Posts Tagged ‘diagnosis’
Many outside of Cancerland think that once treatment is over, life continues again as if nothing ever happened. That we get to press the universal play button and proceed on our merry little way.
The reality is, life is never the same after cancer.
My life’s road map became forever altered upon the very moment I was diagnosed. There were many times after clear scans that I had the choice to revert back to my old life. I could go back to old jobs. Pursue prior dreams. Slip back into the routine of a life I once felt comforted by. Yet doing so always felt wrong. Like a butterfly trying to fit back into it’s cocoon. A place once full of great comfort and safety — though I could slide right back into it, my once upon a time haven would never be the same.
I am different than I was two years ago. Through the adventure of cancer, God has changed me. I have been stretched, broken, molded, and reformed. I see life through much larger lenses, and I appreciate moments that tended to slip by unnoticed in seasons past. My relationships have been altered. My character has been chiseled and refined. I am far more sensitive of what compassion and empathy really mean. I have suffered great loss, and have experienced overwhelming gain. I have been blessed abundantly. My body has been sliced open and stitched shut several times over. Organs have been removed and where there was once smooth soft skin, jagged scars remain.
I am no longer the Stephanie I was prior to my diagnosis. She was shed long ago, and the new me has matured. Why then should I force myself into her old shoes?
Through illness, new adventures, unexpected tragedy, job relocations, children, marriage, divorce, the passing of a loved one, or a cancer diagnosis, our experiences help mold us. We mature. We grow. We transform. The day we are living today is far different than the day we lived yesterday. Why then do we continually try to relive our past? Why then do we continually reach for something that has expired, as if the expiration was not the end of a chapter, but rather a revolving door?
Too often we turn around and view what’s behind us as a marker for what lies ahead of us. We think, “I wish I was back there. Where I’m at now sucks. How can I change this?” We try and relive our so-called glory days. Too often we place our eyes on the past, and are crippled by doing so. We do ourselves a disservice by comparing one season to another.
We have all gone through growth spurts. For me, elementary school entertained the most physical changes on my body. One morning I woke up and my shirts were too tight, pants too short, and shoes too small. Nothing fit, and no matter how hard I tried to stuff myself into my old clothes, they never fit the same again. Sure, I could wear the same shoes, but I’d be in pain for as long as my feet were crammed into them. I was in a dilemma. I loved my old shoes. They were comfortable and cute. I had become used to them, and found comfort in that. Yet, it was time to move forward. Out with the old. In with the new. It was better to find shoes that fit my current size, rather than trying to shove myself into an old pair.
Life’s seasons are comparable to shoes. We can cram ourselves into a past season, and never fit the way we once did. We try to recreate our past, yet suffer with the consequences. We will never experience what we did in the moment that has already expired. Therefore, we must live in the moment that God has for us today. We go through trials for a purpose. God allows us to endure unpleasant circumstances in order for growth and maturity to take place; to become more refined versions of ourselves. We can either embrace the change, moving forward with high hopes for our future, or turn around, desperately trying to hold onto something that once was.
Moving forward opens opportunities for new blessings. Staying behind limits what’s available for us.
As I face a new chapter living a cancer-free life again, I have a choice to make. Do I want to revert to the life I once had — one full of comfort, security, and predictability? Or do I embrace what God has allowed me to go through, and view it as an opportunity to experience new and exciting opportunities? Sure, the future is uncertain. There will be moments of great accomplishments and times of deep sadness. But I have grown in this season for a purpose, and in the future I will continue to mature, as long as I embrace the process.
I often hear, “I’m so happy you’re done with treatment! Now you can get back to where you were.” The latter is simply is false. My life will never go back to the way it once was. My challenge now is to figure out what my new life looks like. To navigate the different pathways that are set before me. And while I grieve that one season is gone, I am abundantly blessed to experience an entirely new one.
I’m ready to try some new shoes on.
Last Chemotherapy! (2/7/14)
Isaiah 43:18-19 (MSG)
“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?”
(As appeared in The Huffington Post on 1/28/14)
Cancer scares people. It’s the disease that no one wants to get, no one wants to talk about, and no one has a cure for. It brings the crazies out of the closet, introduces you to long-lost family members, and sabotages even the strongest of friendships. Cancer is the adult version of cooties. Getting it is not cool, and will send some around you scurrying away in search of a large tree to hide behind.
“Am I contagious?” This is a question that I admittedly asked upon hearing the news for the first time. I thought I knew the answer, but I couldn’t be entirely sure. Was I putting my husband, friends, and family at risk? Should I be quarantined?
Silly me. No, cancer is not contagious. Thank goodness. But if this disease is not contagious, what could be the reason for friendships beginning to dissolve and people hiding behind closed doors?
Until recently, I couldn’t quite understand the cause for the sudden shift in my relationships upon diagnosis two years ago. I just had cancer, after all. I didn’t have the chicken pox, diphtheria, or the plague. I was still me… the same ol’ Stephanie. Sure, I’d be bald soon, but did that really affect those around me? Was my bald, shiny head really the issue?
People change in difficult circumstances. Some become fearful and timid. Some hide behind sarcasm and cynicism. Some shy away. None of these reactions are wrong; coping mechanisms can fall on a large spectrum.
Before my diagnosis, I (like many) was afraid of cancer. My grandmother had passed from it, and not knowing much, I became fearful. Choosing to avoid any mention of the disease, I embraced blissful ignorance. Upon hearing reports of celebrities succumbing to their fights against cancer, I would feel sorry, yet would move forward as if it didn’t affect me. Because, did it really? As long as cancer wasn’t a part of my inner circle, I could remain euphorically unaware. Many share this approach, and my diagnosis brought these feelings out of several who surrounded me. An arm’s length became a safe distance.
While avoidance is on one side of the spectrum, artificial involvement is on the other. You know, the appeal of being friends with the “sick girl.” A concept similar to when someone passes away, and multiple people claim best friendship with the deceased. Or when passing by a car accident, we have to look, no matter how invasive it may feel. For as many people who vanished into the shadows upon hearing the news that I had cancer, there were just as many people who spontaneously appeared suddenly interested in the details of my journey… people whom I hadn’t heard from in years. Clearly not wanting to offer support, but rather trying to gather as much information about my newly changed life in order to be someone who could “share” my personal updates with others, as if they had the inside scoop.
Recently, I had an extremely valuable conversation with a dear friend. I shared with her the effects that cancer has had on my relationships. The ups, downs, and in-betweens of friendship after diagnosis. She responded by courageously sharing with me a perspective of hers that was entirely unknown to me. Truthfully, I was surprised at the feelings she expressed having upon hearing the news of my diagnosis, yet ever-so-thankful that she was brave enough to share. Her words have taught me so much.
“Stephanie, honestly, I was afraid to be your friend after I learned you had cancer. I feared that I would lose you. I was afraid that you might die, and I would have to go through the pain of losing someone close to me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to that.”
That day, I learned that avoidance might simply be an overwhelming fear of being close to someone who could possibly die. It has forever changed my perspective and has replaced my questions with grace for those who chose distance over involvement. Like I was before my diagnosis, many are just afraid of cancer. Afraid of what it might do to someone they love. And, whereas it doesn’t make dissolved friendships easier, it does allow me to understand that they may not be able to handle such a risky relationship.
As someone diagnosed with this disease, authentic support, encouragement, and prayers are treasures to receive. All friendships require selflessness. Being a friend to someone with cancer is no different. In fact, a relationship like this often requires more selflessness and can be far more difficult than others. Sometimes your friend with cancer may not be able to reciprocate equally, due to a slew of side effects from treatment. But if you’re willing to understand and accept that, this relationship will challenge and inspire you in ways you couldn’t dream of.
I am blessed to say that among several who slid out of sight and those who artificially tried to insert themselves, I have had numerous true friends stand firmly by my side. Friends who have brought meals when I couldn’t get out of bed. Those who have rearranged their schedules to pray with my husband and I before surgeries. Those who sit with me for hours as I ingest my chemo cocktails. Unwavering friends who offer support to myself and my husband no matter how hard the journey may get. Friends who don’t expect anything in return, and whom I know without a doubt would do anything for us. I am beyond grateful for these relationships.
Though arm’s length may be a safe distance, embracing someone with cancer is far more rewarding in the end. Just think. If it were you whose life just flipped upside down, what kind of friends would you want? … Be that friend.
Matthew 7:12 (ESV)
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…”
A place where chemo drips freely. Hair is a rare sight to be seen. Tubes, treatment, and trials are common occurrences. Hospital bands are shackles bound to the arms of warriors. And cancer is everywhere.
Welcome to Cancerland.
As I sit here receiving my fourth chemotherapy treatment this season (34th overall), I can’t help but look around, witnessing how cancer has affected the lives of so many. It’s everywhere. Rampant like a rabid monster ferociously feeding on the innocent. Moving its way through the nooks and crannies of both young and old generations. No care that it’s unwelcome. No fear of opposition. No worries in the world.
Once diagnosed, patients, including myself, are immediately propelled into Cancerland. Slingshotted into the abyss, with doctors accompanying us on all sides. Our medical knowledge, once novice, becomes an integral part of our vernacular, and soon we are spouting terms like “hemoglobin,” “neuropathy,” “large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma,” and “CBC.” We become aware what it feels like when our white cells are low, and we equate a shortness of breath to a lack of red blood cells. We become accustomed to aches and pains, leg spasms, and a variety of rare side effects. We ingest pills, supplements, and other magical potions as if they were candy.
This is life. If only we could watch fireworks, eat a chocolate covered frozen banana, and leave the park at the end of the day to crawl into bed outside the gates of Cancerland. However, this disease embeds itself into the pages of our story. It becomes a part of us. A part of our journey. Enveloped in our trials. Overcome in our triumphs. It never leaves us. The shadow of cancer follows us no matter how far we run and no matter how well we hide.
Yet as I am surrounded by my fellow patients, I sense a spirit of camaraderie. We are an army fighting against this horrendous beast. Gathering up arms and standing firm on the hope of success… On the hope of remission. Encouraging one another, exchanging tales of war from seasons past, and dreaming of a bright future. We are more than just patients. We are spouses, children, siblings, parents, and friends. We are people with dreams and goals. Praying to make it through the next year. Hoping for healing. Believing in salvation.
I am touched, moved, and honored to have such an inspiring army of survivors and fighters around me. Everyone who has ever heard the words, “You have cancer,” is immediately part of a unique fraternity. We can say, “nausea,” and as comrades we immediately understand this specific type of sickness. There is something special and deeply personal about the unsaid connection between those who have entered the gates of Cancerland. Some hold their ticket proudly. Some tuck their ticket deep into the crevasse of their pocket. Some try to throw their ticket away, only to find it reappearing every time. No matter if you are proud to be a survivor, in denial of the battle you are in, or not ready to face the fight ahead, we are all a part of this clandestine society.
As for me? I am proud. I have scars, wounds, physical reminders of what I have been through, and what awaits my future. I have aches and pains. I have neuropathy. My insides have been nuked more times than I can recall. My body no longer resembles its form prior to diagnosis. I have been bald, with hair, and bald again several times over. I have lost and gained friends. My life plans have been altered. I am infertile and menopausal. If given the choice on what I wanted my life to look like, cancer would be at the bottom of the list. However, I’m here. There’s no denying it. There’s no getting around it. I have been fighting cancer for the last two years of my life. But I have a choice. One of the largest decisions I have ever had to make and will have to make continuously over the course of my life. Do I want to be miserable? Or do I want to be joyful? Some may think this is not a choice, but I would adamantly challenge that stance. Though oftentimes we cannot choose our circumstances, we can choose our emotions.
I am proud to be a cancer patient…fighter…survivor. I am proud to say that no matter what, cancer will not win because I will never lose. I am proud to belong to this fraternity. My ticket to Cancerland will forever be displayed triumphantly in a frame over my life.
Romans 15:13 (ESV)
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
WARRIOR. (November 2013)
(Guest post by Matt)
Today was a pretty incredible day.
Stephanie and I got to the hospital around noon and did all the normal check-in stuff. Registration desk, go down the hall and up the elevator to the surgery waiting room, etc. We’ve done all this before. Surgery was running a little late today, so Stephanie got to spend time with family and friends in the waiting area before heading back.
She was in good spirits when I went back to see her. Our friends and family prayed over her and loved on her just like we always do. She’s ready to get this tumor out of her and get this show on the road again. We prayed for no more cancer. At times as I was praying over her, that’s all I could say. The only thing that came out of my mouth was, “No more cancer. No more cancer.”
Needless to say, God heard our prayers.
Stephanie and I said our goodbyes and told each other how excited we were to see each other on the other side. We were in the waiting room for perhaps a couple hours and I was putting a nice, pretty bow on the blog that I was going to post when MJ (Stephanie’s doctor) turned the corner towards me. I looked at her. She looked at me with two thumbs up.
“Two thumbs up, that’s good?” I asked like an idiot.
MJ sits next to me and says: “I didn’t see any cancer.”
My mind hiccuped painfully. What did she mean? Stephanie’s CT showed it… that’s why we’re here, after all…
MJ said that the ovary on Stephanie’s right side that was left over from the previous surgery was shot. She said that it was pretty gnarly looking. So, that went. But, she said that she looked and looked and she didn’t find any cancer. Aside from the scar tissue and lesions from Stephanie’s previous surgeries…
“One of the cleanest abdomens I’ve ever seen,” she said.
The mass that showed up on the CT was likely Stephanie’s remaining ovary tapping out. I can only imagine what chemotherapy and radiation treatments would do to an ovary. Couple that with blood that still flows to a beaten-up ovary and I would imagine that that is a pretty likely source of pain. They will still microscopically check out the ovary and search for cancer cells, and Stephanie will probably have a CT scan in two months.
So, this means it’s likely that Stephanie won’t need to get chemotherapy like we thought. And that means that she probably won’t even lose her hair like we thought. Or her nails. Or her eyebrows. We prayed for no more cancer. Doctor saw no cancer.
Do you believe yet?
Thank you so so much for all of your prayers and support. Not one comment or Facebook like goes unnoticed, and we value and love each and every one of you. I’ll blog another update later, but today was a good day. Stephanie appears to still be CANCER-FREE!
All glory to God! He is good.
Proverbs 21:31 (MSG)
“Do your best, prepare for the worst—
then trust God to bring victory.”
These past few days have been entirely orchestrated by God, of that I am sure.
Tuesday night, our church had it’s monthly women’s event, and I was asked to be a small group leader for the evening. One of my dear friends shared her testimony with all of us, and her message was enriched with His faithfulness. In fact, God’s faithfulness was the theme of the night. I am convinced that both the theme and it’s timing were orchestrated with enormous purpose.
Most of us say that He is faithful. We worship Him with that word. We pray for that characteristic to shine in our lives. But how many of us really know that it is true? God’s faithfulness is not measured by how many prayers are answered. He remains faithful even when our plans aren’t in alignment with His.
As I led my group into discussion, I was given questions to pose to the ladies. Here are a few that stood out to me, and have meaning especially now:
- “Has there been a time where God has made something beautiful out of your hurt or pain?”
- “How is our story part of God’s bigger story? Share a time when it was hard for you to see at first, but in the end you realized that God was doing something for a reason that you couldn’t see at the time.”
- “Why is it sometimes hard to surrender to God’s plan in our lives?”
Notice that not one of these questions mentions an ease to or fulfillment of our plans. Many times God sees our plans and wants something bigger for us. I’m sure He looks at our life goals, plans, and desires and thinks, “That’s it? That’s all you want? My will is far greater that that.”
My follow-up CT scan was on Monday. Our women’s event was Tuesday. And I received the scan results on Wednesday. In the moment, I wanted the results immediately. Why couldn’t I receive them within seven hours like I did last time? I didn’t understand why. But now I do. Tuesday was God’s time to speak to me. To remind me of His faithfulness, regardless of the circumstance. It was His moment to encourage and empower me, and to remind me of His steadfast love. His timing was perfect.
I received the call yesterday morning at 7:03 am. Upon answering the phone, I heard my doctor’s voice. I immediately knew. A tumor had grown near my remaining ovary on the right side of my abdomen. It’s a little smaller than two inches. The cancer has returned for a third time. After listening to the medical details and ensuing plan of action, the conversation ended. My husband slid to the ground with his face in his hands, and began to cry. Tears began to fall from my eyes, as well. Instead of asking “Why?” I uttered, “I don’t understand. What plans do You have for me Lord?” I refuse to question His intentions, but can’t help questioning His plan. The tears of disappointment quickly turned into tears of sadness that I would, yet again, lose my hair. I ran my hands through my thick curls, and continued to express grief over the future loss of my locks. I hate losing my hair. It continues to be the most difficult part of this journey.
From the moment I processed this news, a calm confidence has filled my spirit. Where fear, doubt, and worry could hide, confidence has held residence instead. Large Cell Neuroendocrine cancer is extremely aggressive and, more often than not, fatal. However, this cancer is behaving unusual in my body. Unusually good. Sounds oxymoronic considering it’s return, however, it’s seemingly losing it’s power inside of me. Typically, this disease grows out of control and spreads quickly. Because both my hormonal and nervous system (Neuroendocrine) are under attack, this cancer has no bounds to where it can travel. In fact, in many cases, it heads to the lungs and brain rapidly. Yet, for some reason, it is remaining very localized in my pelvic region. It’s attaching itself to surgically removable organs. It is nowhere else in my body, and is no longer growing out of control. The tumor this time is significantly smaller than the second softball-sized tumor that developed within three months. I have been out of treatment for nearly six months, and was nearing the one year mark for being cancer free. All of these facts are good. They give me great confidence that once we remove this last ovary, the cancer will see nowhere else to grow and will cease residency in my body. I’m not dying from cancer. God has bigger things in store.
On October 6th, Matt and I will be running our very first 5k. We have been training for nearly eight weeks, and have put a lot of sweaty effort into our goal. This race immediately flashed in front of my eyes upon hearing the news that I would need surgery and chemotherapy all over again. “I WILL run this race. We’ll postpone surgery if we have to, but we ARE running this race.” Matt was adamant that I was delusional, but agreed to speak with my doctor. Explaining that this accomplishment would mean so much, I was insistent that cancer not take it away from me. Thankfully my doctor agreed, and smiling, she told us to run the 5k. Thank you, Jesus! Postponing surgery a few more days than expected should not have an impact on my health. If at any time between now and surgery, we feel the need to move forward with the procedure earlier, we can and will. However, my hope and prayer is that my pain will remain at a minimum and that the tumor will neither grow nor spread in this time. Our race is in ten days. Surgery is scheduled in eleven days, on October the 7th.
Through all of this, God remains faithful. Our plans and His are not in alignment, yet I know that His will for my life is far greater than I can imagine. For that reason, I continue to trust in His healing power, and know that He’s got this all figured out.
Psalm 138:8 (MSG)
“When I walk into the thick of trouble, keep me alive in the angry turmoil. With one hand strike my foes, with your other hand save me. Finish what you started in me, God. Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now.”
It’s been a while since I’ve poured words into this blog. I suppose I’ve gotten swept up in the seemingly never-ending voyage of rediscovering what life looks like now. I feel like this process could take longer than I expected, and I’m ready to finally feel settled with where I’m at… my life, my role, my identity, my relationships, my environment. Cancer throws everything off.
As I continue to climb my way out of the fog of the aftermath of this disease, I am embracing a new determination for accomplishments. Life changes us… trials, traumas, and tribulations. They change us permanently. I am a different woman today because of my battle for survival. I am embracing it. I view life through a different pair of eyes now, and I’m using it to my advantage.
Lately I’ve been pondering what I’ve accomplished in my life, and at 26 I don’t feel as if I’ve accomplished as much as I want. We’ve all heard of the term “bucket list,” but I’ve never liked it. Don’t get me wrong, I have an affinity for lists. I adore them. They make me happy. But to me, a bucket list implies an impending death (“kicking the bucket”), and while we will all die someday, I’d rather focus on living. Why must I have a bucket list? I’d rather have a life list. What do I want to do in my life? What are my dreams, goals, desires, and aspirations?
Out of nowhere, a new dream has been birthed in me. I think it’s absolutely crazy. Seriously, crazy. Nonsense. Ridiculous. Even laughable. Yet, this dream has now transformed into a goal, and I can’t ignore it. I tried my hardest to disregard it, but it’s relentlessly nagging at me.
Okay, fine. I give in. I’ll start running.
Yes, running. As in physically moving my body at a pace faster than walking. Sounds horrendous, right?! Before I continue, let me share some background with you. I have always led a very active life. I played volleyball for nine years, both through school and at a club level. I have found that I enjoy working out, going to the gym, and exercising. It’s not always been easy, but it’s always been rewarding. I can walk, bike, lift weights, and swim, yet running has always been my arch nemesis. I loathe even the thought of running. It makes me uncomfortable. It pains me. It makes me want to cry. Yet somehow, I find myself with a deep burning desire to overcome that discomfort. To accomplish something I never thought I could do. Because really, when I dive deep into the animosity I harbor towards running, I find that my fear is failure.
I don’t want to set myself up to lose. Isn’t that common with all of us? We often don’t start things because we think we’ll fail miserably. New years resolutions for example. How many of us really create resolutions, let alone commit to them? Failure is scary, but I’m learning that not trying is even worse. I’d rather try with the possibility of success, than not attempt the feat at all. So, while I despise running, I am learning to embrace the discomfort for the reward of an accomplishment. Because in the end, I want to accomplish as much as I can, and in order to do that, I must allow myself to forge through discomfort.
I first learned of the “Couch to 5k” program a couple of years ago. Of course, I chuckled at the notion, and continued on my merry way. Yet, just as running popped into my mind, this specific running plan did as well. Thus began my adventure. This specific plan is extremely feasible. It functions on interval training, so you aren’t consistently running yourself into the dirt. I have left these runs feeling energized and accomplished, and that’s what helps me continue the program. Of course it is difficult to some degree, and I definitely leave with ample sweat profusely pouring from my face, but I can do it. That’s part of the workout… believing I can do it, and pushing through that discomfort to attain the accomplishment of reaching a goal I never thought possible.
Through the painful side effects from treatment, subsequent fatigue, and aches and pain across my body, I will push through. I refuse to let cancer take away my accomplishments. I’m continuing to kick cancer’s ass and look forward to the many accomplishments I achieve in the future… like running a 5k.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (MSG)
“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”
Stephanie. 26 years old. Christian. Woman. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. This is who I was before my diagnosis. And, as I’m learning, this is who I still am.
Cancer does a lot to a person. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Any degree of trauma, battle, life experience… these events change and mold us. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times over, fighting against this disease is tough. Cancer has forever changed me. And I’m now on a path to rediscovering myself.
Today, as I was going through my typical routine and getting ready for the day, I looked in the mirror. As a woman, that’s not an unusual act. Whether I’m fixing my hair and makeup or making sure I have nothing in my teeth, mirrors are a part of my life. (Come on, don’t act like you don’t check yourself out everyday, too.) But today was different. Today I looked at the woman staring back at me. I asked her, “Who are you now?” and she responded, “Hello, my name is Stephanie.”
Pre-cancer, I was adventurous, organized, fun, and care-free. I enjoyed being a wife and loved married life. I loved to cook, bake, and host get-togethers. I exercised. I ate healthy. I was excited for the future. I dreamt of being a mother, and longed for the day when Matt and I would start trying to conceive. Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind.
In my battle against this disease, I began to identify as a cancer patient. Frankly, I was a cancer patient. I identified as a soldier in the throes of a civil war, fighting, quite literally, for my life. And in the midst of combat, I lost sight of who I was before the war began. I don’t suspect that’s uncommon. As someone fighting for their life, we tend not to focus on minuscule brainstorms such as what’s on the menu for dinner, or what movie we’ll see next, let alone complex questions of self identity. I was in the trenches, eye-to-eye with my enemy, attempting every maneuver to defeat the intruder. Warrior. Soldier. Fighter. Survivor. That’s who I was. And again, I’m learning, that’s who I still am.
Now that I’m climbing the hill to recovery and remission, I find myself pondering my identity. Am I the same woman before cancer as I am now? Do I still enjoy the same things? When I look into the mirror 18 months since diagnosis, I notice someone different. Not only am I physically different, but I, Stephanie, am different. I am not who I once was. I have been molded by the fire. I have been broken, reshaped, and sculpted, and have the scars to prove it. Coming to terms with this thought scared me at first. For, if I am different, who then am I now? My name is the same. My face shows some semblance of similarity from before, with the added wrinkles and tired appearance. But do I really know me?
As of this moment, I cannot confidently say I know all of who I am. But I’m beginning to understand that’s alright. Life events change us. And if we don’t change with the seasons, we might get buried in the past. Evolving, changing, and progressing into the future is healthy. As I am rediscovering myself, I know for certain that my foundation remains. My soul is untouched. I am still Stephanie: Christian. Woman. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. But because of this season of torrential downpours, I am now more than that. I am more sensitive, aware, and compassionate. I am more brave and stronger than I ever thought I could be. A new passion for sharing my story and helping others has been birthed inside of me. Now that I’m coming out of the fog and haze of the battlefield, I find that I still love to cook. I am still adventurous, fun, and organized. I still enjoy spending time with friends.
If it weren’t for this diagnosis and subsequent fight for life, I would not live the way I am living today. I am living boldly and victoriously. I am soaking up every moment, no matter how big or small. I value and appreciate my husband more than I ever had before, for he is still faithfully standing beside me, when he could have easily jumped the next train to Georgia (or wherever!). My gratitude for my One, True God is greater and far more vast than it was many months ago. I woke up today with breath in my lungs, and for that I am immensely thankful.
Though I’m sure there will be moments where I have to recheck myself and shake my own hand in introduction, I can undoubtedly count on the identity I have in Christ. He has filled me with a spirit of love, power, and wisdom. I am His daughter and He is my friend. Through Him, I can do all things. Through Him, I have hope and a future. If my identity lies in the Lord my God, I will never be lost. So during these times of rediscovery, I cling to the knowledge that I am His creation and that my identity can always be found in Him.
John 15:5-7 (ESV)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Alongside us on this crazy roller coaster through cancer, two of our dearest friends have been planted. They have joined us at appointments, surgeries, chemo cocktails, and numerous cry sessions. They have held our hands as we have ventured into the unknown, and have triumphed with us in the victories. We have worshiped together, prayed for one another, and celebrated several occasions. God brought this passionate, genuine, selfless couple into our lives at the very beginning of this battle, and we can’t imagine having forged our way through it without them standing firm and rallying beside us.
He is a photographer and life-journalist by hobby. He resembles Jesus not only in his physical appearance, but also in his character. Selfless, compassionate, humble, generous, loving, and prayerful. His laugh is contagious and you’d be lucky to catch it. He is a gentleman. A leader. A father. A Christ-like friend. A true blessing.
She is a dancer. Hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, and jazz. A real-life ballerina. She has a heart of pure gold. She is a friend to hold dear for a lifetime. She speaks encouragement, life, and wisdom. Her gentleness, selflessness, and caring demeanor uplifts and offers strength. She is a mother. A hospitable host. A faithful friend. A prayer warrior. A true blessing.
These two have offered shoulders to cry on, words of encouragement, and a multitude of cries to Jesus upon my behalf for healing. They have documented our journey and brought life to a sometimes dark situation. Through photographs, videos, and sound recordings, they tell our story. They have blessed us more than they could possibly know. Today, we share a taste of what they have captured since diagnosis.
Get your tissues ready. If this video doesn’t move you in some way, you might want to check your pulse. This montage captures a glimpse into this battle. It begins at diagnosis in January of 2012, and ends in August of 2012 on the last day of my first season through treatment. At that time, we thought I beat it entirely. Little did we know, we had another year in the trenches. Through hair loss, weight gain, and several firsts… enjoy.
Stephanie Madsen | Cancer Survivor from Mark Nava on Vimeo.
Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)
“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.”
Yesterday morning, I woke up early and drove to the hospital for my three-month follow-up CT scan. Generally I have a fair share of “scanxiety,” yet that morning was different. Maybe my nerves were suppressed due to the overwhelming congestion in my chest, head, and sinuses, or possibly from the after-effect of two amazing vacations. Regardless, I felt confident, ready, and at peace with whatever the results would show. There still was an undercurrent of suspense as I journeyed my way to the life-changing scan, yet I suppose there always will be with every test I receive. That’s what you get with a diagnosis like mine.
After choking down every last drip of the repugnant “fruit cocktail” that would light up my insides, I waited. And waited. And waited some more… Story of my life.
My name was called and I was then directed to the room where the monstrous machine sat eagerly anticipating my body in its grasp. Before I laid down and surrendered to the process, I uncharacteristically asked the radiation tech to take a picture of me flexing my not-so-strong biceps beside it. Odd, yes. But, for whatever reason, I felt the urge to display my strength to the beast that has been trying to kill me. The tech laughed, the camera clicked, and I positioned myself on the scanning table, ready to be sucked into the machine. All the while, praying fervently that nothing would light up.
The nurses, radiation techs, and I chat frequently throughout the process of these scans. We become friends. I give them the run-down of my diagnosis, the long list of treatment, and the hope for healing that I cling to. Many share well wishes and good vibes, while several others say they will be praying with me for complete healing. After the CT machine was done spinning around my body, I was free to go. And as I said my goodbye’s and thank you’s, I caught a glimpse of my tech behind the computer that displayed the vast pictures of my internal organs. I could’ve sworn she was smiling.
No matter how hard I try not to read the faces of the techs as they instantaneously see the resulting photographs from my scan, I still succumb to curiosity. This time was no different. But did I really see a smile form on her face as she examined the results? Maybe I was fooling myself.
Typically, I wait about a week to receive the phone call from my doctor with results from my scans. However, barely seven hours after I had left the hospital, the number of my doctor’s office appeared on my phone screen. SHUT UP. Why are they calling me so soon? I bet all of my insides lit up, the cancer has spread, and they want to notify me that we must proceed with emergency treatment. Dammit. As I nervously answered the call, my ears began to hear unbelievable news.
“Stephanie, we just received the results from your CT, and I couldn’t wait to call you. The results show that there is no evidence of disease in your body. All of your internal organs look normal and healthy. Your liver is normal. Your kidneys are normal. Your ovary is normal. Your lymph nodes are not swollen and are normal. You are currently cancer-free!”
Even as I relive what happened less than 24 hours ago, I find myself speechless. I am in awe of God’s healing power. I am in awe of His faithfulness. I am in awe of His sovereignty. I am, yet again, cancer-free. And yet again, I am a survivor.
This is the longest I have gone without cancer in my body since diagnosis 18 months ago. I received a clear scan in August of last year, but within days, the beast was growing inside once more, and by November I was starting treatment all over again. In March, I was almost done with my second season of treatment and received my first clear scan. Yet, still actively undergoing chemotherapy treatments, I figured, of course the scan would be clear. After all, the poison was still coursing through my veins. But, my scan yesterday was different. This cancer-free proclamation is more meaningful, because it’s the first scan post-treatment that I have received good news. The way my doctors and I view it is, I have been cancer-free for the past seven months. It breaks down to look something like this:
- November 2012 (post mass-removal surgery): Cancer-free CT and PET scan
- March 2013 (before completion of chemotherapy): Cancer-free CT scan
- June 2013 (post all treatment): Cancer-free CT scan
That’s seven whole months that cancer has not invaded my body, and I am overjoyed! I remain cautiously optimistic, but nevertheless we are celebrating this victory. With every ounce of good news, there are heaping amounts of hope. I have yet to see what my future holds, but I am standing firm and believing that through The Lord’s healing power, I am ultimately healed. I celebrate this victory, and I am humbled by the hands of my Savior. He is GOOD! Continue to pray with me that cancer will no longer take residence in my body, and that the glory of God will reign.
Strength before a scan! (June 2013)
Psalm 107: 19-22 (MSG Version)
“Then you called out to God in your desperate condition; He got you out in the nick of time. He spoke the word that healed you, that pulled you back from the brink of death. So thank God for His marvelous love, for His miracle mercy to the children he loves; Offer thanksgiving sacrifices, tell the world what He’s done—sing it out!”
Grief: (n) “Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.”
Loss: (n) “The state or feeling of grief when deprived of someone or something of value.”
These last two weeks have been particularly full of overwhelming emotions. I’m learning that grief is similar to waves in the ocean. It ebbs and flows. One moment I’m fine, and the next I find myself weeping, unsure of the exact reason for tears to fall so easily from my eyes. My own emotions surprise me. They can quickly appear out of nowhere. Take today, for example. All morning I’ve been productive around the house and even got a good workout in. Yet tonight, I find myself feeling somber, sad, and choked up. I struggle to write.
I’m continuing to grieve the loss of the life I once had.
Grief is a process, I’m discovering. It doesn’t happen all at once. Certain moments can trigger tears as effortlessly as they can laughter. Throughout this past year and a half, I’ve cried more times than I can count. I’ve dropped to my knees in heaving, wailing bursts. Tears have been shed in grocery stores, parks, restaurants, and church. Grief does not have a timeline nor a schedule. It doesn’t require a specific location. It can disappear for days, weeks, and months, and reappear at the drop of a hat.
I don’t enjoy crying. Like many others, I was taught to suck it up and be strong. Yet, no matter how hard I try to remain “strong,” I can’t push away the weak feeling that envelops me. I hate to admit it, but right now I’m sad. Having cancer sucks. Fighting cancer sucks, too. It’s exhausting. It’s tiring. It’s stressful. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt so weak in my life as I have throughout this battle. This is emotionally and physically draining. While I know that there is purpose in my suffering, I can’t help but grieve the immense loss we’ve experienced. I can’t help but grieve the dreams we had imagined for our future.
Through this, I’m understanding that crying and grieving are essential to my healing. And, that in my tears, there is strength.
In moments like these I focus on
something someone bigger than this. I cling to the promise that God is sovereign and faithful. He is here grieving the loss alongside me. He allowed this diagnosis so that my story would be bigger than I ever dreamt it could be. Through these tears, I look forward to the future that God has orchestrated, and the blessings He will pour down over my life. Three things remain… My God, my marriage, and my life. Aren’t those the most important after all? Everything that comes next will be a bonus!
Tonight, I cry. Tomorrow I may not. Grief comes and goes. In these tears, there is strength.
Matthew 5:4 (MSG)
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”