Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Say The Words

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I stepped out of the house knowing that I would be offering my most vulnerable self to the world for one of the very first times. My wig was neatly tucked away in my luggage, sitting backstage to my bald, shiny head. I asked my husband, “Are you sure this looks okay? People will stare. Everyone will know that I have cancer.” After receiving tender encouragement, I soon believed his sweet words.

Nervously checking my reflection in the car mirror several times, we made our way to the airport. As soon as we parked, I recognized that I could easily reach into my suitcase and pull out my perfectly styled human hair wig and slip into the crowd unseen and unnoticed. Deciding to risk it, I tucked the thought away and confidently walked into the airport alongside my husband.

Immediately my fears were realized as eyes transfixed on me. Children were confused and couldn’t help but question why a woman would have no hair. Adults passed by and though their intentions were to cast secret glances when I wasn’t looking, I could feel their eyes on my naked scalp. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to forcefully inform passersby that it wasn’t my fault. I wanted to stand firm and express my pride. I wanted to hide. My brave face hid my anxieties and we continued on to security.

I formed a game plan. No eye contact. If I don’t have eyes on them, they won’t have eyes on me. Out of sight, out of mind. I stuffed my overpacked carry-on through the conveyor belt and walked forward. The scan beeped and I assured the TSA agent that I had a port implanted in my chest. After thorough examination I was free to get my baggage and continue ahead. Determined to get to our gate as quickly as possible so as to avoid the ever looming stares, I rushed forward only to be abruptly stopped. An airline employee stepped in front of me and smiled. Thoughts began to race.

Please, don’t say anything. I’m vulnerable right now. I know I stand out, and I hate it. Why didn’t I just wear my wig?

“You are absolutely stunning.”

And that was it. My life changed forever.

Fast forward to a year later. Short stubble graced my once shiny head. I was embodying GI Jane and feeling pretty good about it. I looked forward to the day my hair would cascade past my shoulders, but knew that this was a start. For that I was grateful. Just another day at the grocery store… I placed my items in the checkout line and smiled at the clerk.

“Wow! I absolutely love your hair. It looks striking on you!”

An email nesting in my inbox…

“My fiancé tragically died two years ago and I haven’t been able to get off the couch since. I have felt hopeless and depressed and didn’t want to go on. And then I read something you wrote. I now have hope. Thank you.”

A message shared through social media…

“Because of you, my faith is restored. Your encouragement has changed my life.”

My youngest brother surprising me by shaving his head for his college graduation. Lifting his cap off and looking up into the stands as he received his diploma as if saying,

“This one’s for you, sis.”

A radiology technician who has performed my last three CT scans. She recognizes me each time and welcomes me with a smile. She knows just what I need and offers comfort as if she were family.

“I’m so happy to see you! I think of you often. How are you doing? Still celebrating, I hope!”

Kindness is life-changing. Little did each of these people know how much their kind words would lift me up. It’s incredible how, by simply saying the words, someone else’s life can be impacted forever. Kindness is remembered. Encouragement, support, well-wishes, and prayers are glued to our memories because they are a salve to our wounds when life is difficult. Offering kindness is a direct reflection of our character.

Our memories reside on a scale from happy to sad. Hurt to encouraged. Celebratory to grieved. Tragedy to triumph. Pain to breakthrough. There are always two extremes and our memories are defined by how they made us feel in those moments. When we are at high points in our lives, it’s the low glimpses we remember most. And likewise, when we are struggling through hard moments, it’s encouraging and kind exchanges that linger in our memory.

Withholding a kind word for someone is allowing them to suffer in their struggle. The fact is, we’ll never truly understand what someone else is going through, but that should never stop us from offering kindness. We’ve all felt the urge to say something to someone but have gotten in our own way of delivering the message.

Your waiter is visibly tired but trying her hardest to keep up. Instead of internally sympathizing with her, tell her how much you appreciate her service. A baby is crying on the airplane, and though your instinct would be to throw annoyed glances at the mother, offer encouragement instead. You see someone sitting alone, invite them to your table. You haven’t told a family member how proud of them you are. Do it! You have never shared how grateful you are for a specific friend. Let them know how much they mean to you. You know someone battling cancer… Encourage them. No one wants to feel alone.

Saying the words is all it takes. Though sometimes it will require us to step out of our comfort zones, the reward is always worth the risk. If only we had a glimpse into how our kindness would impact the lives of those around us.

I will never forget the words that have been shared in the times that I’ve needed them the most. Be kind today.

Proverbs 16:24 (ESV)

Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Grief is…

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It follows no timeline, has no standards, and does not discriminate. No amount of preparation, readiness, or allowance can ease the process. It comes and goes and rarely gives you a heads up of its impending arrival. It’s sneaky. It’s complex. It’s never simple. Grief is oh so good, yet oh so bad. It is equally painful as it is soothing. Grief is confusing. And though it is healthy and necessary, the majority of us avoid grieving because we simply cannot understand it.

Last week was a doozy. I found myself stuck in bed for the majority of Tuesday and I couldn’t figure out why. As usual, I went to the gym first thing in the morning. Typically that gets my endorphins running and sets the tone for my day and, while it worked for the moment, I still found myself slowly colliding with an invisible force. No amount of caffeine riddled pre-workout supplements nor the natural rush of dopamine and serotonin could combat the stealthy reflexes of grief.

I came home and went through my checklist of to-do’s as Matt left for work. Soon, I was crying. Soft, quiet tears rolled down my cheeks as I tried to search for a reason why. I looked in the mirror weeping with brows furrowed in confusion, as if searching for the answer in my own eyes. My tears were exhausted, reflective, and sad. But why? After all, I’m cancer free! I’m healthy and active. My energy has returned and I’m able to accomplish things I wasn’t able to for years. My business is building and beginning to thrive. My relationships are fulfilling. I’m happy. I’m joyful. None of these attributes should evoke tears… at least not despondent ones.

So, I continued about my day. Instead of seeking a new coffee shop, or even settling into my home office, I grabbed my laptop, notebooks, pens, and a soft blanket and retreated to the comforts of our bed. I began to work. I answered emails, brainstormed business ideas, and read a few pages of a newly purchased book. Yet no matter what I did to try and distract myself, I couldn’t shake the heavy burden. Instead of fighting it, soon I gave in. I surrendered and allowed myself to walk through the emotions, regardless of if I could understand them or not.

Grief is invisible, yet so tangibly present. It’s not an opponent that can be defeated because it’s not an opponent at all. Throughout my years of grieving, brought on suddenly by my diagnosis of cancer, I’ve learned that grief isn’t my enemy. Grief is a hand held out, bringing me through the darkness and offering light at the end of the tunnel. Grief is good. It’s a sign of healing and recovery. Of movement and growth.

I get trapped into thinking that because I’ve overcome and have reached the light at the end of the tunnel, there is no longer room for grief. However, it doesn’t always work that way. Grief follows it’s own patterns and rules, remember? After a few days of allowing grief to guide me, I began to understand. I was able to identify my emotions, thoughts, and feelings. The time I spent fighting cancer was undefinably difficult. Yet, the time after cancer is difficult, too, in it’s own ways. I’m still not quite sure who I am after all of this. I know my purpose, but I fear not fulfilling it. The exhale of life after is much longer than I expected. What I’ve learned is that grief can’t always be pinpointed to a single moment or tragedy. I can say with generalization that cancer is the cause of my grief, but it’s much more complex than that. For instance, if you were to ask me why I was sad, I wouldn’t have an answer. Grief cannot always be defined, and that’s okay.

The truth is, life after [fill in the blank] is hard for all of us. We expect things to be nice, full of happiness and ease, at a certain point after tragedy. We put parameters on our grief and set deadlines for when it should end. If only. Many who have walked through tragedy find that grief can be triggered years later in the most unassuming ways. Some deny grief, trying to suffocate it, in hopes that it’ll go away. Unfortunately, that never works. Grief is meant to be experienced. If we attempt to avoid, ignore, or deny it, it often shows up with exaggerated force. But the opposite isn’t helpful either. If we hold onto grief for longer than necessary, it can turn into an impossibly heavy burden that we aren’t meant to carry.

Grief is… good. In the end, it really is. It’s worth it. It’s hard and uncomfortable and untimely. Yet, when we allow ourselves to view grief as a hand held out, guiding us to complete healing, our lives can be changed. Grief offers perspective, and as long as we walk through it for the amount of time we are meant to, it can lead to restoration. Grief is painful because it reminds us of our loss, but it is soothing because it transforms our tragic memories, thoughts, and emotions into those of honor, reverence, and even celebration. When we grieve, we allow the pain to be soothed by joy, by hope, and by faith. Grief is the final step to reaching the light at the end of the tunnel and without it, we’re simply trapped in our tragedy. Press forward. There is light at the end of it.

Matthew 5:4 (MSG)

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”

The Rollercoaster Ride of a Cancer Scan

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Bright and early on Monday morning I walked into the hospital for yet another follow up scan. I’ve received more scans than I can possibly count in these nearly four years of fighting this disease. PET scans, CT scans, X-rays, echocardiograms, and ultrasounds. Though my treatment has ended (which brings its own set of relief and fear), I continue to be checked for malignant cells. It’s a double edged sword, really. While I am frequently awarded with reassurance, I’m also being buckled into the roller coaster of anxiety once more. I cannot remember a time without these scans, and I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to the day when they cease to exist any longer. They are my lifeline and my nemesis.

These scans never get easier, no matter how frequent and routine they have become. Logically, I should be used to them, yet somehow each time feels like the first. I’m comfortable with the technicians and the machines. I am not claustrophobic nor afraid of needles. I’m not allergic to contrast and know exactly what to expect. However, no matter how comfortable I am with my surroundings, I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with the reason I am there in the first place. These scans tell me if cancer has again invaded my body or if it has finally given up and has not claimed residency once more. The remembrance of each recurrence floods my senses and can overwhelm me if I don’t keep a tight guard on my heart and mind. The phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind” rings true, but it’s not an easy practice.

Many ask how I feel when scan time comes and to be honest, it’s similar to a rollercoaster ride. Ironically, I used to love rollercoasters before diagnosis, yet now that cancer has entered my world, I have come to loathe them. Blame it on the amount of treatment I’ve had, the fact that I’m menopausal, how I know what true nausea feels like, or that my equilibrium is much different these days… Regardless, it would take a lot for me to willingly jump onto one. Yet, crazy enough, I willingly sit on the rollercoaster of scanxiety every three months.

Upon my regular exam with my gynecologic oncologist and the discussion of an upcoming scan, I am standing in line at the ride. I see others walking before me. Hands sweaty, nervous, and smiling artificially. Some have been on this ride so often that they don’t seem to be phased. For others, it’s their first time. The naivety is obvious, and I want to hug them before they hear the news. I know what to expect. I’ve been on this ride many times, but it never gets easier. This rollercoaster can be fun, but it can also be terrifying.

When I confirm my appointment time with the staff at the hospital, it’s in that moment when I’m buckled into my seat. The attendant pulls on the chest belt to make sure it’s tight enough. He walks to the next person and does the same. I double check. My seatbelt isn’t tight enough, yet I can’t get one more click tighter no matter how hard I try. Thoughts of me slipping out from the confines of the coaster and slamming hard into the pavement below flash through my mind. I’ve been on this ride before, yet I never know how it’s going to end.

Receiving the confirmation call of my appointment time is the beginning of the ride. The coaster slowly clinks up the ramp right before the big drop. Click. Click. Click. The anticipation is equally overwhelming and exciting. I know it will be over soon, but it feels like it’s taking forever.

The days leading up to the scan are the twists and turns of the coaster. One twist may be fun, while the turns can be frightening. My hands are gripped to the safety bars and my eyes are closed. Occasionally I open them to see what lies ahead, but it does me no good. My head is jerked from side to side as my feet dangle below me. In one moment I feel safe, and the next I fear for my life.

The morning of the scan is the point when the coaster reaches yet another upcoming drop. The momentum slows down while the adrenaline quickly courses through my body. My head lashes forward as the speed slows. I can hear my own heart beat. Again, I am being forced upwards. Click. Click. Click. I know this feeling, but I am never fully prepared for it. I’m praying. I’m looking at the other riders. They offer quick smiles and words of encouragement, “You can do this!” I know I can, but I’m still unsure.

Arriving to the appointment is the last drop. I know the ride is almost over, yet my hands are gripped tightly as I know I must free fall without control one last time. I’m excited, scared, and ready. I don’t scream, I try not to cry. I am and always have been a silent sufferer. I tell myself it’s okay. My eyes are closed tight as I begin to fall.

The scan is the wind flowing through my hair as I sail down to the end of the ride. My heart begins to calm as I know the ride is over. I begin to release my white-knuckled grip and my breathing becomes more steady. I never want to get on this ride again, though I know I will have to. Out of sight, out of mind. I will stay in this moment and not look too far ahead.

Awaiting the results is the walk to the kiosk that displays the picture that was taken as the coaster made its final descent. Will I look stoic and strong or fragile and frightened? This picture will determine my fate. Will I be celebrating or lamenting?

As of today, I’m still walking to that kiosk. I have not yet heard the results of my latest scan. I believe it will be good, but there will always be a small portion of me that is prepared for what happens if it’s not. When (not if) this scan shows no evidence of disease, I will have reached 19 months cancer-free. One step closer to the two year mark. One step closer to this being my past. One step closer to the exciting future that is to come.

Will you continue to pray for us as we await the results?

James 5:15 (ESV)

“And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up…”

Post Cancer Blues: The Struggle of Beating Cancer

You’re trapped in a dark room and can see a sliver of light outside. Your eyes have adjusted to the darkness that surrounds you and though you have embraced the fear of the unknown, you are seeking the light. Your goal is to reach the outside, but on your way you fumble and trip on things the darkness hides. You sustain injury by trudging through the hidden places of the room. You run into walls, slamming your face into a barrier. You can feel blood trickling down your cheek. You can’t give up. You refuse to be stuck in the dark. You move forward with your arms outstretched in attempt to intercept opposition. You’re bruised and scarred from your previous struggles to reach safety. Just when your path feels clear, you face another road block. You fall down and begin to weep. The light is an ever-changing mirage. One moment you’re within reach, and the next it’s across the room. You’re confused but determined. Overwhelmed but steadfast.

The dark is turbulent, but you find solace and peace within it’s walls. You’ve been locked inside for years and it’s become familiar, yet no matter the familiarity, you know you must escape. You can’t live like this, so you press on. Sore and frail, you stand back up and trudge forward. Cautious. Slowly. Continually looking at the glimmer of hope the light provides. You’re close now. You’re almost there. Fight for it. Do whatever it takes. Your life is on the line, after all. Though bruised, bloodied, weak, and tired, your spirit has a raging ferocity. Your will is strong. And when there’s a will, there’s a way. After many failed attempts, you finally reach the outside.

Your body spills out of the darkness and is overcome by the light. You’ve been fighting for this moment for so long, yet it’s not what you thought it would be. Your eyes can’t adjust. The light is violently blinding. Your hands stretch towards your face and you cower behind them. For so long your eyes were used to the darkness. You became immune to the blackness in which you survived. Now, the one thing you had been desperately seeking isn’t as relieving as you dreamed it would be. You’re confused and afraid. With light, you thought you’d be able to see which direction to move in. You thought you’d know what to do. You thought everything would be so clear. You feel as blind in the light as you did in the dark and you hate that you feel this way.

Cancer is the dark room I’ve found myself trapped in for years. I’ve fought so hard for the light at the end of the tunnel and for my own survival. I’m now cancer free and have metaphorically reached the light on the outside. However, after the years of strenuous battle, I find myself lost in life after cancer. I would much rather be in this position than still fighting for my life, but being overwhelmed is a very real experience for those in my position. Fortunately and unfortunately, I know that I’m not alone. Many survivors describe feelings of confusion once their treatment has ended and they have received a clear bill of health. We get so used to the fight that we forget what life is like without it. Some refer to it as the “post cancer blues.”

We spend every waking hour fighting our disease by religiously going to our doctors appointments, working towards getting healthy, researching the latest and greatest in cancer care, and receiving scan after scan in hopes that someday we’ll be able to live a “normal” life once more. We’re so consumed with the cancer, that it’s easy to forget what life was like prior to diagnosis. We’ve set aside projects and goals to make room for treatment and the thought of beginning projects and to-do lists can be overwhelming. Fear can linger once health returns. Many say that time naturally resolves feelings of anxiety and fear, yet some continue to struggle with depression long after their disease is eradicated.

I’m squinting in the blinding light of life after cancer. I’m stumbling like a newborn deer. I’m trying to find my bearings and regain my footing. I’m trying to rediscover the world I’m living in outside of the dark shadow of this disease. I know the brightness will dim and my eyes will adjust, but for now I think I need to find myself a good pair of sunglasses.

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Psalm 61:2 (ESV)

“From the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

The Scan I’ve Never Made It To

Have you ever had a prayer so desperate it crashed loudly in the torrential storm of your spirit? A plea so full of depth, it couldn’t be given an audible voice? One equally full of hope and fear? Lately, my prayers have been carnal cries to the Lord. Petitions that bring me to my knees.

Less than three weeks from now will mark one year of clear, cancer-free scans. June 14th is a day I have fervently longed for since the beginning of this journey. While I’ve derailed the statistics of my diagnosis (a less than 20% chance to survive one year), I have yet to make it an entire year without cancer. I’ve hit the three-month mark and have even made it to eight months cancer-free, but I have yet to receive one whole year of clear scans. Within the next week I’ll be laying on the cold, hard, metallic table while a machine takes pictures of my insides from head to toe. And then I must wait, which for me is the hardest; Scanxiety can be quite overwhelming. This is the scan I’ve never made it to.

My prayer life has been brought to new heights since hearing my life is not guaranteed. Not one of my prayers ends without the utterance of a plea to remain cancer-free for the rest of my life here on Earth. My conversations with God are full of asking for dreams to come to fruition. “I’d love to grow old with my husband. Please allow me to experience motherhood. I want to watch my children grow into adults and have their own children. I ask that I live until I’m wrinkled, hard of hearing, and gray.” Some petitions are whispered in my spirit without a voice to convey them. Some are one worded, and I find myself simply saying “Please” quite frequently. Recently, I have found myself showing up at the feet of Jesus with a new sense of urging… Truth be told, I’m desperate.

Desperation is typically frowned upon. It’s a sign of weakness and can be quite pitiful. However, though my spirit desperately calls upon my Savior in this time of need, I know that weakness is not a negative trait in this context. In fact, I know that God wishes for me to be desperate for Him– Putting all of my energy into seeking Him for He knows I can’t do this on my own. I am desperate for life. Desperate for time. Desperate for memories. Desperate for survival. Desperate to hear the words “no evidence of disease.” Desperate for answered prayer. I am desperate to receive yet another clear scan to stamp the one year mark.

The amount of doubt, fear, and uncertainty that can sneakily ease its way into my mind is unmatched. The battle of the mind is often much harder than the physical fight against cancer. I have to constantly and consistently cling to hope that someday I will live a cancer-free life. I must avoid the dark traps and triggers that can send me into pits of despair. I must, with every fiber in my being, believe that I am healed. Though I still experience aches and pains, I must respond rationally rather than place myself in a worst case scenario. I also must surrender my control to the One who holds my life in His hands.

Time moves by slowly and at the speed of light all at once. Some days I wish I was receiving my scan right this minute, and other moments I wish I could put off the inevitable for one more day. This is a scan I’ve never made it to, and the importance sears itself into my heart. I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding the “what ifs,” but know that I very well could be in a position I’m all too familiar with. Overcoming my worry is accomplished solely by my reliance on God. I can not worry, for worrying only wastes precious time. For now, I desperately cling to my faith in a God who is capable of every impossible hurdle I face. I find encouragement in the fact that He hears my every cry. And I know that He in His love for me, wants nothing more than the achievement of this milestone.

Though this is the scan I’ve never made it to, I’m believing that I soon will.

Mark 11:24 (ESV)

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Babies On The Brain

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Prior to my diagnosis, my husband and I spoke frequently about having children. We dreamt about how many we would have and what their names would be. We laughed at who they would take after. Would they be fiercely independent (and stubborn) like their momma or gentle and patient like their daddy? Would they have Matt’s tan complexion and my blue eyes? We noticed every pregnant woman passing by and couldn’t even walk through Target without perusing the baby section, dreaming of all the possibilities to come. Babies were destined to be in our future.

From a young age, we both felt called to be parents. Though we initially got married with the five-year plan in mind, after our first year of marriage, we were both struck with a bad case of baby fever. We no longer wanted to wait and were ready for a bundle of joy. However, no sooner could we begin the journey to pregnancy before a monstrous disease barged through the front door of our lives. Cancer began to fill every area of our perfectly prepared existence, quickly leaving no room for children.

Dreams began to disintegrate right before our eyes. No matter how tightly we clung to our hopes of bearing children, the dust of our wishes slipped between our fingers, disappearing into eternity.

We begrudgingly traded morning sickness for chemotherapy induced nausea. OBGYNs for oncologists. Ultrasounds for PET scans. Mom bobs for bald heads. Baby showers for fundraisers. Dirty diapers for hospital bed catheters. The clean baby smell for sterile alcohol wipes. Midnight feedings for night sweats. Pint-sized outfits for hospital gowns. Pregnancy pains for surgery recovery. Labor and delivery for a radical hysterectomy. Motherhood for survival.

Cancer took precedence over everything in our path. We entered the fight immediately, and dreams of babies fell to the wayside. The more chemotherapy treatments I had, the less conversations my husband and I shared about our future children. Soon we would go months and even years without the mention of kids. Everyone around us was getting pregnant and raising beautiful little bundles, yet we were stuck in the fight for my life. Discussing children became painful — an open wound. Every word spoken was like sprinkling salt over the gash. Cancer handed us the shovel, and grief buried our dreams. Whenever we would talk about children, the loss would surface and the pain broke what pieces were left of our hearts. Quickly our baby fever calmed to a manageable temperature and lay dormant in the back of our minds.

For over three years we have been solely focused on my survival. One day at a time, not getting ahead of ourselves, for the journey of fighting cancer is relentless and unpredictable. Treatment successfully ended in January and my most recent scans showed that I am cancer-free. While knocking on every piece of wood in my sight and believing in the healing power of God, this time feels different. The bandaid covering our previously gaping wound has been lifted and underneath we have found hope. Where there once was a stinging pain of our loss of fertility, there now remains joy for our future. Though it looks different, one thing is for sure… Our hearts still beat for the little heartbeats we will hear someday.

Our dreams never died. While buried under the ache of grief, they transformed and grew. In the midst of our sorrow, God was working in the darkest area of our hearts — the place we fiercely protected. He was making a way. He was healing the emptiness so that it could be someday filled with a future love. Our destiny was to lose fertility so that we could gain a love intended only by the hand of God. A love that will explain a portion of the “Why.” A love destined to be ours. A love that has been woven into our hearts unidentified until chaos exposed it. This love has always existed within our souls, and through tragedy has been magnified. No matter that they won’t be born with our DNA or be birthed from my womb, our children will always be our children and our love for them will be unmatched. Our destinies have already intertwined.

Healing has come, and the conversations have begun again. The dark cloud of grief is dissipating, and light is shining in the dark once more. God is revealing His purpose for our parenthood. He is restoring dreams and washing hope over our wounds like a gentle salve. He is gifting us glimpses behind the curtain, and preparing our hearts for what is to come. We are dreaming again. Excitement is being renewed. Grief has passed like waves drifting back out to sea, and the shore holds immeasurable joy. Though it’s still uncertain how God will bring us our babies, we have hope that He will. He holds our dreams tighter than we ever could, and wishes only the best to come. Though cancer robbed us of our fertility, it will not rob us of our parenthood. Babies are on the brain once again.

Hebrews 10:23 (ESV)

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Suffering With Purpose

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A cancer diagnosis is not easy. Neither is the death of a child or divorce. Financial ruin and joblessness aren’t a walk in the park either. Relationships fail, bankruptcy happens, and some of us are stricken with life-threatening illnesses. Catastrophic storms occur and lives are uprooted every year. Depression and anxiety cripple millions. Accidents happen. Death, disease, and disasters are common. These things are the realities of the world we live in and they will continue over and over again so long as we are here on Earth.

John 16:33 — “In this world you will have trouble…”

Biblically, we have been promised to go through hard times. We have been guaranteed to experience suffering. There’s no way around it; We live in a fallen world. For the entirety of our lives, calamity will be around every corner. Many wonder why and begin to question God’s goodness when their lives are stricken with grief and struggle. After all, if God is good and He loves us, why do bad things come our way? And furthermore, if God is strong enough to move mountains, part the ocean, and calm storms, why then does He allow us to experience suffering? He is capable of healing, yet sometimes He doesn’t heal.

Have you thought about what life would be like without suffering? What it would be like if all of our dreams came true and we never experienced loss? I’d venture to say that we would live in permanent infancy, unaware and naive. There would be no need for growth, and we would live stagnant lives. There would be a resounding lack of purpose and no need for God. As one who has suffered greatly, I now find gratitude amid my struggles. No, I am not a sadistic lunatic and I do not enjoy grief one bit. However, in my suffering I am driven deeper and deeper into the arms of the One who loves me the most — my Savior.

There is purpose in our suffering. There is purpose in our grief, and in our pain, and in our struggle. It’s imperative for us to remember that. If we lose sight of the fact that our difficulties are being used for a bigger purpose, we can soon become bitter and hardened by every blocked road and detour in our journey. We’ve all experienced someone who oozes bitterness. Someone who clearly has been shackled to their situation and, whether by choice or subconcious, exudes an attitude of seething abhorrence for their life. My heart aches for those burdened in strongholds of grief and sorrow, for I know that though life is full of devastating troubles, there is still hope for something better. For someone better.

John 16:33 did not end by simply promising us troubles. There is more — “…but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Reflect on that. Though we are guaranteed to struggle in this world, we are equally guaranteed a God so powerful that He overcomes our hurdles. Though our circumstances are impossible for us, with Him the possibilities are infinite. He shatters statistics, derails diagnoses, triumphs over tribulations, and overcomes obstacles. Our hope should not lie in our circumstances but in the One who rises above them.

Through our suffering, we have a magnificent opportunity to bring glory to the Lord. When we suffer, people follow our grief. The world watches to see how we will respond. Will we crumble and give up? Will we avoid and ignore? Will we become shackled? Or will we stand strong in faith with hope no matter the trial? Our suffering is a platform, and in our troubles we are on a stage. Your audience may be your immediate family. It may be your school, neighborhood, or community. It may be those you pass by in the grocery store or the stranger down the road. The world is watching. In your suffering, how will you respond? When people follow your grief, will you lead them to Jesus?

Suffering is purposeful. From the daily annoyances to the life-altering circumstances, there is reason in your struggle. Adversity is not encountered by random chance. Your story is not a mistake. My diagnosis of this rare and aggressive cancer was not unintentional. I have been given an opportunity to suffer well and with purpose. To lead others in my grief. To usher those who suffer alongside me to a hope that is bigger than what I face on Earth. There is opportunity in our suffering. Our struggles bring us closer to Jesus, for He suffered the most. We suffer so that we can become more like Him. We suffer so that we may be molded in His likeness. We suffer so that what doesn’t matter is stripped away. We suffer in order to understand what love really means. We suffer so we can stand by others in their grief. We suffer with purpose.

Life isn’t easy and never will be this side of Heaven. Pain is promised. Suffering is sure. Testimonies exist because of the tests that precede them. There is purpose in our grief. Will you suffer well?

1 Peter 4:12-13

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.”

Crossing The Finish Line of Chemotherapy

For the first time in six months, I woke up on Monday morning and did not go to chemotherapy.

I did not hop in the shower knowing I wouldn’t have energy the next day to do so. I did not climb into my car and turn the keys in dread. I did not make the twenty minute drive to the one place that has brought me both grief and comfort. I did not walk through the doors of the hospital, enter the elevator and make my ascent to floor three. I did not put on a brave face and a smile to greet my oncology team. I did not find my favorite corner recliner and settle in. I did not bare my chest in order for the nurse to plunge a sharp, thick needle into my port. I did not lean back, close my eyes, and allow the poisonous toxins to flood my body.

I did not go to chemotherapy on Monday because I am done. Chemo is officially over! I have completed this season of treatment and am moving forward to the next. It’s been a long six months, and I couldn’t be happier to have finished this race. It wasn’t a fast one, but rather a slow and steady jog through innumerable peaks and valleys.

This specific season of chemotherapy has been hard. There were times when I didn’t think I could withstand it any longer. Several moments when I didn’t think I had enough strength to make it to the next day. Countless nausea-induced sleepless nights. More vomiting than ever before. These last few months, my mind has been applesauce — foggy, short-circuiting, and muddled. It’s been increasingly difficult to write. I couldn’t muster up enough focus to even read a book. I’ve been exhausted and restless. It has been the longest and most exhaustive journey through treatment. To say I am ecstatic to be done with this season would be a monumental understatement.

Have you ever ran a race? Last year Matt and I ran a 5k (3.1 miles) in downtown Denver. Neither of us are runners. In fact, I loathe running. However, we wanted to accomplish something we never thought we could. We trained hard for a few months. We woke up early and pushed our bodies to the limits. Several times we would come inside from a long run and collapse on the floor, reaching for breath to fill our lungs. There were days our muscles were so tight and sore we couldn’t imagine putting them through another day of grueling training. There were many days of accomplishment, and many days where we questioned if running the race was even attainable.

This season of treatment has been similar to that 5k we ran. I can’t help but feel the same way I did crossing the finish line of the race as I do now completing treatment. As I put hours and days of training into the race, I poured even more time into my treatment. As my muscles were sore from running, so too was my body weak from chemo. As some days I didn’t think I could run one more mile, so too have I thought I couldn’t handle one more toxic cocktail. As we crossed the finish line of the race hand-in-hand, we have also completed this journey through chemo hand-in-hand. We were surrounded by friends and family cheering us on and offering congratulations then, and we are even more surrounded now. The significance of crossing both finish lines is something that will resonate within my spirit for eternity.

Now that the race is over and I have completed my final hours of chemotherapy, what’s next? Many have been wondering what I will do now. I’d be lying if I told you I knew exactly what was going to happen in the coming days, months, and years. That’s what makes life an adventure, right? There are a few things that I know for certain, however. To start, I will begin receiving PET/CT scans every three months. This ensures that I am being watched closely — if any recurrences were to happen, we could catch them immediately. I’ll be receiving my first post-chemo scan this coming Monday (2/9) and am eagerly anticipating great news. Secondly, I know that no matter what comes in the future, God will remain faithful. He is unchanging, regardless of the circumstances we face. And lastly, I am certain of the hope I have within me. Just as I do every time, I am believing that this most recent season of treatment is the charm and that cancer will no longer find my body as its residence.

I’m also pretty sure I need more shelves for these trophies. I’ve earned quite a few from these last four marathons through cancer.

Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

“…And let us run with perseverance, the race God marked out for us.”

 

Dear Stephanie: A Letter to Myself Before Cancer

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Dear Stephanie of January 2012,

You are both stronger and weaker than you could ever imagine. Life is about to show you that. Though you won’t be sure what she means, take the advice of your friend and “buckle up.” In fact, why don’t you grab the seatbelt next to you and buckle into it as well. You always liked roller coasters, right?

You are young, healthy, vibrant, and full of energy and dreams. You are working hard and thoroughly enjoy your job. You have married the love of your life and are thrilled to come home to him every day. This truly feels like the beginning of an incredible journey, and hand-in-hand you and your husband both feel ready to conquer anything. You’ve found the church you call home, and for once you finally feel like you belong to something far greater than yourself. The friendships that will develop through this church will become family. Trust and embrace them.

You feel ready. Ready for the future. Ready to start pursuing the dreams you and Matt have. Ready to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals. Ready for what God has for you. You think that means a white picket fence and two children. You think that means unending happiness with only minor bumps in the road. You think you know what God wants for you, and though you are certain of His goodness, you don’t know its depth just yet. You feel ready for a reason, but it’s not the reason you think. Stay ready.

You’re really rockin’ that hair. I know how much you love it. Go on with your blonde self — enjoy it. You are in shape and look good. Really good. You don’t believe it, but you are perfectly beautiful as you are. Stop worrying so much about it. Soon you will find that when looks fade, character will remain. Start thinking about your identity.

Your husband adores you. You think you have an understanding of his love and commitment, but you really have no clue yet. You reminisce to your first date, your wedding day, and all of the fun newlywed adventures you have experienced together. It’s been a year and a half, and you both laugh at the words of friends who have married before you: “The first year is the hardest.” You say to each other, “If the first year is the hardest, we’ll be smooth sailing for the rest of our lives because this is easy!” You were right, the first year was the easiest, but it will get harder. The man that stands by your side now will stand by your side through your darkest times. He meant every single word he vowed to you. Cherish him.

You like plans. You like goals. You like lists. You struggle with control. You want things just right. But your version of right isn’t always right. Let your pride take a step back. Though you have perfected the plans of your life story, be ready to erase. God’s plans are far greater than the little ones you have constructed. It’s okay to go with the flow. You’ll need to learn to do that soon. Be open to new things. Surrendering your life and all of the plans you blueprinted is scary, but marvelous.

You have experienced pain and loss, but you don’t fully know grief. It’s bitter and refreshing all at once. It comes swiftly and unexpectedly, but can truly heal if you let it. Though you are emotional at times, soon crying will become second nature. It doesn’t mean that you are weak. In tears, there is strength. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to experience the pain and then work through it. Don’t avoid situations because they make you uncomfortable. Dive in.

The faith you have now will soon become the only thing you can hold onto when your dreams, desires, goals, and plans are radically changed. Your faith, though it seems large now, will have the most impact when it is the size of a mustard seed. You’ve hoped for things before, but the hope that will birth inside you will reach magnitudes you can’t even begin to fathom. God is for you. He is on your side. He goes before you. He will protect, encourage, and supply you. Wrestle with Him. Pursue Him. He has never and will never leave you. When He is quiet, be still.

You have a story. The life you live now will soon change to reveal your purpose. The woman you are now will be pruned in order for a new creation to spring forth. At times you won’t recognize the woman you see in the mirror, but she is still there… stronger than before. Though there will be days and even months of painful struggle, the reward for staying steadfast will overwhelm you. Don’t give up. Keep your eyes focused on what matters most, and everything lackluster will fade away. It’s okay to be weak and to allow God to be your strength. He will overcome.

I write to you from a familiar date. You’re a numbers girl, I trust that you’ll understand the importance. On January 25, 2012, you will be diagnosed with cancer. And three years (almost to the day) later on January 26th, 2015, you will complete your final chemotherapy treatment and will be well on your way to a new journey. Be encouraged. Those three years will have an eternal impact. They will be some of the hardest years of your life, but will develop you in ways no other experience could. Be grateful.

You are brave. You are strong. You are fierce. You are a warrior. You are a fighter. You have the tools you need. You can do this. I believe in you.

With utmost expectations and encouragement,
Stephanie of January 2015

 Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)

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

 

Christmas with Cancer: What Matters Most

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Christmastime is my absolute favorite season of the year. Beautiful shining lights adorning neighborhoods near and far. Sparkling decorations around the home. Hot chocolate by the fire. Soft, white snow gently setting the tone. Carols sweetly filling the air. Cookies and treats being prepared and consumed. And a spirit of giving that is tangible.

What is Christmas to you?

Is it getting the best Black Friday deal for someone you love? Is it making sure you combine your ingredients just right so your sugar cookies turn out perfectly soft? Is it being known for giving the most extravagant gifts? Is it desperately counting down the hours until the day has passed? Is it a bitter reminder of those you have lost? Is it just another day on the calendar?

After being diagnosed with cancer, my perspective on the holidays has changed. Where I once was consumed with stress over everything that came with the season, I now let anything that is not full of cheer slough off. Christmas to me is a reason to be full of joy and happiness, no matter your circumstances.

No matter that you didn’t receive the gift you so desperately wished for. No matter that your cookies were burnt and crispy. No matter that your budget didn’t allow for all that your heart desired. No matter that the temperature is warmer than expected and snow ceased to fall. No matter that you received bad news. No matter that you can’t be home with your family this year. No matter that a diagnosis accompanies you this season. No matter that you’re sick, weak, and barely getting by.

Christmas is an annual opportunity of reflection and celebration. No matter what we may face, the holidays can and should be celebrated. What really matters most in the holiday season is giving, loving, and gratitude. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have or what we can’t do, we should instead focus on the abundant gifts that we are blessed with.

No matter how bad it gets, there is always something good in the midst of it all.

My diagnosis has refocused my life and has shined light on what matters most. Spending time with family, friends, and the ones we love. Sharing laughter, stories, and pleasant memories. Giving more of ourselves through time and energy. Taking moments out of our day to bless others. Living in a spirit of gratitude and happiness. Truly choosing joy above and beyond what we may be facing.

I have every reason to complain and be bitter during this season. I’ve lost far too many friends and family members recently. I am in a fairly constant state of pain from residual effects of treatment. I have said goodbye to many plans and dreams that my husband and I had a long time ago. This will be the third year I celebrate Christmas with cancer. And, I may in fact be sick this week because I ingested another fair share of chemotherapy only three days before Christmas. I have my reasons to dislike this holiday. But I choose not to.

In the end, I would much rather live a life of abundant joy no matter what circumstances I will face. I don’t want to spend one holiday bitter, angry, or aggrieved. I refuse to allow the junk in my life to decide the amount of joy and happiness that floods my heart. There is far more than perfectly baked cookies and the most trendy decor at Christmas. The reason we recognize this holiday is far greater than giving gifts, for we have been given the most magnificent gift of all.

It’s Christmas… What really matters most to you?

Isaiah 9:6 (NKJ)

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

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