wouldn’t feel alone. At my weakest, my husband mustered up strength and bravery to help me through. All without second guessing or complaint.

I’ve often shared that the role of a caregiver is equally as important as the patient fighting cancer. Though I was the one ingesting toxins to battle the disease within me, my husband fought just as hard behind the scenes, making sure I could withstand the fight. He has sacrificed so much just to care for me. His patience, concern, encouragement, compassion, and love have altered the way I fight cancer. I am stronger with him beside me.

He is my guardian. We fight this disease together.

Matt (Caregiver):

Have you ever seen the movie The Bodyguard?

Kevin Costner is a total badass in that movie. I watched it a lot when I was a kid. He ran around, protecting Whitney Houston from stalkers and bullets. He was a hero. I wanted to be a hero.

I can’t say I was fully prepared when my life started to parallel that story. My wife was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer over two years ago. When we got the news, I knew that the roller coaster ride would soon commence. Life would never be what it once was, nor would it play out in the way I had intended. Instead of buying a house, a car, and having kids, we would be shuttling off to surgeries, chemotherapy treatments and radiation appointments, all the while keeping track of our mileage in hopes of writing the expense off on our taxes.

Let’s face it; in reality, I’m not fending off over-obsessed fans or valiantly diving in front of bullets (thank the Lord). My role is more concealed. Instead of being front and center, I’m like the Kevin Costner waiting in the wings, keeping an ever-watchful eye on everything that’s going on. And unlike Kevin Costner, there’s not a whole lot I could do except be there. I can’t make the disease go away. I can pray, and I can be there whenever my wife needs me. When my wife was sick in the middle of the night, I was awake with her. When she was too weak to get out of bed on her own strength, I helped her up. When all she could or wanted to do was lay on the couch, that’s all I did, too. I instantly became a professional chauffeur, personal assistant, and expert dog taker-outer. If I wasn’t at home or at the hospital, I was at the pharmacy, standing off to the side while the staff gathered up the hundreds of dollars worth of home injections and pills that I didn’t have the capacity to afford. As a caregiver, you do whatever it takes.

In those times, I’d often think back to the day I married Stephanie. “For richer or poorer… In sickness and in health.”

So this is what that meant. This is what I meant.

Being a caregiver is not a glamorous gig. As a caregiver, you hold down the fort. Your partner is down, and it’s all on you now: the house, the kids (or, in our case, the dogs), the money, the bills, making sure your family is fed, that they have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs… and the whole “giving care” part. That’s your job now. Your job is no longer just your job. You will lose sleep. You will not be able to do some of the things you used to enjoy. You will sacrifice your own health to ensure the health of your loved one. And you will need never-ending amounts of grace and forgiveness.

You will do all of this, and you will likely not be recognized for any of it. You will feel left out. You’re in the wings, remember? When things go bad, prayers and support are 99.9% directed at your loved one. When things go well, congratulations and well-wishes will also be 99.9% directed at your loved one.

You’re the unsung hero, the bodyguard. Stay out of the way and save the day.

Often times, my wife gets told that she is someone’s hero. Nearly every day, she hears that from someone. People lavish her with praise, saying she inspires them. They want to make sure that Stephanie knows how much she means to them.

For me, my wife is the one telling me that I’m her hero. When she is everyone else’s hero, I’m hers. She sees what I do, the sacrifices I’ve made to make her as comfortable as possible as she fights the hardest fight of her life. She appreciates me. That’s awesome. That being said, if you know someone who is a caregiver, tell them how you feel about them. Do you appreciate them? Tell them. It’s amazing what encouragement can do. For every person you know who is faced with cancer or some other life-altering affliction, there is also someone in their corner who, if you’re honest with yourself, you likely have never noticed.

No one is meant to fight alone.

Philippians 2:4 (ESV)

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

422862_915856524442_17293365_n

Complicated Results and Abundant Faith

It’s that time of the year again. My three month follow up scan has arrived. If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, you know that I laid on the hard, metal table one week ago. The results are in…

There’s a spot on my left adrenal gland.

Before you begin jumping to conclusions, let me explain. We aren’t positive that this lesion is even cancer. This is a spot that has lit up on the last few of my scans, and first made it’s appearance in October. Since then, I’ve had several rounds of chemotherapy. Throughout it all, this unknown mass has remained. It has grown slightly in size over the last seven months, but doesn’t seem to be affecting my body’s function.

When I was first told of the news, I didn’t even know what an adrenal gland was. One of our close friends is a doctor in this field and was able to explain to us in non-medical terms what we were dealing with. The adrenal gland is essentially a hat on top of the kidney. It’s purpose is to produce hormones such as stress and adrenaline. Each kidney gets it’s own adrenal gland, so, naturally we all have two. This lesion could potentially be one of three things.

  1. A benign non-functioning tumor. In which case, it’s a mass that serves no purpose and isn’t affecting my adrenal function.
  2. A benign functioning tumor. This is a tumor that is releasing it’s own hormones like stress and adrenaline.
  3. A malignant tumor. Also known as, cancer.

Of course, we won’t definitively know what this spot is until it is biopsied and sent to a pathologist. However, based on my history in Cancerland, we can conjure up an idea of what it may or may not be. Most likely we can rule out it being a benign functioning tumor. If this were the case, I would be experiencing symptoms like heart racing and bloodshot eyes, which I’m not. It would be obvious if this mass was functioning on it’s own, and from what we can see, it’s not doing much.

There is a chance that this could be another recurrence. However, taking my history of malignancies into account, although this lesion has grown, it has not increased as rapidly as my other recurrent tumors. If you recall, my first recurrence was a softball-sized tumor that developed within three months. That mass grew rapidly and aggressively and even began affecting my hormonal functions. In addition to the difference in growth, my body has proven to respond very well to chemotherapy. If this were a malignancy it would be quizzical to have had no response to treatment. For these reasons and more, we believe this is not a malignant tumor.

This leaves the possibility of it being a simple mass that serves no purpose other than to annoy us by showing up around my left kidney. A little pest that has chosen to, for whatever reason, hang out on my adrenal gland. Matt and I strongly believe that a non-functioning tumor is what’s lurking inside of me.

We have abundant faith that this is not cancer.

Arguments can be made for both sides — malignant and benign. Yes, based on these last two years, an unknown mass can lead many to immediately think cancer. However, just as likely, it could be something completely unrelated. Not everything inside of me has to be marked by this disease.

Regardless of what this lesion is, it will need to be removed. Cancer or not, I don’t need something harassing my adrenal gland. Therefore, I will have surgery at some point. Honestly, I am not fazed in the slightest. I’ve already been through three major surgeries in the last couple of years. I’m familiar with the process and recovery. I know all too well about the discomfort and pain. Surgery no longer scares me. I trust that God has my life in His hands; Just as He orchestrated what has been, He orchestrates what will be.

This morning I venture back into the hospital to lay on another hard table while a loud spinning machine takes several images of my insides. This scan will be a full body PET scan and will show all of my internal organs, including my brain. Compared to the CT scans that I receive every three months, a PET goes deeper in it’s imaging and is far more comprehensive. We may or may not learn more information from this scan. This step is necessary to make sure there are no other masses growing elsewhere in my body.

Next week a new doctor will be added to our team, and we will meet with him to discuss surgery. He will go over the hundreds of documents that have chronicled my medical journey and review each scan image that has been taken. He officially has a new patient that comes baring a lot of medical baggage, and it’ll be interesting to hear his opinion on my case.

For now, we hope and pray. As I mentioned, Matt and I are not fearful, but full of abundant faith. We aren’t anxious, nervous, or even the slightest bit afraid. Standing in faith, we believe this growing lesion is not cancer. We believe that I am still cancer free and will remain so for the rest of my life. We believe that the chapter of cancer has closed and we are entering in to the next season of our lives. We are not only believing, but declaring this. God is so mighty in His power, we are calling upon Him to perform a miracle. He beckons us to have faith, to knock so He can answer, and to trust in Him. Therefore, while believing and trusting in Him, we are asking that this mass that has shown itself on my scans for seven months, will not appear on my PET scan. We are praying that whatever this spot is, will vanish. I actually laugh as I pray, because I can picture my team of doctors jaw-dropped as they read the report and view the images, and see the once 2.6cm mass completely gone.

So, while I don’t have the best news to share, I don’t have the worst news either. The results from my CT scan are merely a speed bump on the journey. This is a moment that the enemy is attempting to lead us to question God. I know he is asking us, “Are you sure you’re healed?” He wants to lead us down the path of emotional and spiritual destruction, but we stand against it. We aren’t entertaining the thoughts and fears that try to creep in. We won’t open a door until God tells us to. For now, we are firm in our faith, and believe in healing. We ask that you would stand with us and believe for a cancer free report.

Luke 8:50 (ESV)

“But Jesus on hearing this answered him, ‘Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.’”

A Big Thank You

Every week I receive emails from readers sharing how I’ve helped them through their own journeys. Readers that tell me how inspiring, raw, authentic, and brave I am to share my story so openly. Men and women alike express to me their own struggles, spurred on by the openness in mine. Emails stating my writing is unique, clear, true, and often humorous. With every one of these emails, letters, comments, and notes, I am amazed… and grateful.

I’ve always been a writer. Not paid. Not professionally. In fact, I didn’t even go to school for writing. From my adolescent years, I’ve always kept journals — Jotting down my thoughts and emotions as a way to express my life. I’d pass notes in school to dear friends, pour out my teenage heart in puppy-love letters to old high school boyfriends, and send apology notes to my parents in attempts to say, “I’m sorry.” As my husband and I started dating, I kept a journal specifically for him, sharing my dreams and goals for our future. On our wedding day, I gave him this journal and invited him to begin writing our story with me. Writing has been buried within my soul long before I can remember.

A word is the deepest, most powerful and expressive way to convey thought. Words can inspire and help, or hurt and destroy. Words are a delicate tool that we have been gifted, and heed should be taken when using them.

As I’ve grown, writing has presented itself boldly on the forefront of my life. Upon diagnosis, I was called so strongly to share my journey that I don’t think I could have chosen not to. I was meant to write. At the time, I had no understanding of why. No reasons for sharing my little journey through life and cancer. No idea of what publicizing this story would do for me and for others. I obeyed that calling, if only for the fact that I could update friends and family on the latest additions in my treatment. After all, writing on a public blog was significantly easier than spending six hours on the phone like I did the day I was diagnosed.

Little did I know what was to come from an act of obedience. While it’s been natural for me to express my heart in words, it hasn’t always been easy sharing my largest struggle publicly. There have been times when I didn’t feel comfortable sharing how sick I felt. Times when I was fearful of what my readers would think of me if I told them I felt defeated. Moments of uncertainty in sharing my heart on the loss of my fertility. Moments when I didn’t want to write about cancer at all. And great sadness as I’ve had to share of my past recurrences with this dreaded disease. Yet, no matter how hard it has been, it’s been equally as rewarding.

… Because of you, the reader. My support team. The ones who have followed my journey from the beginning and have trusted my process. Those of you who have rallied around me, encouraging me from miles away. Those of you who have cried in your homes for me and for the many others fighting cancer. Those of you who have held my hand and prayed fervently for my healing. The many that I have yet to meet, who are actively standing and believing alongside me. And those who are fighting a battle similar to mine, sharing your stories with me through emails.

Thank you.

Not one of your comments, emails, notes, and even tweets go unnoticed. I read every single one, and try my hardest to respond to them all. I am touched that you take the time out of your busy lives to stop and read my words. To check in with me and see how I’m doing. To pray and encourage me through the high and low points. To notice my husband who is fighting equally as hard beside me. I am humbled that you would find interest in my story, in my process, and in my journey.

Of the hundreds of emails I receive, there are quite a few that stand out and affirm my decision for being so open. A man in Germany explained that he has never been able to put into words what he felt through treatment until he read my posts. A woman who has been struggling with the loss of her daughter finds encouragement through what I write about. A man once shared with me that after the tragic and unexpected passing of his loved one, he physically hadn’t been able to get off the couch until he read my story. Parents have written to me expressing their loss of a child. Women share feelings about their own loss of fertility, and the encouragement and camaraderie that my raw emotions gave them. Many express that, through the words of this blog, they have found their strength and identity in who they are beyond cancer.

Hearing that my willingness to be open about my fight with cancer is encouraging people from across the world, inspires me greatly. The encouragement you receive from me is equally received by me from you. When you write and share what you have learned through your own story, you bless me. When you tell me that you are encouraged to be more than just another statistic, you bless me. When you stand in agreement and believe with me that your diagnosis does not define you, you bless me. When you read my story and keep up with the latest twist in my roller coaster of life, you bless me. When you share my story with your friend or family who is struggling, you bless me. When you celebrate with me in the great times, and weep with me in the dark times, you bless me.

Thank you for following my story, and for inviting me into your homes through your TVs, computers, and radios. Thank you for being patient and understanding of me when I pour out the hidden places of my heart. Thank you for rallying beside my husband and I as we enter into new seasons in life.

Thank you. I look forward to what’s to come!

DMD Thank You

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (MSG)

“So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.”

The Shadow of Cancer

Cancer has the potential to affect every detail in my life. It can sink into the nooks and crannies, and infiltrate the depths of my existence. It can wedge itself where it doesn’t belong. Cancer is capable of lurking in the very DNA of my own shadow.

Before this disease, I was fairly carefree. Decisions were made based on what my husband and I felt was best for our lives. While living within the “God filter,” there were no other major factors to be taken into consideration. After all, we were young and healthy. It was (at the time) just the three of us: Matt and I, and our pup, Scout. I chuckle as I recall our main concern being who would take care of our dog when we went out of town. Or saving up enough money to spend on Matt’s annual eye appointment and subsequent contacts and eyeglasses purchase. Oh, the simple life.

Upon entering the gates of Cancerland, every thought, decision, and action was then funneled through an additional filter. Cancer. Could I get on an airplane to see my brother graduate college? Only if my white blood cells were high enough to withstand the amount of germs in the air from strangers around me. Could I go on a date with my husband? Only if I was feeling well enough to leave the house, and that was usually not until the second week after a chemotherapy treatment. Could I take a hot shower? Only if I wanted my skin to fall off. (Remember my Hand and Foot Syndrome?) Could I skip some medication? Not unless I wanted to spend hours heaving pathetically over the toilet.

Friends and family soon became aware that any plan we made was only tentative and not set-in-stone. I cancelled on more people than I care to admit. If only it was because I didn’t want to hang out with them. Unfortunately, it was my cancer shadow. The one that followed me everywhere, and still tries to make an appearance on my life as a survivor. Plans were changed, relationships faltered, and life got complicated. With every decision, cancer had to be acknowledged. I couldn’t live carefree. It was no longer just our little family of three. We soon were filtering our lives through the cancer sieve.

Personal and intimate details of our lives weren’t even safe against the shadow. When will we have children? It depends on how long I am cancer free. How will we have children? Unless by immaculate conception, it would be impossible to carry a child with no lady parts. Should we purchase a house? Only if we are willing to take the risk of a recurrence, leaving us unable to pay for said home. Will I have hair by the time I’m a bridesmaid in one of my best friend’s wedding? Depends on how long I’ve been out of chemo.

Nothing was free from the looming dark shadow of cancer. Not even my mind. When I was first diagnosed, I became hypersensitive to the words, “death,” “die,” and “kill.” Hearing, “I would kill for a fill in the blank,” would leave me emotionally reeling. Or, “I could curl up and die,” would often leave my eyes pooled with tears. “I feel like death,” would send me straight to thoughts of my own demise. I would change the TV channel, listen to a different song, or politely excuse myself from a conversation if such words were spoken in my presence. Receiving news about a loved one passing away would instantaneously cause me anxiety and fear. Was I afraid of death per say? No; I know where I’m going. However, I surely didn’t want anything to do with dying just yet.

The shadow of cancer lurks in every vulnerable place of my mind. It’s hiding behind moments of greatness, waiting for me to slip up and fall. It’s whispering and teasing me and attempting to remind me that I can not forget about it. Just like cancer, its shadow is equally as damaging. It takes all that’s within me and more to stop the acknowledgment of my cancer shadow. Cancer doesn’t define me and, though it’s been a large part of my life, it’s not who I am.

We all have shadows. Shadows of our past. Shadows of shame and regret. Shadows of missed opportunities, closed doors, and misfortune. None of us are exempt from having a shadow. Too often many of us are consistently looking at our shadow, as if it’s going to change. We can’t erase what’s done, but we can walk with our eyes forward. Rather than screening our decisions and actions through our past filters, let’s instead push everything through our God filters. Our past comes and goes, but God is never-changing.

What is your shadow? What filter are you living through?

Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

“…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight

9781414364780

Not only am I a writer, but I’m also an avid reader. Bookshelves line an entire wall in our home office, and books are found resting from ceiling to floor. 90% of those books have been read by me. I simply can’t get enough. Literature has woven itself into my inner being, and I can’t possibly fathom a world without books, stories, and adventures.

I have recently discovered an author whom I respect and admire. Her latest book, Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight has inspired, encouraged and challenged me. Kasey Van Norman is a nationally known Bible teacher, full-time counselor, and bestselling author. She makes her home on a 280 acre ranch in Central Texas, rescuing minors from sex-trafficking and severe neglect. God has given her a story so powerful, Kasey uses it to “ignite a flame of passion in the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike.”

Kasey begins Raw Faith by sharing that she did not want to write this book. “It took God punching me in the gut with cancer to shake off my Christian anesthesia and wake me up from a ‘playing church’… and pacifier kind of faith.” Shortly after the release of her first book, Named by God, Kasey faced a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. One that shook her faith to the core. A diagnosis and subsequent battle that had her wrestling with God Himself.

In Raw Faith, Kasey exposes her heart to the reader in ways many rarely have the courage to do. She challenges us to “face our faith” in moments when pain and suffering come upon our lives and shares that her own personal journey left her faith feeling “like a gaping wound, raw and exposed and tender to the touch.” By asking questions and sharing different perspectives, she encourages us to take an inventory of our own faith condition.

Through a combination of intimate journal entries and solid biblical references, Kasey encourages the reader to allow God to press into our gaping faith wounds. She shares personal moments when she was at her lowest, “bald-headed and weak as a kitten, dry-heaving into a bucket,” and calls us to change our perspective. God has allowed us to endure hardships in order to set us up for His greatness and faithfulness to be displayed in our lives. Our story, just like Kasey’s, has purpose. More purpose than we may ever understand.

Raw Faith confronts the raw issues. Kasey calls them the “toxic D’s”- denial, depression, and discouragement. She expresses a sentiment that I can wholeheartedly understand and agree with: “The most toxic side effect of my cancer diagnosis wasn’t what was happening in my body; it was what was happening in my head and my heart.” She gives the reader tools and references to combat these real life issues, and helps us realize that we are not powerless against them.

Raw Faith is not only for those of us facing a cancer diagnosis. Anyone who has ever encountered hardship, suffering, or difficult circumstances can glean an incredible amount of encouragement and hope through the chapters of this book. This is a memoir that you will not want to put down. You will laugh and cry as Kasey exposes the hardest trials in her life and the lifelong lessons she has learned through them. She tells it like it is– candid, poignant, and unbridled. Her words will evoke thoughts and emotions that you haven’t felt before. Kasey’s candid expressions will inspire you to be candid in your own journey. Your faith, hope, and joy will be redefined as you dive into Raw Faith.

Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight is a story about meeting the real Jesus, facing your faith, and confronting your fears. I highly recommend this book for anyone facing illness of the mind, body, or spirit and those who are simply feeling stagnant in their faith life. Keep your eyes peeled for the Raw Faith bible study available this month.

James 1:2-4 (ESV)

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

*Book review for Tyndale House Publishers*

 

 

Dream to Reality: Chatting with Ellen DeGeneres

A dream was birthed from the conception of my diagnosis. I had a far-fetched aspiration to go to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Never once did I think this dream would become a reality. In fact, had you told me that my name would be spoken by the woman herself, I would have probably laughed at you. Sitting next to Ellen and having a conversation with her? Ya right. Out of the millions of viewers that tune into her show daily, who was I to stand out in the sea of inspirational stories?

I have tuned in to The Ellen DeGeneres Show for years. Her candid humor, contagious spirit, and positive message are infectious. She offers uplifting perspective, guttural laughter, and the latest updates on celebrity news. Her generous nature is apparent on every show, as she honors a wide array of everyday heroes. Never once have I watched an episode that I haven’t both laughed and cried in. She’s that good. Throughout my seasons of cancer treatments, Ellen DeGeneres has always been a ray of sunshine in the midst of my dark days. No matter how sick, gross, or pathetic I felt, her show was the perfect remedy. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and Ellen has a doctorate in spreading happiness.

I do not enter contests. I have never won anything. I’ve purchased two lottery tickets in my life and was unsuccessful. However, a few months ago, I serendipitously came across a CoverGirl contest that The Ellen DeGeneres Show was hosting. Ellen herself is an Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl and the two joined hands in the recent #bombshelling movement. Among the many variations of the term, bombshelling simply means, “the act of being a bombshell; embracing your inner diva.” The contest invited people to share a selfie and their own inspirational story.

The selfie I sent in to The Ellen Show Without a second thought, I quickly snapped a photo of myself. No wig; Bald in all it’s glory. Light makeup, and a cute chevron scarf. I then drafted a summary of my adventures and lessons through cancer and submitted my entry. Not thinking twice. Quite skeptical in fact, I figured I would never hear back. I don’t win anything, after all. My husband, Matt arrived home from work, and I nonchalantly mentioned that my entry was forging its way among the thousands of others. His response was far from noteworthy, and my news didn’t evoke more than a shoulder shrug. He was all too familiar with my contest history, or lack thereof.

We continued our daily life, and I didn’t give the CoverGirl bombshelling contest much thought. Months later, to my complete and utter shock, I received a phone call from the show. They had sifted through entries and wanted to hear more about my story. At the moment, I couldn’t believe it was happening. A few phone conversations later, and we were invited to sit in the audience at one of Ellen’s tapings. The smile cemented on my face stretched from ear to ear. I could not contain my excitement. Matt and I were elated. My dream was coming true! Ellen Artist Entry Before we knew it, the whirlwind of anticipation and enthusiasm had swept us up and we were walking through the doors of The Ellen Show studio. I felt like a kid in a candy store — grinning and giggling as I was unsure of what to look at, what to take in, and in awe at the wonders of the studio itself. Matt and I found our seats and with the rest of the audience on all sides, were welcomed into a massive dance party. If you have watched Ellen, you know that her show is widely centered around dancing. She moves and grooves. The audience gets jiggy wit’ it. Her guests bust a move. It’s a party, and no one is left out. Halfway through the show, my cheeks were in full-on workout mode from the smile that remained plastered on my face. The energy of being in a studio, clapping, dancing, and laughing with hundreds of others is unparalleled. Happiness was spread like wildfire.

Just as the last segment was underway, Ellen began sharing that she was a CoverGirl. At that point, I firmly grabbed Matt’s leg, and I’m sure my eyes grew twice their original size. With the next blink of my eyelids, a familiar photo was displayed on the back screen. A bald woman, with light makeup and a chevron scarf. Wait, What? I think that’s me. Oh, yes. That’s definitely me. Time jolted forward faster than the speed of light. I heard my name. I heard Ellen say my name. She wanted me to come down to the stage. Is this a joke? Is this real life? Surprisingly, I made it down the steps and onto the stage without tripping and embarrassing myself. I wasn’t however, free from the sight of the camera catching my ugly cry.

After hugging Ellen (yes, I hugged Ellen DeGeneres!), I sat down and chatted with her. The cameras captured my fairly composed responses to her questions, though inside I was a deer in the headlights. We’ve all experienced moments where our dream transforms into a reality, and this was mine. As if having a conversation with Ellen wasn’t enough, she surprised me with a check on behalf of CoverGirl to the tune of ten thousand dollars. At that point, I was astonished, amazed, and flabbergasted. Meeting Ellen DeGeneres, hugging, laughing, and sharing conversation with her would have been enough. However, in true “Ellen style,” she and CoverGirl so generously gifted Matt and I an amount that will help chip away the medical debt that has been accrued from such an arduous journey these past two years.

Copyright: The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Copyright: The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Gratitude doesn’t articulate the depth of thankfulness that my husband and I have experienced. As I stated in an after-show interview, there would never be enough “Thank You’s” to Ellen and CoverGirl for the gift and opportunity they have given me. To be recognized for my message that bald is beautiful is an overwhelming honor. We will forever be grateful for what Ellen and CoverGirl have done for our family.

The response from our surprise on The Ellen DeGeneres Show has been incredible and humbling. The posts on Ellen’s Facebook page and Instagram have received over 90,000 “likes,” and hundreds of comments. What has inspired and humbled me the most are the women who are posting pictures of themselves without wigs on in the comments. To know that my story is touching so many others, is breathtaking. It makes my fight worth it. Thank you all for tuning in and sharing such an exciting moment with us.

Dreams do come true.

CoverGirl Bombshell Shows that Bald is Beautiful
on Yahoo! Shine

Philippians 4:19 (MSG)

“You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus.”

Badge of Honor

_MG_8052Losing hair in an already difficult situation is like rubbing salt in an open wound. As if struggling to survive each day through treatments, medications, and poisonous elixirs isn’t enough, going through it bald is the proverbial cherry on top.

_MG_8040When I first lost my hair, I was unsure about venturing out into the public without something covering my smooth, hairless scalp. I remember the first time I stepped out of the house sporting my new look. As freeing as it felt, I also noticed the amount of unwanted stares I began to receive. The questions, curiosities, and expressions of pity in the eyes of strangers were tangible. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed, but most of all, I was vulnerable. At times I wanted to boldly announce, “I have cancer, alright? Stop staring at me!”

_MG_8089I’ve been baldalicious for the greater part of two years, and have now learned to view it differently than I did in the beginning. My perspective has changed and a pride has emerged in the once desolate space of vulnerability. I am proud to be bald because being bald means I am a survivor. Being bald means I am still here. Still fighting. Still alive! Instead of viewing myself as a patient, I view myself as a strong warrior. Now, when out in public without a wig, I walk with my head high. I have nothing to be embarrassed about. Nothing to hide.

_MG_9187One month after my final chemotherapy treatment, I developed a longing to document my beautiful baldness. As illustrated as my journey has been, there was one thing missing — a gallery highlighting my bald head. I wanted my badge of honor on display, in a way that highlighted the fierce survivorship that I so often feel.

_MG_8133As usual, God’s timing is always perfect; Recently I was invited to be the subject in a photo shoot. After discussing my vision for the session, Kimberly met my husband and I at a park and we got to work. I was inspired to showcase the beauty in baldness, and brought along a headpiece that I put together. This photo shoot was such a special, intimate, and celebratory moment in time. Kimberly is a phenomenal photographer, warm and friendly face, and develops an atmosphere of comfort that is so needed in a shoot like this one. What she produced stunned me. She captured my vision to a “t,” and I will forever be grateful to have visual representations of the beauty in my baldness. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

_MG_9208Bald should be celebrated, not hidden away in embarrassment. If you are bald from the effects of your courageous fight through cancer, embrace it! It is your badge of honor. You are beautiful! After all, we are survivors … our bald heads say so.

_MG_8101

Isaiah 12:5 (MSG)

“Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what he’s done!”

PHOTO CREDIT: KIMBERLY MITISKA PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Fruits and Veggies Through a Straw: Adventures in Juicing

fresh veggie juice

When I was first diagnosed, several friends and family informed me of a non-traditional method of healing cancer. This modality involved a strictly fruit and vegetable juice diet. My husband and I watched half of the 1970′s documentary before cynically shutting it off. We didn’t truly understand the message behind it as it seemed more like a “Save the Seals” advertising campaign than a juicing documentary.

People often come out of the wood work with the latest and greatest trends on how to beat the disease when cancer barges into the picture. I’ve shared about cancer etiquette, and among the list of things not to do when a loved one gets diagnosed is advising us of what treatment we should or should not choose. Every cancer patient is different, and different things work for different people.

Not until Matt and I were surfing the queue on Netflix, did the topic of juicing ever come up again. Over one year ago, we came across a documentary called, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” We watched it a couple of times and enjoyed it, but never once thought we could actually achieve what Joe Cross himself did. Without giving a play-by-play run-through of the film, I can tell you that the story is about an unhealthy and overweight man embarking on a journey to self-healing without the use of prescriptions, chemicals, quick fixes, or doctors. He committed to a simple juice diet. With a juicer in tow, and a never-ending supply of God’s beautiful creation, he began juicing. Each and every meal consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables pushed through a machine to extract the utmost nutrients. He committed to this way of life for 60 consecutive days, and his results were astounding. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

Matt and I recently came across Joe’s film again and dared ourselves to try it. We aren’t overweight or unusually unhealthy. I’ve been a vegetarian for seven years — only recently adding fish to my plate every so often. I don’t drink soda, and stay away from caffeine completely. My vice will forever be a nice fluffy carbohydrate. I can’t get enough. But unfortunately, that’s true for all of us — carbs aren’t filling. They are evil little things that tempt even the strongest of wills.

I ended my third season of grueling chemotherapy less than two months ago, but as usual, my body takes a while to get back into the groove of things once treatment is over. It has been fighting for survival amidst a constant stream of poison for the greater part of two years, after all. I’m not simply focused on losing weight. My goal is to cleanse my body of the toxins that have been streaming through it. To rejuvenate and resuscitate the insides of this machine. We are only given one body on Earth, and it’s up to us to treat it well. It was time to clean out the old and welcome the new.

Before we knew it, our dare led us to become the owners of a gorgeous Breville juicer, and we stocked up on more fruits and veggies than we had ever seen outside of a market. Matt and I decided on a five-day juice cleanse and visited the recommended website to catch up on all the must-knows. We gathered recipes and posted them to the fridge, and before we knew it, we were ready.

Unsure of our very first juice. (March 2014)

Unsure of our very first juice. (March 2014)

Our first official juice cleanse began three days ago, and I am already amazed at how I feel. I’ll admit the first green juice we drank made me gag. It was a combination of flavors that I wasn’t accustomed to. Yet, my husband and I continued on, and I’m thankful that we did. I just finished my “dinner,” and feel satisfied and full. On the menu for tonight was kale, green apple, lemon, celery, spinach, and parsley. It was delicious. After drinking a few of our homemade concoctions, my energy was soaring. Even today, completing the third day of our juice fast leaves me feeling accomplished.

This cleanse hasn’t been smooth sailing from the start, however. The first day was the hardest. It just didn’t seem right to not chew my food, and only drink it through a straw. I experienced cravings, and I couldn’t watch TV. Do you realize how many food commercials we see every time we sit down to watch the tube? It’s ridiculous. Pinterest began to taunt me with its endless recipes, and I’ve had to avoid and ignore it. Pretty soon I was acclimated and no longer experienced unhealthy cravings. Don’t get me wrong, I still have cravings. Right now, I’d love to bite into one of the juicy apples resting on the kitchen counter, but the unhealthy desires have been curbed.

Soon we begin day four of our five-day juice fast, and I’m already beginning to play with the idea of continuing beyond our original plan. I’m feeling strong, energetic, and clear-headed. I have no desire to lounge around, and find myself brainstorming what projects can be done in the house. I’m sleeping better than I have since receiving my cancer diagnosis over two years ago. Typically I have to take melatonin right before bed in order to fall asleep and stay asleep, yet I have stopped taking it, and have slept better these past two nights than ever before. I’m officially a believer in juicing.

We’ve got two more days to go and endless amounts of kale and spinach to ingest, but with every day that passes, I find myself feeling healthier. My body is rejuvenating, and I am hopeful, excited, and happy.

Cheers!

Kale, Celery, Cucumber, Green Apple, Lemon, Ginger

Kale, Celery, Cucumber, Green Apple, Lemon, Ginger

1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

1 2 3 4 12