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.”

Bald is Beautiful: The Message That Got One Young Girl Banned From School

(As appeared in The Huffington Post on 3/26/2014)

Yesterday, I came across an article. It’s a story that gripped me and had me feeling both triumphantly exuberant and downright disappointed. This story is about a little girl who has lost her hair in her ongoing fight against cancer, her friend who decided to stand beside her, and a school who punished them for it. The school chose to send the friend home, because her shaved head violated school dress code policy.

Delaney Clements is a strong 11-year-old girl fighting neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that develops in nerve cells. Kamryn Renfro is her 9-year-old friend who clearly has a heart of gold and more character than most at her age. Due to her chemotherapy treatments, Delaney has lost her hair. She is baldalicious and exudes such joy with her smile. Recently, Kamryn chose to shave her head as a way to stand by her friend in support. As a way to offer encouragement and to let Delaney know she was not alone. Kamryn made the decision to support her friend, against all odds and no matter the sacrifice.

This act of bravery from such a young girl is extraordinary. How many of us can say that we would do the same?

What happened next left me feeling disappointed and shocked. The school felt that Kamryn’s act of kindness, friendship, and support went against their dress code policy. They informed Kamryn’s family that she would not be allowed to attend school until her hair grew back, or until she arrived wearing a wig. Apparently, her bald head distracted other students. However, was it a negative distraction? I don’t think so. If anything, their fellow peers were given a rare opportunity to see what love really is. This act of solidarity could have been used as a teaching moment. A lesson that could not be explained with flash cards or times tables.

Our world needs to be distracted more often. Our eyes need to be taken away from the meaningless and be redirected to the meaningful. Sometimes lessons cannot be taught through a textbook.

The media has shared this story over and over again, yet the core message seems to get muddled. The debate of whether or not hair should matter in school should not be the focus. This message is not about a girl with a shaved head. This message is about what one girl did for her friend. In an interview, Kamryn stated, “It felt like the right thing to do.” And Delaney responded by saying, “It made me feel very special and that I’m not alone.”

Having lost my hair several times over from the slew of cancer treatments I’ve received over the last two years, I understand what it feels like to be bald. It can be isolating and scary. Many don’t realize the amount of value we place on our hair until we no longer have it. Being bald has often left me feeling vulnerable and different. Being bald is a physical reminder of the battle for survival. I am nearly 20 years older than Delaney, and can’t even fathom what she has had to go through at such a young age.

By punishing Kamryn for her act of kindness, this school has sent a large message. While I understand the importance of rules and regulations in schools, the administration carelessly looked over the benefits of this situation, and reacted improperly. Children should not be punished for doing the right thing. We should instill values into our youth, so that when they grow older, they will treat others with compassion and care. Do we want our children to remember moments like this as an example of what is not allowed, or rather an example of what it means to love? Acts of kindness should not be rebuked.

What Kamryn did for Delaney should not be punished. What she did should be praised. She responded to an urging of compassion in her heart by extending support to another. She stepped out in courage and bravery to do what not many would. She symbolically held her friend’s hand and let her know she was not alone. And I applaud her.

Thank you Kamryn for rallying by your friend and showing her support and encouragement. Thank you for showing her that she is not alone and doesn’t have to be the only one who looks different. Thank you for your courageous spirit and your brave response.

Thank you, Delaney, for your strength and courage. Thank you for showing the world that bald is beautiful. Thank you for inspiring those of us who are fellow fighters and survivors. Thank you for your contagious smile and bravery.

Kamryn and Delaney have defined what courage, friendship, and bravery really mean. Today, I stand with Delaney and Kamryn, and urge you to do the same.

Bald is beautiful.

Update: After all the media attention on the story, the school has since reversed its decision.

Romans 15:1-2

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

BaldIsBeautiful

Hair Hath No Fury

There comes a moment in every cancer survivors life when we realize our hair has returned. My moment was this morning.

After answering emails, continuing the laundry, and catching up on Real Housewives (a guilty pleasure … forgive me), I stepped into the shower. Over the course of these past two years, there are more times than I can recall when I’ve been without hair, and a few fleeting occasions when my locks have made a debut. This past season has been spent as hairless as a naked mole rat. Therefore, showers are quick. It never ceases to amaze my husband how speedily I can take a shower. You’d think we were on water rations or something.

“Are you sure you’re done? That was fast!”
“Yes, I’m sure. I have no hair. Remember? All I have to do is wash my body.”

And it’s the truth. I can get in and out of a shower within 5 minutes. I have no legs to shave, no hair to shampoo and condition. My sole duty is to get clean. I’d be lying to say I didn’t enjoy not having to time my morning ritual around how long my shower will take. Oh, the benefits of being follicularly challenged!

As I stepped out of the shower, dried off, and stepped into my wardrobe for the day, I noticed a shadow under my arms. It caused me great pause, as I was unsure what was lurking underneath my biceps. Lifting my hand to the sky, I peered at my underarm. What did I spy with my little eye? Hair! The softest hint had sprouted from an area that had been naked for so long. My first thought was, “Wow. It’s back. I’m officially done with treatment. Now I need to brush up on my shaving skills!”

Hair is a silly little thing we often take for granted. Women are constantly irritated with their manes — fussing, fixing and complaining that it’s not long enough, not short enough, not curly enough, or not straight enough. We buy the latest and greatest products to manipulate it to do things only God Himself could accomplish. We specifically tell our stylists we only want our dead-ends trimmed, and no length to be removed. We try new styles, new cuts, and experiment with how much volume we can achieve. We wax our bodies from head to toe – plucking, primping, and priming our skin to be as smooth as possible. No matter what woman I talk to, we all have a never-ending love-hate relationship with our tresses.

Every time I’ve lost my hair has been different. My first season through treatment two years ago took everything but my eyebrows and eyelashes. My second season, I lost nearly everything right away, but still managed to have two spots on my scalp that maintained about twenty hairs each. As aforementioned, this season I remind myself of a naked mole rat. Bald, pale, and if not for my hot flashes, cold. Because of the changing of each season, I’m never quite sure what to expect my locks to do. Will they all grow back in at the same time? Will my hair be thicker and more luxurious? Will its color and texture change?

The hair on my head has slowly but surely begun to make its debut. About three weeks ago, I noticed a little garden growing up there. Tiny sprouts had begun to make their voyage above the surface, and I was elated. Hair continues to be a reminder that I am no longer in treatment, and that brings me a happiness that I can’t even begin to describe. The second I spot newly established tresses, I make certain that I shampoo and condition it every single day. It’s hair. No matter that it’s one tenth of an inch long, it deserves to be treated as though it reaches my shoulders. I can officially say my showers have expanded from around five minutes to nearly seven.

After discovering what my underarms had been hiding from me, I began to hunt for more. This hair hunting expedition had me laughing to myself, alone in my bathroom. The joy that came from finding more and more pooled up in me, until it overwhelmed my thoughts with the acknowledgement, that I, once again am cancer-free. I looked closely at my face and noticed itty bitty strands making an appearance at my brow line. My lashes have even joined the party and are tap dancing across the edges of my eyelids. Soon, I was touching my legs, inspecting every square inch, gleefully observing hundreds of hairs revealing themselves to me.

I officially have hair again. It’s not much, but it’s here. It’s back. And it has returned with a vengeance. I remember the first time my hair reappeared. My poor, poor legs. It was as if I was a newly pubescent teenager, all over again. Nicks and scratches up and down each leg, and quite a few bandaids to mask my amateur attempt at shaving. I’m excited to brush up on my shaving skills once again, and pretty soon, I’ll go from novice to professional. I’m praying this hair is here to stay, and that it will forever take the place of the one who tried to steal it away.

I suppose it’s time to stock up on razors. I anticipate my shower to be much longer tomorrow, as I’ve got some shaving to do. For today, though, I will enjoy these beautiful reminders that I am alive and cancer-free.

6.5 Weeks From Last Chemotherapy (3/14)

6.5 weeks from last chemotherapy (3/14)

 Isaiah 43:18-21 (MSG)

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”

Dear Cancer: It’s Not Me, It’s You

(As appeared in The Huffington Post on 3/13/14)

photo-7

Dear Cancer,

I’m breaking up with you. There are no negotiations that can be made. No argument strong enough, no comeback able to change my mind. This is the end. I’m over you.

To be honest, I never liked you in the first place.

Our two-year relationship has been tumultuous, to say the least. We’ve had ups and downs. Breakups and forced reconciliation. There have been moments where no matter how hard I pushed you out of my life, you came slithering back in with your malicious intent. No matter how many locked doors and concrete walls I built, you somehow found your way back to me.

You came barging into my life, with no regard for myself or anyone around me. I didn’t have a choice. I was swiftly blindsided as you swept through me. Without a second to think, I was forced, pushed, and manipulated. You stole my most precious dreams. You trampled on my plans. You never cared. You’ve always been a narcissistic, sneaky, and reckless coward.

This arrangement has been toxic from the start. It hasn’t been good for either of us. From the second you entered my world, I’ve been mastering ways to get rid of you. I’ve gathered a team so great and powerful, the realm of our advances is mightier than your imagination. And likewise, you have conjured up tactical attacks on me. Let’s take a look at the facts. I’ve invited poison to flow through my veins, hunting you down with every curve of my vascularity. I’ve laid alone in a room while fiery lasers aim their beams on you, shooting up everything in the place you want to call home. I have been sliced open over and over, physically removing you from the premises. You’ve even gained a few souvenirs, organs that I so desperately wanted to use.

Yet, it was never enough. You still tried to slink back in. You spineless jerk.

You are selfish. You’re ego is so large, it infects the world. You are shameless and careless. All you’ve given me is grief, pain, and suffering. I’m not even your one and only. You’re a cheat. You force your way into the lives of thousands of other innocent victims. Yet, none of us want you. That must be lonely. At what point will you get the hint?

The three times that you have barged into my life, you’ve seemed to have forgotten that someone already lives here. This residence is already claimed. There is no room for you in this inn. You tiptoe your way into dark closets and hide out, waiting for the perfect opportunity to settle in. Yet, don’t you realize you are always found? This is not your average game of hide and seek.

Shoo fly, don’t bother me.

Though you have proven yourself strong and determined, you’re not smart. You repeat your strategies, only changing the location of attack. All brawn and no brain. Silly. Immature. A bully lacking care and thought. Don’t you know that I’ve got eyes on every inch of me? You’ll never get by unnoticed. You’ll never survive with me.

You have always been unwelcome, however, through your contrived presence, I have grown. I’ve gleaned experience and my character has developed. Though I abhor you, these past two years have taught me so much — about the world I live in. About relationships. About loyalty, trust, and security. About faith, joy, and never-ending hope. Because of you, I hold my loved ones closer. Because of you, I pray, believe, and act more intently. Because of you, I am stronger. Because of you, “perseverance” and “determination” have taken on deeper meanings. Because of you, I have discovered my purpose in life.

This relationship doesn’t work. We’re over. I don’t appreciate you. You don’t appreciate me. We’re toxic for one another. Your plan has backfired righteously. Your malevolent intentions have now transformed into benevolent outcomes. You simply cannot win, because I will not lose.

And, have you forgotten? I’m already married. Two is company … three’s a crowd. Don’t come crawling back this time. Be gone for good. I’ve lost your number, after all.

With triumph, happiness, and pleasure,
Your Ex

Luke 10:19 (ESV)

“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”

Surrendering Worry Leads to Freedom

Cancer-free once again! (February 2014)

Cancer-free once again! (February 2014)

Scans are routine in my life now. In fact, I can’t remember the days when I didn’t have to lay in some form of a machine that took pictures of my internal happenings. When I’m not in treatment, I receive a CT scan every three months to ensure that my body is free and clear of cancer. When I’m actively fighting this disease, I must wait until the completion of treatment to get another scan. Since I recently finished my latest adventures in chemotherapy, it was that time again. About two weeks ago, I laid on a tiny hard table for the umpteenth time as a fast and loud spinning donut somehow created an image of the inside of my body.

Typically, my phone rings anywhere from one day to an entire week after my scan. In terms of a waiting period, that window is very large. There are times when I receive results within hours, and other times where the days crawl by and I don’t hear back for a week. I’ve often referred to the anxiety that comes from awaiting scan results as scanxiety; However, the more scans and tests I have done, the better I am at not worrying over the results.

As John Mayer sings in The Age of Worry-
“Alive in the age of worry
Smile in the age of worry
Go wild in the age of worry
And say, ‘Worry, why should I care?’”

I’ve learned that worrying doesn’t accomplish anything, and it will never change any result I may receive. Worrying is a waste of time, emotion, and energy. Worrying is pointless.

These past two years have been a trial of great magnitude. And while I’ve experienced a depth of grief and loss I never could have imagined and wouldn’t dream of wishing on anyone, there have been numerous blessings dispersed along the way. Experience is our most effective teaching tool, and among the many lessons I’ve learned throughout my voyage, surrender has been the biggest one of all. Not only surrendering my plans and dreams, but also surrendering my thoughts and emotions. Understanding the true meaning of surrender has been one of the biggest gifts I’ve gained in this series of unfortunate events.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, surrender simply means, “to give the control to someone else.”

I am not one to surrender. I am a Type-A personality. I am a planner, an organizer, a keep-her-ducks-in-a-row woman. I have a tangible schedule, in which I physically write and record the many daily, weekly, and monthly events going on in the ever-adventurous life of the Madsens. When Matt and I were first married almost four years ago, we had our five-year plan set in stone. We knew when we were going to have children, where and when we would move, and how we would achieve our short and long-term goals. Everything was planned. We had it under control. Little did we know what our first five years would actually bring.

Though the majority of our plans have been wiped off the canvas of our life, new creations have replaced the old. Losing what we had dreamt about for so long was devastating. We continue to grieve the loss of what we imagined our life to be. However, at some point in this journey, we were given a choice. Do we grasp for remnants of what we had desperately wanted for our life, or do we instead surrender our plans, dreams, hopes, and goals, and place the control in God’s hands? Making the decision to choose the latter has forever changed our perspective. Giving the reigns to someone far more capable of directing our lives has removed burden and responsibility. After all, if I was in full control of my life, I know I would screw it up righteously.

Worry is an emotion. A verb. A tangled web of feelings and actions. Worry is an enemy that lures us into a trap and once we are overtaken, it takes hold of our every thought. It tempts us with pity-parties that seem much more fun than they turn out to be. It sneaks around every long-awaited result, and silently slips into our minds if we don’t keep a relentless guard. Yet, as with all temptations, we are called to surrender our worry to God. Surrendering worry leads to freedom.

Though I wish I could say that I surrender all of my worries without fail, it’s not true. I slip up. I let my guard down, and worry slips into my mind, corrupting everything within me. Fortunately for us, the world we live in offers us many opportunities to practice our ability to surrender. We will always face troubles and areas where worry could easily be a chosen response. One of the regular opportunities that I have to practice my ability to surrender my worries occurs every three months. Before, during, and after each scan I am reminded that in order to live freely, I must surrender my worries of the impending results. I’ve learned that no matter how much I worry, I cannot control the outcome of my scans. Worrying has proven time and time again to have zero effect on results. What worrying truly affects is my spirit.

Because I surrendered my worry about my latest scan results, I experienced a freedom and peace that I haven’t quite felt before. As I awaited the life-changing phone call, my thoughts were on other things. I wasn’t fixated on the possibilities. I wasn’t anxious. I wasn’t fearful. I was confident in the One I surrendered to, knowing His plans are always far greater than my own. No matter if cancer had returned once more or if I was officially rid of this beast, I wasn’t concerned. I had the kind of peace that passes all understanding, and a freedom birthed from my surrender.

Worrying will never change the circumstance. Worrying will only affect our spirit. I’m thankful that my spirit was guarded, for it allowed me to better appreciate the results I received last week. I can happily share that I am cancer-FREE! Had I chosen to worry, my joy might have been robbed in the moment I heard the wonderful news.

Surrendering is difficult for this “I’ve got life all figured out” chick, but it’s so worth it. Freedom feels good. Worry, why should I care?

Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

1 2 3 4 11