Posts Tagged ‘cancer survivor’

Joy and Happiness Are Not The Same


Joy and happiness are not the same. Think about what gives you joy; does it also make you happy? If you answer yes, which most of us would, you may then say that they are two in the same. But they’re not. Joy is a decision and happiness is an emotion.

I’m often told that I am a joyful person. I’ve been nicknamed “Sunshine” for nearly a decade. When cancer barged its way into my life I had a choice to make. Would I allow this disease to pull me down, beat me up, and steal my joy? Or would I stand firmly clinging to joy, no matter the twists and turns, pain and grief, sorrow and loss? As difficult as it’s been, I have chosen joy every single day. Whether it was the size of a grain of rice, or as large as the universe itself, I decided on joy. And it hasn’t been easy.

There are more days than I can count that I haven’t been happy. Society tells me that I’m not supposed to say that. I have a wonderful marriage, an idyllic relationship with my siblings, a close family, lifelong friendships, and financial provision. Yet happiness has not been a constant in my life. Whether circumstance reared its ugly head and pushed me over, whether personal issues arose and pulled me down, whether cancer forced its way in and ruined my perfectly pictured life, I haven’t always been happy. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Too often we are told to live happy lives. “Do what makes you happy.” That line makes me cringe. No! Don’t always do what makes you happy, do what makes you grow.

Because happiness is an emotion, it isn’t always attainable. If I watch a gripping movie that makes me cry, I’m not happy. Should I not watch those types of movies anymore? When someone I love passes away, I’m not happy. Should I limit my relationships so as not to feel the sorrow? When an argument arises in my marriage, I’m not happy. Should I subdue my opinions and stay quiet? (Maybe sometimes to that last one, but that’s not the point!) Happiness comes and goes. It’s a reflex to circumstance. It’s automatic. Hearing babies laugh makes me happy. I didn’t choose that, it was a relfex to a sound my heart enjoys. Attending weddings makes me happy. I didn’t choose happiness, it’s a reflex to another emotion… love. Happiness ebbs and flows dependent on what’s going on around us. Joy is dependent on us, no matter our surroundings.

Happiness is an outward expression whereas joy is an inward decision. Joy is choosing to rise above, regardless of our circumstance. Joy is staying positive amidst the most negative news. Joy is gratitude in unsavory situations. Joy is forging a way when there is no way. Joy is a choice. Joy must be chosen, we can’t expect it to simply happen. It’s a conscious decision that requires effort. It’s not easy to be joyful because it takes work. I’ve heard that some people are just born joyful, but I’d disagree. Some are born with more cheerful attitudes, but joy is an acquired trait. To acquire a quality, one must diligently practice. Fortunate for us, we live in a not-so-perfect world and have the ability to practice joy frequently. We are given daily opportunities to develop joy.

Among the innumerable things that cancer has taught me, the number one quality that I have learned is joy. I’ve learned how to look beyond my emotion and embrace joy no matter what tumbles into my life. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be defined by my amount of happiness, because what defines me is beyond an emotion. I’ve learned that a grateful heart is conducive to a joyful one. Seeing life through a lens of gratitude only deepens our joy. Developing joy now will transform how you see the troubles that are guaranteed to come.

Joy and happiness are not the same. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is fulfilling.

Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Living an Intentional Life


I decided not to make resolutions this year. Instead, I chose one word that I wanted to represent 2015. Intentional. I desired to be more intentional with my time, my relationships, and my work. I didn’t want life to pass me by. I wanted to be present in everything I did and with everyone I was with. Yet somehow, I wasn’t as intentional as I intended to be. Sure, there were times when I was focused and diligent in certain areas of my life, but many things fell between the cracks. Decisions that were made and not made, relationships that were poured into and those that were put aside, and work that succeeded and some that failed, has taught me something. We must continually strive to be intentional. We must live a life that demands effort, otherwise our entire life will soon be witnessed through our rear view mirror.

My sole focus has been fighting cancer for many years. I have been diligent with appointments, medicines, and treatments. My intentions were always to beat this disease, and by the grace of God, my intentions were fulfilled. I’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months, and years in assiduous pursuit of my goal. I never let recurrences blur my finish line. I was persistent and determined. Fighting cancer requires devout commitment, after all. It demands every ounce of attention and every fiber of strength. I’ve been so committed to defeating this disease that the rest of my intentions got lost in the fog of cancer. Now I’ve succeeded (in Jesus name and with fingers crossed) and am ready to pursue other items as intentionally, but it’s not as easy as I assumed it would be.

It’s amazing how unprepared you can feel for life after cancer. You spend years trying to overcome your diagnosis, and most other goals lower on your priority list. But then… You’re cancer free… So, now what? You’ve attained your goal, and though it’s something you’ve passionately hoped and prayed for, once it’s gone, a void remains. Where all of your time and efforts were focused on cancer, there now sits an empty spot. What do I do on Mondays from 9am until 1pm? What do I do with this energy that has slowly returned? How do I plan my week now that appointments aren’t filling my calendar? I find myself stuck in the loss of a pursuit. I’ve lost what I’ve been so intentional about, and while I’ll never take for granted a fifth chance at living a long life, I’m sorting through what it should look like now.

I’ve heard that adjusting to life after cancer is similar to the adjustment that soldiers go through upon returning from war. And while I find the two vastly different, I can understand the analogy. I’m re-entering a world I’m not familiar with. Sadly, I’m often more comfortable in hospitals than I am at dinner parties. It’s an unsettling feeling. I’m beyond grateful that I’m on this side of the disease, but I often feel alone in my emotions and unsure of how to proceed with this new life. Now that cancer has passed, I’ve realized that I’ve gotten pretty good at being busy doing nothing. Now is the time to recommit to living intentionally. I’m relearning how to be busy doing something. I fought hard to survive, and now that I’m here, I dare not waste another moment.

It’s easy to become paralyzed in grief, fear, and uncertainty. But as the fog clears, I’m reminding myself that I beat cancer. I beat cancer. Not once, twice, or even three times. I beat a terminal disease four times. And I did it by being committed and intentional. Every day, I must wake up and say, “Stephanie, you did THAT. Now go do THIS!”

Cancer doesn’t have to be your interruption. It can be the loss of a loved one, a traumatic accident, a divorce, a miscarriage, or even bankruptcy. We all experience seasons that require devoted attention and commitment, and therefore we all find ourselves walking out of the fog with blurred vision. It’s time to re-harness our intent. You’ve come this far. Look at what you just walked through. Don’t let what’s ahead paralyze you. Let’s step forward with powerful intention and not let life pass us by.

Psalm 16:11 (MSG)

“Now you’ve got my feet on the life path, all radiant from the shining of your face. Ever since you took my hand, I’m on the right way.”

Every Scar Has a Story

There once was a time when the biggest surgery I had was the removal of my wisdom teeth. Though I grew up wrestling around with my younger brothers and playing competitive sports, I had never broken any bones, suffered any major sprains, or even had a scar to show for my rambunctious childhood. I never needed glasses or braces. In fact, I’ll never forget the day my mom took my two younger brothers and me into the dentist to decide who would need braces. I cried upon receiving the news that I would be the only one who didn’t need corrective devices screwed into my mouth. My brothers looked at me with confusion and envy. I remember feeling left out of the cool club as not only my brothers would have braces, but so would the majority of my friends at school. I remember my anguish as I realized I would be one of the few without. There was something cool about braces, and casts, and scars. They were a rite of passage.

We’ve all heard that scars are cool. The majority of us were soothed by our mothers and fathers after receiving cuts and bruises in childhood by hearing that though we were in pain then, we’d soon receive an awesome scar to tell the story. Many boys were told, “chicks dig scars.” Scars were a sign of maturity and experience as a kid. Remember going to school and showing off every bump, cut, bruise, and scab to your friends? Scars gave us credibility. Scars told our stories. When did that change?

It was until I received my cancer diagnosis that I remained scar-free. Shortly after hearing the news, I was scheduled for my very first major surgery. One of the first questions I asked was, “How big will my scar be?” The transition from adolescence to adulthood transforms perspective on physical beauty. The world explains to us that flaws are to be covered up. We go from believing that scars give us a certain cool factor and should be shown off, to believing that they should be hidden. There are hundreds of creams being sold to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and blemishes. We live in a society that tells us that beauty is flawless. Therefore, the presence of flaws translates to a loss of beauty. Scars become unwanted because we stop viewing them as stories and begin viewing them as shame.

A couple of years ago, I was in the midst of a conversation with a young woman who had recently had heart surgery when she shared her distaste for the scar that graced the majority of her chest. She expressed feelings of ugliness because of the mark on her body. She shared how often people stared and how self-conscious it made her feel. She said that though she is happy to be alive, she really hates the way she now looks as a result of surgery. She was covered in shame because of her scar. The young woman was stuck looking at the scar instead of reflecting on the story behind it. And she’s not alone. Many of us look at ourselves and are overwhelmed by what we see. We become trapped in the mindset that we are less than and not enough because of the scars that cover our skin. We believe what the world says and view ourselves as flawed.

Take a second to look in the mirror. Look at your body. Carefully examine each scar. What do you see? Are your marks simply rough, jagged, thick, discolored skin? Are they contorted, gross, and ugly? Do you find yourself wearing clothing that hides your blemishes? While viewing each scar, reflect on why that scar graces your body. What happened? What’s the scar’s story? Were you attempting to pop a wheelie on your bike as a kid? Were you in a car accident? Did you have surgery? Scars not only reflect trauma to the skin, but often trauma to our lives. Scars reflect heartache, loss, and pain and that’s why we are trained to hide them. We become transfixed on the trauma instead of the testimony and we attempt to cover them up in order to avoid the painful memories because of our skewed perspectives.

It’s been nearly four years since my initial cancer diagnosis. Since then, I’ve accrued 14 scars from several surgeries and treatments. It’s taken me time to see myself as beautiful again amidst the markings on my body. I’ve learned that the way we view ourselves affects the way we view others. When I noticed the scar on the young woman’s chest, I didn’t see what she saw. I saw strength and survival. I saw her story behind her scar. If we can see strength in others’ scars, we must see it within our own as well. We must choose to see the story instead of the shame.

Each of my 14 scars tell a story. And all of them proclaim healing and survival. Each one represents strength and overcoming. My story shouldn’t be hidden, and neither should yours. Wear your scars proudly. You earned them. You fought for them. They are your testimony.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently… Scars are still cool.


2 Timothy 4:17 (ESV)

“But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed.”

PINKTOBER: Hard Rock Hotel Orlando Fights Breast Cancer


“We are with you in this fight until the end,” shares Managing Director of Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando, Carlton Hudson. As a 21-year cancer survivor, Hudson means what he says from a very personal perspective. He, like the thousands of men and women across the world facing this disease, understands the importance of teamwork in the fight against cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Hard Rock Hotel Orlando continues to play an integral role in the breast cancer community. This year, the hotel is celebrating it’s 16th annual PINKTOBER campaign by uniting musicians, supporters, and survivors through several outlets. I had the honor of joining the team in the launch of this year’s campaign, and am extremely touched by the personal ways Hard Rock is reaching out to make an impact. While October has a tendency to become “pinkwashed,” Hard Rock Hotel Orlando works diligently to direct the proceeds from PINKTOBER to charities that have little to no overhead costs. The money that is being raised is directly benefiting women and men facing a breast cancer diagnosis.

Hard Rock Hotel Orlando invites guests to show their support in a variety of ways. You can shop for the cause, get into bed for the cause, and even party with rockstars for the cause! In fact, the hotel’s popular concert series, Velvet Sessions, welcomed Bret Michaels for the fourth consecutive year to launch the campaign by performing a benefit concert. Michaels is an ardent supporter of PINKTOBER and breast cancer research, and his enthusiasm for the cause is inspiring. This year, Hard Rock Hotel Orlando donated all proceeds from the concert and the evening’s silent auction (featuring hotel stays, all-inclusive resort vacations, dinners and more) to a local charity called Martha’s Angels. In addition to the donation of proceeds, women from Martha’s Angels had the unique opportunity to spend time with Bret Michaels before his performance. The energy in the room was contagious, and I couldn’t help but smile as I witnessed the conversations between Michaels and the breast cancer survivors. These women, currently fighting this disease, and those who are years beyond their battle were treated like the warriors they are. There was a paradigm shift, as Bret Michaels asked about their stories and congratulated them on their strength and perseverance. Bret became the fan, and the women became the celebrities. Michaels was attentive in giving each woman time, and was truly connected and engaged with each one. Pictures were taken, as laughter and tears were shared. It was a moment I won’t soon forget.


Who knew that by simply booking a stay at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando you could help the fight against breast cancer? Through the PINKTOBER campaign, Hard Rock welcomes guests to get into bed for the cause. By booking your stay in a Pink Sheet Room, 25% of your stay goes to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The BCRF’s mission is to prevent and cure breast cancer by advancing the world’s most promising research. Hard Rock has chosen the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to receive profits from the campaign because of their commitment to helping patients directly. They have very little overhead cost and are passionate about awareness, advocacy, and researching for a cure. Each Pink Sheet room is manicured top to bottom with beautiful shades of pink. From the bed sheets, decorative pillows, and lamp shades, to the bath robes, towels, and artwork, each room is a beautiful representation of the breast cancer ribbon color. These pink rooms truly are a special indulgence — one that should be experienced by everyone who enjoys a fun hotel stay.

Hard Rock Hotel Orlando has not only remodeled a certain number of rooms in their resort and hosted Velvet Sessions for the cause, but they have also turned their menu and merchandise pretty shades of pink as well. Lay out by the pool and order pink beverages and stop into the shop and grab PINKTOBER shirts and other items, and a percentage of your purchase will go directly to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. At nearly every corner of the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando, guests are invited to join in and show support for the cause. In addition to their pink amenities, the hotel has established a social media presence as well. Use the hashtag #PINKTOBER in your pictures to share your support for breast cancer awareness. Whether sharing photos of Hard Rock’s PINKTOBER merchandise, your stay in a Pink Sheet Room, or your daily life of supporting the fight against breast cancer, the hotel encourages fans to rally together this fall.

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While many organizations and companies are raising money to fund research for a cure for breast cancer, Hard Rock Hotel Orlando’s PINKTOBER campaign expresses their unique passion for the cause. Jennifer Hodges, the Director of Public Relations at Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando, shares that their goal is to stand beside each person affected by this disease and to make an impact on their journey to recovery. The brand’s goal is to unite people from across the world and celebrate life and survival, while actively raising funds that benefit foundations and survivors directly. And as Carlton Hudson explains, “One of Hard Rock’s mission statements is to, ‘Love all, serve all,’” and through their PINKTOBER campaign, I can attest that they have succeeded.

Rock on!


Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

“Bear one another’s burdens…”

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.”

Chemo Tips: 15 Ways To Make Treatment More Comfortable

When receiving the news that you or someone you love has cancer, life seems to slow down and speed up all at once. Doctor’s appointments are made, surgeries are scheduled, and treatment plans are discussed. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and anxious with the amount of information being catapulted your way. Navigating the road ahead can feel next to impossible.

Upon my diagnosis, I felt utterly lost. Life was changing rapidly before my eyes and I felt unprepared for what was to come. My doctors and nurses assured me that if I had any questions I could ask them, however, I didn’t even know where to begin. What’s a port? Will chemotherapy hurt? Will I throw up and lose my hair? What happens next? The questions flooded my mind. When one was answered, another presented itself. A diagnosis is exhausting.

I’ve battled cancer for nearly four years, and have fought four separate battles against the disease. My treatment plans have all been different, and I have tried a multitude of chemotherapy drugs over the years. I’ll never forget the thoughts and feelings that cluttered my mind before my very first chemo. I didn’t know what to pack or what to expect. My resolution was to bring everything. I packed like I do for vacation, a lot of too much. In these past four fights against cancer, I’ve had nearly 55 chemotherapy treatments, 28 radiation sessions, and four major surgeries (not including port placement). I’ve become an expert at chemo cocktails and everything cancer. I’ve learned what to bring and what to keep at home. I’ve mastered the chemo bag, and am sharing my tips with you today. Below you’ll find tried and true tips and tricks to make your treatment more comfortable. This list, like every treatment plan itself, is customizable. Feel free to add or remove items from your own chemo bag as you see fit.

1. Wear comfortable clothes:  Chemotherapy takes time. Treatment ranges from one hour to eight and may involve overnight stays in the hospital. Wearing clothes that breathe and move with your body can make the difference during your wait. When you’re at home, do you prefer to wear business attire, or do you like to lounge in sweatpants? If the latter is true, wear your sweatpants to chemo. Be sure to keep your port accessible and wear clothing accordingly. V-neck shirts are a staple in infusion centers.

2. Wear socks and/or close-toed shoes:  Hospitals and treatment centers are notoriously cold. Though it may be summer and sandals may seem appropriate, the inside temperature will be much cooler. Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes and or slippers with a hard sole. If your feet prefer freedom, bring socks to change into just in case. The softer and more fuzzy the socks are, the better. Keep your toes happy, bundle them up.

3. Bring a warm blanket: For some reason, one of the most common gifts patients receive from loved ones after diagnosis are blankets. People must assume that having no hair means that we’re cold all of the time. Touché. They may be right. There’s something about cuddling up with a nice blanket that brings instant comfort. Bring your favorite blanket from your newly acquired collection and invite it to treatment. You’ll both be thankful. Call it your blanket buddy, and you’ll have its heart forever.

4. Stow your favorite snacks: You may find yourself getting the munchies during treatment. You may want to eat out of sheer boredom. Regardless of your reasoning, bring snacks. You may develop an aversion to hospital food and not want anything they have to offer. Customize your own menu according to what chemo cravings you have that day and bring your favorite items. Get creative and fun with your food. Take whatever your heart desires. Most infusion centers won’t have restrictions on what you bring for yourself. If you have something that could appeal to the masses, consider sharing. You’ll make more friends that way. Whatever you do, avoid tuna. Your new friends will thank you.

5. Pack water: Like a camel, quite literally pack loads of water. You’ll want to stay as hydrated as possible during chemo. Headaches are common occurrences during treatment, and many can be linked to a lack of hydration. You’re ingesting your chemo cocktails, but in order to avoid to a hardcore chemo hangover, fill your body with H2O. Water will help flush those nasty toxins through your body. And just when you think you’ve had enough, drink more.

6. Bring music: Make sure your headphones and iPod are tucked neatly in your carry-on. While some patients find the soft hum of the infusion machines relaxing, others find the incessant growling quite aggravating. You’ll never know which side you’re on until you’re face to face with the pole.

7. Bring a laptop: …Or iPad if you’re fancy. Browsing the interwebs from your phone will drain its battery quicker than you can say “chemotherapy.” If you have work to do, having your laptop is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Though you may wake up the next day to discover you sent humorous emails to your boss, having your laptop during treatment can make the time go by faster. Most hospitals offer free wi-fi, so use it… you’re paying for it after all. Download Netflix to your iPad and catch up on the latest episodes of your favorite show. Make sure to pack a charger; The worst place to be is in treatment without one.

8. Bundle books or magazines: You can no longer use the excuse that you don’t have time. You now have plenty. Get busy reading! That stack of books sitting on the shelf that you’ve always wanted to read is crying out for attention. Crack open some pages and sink into the stories that will transport you away from the recliner in the infusion center. Not a book worm? Bring magazines and catch up on the latest celebrity drama, who’s dating who, and who wore it best.

9. Pack a journal: Cancer causes grief, and grief causes emotion. Instead of bottling up your feelings, pour them onto the pages of a journal. Let out your fears, anger, hopes, dreams, and prayers. Document your journey so one day you can look back and see how far you’ve come. If you can’t muster up words, resort to doodling. Everyone can use more practice in the doodle department.

10. Invite a friend: Pick your most favorite and have them tag along. Let them know you only choose the best friends to watch a thick needle stab your chest. Tell them that only the special ones get to see your alter ego, Chemo Queen. Let them know the requirements of sitting with you and that they must be a Positive Polly throughout the duration. Make sure they aren’t queasy and that they like to talk and listen. Conversations with friends can often ease the realities of chemotherapy.

11. Bring board games: …Or mind games like Sudoku if you’re up for the challenge. Some find that keeping their mind sharp during treatment helps alleviate chemo brain. And, who said chemo can’t be fun? Pass the time by playing games like Scrabble and Yahtzee. I’m sure your fellow cancer fighters would love to join in. Keep in mind that Candyland isn’t just for kids.

12. Stash the sweets: Having sugar-free hard candy at chemo can put a smile on anyones face. Dry mouth can be a side effect from treatment and having candy may alleviate your woes. Ginger candies are the two-in-one go to for many. While they fulfill the sweet tooth, they combat nausea as well. Lemon drops are also a fan favorite. Though the cocktail is quite refreshing, in this case, the candy is the healthier option. Mixing alcohol and chemo has never been a good idea.

13. Carry some chapstick: Your lips will feel like they’ve trekked through the Sahara desert in the middle of summer. You thought the inside of your mouth was dry? Just look at the outside of your mouth now. Certain chemotherapy drugs can cause not only mouth sores, but also chapped lips. Having chapstick at the ready like a sword in battle will help defeat the most cracked smile.

14. Bring your inspiration: #MotivationalMonday is popular because it works. Keeping your mind focused on positivity will help harness your mental strength during treatment. Write motivational sayings on index cards or in the journal you have stowed away. Note encouraging bible verses or quotes to reference when you need a little pep in your step. Everyone has bad days, it’s normal. Avoid the traps of despair by reminding yourself of the hope you have for your future. Sometimes reading, “You can do this,” is enough to fuel your mind for the moment.

15. Pack a designated driver: While this item will not likely fit in your bag unless you’ve chosen to bring a suitcase, bring someone who can take you to and from chemotherapy. After treatment, you’ll be exhausted. You’ll want to doze off into a cancer-free dream. More than likely you’ll be chock-full of medications that may make driving more than interesting. Two words: Intravenous Benadryl. Drugging and driving, just like chemo and cars never play well together. Be smart, get a chauffeur.

Psalm 16:8 (ESV)

“I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”


Milestones of the Miraculous


Engrained in our spirit is the act of looking forward. From a young age we are encouraged to dream, imagine, and explore the exciting things the future has to offer. We are trained to set goals and achieve them. Children innately await the new adventures maturity will bring. Parents proudly prepare for their child’s first steps. Looking forward creates rousing anticipation of the opportunities that tomorrow may hold. We are consistently seeking what’s to come. The future is what we strive for.

There are distinct milestones that remain enveloped in our memory. Our typical landmarks may include graduations, marriage, children, home ownership, age achievements, career successes, weight loss, and financial accomplishments. Never have I encountered someone who has no intent for their future. No matter how big or small the goal is, we seemingly have them all of the time. Long term goals. Short term goals. Wishes, hopes, and dreams. They are synonymous to our existence.

Since cancer has entered my life, my goals have changed. The milestones I have reached are much deeper than my once superficial ideals. No longer do I crave the “next best thing.” No longer am I seeking superfluous nonsense that lacks ultimate fulfillment. The resounding similarity in the majority of my current goals is life itself. Once told I had less than a 20% chance of surviving the first year after my diagnosis, my goal was to beat that. Once told a recurrence would be difficult to make it through, my goal was to survive each time the cancer returned. Through each and every recurrence and subsequent treatment, my unsaid goal has been to achieve one year cancer-free. My goal is life. The one year mark has been my buoy. It’s been my north star while I’ve been lost in the wilderness. My lighthouse in the middle of a raging storm at sea. My compass when all sense of direction was lost. One year cancer-free has been a milestone I’ve desperately dreamed of reaching, but had never obtained.

One clear scan, praise God. Two clear scans, hallelujah. Three? Nope. Never have I experienced more than two clear scans in sequence. Cancer has always reminded me that it’s still here… Sometimes microscopic and sometimes maxing out at softball-sized girths. Reaching one year has become more than a milestone, it’s transformed into a miraculous feat. I’ve often thought, “It’s going to take a miracle for me to hit one year.” My latest scan brought more scanxiety than I have ever experienced. It was the scan I had never made it to. The one milestone I could never obtain. While sinking in the deep and dark abyss of the ocean, it was the buoy that I’ve always seen but couldn’t quite reach. Even though I’ve been fighting for three and half, one year has always seemed so far away… Simply a miraculous landmark.

I battled the inevitable in my head on repeat. I wanted to prolong the appointment’s arrival and fast-forward to the results all at once. Soon, I found myself walking into the doors of my home away from home. The hospital that housed my answers.

After redundantly checking the box that indicates I have cancer, ingesting the nauseating contrast, and waiting the long-winded forty-five minutes as my body soaks it up, my name is called. I try and smile naturally as I approach my technician. My heart races and I fear that she hears the pounding inside my chest. She’s sweet and gentle. She remembers me… They usually do. We joke as I need no introduction to the machine, and no further instruction on the process. I’m a pro, we both know that. I fumble to find a place for my purse. As usual, I then hand her my phone and pose in front of the device that quite literally sees right through me. She awkwardly takes a few snapshots and I ease her quiet questions by explaining the documentation of my journey. We share laughter out of polite necessity. I tell her my particular requests for a slower insertion of iodine, and lay on the cold, hard surface beneath the machine. My technician leaves the room. Everything the scan needs is fulfilled. I’m hooked up, laying still, and my heart begins to slow to a soft beat. A rhythmic tap of a drum, my heart is calm. My spirit is gently strengthened and prepared. No longer is it just the technician and I in the room. My hand is being held by someone neither of us can see.

The iodine slowly floods my body. The warmth is overwhelming and I instantly taste it in the back of my mouth. The machine starts to stir. Loud whirring begins to indicate the commencement of the scan, and soon I am being ushered underneath the spinning technology. The machine tells me to hold my breath for a few seconds, and then welcomes me to breathe once more. I’m praying inside. I know I don’t need to say much. “Please” is all I can utter into my spirit. The machine quiets, and slows to a hum. I’m brought out of the cylinder. My technician says, “All done,” and I thank her for being so helpful. I genuinely appreciate what she does day in and day out. For a split second, my eyes question hers. Has she seen my enemy inside of me once more or is she quietly rejoicing as she knows the results? The waiting begins. I’m looking forward.

After what always seems like months, I received the results. This time, I was back at the hospital in the middle of drug therapy. My infusion nurse, who has become a friend as she has walked me through every step of this journey, smiled as she shared the news. Tears fell from both of our eyes and I could no longer hold back the emotions that I had been guarding. I couldn’t believe it. Frankly, I still can’t.

I have officially reached my milestone! A milestone of the miraculous. One year ago on June 14th, my latest malignant tumor was removed from my body. I received more chemotherapy, and now, one year later, the cancer is still gone. There is no evidence of recurrent or metastatic disease in my body. I’m rejoicing, celebrating, and thanking God for His faithfulness. I’m cancer-free once more, and this time I’m breaking my own records. Now, I continue my drug therapy once every three weeks and recover. From here on out, each scan will be a milestone of the miraculous. I’m not only looking forward, I’m moving in that direction as well.


Philippians 13:12-14 (MSG)

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”





Keys of Hope: Free Hotel Rooms For Cancer Patients


Every day, thousands of people are sitting in hospitals and cancer centers receiving treatment for their disease. Thousands of them are in treatment facilities away from home. Some are staying with friends or family while they undergo life-saving medical therapies. Some patients are paying out of pocket to temporarily live in hotels. Some are fortunate enough to have made it through the waiting list and are able to stay in short-term lodges specifically designed for families fighting cancer. However, there are thousands of people who are unable to receive treatment that could either save their life or give them the best quality of life because the treatment is simply out of reach.

If you were diagnosed with cancer today and told that the only facility that would offer the treatment you needed was across the country in a place where you have zero connections and know no one, what would you do? You may immediately answer, “Well I’d go anywhere to save my life.” But keep in mind that your wallet is going to be substantially thinner because of the cost of the surgeries and treatments you will need. You may be left with no money by the time you can receive that life-saving therapy. You’ll probably still be paying your current rent or mortgage and monthly bills unless you choose to move to this faraway city. You will have probably lost or had to quit your job because your place of work doesn’t offer extended paid sick leave. Your choices may be whittled down to nothing. Most likely you won’t be able to afford airfare, living expenses, and the cost of a place to stay on top of the cost of your medical care.

Unfortunately this scenario is not pretend, nor imaginary or made up. It happens every single day in America. Patients are faced with the difficult choice of having to forfeit the opportunity for the best treatment because they simply cannot afford the cost of living away from home. This is a hurdle in the cancer community that is all too common. Hundreds of people are dying because the fear of financial ruin is overwhelming, preventing patients from receiving treatment that could save their lives.

Recently, a program was birthed out of a unique partnership between a corporation and a non-profit organization to help people facing the realities of receiving treatment away from home. Extended Stay America has joined the American Cancer Society to offer financial relief to patients seeking accommodations near their treatment center. Together, they have joined those of us facing cancer in defeating the hurdles that come with fighting the disease. Through the Keys of Hope program, Extended Stay America has donated over 45,000 hotel rooms to patients in need. Over the course of two years, more than 6,700 patients and their families have saved nearly $1.2 million in costs associated with traveling for necessary cancer treatments. Extended Stay America and the American Cancer Society are rallying beside us to make a change. To let us know that we are not alone. Through these room donations, lives are being saved.

A hotel is not the same as home. Extended Stay America understands that and has therefore modeled their rooms around the comforts and conveniences of our own homes. When you benefit from the Keys of Hope program, you won’t be staying in a cold, confining space. You won’t be receiving the rooms that other guests chose not to book. With the Keys of Hope program, you will be staying in a hotel room that feels more like an apartment. ESA provides an environment that welcomes relaxation and relief for your recovery through cancer treatment. Some of the comforts include on-site laundry centers, kitchens in each hotel room for you to store and cook the food you enjoy, and free wi-fi access in order for you to stay connected to your loved ones. In addition, as you head out each morning for your doctor’s appointments, Grab-and-Go Breakfasts ensure a quick and healthy way to start your day. Your pets are welcome too. If you’re like me, my dogs help comfort me when I suffer from nausea, fatigue, and stress from treatment. Extended Stay America even provides pet-friendly accommodations so that you can have the same comfort as well.

Though I have not yet needed help from Keys of Hope, I personally know several survivors who have been deeply impacted by the benefits of this program. With over 680 hotels across the country, there is usually a property near every cancer center in the United States. The partnership between this corporation and non-profit organization is providing real, practical help to those of us facing a cancer diagnosis. Please know that you are not out of options. If you or a loved one is desperately seeking accommodations near a treatment center away from home, Keys of Hope can help. There are no hoops to jump through and no specific criteria needed to take advantage. Simply contact the American Cancer Society booking hotline and ask about Extended Stay America rooms via the Keys of Hope program.

As Tom Seddon, chief marketing officer at ESA shared, “…This is more than a donation, it is about providing families impacted by cancer peace of mind while they travel away from home to seek treatment. The true value of Keys of Hope is in the people it impacts directly.”


Hebrews 13:2 (ESV)

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”


The Scan I’ve Never Made It To

Have you ever had a prayer so desperate it crashed loudly in the torrential storm of your spirit? A plea so full of depth, it couldn’t be given an audible voice? One equally full of hope and fear? Lately, my prayers have been carnal cries to the Lord. Petitions that bring me to my knees.

Less than three weeks from now will mark one year of clear, cancer-free scans. June 14th is a day I have fervently longed for since the beginning of this journey. While I’ve derailed the statistics of my diagnosis (a less than 20% chance to survive one year), I have yet to make it an entire year without cancer. I’ve hit the three-month mark and have even made it to eight months cancer-free, but I have yet to receive one whole year of clear scans. Within the next week I’ll be laying on the cold, hard, metallic table while a machine takes pictures of my insides from head to toe. And then I must wait, which for me is the hardest; Scanxiety can be quite overwhelming. This is the scan I’ve never made it to.

My prayer life has been brought to new heights since hearing my life is not guaranteed. Not one of my prayers ends without the utterance of a plea to remain cancer-free for the rest of my life here on Earth. My conversations with God are full of asking for dreams to come to fruition. “I’d love to grow old with my husband. Please allow me to experience motherhood. I want to watch my children grow into adults and have their own children. I ask that I live until I’m wrinkled, hard of hearing, and gray.” Some petitions are whispered in my spirit without a voice to convey them. Some are one worded, and I find myself simply saying “Please” quite frequently. Recently, I have found myself showing up at the feet of Jesus with a new sense of urging… Truth be told, I’m desperate.

Desperation is typically frowned upon. It’s a sign of weakness and can be quite pitiful. However, though my spirit desperately calls upon my Savior in this time of need, I know that weakness is not a negative trait in this context. In fact, I know that God wishes for me to be desperate for Him– Putting all of my energy into seeking Him for He knows I can’t do this on my own. I am desperate for life. Desperate for time. Desperate for memories. Desperate for survival. Desperate to hear the words “no evidence of disease.” Desperate for answered prayer. I am desperate to receive yet another clear scan to stamp the one year mark.

The amount of doubt, fear, and uncertainty that can sneakily ease its way into my mind is unmatched. The battle of the mind is often much harder than the physical fight against cancer. I have to constantly and consistently cling to hope that someday I will live a cancer-free life. I must avoid the dark traps and triggers that can send me into pits of despair. I must, with every fiber in my being, believe that I am healed. Though I still experience aches and pains, I must respond rationally rather than place myself in a worst case scenario. I also must surrender my control to the One who holds my life in His hands.

Time moves by slowly and at the speed of light all at once. Some days I wish I was receiving my scan right this minute, and other moments I wish I could put off the inevitable for one more day. This is a scan I’ve never made it to, and the importance sears itself into my heart. I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding the “what ifs,” but know that I very well could be in a position I’m all too familiar with. Overcoming my worry is accomplished solely by my reliance on God. I can not worry, for worrying only wastes precious time. For now, I desperately cling to my faith in a God who is capable of every impossible hurdle I face. I find encouragement in the fact that He hears my every cry. And I know that He in His love for me, wants nothing more than the achievement of this milestone.

Though this is the scan I’ve never made it to, I’m believing that I soon will.

Mark 11:24 (ESV)

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Babies On The Brain


Prior to my diagnosis, my husband and I spoke frequently about having children. We dreamt about how many we would have and what their names would be. We laughed at who they would take after. Would they be fiercely independent (and stubborn) like their momma or gentle and patient like their daddy? Would they have Matt’s tan complexion and my blue eyes? We noticed every pregnant woman passing by and couldn’t even walk through Target without perusing the baby section, dreaming of all the possibilities to come. Babies were destined to be in our future.

From a young age, we both felt called to be parents. Though we initially got married with the five-year plan in mind, after our first year of marriage, we were both struck with a bad case of baby fever. We no longer wanted to wait and were ready for a bundle of joy. However, no sooner could we begin the journey to pregnancy before a monstrous disease barged through the front door of our lives. Cancer began to fill every area of our perfectly prepared existence, quickly leaving no room for children.

Dreams began to disintegrate right before our eyes. No matter how tightly we clung to our hopes of bearing children, the dust of our wishes slipped between our fingers, disappearing into eternity.

We begrudgingly traded morning sickness for chemotherapy induced nausea. OBGYNs for oncologists. Ultrasounds for PET scans. Mom bobs for bald heads. Baby showers for fundraisers. Dirty diapers for hospital bed catheters. The clean baby smell for sterile alcohol wipes. Midnight feedings for night sweats. Pint-sized outfits for hospital gowns. Pregnancy pains for surgery recovery. Labor and delivery for a radical hysterectomy. Motherhood for survival.

Cancer took precedence over everything in our path. We entered the fight immediately, and dreams of babies fell to the wayside. The more chemotherapy treatments I had, the less conversations my husband and I shared about our future children. Soon we would go months and even years without the mention of kids. Everyone around us was getting pregnant and raising beautiful little bundles, yet we were stuck in the fight for my life. Discussing children became painful — an open wound. Every word spoken was like sprinkling salt over the gash. Cancer handed us the shovel, and grief buried our dreams. Whenever we would talk about children, the loss would surface and the pain broke what pieces were left of our hearts. Quickly our baby fever calmed to a manageable temperature and lay dormant in the back of our minds.

For over three years we have been solely focused on my survival. One day at a time, not getting ahead of ourselves, for the journey of fighting cancer is relentless and unpredictable. Treatment successfully ended in January and my most recent scans showed that I am cancer-free. While knocking on every piece of wood in my sight and believing in the healing power of God, this time feels different. The bandaid covering our previously gaping wound has been lifted and underneath we have found hope. Where there once was a stinging pain of our loss of fertility, there now remains joy for our future. Though it looks different, one thing is for sure… Our hearts still beat for the little heartbeats we will hear someday.

Our dreams never died. While buried under the ache of grief, they transformed and grew. In the midst of our sorrow, God was working in the darkest area of our hearts — the place we fiercely protected. He was making a way. He was healing the emptiness so that it could be someday filled with a future love. Our destiny was to lose fertility so that we could gain a love intended only by the hand of God. A love that will explain a portion of the “Why.” A love destined to be ours. A love that has been woven into our hearts unidentified until chaos exposed it. This love has always existed within our souls, and through tragedy has been magnified. No matter that they won’t be born with our DNA or be birthed from my womb, our children will always be our children and our love for them will be unmatched. Our destinies have already intertwined.

Healing has come, and the conversations have begun again. The dark cloud of grief is dissipating, and light is shining in the dark once more. God is revealing His purpose for our parenthood. He is restoring dreams and washing hope over our wounds like a gentle salve. He is gifting us glimpses behind the curtain, and preparing our hearts for what is to come. We are dreaming again. Excitement is being renewed. Grief has passed like waves drifting back out to sea, and the shore holds immeasurable joy. Though it’s still uncertain how God will bring us our babies, we have hope that He will. He holds our dreams tighter than we ever could, and wishes only the best to come. Though cancer robbed us of our fertility, it will not rob us of our parenthood. Babies are on the brain once again.

Hebrews 10:23 (ESV)

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

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