Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

I have struggled since surgery, both physically and emotionally. This journey that I’m on, though abundant in blessings, is a difficult one. There are great achievements and considerable disappointments.

Ready to head into surgery. (6/14)

Ready to head into surgery. (6/2014)

Surgery last week went well. The doctor was able to remove the entirety of the left adrenal gland and the tumor with good margins. Besides commenting that my insides were “sticky” because of the amount of scar tissue from my three surgeries prior, the procedure (though an hour and a half longer than expected) was smooth. He was able to complete the procedure laparoscopically, allowing my stay in the hospital to be swift. Surgery was on Monday, and by Tuesday night I was walking out the front doors to head home. Though it was a quick stay, it wasn’t an easy one. The majority of my time in the hospital, I was in pain. At times it was excruciating, and I couldn’t help but cry out in agony.

My incisions were not the problem. In fact, though the doctor had to move my stomach, spleen, colon, and other organs out of the way, my insides weren’t even that sore. Gas was the culprit. As is standard in a procedure like mine, they inflate the abdomen with carbon dioxide gas. This allows the surgeons better visibility and to have space to move instruments around. Once surgery is complete, they deflate the abdomen and close the incisions up. Sometimes, not all of the gas is removed. In my case, gas was trapped in my diaphragm, unbeknownst to the medical team. When I woke up, I was in immense shoulder pain. Both of my shoulders felt dislocated and I was entirely confused. What was wrong with my shoulders? Why were they screaming in pain?

During the first night after surgery, I woke up quite loudly. Typically, I internalize pain and am able to breathe through even the most intense discomfort. This pain, however, was on a different level, and I could not contain my screaming like a banshee cries. My husband immediately jolted awake and ran out of the room to grab nurses, doctors, residents… heck, I don’t doubt he would have grabbed the janitor. He was desperate to find someone to help me. To be quite honest, I thought I had a blood clot in my lung. These are extremely dangerous and often can be fatal if not tended to. My right ribcage and shoulder felt as though a fist was trying to push through from the inside out; As though they would explode any minute. It was pain that I had similarly experienced with my first surgery. However, this gas would not be able to naturally escape. It was up high and would not be heading towards an exit. My body had to absorb it over time. The nurses and doctors, (and quite possibly the janitor) ran in and quickly tended to my ailment. Before I knew it, more pain meds began trickling through my IV. Slowly but surely I felt by body relaxing and the pain quieting. I was able to sleep that night, and felt well enough to be discharged the next day.

Once home, I rested peacefully in my own bed. With a memory foam topper, marshmallow-like mattress pad, and divinely fluffy pillows, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Within two days, I received a call from my doctor. After surgery, as usual, my tumor was turned over to pathology where it would be tested to determine if it was malignant or benign. My doctor called with the news. It was not the news we were desperately hoping and praying for. The tumor was malignant. Neuroendocrine cancer has recurred once again. For a fourth time to be exact… but who’s counting?

I can’t begin to describe the rush of emotions that both my husband and I experience upon receiving this type of news. Though it’s our fourth time learning that cancer has invaded my body, it never gets easier. With my husband at work, and I, alone at home with our dogs, I cried out to God. “Lord, you have to protect me. I can’t keep doing this! Please heal me here on Earth. I’m not ready to die.” Once I told Matt the news, he left work early and came home. Together, we sat on the floor of our bathroom and cried. We prayed and pleaded with God to rid my body of cancer. We prayed for strength, wisdom, and direction moving forward.

Cancer sucks. And recurrences are worse. A real-life version of the film Groundhog Day. A nightmarish merry go round with zombies and evil clowns. One that slowly comes to a halt, but before stopping to allow me to get off, quickly picks up the pace and continues wildly spinning about. I have zero control; All I can do is hang on and pray that the ride stops eventually. Recurrences are truly what nightmares are made of. Once you’ve had cancer, the fear of the disease returning hides in the darkest part of your mind. Though you may not think about it often, it lurks and appears at the first sight of vulnerability.

The truth is, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’m ready for this seemingly never-ending chapter with cancer to end. I’m ready to move forward with my life, and for Matt and I to step into the greatness that we believe God has for our future. I’m ready to step out of my role as a cancer patient. I’m ready to be a full-time survivor, with cancer a thing of the past. I’m emotionally exhausted, yet I have to continue if I want to survive. I have no choice. I must fight to gain more time here. If I don’t, my end may arrive sooner. Cancer sucks.

Regardless of how defeated Matt and I may feel, we know that God is not defeated. No matter what the news is, God still holds the entire universe in His hands, and not one speck of our lives is unknown to Him. He knew that we would receive these results. He knew that I had a fourth fight in me. He knows. He believes in me. He believes in my future. He believes that, with His help, I can overcome this. So why shouldn’t I believe the same? We place our complete trust in Him. We know that God has purpose in this recurrence, and we cling to the faith that He is stirring up a story so big, we can’t begin to fathom it.

This may sound weird to you… it sounds weird to me sometimes. It is an honor to have this story. It is an honor to be chosen to fight this battle. It’s an honor to have the platform to share of God’s goodness through the darkest pits of despair. It’s an honor to be a cancer patient, and an even greater honor to be a child of God with the knowledge that I will survive, no matter what.

photo-9

Psalm 63:1-4, 7-8 (MSG)

“God—you’re my God! I can’t get enough of you! I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts. So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in your strength and glory. In your generous love I am really living at last! My lips brim praises like fountains. I bless you every time I take a breath; My arms wave like banners of praise to you… Because you’ve always stood up for me, I’m free to run and play. I hold on to you for dear life, and you hold me steady as a post.”

Pruning What Doesn’t Belong

A fourth surgery in less than three years? No problem. In fact, I told my doctor if he needed to cut me open from my shoulders to my knees, I wouldn’t care. Just get the job done. Remove what doesn’t belong.

Last week Matt and I drove to a meeting with our newly appointed team member. A urologist, who happens to be the top adrenal surgeon in the state. He’s one of the many doctors on our team who helps navigate and combat this dreaded thing called cancer. I currently have a gynecologic oncologist, radiation oncologist, general oncologist, and now a urologist, among the slew of techs and nurses helping as well. Adding a new doctor to the team is always met with some hesitancy (on my part), as I become comfortable with those who have treated me over the last couple of years. My team of doctors and I have grown as a family. The hospital where I have received 99.9% of my treatment is a second home.

Adding a new doctor is like welcoming a new in-law to the family. Will I like him/her? Is he/she going to be able to keep pace in our conversations? Can I see myself spending hours and hours with this person? Can I place my trust in this person’s hands? As my medical team has become family, it’s quite entertaining to see what role each of them falls into. The one who is like an aunt whom you can cry and laugh with, and tell your darkest secrets to, all the while feeling great comfort. The epitome of a distant uncle who awkwardly hits it to you straight and leaves you hanging mid-air wondering what he’ll say next. The sister figure who has your best interest in heart, but doesn’t mind telling you the truth when you need to hear it. The cousins who greet you and play catch-up for the mere minutes you have to see them. Every person on our team fills a role in our medical family. Each one serves a purpose and is vital in my fight against cancer.

Though we’ve only met my new doctor once (on our four-year wedding anniversary, might I add), I can confidently say that I trust him. Matt and I both do. He is smart, professional, and compassionate and, after our meeting with him, we are ready to move forward in the next step. As I’ve mentioned HERE, I have a tumor on my left adrenal gland. The CT and PET show “activity” in the mass, however, based on its location, there is not 100% certainty that it is malignant. From what our doctor discussed with us, we know that adrenal masses happen and are often completely benign. Of course, based on my history, we have to be cautious. Caution and cancer go hand in hand.

Upon having our conversation, my doctor, husband, and I decided it’s best to proceed with surgery to remove this unlabeled mass. Usually, there is talk about doing a biopsy whenever a spot shows up on my scan, but it’s quickly ruled out. This time was no different. For a minute we passed over the idea of taking a biopsy of this tumor, but the risk of spreading the cells (cancer or not) is too great. IF it happens to be malignant, we don’t want  it to spread and wreak havoc elsewhere in my body. This is a disease you don’t want to piss off. Therefore, I’m going under the knife once again.

This will be my fourth major surgery since diagnosis. At this point, I like to consider myself a professional. I’m not concerned. In fact, I would rather be cut open to remove the entirety of the unknown intruder cells as opposed to just peeking through the door, taking a piece, and testing them. My scan is showing something that shouldn’t be there, and although it may not even be cancerous, I don’t like things where they don’t belong.

Pruning is a must in all areas of our existence. While I have undergone surgery to remove malignant masses in my body, likewise I have undergone metaphorical surgery to remove toxicity out of my life. We often hear certain things being compared to cancer. “He is a cancer in the group. He pulls everyone down with him.” Nothing about cancer has a positive connotation. It is the worst of the worst. It will destroy you from the inside out. Ridding ourselves of cancer and its metaphorical meaning is vital to live a healthy life. We prune gardens, cutting back the weeds to allow flowers to blossom, and likewise we should be pruning our lives.

Is there an area of your life that is so full of weeds, it’s taking over your world? Are the weeds drowning out who you really are? Have you ignored the weeds, hoping that they’ll go away on their own? We must cut back what doesn’t belong and rid ourselves of what shouldn’t take residence in our lives. It could be a toxic relationship, hidden addiction, or unhealthy patterns. We all have areas that need to be pruned.

Just as surgery hurts, pruning hurts as well. Removing what doesn’t belong will cause pain, and that’s often why many people avoid it. But once the weeds are removed, the blossoms can thrive. Though we are believing this mass is not cancer, it still doesn’t belong. Therefore, this coming Monday (6/16), Matt and I will venture into the hospital once more to do some pruning. The doctor believes he can perform the surgery laparoscopically. If this is the case, my recovery will be much easier. We are confident in this process, and are expecting wonderful results.

Please be praying for myself, Matt, and our newly added team of medical staff. While I receive all of the fun parts of surgery (sedation, pain medication, and doting nurses), Matt sits in the wings for hours awaiting the results.

While we prepare for pruning, ask yourself what needs to be pruned in your life?

pruning quote for DMD

John 15:2 (ESV)

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

 

 

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.’”

Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight

9781414364780

Not only am I a writer, but I’m also an avid reader. Bookshelves line an entire wall in our home office, and books are found resting from ceiling to floor. 90% of those books have been read by me. I simply can’t get enough. Literature has woven itself into my inner being, and I can’t possibly fathom a world without books, stories, and adventures.

I have recently discovered an author whom I respect and admire. Her latest book, Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight has inspired, encouraged and challenged me. Kasey Van Norman is a nationally known Bible teacher, full-time counselor, and bestselling author. She makes her home on a 280 acre ranch in Central Texas, rescuing minors from sex-trafficking and severe neglect. God has given her a story so powerful, Kasey uses it to “ignite a flame of passion in the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike.”

Kasey begins Raw Faith by sharing that she did not want to write this book. “It took God punching me in the gut with cancer to shake off my Christian anesthesia and wake me up from a ‘playing church’… and pacifier kind of faith.” Shortly after the release of her first book, Named by God, Kasey faced a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. One that shook her faith to the core. A diagnosis and subsequent battle that had her wrestling with God Himself.

In Raw Faith, Kasey exposes her heart to the reader in ways many rarely have the courage to do. She challenges us to “face our faith” in moments when pain and suffering come upon our lives and shares that her own personal journey left her faith feeling “like a gaping wound, raw and exposed and tender to the touch.” By asking questions and sharing different perspectives, she encourages us to take an inventory of our own faith condition.

Through a combination of intimate journal entries and solid biblical references, Kasey encourages the reader to allow God to press into our gaping faith wounds. She shares personal moments when she was at her lowest, “bald-headed and weak as a kitten, dry-heaving into a bucket,” and calls us to change our perspective. God has allowed us to endure hardships in order to set us up for His greatness and faithfulness to be displayed in our lives. Our story, just like Kasey’s, has purpose. More purpose than we may ever understand.

Raw Faith confronts the raw issues. Kasey calls them the “toxic D’s”- denial, depression, and discouragement. She expresses a sentiment that I can wholeheartedly understand and agree with: “The most toxic side effect of my cancer diagnosis wasn’t what was happening in my body; it was what was happening in my head and my heart.” She gives the reader tools and references to combat these real life issues, and helps us realize that we are not powerless against them.

Raw Faith is not only for those of us facing a cancer diagnosis. Anyone who has ever encountered hardship, suffering, or difficult circumstances can glean an incredible amount of encouragement and hope through the chapters of this book. This is a memoir that you will not want to put down. You will laugh and cry as Kasey exposes the hardest trials in her life and the lifelong lessons she has learned through them. She tells it like it is– candid, poignant, and unbridled. Her words will evoke thoughts and emotions that you haven’t felt before. Kasey’s candid expressions will inspire you to be candid in your own journey. Your faith, hope, and joy will be redefined as you dive into Raw Faith.

Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight is a story about meeting the real Jesus, facing your faith, and confronting your fears. I highly recommend this book for anyone facing illness of the mind, body, or spirit and those who are simply feeling stagnant in their faith life. Keep your eyes peeled for the Raw Faith bible study available this month.

James 1:2-4 (ESV)

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

*Book review for Tyndale House Publishers*

 

 

Dream to Reality: Chatting with Ellen DeGeneres

A dream was birthed from the conception of my diagnosis. I had a far-fetched aspiration to go to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Never once did I think this dream would become a reality. In fact, had you told me that my name would be spoken by the woman herself, I would have probably laughed at you. Sitting next to Ellen and having a conversation with her? Ya right. Out of the millions of viewers that tune into her show daily, who was I to stand out in the sea of inspirational stories?

I have tuned in to The Ellen DeGeneres Show for years. Her candid humor, contagious spirit, and positive message are infectious. She offers uplifting perspective, guttural laughter, and the latest updates on celebrity news. Her generous nature is apparent on every show, as she honors a wide array of everyday heroes. Never once have I watched an episode that I haven’t both laughed and cried in. She’s that good. Throughout my seasons of cancer treatments, Ellen DeGeneres has always been a ray of sunshine in the midst of my dark days. No matter how sick, gross, or pathetic I felt, her show was the perfect remedy. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and Ellen has a doctorate in spreading happiness.

I do not enter contests. I have never won anything. I’ve purchased two lottery tickets in my life and was unsuccessful. However, a few months ago, I serendipitously came across a CoverGirl contest that The Ellen DeGeneres Show was hosting. Ellen herself is an Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl and the two joined hands in the recent #bombshelling movement. Among the many variations of the term, bombshelling simply means, “the act of being a bombshell; embracing your inner diva.” The contest invited people to share a selfie and their own inspirational story.

The selfie I sent in to The Ellen Show Without a second thought, I quickly snapped a photo of myself. No wig; Bald in all it’s glory. Light makeup, and a cute chevron scarf. I then drafted a summary of my adventures and lessons through cancer and submitted my entry. Not thinking twice. Quite skeptical in fact, I figured I would never hear back. I don’t win anything, after all. My husband, Matt arrived home from work, and I nonchalantly mentioned that my entry was forging its way among the thousands of others. His response was far from noteworthy, and my news didn’t evoke more than a shoulder shrug. He was all too familiar with my contest history, or lack thereof.

We continued our daily life, and I didn’t give the CoverGirl bombshelling contest much thought. Months later, to my complete and utter shock, I received a phone call from the show. They had sifted through entries and wanted to hear more about my story. At the moment, I couldn’t believe it was happening. A few phone conversations later, and we were invited to sit in the audience at one of Ellen’s tapings. The smile cemented on my face stretched from ear to ear. I could not contain my excitement. Matt and I were elated. My dream was coming true! Ellen Artist Entry Before we knew it, the whirlwind of anticipation and enthusiasm had swept us up and we were walking through the doors of The Ellen Show studio. I felt like a kid in a candy store — grinning and giggling as I was unsure of what to look at, what to take in, and in awe at the wonders of the studio itself. Matt and I found our seats and with the rest of the audience on all sides, were welcomed into a massive dance party. If you have watched Ellen, you know that her show is widely centered around dancing. She moves and grooves. The audience gets jiggy wit’ it. Her guests bust a move. It’s a party, and no one is left out. Halfway through the show, my cheeks were in full-on workout mode from the smile that remained plastered on my face. The energy of being in a studio, clapping, dancing, and laughing with hundreds of others is unparalleled. Happiness was spread like wildfire.

Just as the last segment was underway, Ellen began sharing that she was a CoverGirl. At that point, I firmly grabbed Matt’s leg, and I’m sure my eyes grew twice their original size. With the next blink of my eyelids, a familiar photo was displayed on the back screen. A bald woman, with light makeup and a chevron scarf. Wait, What? I think that’s me. Oh, yes. That’s definitely me. Time jolted forward faster than the speed of light. I heard my name. I heard Ellen say my name. She wanted me to come down to the stage. Is this a joke? Is this real life? Surprisingly, I made it down the steps and onto the stage without tripping and embarrassing myself. I wasn’t however, free from the sight of the camera catching my ugly cry.

After hugging Ellen (yes, I hugged Ellen DeGeneres!), I sat down and chatted with her. The cameras captured my fairly composed responses to her questions, though inside I was a deer in the headlights. We’ve all experienced moments where our dream transforms into a reality, and this was mine. As if having a conversation with Ellen wasn’t enough, she surprised me with a check on behalf of CoverGirl to the tune of ten thousand dollars. At that point, I was astonished, amazed, and flabbergasted. Meeting Ellen DeGeneres, hugging, laughing, and sharing conversation with her would have been enough. However, in true “Ellen style,” she and CoverGirl so generously gifted Matt and I an amount that will help chip away the medical debt that has been accrued from such an arduous journey these past two years.

Copyright: The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Copyright: The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Gratitude doesn’t articulate the depth of thankfulness that my husband and I have experienced. As I stated in an after-show interview, there would never be enough “Thank You’s” to Ellen and CoverGirl for the gift and opportunity they have given me. To be recognized for my message that bald is beautiful is an overwhelming honor. We will forever be grateful for what Ellen and CoverGirl have done for our family.

The response from our surprise on The Ellen DeGeneres Show has been incredible and humbling. The posts on Ellen’s Facebook page and Instagram have received over 90,000 “likes,” and hundreds of comments. What has inspired and humbled me the most are the women who are posting pictures of themselves without wigs on in the comments. To know that my story is touching so many others, is breathtaking. It makes my fight worth it. Thank you all for tuning in and sharing such an exciting moment with us.

Dreams do come true.

CoverGirl Bombshell Shows that Bald is Beautiful
on Yahoo! Shine

Philippians 4:19 (MSG)

“You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus.”

The Right Shoe For Life After Treatment

Many outside of Cancerland think that once treatment is over, life continues again as if nothing ever happened. That we get to press the universal play button and proceed on our merry little way.

The reality is, life is never the same after cancer.

My life’s road map became forever altered upon the very moment I was diagnosed. There were many times after clear scans that I had the choice to revert back to my old life. I could go back to old jobs. Pursue prior dreams. Slip back into the routine of a life I once felt comforted by. Yet doing so always felt wrong. Like a butterfly trying to fit back into it’s cocoon. A place once full of great comfort and safety — though I could slide right back into it, my once upon a time haven would never be the same.

I am different than I was two years ago. Through the adventure of cancer, God has changed me. I have been stretched, broken, molded, and reformed. I see life through much larger lenses, and I appreciate moments that tended to slip by unnoticed in seasons past. My relationships have been altered. My character has been chiseled and refined. I am far more sensitive of what compassion and empathy really mean. I have suffered great loss, and have experienced overwhelming gain. I have been blessed abundantly. My body has been sliced open and stitched shut several times over. Organs have been removed and where there was once smooth soft skin, jagged scars remain.

I am no longer the Stephanie I was prior to my diagnosis. She was shed long ago, and the new me has matured. Why then should I force myself into her old shoes?

Through illness, new adventures, unexpected tragedy, job relocations, children, marriage, divorce, the passing of a loved one, or a cancer diagnosis, our experiences help mold us. We mature. We grow. We transform. The day we are living today is far different than the day we lived yesterday. Why then do we continually try to relive our past? Why then do we continually reach for something that has expired, as if the expiration was not the end of a chapter, but rather a revolving door?

Too often we turn around and view what’s behind us as a marker for what lies ahead of us. We think, “I wish I was back there. Where I’m at now sucks. How can I change this?” We try and relive our so-called glory days. Too often we place our eyes on the past, and are crippled by doing so. We do ourselves a disservice by comparing one season to another.

We have all gone through growth spurts. For me, elementary school entertained the most physical changes on my body. One morning I woke up and my shirts were too tight, pants too short, and shoes too small. Nothing fit, and no matter how hard I tried to stuff myself into my old clothes, they never fit the same again. Sure, I could wear the same shoes, but I’d be in pain for as long as my feet were crammed into them. I was in a dilemma. I loved my old shoes. They were comfortable and cute. I had become used to them, and found comfort in that. Yet, it was time to move forward. Out with the old. In with the new. It was better to find shoes that fit my current size, rather than trying to shove myself into an old pair.

Life’s seasons are comparable to shoes. We can cram ourselves into a past season, and never fit the way we once did. We try to recreate our past, yet suffer with the consequences. We will never experience what we did in the moment that has already expired. Therefore, we must live in the moment that God has for us today. We go through trials for a purpose. God allows us to endure unpleasant circumstances in order for growth and maturity to take place; to become more refined versions of ourselves. We can either embrace the change, moving forward with high hopes for our future, or turn around, desperately trying to hold onto something that once was.

Moving forward opens opportunities for new blessings. Staying behind limits what’s available for us.

As I face a new chapter living a cancer-free life again, I have a choice to make. Do I want to revert to the life I once had — one full of comfort, security, and predictability? Or do I embrace what God has allowed me to go through, and view it as an opportunity to experience new and exciting opportunities? Sure, the future is uncertain. There will be moments of great accomplishments and times of deep sadness. But I have grown in this season for a purpose, and in the future I will continue to mature, as long as I embrace the process.

I often hear, “I’m so happy you’re done with treatment! Now you can get back to where you were.” The latter is simply is false. My life will never go back to the way it once was. My challenge now is to figure out what my new life looks like. To navigate the different pathways that are set before me. And while I grieve that one season is gone, I am abundantly blessed to experience an entirely new one.

I’m ready to try some new shoes on.

Last Chemotherapy! (2/17/14)

Last Chemotherapy! (2/7/14)

 Isaiah 43:18-19 (MSG)

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?”

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.

The Blessing of a Birthday

Stephanie's First Birthday (January 1987)

Stephanie’s First Birthday (January 1987)

By definition, birthdays are to be celebrated. However, more often than not, society frowns on old age. With face-lifts, age-defying serums, and injections, youth is praised while maturation is muddled.

As a child, I grew up counting down the days until my annual party. The day we celebrated me. My birth. My presence in this world. Every year on the sixth of January, I reached a new age. I was a year older, and always figured, a year wiser. Friends were invited, cake was devoured, laughter commenced, and memories were made. Yet, with every twelve months that passed, celebrations began to dwindle. Balloons were no longer purchased. Cake was no longer on the menu. By my 27th birthday, I found myself in a small, local sushi restaurant with six of my immediate family members surrounding me. Somehow, “How does it feel to be older?” slipped into the conversation just like it does each January, but no “Happy Birthday” song was sung.

Before my cancer diagnosis, age equated wrinkles, aching joints, and hip replacements. Getting older was no longer a momentous occasion, simply one year closer to stepping foot inside a retirement home. “Old” was said with an underlying tone, as if it meant moldy, used, and unwanted.  Why is that? Why do we view age negatively with such flippant disregard? The answer may stem from fear of the inability to be our former youthful selves. Fear that death could be closer than we care to admit. As a double-edged sword, death affects all ages. No matter how young, old, vibrant, or frail.

If you woke up this morning with breath in your lungs, you are blessed. You have survived yet another day and are officially one day older.

Since cancer has stormed into my life like an unwelcome party guest, birthdays have deeper significance than before. Receiving a cancer diagnosis often paralyzes ones thoughts about the future. We are left wondering how many more birthdays we may be here for. Will I make it to 30? Will I have grandchildren some day? Some patients on the front lines fighting off this disease are wondering if they’ll live to see next week. Some questioning if they will even wake up tomorrow. As cliché as it may be, each day truly is a gift. Why then, are birthdays not celebrated as the momentous occasion that they are? Why then, are we not more-so grateful when we unwrap the gift of another day?

“I feel so old.”

“I wish I was younger.”

These sentiments are unfortunately expressed by many. Society shares the approach that growing older is an unfortunate occurrence. This is baffling. Growing older is a natural phenomenon. We can’t escape it. It’s inevitable. Therefore, it should be embraced. After all, if you are aging, you are alive.

Age should be recognized, acknowledged, and held in high esteem. Age isn’t just a number. Age is the reflection of an accomplishment we have been subconsciously working for in each and every moment of our lives. Time will come when you will inhale your last breath. When experiences, adventures, and memories will be washed away in the tide of eternity. 

After nearly two years in the trenches of this diagnosis and subsequent fight for my life, birthdays have become a symbol. They epitomize opportunity, growth, and life. They represent hope, gratitude, and blessings. Each morning I wake up to see another day… to create new memories… to enjoy my friends and family… to follow my passions… I am blessed. I look forward to my 80th birthday. I look forward to the many celebrations ahead. I look forward to the blessing of a new day.

I challenge you to not view age as a curse, but rather as a gift. One that we cannot give each other. One that has only one Giver.

Proverbs 16:31 (MSG)

“Gray hair is a mark of distinction, the award for a God-loyal life.”

Cancerland

A place where chemo drips freely. Hair is a rare sight to be seen. Tubes, treatment, and trials are common occurrences. Hospital bands are shackles bound to the arms of warriors. And cancer is everywhere.

Welcome to Cancerland.

As I sit here receiving my fourth chemotherapy treatment this season (34th overall), I can’t help but look around, witnessing how cancer has affected the lives of so many. It’s everywhere. Rampant like a rabid monster ferociously feeding on the innocent. Moving its way through the nooks and crannies of both young and old generations. No care that it’s unwelcome. No fear of opposition. No worries in the world.

Once diagnosed, patients, including myself, are immediately propelled into Cancerland. Slingshotted into the abyss, with doctors accompanying us on all sides. Our medical knowledge, once novice, becomes an integral part of our vernacular, and soon we are spouting terms like “hemoglobin,” “neuropathy,” “large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma,” and “CBC.” We become aware what it feels like when our white cells are low, and we equate a shortness of breath to a lack of red blood cells. We become accustomed to aches and pains, leg spasms, and a variety of rare side effects. We ingest pills, supplements, and other magical potions as if they were candy.

This is life. If only we could watch fireworks, eat a chocolate covered frozen banana, and leave the park at the end of the day to crawl into bed outside the gates of Cancerland. However, this disease embeds itself into the pages of our story. It becomes a part of us. A part of our journey. Enveloped in our trials. Overcome in our triumphs. It never leaves us. The shadow of cancer follows us no matter how far we run and no matter how well we hide.

Yet as I am surrounded by my fellow patients, I sense a spirit of camaraderie. We are an army fighting against this horrendous beast. Gathering up arms and standing firm on the hope of success… On the hope of remission. Encouraging one another, exchanging tales of war from seasons past, and dreaming of a bright future. We are more than just patients. We are spouses, children, siblings, parents, and friends. We are people with dreams and goals. Praying to make it through the next year. Hoping for healing. Believing in salvation.

I am touched, moved, and honored to have such an inspiring army of survivors and fighters around me. Everyone who has ever heard the words, “You have cancer,” is immediately part of a unique fraternity. We can say, “nausea,” and as comrades we immediately understand this specific type of sickness. There is something special and deeply personal about the unsaid connection between those who have entered the gates of Cancerland. Some hold their ticket proudly. Some tuck their ticket deep into the crevasse of their pocket. Some try to throw their ticket away, only to find it reappearing every time. No matter if you are proud to be a survivor, in denial of the battle you are in, or not ready to face the fight ahead, we are all a part of this clandestine society.

As for me? I am proud. I have scars, wounds, physical reminders of what I have been through, and what awaits my future. I have aches and pains. I have neuropathy. My insides have been nuked more times than I can recall. My body no longer resembles its form prior to diagnosis. I have been bald, with hair, and bald again several times over. I have lost and gained friends. My life plans have been altered. I am infertile and menopausal. If given the choice on what I wanted my life to look like, cancer would be at the bottom of the list. However, I’m here. There’s no denying it. There’s no getting around it. I have been fighting cancer for the last two years of my life. But I have a choice. One of the largest decisions I have ever had to make and will have to make continuously over the course of my life. Do I want to be miserable? Or do I want to be joyful? Some may think this is not a choice, but I would adamantly challenge that stance. Though oftentimes we cannot choose our circumstances, we can choose our emotions.

I am proud to be a cancer patient…fighter…survivor. I am proud to say that no matter what, cancer will not win because I will never lose. I am proud to belong to this fraternity. My ticket to Cancerland will forever be displayed triumphantly in a frame over my life.

Romans 15:13 (ESV)

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

WARRIOR. (November 2013)

WARRIOR. (November 2013)

The Question of Depression

I’ll admit it. I’ve been MIA for the past month. My absence was not intentional. I just couldn’t get the words out into my blog. However, it was nothing like writer’s block. It was much deeper. I couldn’t put a finger on it, but whatever it was, it was looming over me like a dark cloud.

Throughout these past few weeks, I have often felt the urge to sit down and write. To pour out my thoughts. To process. To purge. Yet, no matter how much I wanted to, I simply could not.

Recently I discovered the answer, the reason, and the explanation for this sudden halt. For this past month, and frankly since the day I learned of my enemy’s return, I had been carrying an extra burden of emotions. Emotions that lingered. That weighed me down. That tried hard to steal my joy, hope, and happiness. Call it depression. Call it a funk. Call it what you will, I was being buried by it.

Every season of my battle against cancer has contained different emotional responses and physical hurdles. For the better part of my two previous seasons, I had battled more physical hurdles. I had more days where I felt like crap. More days where I had been in pain. Yet, this season has been different from the start. Not a tumor, only microscopic cells. Praise God for that. Not as physically taxing as it has been emotionally. Yet, sometimes working through emotions is harder than working through pain.

“Do you ever get depressed having to go through all of this?”

A few weeks ago, I was asked this simple question. I actually laughed. Not at the friend asking the question, but at the thought. Depressed? “100% YES,” I said. However, not many people see that from me. Though I walk in the strength and grace that God has given me today, I still stumble into the pit of worry, fear, and despair from time to time. I have never lost faith nor hope. I cling tight to the belief that I will be healed here on Earth. But this season, this battle, this fight had brought with it a sadness that I hadn’t been able to shake off.

This question has been asked many times: “Do you ever get sad?” In fact, several people have inquired if I ever have low days. Many have shared that they always see a smile on my face. That if they had no idea about my diagnosis, they wouldn’t guess that I was fighting for my life every single day. I’m thankful that I don’t appear as a cancer patient. I’m thankful that I have beautiful wigs and that I am talented with a makeup brush. But, believe me… fighting cancer sucks. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s hell. When I was initially diagnosed almost two years ago, some even thought I was in denial. Some thought that because I wasn’t crying every second of every day, the reality must not have hit me. The truth is, it hit me from the start. I did cry. A lot. I did grieve. I had to let go of the plans my husband and I had. At 25 years old, my whole world changed. Yet, from the beginning, I chose to not let cancer ruin me. It would take my health, my fertility, my plans, but I refused to let it steal my joy, my hope, and my faith.

This season I have shed more tears. After all, I was just getting used to a cancer-free life. My hair was gorgeous, growing, and curly! I hadn’t had treatment for seven months, and I was nearly a year cancer-free. I thought that was it. I thought Matt and I could begin to forge our way into our new “normal,” healthy, happy, and whole. And because I was living life free of this awful disease, it’s recurrence this time was harder. I cried every single day for a week straight. I, stupidly and regretfully, watched sappy romance movies by myself and went through boxes of tissues. I also noticed something else. Something far more concerning. I wasn’t in The Word as often as I should be. In fact, my emotions were beginning to interfere with my relationship with Jesus. And, now that I’m finding my way out of the dark cloud, I realize that was the enemy’s goal. To sadden me to the point that my focus was no longer on my Savior, but on my grief.

The struggle through cancer is the single hardest thing I have ever had to do. Fighting for my life every single day is exasperating. No matter how tired, weak, and sad that I get, I still put on my shit-kicker boots every day and head to war. The war against the enemy. Not only against the monster that has repeatedly tried to parasitically take my life from the inside out, but also the monsters that wage war inside my mind and spirit. But I am still human, and on my own am incapable of winning this war. Without help, I will surely die. I can’t head to the front lines without armor and supernatural strength. I can’t let my emotions cloud my sight to the Almighty: the One who can and will save me from this battle, the only One who is more than capable of healing me in a matter of seconds.

Often, we allow our emotions in a circumstance to control our reaction, response, and direction. We let the enemy slither his way inside our minds as he spits venom into our spirits. We become blind and deaf to the sight and voice of Jesus. Our victory becomes dull. Our joy is diminished. And that is why it is imperative to stay focused, with our eyes on the One who can offer us hope, freedom, peace, healing, strength, and joy. No matter how different and difficult the seasons may be… No matter the peaks and valleys of our emotions… No matter… God is never-changing. He is consistent. He is who He always has been. He is the same God when I was healthy. He is faithful, and continues to have my back. He wants the best for me. Therefore, I must seek Him first. I challenge you to do the same.

Let’s stand above our emotions, and let His promises, His goodness, and His power reign.

(October 2013)

(October 2013)

1 Peter 8-11 (MSG)

“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.”

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