Posts Tagged ‘cancer survivor’

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.”

Suffering With Purpose


A cancer diagnosis is not easy. Neither is the death of a child or divorce. Financial ruin and joblessness aren’t a walk in the park either. Relationships fail, bankruptcy happens, and some of us are stricken with life-threatening illnesses. Catastrophic storms occur and lives are uprooted every year. Depression and anxiety cripple millions. Accidents happen. Death, disease, and disasters are common. These things are the realities of the world we live in and they will continue over and over again so long as we are here on Earth.

John 16:33 — “In this world you will have trouble…”

Biblically, we have been promised to go through hard times. We have been guaranteed to experience suffering. There’s no way around it; We live in a fallen world. For the entirety of our lives, calamity will be around every corner. Many wonder why and begin to question God’s goodness when their lives are stricken with grief and struggle. After all, if God is good and He loves us, why do bad things come our way? And furthermore, if God is strong enough to move mountains, part the ocean, and calm storms, why then does He allow us to experience suffering? He is capable of healing, yet sometimes He doesn’t heal.

Have you thought about what life would be like without suffering? What it would be like if all of our dreams came true and we never experienced loss? I’d venture to say that we would live in permanent infancy, unaware and naive. There would be no need for growth, and we would live stagnant lives. There would be a resounding lack of purpose and no need for God. As one who has suffered greatly, I now find gratitude amid my struggles. No, I am not a sadistic lunatic and I do not enjoy grief one bit. However, in my suffering I am driven deeper and deeper into the arms of the One who loves me the most — my Savior.

There is purpose in our suffering. There is purpose in our grief, and in our pain, and in our struggle. It’s imperative for us to remember that. If we lose sight of the fact that our difficulties are being used for a bigger purpose, we can soon become bitter and hardened by every blocked road and detour in our journey. We’ve all experienced someone who oozes bitterness. Someone who clearly has been shackled to their situation and, whether by choice or subconcious, exudes an attitude of seething abhorrence for their life. My heart aches for those burdened in strongholds of grief and sorrow, for I know that though life is full of devastating troubles, there is still hope for something better. For someone better.

John 16:33 did not end by simply promising us troubles. There is more — “…but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Reflect on that. Though we are guaranteed to struggle in this world, we are equally guaranteed a God so powerful that He overcomes our hurdles. Though our circumstances are impossible for us, with Him the possibilities are infinite. He shatters statistics, derails diagnoses, triumphs over tribulations, and overcomes obstacles. Our hope should not lie in our circumstances but in the One who rises above them.

Through our suffering, we have a magnificent opportunity to bring glory to the Lord. When we suffer, people follow our grief. The world watches to see how we will respond. Will we crumble and give up? Will we avoid and ignore? Will we become shackled? Or will we stand strong in faith with hope no matter the trial? Our suffering is a platform, and in our troubles we are on a stage. Your audience may be your immediate family. It may be your school, neighborhood, or community. It may be those you pass by in the grocery store or the stranger down the road. The world is watching. In your suffering, how will you respond? When people follow your grief, will you lead them to Jesus?

Suffering is purposeful. From the daily annoyances to the life-altering circumstances, there is reason in your struggle. Adversity is not encountered by random chance. Your story is not a mistake. My diagnosis of this rare and aggressive cancer was not unintentional. I have been given an opportunity to suffer well and with purpose. To lead others in my grief. To usher those who suffer alongside me to a hope that is bigger than what I face on Earth. There is opportunity in our suffering. Our struggles bring us closer to Jesus, for He suffered the most. We suffer so that we can become more like Him. We suffer so that we may be molded in His likeness. We suffer so that what doesn’t matter is stripped away. We suffer in order to understand what love really means. We suffer so we can stand by others in their grief. We suffer with purpose.

Life isn’t easy and never will be this side of Heaven. Pain is promised. Suffering is sure. Testimonies exist because of the tests that precede them. There is purpose in our grief. Will you suffer well?

1 Peter 4:12-13

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.”

Alive and Pinching Myself


I still wake up pinching myself. I cannot believe that I am done with treatment yet again. I have four major fights against cancer under my belt now, and I feel like a champion. I cannot begin to express how marvelous it feels to not dread each coming week. I’m alive and I feel like it. There are many times during the course of chemotherapy that I didn’t even feel like I was existing. I knew my blood was pulsing through my veins and that my organs were functioning. I knew that my lungs were breathing in air, and that my mind was cognitive. I knew that I was alive, but it was hard to feel life with poison enveloping every cell of my being.

I’ve made it. I have survived once more. And I’m alive. It’s always incredible to me how quickly my body recognizes the absence of chemotherapy. Though my muscles have atrophied significantly over these last six months of treatment, my insides are rejoicing. My mind is coming out of the dark haze and seeing with clarity. Because chemo is a depressant, choosing joy is a purposeful decision to be made, and now that the toxins are no longer attacking my psyche, I am overflowing with happiness. I’m alive and pinching myself.

As if surviving another season of treatment isn’t enough, the results from my PET/CT scan this week are the proverbial cherry on top. On Monday, rather than going to the hospital for chemo cocktails, I made the trek in order to receive my follow up scan. Though much easier physically, these scans are tremendously more harsh on my mental state. I’ve spoken about scanxiety several times before, and the pressure that it entails is incomparable. My whole body winces at the unavoidable anxiety that follows a scan. The waiting period is always the worst. I am vulnerable and out of control. There is nothing I can do but hope and pray… and practice patience, which God knows I need. My faith is put to the test.

With every scan that comes, God whispers into my spirit, “Do you trust me?” And, as strange as it sounds, I trust Him regardless of the results. I allow myself to play the what-if game for a moment. If results show that the cancer is nowhere to be seen in my body, I trust Him. And even if cancer peeks it’s ugly head out once more, I still trust Jesus. He is faithful, and has proven Himself ten times over in these last three years of my life. I owe it to Him to trust His intentions, for He is always good.

I’ve shared about the process of a scan before. If you follow me on Instagram, this week you got a sneak peek at what it looks like. I shared, “Today I’ll receive another PET/CT scan to confirm that chemo did its job and that my body is free from cancer cells. This is my current view and will be for the next forty-five minutes. I’ve checked in and filled out the same paperwork I have hundreds of times before. My name has been called and I have been escorted into a private waiting room — one all too familiar. My blood has been drawn and I have been injected with radioactive contrast. I’ve ingested the same ‘vanilla’ flavored barium as usual and have chased it down with water. I wait as ‘I’m The Only One’ by Melissa Etheridge is quietly playing over the speakers. I wait for forty-five minutes as the contrast courses through me. And soon I’ll be laying completely still for another twenty minutes as the scanning machine captures vivid pictures of my entire internal body. Later this week I’ll receive a call from my doctor’s office…”

That call came less than twenty hours later. It was Tuesday morning, the day after my PET/CT, and Matt and I were just barely waking up. For some odd reason my phone was turned to vibrate, so I didn’t hear the incoming call. When I looked at my phone, the first thing I saw was the missed call and a voicemail from my doctor. Though I didn’t think it possible, my heart both dropped to the bottom of my stomach in fear and leapt out of my chest in excited anticipation. This voicemail turned out to be one of the very best I have ever heard. As I quietly listened, I began to hear the voices of my doctor and head nurse. Soon I was smiling from ear to ear, and put my phone on speaker so that I could wake Matt up with the great news.

My doctor and nurse were rejoicing over the phone as they shared that my scan was negative and that there were no signs of disease anywhere in my body! I am officially cancer free, and something about this time feels different. I still don’t know God’s plan, and won’t even begin to presume or guess. But my faith is mighty, and I know that He is able to do anything. In fact, my faith and perspective have been strengthened recently as I have come to really understand how infinite His power really is. Our God who can move mountains, part the ocean, and make blind men see also heals the sick. I am declaring that He has healed me. And I am expecting more than I can even fathom for the future.

Psalm 28:7 (MSG)

“Blessed be God— he heard me praying. He proved he’s on my side; I’ve thrown my lot in with him. Now I’m jumping for joy, and shouting and singing my thanks to him.”

Crossing The Finish Line of Chemotherapy

For the first time in six months, I woke up on Monday morning and did not go to chemotherapy.

I did not hop in the shower knowing I wouldn’t have energy the next day to do so. I did not climb into my car and turn the keys in dread. I did not make the twenty minute drive to the one place that has brought me both grief and comfort. I did not walk through the doors of the hospital, enter the elevator and make my ascent to floor three. I did not put on a brave face and a smile to greet my oncology team. I did not find my favorite corner recliner and settle in. I did not bare my chest in order for the nurse to plunge a sharp, thick needle into my port. I did not lean back, close my eyes, and allow the poisonous toxins to flood my body.

I did not go to chemotherapy on Monday because I am done. Chemo is officially over! I have completed this season of treatment and am moving forward to the next. It’s been a long six months, and I couldn’t be happier to have finished this race. It wasn’t a fast one, but rather a slow and steady jog through innumerable peaks and valleys.

This specific season of chemotherapy has been hard. There were times when I didn’t think I could withstand it any longer. Several moments when I didn’t think I had enough strength to make it to the next day. Countless nausea-induced sleepless nights. More vomiting than ever before. These last few months, my mind has been applesauce — foggy, short-circuiting, and muddled. It’s been increasingly difficult to write. I couldn’t muster up enough focus to even read a book. I’ve been exhausted and restless. It has been the longest and most exhaustive journey through treatment. To say I am ecstatic to be done with this season would be a monumental understatement.

Have you ever ran a race? Last year Matt and I ran a 5k (3.1 miles) in downtown Denver. Neither of us are runners. In fact, I loathe running. However, we wanted to accomplish something we never thought we could. We trained hard for a few months. We woke up early and pushed our bodies to the limits. Several times we would come inside from a long run and collapse on the floor, reaching for breath to fill our lungs. There were days our muscles were so tight and sore we couldn’t imagine putting them through another day of grueling training. There were many days of accomplishment, and many days where we questioned if running the race was even attainable.

This season of treatment has been similar to that 5k we ran. I can’t help but feel the same way I did crossing the finish line of the race as I do now completing treatment. As I put hours and days of training into the race, I poured even more time into my treatment. As my muscles were sore from running, so too was my body weak from chemo. As some days I didn’t think I could run one more mile, so too have I thought I couldn’t handle one more toxic cocktail. As we crossed the finish line of the race hand-in-hand, we have also completed this journey through chemo hand-in-hand. We were surrounded by friends and family cheering us on and offering congratulations then, and we are even more surrounded now. The significance of crossing both finish lines is something that will resonate within my spirit for eternity.

Now that the race is over and I have completed my final hours of chemotherapy, what’s next? Many have been wondering what I will do now. I’d be lying if I told you I knew exactly what was going to happen in the coming days, months, and years. That’s what makes life an adventure, right? There are a few things that I know for certain, however. To start, I will begin receiving PET/CT scans every three months. This ensures that I am being watched closely — if any recurrences were to happen, we could catch them immediately. I’ll be receiving my first post-chemo scan this coming Monday (2/9) and am eagerly anticipating great news. Secondly, I know that no matter what comes in the future, God will remain faithful. He is unchanging, regardless of the circumstances we face. And lastly, I am certain of the hope I have within me. Just as I do every time, I am believing that this most recent season of treatment is the charm and that cancer will no longer find my body as its residence.

I’m also pretty sure I need more shelves for these trophies. I’ve earned quite a few from these last four marathons through cancer.

Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

“…And let us run with perseverance, the race God marked out for us.”


Dear Stephanie: A Letter to Myself Before Cancer


Dear Stephanie of January 2012,

You are both stronger and weaker than you could ever imagine. Life is about to show you that. Though you won’t be sure what she means, take the advice of your friend and “buckle up.” In fact, why don’t you grab the seatbelt next to you and buckle into it as well. You always liked roller coasters, right?

You are young, healthy, vibrant, and full of energy and dreams. You are working hard and thoroughly enjoy your job. You have married the love of your life and are thrilled to come home to him every day. This truly feels like the beginning of an incredible journey, and hand-in-hand you and your husband both feel ready to conquer anything. You’ve found the church you call home, and for once you finally feel like you belong to something far greater than yourself. The friendships that will develop through this church will become family. Trust and embrace them.

You feel ready. Ready for the future. Ready to start pursuing the dreams you and Matt have. Ready to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals. Ready for what God has for you. You think that means a white picket fence and two children. You think that means unending happiness with only minor bumps in the road. You think you know what God wants for you, and though you are certain of His goodness, you don’t know its depth just yet. You feel ready for a reason, but it’s not the reason you think. Stay ready.

You’re really rockin’ that hair. I know how much you love it. Go on with your blonde self — enjoy it. You are in shape and look good. Really good. You don’t believe it, but you are perfectly beautiful as you are. Stop worrying so much about it. Soon you will find that when looks fade, character will remain. Start thinking about your identity.

Your husband adores you. You think you have an understanding of his love and commitment, but you really have no clue yet. You reminisce to your first date, your wedding day, and all of the fun newlywed adventures you have experienced together. It’s been a year and a half, and you both laugh at the words of friends who have married before you: “The first year is the hardest.” You say to each other, “If the first year is the hardest, we’ll be smooth sailing for the rest of our lives because this is easy!” You were right, the first year was the easiest, but it will get harder. The man that stands by your side now will stand by your side through your darkest times. He meant every single word he vowed to you. Cherish him.

You like plans. You like goals. You like lists. You struggle with control. You want things just right. But your version of right isn’t always right. Let your pride take a step back. Though you have perfected the plans of your life story, be ready to erase. God’s plans are far greater than the little ones you have constructed. It’s okay to go with the flow. You’ll need to learn to do that soon. Be open to new things. Surrendering your life and all of the plans you blueprinted is scary, but marvelous.

You have experienced pain and loss, but you don’t fully know grief. It’s bitter and refreshing all at once. It comes swiftly and unexpectedly, but can truly heal if you let it. Though you are emotional at times, soon crying will become second nature. It doesn’t mean that you are weak. In tears, there is strength. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to experience the pain and then work through it. Don’t avoid situations because they make you uncomfortable. Dive in.

The faith you have now will soon become the only thing you can hold onto when your dreams, desires, goals, and plans are radically changed. Your faith, though it seems large now, will have the most impact when it is the size of a mustard seed. You’ve hoped for things before, but the hope that will birth inside you will reach magnitudes you can’t even begin to fathom. God is for you. He is on your side. He goes before you. He will protect, encourage, and supply you. Wrestle with Him. Pursue Him. He has never and will never leave you. When He is quiet, be still.

You have a story. The life you live now will soon change to reveal your purpose. The woman you are now will be pruned in order for a new creation to spring forth. At times you won’t recognize the woman you see in the mirror, but she is still there… stronger than before. Though there will be days and even months of painful struggle, the reward for staying steadfast will overwhelm you. Don’t give up. Keep your eyes focused on what matters most, and everything lackluster will fade away. It’s okay to be weak and to allow God to be your strength. He will overcome.

I write to you from a familiar date. You’re a numbers girl, I trust that you’ll understand the importance. On January 25, 2012, you will be diagnosed with cancer. And three years (almost to the day) later on January 26th, 2015, you will complete your final chemotherapy treatment and will be well on your way to a new journey. Be encouraged. Those three years will have an eternal impact. They will be some of the hardest years of your life, but will develop you in ways no other experience could. Be grateful.

You are brave. You are strong. You are fierce. You are a warrior. You are a fighter. You have the tools you need. You can do this. I believe in you.

With utmost expectations and encouragement,
Stephanie of January 2015

 Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”


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