Posts Tagged ‘hope’

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.”

What We Need When We Need It Most

Sometimes the simplest things in life bring the most joy. Though I’ve shared monumental moments of my journey including a phone call from Peyton Manning and being on The Ellen Show, often what brings my cup to overflowing are the little things that happen in the most perfect timing.

Yesterday, I woke up and began my day as usual. Preparing breakfast and lunch for my husband, ushering the dogs outside, and analyzing the cleanliness of our home. Do I need to vacuum today? How much laundry needs to get done? What’s on my list? Long gone are the days of planning my schedule according to how many minutes it will take me to get ready… That is, until yesterday.

For the past few months, I’ve been in awe of my hair. The specific type of chemotherapy that I receive weekly does not cause hair loss. My doctors and nurses shared that though it may thin, my hair should accompany me this season. Praise God, the hair on my head has indeed remained healthy, thick, and full of curls. And, it’s still growing. I’m amazed actually. For those who personally know me, you know my hair has always been a big deal. I’ve written frequently on the topic, HERE, HERE, and HERE, as well as several other places. I used to spend too much time on my locks each morning. My hair used to be my pride and joy. Then, just like that, cancer took it away.

Having hair while undergoing chemo is paradoxical. It causes many, including myself, to scratch our heads in confusion. When most people see me and hear that I am actively fighting cancer by ingesting chemotherapy once a week, there’s a shortage in their minds. What? How is that even possible? Hair and chemotherapy? That’s the epitome of an oxymoron, right? Wrong. It all comes down to the specific chemical mixture of the chemo drug. Not all cause hair loss, just like not all make your skin fall off. (Oh yes, if you’re new here, that happened to me also.) Each drug has different side effects, however the most common is hair loss. This time I got lucky. Though suffering extreme nausea and weakness, at least my dome will be warm this winter!

If you’ve kept up with my infrequent posts these last couple of months, you’ll notice that I’ve been down in the dumps. I’ve undergone great loss, and this fight has been particularly harder than the three before. It’s taken more effort to stay on top of my emotions and remind myself that this is not forever… One day at a time. I know I’m not alone when I say, there have been more moments than I can count when I’ve been near my rock bottom, and God has reached down to pick me up in remarkable ways. Sometimes His ways are through the right person saying the right thing at the right time. It could also be through receiving a blessing at a moment when you needed it most, or even an answered prayer that you thought was an impossible dream.

Let me share my heart for a minute. God speaks to me in many ways. He speaks to all of us in fact, we just need to listen. On Sunday night, I envisioned Jesus smiling at me. It brought me both pause and joy. Have you ever imagined Jesus smiling at you? It’s an incredible image. My mind began to wander… why? Why was He smiling at me? Now I think I know. Yesterday morning, He gave me a gift that only He knew I needed.

For some reason, I decided to get my flat-iron out. I got the hair-brained idea (no pun intended), to see how long my bangs were. My hair has been growing for 40 weeks now and determining its length is near impossible considering the tightness of each curl. I have longed for the day when my hair can be put up in a ponytail again. For fear of disappointment, I have kept my hair styling tools tucked away. Until yesterday, I didn’t think I would use them until my hair noticeably needed taming. A spark arose within me, so I pulled out the flat-iron and began to straighten my bangs. Utter shock and amazement followed.

Oh my word. I have bangs. My hair is long. Compared to being bald, I have long hair! The tears began to flow as I looked at myself in the mirror. My initial thoughts were vain and aesthetic. My hair is long enough to style! I finally look a little more like my pre-cancer self! It’s been nearly three years that my hair has been anywhere near this length! Soon, however, my thoughts transitioned into a realization. God just gave me a gift.

The reality that I’ve been fighting for my life for these last three years and have been abundantly blessed to still be here, caused the tears to flood my eyes and overflow onto my cheeks. Tears for all of the moments I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a bald, sick, weak, and dying patient. Tears for all of the times I felt like giving up. Tears for the heartache, grief, and loss that Matt and I have endured. Tears that even though I’m still in the most difficult battle I have ever faced, God is FOR me. He is on my side and He cares about the little things. He knew the gift He had up His sleeve would make my day. He knew that urging me to do the simple task of flat ironing my hair would propel me into a fit of immeasurable gratitude. He, above anyone else, knew how much having bangs would mean to me. Though seemingly little to most anyone else, these bangs represent so much more than long hair. They represent life, perseverance, and blessings. They represent the goodness of God.

And just like that, I can see Him smiling at me again.

Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

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Putting a Bandaid Where It Doesn’t Belong

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Life is not meant to be lived passively, but proactively. I need to remember that. We all do. Instead of allowing life to pass by and just happen to me, I need to stake my claim and walk forward refocused in my purpose.

Recently, my journey has been harder than usual. I often feel like I’m only capable of handling a certain level of difficulty. That level has been reached, and I’ve come to the end of my capabilities. Facing an impossible level, I’ve been given a choice and, unfortunately, I chose wrong.

I have been knee-deep in a murky swamp. Mud, muck, and dark waters have enveloped me. I’ve felt slithering snakes swimming past my legs, taunting me and begging for my attention. The mud between my toes has encased my feet, urging me to stay put. Instead of trudging forward, I chose to sit down. Instead of forging a way to get out of the swamp, I stopped in my tracks. I convinced myself that I was taking a break to gather my strength and to rest. But at some point, breaks end. Eventually, you must get up and keep going.

This wasn’t a break. This was me sitting down, giving up, and not wanting to deal with what I was facing. Like a child not wanting to do something, I metaphorically went limp on the ground.

These past two months have sucked me dry — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Chemotherapy has been increasingly difficult, and good days have become few and far between. I receive the poisonous toxins once a week, therefore plenty of my days are spent on the couch, pretty useless. My nausea is often overpowering and unbearable, sitting at the base of my throat like a volcano waiting to erupt. I’m tired. There are days when I can’t imagine anything better than the comfort of our bed. Exhaustion is exhausting. Not having energy to live life on my terms is an invitation for sadness to overwhelm. Some days, the harder fight is not against cancer, but against the subsequent emotions.

Beyond the daily battle against this disease, I have faced other obstacles. Difficult hurdles and layers of grief to top off this already bumpy journey. My grandfather, whom I lovingly called, “Papa,” passed away. We were very close throughout my life, especially so in these later years as we fought the same fight alongside each other. Never would I have thought I would be fighting cancer with my Papa, but it deepened our relationship in special ways. We understood each other through each surgery, treatment, and side effect. We lifted each other up on rough days. He fought a good battle, and ultimately won the victory. Boy, do I look forward to seeing him again.

Not only did I lose my grandfather, but only a few weeks later, a close friend of mine went to be with Jesus as well. This time, it was unexpected and sudden. The type of tragedy you can never prepare for. It still doesn’t seem real. A dislodged blood clot after surgery… A mere few hours prior, I was giving her a hug, kissing her on the forehead, and wishing her well as she was to head into the operating room. We joked, laughed, and prepared for how life would look like after the procedure. I lent my words of wisdom (having gone through several surgeries before), and let her know she would be fine. The shock still comes in waves. I just can’t believe she’s gone. How I miss her so.

The combination of grief, stress, frustration, exhaustion, and sickness has weighed me down, and I simply crumbled underneath it. I sat down in the mucky swamp and, instead of resting, I merely existed. I went through the motions each day. Chemo every Wednesday. Nausea pills every six hours. Church on Sunday. Grief, like my nausea, at the surface ready to explode. Yet, I couldn’t deal with any of it.

I covered my grief and uncomfortable circumstances with bandaids. I’ve watched too much TV. I’ve eaten horribly. I’ve been snappy with my husband. I’ve introverted. And, as many of you have recognized, I stopped writing. I just couldn’t bear pouring my reflections out to the world, when my thoughts were jumbled, messy, and self-pitying. Writing is cathartic for me. It helps me process, and in turn, heals my soul. Equally as my words encourage you, they often encourage me. There are more times than I can count when I read back through an entry and know God Himself was speaking through me to me. Yet, for several weeks, I avoided it. I sat down in the swamp and went limp.

It wasn’t until I was removed from my circumstances, and was stuck in a car for thirteen hours with my husband, that I pulled the bandaids off… finally facing the wounds that were hidden underneath. We talked and I cried. Releasing what had been burdening me for weeks. And, in true character, my husband gently led me back to The Lord. I am so grateful for an encouraging husband who holds my hand, understanding and grieving with me, and guides my eyes upwards.

The problem with placing a bandaid on a wound that doesn’t need one, is it doesn’t heal. Some wounds need air for a scab to form and the healing process to take place. My wounds needed air… The refreshing air of Jesus. And instead of reaching for Him, I put a bandaid on, covering myself from healing, and went limp. The bandaids paralyzed me and put me in a passive position.

While the grief, sickness, and emotion has been painful, I have learned from it. When life gets hard and uncomfortable, our human reaction is to give up. But have you thought how your circumstances might change if you were proactive in the midst of trudging through your own swamp? We have all faced difficult seasons in our lives. Many can say that, though our circumstances may not have changed, once we became proactive, our perspectives sure did. Instead of convincing ourselves we need a break and sitting down in our muck, stand strong, be proactive, and pull the bandaid off. Allowing God to touch our wounds and heal them is a powerful act. It’s painful, but so worth it.

What swamp are you sitting in? I challenge you to pull your bandaids off, stand up, and allow God to guide you in healing.

Psalm 119:50 (ESV)

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”

 

Raising The White Flag

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There are moments when we reach the end of our rope. When no matter how hard we try to hold the pieces in place, everything continues to slip out of our grasp. When we desperately wish for things to go according to plan, just this one time. When we are this close to throwing in the towel.

We don’t realize that in those moments, all we need to do is surrender. Place our pieces on the table, push them over to God, and raise our white flag.

Surrendering is typically the hardest obstacle we face in life. Why is that? Why do we find it so hard to let go of control? Surrendering is not giving up. Surrendering is not admitting defeat. Surrendering is the strongest act of humility and trust. Surrendering is an acknowledgement that we can no longer do it on our own. To surrender is to gain.

Life with cancer has taught me to raise my white flag more often.

I’ve been MIA these past few weeks, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going through something. I was reaching the end of my rope. I was desperately grasping for straws. I was tired, unsure, stressed out, and frustrated. Sometimes I feel like my life is a bulbous onion. Layers and layers piled on top of one another. Each layer a new level made up of the stuff that makes your eyes water. Often too, I feel like a circus performer, trying to balance an innumerable amount of barrels on my head while walking across a tight rope.

We all have periods in our lives when we’re juggling too much already, only to have a few more balls get thrown into the mix, causing all of them to come tumbling down.

My car needed a repair. A repair that would cost us more than the value of the car itself. The only wise decision my husband and I could make was to purchase a new (used) vehicle. Our current lease was up soon, and we had been looking for a rental home for months. Each day we sat in front of the computer, scanning every place we could think of for used cars and rental homes. Nothing. Nothing in our price range. Nothing in our location. Too much mileage. Too expensive. Too much. Too little. Too far. Nothing. I felt defeated. I felt like we would never find what we needed. And amidst the stress of determining our next steps, my dear grandfather passed away. He fought a courageous battle against this disease, and ultimately won. Oh, and my weekly chemotherapy treatments… the cherry on top.

Stress, frustration, exhaustion, and grief all wrapped up into a tear-filled, multilayered onion.

I found myself in the shower one day — naked, alone, and vulnerable. I began to weep. Tears cascaded down my cheeks and spiraled down the drain alongside the water. My pent-up emotions heaved from my heart as I lamented my anguish. Soon, a song began to rise within my spirit. Bubbling up, forcing it’s way through my emotions, and cleansing them upon release.

“I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee my loving Savior, I surrender all…”

The words flowed out and my arms raised up. In my weakness and vulnerability, I began to worship. God Himself gently placed this hymn that I had not sung for years in my spirit. He was urging me to let go. To give Him my checklist, my worries, and my grief. And in that moment, I did. Before I knew it, the burden was lifted off and I was in complete peace over what my husband and I were facing. The feeling you get when someone you love gives you a great big hug… that’s what happened. Tears of stress transformed into tears of joy and hope.

As if God was saying, “You can’t do this, but I can. Give these tasks to me. I’ll take care of you.” Within one week, we found a car and a home. Upon my surrender, He was faithful.

Have you experienced something similar? I have, many times. Yet in those dark moments, it’s easy to forget His faithfulness. It’s easy to doubt His ability. In our humanness, we believe that we are in control. We think that if we don’t do enough nothing with happen, or if we do, we’ll reap favor. Too often, we lose sight of The One who is ultimately sovereign over our lives. No amount of us “doing” can achieve what He can. We cannot achieve our impossibles. Only God can. And, in order for this to happen, we must surrender our pieces to Him.

Surrendering is scary. Full surrender is handing both your worries and fears as well as your dreams and desires completely over to Jesus. It’s entrusting Him to handle it. It’s relinquishing control over your life. Surrendering is hard, but necessary. After all, His abilities far outweigh our own. Surrendering comes down to trust. Do we trust God?

What do you need to surrender today? I challenge you to raise your white flag.

Mark 14:35-36 (ESV)

“And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”

Photo: Flickr/lundgrenphotography 

“Hi Stephanie, This is Peyton Manning.”

peyton

The Sheriff. 18. PFM.

Peyton Freakin’ Manning.

The Denver Broncos quarterback is referred to by many nicknames. However, after Saturday afternoon, I’d primarily refer to him as genuine, kind, and authentic.

There have been many moments of incredible blessing in my fight against cancer. Abundant and overwhelming amounts of gifts, kind words, and support. The platform to meet with others and share my story. Innumerable opportunities for writing and motivating. Open doors I would have not experienced without this disease barging into my life. Though cancer has brought tremendous grief and loss, it’s also brought with it a wave of encouraging gifts and bright rays of hope.

Through my journey, I have been stripped raw of my previous notions about life. Cancer tends to do that — quickly sloughing off areas that don’t really matter. It cuts down to the marrow and brings an awareness of who we should be and how we should respond to those around us. What car we drive, what house we live in, and how much money we make is trivial in the grand scheme of things. Life is about relationships. Life is about compassion towards each other. Life is about finding joy no matter the circumstance. Life is about uncovering hope and sharing it with those around us.

On Saturday, Matt and I spent time with family. Catching up with his dad and grandparents, chatting about my upcoming season of treatment, and sharing laughter as usual. I’m blessed by his family, and from the moment he brought me home to meet them, they welcomed me with open arms. When I was diagnosed nearly three years ago, they wept with us. They rallied around us and have fervently prayed alongside us for my healing. His grandparents are some of the sweetest people I have ever met. His grandfather, a ninety year old World War II veteran, shared his excitement about his upcoming “honor flight” to visit the memorials in Washington DC. Matt’s grandmother told us how she loves her new iPad and enjoys playing Candy Crush and keeping up to date with her grandkids through Facebook.

Soon, we said goodbye and began the trek back home. Barely ten minutes into the drive, my phone began to ring. Immediately, “No Caller ID” appeared on the screen, and I was left wondering who was on the other end. Considering our adventures through medical bills, I tend to assume it’s someone asking for our money. I answered, “Hi, this is Stephanie,” and was shocked at the voice I heard in response.

“Hi Stephanie, this is Peyton Manning.”

The steady southern drawl behind the five-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion was saying my name. Peyton Manning was calling me on my cell phone. Believe me, I’m still in shock. In utter amazement, I asked, “Are you for real!?” only to be answered with a polite, “Yes, it’s Peyton.” Peyton… THE Peyton. Manning. Peyton Freakin’ Manning. Oh my word. My Denver Broncos quarterback was talking to me. He went on to explain that my husband had written him a letter sharing my story and that he wanted to personally reach out to to tell me that he was praying for me and cheering me on. We spoke for a while. He asked about my upcoming treatment, sharing well wishes and telling me to continue to fight strong. He was so nice. Yet nice doesn’t fully describe him. Invested. Peyton was invested in my story, and was genuinely interested in knowing how I was doing.

The conversation came to a close, as the team was heading to San Francisco for the upcoming pre-season game against the 49ers. I thanked Mr. Manning for taking time out of his busy schedule to call me. We said goodbye and hung up. Then, I screamed. I stared at my husband wide-eyed, with the largest grin plastered on my face. I could not believe that Matt had written Peyton Manning, and more-so that Peyton Manning had read his letter and personally responded. I cried tears of happiness and disbelief and asked, “Did that really happen?” more times than I can recall.

The man that you see throwing accurately targeted passes to his receivers is more than a great football player. He is a class-act, devoted to more than just the game. Though meticulously focused on the field, he understands with great awareness the impact he has outside the lines of the gridiron. His life displays compassion, and he has always focused on using his platform as a way to bless others. This was no more apparent to me than during our conversation. This man, with arguably the highest profile job in professional sports and a full schedule both on and off the field, took a moment out of his life to reach out to me and share encouragement.

Though a small gesture to some, the lasting impact our conversation will have on my life is unforgettable. Life is about relationships and those around us. No matter his fame and presence in the National Football League, Peyton Manning gets it. He understands that life is found in bringing joy to others. For that, I am grateful.

Thank you, Peyton.

(As a side note, Peyton Manning played a phenomenal game after our conversation, going 12/14 for 102 yards, 1 touchdown, and a rating of 120.8 in just over one quarter of play in a 34-0 Broncos win. That being said, I’ll gladly assume the position of the good luck charm for the Denver Broncos this season.)

Philippians 2:4 (ESV)

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

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.”

 

 

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