Posts Tagged ‘health’

Complicated Results and Abundant Faith

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

There’s a spot on my left adrenal gland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have abundant faith that this is not cancer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 8:50 (ESV)

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

Fruits and Veggies Through a Straw: Adventures in Juicing

fresh veggie juice

When I was first diagnosed, several friends and family informed me of a non-traditional method of healing cancer. This modality involved a strictly fruit and vegetable juice diet. My husband and I watched half of the 1970′s documentary before cynically shutting it off. We didn’t truly understand the message behind it as it seemed more like a “Save the Seals” advertising campaign than a juicing documentary.

People often come out of the wood work with the latest and greatest trends on how to beat the disease when cancer barges into the picture. I’ve shared about cancer etiquette, and among the list of things not to do when a loved one gets diagnosed is advising us of what treatment we should or should not choose. Every cancer patient is different, and different things work for different people.

Not until Matt and I were surfing the queue on Netflix, did the topic of juicing ever come up again. Over one year ago, we came across a documentary called, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” We watched it a couple of times and enjoyed it, but never once thought we could actually achieve what Joe Cross himself did. Without giving a play-by-play run-through of the film, I can tell you that the story is about an unhealthy and overweight man embarking on a journey to self-healing without the use of prescriptions, chemicals, quick fixes, or doctors. He committed to a simple juice diet. With a juicer in tow, and a never-ending supply of God’s beautiful creation, he began juicing. Each and every meal consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables pushed through a machine to extract the utmost nutrients. He committed to this way of life for 60 consecutive days, and his results were astounding. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

Matt and I recently came across Joe’s film again and dared ourselves to try it. We aren’t overweight or unusually unhealthy. I’ve been a vegetarian for seven years — only recently adding fish to my plate every so often. I don’t drink soda, and stay away from caffeine completely. My vice will forever be a nice fluffy carbohydrate. I can’t get enough. But unfortunately, that’s true for all of us — carbs aren’t filling. They are evil little things that tempt even the strongest of wills.

I ended my third season of grueling chemotherapy less than two months ago, but as usual, my body takes a while to get back into the groove of things once treatment is over. It has been fighting for survival amidst a constant stream of poison for the greater part of two years, after all. I’m not simply focused on losing weight. My goal is to cleanse my body of the toxins that have been streaming through it. To rejuvenate and resuscitate the insides of this machine. We are only given one body on Earth, and it’s up to us to treat it well. It was time to clean out the old and welcome the new.

Before we knew it, our dare led us to become the owners of a gorgeous Breville juicer, and we stocked up on more fruits and veggies than we had ever seen outside of a market. Matt and I decided on a five-day juice cleanse and visited the recommended website to catch up on all the must-knows. We gathered recipes and posted them to the fridge, and before we knew it, we were ready.

Unsure of our very first juice. (March 2014)

Unsure of our very first juice. (March 2014)

Our first official juice cleanse began three days ago, and I am already amazed at how I feel. I’ll admit the first green juice we drank made me gag. It was a combination of flavors that I wasn’t accustomed to. Yet, my husband and I continued on, and I’m thankful that we did. I just finished my “dinner,” and feel satisfied and full. On the menu for tonight was kale, green apple, lemon, celery, spinach, and parsley. It was delicious. After drinking a few of our homemade concoctions, my energy was soaring. Even today, completing the third day of our juice fast leaves me feeling accomplished.

This cleanse hasn’t been smooth sailing from the start, however. The first day was the hardest. It just didn’t seem right to not chew my food, and only drink it through a straw. I experienced cravings, and I couldn’t watch TV. Do you realize how many food commercials we see every time we sit down to watch the tube? It’s ridiculous. Pinterest began to taunt me with its endless recipes, and I’ve had to avoid and ignore it. Pretty soon I was acclimated and no longer experienced unhealthy cravings. Don’t get me wrong, I still have cravings. Right now, I’d love to bite into one of the juicy apples resting on the kitchen counter, but the unhealthy desires have been curbed.

Soon we begin day four of our five-day juice fast, and I’m already beginning to play with the idea of continuing beyond our original plan. I’m feeling strong, energetic, and clear-headed. I have no desire to lounge around, and find myself brainstorming what projects can be done in the house. I’m sleeping better than I have since receiving my cancer diagnosis over two years ago. Typically I have to take melatonin right before bed in order to fall asleep and stay asleep, yet I have stopped taking it, and have slept better these past two nights than ever before. I’m officially a believer in juicing.

We’ve got two more days to go and endless amounts of kale and spinach to ingest, but with every day that passes, I find myself feeling healthier. My body is rejuvenating, and I am hopeful, excited, and happy.

Cheers!

Kale, Celery, Cucumber, Green Apple, Lemon, Ginger

Kale, Celery, Cucumber, Green Apple, Lemon, Ginger

1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

When Cancer Flips Life Upside Down

(As appeared in Everyday Health on February 3, 2014)

Stephanie Madsen

As a 25-year-old newlywed, my life was wide open with opportunity. My husband and I had dreams, desires, and plans to put into action, and conversations about when to bring children into the world. We were young, free, and eager for adventure, and Austin, Texas, was whispering our names. Obeying that call, we began packing up our condo in south Denver. Our plan was to move, find work, buy a home, and get pregnant.

If only it were that easy.

On Jan. 25, 2012, I first heard the word “cancer” directed at me. Not about someone in the news, or someone’s grandparent, but me. An unwelcome beast was lurking in my body. A monster called out of the darkness. It was a disease so ferocious it would try its hardest to steal my life. Suddenly the tracks of my world were redirected, and my train ventured down an unknown course — one full of speed bumps, road blocks, high velocity, and emergency stops.

Laughing, Crying, and Crying Again

Stage III large cell neuroendocrine cancer of the cervix had burst through the borders of my body, and I was launched into surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, with my husband and team of doctors along for the ride.

My body no longer resembled itself. I became infertile and menopausal. My long locks faded away. My mind and spirit were transforming.

The past 24 months have been full of ups, downs, and detours: A slew of treatments, followed by clear scans and then defeating news of two recurrences. I’ve felt overwhelmed and victorious. I’ve laughed and cried and cried some more. I’ve had good days where cancer hasn’t been in the mix, and I’ve had bad days where my diagnosis has slapped me in the face.

Along the way, I’ve become something of a medical professional, and I now know terms that never used to exist in my vocabulary. But through the positive points in this journey, and the downright deplorable, my character has transformed. Cancer has made me a better version of myself.

Go Ahead, Cut Me Off in Traffic

Now that I have seen how fragile and fading life can be, my old goals make me laugh because they are so lofty. Cancer has refined me. It has forcefully removed all that didn’t matter, and given me clear perspective. Being cut off in traffic used to irritate me. Now, I simply allow it, and almost welcome it, because in the end it doesn’t matter.

I have gained a deeper appreciation for relationships. I’ve stopped and breathed in what surrounds me. Colorado is one of the most beautiful states, and here I have the opportunity to look at the Rocky Mountains every single day. I now take one day at a time.

My New Goals: Conversation and Meaningful Moments.  

You can spend the rest of your days rushing through, ignoring and avoiding what really matters. Or you can put aside that deadline in favor of an hour with someone you love. You can’t possibly be in that big of a rush.

Take that vacation you’ve been dreaming of. Appreciate everything. Buying the dream house won’t matter in the end, but the memories will.

Cancer came crashing into my life like a train out of control. Along with it came pain, grief, and loss, an immeasurable amount of change. Yet it has also brought an overflow of blessings. I embrace the journey and allow myself to grow with every redirection that comes. I am choosing to derail my diagnosis. Cancer will not rob me of what’s most important: faith, joy, and never-ending hope.

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.”

 

 

Being Still Amidst Scanxiety

Yesterday I made the familiar walk into my second home. The hospital. I hadn’t been through those doors in over three months, and the typically all familiar halls were strangely foreign this time. For nearly two years, the hospital environment had been a weekly sight, yet since my latest cancer-free results, I haven’t needed to visit until my most recent follow-up CT scan. I strolled confidently to the floor of high-tech machines and qualified nurses and technicians, checked in, and began the wait with my most favorite oral iodinated “tropical fruit” flavored beverage in hand… Side note: Whoever markets these oral contrast drinks lies. Perhaps they have lost their taste buds due to the amount of taste tests they’ve had to endure. Perhaps they’ve never experienced the true flavor of fresh tropical fruits. Or, perhaps they slap that description on the bottle in hopes that patients will believe them, knowing full well we won’t. Have you smelled antifreeze? Have you smelled something and immediately been able to imagine it’s taste? “Tropical fruit” flavored oral iodinated contrast tastes like what antifreeze smells like. Now imagine drinking 16 ounces of that. Makes your mouth water similar to the way it does right before you vomit, right? I digress…

Scanxiety will forever exist in my life. No matter how far I get away from treatment and the closer I get to remission, scanxiety, to some degree, will persist. It’s the anxiety experienced before an impending scan. The feeling encountered when the “what if’s” begin. When the unknown has the potential to excite, relieve, and overwhelm, as much as it has the potential to disappoint, stress, and underwhelm. In the beginning of my battle against this beast called cancer (I don’t capitalize it for a reason), scanxiety was at an utmost high. The unknown was so unchartered that my weak physical and mental body could barely defend itself against the “what if” bandits. As I have grown and gathered more armor for this battle, I have been better able to fight off these fearful thoughts. Yet, no matter how strong and confident I am in my Healer, the bandits lurk in the shadows, continuously peeking around corners to make sure I know they have not left. The degree of persistence is varied, and as I get closer to fully annihilating this disease, the scanxiety wanes.

Yesterday, I couldn’t identify what I was feeling. The “what if” bandits were as quiet as a whisper, yet I didn’t feel entirely confident. To clarify, I was neither diffident nor afraid. But there was such an internal battle waging inside my spirit that I couldn’t focus on my feelings. Was I fearful that the monster had taken residency in my body again? No. Was I sure that the results would show no evidence of disease? No. My senses were clouded, as I could not differentiate if I was feeling good or bad about the possible results. Yet, no matter how thick the fog on my prediction was, my spirit was focused on the One bigger than any result.

There are many in-between moments in life. Times when we must wait between our dreams and fruition. I’ve spoken about the gap before. In these moments, our patience is tested. Our faith is tested. During the in-betweens, our character is revealed. Do we make the choice to be impatient and allow the floodgates of worry to envelop us? Or, do we stand firmly, confident that He who has been beside us through it all, will be faithful to carry us to victory? Being still isn’t easy. Being still doesn’t mean not moving. Being still means allowing yourself to fall into the arms of the One who saves. For in His arms, we cannot be influenced. We are safe, un-touched, and protected.

Between the scan and the results, I have choices. I can allow the “what if” bandits to turn up their volume and spread fear, doubt, and worry. I can turn off the volume of negativity, and replace it with a confidence in my ability to beat cancer; confident, sure, and self-reliant that did it. Or, I can turn off all of the noise around me and be still, awaiting His voice, for my God, my Sovereign Healer, already knows the results. These three choices all have differing outcomes. If I choose to listen to the lurking fear and doubt, I will be catapulted into a pit of despair and worry, completely losing sight on He who holds me in His hands. If I choose to quiet the fear, and inflate my own abilities, I will become self-reliant, independently destructive, and will see no need for God. If I choose to be still, press into Him, and allow Jesus to comfort me in the waiting period, I will find peace, assurance, and rest.

Sometimes these three choices are difficult to decide upon, for we don’t see the outcomes of each. But if we are aware of the outcome, the choice should be simple. Peace, assurance, and rest are what I seek, so I must quiet the noise around me and focus on Him, and Him alone. The “what if” bandits and self-reliance will soon become muddled. Resting in God’s hands blocks all noise.

And so I wait. Being still. Patient. Until I receive the news, I will focus my eyes on He who is greater than any scan result.

Psalm 91:1 (ESV)

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

CT Scan (September 2013)

CT Scan (September 2013)

Life List

It’s been a while since I’ve poured words into this blog. I suppose I’ve gotten swept up in the seemingly never-ending voyage of rediscovering what life looks like now. I feel like this process could take longer than I expected, and I’m ready to finally feel settled with where I’m at… my life, my role, my identity, my relationships, my environment. Cancer throws everything off.

As I continue to climb my way out of the fog of the aftermath of this disease, I am embracing a new determination for accomplishments. Life changes us… trials, traumas, and tribulations. They change us permanently. I am a different woman today because of my battle for survival. I am embracing it. I view life through a different pair of eyes now, and I’m using it to my advantage.

Lately I’ve been pondering what I’ve accomplished in my life, and at 26 I don’t feel as if I’ve accomplished as much as I want. We’ve all heard of the term “bucket list,” but I’ve never liked it. Don’t get me wrong, I have an affinity for lists. I adore them. They make me happy. But to me, a bucket list implies an impending death (“kicking the bucket”), and while we will all die someday, I’d rather focus on living. Why must I have a bucket list? I’d rather have a life list. What do I want to do in my life? What are my dreams, goals, desires, and aspirations?

Out of nowhere, a new dream has been birthed in me. I think it’s absolutely crazy. Seriously, crazy. Nonsense. Ridiculous. Even laughable. Yet, this dream has now transformed into a goal, and I can’t ignore it. I tried my hardest to disregard it, but it’s relentlessly nagging at me.

Okay, fine. I give in. I’ll start running.

Yes, running. As in physically moving my body at a pace faster than walking. Sounds horrendous, right?! Before I continue, let me share some background with you. I have always led a very active life. I played volleyball for nine years, both through school and at a club level. I have found that I enjoy working out, going to the gym, and exercising. It’s not always been easy, but it’s always been rewarding. I can walk, bike, lift weights, and swim, yet running has always been my arch nemesis. I loathe even the thought of running. It makes me uncomfortable. It pains me. It makes me want to cry. Yet somehow, I find myself with a deep burning desire to overcome that discomfort. To accomplish something I never thought I could do. Because really, when I dive deep into the animosity I harbor towards running, I find that my fear is failure.

I don’t want to set myself up to lose. Isn’t that common with all of us? We often don’t start things because we think we’ll fail miserably. New years resolutions for example. How many of us really create resolutions, let alone commit to them? Failure is scary, but I’m learning that not trying is even worse. I’d rather try with the possibility of success, than not attempt the feat at all. So, while I despise running, I am learning to embrace the discomfort for the reward of an accomplishment. Because in the end, I want to accomplish as much as I can, and in order to do that, I must allow myself to forge through discomfort.

I first learned of the “Couch to 5k” program a couple of years ago. Of course, I chuckled at the notion, and continued on my merry way. Yet, just as running popped into my mind, this specific running plan did as well. Thus began my adventure. This specific plan is extremely feasible. It functions on interval training, so you aren’t consistently running yourself into the dirt. I have left these runs feeling energized and accomplished, and that’s what helps me continue the program. Of course it is difficult to some degree, and I definitely leave with ample sweat profusely pouring from my face, but I can do it. That’s part of the workout… believing I can do it, and pushing through that discomfort to attain the accomplishment of reaching a goal I never thought possible.

Through the painful side effects from treatment, subsequent fatigue, and aches and pain across my body, I will push through. I refuse to let cancer take away my accomplishments. I’m continuing to kick cancer’s ass and look forward to the many accomplishments I achieve in the future… like running a 5k.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (MSG)

“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”

Defeated. Triumphant. Confused.

One month before diagnosis. Completely unaware of what was to come. (December 2011)

One month before diagnosis. Completely unaware of what was to come. (December 2011)

It’s been about a week since my very last chemotherapy treatment, and I’m feeling different than I expected. Physically, I’ve rebounded a lot quicker this round, and in fact, was at church only three days after chemo (that’s unheard of for me). I’ve continued to get better and better faster than I ever have before. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ll take it. Emotionally, it’s a whole different story.

I expected to be jumping for joy on the last day of sippin’ chemo cocktails. But, boy was I wrong. I cried that night. I was both happy and sad that this chapter was ending. Sad, unsure, nervous, drained, and exhausted. Happy, anxious, excited, and overwhelmed. My emotions poured out through tears staining my cheeks. I felt both defeated and triumphant. Alongside my husband, I was utterly confused… and still am.

Shouldn’t I be over the moon, swimming in glitter, and running through fields proclaiming that I’m cancer-free? Shouldn’t I be thrilled? Shouldn’t I be proud when I receive congratulatory wishes? I don’t know, but this isn’t streamers and confetti like I expected.

I find myself feeling lost. I feel as though I was dropped down in a land I know very little about. I’m unsure of what path to take and where to find the roads leading to the dreams Matt and I have harbored. I can barely put my right foot in front of my left. I’m lost. My job for over a year has been fighting an epic battle against this potentially fatal enemy called cancer. I am a professional cancer warrior. I know the ins, outs, ups, downs, sides, and in-betweens of this journey. I have more medical knowledge than I ever knew I could possess. Although my identity is not in this diagnosis, it has been a huge part of my life for a long time. It’s been my job, my responsibility, my purpose. And now that it is potentially over, I don’t know where to go or what to do next.

The truth remains- I am thankful. I don’t wish to be in this battle any longer. If I have to, I will, but I am desperately praying and exhaustedly believing that this monster will no longer see my body as it’s residence. I want to live. I want to see our dreams come to fruition. I want to move on. As I think on and analyze my feelings, I can’t help but understand that I must accept this as a part of my life’s story. Of course, I continue to know that this has forever changed our future as we saw it, but I suppose, somewhere deep inside of me, I believed that we could pick up and move on. As if all of this was just a chapter, and we could turn the page. As much as I would like to forget about this diagnosis and continue on my merry way like nothing ever happened, I simply cannot. And I will forever bare the scars as a reminder of what will no longer be.

We ushered in 2012 joyfully and expectant. We were taking action and beginning to see our dreams playing out. Our metaphorical bags were packed and we were ready to move forward with plans for the new year. Then only a few short weeks later, our luggage of life was removed from our hands and spilled all over the floor. Dreams, wishes, and hopes were scattered and put on hold. More than a year later, I find myself looking at all the pieces and wondering which dream to pick up first. Which piece of the puzzle will be our next step? Where do we even begin to put this back together again? What is our life going to look like now?

Change is necessary. Without change, growth would not exist. And I want to grow, learn, and thrive. While I sit here viewing the pieces of our life’s puzzle unsure of how to put it all back together, I also know that the responsibility of starting over is not completely on our shoulders. We have someone much bigger and far more powerful to direct our steps. Although our life has been changed forever, our desires, hopes, and wishes still remain. And we will continue to stand firm on the dreams God has placed in our hearts. He put them there for a reason. God places those dreams into our hearts, and we follow stride, developing goals of how to see them become a reality. Sometimes God allows change so that our dreams birth bigger fruit.

Changing the circumstance can often change the size of the dream… and I have a feeling that through this diagnosis our dreams have become exponentially bigger. We dreamed of children, but only expected to have them the “traditional” way. Now, our future story of children is much bigger and far better than we could have ever imagined. We dreamed of making a difference in other people’s lives, but had no clue of how that could happen. God saw that dream, and drastically enlarged the outcome. I knew I dreamed of having a purpose, and because God knew that, He surprised me in making my purpose something so much greater than I ever knew possible.

Although I am still confused and can’t begin to see the picture of our future, I know our dreams will enter the journey at some point. I don’t know when or how, but my God is faithful, and if I can learn to sit in this gap between dreams and fruition, I know rewards are coming.

Looking drained and tired, but equally as excited on the last day of chemotherapy! (March 2013)

Looking drained and tired, but equally as excited on the last day of chemotherapy! (April 2013)

Lamentations 3:25-27 (MSG Version)

“God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.”

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.”

Confessions of a Planaholic

Things are changing. And surprisingly enough, I’m okay with it.

Those who know me can testify that I am an organizer. Not only did I have to search for years to find the perfect planner, but now that I have, I write absolutely everything in it. Everything. Seriously. Since I’ve started my weight loss regimen, I even include what I eat every single day. I plan weeks and sometimes even months in advance. I take my planner seriously. I carry it with me everywhere. I jot down thoughts, brainstorms, grocery lists, workouts, and of course, the vast list of tasks I need to complete. I have several friends who are free birds, who go with the flow and don’t need to write anything on their calendars. That’s simply not me. I’m afraid that if I tried that, I would most likely forget to do anything. In other words, I’m a planaholic.

I’ve learned quite a lot this past year. One of the more obvious being, planning and cancer don’t always mix. I laugh looking through the months that I was going through treatment, because the only things I ever wrote were “surgery,” “radiation,” “chemotherapy,” “blood draw,” and “doctor’s appointment.” Grocery lists, workouts, weekly meal plans, and errands no longer mattered. Fact is, my only plan was to fight and beat cancer. In fact, in the “to-do” section of each month I wrote, “fight cancer.” In the “goals” section I wrote, “cancer-free.” I laugh because I like to organize every step of my life. Prior to my diagnosis, my husband and I had the following few years set in stone. Well, at least in our minds. We had plans to move, have children, and buy a home. Exactly eight months ago everything changed.

God’s plans don’t always align with ours. While at first I was shocked that our designs for the future might come crashing down, I now understand that God has bigger and better plans for us. Our dreams remain, but the timing is no longer ours. We will definitely move. We will definitely have children. And we will definitely buy a home. I believe that God still has those in mind for us, however they just won’t happen when or how we originally thought they would. Although it’s taken me a while to come to grips with that, I am extremely thankful that we are walking the path that is paved by Him and not by us. His plan is perfect. Ours is not. And being flexible allows you to genuinely live a life for Him.

Besides the obvious changes, other facts are changing as well. I’m no longer bald… anywhere. I am currently sporting a very short buzz-cut. My hair is coming in splotchy and irregular, but it’s there nonetheless. Once my camera can capture my G.I. Jane style, I’ll post pictures. As for now, you’ll just have to imagine it. Unfortunately, the hair on my head isn’t the only thing coming back. I forgot how much I had to shave my legs. I also forgot how annoying it would be to leave the house forgetting to shave my underarms. My showers are significantly longer nowadays. Whereas before I could get away with five minutes, it’s now doubled, if not tripled. I definitely got used to the jump-in-and-out method.

I’m also going back to work. Due to the rigid schedule of treatment, and my lack of health and energy, I haven’t been able to work. However, now that I have received my first clean bill of health and have regained a lot of my strength, I have chosen to start my job again. To say I am excited is an understatement. Once we get back from our cancer-free celebration in California, I will return to the family I was nannying prior to diagnosis.

My body changed drastically over the course of treatment. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I gained about twenty-five to thirty pounds. Thankfully, that is changing as well. In fact, since I began working out five days a week and eating super clean, I have lost a total of fifteen pounds. Fifteen in thirty-five days. I’m pretty proud of myself. To say it’s easy would be laughable. I’ve been kicking my own ass for some time now, and it doesn’t get easier. What keeps me going is seeing my body change and the numbers on the scale continue to drop. My face is starting to look like my own again, and not that of a blown up character in the Macy’s Day Parade.

I always used to think that I embraced change. After all, I did like to rearrange the furniture in our house every now and then. I used to think that I was flexible; I wouldn’t mind if plans with friends got rescheduled. But change and flexibility have taken on new meanings for me. While I was flexible with details changing in the past, I never considered the whole picture changing. I’m talking about LIFE changes… Big, scary, unknown, and unplanned modifications. Shifts to the entire picture my husband and I had painted for ourselves. Our life canvas has been completely erased, and now we are looking forward to what God wants to create for us. Our life has been directed down a different road. One that we couldn’t see with a telescope. But, you know what? I’m grateful. Now that I get a glimpse into what His plans are, our previous plans seem so minuscule and boring. We can try our hardest to plan out every area of our lives, but if it’s not what He wants, it simply won’t happen.

I can and will continue to plan my life. I will continue to jot down every last bit of information in my brain, in hopes that I won’t forget it. I’ll continue to make plans with friends. My husband and I will continue to plan our future. But now, we have a much larger perspective on embracing change and being flexible. Just as often as we make plans, God will readjust them.

If God wants to change your plans, will you be flexible?

Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”