Posts Tagged ‘friends’

10 Ways to Help Someone With Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men are at risk of developing cancer in their lifetime. These statistics are increasing daily.

Cancer is rampant. Dare I say it’s the 21st century version of the plague? As a society, we are desperately searching for a cure, and until we discover that life-saving remedy, we can only treat the disease as best we know how. Cancer attacks any and all ages. It’s a beast that doesn’t care if you are young, old, strong, or frail. Whether you have cancer now, are at risk of developing it in the future, or know someone currently fighting, we are all affected by this disease.

When someone around us gets diagnosed with cancer, it is often difficult to think of how to react and respond. Do we send a card, text, or email? Do we avoid, ignore, and disregard? Do we send money or make a meal? I have spoken about the importance of cancer etiquette before, and while it is valuable to know what to say and what not to say to a cancer patient, sometimes doing something kind can be equally as valuable.

Two years ago, upon sharing the news of my recent diagnosis, I received a gamut of well wishes, prayers, gifts, and support. Many of these acts of kindness remain beneficial to my husband and I today, as my third season of fighting cancer will come to a close at my last chemotherapy this Friday. We have been and continue to be blessed by our incredible support team that surrounds us. If there is ever a need, we know someone will be there to meet it. Yet, no matter how close we are to friends and family, asking for help is one of the hardest things to do as a cancer patient. As if being diagnosed with cancer isn’t difficult enough, seeking help through our journey can be exhaustive.

Rather than asking the patient what you can do for them, be proactive. While expressing your willingness to do anything is thoughtful, offering before being asked can often provide the biggest impact and benefit. Below are helpful suggestions for acts of kindness that have personally benefited myself and many other people navigating a cancer diagnosis.

  1. Meals: Following surgery and other treatments, offer to provide meals for the patient and their family. Whether you swing by the local Chipotle and pick up a couple burritos, or make your famous homemade lasagna, providing meals helps tremendously. If they have not created a meal registry like MealBaby, offer to set one up in order for others to sign up to bring meals on specified dates.
  2. Gift cards: Purchase gift cards to their local grocery store, in order for the family to grab necessities. If you haven’t heard, cancer is expensive. Help remove the financial burden by eliminating the decision of whether to pay for groceries or medical bills.
  3. Date nights: Offer free babysitting for patients with children, and bless them with dinner and a movie with their spouse. For my husband and I, though we have no children yet, date nights allow us to escape the seemingly never-ending world of treatment. It’s a way for us to reconnect, and have a special evening just the two of us… No doctors, nurses, or chemo involved.
  4. Vacation donations: Often we see donating as a way to provide monetary support to organizations, yet donating can also be personal. Have any saved up airline miles or hotel points? Donate them to your loved one with cancer. Vacations are a way to break through the cancer bubble, and offer rejuvenation from exhaustive treatments.
  5. Beauty services: Though many chemotherapy treatments cause hair loss, relaxation is still a MUST for patients fighting cancer. Offer to pay for a massage, manicure, pedicure, or facial. Heck… send them away for an entire spa day!
  6. Cash: Let’s face it, cancer is expensive. Medical bills spill over onto everyday bills. Gift the patient with cold, hard cash and allow them to do whatever they want with it. Maybe they need to pay off that recent trip to the hospital. Maybe their car needs new tires. Maybe they want to buy a new outfit to boost their spirits. Give money with no strings attached.
  7. Hook ups: No, I’m not talking friends with benefits. If you or someone you know has a connection to a sports team, concert venue, or event, hook your friend up. Sports games, concerts, and festivals are fun ways for the patient to get out of the house and enjoy themselves.
  8. Home services: Offer to hire a professional cleaning service for the patient’s home. Cleaning and chemotherapy do not mix, after all. Have a knack for organization? Offer your services. Have $8 lying around each month? Sign the patient up for a Netflix service, so they can enjoy endless hours of Breaking Bad.
  9. Letters: Whether in the form of a hand-written card or an email, send your loved one encouragement. Let them know you are praying for them and supporting them through their journey to a cancer-free life. Encouragement motivates us to keep fighting, especially on days when sickness, exhaustion, and grief are overwhelming.
  10. KareKrates: We’ve all heard of care packages. They are the gift that keeps on giving. A box full of goodies to express your love and care. Recently, I received an extra special care package from my friends at KareKrate. They have teamed up to provide care packages to patients going through cancer treatment. These Kare Krates are highly beneficial and will put a smile on any patient’s face. The information and products included in the package are not only nice gifts to receive, but they are extremely applicable to any patient undergoing treatment. With top-ranking lotions for skin dryness due to radiation, all-natural lozenges to ease chemo-induced nausea, plush blankets, headwear and more, these KareKrates are the perfect gift to bless any cancer patient with. Head on over to KareKrate to order a valuable care package for your loved one, and make sure to enter the coupon code: SM30 to receive 30% OFF
Check out my Kare Krate!

Check out my KareKrate!

Hebrews 13:16 (MSG)

“Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship—a different kind of “sacrifice”—that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.”

Arm’s Length: The Distance Between Friendship and Cancer

(As appeared in The Huffington Post on 1/28/14)

porch

Cancer scares people. It’s the disease that no one wants to get, no one wants to talk about, and no one has a cure for. It brings the crazies out of the closet, introduces you to long-lost family members, and sabotages even the strongest of friendships. Cancer is the adult version of cooties. Getting it is not cool, and will send some around you scurrying away in search of a large tree to hide behind.

“Am I contagious?” This is a question that I admittedly asked upon hearing the news for the first time. I thought I knew the answer, but I couldn’t be entirely sure. Was I putting my husband, friends, and family at risk? Should I be quarantined?

Silly me. No, cancer is not contagious. Thank goodness. But if this disease is not contagious, what could be the reason for friendships beginning to dissolve and people hiding behind closed doors?

Until recently, I couldn’t quite understand the cause for the sudden shift in my relationships upon diagnosis two years ago. I just had cancer, after all. I didn’t have the chicken pox, diphtheria, or the plague. I was still me… the same ol’ Stephanie. Sure, I’d be bald soon, but did that really affect those around me? Was my bald, shiny head really the issue?

People change in difficult circumstances. Some become fearful and timid. Some hide behind sarcasm and cynicism. Some shy away. None of these reactions are wrong; coping mechanisms can fall on a large spectrum.

Before my diagnosis, I (like many) was afraid of cancer. My grandmother had passed from it, and not knowing much, I became fearful. Choosing to avoid any mention of the disease, I embraced blissful ignorance. Upon hearing reports of celebrities succumbing to their fights against cancer, I would feel sorry, yet would move forward as if it didn’t affect me. Because, did it really? As long as cancer wasn’t a part of my inner circle, I could remain euphorically unaware. Many share this approach, and my diagnosis brought these feelings out of several who surrounded me. An arm’s length became a safe distance.

While avoidance is on one side of the spectrum, artificial involvement is on the other. You know, the appeal of being friends with the “sick girl.” A concept similar to when someone passes away, and multiple people claim best friendship with the deceased. Or when passing by a car accident, we have to look, no matter how invasive it may feel. For as many people who vanished into the shadows upon hearing the news that I had cancer, there were just as many people who spontaneously appeared suddenly interested in the details of my journey… people whom I hadn’t heard from in years. Clearly not wanting to offer support, but rather trying to gather as much information about my newly changed life in order to be someone who could “share” my personal updates with others, as if they had the inside scoop.

Recently, I had an extremely valuable conversation with a dear friend. I shared with her the effects that cancer has had on my relationships. The ups, downs, and in-betweens of friendship after diagnosis. She responded by courageously sharing with me a perspective of hers that was entirely unknown to me. Truthfully, I was surprised at the feelings she expressed having upon hearing the news of my diagnosis, yet ever-so-thankful that she was brave enough to share. Her words have taught me so much.

“Stephanie, honestly, I was afraid to be your friend after I learned you had cancer. I feared that I would lose you. I was afraid that you might die, and I would have to go through the pain of losing someone close to me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to that.”

That day, I learned that avoidance might simply be an overwhelming fear of being close to someone who could possibly die. It has forever changed my perspective and has replaced my questions with grace for those who chose distance over involvement. Like I was before my diagnosis, many are just afraid of cancer. Afraid of what it might do to someone they love. And, whereas it doesn’t make dissolved friendships easier, it does allow me to understand that they may not be able to handle such a risky relationship.

As someone diagnosed with this disease, authentic support, encouragement, and prayers are treasures to receive. All friendships require selflessness. Being a friend to someone with cancer is no different. In fact, a relationship like this often requires more selflessness and can be far more difficult than others. Sometimes your friend with cancer may not be able to reciprocate equally, due to a slew of side effects from treatment. But if you’re willing to understand and accept that, this relationship will challenge and inspire you in ways you couldn’t dream of.

I am blessed to say that among several who slid out of sight and those who artificially tried to insert themselves, I have had numerous true friends stand firmly by my side. Friends who have brought meals when I couldn’t get out of bed. Those who have rearranged their schedules to pray with my husband and I before surgeries. Those who sit with me for hours as I ingest my chemo cocktails. Unwavering friends who offer support to myself and my husband no matter how hard the journey may get. Friends who don’t expect anything in return, and whom I know without a doubt would do anything for us. I am beyond grateful for these relationships.

Though arm’s length may be a safe distance, embracing someone with cancer is far more rewarding in the end. Just think. If it were you whose life just flipped upside down, what kind of friends would you want? … Be that friend.

Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…”

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.”

In Sickness and In Health

Today is either a Happy Valentines Day or Singles Awareness Day. For both parties: those who have found their forever love, and those who are still searching for it… Share your heart with those you care about, regardless of your relationship status.

Blessed.

Blessed. (June 2010)

While February 14th is a made-up holiday that our country feels obligated to spend money on chocolates and gifts, Matt and I still enjoy celebrating this day in some way. I challenge each of you to do the same. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not suggesting that you go out and spend money that you may or may not have on someone you may or may not truly love. My challenge to you is simply sharing your heart to those in your life who mean something to you. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Send a text. We’ve all heard it several times, “You never know what day is your last…”, and it’s the truth. My husband and I take this sentiment to heart. And frankly, this began well before my diagnosis. We never leave a conversation over the phone without saying, “I love you.” We never walk out of the house without saying, “I love you.” And it may sound weird, but we always end an argument by saying, “I love you.” We don’t want our last conversation to be one that we haven’t shared our love for one another. Every single day, I know how much my husband loves and cares for me, and he knows how much I love and care for him. There will never be a moment that either of us questions that. I encourage you to live in the same way. You don’t have to have a spouse in order to share your heart. Do you care about a friend? Tell them. Do you appreciate your family? Tell them. Do you adore your spouse with every fiber in your being? Tell them.

madsenwedding-83

Love and adoration. (June 2010)

This will be Matt and my 5th time celebrating this “holiday” together, yet he is my valentine every single day. I adore this man. He has guarded, honored, loved, and tended to my heart since I gave it to him in 2008. He has loved me unconditionally no matter how much I may complain, no matter what my body looks like, and no matter what I do or don’t do. His love for me is selfless. He is the leader of our family, the calm in many of our storms, and the strong rock that I can lean upon. His character is outstanding and deserves applaud. He is level-headed, compassionate, strong, loyal, patient, and he finds a way to make me laugh every day. He treats me better than I often deserve. He makes sacrifices in order to assure that we are happy. He works his butt off to provide for our family. He is my best friend. The one I laugh and cry with, the one I share secrets with, and the one person who has never left my side. From before diagnosis through this very day, he has remained steadfast and faithful to our vows. This diagnosis has only brought us closer together, and has grown our love and affection for one another in ways I never knew possible. My diagnosis is scary, let’s face it. And although he has the chance to run away and find a healthy and fertile woman, he doesn’t. Because I am his woman. This journey has never been an easy one, and it often gets harder each day, however, we have committed to be in this adventure together, and no disease will ever change that. He is truly the man of my dreams. The man I always dreamed about and prayed for, but never imagined marrying. I am eternally blessed.

This morning, I reflect on the vows we promised each other more than two and a half years ago. They remain the same today and forevermore…

June 5, 2010

Vows. (June 5, 2010)

“You are my best friend. Today I give myself to you in marriage, in the presence of God, family, and friends. I promise to stand by your side in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, as well as through the good times and the bad. When life seems easy and when it seems hard. When our love is simple and when it is an effort. I promise to love you without reservation, comfort you in times of distress, encourage you to achieve all of your goals, laugh with you and cry with you. I promise to cherish you and always hold you in the highest regard. I look forward to raising our family and building our relationship under the care and guidance of God. These things I give to you today, and all the days of our life. I love you.”

Matt, I adore you. Thank you for standing by me through the easy times, and the most recent difficult times. Thank you for being my guardian. Thank you for continuing to take care of me, and making sure that I am alright. Thank you for firmly planting yourself by my side through this diagnosis and the slew of surgeries, treatments, and hospital visits. Thank you for believing that I am still beautiful, and thank you even more for telling me every day. Thank you for being the servant-like leader that God has called you to be, and for guiding us on the path that He has prepared for us. Thank you for your never-ending encouragement. Thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you for providing for us, and doing whatever it takes to keep us afloat. Thank you for the many sacrifices you make to ensure that we are happy. Thank you for your unwavering patience, your listening ears, and your words of wisdom. Thank you for continuing to put up with me. Thank you for believing in my healing and sharing that you are proud of me. Thank you for praying with and for me. Thank you for protecting me with strong and gentle hands. Thank you for never giving up.

Swoon! (June 2010)

Swoon! (June 2010)

I honor you. I respect you. I’m proud of you. And, I love you. I always have and always will…LINABEW.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (The Message)

“Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always ‘me first,’
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies…”

Hangovers and Television

Chemo effects have officially begun again. Oh, joy. For some reason these poisonous concoctions affect nearly everything in my daily life, at least for a little while. Could the reason be that they are actually poison in some form? I suppose. Annoying. However, I would much rather deal with these side effects and survive than not. You gotta do what you gotta do…to live.

This morning I’m experiencing the exact reactions that I get the morning after anytime I go in for chemotherapy. I call them chemo cocktails, so what better way to call the morning after, my chemo hangover!? Those who have never had the pleasure of ingesting these molecular-killing elixirs, can not truly understand this specialized hangover. It’s nothing like a hangover you elected yourself for by enjoying too many liquid grapes the night before. It’s not a hangover you can salve by drinking lots of water and taking a Tylenol. My face is flushed, my body is tired, my emotions are out of whack, and I’m exhausted with an edge of queasiness. My joints hurt. My bones hurt. My throat is dry. This hangover is one you’ve just got to push through. Fighting cancer doesn’t stop after treatments. You still have to gut it out while the life-saving drugs course through your body.

Seeing myself on TV is nuts! (January 2013)

On the nightly news! (January 2013)

Last night, sleep eluded me. And it’s partner in crime, Ambien, clocked out early. Yet again, I awoke wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at 3 am. After attempting to trick my body into surrendering to slumber, I gave in. No use. I was awake. So, what better thing to do than check my social media. Facebook, Instagram, my blog. The only negative is that none of you post anything in the wee hours of the morning. There wasn’t much to look at, and I wasn’t particularly in the mood to creep on anyone’s page. So, I decided to check our local news station FOX 31 KDVR and see if a particular interview from yesterday had been put on their website. After scrolling through stories of tragedy, death, and how auto-mechanics are ripping off customers (duh!), I found a story of hope.

For those who were unaware, one of our local news stations had asked me for an interview. This interview just so happened to take place yesterday, and aired four separate times last night. My apologies for not making y’all aware earlier. Everything happened so fast. I write bearing good news, however. Those that were at work, out of town, or who don’t have cable are still able to watch the segment. Below I will post the link to the interview that aired on FOX 31 KDVR and also on Channel 2 KWGN.

Yet again, God is making it apparent that my story is a big one. Never would I have thought that people would care to see my story through a cancer diagnosis. But, I trust that His plans are bigger and far better than my own, and I’m rollin’ with it. The segment is fairly short (long in news time), reaching a little over 2 minutes. Obviously I’m a talker, and the crew had to condense my monstrosity of words into a nice package, so not all of my message was shared. For those who have been introduced to my story fairly recently and are visiting my blog for the first time, whether you are undergoing cancer treatments as well, are struggling in other areas of your life, or just feel like some perspective, here’s what I can tell you:

Behind the scenes. Photo courtesy Matt Madsen. (January 2013)

Behind the scenes. Photo courtesy Matt Madsen. (January 2013)

My God is a BIG God. He determines my destiny. A medical diagnosis is not God’s diagnosis for my life. The medical statistics are not congruent to His statistics. I believe in miracles. I believe in healing. And, I believe in a miraculous healing in my body. Regardless of “poor prognosis,” only He will determine when I leave this Earth. And, I can assure you, He will have to drag me out of it kicking and screaming. I’m a fighter. I’m stubborn. I won’t back down from this annoying bug called cancer. As grammatically correct as I am, I will never capitalize that word; Unless it has the pleasure of being at the beginning of a sentence! This diagnosis of cancer will never rule my life. It will never define me. It’s only a part of my journey. And it will be a small portion in comparison to the multitude of years I will live.

For those fighting this disease as well. You can do it. More often than not, you just have to suck it up and keep battling. It’s a hard struggle, but you will discover more of yourself than you ever have. When you feel weak, know that our God is strong. He has not given this disease to you, but has allowed it. For what the enemy tries to use against us, God transforms into something miraculous and good. You will have hard days. You will grieve. You will cry. You won’t want to leave your house, let alone get out of bed. You will experience pain and heartbreak. BUT, you WILL have good days. Great days in fact. Life is put into perspective when you are fighting for it. You will laugh. You can experience joy and hope. This isn’t the end of the road. Certain things in your life will change, but you can continue to hold on to things that bring you happiness. There are people around you, whether you know them or not, who just want to help. Let them. And dammit, don’t give up. As soon as you resign yourself, it’s over. This is an epic battle. You are a soldier. You are on the front lines. And with your medical staff and The Man upstairs, you will crash through this diagnosis with guns blazing. Allow yourself to experience the rough days. Allow yourself to grieve and cry. After all, cancer is shitty. I give you permission to be sad, angry, hurt, and possibly devastated. Sometimes that’s all we need… someone to say, “It’s ok to cry.” However, once you’ve exhausted yourself from tears, pick your cancer-kickin’ ass up. On days that you feel well enough, get out of the house. Don’t isolate yourself. Enjoy the world we live in. Spend time with your friends and family. Go to a comedy show and laugh. Eat good food. Please, don’t let your diagnosis run your life. You are not a cancer patient. But rather, a person who just so happens to have cancer. And last but not least, fight hard. This disease is a jerk.

Feel free to view my very first television appearance on FOX 31 KDVR and Channel 2 KWGN by clicking HERE! And for those who are not so tech savvy, here’s the link: http://kdvr.com/2013/01/31/26-year-old-battling-cancer-urges-getting-life-saving-tests/

2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (Message Version)

“Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us,

‘I heard your call in the nick of time;
The day you needed me, I was there to help.’

Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.”

Thank You, cancer

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. Almost one year ago. Stephanie and Matt, February 2012

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.”

The Best is Yet to Come!

Angie Austin doing what she does best!

Angie Austin doing what she does best! (January 2013)

Yesterday was a blast. As most of you know, especially if you read my last post (“On the Air”), I was invited to be on “The Good News” radio show with Angie Austin on 810AM KLVZ. I can happily report, that while I was fairly nervous beforehand, once Matt and I entered the studio, my nerves slipped away. Angie is an amazing, friendly, and talented woman who helps usher you into fearlessness and allows you to feel extremely comfortable. I felt entirely in my element and had a wonderful time sharing my journey with her and all of you loyal listeners. Thank you to those who tuned in live; I hope you could hear and sense my hope and joy throughout our conversation. For those who were unable to be near the radio or computer and for those of you who are out of town, don’t fret! Below I will include the link to the podcast of our lovely chat, so you can hear it as well.

Enjoying the show! (January 2013)

Enjoying the show! (January 2013)

As I’ve mentioned before, I truly feel one of God’s purposes for my life is to publicly share my testimony through my diagnosis. He has given me this adventurous tale for a reason, and I know that He has called me to read it like an open book. It has begun through the words here in this blog, and is spreading to many other media outlets. I’ve got to be honest, I never pictured this for my life. (But who does?!) Frankly, I never pictured my life to be anything like it has been since January of 2012. Yet, while my husband’s and my dreams were vastly different than our current story, we are thankful. God has opened our eyes to so many opportunities we never imagined would exist. He has harvested wisdom, strength, passion, peace, vision, and purpose in our lives. I am thankful He is the gardener of our souls.

Stephanie live on air! (January 2013)

Stephanie live on air! (January 2013)

Once the interview wrapped up, pictures were taken, and we began our walk out of the broadcasting building, I had a deep sense of knowing that this is where I am supposed to be. A few months ago, when I felt God calling me to rise up and share my story more publicly, I would be lying to say I wasn’t afraid. I would be lying to say I didn’t doubt His plan. I would be lying to say I trusted that He knew what He was doing. After all, I never pictured being a public speaker in all my life. Yet, as Matt, our dear friend Audra, and I walked out of the building yesterday, I had another moment where it was as if God himself was telling me, “See?! This is why. Trust me.”

Stephanie and Angie in front of the infamous "Crawford Broadcasting" sign. (January 2013)

Stephanie and Angie in front of the infamous “Crawford Broadcasting” sign.       (January 2013)

Some have never experienced a moment in time where they knew what they were doing was inherently right. But those who have, know exactly what I’m talking about. In that very moment, I knew I was walking directly on the path God has paved for me. Everything clicked and a new confident passion arose in my spirit. I am now, more than ever, excited for whatever and however many interviews and media outlets He brings my way, as I know it’s His intention to receive glory through my testimony. God is BIG, and it’s exciting to see Him putting all of my life’s puzzle pieces together. I look forward to the many opportunities that will arise in these next few weeks, months, and many years to come. This is only the beginning… The best is yet to come!

Feel free to listen to Angie and my conversation by clicking HERE! If you have trouble, feel free to go to Angie’s PODCAST list, and click on “The Good News” recording for Tuesday, January 22nd.

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 (MSG Version)

“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.”

The Why

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.”

Wigs and Warfare

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Because of its mucus lining, my surgeon was able to remove the entirety of the mass.
  3. The tumor was not connected to my colon, and therefore I did not need any form of a colostomy.
  4. The PET scan immediately following surgery showed no signs of carcinoma anywhere else in my body.
  5. 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.
  6. 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)

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.’”

Bittersweet and Thankful

Matt and Stephanie. (May 2010)

We’ve been waiting for nearly a year to hear the news. Are biological children a part of our story?

You can read about when we first had to make the difficult decision to either proceed with my hysterectomy, or to hold off and harvest my eggs here . Thankfully, we proceeded with the surgery and I am still alive today. Cancer-free, mind you. Because my Oncologist understood our desire for biological children, and because my ovaries had not been touched by this disease, she decided to transpose them to a higher location in my abdomen; she moved them with hopes that they could be protected from the harmful radiation procedures. Three months after my last cancer treatment, we were told I could take a blood test that would determine if my ovaries were still in working condition. I took the FSH/LH/Estrogen test last week and we received the results a couple of days ago.

“Your current FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) is at a 48.8. A normal FSH is less than 10, and an FSH greater than 20 is generally not recommended to use your own eggs to try to get pregnant. At a 48, it’s unfortunately pretty bad news. It looks like your cancer treatments had a very bad effect on your ovaries, which is pretty common. It looks like that is probably not an option now.”

For those who have been close to us through this journey, you know that we just wanted an answer. Is it a yes or a no for “bio-kids?” Regardless of the outcome, we wanted to know what path we needed to further investigate. Although it’s bittersweet, we are very thankful to finally have an answer. And God is still good. We now can focus more on the process of finding our children, and not on the process of personally conceiving our own. Adoption is a life-changing journey for all involved, and we have spoken about this option before we even got married. Adoption has always been on the table. To be honest, we thought it would be just that… an option. However, we have now discovered that God has intentionally called us to this form of parenting. Although our fertility nurse has told us that it’s bad news, we are choosing to see it as a blessing. Our story continues to have chapters that few people experience, and for that not only are we grateful, but we think it’s pretty cool, too.

Being grateful is a powerful thing. When you can look beyond your circumstances and see the gifts you’ve been blessed with, your life will transform. My husband and I are thankful that I am still here on this earth. Because of that, I can continue to be a loving wife and will still have the chance to be a mother someday. We are thankful that God continues to reign over our story and direct our path. We are thankful that we have each other and are confident that our journey to adoption is going to be full of joy. We continue to look forward to uncovering God’s plan for our lives, and we will never cease our praise for the wonderful things He has done and will continue to do. Even though our hearts were set, God knows ultimately what is best for us. And frankly, how awesome is it that we get to go down the road less traveled?!

Alongside our grateful hearts, we are still grieving. Through marriage you learn the differences between men and women, and this adventure has continued to shine light on that. As a woman, I think we generally process things a lot quicker. I have been grieving since the day my reproductive organs were removed. It’s gotten easier as the days and months have gone by, but there are still moments where I am sad that I will never be able to feel my child from inside my womb. Men take a little longer to process change. Matt has held on and believed with great faith that my eggs would still be alive and well. With this news, it has brought a finality to the hope he carried. For him, it’s almost as if the grieving has just begun. We ask that you continue to pray for peace and understanding in this time. We are in this together, and continue to cling to each other on this roller coaster through life. The fact still remains: Matt will be a daddy, and I a mommy; We WILL be parents. No matter if our children come from our bodies or from someone else’s they will still be our own. It’ll be a momentous occasion when we can tell our children how truly hard we fought for them.

Now that we know how we will have children, many are probably wondering when we will begin “trying” for kids. We are blessed to have several friends who have chosen adoption, or who themselves are adopted; therefore, we have many close resources to turn to. We will begin researching, learning, and gathering as much information about adoption that we possibly can. However, we have decided that until I reach my two-year mark clean and clear of cancer, children are going to have to wait a little while. After all, we want to make sure that our children get a healthy mom and not a sick one. Until we decide to be open for placement, we will continue to fill our brains with as much knowledge that can fit. We will attend seminars, information meetings, and read as many articles on adoption that is available to us. We believe that the more knowledge we obtain, the better the journey will be.

We have been praying for our children for years, and look forward to when God chooses to place them into our life. For now, He’s got them…And I feel confident knowing, He’s the best babysitter out there.

Psalm 113:4-9 (The Message)

“God is higher than anything and anyone, outshining everything you can see in the skies. Who can compare with God, our God, so majestically enthroned, surveying his magnificent heavens and earth? He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash, seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best. He gives childless couples a family, gives them joy as the parents of children. Hallelujah!”

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