Posts Tagged ‘Baldalicious’
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.”
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. (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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.”
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.”
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!
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. 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!
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.’”
Today’s a big day, but let me first address this weekend. We went out of town- thumbs up! Who knew that going out of town in this midst of this journey would be so refreshing? It was very nice to get out of the environment that has now turned into the treatment zone. My husband and I flew to Oklahoma City, OK on Friday and just returned yesterday (Sunday). The reason for our travels was for the college graduation of my baby brother. He walked the stage Summa Cum Laude at Oklahoma State University on Saturday morning. I can’t even begin to explain what an honor it was to see him accomplishing such a remarkable feat. He’s the last of my brothers to graduate from OSU. In December of 2010, I had the privilege of watching my older-of-the-two brothers walk the same stage. I cried then, and I cried this weekend. The pride I have for my two younger brothers is overwhelming. In many ways, I look up to them. Not only are they towering over me in height, but their vast knowledge about, well, many things, inspires me. Although we were all raised in the same home in the same way, our views are all different, and I love learning from them. They have taught me so much, and will continue to; of that, I am sure.
Not only was this weekend special because I had the chance to spend time with my brothers, but I was also able to see my grandparents, dad, and step-mom. Spending time with family that I don’t often see rejuvenates my spirit. And all of us being together, celebrating the same occasion, makes it that much better! In addition, the location of celebration was vital. For those who don’t know, I love Stillwater. I love the Oklahoma State campus. It’s overflowing with good memories for me. It sounds like I went there myself, right? Well, I didn’t. But that, in no way, stops me from acting like I’m an alumni! My pride for that school is uncanny. I wear OSU orange as proud as the rest of them. As does my husband. We are true cowboys. In fact, I’m a little surprised when the blood taken from my port isn’t bright orange.
The biggest highlight of my weekend happened during the graduation commencement. My husband and I, along with the rest of my family, were seated and admiring the bagpipes and entrance of the soon-to-be graduates. I was made aware that my brother and his girlfriend were sitting right next to each other, so when my mom turned around and asked if I could see my brother’s girlfriend, I said yes. However, I couldn’t find my brother. Mom explained that he was walking in right behind his girlfriend. I became increasingly confused, because the guy behind her in no way looked like my brother. This kid was bald. No sooner did I realize it, when he found his seat, turned around, and took his cap off to show me. My baby brother was bald. The bald kid was my brother! Needless to say, the tears began to rush from my eyes. This was a huge surprise that everyone kept from me. I had absolutely no idea he was planning on shaving his head, let alone for his graduation. That’s a big statement, and I acknowledge it and am deeply touched by his gift to me. In addition, when his name was finally called, and once he walked across the stage to receive his diploma, as he walked down the center aisle back to his seat, he removed his cap and walked the rest of the way proudly. If you haven’t been to a graduation ceremony before, no one removes their caps during the ceremony. It’s unheard of. Until now. I found out later, that the morning of graduation, instead of doing things soon-to-be graduates do, such as ironing their gowns and meeting up with their friends, he was sitting in his apartment getting his head shaved. Wow. I wish I could put into words the impact that has had on my life. My brother blessed and honored me on his day. For that, I will always be thankful. His bald head is the best gift I have ever received from him. (Although, the Michael Kors watch last Christmas was pretty cool, too…)
This past weekend was much-needed. I feel refreshed and ready to continue on with treatment. Every now and then, getting away is good. I’ve learned that, and will use that knowledge throughout my battle. More weekend trips might occur. In fact, my husband said he wants to go to Chicago or New York sometime, so maybe that will be our next trip! We’ll see…
Hebrews 10:22-25 (MSG version)
“So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.”
So much has happened! I can happily report, that lately it’s been several days of GOOD! Of course, as I’ve been thinking about writing an entry these past few days, on the day that I planned to update, my good days slowly turned south. Today was a not-so-good one. But first, let me share the great moments I’ve had. God is creating miracles in my life. Every good day is a miraculous gift from Him. Keep in mind, I have been told to expect the worst (vomiting, exhaustion, neuropathy, etc). And although I am fairly tired every day, the other symptoms have not shown themselves. Praise God! In the time that I have not updated y’all, many things have happened. Let me begin:
1. My incredibly hilarious, kind-hearted, and funtastic aunt came to visit. Our time together was a blast, filled with much laughter and conversation. She’s truly someone I can spill my guts to. Thank God for cool aunts! In addition, she helped immensely with our fundraiser, and was there making sure I was drinking enough water and constantly had sunscreen on my baldalicous dome.
2. We had our Baldalicious Bandwagon fundraiser, and the turn out was jaw-dropping! I still can not believe how many of you came to be a part of that fun day with us. And not only how many people came to support us, but how many guys shaved (and I mean with shaving cream) their heads. Seriously, it was over 20 guys from ages 4 to 57. Amazing. For those who chose to support me by rocking the same invisible hairstyle, my deepest and most heartfelt thanks. Without going into a long rant, I will try to explain how it touched my heart. Before I lost all my hair, I didn’t expect to feel alone once my hair was gone. However, it was indeed the case once the locks disappeared. Fact is, you don’t see many bald people in public. As a stylist, I do notice wigs, but women rarely rock the shiny dome. I quickly felt like the only one. Luckily, my husband went bald before me, which made my transition a lot easier. And now to see the amount of other people willing to shave their hair off, to stand next to me in this battle, was a huge visual reminder that I am not alone. I’m not the only bald person walking around. If you ever get the opportunity to show support to someone going through cancer, shaving your head is an enormous gift to give.
Not only was there immense support via head-shaving, but so many of you made generous donations. And when I say “generous”, I mean, “gargantuan generosity”. Generosity that I had no concept of, prior to this event. Generosity that continues to bring tears to my eyes. Generosity that has filled our lives with hope and has taken away some of the fears we had financially. With your help, we raised a great amount of money. Let me assure you, we have put aside this money and all of your future donations, into a special account. Your donations will help us pay our never-ending large medical bills. Yesterday, we received a huge medical bill in the mail, and initially the number brought immediate stress. However, now, because of so many of you, my stress has dissipated. Because of you, we can more easily pay these medical bills. A humongous “thank you” to all who so graciously and generously donated. You have touched us dramatically.
Overall, our Baldalicious Bandwagon fundraiser was a huge hit! I enjoyed it so much. Thankfully, I had energy, was feeling really good that day and was able to participate. I was able to meet so many new people, spend time with old friends whom I hadn’t seen in years, and see the amount of love you all have for me. The love and support were visual and apparent. I can’t express my gratitude in words.
3. We officially moved into my mom and step-dad’s basement. Although we both prided ourselves on and promised each other we would never move in with our parents after marriage…things change. We have to continually remind ourselves that it’s not because we were financially irresponsible or moochers. Yes, we do pay rent. Let’s just consider them, “room mates”. Cancer became a part of our lives. And with cancer, all of our plans have changed. This transition will allow us to save some money, and when Matt is at work, my mom will be able to help me when need be.
4. One of my awesome sisters came to visit! She was here this past Monday through yesterday, and we had a great time. Like I mentioned before, I have been having really good days, and because of this, her and I were able to spend quality time together. We had time to catch up and share about the current events in our lives. In addition, we enjoyed a day of shopping, and another day at the zoo. Both typically great activities, but with your sister, they are even better. Having out-of-town family here, makes this journey a lot easier.
5. I celebrated the completion of my 3rd round of chemotherapy! Hallelujah! I am now officially about 1/3 of the way through my treatment plan. Although a seemingly small step, if I view it correctly, it’s a big deal. Any progress is good progress! And progress, this is indeed. Until today, my days during this cycle have been really great. My days were full of energy, no nausea, and a strong body. I continue to pray that God releases his miracles upon me, and that I continue to experience his supernatural healing powers. Feel free to pray with me on that!
Now, I’ll update you to the current day. Like I mentioned in the above statements, I have felt really good in this cycle until now. Well, that’s a partial truth. Really, I’ve experienced a headache for the last 4 days non-stop, but, hey… that’s not too bad. This morning I woke up with extreme body aches and soreness, and symptoms of a bad head cold. However, I don’t believe these words fully encompass the way my body is reacting. I’ll try my best at making it a little more realistic and understandable for you. My muscles and bones ache as though someone has beaten my entire body with an aluminum bat. OR- You know when you whack your knee into something very hard, and it leaves a gigantic sore bruise for days? Imagine that sore bruise (minus the color) covering every inch of your being. Even the muscles behind my eyes hurt. Yes, that makes even looking around painful. My bones feel brittle, and my ankles actually feel as though they may break when I walk up and down the stairs. That’s what I’m experiencing today. So much so, that my husband had to literally help me out of bed this morning. Helped me out of bed to the couch, to lay right back down. And until 6:30pm, there I lay. The Rockies are playing tonight, so my husband and I came upstairs to watch the game with my step-dad, one of our “roomies”. Fingers crossed they’ll pull it out and win one. (I am so looking forward to making it to a game this season!)
Physically bad days aren’t just a physical battle… my emotions love to join in on the fun. Those two go hand in hand and, as I’m learning more and more, are very dependent on the other. For example, if I’m having a great day physically and my emotions are a wreck, so is my day. And, likewise, if I’m physically hurting, but in a good mood, my days aren’t very cheery either. So when I say I had a “good day”, you can almost guarantee my physical body and emotional spirit are hypothetically holding hands and frolicking through a field of wildflowers. Oh, how I enjoy those days. Today, not only did my body hurt, but my emotions took a dive. Not in the deep end of the pool, but deeper than I like. I found myself crying. Crying because I hate feeling like this. Crying because I have such an immense love/hate relationship for chemo. Crying because I sometimes feel like a burden on those I love, specifically my husband. Crying because I hate not being able to control my body. Crying because, dammit, this whole thing sucks. It’s okay for me to cry, though. In fact, it’s good for me to cry. Because I don’t do it very often, when I do it’s a good release. I feel cleansed after a good cry. And, God gave us tear ducts for a reason, right? Might as well put them to good use.
Some of you may think that when I have bummer days like today, that I may lose faith. But it’s actually in fact the opposite. I trust my God so much, that I know these “bad days” are just another part of His story. Yes, they suck. Yes, I wish I didn’t have to experience pain behind my eyeballs and in every inch of my body. But you know what? God is still the same God. He is still good, and always will be. He wants the best for me, and knows that I must endure this in order to learn what He is teaching me. His hands are on me. He is fighting this fight with me. Battles are hard, gritty, difficult, and engulfing. And, you know what? He didn’t place this cancer in my life, He allowed it. I fully believe that the devil went to Jesus and asked Him if he could place this speed bump in our lives. My savior said, “Yes, because I know she can do this. You can’t take her down.” God’s bets are on me. And that’s awesome to think about. God is for me. Not against me. And, when I get down, that’s all I need to think about. Although my body and emotions may fail me, my heart, spirit, and faith remain strong.
Psalm 112: 6-8 (ESV)
“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.”