Posts Tagged ‘doctors appointment’
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.”
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)
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.”
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.”
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!”
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)
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.”
Four days and one year ago I was first diagnosed. I realized it was my “one year anniversary” by seeing another friend recently post about hers. We were diagnosed around the same time, yet have completely different stories. It’s incredible to me how one cancer diagnosis can be so different from another. And how the journey can take people in vastly different directions. The one thing we have in common throughout our adventure through cancer is our deep, passionate, and overflowing faith in God. No matter the treatment regimen, location of residency, age, or actual diagnosis, our foundations are the same. We both love Jesus and trust that He will carry us through this fight and heal our bodies. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it: I can’t imagine not having my faith through this journey.
Without faith I would be unable to see the blessings that God has poured over my life this past year. Without faith I would be unable to find true joy in the midst of such sorrow and tragedy. Without faith I would be unable to hope for a better tomorrow. Without faith I would be unable to be genuinely thankful for this story God has given me.
This past year has been a roller coaster. It’s had its ups, downs, and twists along the way. At some points it’s been similar to the rides that take you forward on the tracks just to pull you backwards again. I’ve laughed and cried. And cried some more. I’ve had so many good days where cancer hasn’t been in the mix, and I’ve had several bad days where my diagnosis has slapped me in the face. I’ve felt victorious and defeated. I’ve been knocked down, kicked around, and beat up by the plethora of treatments my body has had to endure. I’ve become somewhat of a medical professional, and have knowledge of terms that never existed a year ago. Yet even though the adventure continues and is far from over, I still refuse to give up.
The beginning of the battle. Stephanie and Matt, February 2012
Many times throughout my twenty-six years I have wished to fast forward. Wished to see what was to come. Wished to skip the crap and get to the good stuff. Wished to see what we had planned. Yet, if God had allowed me to get a sneak peek a year ago, I would be terrified. I’d want to reverse. I’d want to go back in time and not have to face the future. And while there are still moments that I wish to see five years from now, I am reminded that God hasn’t given me the grace for it yet. He’s given me grace for today, so today is what I shall focus on. But, dammit…sometimes that’s just so hard to do! Most likely, if I had been allowed a peek behind the curtain in January of 2012 to see what the stage would unveil, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the many blessings God had prepared for me. Most likely, I would have only seen the storms brewing. I would have seen a scary diagnosis, poor prognosis, sickness, pain, sorrow, grief, and exhaustion.
This year, the blessings have been abundant. I have grown tremendously. Spiritually. Emotionally. Physically. Dare I say, “Thank you, cancer?”
First, I will tell you what I know. I do not believe God has given me this disease. Rather, He has allowed it. Anything good comes from Him…and disease is not one of them. Disease sucks. So, if it’s not from God, it’s from the enemy. The enemy will try every last effort to defeat your mind, spirit, and body. However, I also know that what the enemy tries to make bad, God will turn around and create good. I see it as Jesus saying, “Oh really? Ha. See what I can do with that crap!” And so I will stand firm in that as well. Therefore, dare I say, “Thank you, cancer!”
One year later. Stephanie and Matt. January 2013.
Without a diagnosis I would not have had 90% of the blessings I received this year. I would have been blessed, but differently. With this diagnosis, my husband and I have discovered a deeper love for each other and for our Savior. We’ve learned and are living our vows of “in sickness and in health.” We’ve discovered a deeper meaning of loyalty, compassion, respect, honor, and love for one another. In fact, I can adamantly say I am more in love with Matt today than I ever have been. I respect him more than anyone on the face of this Earth. He is an amazing man. These trials have only strengthened our marriage. So, thank you, cancer.
With this diagnosis I have become more passionate of self-awareness, and now understand my body from head to toe. If something feels wrong, something is wrong. Thank you, cancer. With this diagnosis, I have had the opportunity to meet a wonderful team of medical personnel, and have forged a bond that will last a lifetime. The nurses and doctors I see on a weekly basis have become dear friends of mine, and I look forward to every visit, simply because I get to spend time with them. Thank you, cancer.
With this diagnosis, I have fodder for a blog. And this blog has blown up and expanded in ways I never imagined. People from all over the world take time out of their lives to read the words I write. Many readers have shared their discoveries of inspiration and hope through this blog. And many have shared how my journey helps them through theirs. Thank you, cancer. With this diagnosis, doors have opened to dreams I never knew existed. My husband and I will now have the pleasure of a unique story to parenthood. No excruciating childbirth for me, hooray! We will be able to adopt children that are in need of a loving home. We have discovered a hope for our children that didn’t exist a year ago. So, thank you, cancer.
With this diagnosis, my purpose has been revealed. Sharing my adventure publicly is what I am called to do, and opportunities are presenting themselves left and right. Being on the radio was just the tip of the iceberg. Thank you, cancer. With this diagnosis, our church has become our family. We have been picked up and supported by our group of dear friends and Christ followers. We have unveiled a deeper meaning of “friendship” and “fellowship”, and are grateful to have them standing in support by our sides. Thank you, cancer.
With this diagnosis, our families and friends have become closer. We talk more. We spend more time together. We value moments differently than we did a year ago. Thank you, cancer. With this diagnosis, our community is coming together. One goal. One purpose. Thank you, cancer.
With this diagnosis, I am learning more about myself. I am stubborn. I am strong. I am a fighter. I look good bald. I am funny…Or so, I think. Thank you, cancer.
While I am thankful that my adventure through cancer has led to many blessings, I ultimately owe my thanks to God. With this diagnosis, love has blossomed, doors have opened, prayers have been answered, gifts have appeared, purpose has been revealed, and blessings have poured out. So, dare I say… “Thank you, God.”
2 Corinthians 1:20-22 (MSG Version)
“Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.”
Many people initially respond to trauma or heartache by asking “Why!?” Whether someone you love passes away, you didn’t get that dream job, or things just didn’t work out…more common than not, it’s “Why me?!” I challenge you to be open to hearing the answer. In some moments, God may never reveal it to us; However, if you pay close attention to what He is doing in your life and around you, you may get a sneak peek inside His purpose.
It would be easy for me to ask, “Why?”, throughout the ups and downs in my current adventure. I am human and the fact is, I hate that I have cancer. I hate that I have to endure months and months of grueling treatment. It would be easy for me to ask, “Why did you allow this to happen to me!? I’m young! I have so much going for me.” And more often than not, we are faced with that thought, “Why?” While I have only once let that word slip from my mouth, it’s hard to not have that lingering thought bury itself in my subconscious as a cancer patient.
I am learning that the less I feel, “Why me?!”, the more I learn the reasons for my story. A wise woman once said, “Don’t focus on the problem, fix your eyes on the promise.” Let that sink in. It’s powerful.
There have been several moments in my journey that God has taken me behind the scenes to see what’s really going on. It’s as if He’s saying, “Stephanie, you want to know why? Check this out. You’ll be amazed.” And it’s true. In all things God wants the glory, and I believe my story is no different. No matter what, God will be glorified. And it’s an honor to carry this torch and spread hope for Him.
Today specifically has been a day where I got to peek behind the curtain. In fact, I pulled up a [chemo] chair and watched it unfold before my eyes. This morning, Matt and I woke up bright and early to prepare for another chemotherapy day. As we were on our way to the hospital, my anxieties slowly dissolved. And once I walked into the room where all of us cool kids get treatment, I noticed one lady. Only one. This is extremely unusual, as there are at least eight chairs for patients. Any lingering discomfort fell aside, and I sat down in my usual chair which happened to be next to this beautiful woman. Soon, we discovered it was her first time receiving chemo. After introducing ourselves, we began to talk…and talk…and talk. Divine appointment? I emphatically say “YES!”
I believe that we are each given a story for bigger reasons than ourselves. We interact with others on a daily basis and encounter people who need to hear hope through every situation. I still hunger for hope, and have learned that my true hope comes from Him alone. But for those of us undergoing trials, be aware that you are a vessel. You are being used to share and help others through similar storms. Today, I was able to speak truth, life, and hope to someone very vulnerable and new in her journey. In speaking with her, I saw strength, determination, courage, and bravery in her eyes. She has a genuine spirit full of joy. We bonded immediately, and I look forward to where our journeys will take us in our friendship. As we left, I gave her a hug and shared my perspective of a cancer diagnosis and the battle to victory. “It’s going to suck. I will not lie to you. It’s going to be extremely hard and you’re going to have horrible days. But, be encouraged. Along with those bad days, there will be great ones. You can and will do this. Allow yourself to grieve, but focus on the positive and on overcoming this thing. It’s going to happen.” And she responded with tears in her eyes, “You are amazing. You have made this whole mess seem a lot less scary and much more hopeful. Thank you.” <–THAT, my friends, is the “Why.”
While leaving treatment, I was overwhelmed by the sense of joy and fulfillment in my spirit. Sometimes I yearn to know the bigger picture. I yearn to see the path that God has put forth for me. But, I am thankful that I do not know it all. I am thankful that He gives me blessings along the way. I am thankful for the unexpected surprises. I am thankful for a five-hour conversation with a stranger, who is transforming into a friend. We are going to be “chemo buddies,” we both agreed. I am thankful that she is extremely well-versed on all things baseball (Matt’s favorite sport), for she kept my husband entertained and captivated the whole time. I am thankful that God answers the “Why.” Who knew that you could discover another piece of the bigger picture whilst walking out of chemotherapy treatment!? (Proof that He shows up anywhere!)
It’s so empowering and fulfilling to know that my story is making a difference. I thank each and every one of my readers and dedicated followers for supporting my journey and rallying beside me to kick cancer’s ass. I am encouraged and deeply humbled.
The truth is, cancer sucks. There’s no way around it. If you read my blog, you know I am transparent in sharing my rough days. But those who read, also discover that I make a conscious decision to choose joy. I choose happiness. I choose life. I choose to be above my circumstance. I choose to fight. I choose to be a cancer survivor.
1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (MSG Version)
“The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that He not only knows what He’s thinking, but He lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that He is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.”
It’s me again! Stephanie is back and ready to update y’all! But before going further, let me first take a minute to applaud my incredible husband for keeping my readers informed through the entire surgery process. Doesn’t he write wonderfully? I’m pretty proud of this man who I get to call my husband. He’s a total stud. He continues to be by my side through the highs and extreme lows of this adventure…and all the while, keeping you in the loop! I’ll save all the details about him for another blog post, but for now, let me get you up to date.
My stay in the hospital was exhausting. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. It’s been about eight days since I was discharged, and I just now feel like I’m settling into the groove. I was discharged the day after Matt last posted. Like he mentioned, my medical team discovered an alarmingly low heart rate and irregular heart beat, and wanted to dig deeper. Easy enough for them…they didn’t have to undergo those insane tests. Once we changed floors and got comfortable in our new room, I was immediately hooked up to a heart rate monitor. This allowed the nurses to watch exactly what my heart was doing at all times. In addition, the following day, an Echocardiogram was ordered. This test is a Sonogram for the heart and monitors the natural rhythm to determine if my organ is functioning properly. Once that was complete, I was transported to the radiology department to receive a PET Rubidium scan and another CT scan. Long story short, I hope I never have to receive another Rubidium scan. Ever heard of a stress test? That’s exactly what it is. Except, nowadays, instead of having a patient who recently had surgery walk on a treadmill, we are placed in a PET scan bed and injected with a special medicine that acts as stress. Oh. My. Stressed is an understatement. I’m always timid to put exact details of scans, tests, and procedures on here for everyone to see, because my intentions are not to scare you. My intentions are truly just to inform. If you get scared, I’m sorry.
To be honest, once this “stress medicine” was injected, I rapidly felt my heart rate skyrocket. I tried not to panic. I took deep breaths and prayed the entire time. For about five to seven minutes, I experienced what I think most heart attack patients may experience. My chest hurt. I felt as though my heart would beat out of my eyeballs and right into my lap. I was sweating. And all I could do was pray that it would be over soon. I’m not a drama queen folks, but I can admit, I did pray… “Lord, please don’t let me die.” Yes, it was that bad. I had tears streaming from my eyes when I was placed back in the wheelchair to be taken to my room again. Once the doors opened and my husband laid eyes on his obviously distraught wife, I could see the anger begin to overflow. I could imagine exactly what was going through his head, and picture it to be something like this: “What the hell did you do to my wife? Why is she crying? I’m going to make you pay!” Once he understood that I was alright and would give him the details when we arrived back at our room, he calmed down. While he has a tendency of being over protective, I am so grateful that I have a husband who cares so deeply about my welfare.
All that to say, my test results came back fine. They did notice the irregular beat and low rate at which my heart was functioning, but it wasn’t alarming. They ordered these tests to rule out blood clots, and that’s exactly what they did. I was free of any clots, and frankly, free of all tears as well. Because I was unable to ingest any solid food or liquids the day of my tests, I was starving when I got back to my room. It was already around four o’clock, and I had nothing in my system since the previous night. All I wanted was some french toast, fresh fruit, and a big piece of cake. And, because of my sweet nurse, I got exactly that! She quickly dialed the cafeteria, and might as well had said, “You better get that food here in two minutes, or else!” Again, I am very grateful for the strong team God continues to place in this game. To add, all of my nurses during my four-day stay were amazing. God placed each and every one of them on my path, and they were each perfect for the job. I really like to form relationships with my caretakers in the hospital, and did just that. I’ve left wondering how they are doing, and look forward to possibly seeing them again someday…Under different circumstances, of course!
Currently, I am still very sore, bruised, and swollen from surgery. I have a total muffin top beginning at my scar line. My belly just hangs there, and it’s extremely unappealing. Good thing my husband loves me regardless! I am finally able to move around without excruciating pain, and am starting to function a little more typically. Matt no longer has to physically help me in and out of bed, and that is a huge victory! I visited my General Oncologist today and after checking out my scar, he was shocked at how quickly I’m healing. I’m young, fit, and strong…what can I say? I also have an army praying for a fast recovery. God’s got me on lock-down. At my appointment today, we discussed the next phase of treatment. Chemotherapy. We talked about which specific chemo drug all my doctors agree on administering, and the schedule at which I will receive it. Before posting concrete plans, I need to confirm with my Gynecologic Oncologist that this is what she would like to do. Most likely she is on the same page, and in which case, I will begin chemo next week. Again, until everything is solidified I can’t be specific as far as how often I will receive doses or how long this next phase will last. However, I am so ready to get this train rollin’! Chemo cocktails never sounded so good until right about now. The waiting and in-between is really the hardest part.
For those who have followed my story, you know that God is the One for big blessings. He hasn’t ceased dropping down those gifts from above. Some, Matt has included in his previous post, and I’d like to reiterate that God is good. Here is why:
- When my Gyn Oncologist/surgeon opened me up in surgery, the tumor popped right up. It was completely encased in a mucus lining, therefore it was all intact. This is not the case for some cancers. Some tumors are not circular and are rather jagged, which makes it nearly impossible to remove the entire mass.
- Because of its mucus lining, my surgeon was able to remove the entirety of the mass.
- The tumor was not connected to my colon, and therefore I did not need any form of a colostomy.
- The PET scan immediately following surgery showed no signs of carcinoma anywhere else in my body.
- My surgeon was able to create an incision at my original hysterectomy scar line. In fact, she removed my previous scar, so now I only have one scar right above my pubic area.
- I am still alive and breathing. God continues to bless me with more days to glorify Him. Hallelujah!
This past week I have been recovering and taking it easy. My body is beginning to function normally again, which I am grateful. We continue to have wonderful support from friends and family, and at a time like this, it’s been extremely helpful. Like I mentioned, I’m finally able to be a little more up and active, and I even felt well enough to make it to church yesterday. I’ve learned that through the storm, instead of hiding out and suffering alone, it is better to surround yourself with joyful people. The most joyous place we enjoy is our church, in the presence of God and surrounded by friends. Needless to say, my spirits were lifted greatly by being in that environment yesterday. In addition, I’ve picked out a new wig! And let me tell you, she is gorgeous! Most know that when I first began this journey, before I lost my hair, I was blonde. Not naturally, but shhh. This time, I decided to go back blonde, and I have been gifted a stunning wig of human hair. Although I’ve been loving my short curly and wavy hair that has grown, I won’t miss it so much now that I have some blonde to rock!
Back to Blonde! Stephanie wearing her new wig. (December 2012)
At the bottom of this entry, I am including a link. A link in order for you to make a choice. As you know, I don’t like to sugarcoat anything, and have always remained open and honest. However, I do understand that some of my readers have sensitive stomachs, and for that I have chosen to create a clickable link so you are able to make the choice to view this image or not. This link is graphic. This link will show you exactly what is trying to take my life. This link might frighten you. Please don’t let it. This link is to a medical picture of the cancerous tumor my surgeon removed last week. You may wonder why I have a photograph of it. I want to see what is trying to ruin me. I want to see exactly what I am fighting so hard to defeat. I need to have a visual of the enemy; The enemy that is getting kicked around, poisoned, stomped on… and ultimately defeated. I feel the need to share this with you, so that you are able to see what you are praying against. I understand if you have a sensitive stomach and can not handle a medical picture of this nature. Whether you choose to view my tumor or not, I thank you for allowing me to be transparent and share the entirety of my journey through cancer with you.
Click HERE to see a picture of the cancerous tumor. (Graphic medical image)
John 10:6-10 (MSG Version)
“Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. ‘I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.’”
Let me begin by saying that I am completely and utterly overwhelmed at the amount of support I have on my team. Thank you to those who have sent encouraging messages, comments, phone calls, and texts. Thank you to my loyal readers who have followed me from my initial diagnosis and continue to stand by me through this next journey by uplifting me in prayer. Also, a big thanks to my new followers who found me through an internet search or word of mouth. I have a whole army of prayer warriors, and I am humbled that you each care so deeply about my victory. In fact, from yesterday’s posts until now, I have had well over 2,000 views on my blog. Thank you for sharing my story and spreading the hope!
My sweet husband and I went to bed last night with a huge prayer request on our hearts. We desperately wanted to hear back from this doctor at MD Anderson, and fervently asked God that we would hear from him personally in the morning. Bright and early, my phone rang. It was a Houston number. In fact, it was the physician. I immediately answered and was able to speak directly to the doctor I so desperately needed. Long story short, he completely agreed that I need immediate surgery to remove the mass. Chemotherapy before surgery just won’t cut it. We’ve got to get this beast out of me as soon as possible. In addition, he encouraged me to remain positive and believe that with this surgery, there will be no more signs of cancer in my body, and that I will beat this. I told him, “Doc, I’ve got this…I’m very confident that I’ll beat cancer!” Not only did he confirm our beliefs for immediate action, he doesn’t find it necessary for us to travel to Houston just yet. He believes that everything my doctors are doing here, is what he himself would do there. Praise God! Now we don’t have to worry about traveling and all of the insurance hoopla! With all that being said, it’s true…God answers prayer. Not that we have ever doubted that for a second, however, while we’ve known that for most of our lives, we can’t recall such a big prayer being answered so quickly. Right when I’m not sure, God shows up. He’s right here, and while I can’t see Him, I know His hand is all over this situation.
Now that that prayer has been answered, we would like to share another one. After further speaking with my Gynecologic Oncologist, who happens to be my previous surgeon and will be this time as well, she informed me of the exact location of my tumor. It is hanging out right next to my sigmoid colon. In easier terms, it’s partying right around my lower colon/bowels. Because of its location, she won’t be able to know for a fact if it’s actually connected to that organ or not until she opens me up. There are three possibilities we are facing. One: She begins surgery and sees that the mass is not connected to my colon, and can therefore, easily remove the tumor without anything else. Two: My tumor appears to be slightly attached or embedded in my colon, in which case she would need to remove part of my colon, and perform a temporary colostomy. Temporary meaning, I would receive a colostomy until my chemotherapy was finished and as long as there is not another recurrence, she will later repair my colon. Three: The monster is too deeply attached or embedded in the colon, and she will need to remove the organ and perform a permanent colostomy. For those who are unaware of the medical procedure I’m referring to, feel free to look it up here. To be frank, while I know that a colostomy is not the end of the world, and will allow me to live a fairly normal life, I’d really prefer not to have to go down this path. Please pray and believe with us that the tumor is not attached to my colon and that my surgeon will easily be able to remove it without having to remove the organ as well. We know that God answers prayer, and are standing firm in our faith.
As I have mentioned, surgery is a priority. It needs to happen immediately, and now that all of my doctors are on the same page, we can proceed. Buckle up friends…My procedure has been scheduled for tomorrow morning. Yes…tomorrow, Friday the 29th, as in less than fifteen hours from now. We are more than okay with this, and in fact, are welcoming it. We understand that in order to ensure the best possible outcome, this mass needs to be removed. I’m ready to have this thing out of me. While we know and appreciate that many of you will want to stop by beforehand to pray with us, we politely ask that you pray from where you’re at in order to ensure that the waiting room does not overflow. Plus, if I didn’t have to be up and around before 6am, I wouldn’t. Therefore, you shouldn’t have to! Surgery will begin around 7:30am. For those out-of-state, we are on mountain time. Matt will be taking the reins and doing guest posts to update everyone on my progress. The surgery should take two hours, and I will be in recovery for a couple of hours as well. By noon, I should be in my room highly medicated for the expected pain that I will be experiencing. Is it wrong to say that I’m looking forward to that part? No, not the pain…the medicine! By Saturday I am sure I will be comfortably settled in and more than willing to have visitors. For those wanting to visit, please text myself or Matt.
To recap: Tomorrow morning I’m getting cut open. Pray that the tumor is not attached to my colon, or any other organs for that matter. Pray for wisdom and guidance for my surgical team. Pray for a smooth surgery and a speedy recovery. Pray for my dear husband, that he will feel the supernatural hand of God and that he will experience peace, calm, and assurance. And please pray for me, that God will give me strength, peace, and confidence. Neither of us are very nervous now, but it might be a different story in the morning.
For those who might be anxious about this procedure and the trial we face… know that we are confident in a complete healing. We rely on our Savior to direct our steps. He has gone before us and has prepared the way.
I’ve beat cancer once, and I’ll beat it again.
Psalm 18:32-42 (The Message)
“Is there any god like God? Are we not at bedrock? Is not this the God who armed me, then aimed me in the right direction? Now I run like a deer; I’m king of the mountain. He shows me how to fight; I can bend a bronze bow! You protect me with salvation-armor; you hold me up with a firm hand, caress me with your gentle ways. You cleared the ground under me so my footing was firm. When I chased my enemies I caught them; I didn’t let go till they were dead men. I nailed them; they were down for good; then I walked all over them. You armed me well for this fight, you smashed the upstarts. You made my enemies turn tail, and I wiped out the haters. They cried “uncle” but Uncle didn’t come; They yelled for God and got no for an answer. I ground them to dust; they gusted in the wind. I threw them out, like garbage in the gutter.”