(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.”
It’s been a while since I’ve poured words into this blog. I suppose I’ve gotten swept up in the seemingly never-ending voyage of rediscovering what life looks like now. I feel like this process could take longer than I expected, and I’m ready to finally feel settled with where I’m at… my life, my role, my identity, my relationships, my environment. Cancer throws everything off.
As I continue to climb my way out of the fog of the aftermath of this disease, I am embracing a new determination for accomplishments. Life changes us… trials, traumas, and tribulations. They change us permanently. I am a different woman today because of my battle for survival. I am embracing it. I view life through a different pair of eyes now, and I’m using it to my advantage.
Lately I’ve been pondering what I’ve accomplished in my life, and at 26 I don’t feel as if I’ve accomplished as much as I want. We’ve all heard of the term “bucket list,” but I’ve never liked it. Don’t get me wrong, I have an affinity for lists. I adore them. They make me happy. But to me, a bucket list implies an impending death (“kicking the bucket”), and while we will all die someday, I’d rather focus on living. Why must I have a bucket list? I’d rather have a life list. What do I want to do in my life? What are my dreams, goals, desires, and aspirations?
Out of nowhere, a new dream has been birthed in me. I think it’s absolutely crazy. Seriously, crazy. Nonsense. Ridiculous. Even laughable. Yet, this dream has now transformed into a goal, and I can’t ignore it. I tried my hardest to disregard it, but it’s relentlessly nagging at me.
Okay, fine. I give in. I’ll start running.
Yes, running. As in physically moving my body at a pace faster than walking. Sounds horrendous, right?! Before I continue, let me share some background with you. I have always led a very active life. I played volleyball for nine years, both through school and at a club level. I have found that I enjoy working out, going to the gym, and exercising. It’s not always been easy, but it’s always been rewarding. I can walk, bike, lift weights, and swim, yet running has always been my arch nemesis. I loathe even the thought of running. It makes me uncomfortable. It pains me. It makes me want to cry. Yet somehow, I find myself with a deep burning desire to overcome that discomfort. To accomplish something I never thought I could do. Because really, when I dive deep into the animosity I harbor towards running, I find that my fear is failure.
I don’t want to set myself up to lose. Isn’t that common with all of us? We often don’t start things because we think we’ll fail miserably. New years resolutions for example. How many of us really create resolutions, let alone commit to them? Failure is scary, but I’m learning that not trying is even worse. I’d rather try with the possibility of success, than not attempt the feat at all. So, while I despise running, I am learning to embrace the discomfort for the reward of an accomplishment. Because in the end, I want to accomplish as much as I can, and in order to do that, I must allow myself to forge through discomfort.
I first learned of the “Couch to 5k” program a couple of years ago. Of course, I chuckled at the notion, and continued on my merry way. Yet, just as running popped into my mind, this specific running plan did as well. Thus began my adventure. This specific plan is extremely feasible. It functions on interval training, so you aren’t consistently running yourself into the dirt. I have left these runs feeling energized and accomplished, and that’s what helps me continue the program. Of course it is difficult to some degree, and I definitely leave with ample sweat profusely pouring from my face, but I can do it. That’s part of the workout… believing I can do it, and pushing through that discomfort to attain the accomplishment of reaching a goal I never thought possible.
Through the painful side effects from treatment, subsequent fatigue, and aches and pain across my body, I will push through. I refuse to let cancer take away my accomplishments. I’m continuing to kick cancer’s ass and look forward to the many accomplishments I achieve in the future… like running a 5k.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (MSG)
“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”
Stephanie. 26 years old. Christian. Woman. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. This is who I was before my diagnosis. And, as I’m learning, this is who I still am.
Cancer does a lot to a person. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Any degree of trauma, battle, life experience… these events change and mold us. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times over, fighting against this disease is tough. Cancer has forever changed me. And I’m now on a path to rediscovering myself.
Today, as I was going through my typical routine and getting ready for the day, I looked in the mirror. As a woman, that’s not an unusual act. Whether I’m fixing my hair and makeup or making sure I have nothing in my teeth, mirrors are a part of my life. (Come on, don’t act like you don’t check yourself out everyday, too.) But today was different. Today I looked at the woman staring back at me. I asked her, “Who are you now?” and she responded, “Hello, my name is Stephanie.”
Pre-cancer, I was adventurous, organized, fun, and care-free. I enjoyed being a wife and loved married life. I loved to cook, bake, and host get-togethers. I exercised. I ate healthy. I was excited for the future. I dreamt of being a mother, and longed for the day when Matt and I would start trying to conceive. Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind.
In my battle against this disease, I began to identify as a cancer patient. Frankly, I was a cancer patient. I identified as a soldier in the throes of a civil war, fighting, quite literally, for my life. And in the midst of combat, I lost sight of who I was before the war began. I don’t suspect that’s uncommon. As someone fighting for their life, we tend not to focus on minuscule brainstorms such as what’s on the menu for dinner, or what movie we’ll see next, let alone complex questions of self identity. I was in the trenches, eye-to-eye with my enemy, attempting every maneuver to defeat the intruder. Warrior. Soldier. Fighter. Survivor. That’s who I was. And again, I’m learning, that’s who I still am.
Now that I’m climbing the hill to recovery and remission, I find myself pondering my identity. Am I the same woman before cancer as I am now? Do I still enjoy the same things? When I look into the mirror 18 months since diagnosis, I notice someone different. Not only am I physically different, but I, Stephanie, am different. I am not who I once was. I have been molded by the fire. I have been broken, reshaped, and sculpted, and have the scars to prove it. Coming to terms with this thought scared me at first. For, if I am different, who then am I now? My name is the same. My face shows some semblance of similarity from before, with the added wrinkles and tired appearance. But do I really know me?
As of this moment, I cannot confidently say I know all of who I am. But I’m beginning to understand that’s alright. Life events change us. And if we don’t change with the seasons, we might get buried in the past. Evolving, changing, and progressing into the future is healthy. As I am rediscovering myself, I know for certain that my foundation remains. My soul is untouched. I am still Stephanie: Christian. Woman. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. But because of this season of torrential downpours, I am now more than that. I am more sensitive, aware, and compassionate. I am more brave and stronger than I ever thought I could be. A new passion for sharing my story and helping others has been birthed inside of me. Now that I’m coming out of the fog and haze of the battlefield, I find that I still love to cook. I am still adventurous, fun, and organized. I still enjoy spending time with friends.
If it weren’t for this diagnosis and subsequent fight for life, I would not live the way I am living today. I am living boldly and victoriously. I am soaking up every moment, no matter how big or small. I value and appreciate my husband more than I ever had before, for he is still faithfully standing beside me, when he could have easily jumped the next train to Georgia (or wherever!). My gratitude for my One, True God is greater and far more vast than it was many months ago. I woke up today with breath in my lungs, and for that I am immensely thankful.
Though I’m sure there will be moments where I have to recheck myself and shake my own hand in introduction, I can undoubtedly count on the identity I have in Christ. He has filled me with a spirit of love, power, and wisdom. I am His daughter and He is my friend. Through Him, I can do all things. Through Him, I have hope and a future. If my identity lies in the Lord my God, I will never be lost. So during these times of rediscovery, I cling to the knowledge that I am His creation and that my identity can always be found in Him.
John 15:5-7 (ESV)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Alongside us on this crazy roller coaster through cancer, two of our dearest friends have been planted. They have joined us at appointments, surgeries, chemo cocktails, and numerous cry sessions. They have held our hands as we have ventured into the unknown, and have triumphed with us in the victories. We have worshiped together, prayed for one another, and celebrated several occasions. God brought this passionate, genuine, selfless couple into our lives at the very beginning of this battle, and we can’t imagine having forged our way through it without them standing firm and rallying beside us.
He is a photographer and life-journalist by hobby. He resembles Jesus not only in his physical appearance, but also in his character. Selfless, compassionate, humble, generous, loving, and prayerful. His laugh is contagious and you’d be lucky to catch it. He is a gentleman. A leader. A father. A Christ-like friend. A true blessing.
She is a dancer. Hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, and jazz. A real-life ballerina. She has a heart of pure gold. She is a friend to hold dear for a lifetime. She speaks encouragement, life, and wisdom. Her gentleness, selflessness, and caring demeanor uplifts and offers strength. She is a mother. A hospitable host. A faithful friend. A prayer warrior. A true blessing.
These two have offered shoulders to cry on, words of encouragement, and a multitude of cries to Jesus upon my behalf for healing. They have documented our journey and brought life to a sometimes dark situation. Through photographs, videos, and sound recordings, they tell our story. They have blessed us more than they could possibly know. Today, we share a taste of what they have captured since diagnosis.
Get your tissues ready. If this video doesn’t move you in some way, you might want to check your pulse. This montage captures a glimpse into this battle. It begins at diagnosis in January of 2012, and ends in August of 2012 on the last day of my first season through treatment. At that time, we thought I beat it entirely. Little did we know, we had another year in the trenches. Through hair loss, weight gain, and several firsts… enjoy.
Stephanie Madsen | Cancer Survivor from Mark Nava on Vimeo.
Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)
“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.”
Yesterday morning, I woke up early and drove to the hospital for my three-month follow-up CT scan. Generally I have a fair share of “scanxiety,” yet that morning was different. Maybe my nerves were suppressed due to the overwhelming congestion in my chest, head, and sinuses, or possibly from the after-effect of two amazing vacations. Regardless, I felt confident, ready, and at peace with whatever the results would show. There still was an undercurrent of suspense as I journeyed my way to the life-changing scan, yet I suppose there always will be with every test I receive. That’s what you get with a diagnosis like mine.
After choking down every last drip of the repugnant “fruit cocktail” that would light up my insides, I waited. And waited. And waited some more… Story of my life.
My name was called and I was then directed to the room where the monstrous machine sat eagerly anticipating my body in its grasp. Before I laid down and surrendered to the process, I uncharacteristically asked the radiation tech to take a picture of me flexing my not-so-strong biceps beside it. Odd, yes. But, for whatever reason, I felt the urge to display my strength to the beast that has been trying to kill me. The tech laughed, the camera clicked, and I positioned myself on the scanning table, ready to be sucked into the machine. All the while, praying fervently that nothing would light up.
The nurses, radiation techs, and I chat frequently throughout the process of these scans. We become friends. I give them the run-down of my diagnosis, the long list of treatment, and the hope for healing that I cling to. Many share well wishes and good vibes, while several others say they will be praying with me for complete healing. After the CT machine was done spinning around my body, I was free to go. And as I said my goodbye’s and thank you’s, I caught a glimpse of my tech behind the computer that displayed the vast pictures of my internal organs. I could’ve sworn she was smiling.
No matter how hard I try not to read the faces of the techs as they instantaneously see the resulting photographs from my scan, I still succumb to curiosity. This time was no different. But did I really see a smile form on her face as she examined the results? Maybe I was fooling myself.
Typically, I wait about a week to receive the phone call from my doctor with results from my scans. However, barely seven hours after I had left the hospital, the number of my doctor’s office appeared on my phone screen. SHUT UP. Why are they calling me so soon? I bet all of my insides lit up, the cancer has spread, and they want to notify me that we must proceed with emergency treatment. Dammit. As I nervously answered the call, my ears began to hear unbelievable news.
“Stephanie, we just received the results from your CT, and I couldn’t wait to call you. The results show that there is no evidence of disease in your body. All of your internal organs look normal and healthy. Your liver is normal. Your kidneys are normal. Your ovary is normal. Your lymph nodes are not swollen and are normal. You are currently cancer-free!”
Even as I relive what happened less than 24 hours ago, I find myself speechless. I am in awe of God’s healing power. I am in awe of His faithfulness. I am in awe of His sovereignty. I am, yet again, cancer-free. And yet again, I am a survivor.
This is the longest I have gone without cancer in my body since diagnosis 18 months ago. I received a clear scan in August of last year, but within days, the beast was growing inside once more, and by November I was starting treatment all over again. In March, I was almost done with my second season of treatment and received my first clear scan. Yet, still actively undergoing chemotherapy treatments, I figured, of course the scan would be clear. After all, the poison was still coursing through my veins. But, my scan yesterday was different. This cancer-free proclamation is more meaningful, because it’s the first scan post-treatment that I have received good news. The way my doctors and I view it is, I have been cancer-free for the past seven months. It breaks down to look something like this:
- November 2012 (post mass-removal surgery): Cancer-free CT and PET scan
- March 2013 (before completion of chemotherapy): Cancer-free CT scan
- June 2013 (post all treatment): Cancer-free CT scan
That’s seven whole months that cancer has not invaded my body, and I am overjoyed! I remain cautiously optimistic, but nevertheless we are celebrating this victory. With every ounce of good news, there are heaping amounts of hope. I have yet to see what my future holds, but I am standing firm and believing that through The Lord’s healing power, I am ultimately healed. I celebrate this victory, and I am humbled by the hands of my Savior. He is GOOD! Continue to pray with me that cancer will no longer take residence in my body, and that the glory of God will reign.
Strength before a scan! (June 2013)
Psalm 107: 19-22 (MSG Version)
“Then you called out to God in your desperate condition; He got you out in the nick of time. He spoke the word that healed you, that pulled you back from the brink of death. So thank God for His marvelous love, for His miracle mercy to the children he loves; Offer thanksgiving sacrifices, tell the world what He’s done—sing it out!”
Grief: (n) “Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.”
Loss: (n) “The state or feeling of grief when deprived of someone or something of value.”
These last two weeks have been particularly full of overwhelming emotions. I’m learning that grief is similar to waves in the ocean. It ebbs and flows. One moment I’m fine, and the next I find myself weeping, unsure of the exact reason for tears to fall so easily from my eyes. My own emotions surprise me. They can quickly appear out of nowhere. Take today, for example. All morning I’ve been productive around the house and even got a good workout in. Yet tonight, I find myself feeling somber, sad, and choked up. I struggle to write.
I’m continuing to grieve the loss of the life I once had.
Grief is a process, I’m discovering. It doesn’t happen all at once. Certain moments can trigger tears as effortlessly as they can laughter. Throughout this past year and a half, I’ve cried more times than I can count. I’ve dropped to my knees in heaving, wailing bursts. Tears have been shed in grocery stores, parks, restaurants, and church. Grief does not have a timeline nor a schedule. It doesn’t require a specific location. It can disappear for days, weeks, and months, and reappear at the drop of a hat.
I don’t enjoy crying. Like many others, I was taught to suck it up and be strong. Yet, no matter how hard I try to remain “strong,” I can’t push away the weak feeling that envelops me. I hate to admit it, but right now I’m sad. Having cancer sucks. Fighting cancer sucks, too. It’s exhausting. It’s tiring. It’s stressful. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt so weak in my life as I have throughout this battle. This is emotionally and physically draining. While I know that there is purpose in my suffering, I can’t help but grieve the immense loss we’ve experienced. I can’t help but grieve the dreams we had imagined for our future.
Through this, I’m understanding that crying and grieving are essential to my healing. And, that in my tears, there is strength.
In moments like these I focus on
something someone bigger than this. I cling to the promise that God is sovereign and faithful. He is here grieving the loss alongside me. He allowed this diagnosis so that my story would be bigger than I ever dreamt it could be. Through these tears, I look forward to the future that God has orchestrated, and the blessings He will pour down over my life. Three things remain… My God, my marriage, and my life. Aren’t those the most important after all? Everything that comes next will be a bonus!
Tonight, I cry. Tomorrow I may not. Grief comes and goes. In these tears, there is strength.
Matthew 5:4 (MSG)
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”