Posts Tagged ‘Baldalicious’

Cancer: A Family Affair (Part 5 – Conclusion)


Written by Matt, Stephanie’s husband, guardian, and steadfast calm in her biggest storm.

When I first heard that Stephanie had cancer, it wasn’t through Facebook. It wasn’t through word of mouth or even a phone call. I learned the news at the same time she did, because I was by her side, sitting in the chair next to hers at the doctor’s office. I was there.

Hearing the news made my stomach drop to the floor. Instantly, I became aware of a shortness of breath. I can only compare it to getting hit incredibly hard. You don’t feel pain at first, but you know it’s coming, and you know it’s really going to suck. Talking to the doctor, getting connected with oncologists and radiologists and getting meetings set up was the initial, “let’s deal with this” shock.

Then we got back to the car. That’s when the wave of pain hit.

Was this real life? Did that just happen? My mom had just died four months earlier, was my wife going to die next? Then what happens to me? I never told Stephanie at the time, but in my head I immediately went to the worst-case scenario. I went there once, and never went back. From then on, we had to live in the reality of the moment, but also make positive strides each day. So onward was the course. Even if you’re baby-stepping, make sure you baby-step forward.

Cancer is a literal hurricane that rips through every aspect of what your life was. Whatever plans we had for the future we had to let go of. We had to stay low to the ground and choose to not let it sweep us away. While shattered pieces of our dreams of having kids and buying a house swirled around us, cancer wouldn’t take us. Stay low to the ground and move forward, but find shelter.

The good news is that we did have a storm shelter, so to speak. It’s God. It’s still God. It’ll never stop being God. He’s our refuge. Get there, stay there. We found comfort in knowing Jesus as our Savior, and knowing that He was protecting us the whole time. We knew He wasn’t done with us, and that He’d use this situation for good. When people think of Jesus, they may think of someone who lived a long time ago and preached love and peace, laughing with children and holding lambs from time to time. That He was perfect. So perfect in fact that some don’t think He was ever real at all.

But people don’t see the whole picture. Jesus didn’t hide emotions. He cried over losing those He cared about. And He got angry, flipping over tables and yelling at people. While still God, He was also human and felt what we feel. And few see Jesus as the warrior He is and will come back as. The whole good vs. evil thing that plagues our world — He is the good. He was and continues to be our good. I shake my head and am brought to tears when I think of what would have happened if we didn’t know Him through the entirety of our journey through cancer. There’s a chance we’d be divorced. Steph could be dead. I could be dead.

Cancer sucks. But it galvanized our marriage. It gut-checked us. When we got married, we said vows to each other, but at the time never truly considered facing situations that would force us to “put up or shut up.” At diagnosis, we chose to “put up” and live out those vows. Because that’s what marriage is. It’s not surface-level rainbows and butterflies. It’s ugly and dirty and downright hard. But when you muck through the trenches with God as your anchor, the payoff is better than anything you could ever imagine. After all, we’re now in Austin, five years after God put the promise in our hearts when cancer wasn’t even on the radar. We still have dreams of family and buying a house someday, but those dreams look different than they did before.

This journey has also taught me to live a bolder life. Frankly, I used to be the type to think that if things didn’t work out in my favor, and if they didn’t work out perfectly, they weren’t meant to be. In the past few months I’ve stepped out and done things that the old Matt would call me absolutely insane for doing. But I’m glad I’m doing them, and I’m in a far better spot because of it. Swing hard, and swing for the fences. No one comes to the plate hoping to hit a weak grounder back to the pitcher. Taking chances and falling on your face is a guarantee, so you might as well make the falls worth it. Take big chances and bet on yourself.

Finally, invest in people. Take the good that life gives you, be the good you want to see, and do good for others. Take good, be good, do good. There’s nothing to be gained in the pursuit of vanity. “The good stuff” is in people, not things. Life isn’t a guarantee, and days don’t repeat themselves. January 25, 2012 happened once. August 31, 2016 happens once. Life ebbs and flows and is as unpredictable as the forecast of a Colorado weatherman. At the end of the day, what matters isn’t your status, intelligence, or bank account. It’s people. Growing old together may not be a guarantee, but the effect you have on others is. Make your life count for good.


John 1:5 (ESV)

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Cancer: A Family Affair (Part 4)


Written by Todd, Stephanie’s youngest brother who was 21 at the time she was diagnosed.

Occasionally after receiving a bill in the mail, I set it down on the counter, tell myself I’ll take care of it in a few hours, and forget about it for weeks, sometimes even months. When the sight of the bill on the counter triggers my thinking about paying it, I’ll sometimes push the thought further back into my mind, only for it to reappear when the next bill arrives. This bad habit of mine – described in psychological lingo as avoidance coping – was the strategy I first used to cope with Stephanie’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. For months, I refused to seriously think about her battle, because doing so led to painful thoughts.

I remember well the day in January, 2012, when Stephanie called me and told me that she had just received a cancer diagnosis. Sitting in the passenger seat of my wife’s car, I thought to myself that the diagnosis couldn’t be too bad. Sure, cancer is serious, I told my wife, Amy. And a hysterectomy is also serious business. But I was sure that 25-year-olds couldn’t die from it. And so when Amy and I flew out for my sister’s surgery a week or two later, I was saddened by the invasive surgery Stephanie had to undergo, but also comforted by the thought that it would act as a magic bullet. That thought was enough for me to look down on my sister in her hospital bed post-surgery and think that, while this was a massive bump in the road in her and her husband’s life, it wasn’t a tragedy. Life for them would return to normal in a matter of months, I remember thinking.

That all changed when Stephanie’s prognosis came back shortly after her surgery. The gravity of that prognosis hit me when I realized that I would have a better statistical chance of more than quadrupling my measly college savings at a roulette table than my sister would of living another year. So what did I do with that tragic information? Stuck my head shoulder-deep into the sand. For someone who had taken that approach for years, it wasn’t too hard to do. I was in college, nearing graduation, and working hard to prepare myself for law school. And so instead of continuing to talk to her on the phone almost everyday as I had done for the previous few years, over the next few months I only called a few times. A “hey, how is chemo going,” here and there. To me, this was the best way of dealing with the situation – pretending it didn’t exist. Coping with her prognosis was like my approach to the bills in the mail I periodically receive: if I pretend they don’t exist, they don’t, at least for a while.

That approach didn’t hold up when I first saw my sister bald in person. She was in Oklahoma for my college graduation, and seeing her was like being hit with a ton of bricks. I couldn’t evade the issue any longer, and so I directly confronted her prognosis for the first time. Before walking out on stage at my college graduation ceremony to receive my diploma, I shaved my head to honor her fight with cancer. Walking across that stage and removing my cap was, and will likely continue to be, my proudest achievement.

After a recurrence of my avoidance strategy came back when I moved to Washington, DC a few months later – I refused to read her website to avoid the fear of her dying – I finally put that strategy to rest. I realized that, were Stephanie to die, I would regret not spending as much time talking with her as I possibly could. That basic thought was profound, and it influenced not only my relationship with Stephanie but with my other family members as well. I began to talk with her, my brother, and my parents much more, coming to realize the benefit of confronting her prognosis head on.

Stephanie’s fight with, and now defeat of, cancer has been defined by her courage, bravery, and wisdom much beyond her years. I am incredibly proud that she has influenced so many. Her battle, though incredibly tough over the years, has provided me with an opportunity to learn what life is all about.


Psalm 90:12 (ESV)

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Seeing Stephanie: Looking In The Mirror After Cancer


Have you ever looked in the mirror and cried because of what you saw? When I first lost my hair, I would look at my reflection with tears streaming down my face. I would try to utter a word in an attempt to recognize my voice and confirm my identity. I couldn’t believe that it was me, Stephanie, in the mirror. It didn’t look like me. It barely resembled me. But it was still me. For months I saw a weak, sick, and (dare I say) unattractive person looking back. I looked neither feminine nor masculine. I was balder than bald with not more than a few hairs gracing my body. My face was swollen and discolored. I was embarrassed of my appearance. However, after receiving my pro card for fighting cancer not once nor twice, but four times, my perspective of my reflection changed. Rather than seeing a weak girl in the mirror, I saw a strong one. Instead of seeing sickness, I saw survival. I went from trying to hide my bald to embracing it and wearing it as a badge of honor. Bald became beautiful to me in more ways than one, yet I still didn’t quite see myself.

It took months and maybe years to fully embrace my new look. There were days where my reflection wouldn’t affect me at all, and others where I avoided the mirror at all costs for fear of who was looking back. As a woman, my entire life had revolved around beauty. Society told me that I had to wear a certain size, look a certain way, and have gorgeous hair to boot. Not only did my body physically change through treatment, my hair soon began falling from my head, and I felt far from beautiful. I grieved the appearance of who I once was. I felt that I lost her. I tried wigs in an attempt to bring her back, yet it was never the same. I couldn’t find Stephanie. She was no longer there… Or so I thought.

There came a moment when I realized Stephanie wasn’t a look. Stephanie was a person. She was a woman of character and integrity. She had a personality. She was more than a visual. This revelation allowed me to cope with my bald head. I began looking beyond the bald, straight into my eyes. I could still see a faint whisper of Stephanie through the glimmer of blue into the windows of my soul.

Though I accepted my new look, I longed for the day when I would easily find myself in the mirror once again. I impatiently awaited her arrival with each passing treatment. I wanted my hair, brows, and lashes back. I wanted my face to return to normal. Not only was I fighting for my life, I was (silly as it may sound) fighting for my reflection. Cancer has a deep and profound effect on one’s identity. I know I’m not alone when I express my grief over the transition of my appearance. Losing my hair was an outward representation of the war being waged within my body. It was a visual reminder of my mortality. I prayed not only to survive cancer, but also to not die without hair.

After four treacherous, exhausting, and desperate battles against this disease, I have come out on the other side. I dare not say that I have won, for the implications that arise when those who pass away from cancer are far too hurtful. Let me add, those who have died from this disease did not lose. Too often we hear that someone has “lost” their fight against cancer. What a deeply wounding word to place over someone’s life (and death). Please stop saying it. For reasons I may never fully understand, I have survived this disease thus far. I am now fifteen months cancer-free, and my hair has had nineteen months to grow. It’s been emotional seeing Stephanie return to my reflection. Glorious. Sweet. Incredible. Breathtaking. Emotional. As they did when I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror, tears appear on my face again. Not for the loss of something, but for the gain of something greater.

Hindsight is always 20/20. In the midst of our struggles it is difficult to see the entire picture. Due to circumstance, our blinders prohibit us from having a 360 degree view of our life. Not until we walk out of the rubble do we have the opportunity to reflect on the battle. I’ve had time, as each scan returns clear, to see how far I’ve come. Just as I watched Stephanie fade away, I’ve seen her return. My hair is nearly to the length it was when I first heard the words, “You have cancer.” I’m blonde again. My lashes and brows are full. When I look in the mirror, I don’t have to try so hard to find myself. I see Stephanie immediately. But it’s not just Stephanie that I see now. I see strength and victory. I see power and humility. I see joy and unending hope. I see deeply rooted faith. I see a survivor.

Though you may not see yourself right now, know that you are more than just a visual. You are not weak. You are not ugly. You are strong, and much braver than you can possibly comprehend. I encourage you to look beyond your reflection. Your hair will return and you’ll recognize yourself once more. Though your outside reflects your struggle, it also reflects your survival.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (MSG)

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”

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.


Isaiah 12:5 (MSG)

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



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?”


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 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.”

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