Posts Tagged ‘Baldalicious’

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.

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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

 

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

Faithful Friends and The First Season

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.”

No Hair, Don’t Care

Sometimes, as a cancer patient, you want to blend in with the crowd. Blend in with those around you who have hair. Because, after all, being bald attracts attention and unwanted stares. Being bald equates sickness. And no matter how sick I feel, I don’t always want to look it. Sometimes, it’s hard to feel like a woman when the features that amplify your femininity fade away.

No makeup. Little hair.

No makeup. Little hair. (May 2013)

After being diagnosed with cancer in January of 2012 and learning I would lose all of my hair, I was devastated. I had just reached the point where I was obsessed with my locks, so facing the reality that they would be gone in a matter of weeks was calamitous. That was 14 months ago, and since then, I have lost my hair a few more times. But, never once had I grieved my eyebrows or eyelashes. In my second season of treatment, my hair loss became more of an inconvenience rather than devastation. I had gotten pretty used to it. However, this time around, chemo decided to take a little more hair with it. This time, I lost all of my locks… as usual, the new curls on my head and the hair on my legs and arms. But, this season, even my eyebrows and eyelashes disappeared. Everything. The only hairs I hadn’t been used to saying goodbye to were my brows and lashes, and boy did I realize what an adjustment that would be. I had never understood how much I had taken those short little hairs for granted.

What a difference brows and lashes make! (May 2013)

What a difference brows and lashes make! (May 2013)

As a woman, I like to feel beautiful. I like being confident in the way I appear to the world. I had always thought if I were to lose my lashes and brows that I would look like an alien. Or even a hairless rat. Or maybe a hairless rat-like alien. Regardless, I had thought that if my brows and lashes were to fade away, my beauty would soon then follow. After all, I had never had to draw my brows on, and only wore false lashes on few occasions. What was I to do?

I have an aversion to having all eyes on me. I don’t like all the attention. And, I don’t like being the sick girl. The cancer patient. Because of this, I’ve become somewhat of a chameleon. Not many people have been able to see me without my “mask” on. And frankly, because I appear to be healthy, it’s hard for others to see the face of sickness. When I’m made-up, cancer doesn’t shine through. And while that’s the point, it’s necessary to see what the “before” looks like.

Many women share that they don’t feel femininely beautiful after hair loss. I get that. I feel that way, too. But there is hope. And thank the Lord for makeup! Gifted with cosmetic creativity, I have been able to gather my tools and tricks and go to work on the canvas of my face. I am here to testify that as a woman diagnosed with cancer or for those suffering hair loss for other reasons, you can still be beautiful! Losing your hair does not mean you have to look vastly different from your prior furry self. It’ll take effort and creativity, but it is possible.

Makeup complete and hair on! (May 2013)

Makeup complete and hair on! (May 2013)

Cancer tried to take away a lot. And even though it has tried to strip me of my appearance, I will not let it. No hair, don’t care. I’m beautiful, regardless.

And so are you.

Isaiah 40:8 (ESV)

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

 

Man-on-Pause

Man-on-pause is happening in our household. Hot flashes, night sweats, irritability. Yes, man-on-pause is definitely here. Of course, I’m referring to the dreaded menopause, but my husband renamed it for obvious reasons. Never did I imagine I would be going through menopause at 26 years old. In fact, I didn’t even give this hormonal life-change much thought. After all, I’m in my twenties, not fifties or sixties.

Baldalicious in a blonde wig. (March 2013)

Trying not to sweat in the hot sun! (March 2013)

After my radical hysterectomy in February of 2012, I experienced a very small number of hot flashes. I didn’t even want to refer to them as full-on hot flashes, and just called them “hot flushes,” as only my face would get very flush. I wasn’t tearing my clothes off in desperation for cooler temperatures. I wasn’t wiping away sweat beads from my brow or upper lip. I wasn’t snapping at my husband for no apparent reason. Then again, I still had two ovaries. And they must have been producing hormones… even slightly. However, after my most recent surgery where the softball-sized monster was found gnawing on my left ovary, it had to go. Today I am left with one ovary on my right side, and it’s starting to give up. This leaves me pissed off, cursing, and sweating. Oh, the dreaded menopause.

Never did I imagine I would find myself typing in the search term “natural menopausal remedies,” nor did I dream of perusing forums filled to the brim with women in their sixties sharing about their experiences. Never did I imagine I would be asking my mother and friends’ mothers if they were tearing their jackets off in the midst of a blizzard just to cool down, like I was. I never thought I would find myself walking through the aisles of a natural grocery store, desperately hunting down magical pills that are claimed to erase most of these symptoms. Never did I think I would apply makeup only to sweat it off mid-application. I never dreamt of watching commercials geared at older menopausal women and finding that we are more alike than not. Never did I think I would open the freezer door and stick my head in. Never. But obviously, I’m not living a “typical” life of a twenty-something woman.

Menopause sucks. If you’ve been through it, you know that, and if you haven’t… well, lucky you. Try to be young as long as you can. Enjoy the days where you can sit under the sun and not turn into a maniacal sweat factory. Enjoy the moments when you can lie in bed and snuggle up to your husband without instantaneously laying in a pool of perspiration. Enjoy being intimate. Seriously. Menopause tries it’s darndest to make you cringe at the thought of sex, as your lady parts don’t work as they used to. (Sorry to the men who don’t want to read about their daughter/sister/granddaughter/friend in that way. It’s the truth. And frankly, you’ve either had a wife go through it, or you will in the future. Better to learn early!) Hot flashes, irritability, dry lady parts, night sweats. Oh, and the infamous flabby stomach. That last one could be due to having two major lower abdominal surgeries, but I’d like to put the blame on my arch-nemesis, Man-on-pause.

Filled-in brows, false lashes, menopausal, yet still Baldalicious. (March 2013)

Filled-in brows, false lashes, menopausal, yet still Baldalicious. (March 2013)

Lately, I’m pissed, irritated, and annoyed. I feel like my femininity is waning. I’m a girly-girl. I adore makeup, clothes, nail polish, and hairspray. I freak out at the sight of spiders. I would prefer to lay on a beach with a margarita in hand, than lay in a sleeping bag under a tent on a camping trip. And I hate to sweat. It is what it is, and I like it that way. But being bald with barely there eyelashes and brows, twenty extra pounds clinging on, the gamut of menopausal symptoms, and the latest nasty nails, it’s hard to feel girly. I overcompensate with a wig, false eyelashes, nail polish, and makeup a lot of the time.  Without all of that, I don’t feel feminine on the outside. I’m ready for my outward body to reflect what’s on the inside again. Girl. Woman. Pretty. ME.

I had been clinging on to one last thing that was truly, naturally, and 100% mine- my fingernails. This past week, I grieved the loss of them, as well. If you know me, I like to keep my nails looking attractive. They are almost always lacquered in color, and glitter makes a frequent appearance. This past week as I was removing the most recent polish, I noticed my nails looked odd. In fact, after they were free and clear of any color, their natural hue had taken on a completely different look. Purples, blues, whites, yellows, and even greens were peering back at me. What? Chemo had already taken my hair, dispensed weight in unwanted areas, and made me feel like crap. And now, it’s decided to take my nails, as well. Nearly all of my fingernails are almost halfway separated from the nail bed. They are bruised and ugly. And the worst part is: I can’t cover them up. Under doctors orders and the advice of many friends who have experienced a similar trial, I have to keep them clean and polish-free. Oh joy. I can’t even cover them up. So here I am, bald and pissed… and sweating.

Chemo nails. Gross. (March 2013)

Chemo nails. Gross. (March 2013)

It’s a good thing chemotherapy does more than tear my outward appearance up. At least it’s tearing up my insides and annihilating cancer, as well. If it weren’t, I can assure you, we would have broken up by now. Although I have a love/hate relationship with chemo cocktails, this year-long relationship has proven to be beneficial to my survival. And as much as I loathe every little side effect that I have experienced, I am grateful to be alive. I will do whatever it takes to live. At the end of the day, I’m still here, and that’s all that matters. And one more thing, the little magical pills that I mentioned earlier, are actually working… in more ways than one!

But, dammit. I still hate menopause.

Proverbs 31:30 (MSG Version)

“Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.”

The Why

Many people initially respond to trauma or heartache by asking “Why!?” Whether someone you love passes away, you didn’t get that dream job, or things just didn’t work out…more common than not, it’s “Why me?!” I challenge you to be open to hearing the answer. In some moments, God may never reveal it to us; However, if you pay close attention to what He is doing in your life and around you, you may get a sneak peek inside His purpose.

It would be easy for me to ask, “Why?”, throughout the ups and downs in my current adventure. I am human and the fact is, I hate that I have cancer. I hate that I have to endure months and months of grueling treatment. It would be easy for me to ask, “Why did you allow this to happen to me!? I’m young! I have so much going for me.” And more often than not, we are faced with that thought, “Why?” While I have only once let that word slip from my mouth, it’s hard to not have that lingering thought bury itself in my subconscious as a cancer patient.

I am learning that the less I feel, “Why me?!”, the more I learn the reasons for my story. A wise woman once said, “Don’t focus on the problem, fix your eyes on the promise.” Let that sink in. It’s powerful.

There have been several moments in my journey that God has taken me behind the scenes to see what’s really going on. It’s as if He’s saying, “Stephanie, you want to know why? Check this out. You’ll be amazed.” And it’s true. In all things God wants the glory, and I believe my story is no different. No matter what, God will be glorified. And it’s an honor to carry this torch and spread hope for Him.

Today specifically has been a day where I got to peek behind the curtain. In fact, I pulled up a [chemo] chair and watched it unfold before my eyes. This morning, Matt and I woke up bright and early to prepare for another chemotherapy day. As we were on our way to the hospital, my anxieties slowly dissolved. And once I walked into the room where all of us cool kids get treatment, I noticed one lady. Only one. This is extremely unusual, as there are at least eight chairs for patients. Any lingering discomfort fell aside, and I sat down in my usual chair which happened to be next to this beautiful woman. Soon, we discovered it was her first time receiving chemo. After introducing ourselves, we began to talk…and talk…and talk. Divine appointment? I emphatically say “YES!”

I believe that we are each given a story for bigger reasons than ourselves. We interact with others on a daily basis and encounter people who need to hear hope through every situation. I still hunger for hope, and have learned that my true hope comes from Him alone. But for those of us undergoing trials, be aware that you are a vessel. You are being used to share and help others through similar storms. Today, I was able to speak truth, life, and hope to someone very vulnerable and new in her journey. In speaking with her, I saw strength, determination, courage, and bravery in her eyes. She has a genuine spirit full of joy. We bonded immediately, and I look forward to where our journeys will take us in our friendship. As we left, I gave her a hug and shared my perspective of a cancer diagnosis and the battle to victory. “It’s going to suck. I will not lie to you. It’s going to be extremely hard and you’re going to have horrible days. But, be encouraged. Along with those bad days, there will be great ones. You can and will do this. Allow yourself to grieve, but focus on the positive and on overcoming this thing. It’s going to happen.” And she responded with tears in her eyes, “You are amazing. You have made this whole mess seem a lot less scary and much more hopeful. Thank you.” <–THAT, my friends, is the “Why.”

While leaving treatment, I was overwhelmed by the sense of joy and fulfillment in my spirit. Sometimes I yearn to know the bigger picture. I yearn to see the path that God has put forth for me. But, I am thankful that I do not know it all. I am thankful that He gives me blessings along the way. I am thankful for the unexpected surprises. I am thankful for a five-hour conversation with a stranger, who is transforming into a friend. We are going to be “chemo buddies,” we both agreed. I am thankful that she is extremely well-versed on all things baseball (Matt’s favorite sport), for she kept my husband entertained and captivated the whole time. I am thankful that God answers the “Why.” Who knew that you could discover another piece of the bigger picture whilst walking out of chemotherapy treatment!? (Proof that He shows up anywhere!)

It’s so empowering and fulfilling to know that my story is making a difference. I thank each and every one of my readers and dedicated followers for supporting my journey and rallying beside me to kick cancer’s ass. I am encouraged and deeply humbled.

The truth is, cancer sucks. There’s no way around it. If you read my blog, you know I am transparent in sharing my rough days. But those who read, also discover that I make a conscious decision to choose joy. I choose happiness. I choose life. I choose to be above my circumstance. I choose to fight. I choose to be a cancer survivor.

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (MSG Version)

“The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that He not only knows what He’s thinking, but He lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that He is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.”

Third Time is NOT a Charm

Who ever said, “Third time’s a charm!”? What a load of crap. Okay, okay…maybe it’s just my situation. Losing my hair for the third time is so not charming. At least not to me. My husband has a different perspective, and while I understand and am grateful for his outlook, I still hate that I have to lose my locks again. In his words, “Seeing your hair fall out is a sign that the chemo is working in your body!” True, babe. Very true. Although I was liking loving my short locks, I can’t argue with my husband’s perspective. It’s true. And it’s right. And yes, I am extremely thankful that my chemotherapy treatments are doing something.

Photos courtesy my husband, right before he shaved it off. Check out how long it got!

Photos courtesy my husband, right before he shaved it off. Check out how long it got!

Rewind…Happy New Year and belated Merry Christmas! What a fabulous holiday it was. Following my first treatment, I prayed each day that I would feel good on Christmas, and lo and behold…I did; Hallelujah! Matt and I were able to fully enjoy time spent with each other and our family and friends, and cancer was not invited to any of the parties!

Last time I posted was a few days before Christmas, on my first day of this season of treatments. I was unsure what to expect with these new drugs and regimen, and was a little nervous on what side effects I would experience. Oh boy, did I experience the gamut! Before I get to the enticing details of rashes, nausea, and flu-like symptoms, let me update you on my proposed treatment schedule. This round of treatment will consist of a few different drugs. One type of chemotherapy combined with a “booster,” and a shot the following day. By “booster,” I’m referring to a drug that coincides and works well in promoting the effects of chemotherapy. In essence, it cuts off the blood vessels that cancer needs to survive. While I’m on board for that idea, I am apprehensive about the possible and rare side effects that this booster causes. “Rare” doesn’t mean much to me anymore… I have a “rare” cancer with a “rare” recurrence, and have already experienced “rare” side effects. Booya! In yo face, statistics.

I will receive chemo once every three weeks about six times. That is very different than my last schedule of three days in a row every three weeks surrounding six weeks of weekly chemo combined with daily radiation. (That was a mouthful and a LOT of treatments!) I am thankful that this regimen is so different. It allows me more time to recover and to have more good days. In fact, this first time on the new drugs, I only had one week of feeling awful, which has left me two weeks of feeling pretty great. Feeling good for two weeks is a blessing, folks.

Besides simply having to continue treatment, the biggest things I loathe are the shots I have to take after each and every chemotherapy session. These shots are similar to what I had to self-inject last time around. They help stimulate my white blood cell growth, however, they are slow-releasing. Therefore, I feel sick and gross for a longer period of time. I have developed a love/hate relationship with these injections. While they help increase my white blood cells, they really put a damper on my body and mood. I, however, am thankful that they exist, because without them I could not continue to receive chemotherapy.

Curls for days.

Curls for days. January 2013.

If you haven’t already, buckle up. Here comes some truth. And it’s not going to be sugar-coated. I mean, come on… you know me by now, right?! I felt like utter shit after my first round of this new treatment. Ugh. Horrendous. Chemo itself already makes me feel awful, but combined with this new injection, I was bed-ridden for about four days. Most people enduring cancer treatments often find it hard to describe what they feel like after each cocktail, and I am no different. My best description is this: Imagine having the worst case of the flu. Complete with fever, stomach ache, diarrhea, and constipation (believe me, it’s possible). Add to that a grueling headache that won’t go away, severe body aches, and skin sensitivity. Mix in a weird and itchy rash on the tops of your hands. And, to top it off, throw in a semi-truck running over your hips, pelvis, and lower back. All that makes for a wonderful chemo-filled sundae topped with some Neulasta sprinkles. And no, I did not get run over by a semi, I was being descriptive. My husband will argue that it’s exaggerative, but I stick to “descriptive.” Needless to say, I felt dreadful, filthy, exhausted, lousy, horrendous, and gross. And like I’ve mentioned before, when I’m not feeling great physically, it takes everything in me to stay positive mentally. That first week, I truly felt defeated. There’s no other way to say it. My dad always tells me, “You’ve got to remind yourself that it will get better. You know that by now. If you can get through this week of feeling crappy, you will eventually feel good again!” He’s right, but damn, it’s hard to accept in the midst.

The good news is, Dad is right. It does get better, and it did. I began to feel better Christmas morning, and it has continued through today. Having good days really is a blessing. I have been able to cook, clean, and take care of my husband and our home. In addition, we’ve been able to enjoy time together and with family and friends. I am thankful for every good day that God gives me. Each good day allows me to fully enjoy the life that God has breathed into my body.

As we are all familiar with, my hair falls out when I receive chemotherapy. The fact that I am receiving a different drug does not change that. In fact, this time around, my hair began to fall out sooner than expected. Usually it takes two weeks (to the day) to fall out. This time it began to fall out a day before expected. I chose to take my husband’s perspective on this one and say, “Chemo must really be working!”  Nevertheless, losing hair still sucks. For some reason I thought maybe this time would be no problem, but I was wrong. This is the third time that I have lost my hair, and again, third time is NOT a charm. It was almost harder this time than previously. Losing my hair is a visual reminder for me that I am actually fighting cancer again. When I had my new hair regrowth and was going through my first chemo session this time, I was still able to style my curls and was subconsciously fooling myself into believing, “I just go into the doctors every now and then.” Now that I am losing my hair I think, “I just go into the doctors every now and then… for chemotherapy to fight cancer.”

Check out that texture!

Check out that texture!

Frankly, I really began to love my short hair. I’ve heard many times that chemo can cause a person’s hair to grow back differently- texture, color, thickness. I can attest, this is true! Mine grew back extremely curly! Before I first lost my hair in March, it was slightly wavy. It could be straight, and would also hold a curl very well. However, it was processed (I wasn’t a natural blonde, believe it or not) and therefore most of the natural wave had been reduced. The hair that had begun to grow back since my last treatments in August was extremely thick and full of tight curls. It resembled the texture my hair was when I was a toddler, before hair color, flat irons, and blow dryers. Losing the locks that I loved was hard. Hair regrowth helped me see that I was really done with treatment, that I was cancer-free. Hair loss forces me to see that I am back in the game. While it’s easy to host a pity-party (which I’ve already done some), I am confident in beating this thing again. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’d rather be alive and bald, than dead with incredible hair. And while we’re being Positive Polly, I’ll add… I truly adore my new blonde wig. It’s the first time that I’ve felt like me in a long time. It’s nice to look in the mirror and see my hot blonde self smiling back.

Ultimately, my hair will grow back. For now, I’m going to embrace being baldalicious and kick cancer’s ass for the second time. Pretty soon, this stupid, little, annoying bug called cancer is going to run away, begging me to stop torturing it.

Joshua 1:9 (MSG)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

He Answers

Let me begin by saying that I am completely and utterly overwhelmed at the amount of support I have on my team. Thank you to those who have sent encouraging messages, comments, phone calls, and texts. Thank you to my loyal readers who have followed me from my initial diagnosis and continue to stand by me through this next journey by uplifting me in prayer. Also, a big thanks to my new followers who found me through an internet search or word of mouth. I have a whole army of prayer warriors, and I am humbled that you each care so deeply about my victory. In fact, from yesterday’s posts until now, I have had well over 2,000 views on my blog. Thank you for sharing my story and spreading the hope!

My sweet husband and I went to bed last night with a huge prayer request on our hearts. We desperately wanted to hear back from this doctor at MD Anderson, and fervently asked God that we would hear from him personally in the morning. Bright and early, my phone rang. It was a Houston number. In fact, it was the physician. I immediately answered and was able to speak directly to the doctor I so desperately needed. Long story short, he completely agreed that I need immediate surgery to remove the mass. Chemotherapy before surgery just won’t cut it. We’ve got to get this beast out of me as soon as possible. In addition, he encouraged me to remain positive and believe that with this surgery, there will be no more signs of cancer in my body, and that I will beat this. I told him, “Doc, I’ve got this…I’m very confident that I’ll beat cancer!” Not only did he confirm our beliefs for immediate action, he doesn’t find it necessary for us to travel to Houston just yet. He believes that everything my doctors are doing here, is what he himself would do there. Praise God! Now we don’t have to worry about traveling and all of the insurance hoopla! With all that being said, it’s true…God answers prayer. Not that we have ever doubted that for a second, however, while we’ve known that for most of our lives, we can’t recall such a big prayer being answered so quickly. Right when I’m not sure, God shows up. He’s right here, and while I can’t see Him, I know His hand is all over this situation.

Now that that prayer has been answered, we would like to share another one. After further speaking with my Gynecologic Oncologist, who happens to be my previous surgeon and will be this time as well, she informed me of the exact location of my tumor. It is hanging out right next to my sigmoid colon. In easier terms, it’s partying right around my lower colon/bowels. Because of its location, she won’t be able to know for a fact if it’s actually connected to that organ or not until she opens me up. There are three possibilities we are facing. One: She begins surgery and sees that the mass is not connected to my colon, and can therefore, easily remove the tumor without anything else. Two: My tumor appears to be slightly attached or embedded in my colon, in which case she would need to remove part of my colon, and perform a temporary colostomy. Temporary meaning, I would receive a colostomy until my chemotherapy was finished and as long as there is not another recurrence, she will later repair my colon. Three: The monster is too deeply attached or embedded in the colon, and she will need to remove the organ and perform a permanent colostomy. For those who are unaware of the medical procedure I’m referring to, feel free to look it up here. To be frank, while I know that a colostomy is not the end of the world, and will allow me to live a fairly normal life, I’d really prefer not to have to go down this path. Please pray and believe with us that the tumor is not attached to my colon and that my surgeon will easily be able to remove it without having to remove the organ as well. We know that God answers prayer, and are standing firm in our faith.

As I have mentioned, surgery is a priority. It needs to happen immediately, and now that all of my doctors are on the same page, we can proceed. Buckle up friends…My procedure has been scheduled for tomorrow morning. Yes…tomorrow, Friday the 29th, as in less than fifteen hours from now. We are more than okay with this, and in fact, are welcoming it. We understand that in order to ensure the best possible outcome, this mass needs to be removed. I’m ready to have this thing out of me. While we know and appreciate that many of you will want to stop by beforehand to pray with us, we politely ask that you pray from where you’re at in order to ensure that the waiting room does not overflow. Plus, if I didn’t have to be up and around before 6am, I wouldn’t. Therefore, you shouldn’t have to! Surgery will begin around 7:30am. For those out-of-state, we are on mountain time. Matt will be taking the reins and doing guest posts to update everyone on my progress. The surgery should take two hours, and I will be in recovery for a couple of hours as well. By noon, I should be in my room highly medicated for the expected pain that I will be experiencing. Is it wrong to say that I’m looking forward to that part? No, not the pain…the medicine! By Saturday I am sure I will be comfortably settled in and more than willing to have visitors. For those wanting to visit, please text myself or Matt.

To recap: Tomorrow morning I’m getting cut open. Pray that the tumor is not attached to my colon, or any other organs for that matter. Pray for wisdom and guidance for my surgical team. Pray for a smooth surgery and a speedy recovery. Pray for my dear husband, that he will feel the supernatural hand of God and that he will experience peace, calm, and assurance. And please pray for me, that God will give me strength, peace, and confidence. Neither of us are very nervous now, but it might be a different story in the morning.

For those who might be anxious about this procedure and the trial we face… know that we are confident in a complete healing. We rely on our Savior to direct our steps. He has gone before us and has prepared the way.

I’ve beat cancer once, and I’ll beat it again.

Psalm 18:32-42 (The Message)

“Is there any god like God? Are we not at bedrock? Is not this the God who armed me, then aimed me in the right direction? Now I run like a deer; I’m king of the mountain. He shows me how to fight; I can bend a bronze bow! You protect me with salvation-armor; you hold me up with a firm hand, caress me with your gentle ways. You cleared the ground under me so my footing was firm. When I chased my enemies I caught them; I didn’t let go till they were dead men. I nailed them; they were down for good; then I walked all over them. You armed me well for this fight, you smashed the upstarts. You made my enemies turn tail, and I wiped out the haters. They cried “uncle” but Uncle didn’t come; They yelled for God and got no for an answer. I ground them to dust; they gusted in the wind. I threw them out, like garbage in the gutter.”

Are You Beautiful?

Does the word “beautiful” define you?

Let’s talk about beauty. The hard fact is, as a woman diagnosed, it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of loss when it comes to our looks. I mean come on, when your hair starts falling out, your body is either increasing or decreasing in size, your face is expressing the enormity of stress by the monstrosity of wrinkles, and your doctor is painting on more and more scars, it’s natural to not feel attractive anymore. Not only have I struggled with not feeling beautiful through this diagnosis, but also not feeling comfortable in my own skin.

Currently, this is one of the largest topics in the world. Society is driven by physical appearance and beauty. It’s sweeping the covers of every magazine. Fashion, makeup, hair, and the perfect weight is probably on the top of every woman’s priority list. No? …Maybe it’s just me. From birth, we are trained to allow society to define our personal beauty. Our “look” must fit into the world’s ideals. Sure, some people don’t abide by the “rules”, but we all care what everyone else thinks of us.

As a woman who has valiantly fought (and beat) cancer, and has undergone a slew of cancer treatments, I can boldly say that society’s definition of what is beautiful sucks. Where are the women who are proud of who they are and what they look like, regardless of what the world tells them? Where do bald women fit in? Why must our bodies resemble that of a prepubescent twelve year old girl? With as much cancer prevalent in our world, why aren’t there more examples of what true beauty is? Why do we, as women diagnosed, feel like we must cover up our truth? Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, I wore a wig for a lot of my baldalicious battle. Yes, I am currently working out like a crazy person trying to drop these last twenty pounds. Yes, I wore false lashes when my own grew thin. But, I am continually learning that the world should not be the one to define me.

A few months ago, while waiting for treatment one day and rockin’ my bald dome, a woman approached me and asked if I would like to speak to someone about wigs. She continued by asking if I would also like some hats to cover my head. Although I know she was well-intentioned, I couldn’t help but feel unattractive. Thoughts emerged: Why must I cover this up? Why should I hide the fact that I am fighting for my life? Why does hair matter? Am I not beautiful? Oh, and by the way lady, I already own a wig and several hats. I just chose to be me today. Is that a problem? 

Along with beauty comes self-worth. If we can downgrade the world’s voice and upgrade God’s voice, our views would drastically transform. If we can see ourselves through His eyes and not theirs, our truth can be revealed. I am learning that I should embrace my differences with pride. Sure, I have a short G.I. Jane hairstyle going on right now and it brings a lot of attention, but instead of allowing those disproving eyes to seep into my spirit, I counteract them with a smile and remind myself that I am beautiful regardless of what anyone else thinks. Just because it’s uncommon to see women without (or with much less) hair doesn’t mean it’s unattractive. Can we, as women currently baldalicious or rockin’ the buzz cut, set a new standard for the definition of beautiful? In fact, as women with or without a diagnosis, can we help other females find their value within?

We are our worst critics. True. We nitpick every fault we have and oftentimes shine light on those flaws. But we’ve got to stop seeing what we see, and instead, see what God sees. When it comes down to it, we will never be good enough for ourselves. But we are good enough for him…more than enough. God sees us without flaws; After all, He was the one to create us. We are a custom design that should be esteemed, not shamed. Hair or no hair, size fourteen or size two, blue or brown eyes, black or white skin, tall or short, it doesn’t matter. Let me repeat, it does not matter. Do we have a kind heart and gentle spirit? Do we shine light or exude darkness? Are we encouraging to one another? Are we forgiving? Do we choose to find our worth in the world or in Him? Now that’s what really matters.

So I ask again, are you beautiful?

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV)

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Obsessing Over Hair

Tonight, instead of watching the Broncos game (shame on me), I find myself obsessing over my hair. Let’s rephrase…my lack of hair. To be honest, it started coming back a few days ago. For those who are unfamiliar with hair re-growth after chemotherapy, let me use this time to inform you. When I say “it’s growing back”, in no way do I mean, “I have a full head of hair”. I’m not even sure I can legitimately call it “hair”, as it resembles peach fuzz more or less. When hair grows back after falling out from chemo, it comes in very soft and thin. Think: newborn hair. And although mine has started coming in, which I am grateful for, it’s still so very soft and fine. I really miss having a full head of thick, beautiful, long locks.

I realize I haven’t done a detailed post about hair, and haven’t shared many (if any) pictures about my hair loss process. To give you a better idea about my journey losing, regrowing, losing again, and now regrowing my mane, I’ll need to start at the beginning. For those who love pictures: buckle up, you’re in for a full-on illustrated story.

My locks in February 2012

Prior to my chemotherapy treatments, I had been growing my hair out. It was actually the longest it has ever been in my life. Ha! Kind of funny that when it was at it’s longest, it fell out. Let’s just say, I was totally diggin’ my hair seven months ago.

Volume…Glorious! February 2012

And then, two weeks to the day of starting chemotherapy treatments, my mop began to drop…literally. To the floor, and all over my pillow, and somehow my strands even found their way into my socks. True story. Hair loss from chemo doesn’t hurt. In fact, when it first happened, it was comical. I could run my hands through my hair, and chunks of it would come out. I even asked my husband to take a turn and pull some out. He was shocked that he could literally rip a fist-full of blonde right out of my head. Hilarious! (I guess you had to be there.) Washing my hair became pointless. In the midst of shampooing, the strands that fell out would mix themselves up in the suds and “left-behinds”, and turn into a knotted, gnarly mess. Check out how much hair I would lose in the shower…

No, that’s not a joke. Hair loss from ONE shower. March 2012

People who lose their locks due to chemotherapy deal with the loss differently. Some shave it off before it begins to fall out, while others wait until they only have a few strands on their head. As for me, I waited until I could no longer deal with having hair all over everything. It became so annoying. Hair on my clothes, in the sheets, on my pillow, in the car, and on my husband. I was very ready to just get rid of it. However, strange as it may sound, I saved all of it. Well, all the strands I could find. Yes, that means I went through the sheets, pillow, and clothes on a daily basis and picked all the hair off to place them into ziploc bags. That sounds so weird, but I really did it. And just to creep you out a little more… I have four bags full of my hair in one of my dresser drawers. Check out Exhibit A-

Smallest bag o’ hair. March 2012

When I had finally had enough, my husband and I had a head-shaving party. He shaved mine, I shaved his. It was one of the most intimate parties I have ever been to. Besides our dear friend (and photographer), it was just the two of us. I was scared, excited, sad, and nervous. Scared, because shaving my head forced me to have a visual reminder every day that I was fighting cancer. Excited, because I couldn’t wait to get rid of my worthless mane. Sad, because deep inside, I really didn’t want to give up my locks. And nervous, because I had never been bald before.

Sadness and grief. March 2012

Shaving my head symbolized me taking control over my situation. I was not going to let cancer continue to take pieces away from me daily. I would grab this ruthless monster by the throat and do things on my terms. When I passed the grief and tears, I became elated. I had conquered my hair loss by taking matters into my own hands, and I would conquer cancer.

Take that, cancer. March 2012

Pretty soon, I was baldalicious. And, frankly, I didn’t mind it. Having no hair meant that many minutes were knocked off my morning regimen. No hair to blow dry, flat iron, or curl. There is a bright side! Plus, I’m sure my husband appreciated that I was spending less time in front of the mirror each day.

First time seeing myself bald. March 2012

Once I completed my first three rounds of chemo and began my radiation adventure, I was put on a different type of chemotherapy. This specific type of chemo didn’t promote hair loss, so during the six-plus weeks of my radiation/chemo regimen, I actually grew hair back. Many of my family and friends were excited for me, however, I knew it wouldn’t be there to stay. As odd as it may sound, I would have preferred to have no hair throughout the entirety of treatment, as opposed to losing it, regaining it, and losing it once more. It sucked seeing my hair grow back, only to know that it would fall out again in a matter of weeks. I did enjoy being able to run my hands through my hair again, though.

Hair regrowth during radiation. July 2012

Again, after ending radiation and beginning my last three rounds of (hair loss inducing) chemotherapy, it was time to shave my head. My husband viewed himself as a head-shaving professional at this point. And I must admit, I agreed with him.

Head shaving party #2. July 2012

Since I ended my treatment last month in August, I have been extremely excited for my hair to come back. This time, I know it’s for real. This time, I know I’ll be able to keep it and not have to give it up again. Compared to how quickly my hair grew back in May, April, and June, it seems to be coming back slower this time around. Maybe I’m wrong. I could just be overly anxious to start growing my locks again. Let’s see. I’ve gotta do some math…It took thirteen weeks for my hair to get to the length it was in the above pictures. I am currently at almost five weeks since my last treatment. Damn. I guess it’s not coming in slower, I am just overly anxious. Can you blame me, though?! Although many would still view me as bald, I know my hair is growing back. Like I said, it’s not much hair right now, more so just peach fuzz, but it still counts. This gorgeous mane has to start somewhere!

The truth is, tonight I’ve been obsessing over my do, or lack thereof. I’m tired of being bald. I’ve spent the majority of my life obsessing over my hair, making sure it was just the right style and color. Now, I’m just obsessing over the fact that there is no do. I even searched “hair growth after chemo” to get some insight as to what my various “hairstyles” will look like as my mane grows out. I’ve watched time-lapse YouTube videos of hair growth. I’ve read other women’s blogs. But, the more I obsess, the more I realize I need to be patient. Not only patient, but proud. I am cancer-free, and my lack of hair is a visual reminder of the battle I have fought to rid my body of the monster. I am proud. Very proud. Just not so patient. Shoot.

It comes down to this: I’d much rather be alive and bald, than dead with a lot of hair. I’m so ready for what He has planned for me next.

Isaiah 43:18-19 (MSG version)

“’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.’”

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