Posts Tagged ‘doctors appointment’

Treasures in Texas

MD Anderson Cancer Center

MD Anderson Cancer Center

You know that feeling you get when you’re on your way back home from a trip out of town? The one where, though sad to leave, you are excited to get home and sleep in your own bed? This time I didn’t have it. My trip to Texas was so incredible, I wished I could have stayed longer.

MD Anderson Cancer Center is spectacular. As weird as it may sound, it felt like Disneyland to me. While some may view it as a place where people are dying, I saw it as a place where people are living. The spirit on the campus was breathtaking, and I often had to hold in tears. Walking through the doors of the nation’s greatest center for cancer care was awe-inducing. As if the angels were singing above me, I felt immediately ushered into the community. From the valet attendants and staff, to the doctors and survivors around me, everyone was so kind.

Never did I feel a sense of sadness. Through the view of wheelchairs, bald shiny heads, white coats, and the ever-present ports, I instead felt power, strength, faith, and unwavering hope. We had all shown up that day; a team fighting the same opponent. Arm in arm, mustering up everything within us to defeat cancer. Walking through the halls, I wanted to give everyone passing by a high-five… For all that they have done, and all that they will continue to do.

Among the hope inside it’s walls, MD Anderson is a congregation of camaraderie. A house built to support the strength and determination of people from all over the world. A home to doctors who pour their lives out to help rid our bodies of this disease. A tool for residents and fellows in the shadows of their mentors committed to learning all there is to know about this wretched plague. Survivors. Fighters. Cancer warriors on the front lines. Old and young alike. We were all in it together. Every moment I spent within the campus, I was surrounded by my teammates. My partners in crime. My brothers and sisters facing the same fight I have faced for nearly three years.

There’s something about being aware that everyone around you intimately knows what you are going through. The fears, doubts, and worries are shared. The experiences, surgeries, and treatments are all similar. The prayers, desperation, and pleading is unified. The camaraderie is evident, and though few of us exchanged stories, with a simple meeting of the eyes, we knew. We were walking in similar shoes.

I met with the lead doctor researching my diagnosis, and though I have spoken with him several times over the phone and email, meeting him in person was unlike any encounter I had had before. Upon his entrance into the exam room where I was waiting, I immediately stood up and asked if I could give him a hug. Though a small gesture, It was the least I could do for the one man representing women like me facing such a rare diagnosis. His knowledge astounded me. His passion overflowed. His mission was apparent. He is doing all he can to find a solution to defeat Large (and Small) Cell Neuroendocrine cancer.

After my exam, we sat in an office and went over my case, from diagnosis to the direction of treatment. He told me that he was able to talk for as long or as little as I wanted. This in itself amazed me. He truly is committed to me and my success, and was pouring in whatever I needed while I was there. We spoke about different types of chemotherapy, statistical numbers, the rarity of my specific diagnosis of Large Cell compared to the rare (but more common) Small Cell, the possibility of molecular testing, and maybe even a stem cell transplant.  After our long conversation, we developed a great plan for this fourth adventure. My doctor set up an appointment for a PET scan and contacted the stem cell department to fit me in before I left Houston. I exited his office standing tall and confident in my next steps.

While we are still awaiting results from a few remaining tests, we have chosen a new type of chemotherapy for me to try. After meeting with the stem cell team, we were given a resounding “no” on the idea of a stem cell transplant. There is not enough information to prove that it would be beneficial to my case. Frankly, this is alright by me, as I was simply exploring all of my options and wanted an open door or a closed one, but no in-between. As we expected, my PET scan results came back completely clear and cancer-free. However, though there is no known malignant activity in my body, we must do everything we can to kick it while it’s down. Considering this is my fourth season fighting this stubborn disease, monitoring it is not wise. Therefore, I will be starting a new chemotherapy regimen within the next couple of weeks, and will be back to baldalicious before we know it.

The rest of our trip in Texas was beautiful. The humidity and resounding heat didn’t even bother me! I was too focused on the blessings in my life…The treasures that Texas had to offer. The opportunity to go to MD Anderson. How God worked everything together in His perfect timing. The generosity of those who donated, and the realization that I wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for my supporters. No matter how hard the trial, blessings continue to come. It’s up to us to see them. Light always overcomes the darkness. Our visit to Houston put a spark in my step and lit a new fire underneath me. I have been refreshed and renewed, ready for this next fight ahead of me.

Whoever said, “Third time’s a charm,” was wrong. I believe four will soon become my lucky number.

Awaiting my PET scan and cancer-free results!

Awaiting a PET scan and cancer-free results!

 2 Corinthians 9:8 (MSG)

“God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done.”

 

We Need Your Help

There are times in all of our lives when we get to the end of our ropes and need to reach out to others. Personally, it usually takes me reaching the last thread of said rope before I ask for help. I have a tendency of being self-conscious of burdening others around me. Cancer burdens everyone, and I cringe at the thought of it weighing on those who love and support me. Today, that last thread slipped through my grasp and here I am with no other choice but to ask for help.

Let me get you up to date. As you know, this last tumor that we prayed would be benign was in fact malignant. This is my fourth recurrence, and I will be jumping back into treatment soon. My diagnosis is rare. So rare in fact, there is not much knowledge or even funding for research to learn more about it. Large Cell Neuroendocrine Cervical cancer is aggressive and stealthy and won’t take no for an answer. There is, however, one man who has taken on the job of finding out more about my diagnosis and is researching ways to defeat this type of cancer. He is a doctor located at MD Anderson in Houston, and we have spoken regularly about my case. He is always kind and optimistic, and would love to help me navigate the next steps in my fourth journey through treatment. I, too, am itching at the opportunity to meet him.

Fast forward to this week. I have recovered well from surgery, and wear my new scars proudly. I have settled into the swing of daily life and realize I still hate laundry. Why do I think that will ever change? … I digress. We have recently learned that insurance will cover an appointment with the doctor in Houston. Hallelujah. God has intricately worked together nearly every puzzle piece, both big and small. The timing is perfect — absolutely perfect. I have an appointment set at MD Anderson for Tuesday, July 29th. That’s two weeks from yesterday. I am beyond thrilled to have the chance to meet with the only doctor actively teaming alongside me, trying his best to learn more about this disease. My appointments in Houston will consist of several tests, scans, and further research of my case. Everything will be put on the table, and based on his findings, he will recommend what step we should take next. Until I see this doctor, we are shooting in the dark. This appointment is vital to this fourth journey in my fight against cancer.

Without further ado, I’ll get to the point… I need help. Matt and I need your assistance in a larger way than we have before. We are in need of financial provision in order for us to get to my appointment in Houston.

Cancer is expensive. You know that. We know that. Though we recently received a financial gift from Ellen DeGeneres and CoverGirl, it has all been put towards our never-ending bills. The well has run dry again. It’s amazing how quickly that can happen after a few hundred trips to the hospital and thousands of dollars in life-saving treatments. Our insurance recently changed at the first of this month, and we are now required to pay everything out of pocket until we reach our new deductible.

Our deductible is $4,000, which is due up front at the time of the appointment. The great news is that once we reach that deductible, my treatment and testing (including scans) for the rest of the year will be 100% covered by insurance. The bad news is that we don’t have $4,000 nor the rest of the money required for flights, hotels, a rental car, and food for my week-long stay in Texas.

Here’s where you come in. Many of you ask regularly what you can do to help us. Typically meal gift cards are a great way to help during my recovery from surgeries and treatments. However, this time we are needing extra assistance. If you are not in a position to help financially, we completely understand and ask you to pray. Pray for wisdom, direction, protection, and ultimately, provision. If you are able to help financially, below is what we currently need.

  1. $4,000 to cover our deductible and the appointment and tests at MD Anderson
  2. Frequent flyer miles or airline buddy passes to help us book our flights to and from Houston
  3. Hotel points to help us book a room for our stay
  4. Cash to help with any aforementioned area that is not met and unknown expenses that may arise through our travels.

Thank you for allowing me to be open with you. Thank you for allowing me to be vulnerable about our needs. Though asking for help is hard, especially for me, I know that there are so many of our supporters who are just waiting for us to ask.

We have faith that God will provide. He doesn’t lead us to the finish line and expect us to cross it ourselves. He provides from beginning to end. The amount of puzzle pieces that He has already put together has me humbled and in awe at His faithfulness. I know He will figure the rest out.

If you are feeling called or compelled to help us, please let me know. You can reach me directly through email at derailingmydiagnosis@gmail.com. Also, if you have ideas up your sleeve, please share them. We need a team to conquer this hurdle, and are thankful for all of you who surround and support us.

Thank you.

Philippians 4:19 (MSG)

“You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, His generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus.”

Pruning What Doesn’t Belong

A fourth surgery in less than three years? No problem. In fact, I told my doctor if he needed to cut me open from my shoulders to my knees, I wouldn’t care. Just get the job done. Remove what doesn’t belong.

Last week Matt and I drove to a meeting with our newly appointed team member. A urologist, who happens to be the top adrenal surgeon in the state. He’s one of the many doctors on our team who helps navigate and combat this dreaded thing called cancer. I currently have a gynecologic oncologist, radiation oncologist, general oncologist, and now a urologist, among the slew of techs and nurses helping as well. Adding a new doctor to the team is always met with some hesitancy (on my part), as I become comfortable with those who have treated me over the last couple of years. My team of doctors and I have grown as a family. The hospital where I have received 99.9% of my treatment is a second home.

Adding a new doctor is like welcoming a new in-law to the family. Will I like him/her? Is he/she going to be able to keep pace in our conversations? Can I see myself spending hours and hours with this person? Can I place my trust in this person’s hands? As my medical team has become family, it’s quite entertaining to see what role each of them falls into. The one who is like an aunt whom you can cry and laugh with, and tell your darkest secrets to, all the while feeling great comfort. The epitome of a distant uncle who awkwardly hits it to you straight and leaves you hanging mid-air wondering what he’ll say next. The sister figure who has your best interest in heart, but doesn’t mind telling you the truth when you need to hear it. The cousins who greet you and play catch-up for the mere minutes you have to see them. Every person on our team fills a role in our medical family. Each one serves a purpose and is vital in my fight against cancer.

Though we’ve only met my new doctor once (on our four-year wedding anniversary, might I add), I can confidently say that I trust him. Matt and I both do. He is smart, professional, and compassionate and, after our meeting with him, we are ready to move forward in the next step. As I’ve mentioned HERE, I have a tumor on my left adrenal gland. The CT and PET show “activity” in the mass, however, based on its location, there is not 100% certainty that it is malignant. From what our doctor discussed with us, we know that adrenal masses happen and are often completely benign. Of course, based on my history, we have to be cautious. Caution and cancer go hand in hand.

Upon having our conversation, my doctor, husband, and I decided it’s best to proceed with surgery to remove this unlabeled mass. Usually, there is talk about doing a biopsy whenever a spot shows up on my scan, but it’s quickly ruled out. This time was no different. For a minute we passed over the idea of taking a biopsy of this tumor, but the risk of spreading the cells (cancer or not) is too great. IF it happens to be malignant, we don’t want  it to spread and wreak havoc elsewhere in my body. This is a disease you don’t want to piss off. Therefore, I’m going under the knife once again.

This will be my fourth major surgery since diagnosis. At this point, I like to consider myself a professional. I’m not concerned. In fact, I would rather be cut open to remove the entirety of the unknown intruder cells as opposed to just peeking through the door, taking a piece, and testing them. My scan is showing something that shouldn’t be there, and although it may not even be cancerous, I don’t like things where they don’t belong.

Pruning is a must in all areas of our existence. While I have undergone surgery to remove malignant masses in my body, likewise I have undergone metaphorical surgery to remove toxicity out of my life. We often hear certain things being compared to cancer. “He is a cancer in the group. He pulls everyone down with him.” Nothing about cancer has a positive connotation. It is the worst of the worst. It will destroy you from the inside out. Ridding ourselves of cancer and its metaphorical meaning is vital to live a healthy life. We prune gardens, cutting back the weeds to allow flowers to blossom, and likewise we should be pruning our lives.

Is there an area of your life that is so full of weeds, it’s taking over your world? Are the weeds drowning out who you really are? Have you ignored the weeds, hoping that they’ll go away on their own? We must cut back what doesn’t belong and rid ourselves of what shouldn’t take residence in our lives. It could be a toxic relationship, hidden addiction, or unhealthy patterns. We all have areas that need to be pruned.

Just as surgery hurts, pruning hurts as well. Removing what doesn’t belong will cause pain, and that’s often why many people avoid it. But once the weeds are removed, the blossoms can thrive. Though we are believing this mass is not cancer, it still doesn’t belong. Therefore, this coming Monday (6/16), Matt and I will venture into the hospital once more to do some pruning. The doctor believes he can perform the surgery laparoscopically. If this is the case, my recovery will be much easier. We are confident in this process, and are expecting wonderful results.

Please be praying for myself, Matt, and our newly added team of medical staff. While I receive all of the fun parts of surgery (sedation, pain medication, and doting nurses), Matt sits in the wings for hours awaiting the results.

While we prepare for pruning, ask yourself what needs to be pruned in your life?

pruning quote for DMD

John 15:2 (ESV)

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

 

 

Complicated Results and Abundant Faith

It’s that time of the year again. My three month follow up scan has arrived. If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, you know that I laid on the hard, metal table one week ago. The results are in…

There’s a spot on my left adrenal gland.

Before you begin jumping to conclusions, let me explain. We aren’t positive that this lesion is even cancer. This is a spot that has lit up on the last few of my scans, and first made it’s appearance in October. Since then, I’ve had several rounds of chemotherapy. Throughout it all, this unknown mass has remained. It has grown slightly in size over the last seven months, but doesn’t seem to be affecting my body’s function.

When I was first told of the news, I didn’t even know what an adrenal gland was. One of our close friends is a doctor in this field and was able to explain to us in non-medical terms what we were dealing with. The adrenal gland is essentially a hat on top of the kidney. It’s purpose is to produce hormones such as stress and adrenaline. Each kidney gets it’s own adrenal gland, so, naturally we all have two. This lesion could potentially be one of three things.

  1. A benign non-functioning tumor. In which case, it’s a mass that serves no purpose and isn’t affecting my adrenal function.
  2. A benign functioning tumor. This is a tumor that is releasing it’s own hormones like stress and adrenaline.
  3. A malignant tumor. Also known as, cancer.

Of course, we won’t definitively know what this spot is until it is biopsied and sent to a pathologist. However, based on my history in Cancerland, we can conjure up an idea of what it may or may not be. Most likely we can rule out it being a benign functioning tumor. If this were the case, I would be experiencing symptoms like heart racing and bloodshot eyes, which I’m not. It would be obvious if this mass was functioning on it’s own, and from what we can see, it’s not doing much.

There is a chance that this could be another recurrence. However, taking my history of malignancies into account, although this lesion has grown, it has not increased as rapidly as my other recurrent tumors. If you recall, my first recurrence was a softball-sized tumor that developed within three months. That mass grew rapidly and aggressively and even began affecting my hormonal functions. In addition to the difference in growth, my body has proven to respond very well to chemotherapy. If this were a malignancy it would be quizzical to have had no response to treatment. For these reasons and more, we believe this is not a malignant tumor.

This leaves the possibility of it being a simple mass that serves no purpose other than to annoy us by showing up around my left kidney. A little pest that has chosen to, for whatever reason, hang out on my adrenal gland. Matt and I strongly believe that a non-functioning tumor is what’s lurking inside of me.

We have abundant faith that this is not cancer.

Arguments can be made for both sides — malignant and benign. Yes, based on these last two years, an unknown mass can lead many to immediately think cancer. However, just as likely, it could be something completely unrelated. Not everything inside of me has to be marked by this disease.

Regardless of what this lesion is, it will need to be removed. Cancer or not, I don’t need something harassing my adrenal gland. Therefore, I will have surgery at some point. Honestly, I am not fazed in the slightest. I’ve already been through three major surgeries in the last couple of years. I’m familiar with the process and recovery. I know all too well about the discomfort and pain. Surgery no longer scares me. I trust that God has my life in His hands; Just as He orchestrated what has been, He orchestrates what will be.

This morning I venture back into the hospital to lay on another hard table while a loud spinning machine takes several images of my insides. This scan will be a full body PET scan and will show all of my internal organs, including my brain. Compared to the CT scans that I receive every three months, a PET goes deeper in it’s imaging and is far more comprehensive. We may or may not learn more information from this scan. This step is necessary to make sure there are no other masses growing elsewhere in my body.

Next week a new doctor will be added to our team, and we will meet with him to discuss surgery. He will go over the hundreds of documents that have chronicled my medical journey and review each scan image that has been taken. He officially has a new patient that comes baring a lot of medical baggage, and it’ll be interesting to hear his opinion on my case.

For now, we hope and pray. As I mentioned, Matt and I are not fearful, but full of abundant faith. We aren’t anxious, nervous, or even the slightest bit afraid. Standing in faith, we believe this growing lesion is not cancer. We believe that I am still cancer free and will remain so for the rest of my life. We believe that the chapter of cancer has closed and we are entering in to the next season of our lives. We are not only believing, but declaring this. God is so mighty in His power, we are calling upon Him to perform a miracle. He beckons us to have faith, to knock so He can answer, and to trust in Him. Therefore, while believing and trusting in Him, we are asking that this mass that has shown itself on my scans for seven months, will not appear on my PET scan. We are praying that whatever this spot is, will vanish. I actually laugh as I pray, because I can picture my team of doctors jaw-dropped as they read the report and view the images, and see the once 2.6cm mass completely gone.

So, while I don’t have the best news to share, I don’t have the worst news either. The results from my CT scan are merely a speed bump on the journey. This is a moment that the enemy is attempting to lead us to question God. I know he is asking us, “Are you sure you’re healed?” He wants to lead us down the path of emotional and spiritual destruction, but we stand against it. We aren’t entertaining the thoughts and fears that try to creep in. We won’t open a door until God tells us to. For now, we are firm in our faith, and believe in healing. We ask that you would stand with us and believe for a cancer free report.

Luke 8:50 (ESV)

“But Jesus on hearing this answered him, ‘Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.’”

Surrendering Worry Leads to Freedom

Cancer-free once again! (February 2014)

Cancer-free once again! (February 2014)

Scans are routine in my life now. In fact, I can’t remember the days when I didn’t have to lay in some form of a machine that took pictures of my internal happenings. When I’m not in treatment, I receive a CT scan every three months to ensure that my body is free and clear of cancer. When I’m actively fighting this disease, I must wait until the completion of treatment to get another scan. Since I recently finished my latest adventures in chemotherapy, it was that time again. About two weeks ago, I laid on a tiny hard table for the umpteenth time as a fast and loud spinning donut somehow created an image of the inside of my body.

Typically, my phone rings anywhere from one day to an entire week after my scan. In terms of a waiting period, that window is very large. There are times when I receive results within hours, and other times where the days crawl by and I don’t hear back for a week. I’ve often referred to the anxiety that comes from awaiting scan results as scanxiety; However, the more scans and tests I have done, the better I am at not worrying over the results.

As John Mayer sings in The Age of Worry-
“Alive in the age of worry
Smile in the age of worry
Go wild in the age of worry
And say, ‘Worry, why should I care?’”

I’ve learned that worrying doesn’t accomplish anything, and it will never change any result I may receive. Worrying is a waste of time, emotion, and energy. Worrying is pointless.

These past two years have been a trial of great magnitude. And while I’ve experienced a depth of grief and loss I never could have imagined and wouldn’t dream of wishing on anyone, there have been numerous blessings dispersed along the way. Experience is our most effective teaching tool, and among the many lessons I’ve learned throughout my voyage, surrender has been the biggest one of all. Not only surrendering my plans and dreams, but also surrendering my thoughts and emotions. Understanding the true meaning of surrender has been one of the biggest gifts I’ve gained in this series of unfortunate events.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, surrender simply means, “to give the control to someone else.”

I am not one to surrender. I am a Type-A personality. I am a planner, an organizer, a keep-her-ducks-in-a-row woman. I have a tangible schedule, in which I physically write and record the many daily, weekly, and monthly events going on in the ever-adventurous life of the Madsens. When Matt and I were first married almost four years ago, we had our five-year plan set in stone. We knew when we were going to have children, where and when we would move, and how we would achieve our short and long-term goals. Everything was planned. We had it under control. Little did we know what our first five years would actually bring.

Though the majority of our plans have been wiped off the canvas of our life, new creations have replaced the old. Losing what we had dreamt about for so long was devastating. We continue to grieve the loss of what we imagined our life to be. However, at some point in this journey, we were given a choice. Do we grasp for remnants of what we had desperately wanted for our life, or do we instead surrender our plans, dreams, hopes, and goals, and place the control in God’s hands? Making the decision to choose the latter has forever changed our perspective. Giving the reigns to someone far more capable of directing our lives has removed burden and responsibility. After all, if I was in full control of my life, I know I would screw it up righteously.

Worry is an emotion. A verb. A tangled web of feelings and actions. Worry is an enemy that lures us into a trap and once we are overtaken, it takes hold of our every thought. It tempts us with pity-parties that seem much more fun than they turn out to be. It sneaks around every long-awaited result, and silently slips into our minds if we don’t keep a relentless guard. Yet, as with all temptations, we are called to surrender our worry to God. Surrendering worry leads to freedom.

Though I wish I could say that I surrender all of my worries without fail, it’s not true. I slip up. I let my guard down, and worry slips into my mind, corrupting everything within me. Fortunately for us, the world we live in offers us many opportunities to practice our ability to surrender. We will always face troubles and areas where worry could easily be a chosen response. One of the regular opportunities that I have to practice my ability to surrender my worries occurs every three months. Before, during, and after each scan I am reminded that in order to live freely, I must surrender my worries of the impending results. I’ve learned that no matter how much I worry, I cannot control the outcome of my scans. Worrying has proven time and time again to have zero effect on results. What worrying truly affects is my spirit.

Because I surrendered my worry about my latest scan results, I experienced a freedom and peace that I haven’t quite felt before. As I awaited the life-changing phone call, my thoughts were on other things. I wasn’t fixated on the possibilities. I wasn’t anxious. I wasn’t fearful. I was confident in the One I surrendered to, knowing His plans are always far greater than my own. No matter if cancer had returned once more or if I was officially rid of this beast, I wasn’t concerned. I had the kind of peace that passes all understanding, and a freedom birthed from my surrender.

Worrying will never change the circumstance. Worrying will only affect our spirit. I’m thankful that my spirit was guarded, for it allowed me to better appreciate the results I received last week. I can happily share that I am cancer-FREE! Had I chosen to worry, my joy might have been robbed in the moment I heard the wonderful news.

Surrendering is difficult for this “I’ve got life all figured out” chick, but it’s so worth it. Freedom feels good. Worry, why should I care?

Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Groundhog Day

The one with Bill Murray, not Punxsutawney Phil.

Getting cancer over, and over, and over again is comparable to the movie Groundhog Day. One season ends and I wake up expecting a new one to begin, only to find myself in the same season I have journeyed twice before. Over, and over, and over again. Much to my dismay, this battle is not complete yet.

As you know (or maybe you haven’t read the latest), surgery went better than we could have imagined. God has repeatedly displayed His power. The scan showed a two-inch tumor near my remaining ovary. However, during surgery, my doctor didn’t find a tumor at all, and in fact stated that I had one of the cleanest abdomens she had ever seen – pink and healthy. Just to be certain, she removed the ovary and sent it off for further review. Pathology reports came back showing microscopic cancerous cells… That, my friends, is a miracle… Did you not catch that? From the size of nearly a golf ball, to microscopic cells. Had there not been a tumor on my scan, my doctor would not have operated, and I would have continued believing that I was cancer-free, when in reality, this disease would have had three more months to grow and possibly travel elsewhere. God allowed a tumor to show up on my scan, in order for us to find the beginning stages of a recurrence. A golf ball size shrinking to microscopic cells. If you don’t call that a miracle, I don’t know what you would.

God calls us to focus on the praises and miracles He has performed in our lives and the lives of those around us. Yet, as humans, when another storm arises, we tend to forget those miracles. We often store them in the back of our minds, only occasionally pulling them forward in our memories. Life gets hard again, and we forget all the good He has done in and for us. By doing that, we aren’t fully recognizing God for who He is. His goodness doesn’t come and go. He is the single most consistent being in existence. We must remember the blessings He has poured over us. It’s as vital as breathing.

Since surgery one month ago, I have already received chemotherapy. About 12 days ago, in fact. It was my 31st chemo cocktail, yet familiarity doesn’t always bring comfort. I’ll never say fighting cancer is easy. No matter if it’s your first time, or your third, fighting cancer takes everything you have and more. Frankly, I can’t believe I’m doing this all over again. Twice… okay, that was hard enough. But three times? After being out of treatment for six months and nearly a year cancer-free. Seriously?

I’ve processed this recurrence different than my initial diagnosis and first recurrence. It’s been drastically more emotional for me. Being that so many of my girlfriends are pregnant now, I’d venture into comparing my emotions with those of an expectant mother. For real. This past week, I’ve cried over the silliest things. On one of my good days, Matt and I ventured into Ikea, and noticed a woman training a service dog. I had to keep walking, or I would have needed a box of tissues. I’ve cried to my husband and by myself. Over everything and over nothing. The tears have found their way out regardless of my will to keep them contained. I know that purging these emotions is a good thing, and a healthy cry session can help with the process.

No matter how much I’d love to say I’m always focusing on the positive, I am here to admit that I, too, am human. I have moments where I allow the blessings to easily slide to the back of my mind, allowing the storm to overwhelm my life. My tears are those of sadness, grief, and exhaustion. I loathe the fact that I am faced with this choice again. The choice to fight or die. Fighting cancer is just that… a choice. And it’s a choice that I must make. However, as always, I choose to fight.

Clinging to God’s blessings in the midst of the storm helps us build up our arsenal of tools to ward off the enemy. The enemy is a thief in the night who wants to steal our joy, hope, and positivity. He knows we are weak and preys on our vulnerabilities; doing whatever he can to push us further into the mud. It’s easy to fall into the pit of despair and continue drowning in the muck that tries to suffocate us.

Last week was full of emotions, sadness, shock, and defeat. I was living in a real-life Groundhog Day. But today, I am standing firm in the promises, miracles, and blessings that God has poured over me. I am calling forth every gift He has given me, and every promise He has spoken to me. I am remembering the moment I woke up from surgery to learn that there was no tumor. I am remembering the many times that God has scheduled divine appointments on my behalf. I am clinging to the goodness of my Savior, because I am blessed.

I’m fighting this again, which only means that I will soon be a three-time cancer survivor. This season will be different. I’m not waking up in the same place as I was twice before. Try as you may, cancer, but this chick is standing firm with spiritual armor so powerful, nothing can penetrate it.

Handling business as usual, chemo-style. (October 2013)

Handling business as usual, chemo-style. (October 2013)

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (MSG)

“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

Our Plan, His Will

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.”

 

 

Faithful Friends and The First Season

Alongside us on this crazy roller coaster through cancer, two of our dearest friends have been planted. They have joined us at appointments, surgeries, chemo cocktails, and numerous cry sessions. They have held our hands as we have ventured into the unknown, and have triumphed with us in the victories. We have worshiped together, prayed for one another, and celebrated several occasions. God brought this passionate, genuine, selfless couple into our lives at the very beginning of this battle, and we can’t imagine having forged our way through it without them standing firm and rallying beside us.

He is a photographer and life-journalist by hobby. He resembles Jesus not only in his physical appearance, but also in his character. Selfless, compassionate, humble, generous, loving, and prayerful. His laugh is contagious and you’d be lucky to catch it. He is a gentleman. A leader. A father. A Christ-like friend. A true blessing.

She is a dancer. Hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, and jazz. A real-life ballerina. She has a heart of pure gold. She is a friend to hold dear for a lifetime. She speaks encouragement, life, and wisdom. Her gentleness, selflessness, and caring demeanor uplifts and offers strength. She is a mother. A hospitable host. A faithful friend. A prayer warrior. A true blessing.

These two have offered shoulders to cry on, words of encouragement, and a multitude of cries to Jesus upon my behalf for healing. They have documented our journey and brought life to a sometimes dark situation. Through photographs, videos, and sound recordings, they tell our story. They have blessed us more than they could possibly know. Today, we share a taste of what they have captured since diagnosis.

Get your tissues ready. If this video doesn’t move you in some way, you might want to check your pulse. This montage captures a glimpse into this battle. It begins at diagnosis in January of 2012, and ends in August of 2012 on the last day of my first season through treatment. At that time, we thought I beat it entirely. Little did we know, we had another year in the trenches. Through hair loss, weight gain, and several firsts… enjoy.

Stephanie Madsen | Cancer Survivor from Mark Nava on Vimeo.

Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)

“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.”

Unexpected Early Results

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 UPWhy 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)

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!”

Cautiously Optimistic

Scans are scary. And the week before and after are often anxiety-filled whirlwinds.

I received a CT scan a couple of weeks ago. You might remember that directly following my November surgery to remove the softball-sized mass, the tumor was sent to pathology. There, it was cut up into several different pieces and tested with various types of chemotherapy drugs. Results showed that some chemotherapies would work, while others were proven to be ineffective. There’s a catch, though. Three of the drugs shown to effectively eradicate my type of cancer, had already coursed through my body during my first season of treatment. Clearly they worked while swimming through my veins, but once I completed the regimen, the monster came out of hiding and grew once more. One of the drugs proven to be ineffective is what I am currently taking. Apparently several doctors don’t hold tight to the results of these biopsy tests. Therefore, my doctor suggested we stick to this proposed type of chemo and get a scan after four of my six scheduled rounds. So, with these rounds of chemo, it’s been trial and error. Let’s see if it works. If it doesn’t, let’s test something else. The longer I’m in this game, the more I’m learning how common the “trial and error” approach actually is. After all, there are no cures for cancer. I suppose it all really is just a guessing game. Unnerving to say the least.

As always, I was a bit on-edge the week leading up to my scan and the week following, while waiting for results. These scans show exactly what kind of game cancer is playing in my body. It’s not a “pass” or “fail” conclusion. It’s “live” or “die.” Often cancer doesn’t show symptoms and can only be detected through these methods. And considering I was technically prescribed a chemotherapy regimen that pathology showed to be ineffective on my type of cancer, my nerves were shot while awaiting the outcome. I ask for a large dose of grace from my dear husband during these times, as he often gets to experience the roller coaster of emotions that surround these scans. Add being menopausal to the mix, and you’ve got a pretty gnarly version of me. Oh…Menopause. I’ll save that discussion for a completely different post.

Last Thursday , I went in for another dose of chemo cocktails. That morning I knew my doctor would probably discuss the results of the CT scan I had received the week prior (3/8). I felt ready. I was ready. In my heart I was at peace with whatever the outcome. The waiting is the hardest. I just wanted to hear the results…good or bad. Before I was even able to speak with my doctor, my chemotherapy nurse walked over, papers in hand, and opened her mouth to speak. I don’t think I’ve seen my husband so nervous in my life. He was literally at the edge of his seat in anticipation. After a confusing introduction and with all eyes on me at this point, my nurse placed the papers in my hand and asked me to read the bottom line. “Impression: 1. Normal CT of the abdomen and pelvis.” So what? What exactly does that mean? As I asked my nurse these questions, she happily proclaimed that the scan showed no evidence of disease! The sigh of relief that Matt released at that point nearly brought me to tears. Sometimes I don’t realize the enormity of his love for me. At that point it was clearer than ever. What a vivid testament that my husband is in this by my side; From beginning to end. The results don’t just mean something to me. I’m not the only one affected. I know these things, but often I get trapped in my own head. Trapped in my situation. When the truth is, it’s our situation. I’m honored and blessed to have such an incredibly strong, faithful, loyal, and committed partner.

Clear CT scan results! (March 2013)

Clear CT scan results! (March 2013)

A “normal” result is a positive one. We are celebrating this news. However, I have received this outcome on a scan before. In August after my first season of treatments, I was also declared “cancer-free,” and you can read about that HERE. My attitude in receiving good news has changed since then. Afterall, I did have a recurrence three months after a similar declaration. Cancer came back after I had excitedly celebrated it being gone. Therefore, we rejoice in this news differently now. While we are very relieved and elated, we are cautiously optimistic. Just because I received a clear scan, doesn’t mean I’m forever done with this beast. And, it was only a CT scan which is localized to one area of the body; Different from a PET scan that tests your entire body for malignancies. We are optimistic and thrilled, yes. But we are cautious. We don’t expect cancer to show itself in my body again, but according to this disease, we can’t throw the idea completely away. I don’t think I’ll be fully able to relax and rejoice until I hit remission…in five years. And even then, it will be hard work to trust that I won’t have to deal with this diagnosis ever again.

Some cancers can be eradicated with surgery. Some with chemotherapy. Some with radiation. I’ve had all three types of treatment several times, and the monster continued to lurk and cause havoc. For now, it is gone. I’ve only got one more chemotherapy session in a couple of weeks and I’m happy. But to blissfully believe that I am forever done with this season would be foolish and naive. Cancer plays dirty. It doesn’t play according to our rules. It has none. However, to counteract that thinking, I believe in a BIG God that performs BIG miracles. The fact that cancer has no rule-book doesn’t mean that it can’t be righteously defeated. Statistics don’t mean a thing to me. My God writes my life, not statistics that some analyst wrote down. No matter how awful this Neuroendocrine carcinoma diagnosis may be, God can erase all of that. He healed people all throughout stories in the Bible, and continues to perform jaw-dropping healings today. I am believing that I will be another testimony of being healed and cured. I have faith that He will permanently remove any malignant particle from my body. I am believing that He has filled every single microscopic cell and that cancer will no longer reside in my life. While I stand cautiously on the results of this scan, I will continue to stand firmly on my foundation…on my God. I will continue to wait for His results.

James 5:10-11 (MSG Version)

“Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.”

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