Posts Tagged ‘radical hysterectomy’

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.

Man-on-Pause

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

Baldalicious in a blonde wig. (March 2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chemo nails. Gross. (March 2013)

Chemo nails. Gross. (March 2013)

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

But, dammit. I still hate menopause.

Proverbs 31:30 (MSG Version)

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

Thank You, cancer

Four days and one year ago I was first diagnosed. I realized it was my “one year anniversary” by seeing another friend recently post about hers. We were diagnosed around the same time, yet have completely different stories. It’s incredible to me how one cancer diagnosis can be so different from another. And how the journey can take people in vastly different directions. The one thing we have in common throughout our adventure through cancer is our deep, passionate, and overflowing faith in God. No matter the treatment regimen, location of residency, age, or actual diagnosis, our foundations are the same. We both love Jesus and trust that He will carry us through this fight and heal our bodies. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it: I can’t imagine not having my faith through this journey.

Without faith I would be unable to see the blessings that God has poured over my life this past year. Without faith I would be unable to find true joy in the midst of such sorrow and tragedy. Without faith I would be unable to hope for a better tomorrow. Without faith I would be unable to be genuinely thankful for this story God has given me.

This past year has been a roller coaster. It’s had its ups, downs, and twists along the way. At some points it’s been similar to the rides that take you forward on the tracks just to pull you backwards again. I’ve laughed and cried. And cried some more. I’ve had so many good days where cancer hasn’t been in the mix, and I’ve had several bad days where my diagnosis has slapped me in the face. I’ve felt victorious and defeated. I’ve been knocked down, kicked around, and beat up by the plethora of treatments my body has had to endure. I’ve become somewhat of a medical professional, and have knowledge of terms that never existed a year ago. Yet even though the adventure continues and is far from over, I still refuse to give up.

The beginning of the battle. Almost one year ago. Stephanie and Matt, February 2012

The beginning of the battle. Stephanie and Matt, February 2012

Many times throughout my twenty-six years I have wished to fast forward. Wished to see what was to come. Wished to skip the crap and get to the good stuff. Wished to see what we had planned. Yet, if God had allowed me to get a sneak peek a year ago, I would be terrified. I’d want to reverse. I’d want to go back in time and not have to face the future. And while there are still moments that I wish to see five years from now, I am reminded that God hasn’t given me the grace for it yet. He’s given me grace for today, so today is what I shall focus on. But, dammit…sometimes that’s just so hard to do! Most likely, if I had been allowed a peek behind the curtain in January of 2012 to see what the stage would unveil, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the many blessings God had prepared for me. Most likely, I would have only seen the storms brewing. I would have seen a scary diagnosis, poor prognosis, sickness, pain, sorrow, grief, and exhaustion.

This year, the blessings have been abundant. I have grown tremendously. Spiritually. Emotionally. Physically. Dare I say, “Thank  you, cancer?”

First, I will tell you what I know. I do not believe God has given me this disease. Rather, He has allowed it. Anything good comes from Him…and disease is not one of them. Disease sucks. So, if it’s not from God, it’s from the enemy. The enemy will try every last effort to defeat your mind, spirit, and body. However, I also know that what the enemy tries to make bad, God will turn around and create good. I see it as Jesus saying, “Oh really? Ha. See what I can do with that crap!” And so I will stand firm in that as well. Therefore, dare I say, “Thank you, cancer!”

One year later. Stephanie and Matt. January 2013.

Without a diagnosis I would not have had 90% of the blessings I received this year. I would have been blessed, but differently. With this diagnosis, my husband and I have discovered a deeper love for each other and for our Savior. We’ve learned and are living our vows of “in sickness and in health.” We’ve discovered a deeper meaning of loyalty, compassion, respect, honor, and love for one another. In fact, I can adamantly say I am more in love with Matt today than I ever have been. I respect him more than anyone on the face of this Earth. He is an amazing man. These trials have only strengthened our marriage. So, thank you, cancer.

With this diagnosis I have become more passionate of self-awareness, and now understand my body from head to toe. If something feels wrong, something is wrong. Thank you, cancer. With this diagnosis, I have had the opportunity to meet a wonderful team of medical personnel, and have forged a bond that will last a lifetime. The nurses and doctors I see on a weekly basis have become dear friends of mine, and I look forward to every visit, simply because I get to spend time with them. Thank you, cancer.

With this diagnosis, I have fodder for a blog. And this blog has blown up and expanded in ways I never imagined. People from all over the world take time out of their lives to read the words I write. Many readers have shared their discoveries of inspiration and hope through this blog. And many have shared how my journey helps them through theirs. Thank you, cancer. With this diagnosis, doors have opened to dreams I never knew existed. My husband and I will now have the pleasure of a unique story to parenthood. No excruciating childbirth for me, hooray! We will be able to adopt children that are in need of a loving home. We have discovered a hope for our children that didn’t exist a year ago. So, thank you, cancer.

With this diagnosis, my purpose has been revealed. Sharing my adventure publicly is what I am called to do, and opportunities are presenting themselves left and right. Being on the radio was just the tip of the iceberg. Thank you, cancer. With this diagnosis, our church has become our family. We have been picked up and supported by our group of dear friends and Christ followers. We have unveiled a deeper meaning of “friendship” and “fellowship”, and are grateful to have them standing in support by our sides. Thank you, cancer.

With this diagnosis, our families and friends have become closer. We talk more. We spend more time together. We value moments differently than we did a year ago. Thank you, cancer. With this diagnosis, our community is coming together. One goal. One purpose. Thank you, cancer.

With this diagnosis, I am learning more about myself. I am stubborn. I am strong. I am a fighter. I look good bald. I am funny…Or so, I think. Thank you, cancer.

While I am thankful that my adventure through cancer has led to many blessings, I ultimately owe my thanks to God. With this diagnosis, love has blossomed, doors have opened, prayers have been answered, gifts have appeared, purpose has been revealed, and blessings have poured out. So, dare I say… “Thank you, God.”

2 Corinthians 1:20-22 (MSG Version)

“Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.”

Bittersweet and Thankful

Matt and Stephanie. (May 2010)

We’ve been waiting for nearly a year to hear the news. Are biological children a part of our story?

You can read about when we first had to make the difficult decision to either proceed with my hysterectomy, or to hold off and harvest my eggs here . Thankfully, we proceeded with the surgery and I am still alive today. Cancer-free, mind you. Because my Oncologist understood our desire for biological children, and because my ovaries had not been touched by this disease, she decided to transpose them to a higher location in my abdomen; she moved them with hopes that they could be protected from the harmful radiation procedures. Three months after my last cancer treatment, we were told I could take a blood test that would determine if my ovaries were still in working condition. I took the FSH/LH/Estrogen test last week and we received the results a couple of days ago.

“Your current FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) is at a 48.8. A normal FSH is less than 10, and an FSH greater than 20 is generally not recommended to use your own eggs to try to get pregnant. At a 48, it’s unfortunately pretty bad news. It looks like your cancer treatments had a very bad effect on your ovaries, which is pretty common. It looks like that is probably not an option now.”

For those who have been close to us through this journey, you know that we just wanted an answer. Is it a yes or a no for “bio-kids?” Regardless of the outcome, we wanted to know what path we needed to further investigate. Although it’s bittersweet, we are very thankful to finally have an answer. And God is still good. We now can focus more on the process of finding our children, and not on the process of personally conceiving our own. Adoption is a life-changing journey for all involved, and we have spoken about this option before we even got married. Adoption has always been on the table. To be honest, we thought it would be just that… an option. However, we have now discovered that God has intentionally called us to this form of parenting. Although our fertility nurse has told us that it’s bad news, we are choosing to see it as a blessing. Our story continues to have chapters that few people experience, and for that not only are we grateful, but we think it’s pretty cool, too.

Being grateful is a powerful thing. When you can look beyond your circumstances and see the gifts you’ve been blessed with, your life will transform. My husband and I are thankful that I am still here on this earth. Because of that, I can continue to be a loving wife and will still have the chance to be a mother someday. We are thankful that God continues to reign over our story and direct our path. We are thankful that we have each other and are confident that our journey to adoption is going to be full of joy. We continue to look forward to uncovering God’s plan for our lives, and we will never cease our praise for the wonderful things He has done and will continue to do. Even though our hearts were set, God knows ultimately what is best for us. And frankly, how awesome is it that we get to go down the road less traveled?!

Alongside our grateful hearts, we are still grieving. Through marriage you learn the differences between men and women, and this adventure has continued to shine light on that. As a woman, I think we generally process things a lot quicker. I have been grieving since the day my reproductive organs were removed. It’s gotten easier as the days and months have gone by, but there are still moments where I am sad that I will never be able to feel my child from inside my womb. Men take a little longer to process change. Matt has held on and believed with great faith that my eggs would still be alive and well. With this news, it has brought a finality to the hope he carried. For him, it’s almost as if the grieving has just begun. We ask that you continue to pray for peace and understanding in this time. We are in this together, and continue to cling to each other on this roller coaster through life. The fact still remains: Matt will be a daddy, and I a mommy; We WILL be parents. No matter if our children come from our bodies or from someone else’s they will still be our own. It’ll be a momentous occasion when we can tell our children how truly hard we fought for them.

Now that we know how we will have children, many are probably wondering when we will begin “trying” for kids. We are blessed to have several friends who have chosen adoption, or who themselves are adopted; therefore, we have many close resources to turn to. We will begin researching, learning, and gathering as much information about adoption that we possibly can. However, we have decided that until I reach my two-year mark clean and clear of cancer, children are going to have to wait a little while. After all, we want to make sure that our children get a healthy mom and not a sick one. Until we decide to be open for placement, we will continue to fill our brains with as much knowledge that can fit. We will attend seminars, information meetings, and read as many articles on adoption that is available to us. We believe that the more knowledge we obtain, the better the journey will be.

We have been praying for our children for years, and look forward to when God chooses to place them into our life. For now, He’s got them…And I feel confident knowing, He’s the best babysitter out there.

Psalm 113:4-9 (The Message)

“God is higher than anything and anyone, outshining everything you can see in the skies. Who can compare with God, our God, so majestically enthroned, surveying his magnificent heavens and earth? He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash, seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best. He gives childless couples a family, gives them joy as the parents of children. Hallelujah!”

“Someday You Will Dance Light-Footed”

I’m nearing my second to last treatment, and I can’t help but to be excited. My devotional today (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young) hit such a tender chord in my heart. I’ll share it with you…

“Keep walking with Me along the path that I have chosen for you. Your desire to live close to Me is a delight to My heart. I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you. Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain. The journey is arduous at times, and you are weak. Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; but for now, your walk is often plodding and heavy. All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction. Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend. Stay on the path I have selected for you. It is truly the path of Life.”

God has given me such grace for this journey, and I can’t help but continue to take one step at a time and look forward to the future. No, this is not the path that I, nor my husband, would have chosen for our lives. But, I often find myself celebrating that His path for us is so much greater than we could have ever imagined. Like God tells us, life is going to downright suck sometimes; It’s going to knock us down and drag us through the mud. But all He requires of us is to have faith. True, unabandoned faith. Cling to Him for strength and guidance. If we do our part, He will do His. Keep climbing the mountain, because you are not alone. He is your hiking partner and coach. When you think your legs are about to give out and when you run out of water, He will restore you and quench your thirst. And keep in mind the final goal: to be dancing “light-footed on the high peaks!” What a great visual this devotion today has given me. It’s incredibly easy to slide into the emotional and mental pit and begin thinking of the horrible things that could happen. Friends, I’m not oblivious to the facts of my diagnosis. I am fully aware that I could very well die during this battle. But that’s not what I choose to focus on. In fact, like in this message by Sarah Young, God calls me to focus on something so much greater. Greater than I am sometimes able to fathom. And, by standing in faith and continuing to turn the pages of the story God has written for me, He will reveal the surprises He has prepared for me “just around the bend”. I welcome you to believe with me that I will be fully healed here on Earth. Believe with me that one of the biggest surprises He has planned for me is life, a multiplied family, and a story to share down here. Cancer will not overcome me. God created me for more than this.

I have such a burning passion and overwhelmed heart for children. Children of my own. And for most of my life I believed that my “own” meant flesh and blood, biological, from my womb. But as I turn these pages of the story, I learn more and more that my husband and I will walk down a path we never would have imagined for ourselves. Biological children might not be our story. However, they might be with the help of a gestational carrier. Truth be told, God only gives us certain pieces to the puzzle at certain times. It’s in His timing, not ours. Be thankful for that. After all, if He gave us the entire picture, would we need Him? No. I don’t ever want to wake up and not need Jesus.

I’m sure there will come a day where we decide to publicly share all of the details in our fertility adventure, but for now I’ll share a little snip-it. Let me first give you some recent history. Frankly, my husband and I aren’t sure what path to children God has for us. And, being the planner that I am, I SO wish I knew. I’d be lying if I were to say it wasn’t hard sometimes a lot of the time. I dream of children. I refer to myself as having “baby fever”. My husband has it too, just not as bad. Let’s just say he’s got “baby sniffles”. However, his subdued feelings are simply because he is looking forward to the time he and I will share as a couple once I defeat this thing. And, I agree, we do need time for the two of us again once the treatment battle is complete. So, to continue… Knowing my heart, a few weeks ago my oncologist informed us that there are a series of tests that can determine if my ovaries are still functioning. We immediately were overjoyed that we might know sooner than expected if we still had the opportunity for IVF and a gestational carrier (more commonly known as a surrogate, but there is a difference between the two). Needless to say, she ordered the test to be performed via blood draw. About a week later, we received the results. I can’t tell you how nervous we were in waiting for the outcome. This had the potential to significantly direct our path for children. However, God wasn’t ready for us to know.

The results came back with differing answers. Part of the test showed I was post-menopausal and the other part said I could still be ovulating. Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one confused! Essentially, it’s too soon to know what my ovaries are doing or not doing right now, and my doctor informed me that I could take the tests three months after treatment is complete for a more realistic result. My initial feeling, and one that still creeps up on me, is that of disappointment. We desperately want to know what direction God wants us to travel. Truth is, we are overjoyed with both surrogacy and adoption. However, we would have loved to have a more solid answer in order for us to fully embrace one option. I like to know things, and man, did I want to know how God would gift us with kids. But again, for whatever reason, He doesn’t want us to know yet. It’s all in His timing. He’s going to reveal the next step when He feels we are ready. I just pray we are ready soon!

My purpose in sharing our most recent fertility experience is to inspire and ask you to pray with us for the “sparkling surprises” in our future. Only God knows what they are, and we continue to pray and stand in faith that children are some of those sparklers. Clearly God wants me to focus on the steps laid out before me right now. Children will be in our future, but for now I still must fight. I’m not out of the battle yet. Hallelujah that I have God right next to me in this one. I am elated when I imagine myself currently forging a pathway with God up the mountain. My heart is overjoyed as I dream of the day when I will be dancing light-footed on the high peak…

Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Tooting Travels

I figured I should share one of the most memorable moments in the hospital with you all. This special occasion was tooting. You see, I needed to complete this action before I was to be discharged. Passing gas doesn’t seem like too big of a feat to many of you, does it? I assure you though, if that is how you think, in my perspective you are highly incorrect.

Immediately after surgery, and still to this day, my stomach looks distended. A couple of days after the procedure, one of my nurses informed me why. It’s gas. During the surgery, my doctors had to put air inside of me to expand the areas in order to get a better view of what they needed to move and remove. Once they sewed me back up, some of the air remained, and transformed into body gas. All gas in your body needs to exit at some point. Burping and farting (more politely referred to as “tooting” by my nurses), is very natural. We all do it. Men and women. Old and young. It’s a common occurrence of the human biology. Many people find humor in it. Which makes sense, because when flatulence is lacking, it is all but humorous…

Let me just jump right to the main show. I began experiencing pain mid afternoon on Friday. Once I informed my nurses, they explained the reasoning behind my pain. Simply put, it was the build up of gas. And it needed to come out. The only way it could be released was through me tooting. Seems easy enough, huh? Wrong. I never knew passing gas could be so difficult. It just wasn’t happening. I could audibly hear my stomach churning, gurgling, and moaning, but nothing was making it’s way to the exit sign. The pain that continued to build was becoming nearly unbearable.

Fortunately for him, my husband was out that night with my step-dad and papa. I had told him to have a night with the guys to get out and take a break. I can only imagine how draining it is for someone to take care of me 24/7. Typically, he would’ve resisted my requests, but he came to the conclusion that I was probably right. All 3 guys enjoyed a  much needed fun night at a little bar downtown, playing pool and drinking beer. Guy stuff. Because he was out that night, my lovely and beautiful mom took his place. She and my step-dad visited with us a lot during my stay at the hospital, but we usually gave them the boot in the evening so we could have our private time. No naughty thoughts, people. Major surgery doesn’t allow for much physical intimacy like you’re imagining. I wish.

About an hour after Matt had left, or at least according to my “Delaudid time frame”, my stomach felt like it was a ticking time bomb. It appeared to have grown double the size, felt rock solid and protruded even further than the regular distend. I was describing it to my nurses and mom that there could easily be 3 or 4 balloons full of air inside all the spaces of my abdomen. They didn’t feel like they would pop. Rather, that more air would fill them, and they would continue to grow and grow.

My night nurse made the decision to give me Gas-X to relieve the pain. This specific medication breaks up the gas into smaller pockets, so they can be released easier. Still, nothing. The war in my stomach was not being called off any time soon. The nurse soon gave me directions to help assist the gas outwards. These steps included rolling from side to side, sitting up, and walking around. If you’ve read my previous entry about movement in the hospital, you know that it would be appropriate to laugh at that. HA, you want me to not just move, but roll around from side to side!? Oh I don’t think so. But, soon enough, my pain led me to it.

I felt awful for my poor mom who could only sit and watch. There was physically nothing she could do for me. There was nothing anyone could do for me, it had to be done on my own behalf. Another dammit, and multiple other expletives escaped my mouth during these throes of agony, as I’m sure you can imagine. I was writhing in my hospital bed. Rocking back and forth slowly, because any movement caused other areas to hurt. I would sit up just to lay right back down. Sometimes with the amazing help of my mom, I would get out of bed and walk around my room, hunched over holding my stomach. In my mind, all I needed was for someone to jump on my belly and all the gas would burst out of me, and all would be well. But, wait. That wasn’t possible. I had a fresh incision that would most definitely not be happy with that.

After hours of tears, writhing, moaning, complaining, walking, rocking, and moving around, no toots. I felt defeated. Defeated by flatulence, folks. How pathetic! My night nurse stopped by and assessed my situation again, and decided to give me a different type of medicine, a muscle relaxer. Through my expedition and determination to release gas, I had the rest of my body worked up and achingly sore. Within 2 minutes of administering Ativan, I was out like a light. What I remember her saying before I drifted off to sleep was, “This seems to be the problem on the floor tonight, many other women are experiencing the same thing. But the good news is, 2 other women just tooted! And I’m betting you’re next!”

I awoke to find my mom gone, and my husband in his little recliner that had transformed into his bed during our stay at the hospital hotel. Feeling a little more relaxed, I got up by myself as to not wake my sleeping love, and walked around a little. I slowly but surely began noticing the gas finding the exit sign. Ladies and gentlemen, it did not happen all at once. A teensy weensy tiny little bitty toot departed from my body. This for me was reason to dance and praise God! Finally! One toot leads to many others, and in my case it did. Over the course of the next 2 days, my gas had nearly completely dissipated and I was relieved! Now, I could really focus on the main thing: my incision and it’s healing.

It may seem funny to us to pray to God for certian requests, but He doesn’t find them humorous. He takes to heart every prayer you send to him, every desire of your heart. Even prayers for toots do not go unheard.

Psalm 107:28-31 (Message Version)

“Then you called out to God in your desperate condition; He got you out in the nick of time. He quieted the wind down to a whisper, put a muzzle on all the big waves. And you were so glad when the storm died down, and He led you safely back to the harbor. So thank God for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children He loves.”

I’m Back From the Hospital Hotel

Hello friends, family, and strangers! I’M BACK! It’s such a blessing to be writing to you all from my blog again. It’s one step closer to full recovery, and it also means I’m feeling better at this moment. As you’ll soon learn, these moments are few and far between lately.

However, God is good. Always. He’s never-failing, never-ceasing, and never-disappointing. As my incredible husband mentioned in his previous posts, surgery went successfully. And while my stay at the “hospital hotel” is now over, I’d love to fill you in on my visit. And oh boy, was it a visit…

I awoke in recovery and was groggier than I have ever been in my life. Thank you Lord, for medicine! Apparently, I was in recovery for a LOT longer than I should have been. Looking back from the other side, it doesn’t matter to me, for I now know the reason. My room took a while to clean. You may be thinking, a hospital room took long to clean? They aren’t even that big. Well, I shall inform you, they can be. Lead in to yet another gift God dropped down for me: one of our closest family friends works for the hospital. He is higher on the food chain, and was able to talk to his people and get me a suite rather than a room. Seriously, wow! Even when I was wheeled in the first time, while high in the clouds on meds, I was still able to tell it was an enormous and very nice hospital room. That, among my family and friends being there, was the greatest addition to my hospital experience. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You know who you are.

For those who have been in a hospital bed for a few days, you will understand when I say my days and times all blurred into one big mess. I couldn’t tell you if it was morning or night. I couldn’t tell you if it was Thursday or Saturday. Thankfully, I could remember my name and birthday, because they asked me that frequently. Not only was I not able to differentiate times, the first couple days I really didn’t feel very lucid at all. I had just received a very invasive surgery, and required extensive doses of Dilaudid to keep me comfortable. The day after my surgery, which I now know to be Thursday, I could barely keep both of my eyes viewing the same thing! I knew I was feeling weird, but I didn’t comprehend how “weird” I was acting until my husband showed me videos of me trying to do simple things, like eat a popsicle, or apply chapstick. No, my husband is not cruel. He just knows me very well. I learn this more and more each day. These “home videos” showed me even more how well he gets what’s going on in my head. Had I been able to step away from my body, I would have recorded myself. I love knowing every step of the process, and I’m very thankful that my husband understands and accepts this. I still enjoy watching those 3 videos that are only a few minutes long of me doing “simple” tasks. Trust me, they are hilarious! And, man, was I in a Dilaudid dream!

My days in the hospital were hard. Let’s be real. You all know by now that I’m authentic. I lay it all out there. Here I go again. My days in the hospital were the hardest and most painful days I’ve had thus far. For you to comprehend my pain level, I’ll need to explain what Dilaudid is. This specific pain management medication can be most easily compared to the well-known drug, Morphine. Morphine is strong, folks… Dilaudid is as well. It’s ranked right up there with the “gold standards” of pain medication. Point is, even the constant flow of Dilaudid through my IV didn’t cut through the pain. It was hard to move. When I say move, I mean, move anything. Turning my head was painful. Readjusting in my bed, which needed to happen frequently, was excruciating. And once I got to the point where I was able to sit up, the pain really kicked in. Like I’ve said before, I’ve never experienced more than the removal of my wisdom teeth, so this was not only new, but on a completely different level for me.

My incision is right above my pubic hairline, which is very low. Once fully healed, I’ll still be able to wear “low-rise” jeans without my scar showing. It is, however, still in my abdominal region. A region we use for everything. Bending over. Twisting. Coughing. Blowing our noses. Walking. Crying. Laughing. Drinking. Eating. Using the bathroom. Getting dressed. Brushing our teeth. And more. I now know exactly why our abdomen is called our “core”. It definitely is the core of all movement in our bodies. And that sucks when it’s been cut open and is vulnerable and sore. It makes everything difficult. There were a couple of mornings when I needed to clear my throat and blow my nose, and those typically simple (and very taken for granted) tasks became hour-long excursions. Whenever I moved, I had to put pressure on the pillow on my belly. This helped- how shall I say it?- things stay in place.

Having friends and family visit was a true gift. Although, for those who visited me the night and day after surgery, it might have been sad and entertaining all at once. You special ones, were able to see me in my Dilaudid dream! I now understand what it takes for people to visit others in the hospital. You’ve got to be able and willing to see it all. You can’t be deeply irritated by sounds of moaning, sights of writhing or silent tears. And you definitely can’t be offended if the patient falls asleep in the middle of a conversation. I was privy to all of the above. And to those who stood by me, prayed for me, brushed my tears away, gave soft hugs, and encouraging words, I will always be grateful for you. Among my visitors, I had some surprises. My Nanny and Papa (maternal grandparents), and my 2 younger brothers all flew in from around the country to be with me. I am very close with my family, so the sights of these 3 had me in tears. What a gift it is to receive time with loved ones we don’t see often enough. In addition, my husband worked it out where I could FaceTime with my dad while in the hospital. For most of us, our parents voices are very comforting, and my dad’s gave me deep comfort during this time. Not only was he able to see me lying motionless in bed, but he was able to view me walking for the first time! Technology is amazing these days. For those who resist the change, rethink your reasoning.

Among my friends and family, I also received visits from my other doctors. Remember my Gynecologist who diagnosed me with cancer? The one I refer to as my personal detective? She stopped by to see how I was doing. I adore seeing her face and hearing her voice. She is the one person God blessed me with to discover my disease. She truly saved my life. I will forever be thankful for her. My Oncologist’s assistant also dropped in, and like Matt stated in previous entries, she brought with her a guardian angel pin for me to wear. These simple acts of kindness mean the world to me. They show me that people really do care. That I’m not just a patient. For those of us affected by disease, who visit doctors and hospitals frequently now, we deeply appreciate when we aren’t just another patient. When we are seen as someone other than a walking hospital gown.

Overall, my stay at the hospital hotel was a rough one filled with blessings. An excruciating one with many smiles. A sad one filled with laughter. A defeating one triumphed by victory. And God continued to be there through it all. Some times people may wonder, where is God? Why is He is making me go through this? Can’t He understand this is hurting me? But the truth is, God is always there with you. He doesn’t make you go through certain trials, He allows you to go through them. He allows us to experience pain, suffering, hurt, loss, and grief in order for us to learn something. After all, what would our lives be if they were easy all the time? Would we learn anything? Would we grow? No. We, as human beings, need to be challenged. And, as for me, I’m thankful for a God who challenges me. Even though the midst of these trials may royally suck, I look forward to the knowledge I will gain because of this. The story I will have.

You know, all of our journeys are unique ones. God gives each of us different stories to tell. Different chapters, different words, different characters, different plots. I believe He does this so we can personally learn and grow, and so that we can share them with others, so that they too, can grow. Be reminded that God also allows us personal victories, good days, and happiness. He is not only the author of the crap, but He also writes our greatest times as well. We gain knowledge through these victories, but as for me, I gain a hellofalot more knowledge through my trials. I am thankful for my journey. Don’t get me wrong, just because I’m thankful, doesn’t mean I always like it. However, my thankfulness is rooted in the fact that God will bless me for being faithful. He will bless me with things I can’t even imagine yet. These trials he puts us through will always result in reward. It’s the truth. God guarantees it.

As I have grown and gone through many trials in my life (this being by far the biggest and most difficult), I choose to view these shitty circumstances not as “Why?” moments, but rather as “What are You teaching me?” adventures. God is working in me. He is teaching me something that will benefit my future. He is honing my character. I look forward to the person I will become due to this diagnosis and the immense blessings He will pour out to me.

1 Peter 5:8-10 (Message Version)

“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 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.”

Homecoming: Update #4

I am happy to say that today is the day that Stephanie gets to come home! That means I need to get in what I want to say, because soon, Stephanie will start writing again.

Yesterday was (overall) a good day. Stephanie was up, alert, and active. She was taking a lot of walks through her hallway and she was doing so well, in fact, that they took her off of her IV and pain pump. It was great to see her with nothing attached to her. No tubes going every which way and no more entanglements whenever she wanted to move. Stephanie also was able to change into a custom hospital gown (guardian angel pin included) that was made especially for her. Those who know Stephanie know that she isn’t one to blend in with the crowd. Yesterday was such a turning point, she even asked (actually, told) me to go out and have a guy’s night with her stepdad and grandpa. She said I deserved to go out and have some fun, so I did, and we had a great time, celebrating a successful surgery and the defeat of the cancer (surgically, at least). But what a fantastic, remarkable woman. There she was, laying in a hospital bed, and still thinking of other people. That girl of mine has one huge heart.

Today, I was shocked to wake up and find her walking around by herself. She had a bit of a painful night due to gas buildup in her stomach, but you’d never be able to tell. She brushed her hair and even put on a little bit of makeup. It got to the point where she was tidying up her room. “Everything has its place,” she always says, and she’s right. Needless to say, I now sit in a room that is much cleaner.

Not long after I woke up, we got a visit from Stephanie’s surgeon. She came in and checked up, then the discussion turned to filling scripts and following up with the radiologist and herself in a couple weeks to check on healing and talk about radiation and chemo. Filling scripts and following up? It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the good news: Stephanie was going to be home soon.

Sure enough, as I type this, we are free to go as soon as we get discharge instructions. However, Stephanie wanted a nap beforehand, so once again, I type from her bedside and she is fast asleep, free of cords and tubes and beeping machines. Awesome.

In a nutshell, that is the latest. God is good all the time and He always provides. He is “Jehovah Jireh, my provider,” indeed. He’s seen us through this surgery. Although this operation was the first hurdle, it is a victory. There is victory in Jesus, Stephanie is living proof of that! Thank you everyone for praying, and thank you to those who have visited and have sent cards and flowers. Flowers are in abundance in this room (and needless to say, it smells awesome)!

Thank you everyone for everything.

Matthew 6:31-34 (Message Version)
“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ‘Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.’”

The Day After: Update #3

Hello everyone,

Today was an eventful day for my lovely lady. Stephanie is on a diet of clear liquids right now, so she has been putting down the water and ice chips like it’s no one’s business. And, although I wouldn’t classify it as any type of “clear liquid” (actually, it’s neither of those), Stephanie has been able to have popsicles. Those, too, have been put down like it’s no one’s business.

Pain-wise, Stephanie is doing pretty good. Standing, of course, hurts like no other. Apparently, she stood up with a nurse early this morning while I was still asleep. Sneaky, sneaky. Stephanie is finding out that being in a hospital (I guess) is one of the best ways to feel itchy like crazy. Her mother and I have been her honorary scratchers.

I suppose the biggest news of the day came when I wasn’t even in the room. Stephanie insisted that I go home, get a shower and clean clothes, and relax. Of course, once home, I found myself getting anxious because I wasn’t with her, so I returned to find out that while I was gone, Stephanie walked. With the help of her mother and a nurse, she got out of her bed, walked to the door of her room, and walked back. Her bed is roughly 15 feet from her door, so this is super impressive. While this event proved to be painful, it was good that she did it.

Also, this afternoon, Stephanie was ecstatic to see her brother and his girlfriend walk into her room. They both attend Oklahoma State (Go Pokes!), so this was a big deal. It means so much to Stephanie to have family around her, and it will just get better when her other brother gets in tomorrow!

Needless to say, all this activity made my gal a bit tired. After her grandparents, brother and his girlfriend left, Stephanie got to FaceTime with her dad (if only for three minutes). The call had to be cut short because she was falling asleep as they talked.

That left Stephanie’s mom, stepdad, and myself in the far side of the room as she slept. As we were eating (and as Stephanie was in her drug-induced la-la-land), we had a visitor. It was the nurse from Stephanie’s oncologist/surgeon’s office. She wanted to check up on her and see how she was doing, but also came with a gift in tow: a guardian angel pin. Stephanie’s surgeon wears a guardian angel pin; she wore one on her jacket during our family consultation just a mere two weeks ago, and she had it on her jacket yesterday when she came out to visit with us following the surgery.

Now, Stephanie sports her own guardian angel pin as a gift from her surgeon. It is pinned to her hospital gown. What a sweet surprise that was! We definitely know that God has sent His angels to watch over and care for my wife, and this was a confirmation of that truth.

Stephanie sleeps now, as she will be needing her strength tomorrow. She is resting comfortably and we continue to praise the Lord for His provision in our lives. Thank you for remembering us in your prayers. Goodnight all.

Psalm 91:11-16 (Message Version)
“He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go. If you stumble, they’ll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling. You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes, and kick young lions and serpents from the path. ‘If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,’ says God, ‘I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!’”

Surgery Day: Update #2

Blessings abound!

What a whirlwind of a day. About two hours after Stephanie went back, her surgeon (regarded to be one of the best surgeons in the country for these kinds of procedures) came out to meet with us to let us know that surgery was complete. She said Stephanie did VERY well during the operation and that she was able to get a good “margin” around what she needed to get. This means that she was able to safely remove the bad tissue. It’s kind of like removing a bruised part of an apple. No one wants the bruise, but you remove some of the good stuff around the bad stuff so that all that is left is good stuff (if that makes any sense).

That troublesome pest of a lymph node has also been removed, and surrounding areas were taken and will be biopsied to determine if the cancer has spread further. Overall, Stephanie did great and our prayers for a successful surgery were answered. A side note: Stephanie’s surgeon told us that she said a prayer for Stephanie before the operation. How awesome is that?!

Right now, I am blogging from her bedside. I will be with Stephanie every night until we can come home together. The main thing right now is Stephanie’s pain level. Our main prayer request now would be that the pain management would be handled well. We would also appreciate prayers for healthy rest!

My mom always played a Tom Petty song when I was growing up, and it’s called, “The Waiting.” The chorus includes the line, “The waiting is the hardest part.” That’s not a flippin joke. Waiting sucks. While my lovely wife and I were separated, I was anxious. The only thing I wanted to do and the only place I wanted to be was with her. But I took comfort in the knowledge that God was, is, and always will be with her. Like He was with her, He was also with me, and that gave me the peace and endurance to be patient. Like Stephanie said in an earlier post, God is the ultimate physician. For that, we give thanks.

All in all, it was a big day. A turning point in our lives, a turning point in the path God has set for us. What a remarkable story He is crafting! We’re blessed to have our faith tested and to be instruments of His goodness. His love and mercy abound. We have an awesome God.

As always, thank you for your prayers. Update to come tomorrow. Bless you all and keep the faith.

John 16:33 (Message Version)
“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

1 2