Posts Tagged ‘hair loss’

Badge of Honor

_MG_8052Losing hair in an already difficult situation is like rubbing salt in an open wound. As if struggling to survive each day through treatments, medications, and poisonous elixirs isn’t enough, going through it bald is the proverbial cherry on top.

_MG_8040When I first lost my hair, I was unsure about venturing out into the public without something covering my smooth, hairless scalp. I remember the first time I stepped out of the house sporting my new look. As freeing as it felt, I also noticed the amount of unwanted stares I began to receive. The questions, curiosities, and expressions of pity in the eyes of strangers were tangible. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed, but most of all, I was vulnerable. At times I wanted to boldly announce, “I have cancer, alright? Stop staring at me!”

_MG_8089I’ve been baldalicious for the greater part of two years, and have now learned to view it differently than I did in the beginning. My perspective has changed and a pride has emerged in the once desolate space of vulnerability. I am proud to be bald because being bald means I am a survivor. Being bald means I am still here. Still fighting. Still alive! Instead of viewing myself as a patient, I view myself as a strong warrior. Now, when out in public without a wig, I walk with my head high. I have nothing to be embarrassed about. Nothing to hide.

_MG_9187One month after my final chemotherapy treatment, I developed a longing to document my beautiful baldness. As illustrated as my journey has been, there was one thing missing — a gallery highlighting my bald head. I wanted my badge of honor on display, in a way that highlighted the fierce survivorship that I so often feel.

_MG_8133As usual, God’s timing is always perfect; Recently I was invited to be the subject in a photo shoot. After discussing my vision for the session, Kimberly met my husband and I at a park and we got to work. I was inspired to showcase the beauty in baldness, and brought along a headpiece that I put together. This photo shoot was such a special, intimate, and celebratory moment in time. Kimberly is a phenomenal photographer, warm and friendly face, and develops an atmosphere of comfort that is so needed in a shoot like this one. What she produced stunned me. She captured my vision to a “t,” and I will forever be grateful to have visual representations of the beauty in my baldness. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

_MG_9208Bald should be celebrated, not hidden away in embarrassment. If you are bald from the effects of your courageous fight through cancer, embrace it! It is your badge of honor. You are beautiful! After all, we are survivors … our bald heads say so.

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Isaiah 12:5 (MSG)

“Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what he’s done!”

PHOTO CREDIT: KIMBERLY MITISKA PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Bald is Beautiful: The Message That Got One Young Girl Banned From School

(As appeared in The Huffington Post on 3/26/2014)

Yesterday, I came across an article. It’s a story that gripped me and had me feeling both triumphantly exuberant and downright disappointed. This story is about a little girl who has lost her hair in her ongoing fight against cancer, her friend who decided to stand beside her, and a school who punished them for it. The school chose to send the friend home, because her shaved head violated school dress code policy.

Delaney Clements is a strong 11-year-old girl fighting neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that develops in nerve cells. Kamryn Renfro is her 9-year-old friend who clearly has a heart of gold and more character than most at her age. Due to her chemotherapy treatments, Delaney has lost her hair. She is baldalicious and exudes such joy with her smile. Recently, Kamryn chose to shave her head as a way to stand by her friend in support. As a way to offer encouragement and to let Delaney know she was not alone. Kamryn made the decision to support her friend, against all odds and no matter the sacrifice.

This act of bravery from such a young girl is extraordinary. How many of us can say that we would do the same?

What happened next left me feeling disappointed and shocked. The school felt that Kamryn’s act of kindness, friendship, and support went against their dress code policy. They informed Kamryn’s family that she would not be allowed to attend school until her hair grew back, or until she arrived wearing a wig. Apparently, her bald head distracted other students. However, was it a negative distraction? I don’t think so. If anything, their fellow peers were given a rare opportunity to see what love really is. This act of solidarity could have been used as a teaching moment. A lesson that could not be explained with flash cards or times tables.

Our world needs to be distracted more often. Our eyes need to be taken away from the meaningless and be redirected to the meaningful. Sometimes lessons cannot be taught through a textbook.

The media has shared this story over and over again, yet the core message seems to get muddled. The debate of whether or not hair should matter in school should not be the focus. This message is not about a girl with a shaved head. This message is about what one girl did for her friend. In an interview, Kamryn stated, “It felt like the right thing to do.” And Delaney responded by saying, “It made me feel very special and that I’m not alone.”

Having lost my hair several times over from the slew of cancer treatments I’ve received over the last two years, I understand what it feels like to be bald. It can be isolating and scary. Many don’t realize the amount of value we place on our hair until we no longer have it. Being bald has often left me feeling vulnerable and different. Being bald is a physical reminder of the battle for survival. I am nearly 20 years older than Delaney, and can’t even fathom what she has had to go through at such a young age.

By punishing Kamryn for her act of kindness, this school has sent a large message. While I understand the importance of rules and regulations in schools, the administration carelessly looked over the benefits of this situation, and reacted improperly. Children should not be punished for doing the right thing. We should instill values into our youth, so that when they grow older, they will treat others with compassion and care. Do we want our children to remember moments like this as an example of what is not allowed, or rather an example of what it means to love? Acts of kindness should not be rebuked.

What Kamryn did for Delaney should not be punished. What she did should be praised. She responded to an urging of compassion in her heart by extending support to another. She stepped out in courage and bravery to do what not many would. She symbolically held her friend’s hand and let her know she was not alone. And I applaud her.

Thank you Kamryn for rallying by your friend and showing her support and encouragement. Thank you for showing her that she is not alone and doesn’t have to be the only one who looks different. Thank you for your courageous spirit and your brave response.

Thank you, Delaney, for your strength and courage. Thank you for showing the world that bald is beautiful. Thank you for inspiring those of us who are fellow fighters and survivors. Thank you for your contagious smile and bravery.

Kamryn and Delaney have defined what courage, friendship, and bravery really mean. Today, I stand with Delaney and Kamryn, and urge you to do the same.

Bald is beautiful.

Update: After all the media attention on the story, the school has since reversed its decision.

Romans 15:1-2

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

BaldIsBeautiful

Hair Hath No Fury

There comes a moment in every cancer survivors life when we realize our hair has returned. My moment was this morning.

After answering emails, continuing the laundry, and catching up on Real Housewives (a guilty pleasure … forgive me), I stepped into the shower. Over the course of these past two years, there are more times than I can recall when I’ve been without hair, and a few fleeting occasions when my locks have made a debut. This past season has been spent as hairless as a naked mole rat. Therefore, showers are quick. It never ceases to amaze my husband how speedily I can take a shower. You’d think we were on water rations or something.

“Are you sure you’re done? That was fast!”
“Yes, I’m sure. I have no hair. Remember? All I have to do is wash my body.”

And it’s the truth. I can get in and out of a shower within 5 minutes. I have no legs to shave, no hair to shampoo and condition. My sole duty is to get clean. I’d be lying to say I didn’t enjoy not having to time my morning ritual around how long my shower will take. Oh, the benefits of being follicularly challenged!

As I stepped out of the shower, dried off, and stepped into my wardrobe for the day, I noticed a shadow under my arms. It caused me great pause, as I was unsure what was lurking underneath my biceps. Lifting my hand to the sky, I peered at my underarm. What did I spy with my little eye? Hair! The softest hint had sprouted from an area that had been naked for so long. My first thought was, “Wow. It’s back. I’m officially done with treatment. Now I need to brush up on my shaving skills!”

Hair is a silly little thing we often take for granted. Women are constantly irritated with their manes — fussing, fixing and complaining that it’s not long enough, not short enough, not curly enough, or not straight enough. We buy the latest and greatest products to manipulate it to do things only God Himself could accomplish. We specifically tell our stylists we only want our dead-ends trimmed, and no length to be removed. We try new styles, new cuts, and experiment with how much volume we can achieve. We wax our bodies from head to toe – plucking, primping, and priming our skin to be as smooth as possible. No matter what woman I talk to, we all have a never-ending love-hate relationship with our tresses.

Every time I’ve lost my hair has been different. My first season through treatment two years ago took everything but my eyebrows and eyelashes. My second season, I lost nearly everything right away, but still managed to have two spots on my scalp that maintained about twenty hairs each. As aforementioned, this season I remind myself of a naked mole rat. Bald, pale, and if not for my hot flashes, cold. Because of the changing of each season, I’m never quite sure what to expect my locks to do. Will they all grow back in at the same time? Will my hair be thicker and more luxurious? Will its color and texture change?

The hair on my head has slowly but surely begun to make its debut. About three weeks ago, I noticed a little garden growing up there. Tiny sprouts had begun to make their voyage above the surface, and I was elated. Hair continues to be a reminder that I am no longer in treatment, and that brings me a happiness that I can’t even begin to describe. The second I spot newly established tresses, I make certain that I shampoo and condition it every single day. It’s hair. No matter that it’s one tenth of an inch long, it deserves to be treated as though it reaches my shoulders. I can officially say my showers have expanded from around five minutes to nearly seven.

After discovering what my underarms had been hiding from me, I began to hunt for more. This hair hunting expedition had me laughing to myself, alone in my bathroom. The joy that came from finding more and more pooled up in me, until it overwhelmed my thoughts with the acknowledgement, that I, once again am cancer-free. I looked closely at my face and noticed itty bitty strands making an appearance at my brow line. My lashes have even joined the party and are tap dancing across the edges of my eyelids. Soon, I was touching my legs, inspecting every square inch, gleefully observing hundreds of hairs revealing themselves to me.

I officially have hair again. It’s not much, but it’s here. It’s back. And it has returned with a vengeance. I remember the first time my hair reappeared. My poor, poor legs. It was as if I was a newly pubescent teenager, all over again. Nicks and scratches up and down each leg, and quite a few bandaids to mask my amateur attempt at shaving. I’m excited to brush up on my shaving skills once again, and pretty soon, I’ll go from novice to professional. I’m praying this hair is here to stay, and that it will forever take the place of the one who tried to steal it away.

I suppose it’s time to stock up on razors. I anticipate my shower to be much longer tomorrow, as I’ve got some shaving to do. For today, though, I will enjoy these beautiful reminders that I am alive and cancer-free.

6.5 Weeks From Last Chemotherapy (3/14)

6.5 weeks from last chemotherapy (3/14)

 Isaiah 43:18-21 (MSG)

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”

Not So Fast

1

(Guest post by Matt)

Stephanie and I have spent a few days in the hospital, and she seems to have been progressing better than she has after previous surgeries. When they rolled her out of the post-op area, she was already sipping water. In prior surgeries, she wasn’t even allowed to touch but a few ice chips for about a day afterwards. Aside from a furious bout with itchiness last night (which we think was brought on by the hospital bedsheets, soon replaced by soft sheets from home), Stephanie has been able to do everything they want her to in order to go home.

But, as we have learned on multiple occasions during this journey, life can be unpredictable. I noted in the last post that they had to check the removed ovary for microscopic traces of the cancer. Well, the pathology report came back today and MJ gave us the news: there were microscopic cancer cells in the cystic walls of Stephanie’s ovary, nothing that could be seen with the human eye. That’s the thing with this or any other type of cancer. There’s an obvious battle against tumors and what shows up on scans, but there is also the microscopic battle.

So, there will be further treatment.

Stephanie will once again have to undergo chemotherapy treatments after all. She’ll start in a couple weeks after she heals up from her hospital stay. The good news is that these cells were found in the ovary that was taken out. There wasn’t a tumor, and there wasn’t any spreading to other areas of her body. So this chemo season will be an “insurance policy” to fight the microscopic battle. MJ is confident that it’s nowhere else and if there are still cancerous cells, the chemotherapy will prove effective against them. And, tomorrow morning, Stephanie is getting a PET scan, not a CT scan. That is good news.

In hindsight, we were a little spoiled with the immediate post-surgery news that no cancer was seen. Just because it wasn’t seen doesn’t mean that it still wasn’t present (obviously). It’s so small that the doctor who sees cancer every day couldn’t even see it. But we know that God is still good. He has orchestrated this whole story. Nothing about this is a surprise to Him. He is obviously still working in this story to bring glory to Him. Yes, it’s a bummer that Stephanie will lose her hair again and have to get chemo again. But, this is what we were planning before we even got to the hospital on Monday. We were prepared for another season of treatment and we still are.

Prayer-wise, we would appreciate prayers for emotional strength and endurance for the season ahead. Imagine the amount of stress and anxiety that is endured when you spend months and months growing your hair out just to find out you’re going to lose it again. This is difficult (especially for a woman). Just like everyone else, we have been expecting to be able to plan out our lives a little bit. Some people get further along than others before God reveals HIS plan for their lives. We are experiencing this in the time when we would otherwise be thinking about buying our first house and starting a family. Having to put those things “on hold” has been difficult for both of us, so prayers for understanding God’s will for our lives and being able to handle the “holding” gracefully would be especially appreciated. Also, very short-term, I am bouncing between home and the hospital not only to care for our pups, but it is moving week. So, we also request prayers for a smooth move. Big props to the fellas who will be helping us out this weekend with this task, it means more than you know.

We are praying that the “third time’s a charm” with this treatment. We’re keeping positive attitudes and we know that how people handle what comes their way reveals their true character. Thank you for praying with us and standing beside us.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (MSG)

“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, but if there’s no one to help, tough! Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.”

Our Plan, His Will

These past few days have been entirely orchestrated by God, of that I am sure.

Tuesday night, our church had it’s monthly women’s event, and I was asked to be a small group leader for the evening. One of my dear friends shared her testimony with all of us, and her message was enriched with His faithfulness. In fact, God’s faithfulness was the theme of the night. I am convinced that both the theme and it’s timing were orchestrated with enormous purpose.

Most of us say that He is faithful. We worship Him with that word. We pray for that characteristic to shine in our lives. But how many of us really know that it is true? God’s faithfulness is not measured by how many prayers are answered. He remains faithful even when our plans aren’t in alignment with His.

As I led my group into discussion, I was given questions to pose to the ladies. Here are a few that stood out to me, and have meaning especially now:

  • “Has there been a time where God has made something beautiful out of your hurt or pain?”
  • “How is our story part of God’s bigger story? Share a time when it was hard for you to see at first, but in the end you realized that God was doing something for a reason that you couldn’t see at the time.”
  • “Why is it sometimes hard to surrender to God’s plan in our lives?”

Notice that not one of these questions mentions an ease to or fulfillment of our plans. Many times God sees our plans and wants something bigger for us. I’m sure He looks at our life goals, plans, and desires and thinks, “That’s it? That’s all you want? My will is far greater that that.”

My follow-up CT scan was on Monday. Our women’s event was Tuesday. And I received the scan results on Wednesday. In the moment, I wanted the results immediately. Why couldn’t I receive them within seven hours like I did last time? I didn’t understand why. But now I do. Tuesday was God’s time to speak to me. To remind me of His faithfulness, regardless of the circumstance. It was His moment to encourage and empower me, and to remind me of His steadfast love. His timing was perfect.

I received the call yesterday morning at 7:03 am. Upon answering the phone, I heard my doctor’s voice. I immediately knew. A tumor had grown near my remaining ovary on the right side of my abdomen. It’s a little smaller than two inches. The cancer has returned for a third time. After listening to the medical details and ensuing plan of action, the conversation ended. My husband slid to the ground with his face in his hands, and began to cry. Tears began to fall from my eyes, as well. Instead of asking “Why?” I uttered, “I don’t understand. What plans do You have for me Lord?” I refuse to question His intentions, but can’t help questioning His plan. The tears of disappointment quickly turned into tears of sadness that I would, yet again, lose my hair. I ran my hands through my thick curls, and continued to express grief over the future loss of my locks. I hate losing my hair. It continues to be the most difficult part of this journey.

From the moment I processed this news, a calm confidence has filled my spirit. Where fear, doubt, and worry could hide, confidence has held residence instead. Large Cell Neuroendocrine cancer is extremely aggressive and, more often than not, fatal. However, this cancer is behaving unusual in my body. Unusually good. Sounds oxymoronic considering it’s return, however, it’s seemingly losing it’s power inside of me. Typically, this disease grows out of control and spreads quickly. Because both my hormonal and nervous system (Neuroendocrine) are under attack, this cancer has no bounds to where it can travel. In fact, in many cases, it heads to the lungs and brain rapidly. Yet, for some reason, it is remaining very localized in my pelvic region. It’s attaching itself to surgically removable organs. It is nowhere else in my body, and is no longer growing out of control. The tumor this time is significantly smaller than the second softball-sized tumor that developed within three months. I have been out of treatment for nearly six months, and was nearing the one year mark for being cancer free. All of these facts are good. They give me great confidence that once we remove this last ovary, the cancer will see nowhere else to grow and will cease residency in my body. I’m not dying from cancer. God has bigger things in store.

On October 6th, Matt and I will be running our very first 5k. We have been training for nearly eight weeks, and have put a lot of sweaty effort into our goal. This race immediately flashed in front of my eyes upon hearing the news that I would need surgery and chemotherapy all over again. “I WILL run this race. We’ll postpone surgery if we have to, but we ARE running this race.” Matt was adamant that I was delusional, but agreed to speak with my doctor. Explaining that this accomplishment would mean so much, I was insistent that cancer not take it away from me. Thankfully my doctor agreed, and smiling, she told us to run the 5k. Thank you, Jesus! Postponing surgery a few more days than expected should not have an impact on my health. If at any time between now and surgery, we feel the need to move forward with the procedure earlier, we can and will. However, my hope and prayer is that my pain will remain at a minimum and that the tumor will neither grow nor spread in this time. Our race is in ten days. Surgery is scheduled in eleven days, on October the 7th.

Through all of this, God remains faithful. Our plans and His are not in alignment, yet I know that His will for my life is far greater than I can imagine. For that reason, I continue to trust in His healing power, and know that He’s got this all figured out.

Psalm 138:8 (MSG)

“When I walk into the thick of trouble, keep me alive in the angry turmoil. With one hand strike my foes, with your other hand save me. Finish what you started in me, God. Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now.”

 

 

Faithful Friends and The First Season

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Madsen | Cancer Survivor from Mark Nava on Vimeo.

Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)

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

No Hair, Don’t Care

Sometimes, as a cancer patient, you want to blend in with the crowd. Blend in with those around you who have hair. Because, after all, being bald attracts attention and unwanted stares. Being bald equates sickness. And no matter how sick I feel, I don’t always want to look it. Sometimes, it’s hard to feel like a woman when the features that amplify your femininity fade away.

No makeup. Little hair.

No makeup. Little hair. (May 2013)

After being diagnosed with cancer in January of 2012 and learning I would lose all of my hair, I was devastated. I had just reached the point where I was obsessed with my locks, so facing the reality that they would be gone in a matter of weeks was calamitous. That was 14 months ago, and since then, I have lost my hair a few more times. But, never once had I grieved my eyebrows or eyelashes. In my second season of treatment, my hair loss became more of an inconvenience rather than devastation. I had gotten pretty used to it. However, this time around, chemo decided to take a little more hair with it. This time, I lost all of my locks… as usual, the new curls on my head and the hair on my legs and arms. But, this season, even my eyebrows and eyelashes disappeared. Everything. The only hairs I hadn’t been used to saying goodbye to were my brows and lashes, and boy did I realize what an adjustment that would be. I had never understood how much I had taken those short little hairs for granted.

What a difference brows and lashes make! (May 2013)

What a difference brows and lashes make! (May 2013)

As a woman, I like to feel beautiful. I like being confident in the way I appear to the world. I had always thought if I were to lose my lashes and brows that I would look like an alien. Or even a hairless rat. Or maybe a hairless rat-like alien. Regardless, I had thought that if my brows and lashes were to fade away, my beauty would soon then follow. After all, I had never had to draw my brows on, and only wore false lashes on few occasions. What was I to do?

I have an aversion to having all eyes on me. I don’t like all the attention. And, I don’t like being the sick girl. The cancer patient. Because of this, I’ve become somewhat of a chameleon. Not many people have been able to see me without my “mask” on. And frankly, because I appear to be healthy, it’s hard for others to see the face of sickness. When I’m made-up, cancer doesn’t shine through. And while that’s the point, it’s necessary to see what the “before” looks like.

Many women share that they don’t feel femininely beautiful after hair loss. I get that. I feel that way, too. But there is hope. And thank the Lord for makeup! Gifted with cosmetic creativity, I have been able to gather my tools and tricks and go to work on the canvas of my face. I am here to testify that as a woman diagnosed with cancer or for those suffering hair loss for other reasons, you can still be beautiful! Losing your hair does not mean you have to look vastly different from your prior furry self. It’ll take effort and creativity, but it is possible.

Makeup complete and hair on! (May 2013)

Makeup complete and hair on! (May 2013)

Cancer tried to take away a lot. And even though it has tried to strip me of my appearance, I will not let it. No hair, don’t care. I’m beautiful, regardless.

And so are you.

Isaiah 40:8 (ESV)

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

 

Man-on-Pause

Man-on-pause is happening in our household. Hot flashes, night sweats, irritability. Yes, man-on-pause is definitely here. Of course, I’m referring to the dreaded menopause, but my husband renamed it for obvious reasons. Never did I imagine I would be going through menopause at 26 years old. In fact, I didn’t even give this hormonal life-change much thought. After all, I’m in my twenties, not fifties or sixties.

Baldalicious in a blonde wig. (March 2013)

Trying not to sweat in the hot sun! (March 2013)

After my radical hysterectomy in February of 2012, I experienced a very small number of hot flashes. I didn’t even want to refer to them as full-on hot flashes, and just called them “hot flushes,” as only my face would get very flush. I wasn’t tearing my clothes off in desperation for cooler temperatures. I wasn’t wiping away sweat beads from my brow or upper lip. I wasn’t snapping at my husband for no apparent reason. Then again, I still had two ovaries. And they must have been producing hormones… even slightly. However, after my most recent surgery where the softball-sized monster was found gnawing on my left ovary, it had to go. Today I am left with one ovary on my right side, and it’s starting to give up. This leaves me pissed off, cursing, and sweating. Oh, the dreaded menopause.

Never did I imagine I would find myself typing in the search term “natural menopausal remedies,” nor did I dream of perusing forums filled to the brim with women in their sixties sharing about their experiences. Never did I imagine I would be asking my mother and friends’ mothers if they were tearing their jackets off in the midst of a blizzard just to cool down, like I was. I never thought I would find myself walking through the aisles of a natural grocery store, desperately hunting down magical pills that are claimed to erase most of these symptoms. Never did I think I would apply makeup only to sweat it off mid-application. I never dreamt of watching commercials geared at older menopausal women and finding that we are more alike than not. Never did I think I would open the freezer door and stick my head in. Never. But obviously, I’m not living a “typical” life of a twenty-something woman.

Menopause sucks. If you’ve been through it, you know that, and if you haven’t… well, lucky you. Try to be young as long as you can. Enjoy the days where you can sit under the sun and not turn into a maniacal sweat factory. Enjoy the moments when you can lie in bed and snuggle up to your husband without instantaneously laying in a pool of perspiration. Enjoy being intimate. Seriously. Menopause tries it’s darndest to make you cringe at the thought of sex, as your lady parts don’t work as they used to. (Sorry to the men who don’t want to read about their daughter/sister/granddaughter/friend in that way. It’s the truth. And frankly, you’ve either had a wife go through it, or you will in the future. Better to learn early!) Hot flashes, irritability, dry lady parts, night sweats. Oh, and the infamous flabby stomach. That last one could be due to having two major lower abdominal surgeries, but I’d like to put the blame on my arch-nemesis, Man-on-pause.

Filled-in brows, false lashes, menopausal, yet still Baldalicious. (March 2013)

Filled-in brows, false lashes, menopausal, yet still Baldalicious. (March 2013)

Lately, I’m pissed, irritated, and annoyed. I feel like my femininity is waning. I’m a girly-girl. I adore makeup, clothes, nail polish, and hairspray. I freak out at the sight of spiders. I would prefer to lay on a beach with a margarita in hand, than lay in a sleeping bag under a tent on a camping trip. And I hate to sweat. It is what it is, and I like it that way. But being bald with barely there eyelashes and brows, twenty extra pounds clinging on, the gamut of menopausal symptoms, and the latest nasty nails, it’s hard to feel girly. I overcompensate with a wig, false eyelashes, nail polish, and makeup a lot of the time.  Without all of that, I don’t feel feminine on the outside. I’m ready for my outward body to reflect what’s on the inside again. Girl. Woman. Pretty. ME.

I had been clinging on to one last thing that was truly, naturally, and 100% mine- my fingernails. This past week, I grieved the loss of them, as well. If you know me, I like to keep my nails looking attractive. They are almost always lacquered in color, and glitter makes a frequent appearance. This past week as I was removing the most recent polish, I noticed my nails looked odd. In fact, after they were free and clear of any color, their natural hue had taken on a completely different look. Purples, blues, whites, yellows, and even greens were peering back at me. What? Chemo had already taken my hair, dispensed weight in unwanted areas, and made me feel like crap. And now, it’s decided to take my nails, as well. Nearly all of my fingernails are almost halfway separated from the nail bed. They are bruised and ugly. And the worst part is: I can’t cover them up. Under doctors orders and the advice of many friends who have experienced a similar trial, I have to keep them clean and polish-free. Oh joy. I can’t even cover them up. So here I am, bald and pissed… and sweating.

Chemo nails. Gross. (March 2013)

Chemo nails. Gross. (March 2013)

It’s a good thing chemotherapy does more than tear my outward appearance up. At least it’s tearing up my insides and annihilating cancer, as well. If it weren’t, I can assure you, we would have broken up by now. Although I have a love/hate relationship with chemo cocktails, this year-long relationship has proven to be beneficial to my survival. And as much as I loathe every little side effect that I have experienced, I am grateful to be alive. I will do whatever it takes to live. At the end of the day, I’m still here, and that’s all that matters. And one more thing, the little magical pills that I mentioned earlier, are actually working… in more ways than one!

But, dammit. I still hate menopause.

Proverbs 31:30 (MSG Version)

“Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.”

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.”

Are You Beautiful?

Does the word “beautiful” define you?

Let’s talk about beauty. The hard fact is, as a woman diagnosed, it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of loss when it comes to our looks. I mean come on, when your hair starts falling out, your body is either increasing or decreasing in size, your face is expressing the enormity of stress by the monstrosity of wrinkles, and your doctor is painting on more and more scars, it’s natural to not feel attractive anymore. Not only have I struggled with not feeling beautiful through this diagnosis, but also not feeling comfortable in my own skin.

Currently, this is one of the largest topics in the world. Society is driven by physical appearance and beauty. It’s sweeping the covers of every magazine. Fashion, makeup, hair, and the perfect weight is probably on the top of every woman’s priority list. No? …Maybe it’s just me. From birth, we are trained to allow society to define our personal beauty. Our “look” must fit into the world’s ideals. Sure, some people don’t abide by the “rules”, but we all care what everyone else thinks of us.

As a woman who has valiantly fought (and beat) cancer, and has undergone a slew of cancer treatments, I can boldly say that society’s definition of what is beautiful sucks. Where are the women who are proud of who they are and what they look like, regardless of what the world tells them? Where do bald women fit in? Why must our bodies resemble that of a prepubescent twelve year old girl? With as much cancer prevalent in our world, why aren’t there more examples of what true beauty is? Why do we, as women diagnosed, feel like we must cover up our truth? Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, I wore a wig for a lot of my baldalicious battle. Yes, I am currently working out like a crazy person trying to drop these last twenty pounds. Yes, I wore false lashes when my own grew thin. But, I am continually learning that the world should not be the one to define me.

A few months ago, while waiting for treatment one day and rockin’ my bald dome, a woman approached me and asked if I would like to speak to someone about wigs. She continued by asking if I would also like some hats to cover my head. Although I know she was well-intentioned, I couldn’t help but feel unattractive. Thoughts emerged: Why must I cover this up? Why should I hide the fact that I am fighting for my life? Why does hair matter? Am I not beautiful? Oh, and by the way lady, I already own a wig and several hats. I just chose to be me today. Is that a problem? 

Along with beauty comes self-worth. If we can downgrade the world’s voice and upgrade God’s voice, our views would drastically transform. If we can see ourselves through His eyes and not theirs, our truth can be revealed. I am learning that I should embrace my differences with pride. Sure, I have a short G.I. Jane hairstyle going on right now and it brings a lot of attention, but instead of allowing those disproving eyes to seep into my spirit, I counteract them with a smile and remind myself that I am beautiful regardless of what anyone else thinks. Just because it’s uncommon to see women without (or with much less) hair doesn’t mean it’s unattractive. Can we, as women currently baldalicious or rockin’ the buzz cut, set a new standard for the definition of beautiful? In fact, as women with or without a diagnosis, can we help other females find their value within?

We are our worst critics. True. We nitpick every fault we have and oftentimes shine light on those flaws. But we’ve got to stop seeing what we see, and instead, see what God sees. When it comes down to it, we will never be good enough for ourselves. But we are good enough for him…more than enough. God sees us without flaws; After all, He was the one to create us. We are a custom design that should be esteemed, not shamed. Hair or no hair, size fourteen or size two, blue or brown eyes, black or white skin, tall or short, it doesn’t matter. Let me repeat, it does not matter. Do we have a kind heart and gentle spirit? Do we shine light or exude darkness? Are we encouraging to one another? Are we forgiving? Do we choose to find our worth in the world or in Him? Now that’s what really matters.

So I ask again, are you beautiful?

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV)

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

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