Posts Tagged ‘surgery’

Groundhog Day

The one with Bill Murray, not Punxsutawney Phil.

Getting cancer over, and over, and over again is comparable to the movie Groundhog Day. One season ends and I wake up expecting a new one to begin, only to find myself in the same season I have journeyed twice before. Over, and over, and over again. Much to my dismay, this battle is not complete yet.

As you know (or maybe you haven’t read the latest), surgery went better than we could have imagined. God has repeatedly displayed His power. The scan showed a two-inch tumor near my remaining ovary. However, during surgery, my doctor didn’t find a tumor at all, and in fact stated that I had one of the cleanest abdomens she had ever seen – pink and healthy. Just to be certain, she removed the ovary and sent it off for further review. Pathology reports came back showing microscopic cancerous cells… That, my friends, is a miracle… Did you not catch that? From the size of nearly a golf ball, to microscopic cells. Had there not been a tumor on my scan, my doctor would not have operated, and I would have continued believing that I was cancer-free, when in reality, this disease would have had three more months to grow and possibly travel elsewhere. God allowed a tumor to show up on my scan, in order for us to find the beginning stages of a recurrence. A golf ball size shrinking to microscopic cells. If you don’t call that a miracle, I don’t know what you would.

God calls us to focus on the praises and miracles He has performed in our lives and the lives of those around us. Yet, as humans, when another storm arises, we tend to forget those miracles. We often store them in the back of our minds, only occasionally pulling them forward in our memories. Life gets hard again, and we forget all the good He has done in and for us. By doing that, we aren’t fully recognizing God for who He is. His goodness doesn’t come and go. He is the single most consistent being in existence. We must remember the blessings He has poured over us. It’s as vital as breathing.

Since surgery one month ago, I have already received chemotherapy. About 12 days ago, in fact. It was my 31st chemo cocktail, yet familiarity doesn’t always bring comfort. I’ll never say fighting cancer is easy. No matter if it’s your first time, or your third, fighting cancer takes everything you have and more. Frankly, I can’t believe I’m doing this all over again. Twice… okay, that was hard enough. But three times? After being out of treatment for six months and nearly a year cancer-free. Seriously?

I’ve processed this recurrence different than my initial diagnosis and first recurrence. It’s been drastically more emotional for me. Being that so many of my girlfriends are pregnant now, I’d venture into comparing my emotions with those of an expectant mother. For real. This past week, I’ve cried over the silliest things. On one of my good days, Matt and I ventured into Ikea, and noticed a woman training a service dog. I had to keep walking, or I would have needed a box of tissues. I’ve cried to my husband and by myself. Over everything and over nothing. The tears have found their way out regardless of my will to keep them contained. I know that purging these emotions is a good thing, and a healthy cry session can help with the process.

No matter how much I’d love to say I’m always focusing on the positive, I am here to admit that I, too, am human. I have moments where I allow the blessings to easily slide to the back of my mind, allowing the storm to overwhelm my life. My tears are those of sadness, grief, and exhaustion. I loathe the fact that I am faced with this choice again. The choice to fight or die. Fighting cancer is just that… a choice. And it’s a choice that I must make. However, as always, I choose to fight.

Clinging to God’s blessings in the midst of the storm helps us build up our arsenal of tools to ward off the enemy. The enemy is a thief in the night who wants to steal our joy, hope, and positivity. He knows we are weak and preys on our vulnerabilities; doing whatever he can to push us further into the mud. It’s easy to fall into the pit of despair and continue drowning in the muck that tries to suffocate us.

Last week was full of emotions, sadness, shock, and defeat. I was living in a real-life Groundhog Day. But today, I am standing firm in the promises, miracles, and blessings that God has poured over me. I am calling forth every gift He has given me, and every promise He has spoken to me. I am remembering the moment I woke up from surgery to learn that there was no tumor. I am remembering the many times that God has scheduled divine appointments on my behalf. I am clinging to the goodness of my Savior, because I am blessed.

I’m fighting this again, which only means that I will soon be a three-time cancer survivor. This season will be different. I’m not waking up in the same place as I was twice before. Try as you may, cancer, but this chick is standing firm with spiritual armor so powerful, nothing can penetrate it.

Handling business as usual, chemo-style. (October 2013)

Handling business as usual, chemo-style. (October 2013)

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (MSG)

“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

Not So Fast

1

(Guest post by Matt)

Stephanie and I have spent a few days in the hospital, and she seems to have been progressing better than she has after previous surgeries. When they rolled her out of the post-op area, she was already sipping water. In prior surgeries, she wasn’t even allowed to touch but a few ice chips for about a day afterwards. Aside from a furious bout with itchiness last night (which we think was brought on by the hospital bedsheets, soon replaced by soft sheets from home), Stephanie has been able to do everything they want her to in order to go home.

But, as we have learned on multiple occasions during this journey, life can be unpredictable. I noted in the last post that they had to check the removed ovary for microscopic traces of the cancer. Well, the pathology report came back today and MJ gave us the news: there were microscopic cancer cells in the cystic walls of Stephanie’s ovary, nothing that could be seen with the human eye. That’s the thing with this or any other type of cancer. There’s an obvious battle against tumors and what shows up on scans, but there is also the microscopic battle.

So, there will be further treatment.

Stephanie will once again have to undergo chemotherapy treatments after all. She’ll start in a couple weeks after she heals up from her hospital stay. The good news is that these cells were found in the ovary that was taken out. There wasn’t a tumor, and there wasn’t any spreading to other areas of her body. So this chemo season will be an “insurance policy” to fight the microscopic battle. MJ is confident that it’s nowhere else and if there are still cancerous cells, the chemotherapy will prove effective against them. And, tomorrow morning, Stephanie is getting a PET scan, not a CT scan. That is good news.

In hindsight, we were a little spoiled with the immediate post-surgery news that no cancer was seen. Just because it wasn’t seen doesn’t mean that it still wasn’t present (obviously). It’s so small that the doctor who sees cancer every day couldn’t even see it. But we know that God is still good. He has orchestrated this whole story. Nothing about this is a surprise to Him. He is obviously still working in this story to bring glory to Him. Yes, it’s a bummer that Stephanie will lose her hair again and have to get chemo again. But, this is what we were planning before we even got to the hospital on Monday. We were prepared for another season of treatment and we still are.

Prayer-wise, we would appreciate prayers for emotional strength and endurance for the season ahead. Imagine the amount of stress and anxiety that is endured when you spend months and months growing your hair out just to find out you’re going to lose it again. This is difficult (especially for a woman). Just like everyone else, we have been expecting to be able to plan out our lives a little bit. Some people get further along than others before God reveals HIS plan for their lives. We are experiencing this in the time when we would otherwise be thinking about buying our first house and starting a family. Having to put those things “on hold” has been difficult for both of us, so prayers for understanding God’s will for our lives and being able to handle the “holding” gracefully would be especially appreciated. Also, very short-term, I am bouncing between home and the hospital not only to care for our pups, but it is moving week. So, we also request prayers for a smooth move. Big props to the fellas who will be helping us out this weekend with this task, it means more than you know.

We are praying that the “third time’s a charm” with this treatment. We’re keeping positive attitudes and we know that how people handle what comes their way reveals their true character. Thank you for praying with us and standing beside us.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (MSG)

“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, but if there’s no one to help, tough! Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.”

Speechless

(Guest post by Matt)

Today was a pretty incredible day.

Stephanie and I got to the hospital around noon and did all the normal check-in stuff. Registration desk, go down the hall and up the elevator to the surgery waiting room, etc. We’ve done all this before. Surgery was running a little late today, so Stephanie got to spend time with family and friends in the waiting area before heading back.

She was in good spirits when I went back to see her. Our friends and family prayed over her and loved on her just like we always do. She’s ready to get this tumor out of her and get this show on the road again. We prayed for no more cancer. At times as I was praying over her, that’s all I could say. The only thing that came out of my mouth was, “No more cancer. No more cancer.”

Needless to say, God heard our prayers.

Stephanie and I said our goodbyes and told each other how excited we were to see each other on the other side. We were in the waiting room for perhaps a couple hours and I was putting a nice, pretty bow on the blog that I was going to post when MJ (Stephanie’s doctor) turned the corner towards me. I looked at her. She looked at me with two thumbs up.

“Two thumbs up, that’s good?” I asked like an idiot.

MJ sits next to me and says: “I didn’t see any cancer.”

My mind hiccuped painfully. What did she mean? Stephanie’s CT showed it… that’s why we’re here, after all…

MJ said that the ovary on Stephanie’s right side that was left over from the previous surgery was shot. She said that it was pretty gnarly looking. So, that went. But, she said that she looked and looked and she didn’t find any cancer. Aside from the scar tissue and lesions from Stephanie’s previous surgeries…

“One of the cleanest abdomens I’ve ever seen,” she said.

The mass that showed up on the CT was likely Stephanie’s remaining ovary tapping out. I can only imagine what chemotherapy and radiation treatments would do to an ovary. Couple that with blood that still flows to a beaten-up ovary and I would imagine that that is a pretty likely source of pain. They will still microscopically check out the ovary and search for cancer cells, and Stephanie will probably have a CT scan in two months.

So, this means it’s likely that Stephanie won’t need to get chemotherapy like we thought. And that means that she probably won’t even lose her hair like we thought. Or her nails. Or her eyebrows. We prayed for no more cancer. Doctor saw no cancer.

Do you believe yet?

Thank you so so much for all of your prayers and support. Not one comment or Facebook like goes unnoticed, and we value and love each and every one of you. I’ll blog another update later, but today was a good day. Stephanie appears to still be CANCER-FREE!

All glory to God! He is good.

Proverbs 21:31 (MSG)

“Do your best, prepare for the worst—
then trust God to bring victory.”

Our Plan, His Will

These past few days have been entirely orchestrated by God, of that I am sure.

Tuesday night, our church had it’s monthly women’s event, and I was asked to be a small group leader for the evening. One of my dear friends shared her testimony with all of us, and her message was enriched with His faithfulness. In fact, God’s faithfulness was the theme of the night. I am convinced that both the theme and it’s timing were orchestrated with enormous purpose.

Most of us say that He is faithful. We worship Him with that word. We pray for that characteristic to shine in our lives. But how many of us really know that it is true? God’s faithfulness is not measured by how many prayers are answered. He remains faithful even when our plans aren’t in alignment with His.

As I led my group into discussion, I was given questions to pose to the ladies. Here are a few that stood out to me, and have meaning especially now:

  • “Has there been a time where God has made something beautiful out of your hurt or pain?”
  • “How is our story part of God’s bigger story? Share a time when it was hard for you to see at first, but in the end you realized that God was doing something for a reason that you couldn’t see at the time.”
  • “Why is it sometimes hard to surrender to God’s plan in our lives?”

Notice that not one of these questions mentions an ease to or fulfillment of our plans. Many times God sees our plans and wants something bigger for us. I’m sure He looks at our life goals, plans, and desires and thinks, “That’s it? That’s all you want? My will is far greater that that.”

My follow-up CT scan was on Monday. Our women’s event was Tuesday. And I received the scan results on Wednesday. In the moment, I wanted the results immediately. Why couldn’t I receive them within seven hours like I did last time? I didn’t understand why. But now I do. Tuesday was God’s time to speak to me. To remind me of His faithfulness, regardless of the circumstance. It was His moment to encourage and empower me, and to remind me of His steadfast love. His timing was perfect.

I received the call yesterday morning at 7:03 am. Upon answering the phone, I heard my doctor’s voice. I immediately knew. A tumor had grown near my remaining ovary on the right side of my abdomen. It’s a little smaller than two inches. The cancer has returned for a third time. After listening to the medical details and ensuing plan of action, the conversation ended. My husband slid to the ground with his face in his hands, and began to cry. Tears began to fall from my eyes, as well. Instead of asking “Why?” I uttered, “I don’t understand. What plans do You have for me Lord?” I refuse to question His intentions, but can’t help questioning His plan. The tears of disappointment quickly turned into tears of sadness that I would, yet again, lose my hair. I ran my hands through my thick curls, and continued to express grief over the future loss of my locks. I hate losing my hair. It continues to be the most difficult part of this journey.

From the moment I processed this news, a calm confidence has filled my spirit. Where fear, doubt, and worry could hide, confidence has held residence instead. Large Cell Neuroendocrine cancer is extremely aggressive and, more often than not, fatal. However, this cancer is behaving unusual in my body. Unusually good. Sounds oxymoronic considering it’s return, however, it’s seemingly losing it’s power inside of me. Typically, this disease grows out of control and spreads quickly. Because both my hormonal and nervous system (Neuroendocrine) are under attack, this cancer has no bounds to where it can travel. In fact, in many cases, it heads to the lungs and brain rapidly. Yet, for some reason, it is remaining very localized in my pelvic region. It’s attaching itself to surgically removable organs. It is nowhere else in my body, and is no longer growing out of control. The tumor this time is significantly smaller than the second softball-sized tumor that developed within three months. I have been out of treatment for nearly six months, and was nearing the one year mark for being cancer free. All of these facts are good. They give me great confidence that once we remove this last ovary, the cancer will see nowhere else to grow and will cease residency in my body. I’m not dying from cancer. God has bigger things in store.

On October 6th, Matt and I will be running our very first 5k. We have been training for nearly eight weeks, and have put a lot of sweaty effort into our goal. This race immediately flashed in front of my eyes upon hearing the news that I would need surgery and chemotherapy all over again. “I WILL run this race. We’ll postpone surgery if we have to, but we ARE running this race.” Matt was adamant that I was delusional, but agreed to speak with my doctor. Explaining that this accomplishment would mean so much, I was insistent that cancer not take it away from me. Thankfully my doctor agreed, and smiling, she told us to run the 5k. Thank you, Jesus! Postponing surgery a few more days than expected should not have an impact on my health. If at any time between now and surgery, we feel the need to move forward with the procedure earlier, we can and will. However, my hope and prayer is that my pain will remain at a minimum and that the tumor will neither grow nor spread in this time. Our race is in ten days. Surgery is scheduled in eleven days, on October the 7th.

Through all of this, God remains faithful. Our plans and His are not in alignment, yet I know that His will for my life is far greater than I can imagine. For that reason, I continue to trust in His healing power, and know that He’s got this all figured out.

Psalm 138:8 (MSG)

“When I walk into the thick of trouble, keep me alive in the angry turmoil. With one hand strike my foes, with your other hand save me. Finish what you started in me, God. Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now.”

 

 

Faithful Friends and The First Season

Alongside us on this crazy roller coaster through cancer, two of our dearest friends have been planted. They have joined us at appointments, surgeries, chemo cocktails, and numerous cry sessions. They have held our hands as we have ventured into the unknown, and have triumphed with us in the victories. We have worshiped together, prayed for one another, and celebrated several occasions. God brought this passionate, genuine, selfless couple into our lives at the very beginning of this battle, and we can’t imagine having forged our way through it without them standing firm and rallying beside us.

He is a photographer and life-journalist by hobby. He resembles Jesus not only in his physical appearance, but also in his character. Selfless, compassionate, humble, generous, loving, and prayerful. His laugh is contagious and you’d be lucky to catch it. He is a gentleman. A leader. A father. A Christ-like friend. A true blessing.

She is a dancer. Hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, and jazz. A real-life ballerina. She has a heart of pure gold. She is a friend to hold dear for a lifetime. She speaks encouragement, life, and wisdom. Her gentleness, selflessness, and caring demeanor uplifts and offers strength. She is a mother. A hospitable host. A faithful friend. A prayer warrior. A true blessing.

These two have offered shoulders to cry on, words of encouragement, and a multitude of cries to Jesus upon my behalf for healing. They have documented our journey and brought life to a sometimes dark situation. Through photographs, videos, and sound recordings, they tell our story. They have blessed us more than they could possibly know. Today, we share a taste of what they have captured since diagnosis.

Get your tissues ready. If this video doesn’t move you in some way, you might want to check your pulse. This montage captures a glimpse into this battle. It begins at diagnosis in January of 2012, and ends in August of 2012 on the last day of my first season through treatment. At that time, we thought I beat it entirely. Little did we know, we had another year in the trenches. Through hair loss, weight gain, and several firsts… enjoy.

Stephanie Madsen | Cancer Survivor from Mark Nava on Vimeo.

Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)

“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.”

Wigs and Warfare

It’s me again! Stephanie is back and ready to update y’all! But before going further, let me first take a minute to applaud my incredible husband for keeping my readers informed through the entire surgery process. Doesn’t he write wonderfully? I’m pretty proud of this man who I get to call my husband. He’s a total stud. He continues to be by my side through the highs and extreme lows of this adventure…and all the while, keeping you in the loop! I’ll save all the details about him for another blog post, but for now, let me get you up to date.

My stay in the hospital was exhausting. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. It’s been about eight days since I was discharged, and I just now feel like I’m settling into the groove. I was discharged the day after Matt last posted. Like he mentioned, my medical team discovered an alarmingly low heart rate and irregular heart beat, and wanted to dig deeper. Easy enough for them…they didn’t have to undergo those insane tests. Once we changed floors and got comfortable in our new room, I was immediately hooked up to a heart rate monitor. This allowed the nurses to watch exactly what my heart was doing at all times. In addition, the following day, an Echocardiogram was ordered. This test is a Sonogram for the heart and monitors the natural rhythm to determine if my organ is functioning properly. Once that was complete, I was transported to the radiology department to receive a PET Rubidium scan and another CT scan. Long story short, I hope I never have to receive another Rubidium scan. Ever heard of a stress test? That’s exactly what it is. Except, nowadays, instead of having a patient who recently had surgery walk on a treadmill, we are placed in a PET scan bed and injected with a special medicine that acts as stress. Oh. My. Stressed is an understatement. I’m always timid to put exact details of scans, tests, and procedures on here for everyone to see, because my intentions are not to scare you. My intentions are truly just to inform. If you get scared, I’m sorry.

To be honest, once this “stress medicine” was injected, I rapidly felt my heart rate skyrocket. I tried not to panic. I took deep breaths and prayed the entire time. For about five to seven minutes, I experienced what I think most heart attack patients may experience. My chest hurt. I felt as though my heart would beat out of my eyeballs and right into my lap. I was sweating. And all I could do was pray that it would be over soon. I’m not a drama queen folks, but I can admit, I did pray… “Lord, please don’t let me die.” Yes, it was that bad. I had tears streaming from my eyes when I was placed back in the wheelchair to be taken to my room again. Once the doors opened and my husband laid eyes on his obviously distraught wife, I could see the anger begin to overflow. I could imagine exactly what was going through his head, and picture it to be something like this: “What the hell did you do to my wife? Why is she crying? I’m going to make you pay!” Once he understood that I was alright and would give him the details when we arrived back at our room, he calmed down. While he has a tendency of being over protective, I am so grateful that I have a husband who cares so deeply about my welfare.

All that to say, my test results came back fine. They did notice the irregular beat and low rate at which my heart was functioning, but it wasn’t alarming. They ordered these tests to rule out blood clots, and that’s exactly what they did. I was free of any clots, and frankly, free of all tears as well. Because I was unable to ingest any solid food or liquids the day of my tests, I was starving when I got back to my room. It was already around four o’clock, and I had nothing in my system since the previous night. All I wanted was some french toast, fresh fruit, and a big piece of cake. And, because of my sweet nurse, I got exactly that! She quickly dialed the cafeteria, and might as well had said, “You better get that food here in two minutes, or else!” Again, I am very grateful for the strong team God continues to place in this game. To add, all of my nurses during my four-day stay were amazing. God placed each and every one of them on my path, and they were each perfect for the job. I really like to form relationships with my caretakers in the hospital, and did just that. I’ve left wondering how they are doing, and look forward to possibly seeing them again someday…Under different circumstances, of course!

Currently, I am still very sore, bruised, and swollen from surgery. I have a total muffin top beginning at my scar line. My belly just hangs there, and it’s extremely unappealing. Good thing my husband loves me regardless! I am finally able to move around without excruciating pain, and am starting to function a little more typically. Matt no longer has to physically help me in and out of bed, and that is a huge victory! I visited my General Oncologist today and after checking out my scar, he was shocked at how quickly I’m healing. I’m young, fit, and strong…what can I say? I also have an army praying for a fast recovery. God’s got me on lock-down. At my appointment today, we discussed the next phase of treatment. Chemotherapy. We talked about which specific chemo drug all my doctors agree on administering, and the schedule at which I will receive it. Before posting concrete plans, I need to confirm with my Gynecologic Oncologist that this is what she would like to do. Most likely she is on the same page, and in which case, I will begin chemo next week. Again, until everything is solidified I can’t be specific as far as how often I will receive doses or how long this next phase will last. However, I am so ready to get this train rollin’! Chemo cocktails never sounded so good until right about now. The waiting and in-between is really the hardest part.

For those who have followed my story, you know that God is the One for big blessings. He hasn’t ceased dropping down those gifts from above. Some, Matt has included in his previous post, and I’d like to reiterate that God is good. Here is why:

  1. When my Gyn Oncologist/surgeon opened me up in surgery, the tumor popped right up. It was completely encased in a mucus lining, therefore it was all intact. This is not the case for some cancers. Some tumors are not circular and are rather jagged, which makes it nearly impossible to remove the entire mass.
  2. Because of its mucus lining, my surgeon was able to remove the entirety of the mass.
  3. The tumor was not connected to my colon, and therefore I did not need any form of a colostomy.
  4. The PET scan immediately following surgery showed no signs of carcinoma anywhere else in my body.
  5. My surgeon was able to create an incision at my original hysterectomy scar line. In fact, she removed my previous scar, so now I only have one scar right above my pubic area.
  6. I am still alive and breathing. God continues to bless me with more days to glorify Him. Hallelujah!

This past week I have been recovering and taking it easy. My body is beginning to function normally again, which I am grateful. We continue to have wonderful support from friends and family, and at a time like this, it’s been extremely helpful. Like I mentioned, I’m finally able to be a little more up and active, and I even felt well enough to make it to church yesterday. I’ve learned that through the storm, instead of hiding out and suffering alone, it is better to surround yourself with joyful people. The most joyous place we enjoy is our church, in the presence of God and surrounded by friends. Needless to say, my spirits were lifted greatly by being in that environment yesterday. In addition, I’ve picked out a new wig! And let me tell you, she is gorgeous! Most know that when I first began this journey, before I lost my hair, I was blonde. Not naturally, but shhh. This time, I decided to go back blonde, and I have been gifted a stunning wig of human hair. Although I’ve been loving my short curly and wavy hair that has grown, I won’t miss it so much now that I have some blonde to rock!

Back to Blonde! Stephanie wearing her new wig. (December 2012)

Back to Blonde! Stephanie wearing her new wig. (December 2012)

At the bottom of this entry, I am including a link. A link in order for you to make a choice. As you know, I don’t like to sugarcoat anything, and have always remained open and honest. However, I do understand that some of my readers have sensitive stomachs, and for that I have chosen to create a clickable link so you are able to make the choice to view this image or not. This link is graphic. This link will show you exactly what is trying to take my life. This link might frighten you. Please don’t let it. This link is to a medical picture of the cancerous tumor my surgeon removed last week. You may wonder why I have a photograph of it. I want to see what is trying to ruin me. I want to see exactly what I am fighting so hard to defeat. I need to have a visual of the enemy; The enemy that is getting kicked around, poisoned, stomped on… and ultimately defeated. I feel the need to share this with you, so that you are able to see what you are praying against. I understand if you have a sensitive stomach and can not handle a medical picture of this nature. Whether you choose to view my tumor or not, I thank you for allowing me to be transparent and share the entirety of my journey through cancer with you.

Click HERE to see a picture of the cancerous tumor. (Graphic medical image)

John 10:6-10 (MSG Version)

Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. ‘I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.’”

He Answers

Let me begin by saying that I am completely and utterly overwhelmed at the amount of support I have on my team. Thank you to those who have sent encouraging messages, comments, phone calls, and texts. Thank you to my loyal readers who have followed me from my initial diagnosis and continue to stand by me through this next journey by uplifting me in prayer. Also, a big thanks to my new followers who found me through an internet search or word of mouth. I have a whole army of prayer warriors, and I am humbled that you each care so deeply about my victory. In fact, from yesterday’s posts until now, I have had well over 2,000 views on my blog. Thank you for sharing my story and spreading the hope!

My sweet husband and I went to bed last night with a huge prayer request on our hearts. We desperately wanted to hear back from this doctor at MD Anderson, and fervently asked God that we would hear from him personally in the morning. Bright and early, my phone rang. It was a Houston number. In fact, it was the physician. I immediately answered and was able to speak directly to the doctor I so desperately needed. Long story short, he completely agreed that I need immediate surgery to remove the mass. Chemotherapy before surgery just won’t cut it. We’ve got to get this beast out of me as soon as possible. In addition, he encouraged me to remain positive and believe that with this surgery, there will be no more signs of cancer in my body, and that I will beat this. I told him, “Doc, I’ve got this…I’m very confident that I’ll beat cancer!” Not only did he confirm our beliefs for immediate action, he doesn’t find it necessary for us to travel to Houston just yet. He believes that everything my doctors are doing here, is what he himself would do there. Praise God! Now we don’t have to worry about traveling and all of the insurance hoopla! With all that being said, it’s true…God answers prayer. Not that we have ever doubted that for a second, however, while we’ve known that for most of our lives, we can’t recall such a big prayer being answered so quickly. Right when I’m not sure, God shows up. He’s right here, and while I can’t see Him, I know His hand is all over this situation.

Now that that prayer has been answered, we would like to share another one. After further speaking with my Gynecologic Oncologist, who happens to be my previous surgeon and will be this time as well, she informed me of the exact location of my tumor. It is hanging out right next to my sigmoid colon. In easier terms, it’s partying right around my lower colon/bowels. Because of its location, she won’t be able to know for a fact if it’s actually connected to that organ or not until she opens me up. There are three possibilities we are facing. One: She begins surgery and sees that the mass is not connected to my colon, and can therefore, easily remove the tumor without anything else. Two: My tumor appears to be slightly attached or embedded in my colon, in which case she would need to remove part of my colon, and perform a temporary colostomy. Temporary meaning, I would receive a colostomy until my chemotherapy was finished and as long as there is not another recurrence, she will later repair my colon. Three: The monster is too deeply attached or embedded in the colon, and she will need to remove the organ and perform a permanent colostomy. For those who are unaware of the medical procedure I’m referring to, feel free to look it up here. To be frank, while I know that a colostomy is not the end of the world, and will allow me to live a fairly normal life, I’d really prefer not to have to go down this path. Please pray and believe with us that the tumor is not attached to my colon and that my surgeon will easily be able to remove it without having to remove the organ as well. We know that God answers prayer, and are standing firm in our faith.

As I have mentioned, surgery is a priority. It needs to happen immediately, and now that all of my doctors are on the same page, we can proceed. Buckle up friends…My procedure has been scheduled for tomorrow morning. Yes…tomorrow, Friday the 29th, as in less than fifteen hours from now. We are more than okay with this, and in fact, are welcoming it. We understand that in order to ensure the best possible outcome, this mass needs to be removed. I’m ready to have this thing out of me. While we know and appreciate that many of you will want to stop by beforehand to pray with us, we politely ask that you pray from where you’re at in order to ensure that the waiting room does not overflow. Plus, if I didn’t have to be up and around before 6am, I wouldn’t. Therefore, you shouldn’t have to! Surgery will begin around 7:30am. For those out-of-state, we are on mountain time. Matt will be taking the reins and doing guest posts to update everyone on my progress. The surgery should take two hours, and I will be in recovery for a couple of hours as well. By noon, I should be in my room highly medicated for the expected pain that I will be experiencing. Is it wrong to say that I’m looking forward to that part? No, not the pain…the medicine! By Saturday I am sure I will be comfortably settled in and more than willing to have visitors. For those wanting to visit, please text myself or Matt.

To recap: Tomorrow morning I’m getting cut open. Pray that the tumor is not attached to my colon, or any other organs for that matter. Pray for wisdom and guidance for my surgical team. Pray for a smooth surgery and a speedy recovery. Pray for my dear husband, that he will feel the supernatural hand of God and that he will experience peace, calm, and assurance. And please pray for me, that God will give me strength, peace, and confidence. Neither of us are very nervous now, but it might be a different story in the morning.

For those who might be anxious about this procedure and the trial we face… know that we are confident in a complete healing. We rely on our Savior to direct our steps. He has gone before us and has prepared the way.

I’ve beat cancer once, and I’ll beat it again.

Psalm 18:32-42 (The Message)

“Is there any god like God? Are we not at bedrock? Is not this the God who armed me, then aimed me in the right direction? Now I run like a deer; I’m king of the mountain. He shows me how to fight; I can bend a bronze bow! You protect me with salvation-armor; you hold me up with a firm hand, caress me with your gentle ways. You cleared the ground under me so my footing was firm. When I chased my enemies I caught them; I didn’t let go till they were dead men. I nailed them; they were down for good; then I walked all over them. You armed me well for this fight, you smashed the upstarts. You made my enemies turn tail, and I wiped out the haters. They cried “uncle” but Uncle didn’t come; They yelled for God and got no for an answer. I ground them to dust; they gusted in the wind. I threw them out, like garbage in the gutter.”

It Won’t Win, Because I Won’t Lose

Last Tuesday, November 20th, I received a regular three-month follow-up scan. Typically I would have received a PET (full body) scan, however, our insurance is not cancer-patient friendly. Apparently, because my last PET scan in August came back clear of cancer, they deemed it unnecessary to cover any further PET scans unless a CT (localized) scan came back showing anything. Ridiculous, I know. Don’t get me started…frankly that’s beside the point.

I got a call from my Gynecologic Oncologist just two days ago, on the 26th. She immediately asked where I was, which in my heart, I knew was a bad sign. I was right. She informed me that my cancer has recurred. Dammit.

While we aren’t sure of the exact blueprints of this next treatment journey, I will give you as much information as we currently know. The mass that appeared in the CT scan is exactly the size of a softball. Yes, you read that correctly…a softball. Honestly, it’s one centimeter bigger than an adult softball. But that’s semantics. At it’s widest, it’s nearly four inches (9.8cm) in diameter. Shocking, I know. Clearly, this type of cancer is proving to be as aggressive as we were initially told. In August there were no signs of cancer, and only three months later, there is a beastly tumor the size of a softball growing inside my body. This circular mass has been located in the same general vicinity as my original golf-ball sized tumor. It is near my pelvic region, and close to my mid abdomen around my belly button.  It’s closer to my left side, and I can actually feel it.

About one month ago, I began experiencing pain in this exact location of my lower abdomen. Because the doctors usually push around my stomach when I get any check-ups, I thought I’d give it a go. I definitely didn’t expect to feel anything. But I did. I felt a hard mass. Because having already battled cancer often tends to making us survivors paranoid and hyper sensitive to any changes in our bodies, I tried to brush it off as nothing. Three weeks ago, I had a regular three-month follow-up with my doctor and informed her about this sudden change in my body. She explained that based on how our intestinal tract works, it most likely was just a back up of stool and that she couldn’t feel anything during her internal exam. In fact, my pap smear results were normal. However, the pain continued and progressed. Days went by and the mass remained. I chalked it up to being constipated. Maybe I was just more backed up than I thought.

Now that the CT results are in, we can most definitely connect the pain and hardness to this mass that has been discovered. My constipation is also a symptom. While, we don’t know exactly where this monster is thriving, my doctors believe it’s getting it’s blood supply from my bowels. That means lower intestinal tract. Hence the constipation. This beast is sucking the life out of my lower organs. And, have I mentioned how huge it is? I’m still shocked.

Where we go from here is a little up in the air right now. Surgery, radiation, and chemo are all on the table again. It’s a matter of the sequence of these treatments in determining the effectiveness. Late yesterday afternoon we met with a General Oncologist that my Gyn Oncologist recommended we see. Once we met this doctor, we immediately adored him. God has sent us another key player for our team. He is a genius when it comes to chemotherapy. He knows all the different types of drugs and their side effects. His knowledge immediately put us at ease. In addition, he treats a lot of lung cancer patients. Most lung carcinomas are similar to my Neuroendrocrine cancer. He knows his stuff. All of my doctors do, and we are so grateful for that. After explaining to us what we were dealing with, he began to talk about treatment options. Surgery first, then chemo? Chemo to shrink it and then surgery to remove it? While my current three Oncologists (Radiation Onc, Gynecologic Onc, and General Onc) are well versed, they really want the opinion of another expert.

As most know, MD Anderson is the biggest and best cancer center in America. Through word of mouth and recommendations, we have learned of a special doctor in Houston who is the lead researcher for my exact type of cancer. He is continually studying how my carcinoma works and what the most effective treatments are. Therefore, we need to get to Houston to see this expert immediately. My Oncologists here agree that I need to get out there as soon as possible… Like yesterday. However, remember the hoopla with our insurance? Again, they deem it unnecessary for me to travel outside of our basic providers to receive a consultation or treatment out-of-state. Completely asinine.  Essentially, they require that my doctors here call the authorization department of our insurance company and explain the urgency and necessity of this MD Anderson visit. Being fed up, I asked what it would cost to get an appointment without using our insurance and the receptionist answered, “$27,000.” Needless to say, we need insurance to agree to cover this out-of-state doctor’s visit. That’s a huge prayer request of ours right now.

Long story short, we need to get this ball rolling. This cancer is fast-growing and more aggressive than I ever imagined. I’m desperate to get this monster out of me. I want it gone, and I will do whatever it takes. I’ll go to Zimbabwe to receive a shot made from monkey saliva if I need to. Whatever it takes. And not to mention, this sucker hurts. We knew cancer was mean, but this is at a whole different level. My stomach throbs, and any time I touch it, it fires back… Umm, no sir. You will not win. We are going to poke, prod, cut, poison, and demolish you. Get the hell out of me.

It is imperative that I receive a PET scan in the next few days. Our team and I want to make sure it hasn’t grown anywhere else. They definitely want to check my lungs and my brain for any traces of malignancy. My team of doctors is having my case meeting today to discuss my situation and what the best course of action they believe will be. They are also going to conference call the doctor in Houston to try and see if any strings can be pulled for us to get in to see him. We could be going to Houston as early as tonight or the beginning of next week. I could also be in surgery as early as next week. And chemo might or might not start before then. Everything is dependent on my local doctors communicating with this Oncologist in Houston and getting on the same page. They understand the urgency of my situation, and are willing to do whatever it takes as well. We are all in agreement as far as getting this ball rolling as quickly and effectively as we can. We will continue to keep you updated as soon as we have a more solid plan.

Initially the news rocked us. I was deeply saddened and frustrated that we would have to go through all of this again. My husband was pissed. His anger was directed at God. “How could you allow this to happen again!?” But after a night of grieving, we woke up yesterday with a fire under our asses. My strong guardian of a husband, wrapped his arms around me and said, “It may sound weird, but I’m not scared at all.” And I feel the same. We aren’t scared because we are confident that with God on our side, we can beat this. We will beat this. I will be cancer-free again. And for more than a few weeks this time. I am determined to fight this battle and stomp on the enemy’s intentions. The enemy wants to defeat me, and there is no way we are going to let that happen. I’ve already told God that he’s going to have to drag me kicking and screaming out of this world. As incredible as Heaven sounds, I’m definitely not ready to make it my home yet. I’ve got way too many things to do on Earth. We’ve got babies to be had, memories to be made, and many more years to experience. Our faith is strong and our fire is burning. We know we are about to endure another intense and difficult battle, but there is nothing to fear. After all, “God has overcome the world.” Our victory is in Him.

Cancer will not win, because I will not lose.

Mark 4:35-40 (The Message)

“Late that day he said to them, ‘Let’s go across to the other side.’ They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, ‘Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?’ Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Settle down!’ The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: ‘Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?’”

Are You Beautiful?

Does the word “beautiful” define you?

Let’s talk about beauty. The hard fact is, as a woman diagnosed, it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of loss when it comes to our looks. I mean come on, when your hair starts falling out, your body is either increasing or decreasing in size, your face is expressing the enormity of stress by the monstrosity of wrinkles, and your doctor is painting on more and more scars, it’s natural to not feel attractive anymore. Not only have I struggled with not feeling beautiful through this diagnosis, but also not feeling comfortable in my own skin.

Currently, this is one of the largest topics in the world. Society is driven by physical appearance and beauty. It’s sweeping the covers of every magazine. Fashion, makeup, hair, and the perfect weight is probably on the top of every woman’s priority list. No? …Maybe it’s just me. From birth, we are trained to allow society to define our personal beauty. Our “look” must fit into the world’s ideals. Sure, some people don’t abide by the “rules”, but we all care what everyone else thinks of us.

As a woman who has valiantly fought (and beat) cancer, and has undergone a slew of cancer treatments, I can boldly say that society’s definition of what is beautiful sucks. Where are the women who are proud of who they are and what they look like, regardless of what the world tells them? Where do bald women fit in? Why must our bodies resemble that of a prepubescent twelve year old girl? With as much cancer prevalent in our world, why aren’t there more examples of what true beauty is? Why do we, as women diagnosed, feel like we must cover up our truth? Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, I wore a wig for a lot of my baldalicious battle. Yes, I am currently working out like a crazy person trying to drop these last twenty pounds. Yes, I wore false lashes when my own grew thin. But, I am continually learning that the world should not be the one to define me.

A few months ago, while waiting for treatment one day and rockin’ my bald dome, a woman approached me and asked if I would like to speak to someone about wigs. She continued by asking if I would also like some hats to cover my head. Although I know she was well-intentioned, I couldn’t help but feel unattractive. Thoughts emerged: Why must I cover this up? Why should I hide the fact that I am fighting for my life? Why does hair matter? Am I not beautiful? Oh, and by the way lady, I already own a wig and several hats. I just chose to be me today. Is that a problem? 

Along with beauty comes self-worth. If we can downgrade the world’s voice and upgrade God’s voice, our views would drastically transform. If we can see ourselves through His eyes and not theirs, our truth can be revealed. I am learning that I should embrace my differences with pride. Sure, I have a short G.I. Jane hairstyle going on right now and it brings a lot of attention, but instead of allowing those disproving eyes to seep into my spirit, I counteract them with a smile and remind myself that I am beautiful regardless of what anyone else thinks. Just because it’s uncommon to see women without (or with much less) hair doesn’t mean it’s unattractive. Can we, as women currently baldalicious or rockin’ the buzz cut, set a new standard for the definition of beautiful? In fact, as women with or without a diagnosis, can we help other females find their value within?

We are our worst critics. True. We nitpick every fault we have and oftentimes shine light on those flaws. But we’ve got to stop seeing what we see, and instead, see what God sees. When it comes down to it, we will never be good enough for ourselves. But we are good enough for him…more than enough. God sees us without flaws; After all, He was the one to create us. We are a custom design that should be esteemed, not shamed. Hair or no hair, size fourteen or size two, blue or brown eyes, black or white skin, tall or short, it doesn’t matter. Let me repeat, it does not matter. Do we have a kind heart and gentle spirit? Do we shine light or exude darkness? Are we encouraging to one another? Are we forgiving? Do we choose to find our worth in the world or in Him? Now that’s what really matters.

So I ask again, are you beautiful?

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV)

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Port Procedure

Today has been the first day since diagnosis that I have felt like an actual human! Sounds odd I’m sure, but with the amounts of tests and doctors’ visits I’ve had, lately I’d more accurately describe myself as an experiment. Not to mention undergoing invasive surgery and a minor surgery within a week of each other. Life has been so busy and chaotic physically and emotionally, so getting a day where I wake up feeling wonderful and rejuvenated is a welcomed change! I felt so great today, that my mom and I even went around town to do some shopping. We came home empty-handed, but the excursion itself was such a treat for me.

Not only is a day like today a treat, but considering its only a day after my port placement procedure, it’s a true blessing. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since diagnosis has been that plans can no longer be “set in stone”.  You just can’t do it. Well, let me rephrase: the only definite planning that my life contains now is planning for treatment. It’s number one. But as far as planning anything even as minor as running to the grocery store or the bank, it’s now up in the air. Scheduling events is even more of a challenge. My days have recently consisted of resting, taking medication, speaking with doctors over the phone or in person at appointments, chatting with my out-of-state family via phone and FaceTime, and spending time with my mom, step-dad, pup, and most of all, my adored husband. Therefore, scheduling hangouts with our closest friends has proven an extreme challenge. My body gets tired at all the wrong moments, my pain kicks in right when I think I’m feeling good, and just when I think I’m getting settled into the current nest of immediate cancer news, more updates appear. This, however, will not be forever. Today has proven that. I will not always be stuck at home. I will not always be sick. I will not always be tired. I will not always be in pain. I will not. I refuse. That’s not how I’m going to live my life. It’s an oxymoron in itself: living life tired? Doesn’t sound like really living to me. It’s not only a good lesson to those of us affected with cancer, but also to everyone, no matter the circumstance.

As most know, I was at the hospital again yesterday. The occasion this time was to receive my port. It’s actually referred to as a “power port”, and that in itself makes me feel powerful. Assuming most of you are like me (pre-diagnosis), cancer terms are not in your vocabulary. So, let me explain. I was given a pamphlet that informs me all about my port, so I will be quoting directly from it. “Your Bard PowerPort device is a small device (about the size of a quarter) used to carry medicine into the bloodstream. It has one or two small basins that are sealed with a soft silicone top, called a septum. The port is placed under the skin on your chest or arm. The port connects to a small, soft tube called a catheter. The catheter is placed inside one of the large central veins that take blood to your heart. When a special needle is put into the septum, it creates ‘access’ to your bloodstream. Medicine and fluids can be given through the needle and blood samples can be withdrawn.” I’ve included a couple of pictures, to better illustrate my device. In case you are wondering, yes my port is purple. It’s actually more of a fuchsia purple in person, but regardless. Those who know me, know that girly is my thing. If I’m having a device implanted in my skin, it better be a girly color.
The procedure itself was only 8 minutes long. That was shocking to me. 8 minutes to implant a device under my skin? Seems a little rushed, don’t you think Doc? (Apparently, that’s why I’m a patient and not a doctor…) I checked into the hospital at 11am, and was not allowed any food past midnight. I, however, could take my prescribed medicine and drink water up until check-in. No big deal right? Wrong. My last dose of pain meds was at 8am the morning of my procedure. Check in was at 11am and the surgery didn’t begin until 2pm. That’s more than 6 hours since my last dose. That’s 3 hours past my scheduled dose, therefore, I was in the most pain I had been in since my hysterectomy. It was excruciating. By the time I was hooked up to my IV, wheeled into the operating room, and told to shimmy onto the operating table I was nearly in tears. I’ve been on a very scheduled pain management regimen, so I hadn’t had much time to experience the depth of pain that my hysterectomy surgery was causing me. This lack of medicinal intervention quickly put the pain on the forefront of my mind.

Once I got onto the operating table, and the nurses prepped me for surgery, my lovely pain management nurse asked me if I had ever had a margarita. Why, yes I’ve had a margarita, Nurse! Why would you ask me such a question before I am to be cut open; interesting conversation starter, don’t you think? She soon informed me that she would be giving me the equivalent of 2 margaritas through my IV. Oh, joy! This is going to be fun. I was given what is called “conscious sedation”, which means I am awake and alert throughout the entirety of the procedure. This frightened me greatly before surgery, but 2 margaritas in, I was fine with it. They placed what appeared to me like a small blue tarp over my face, and I was told to look to my left. They inserted a numbing injection to my right collarbone area, which took effect pretty quickly. Then my doctor walked in, whom I met in pre-op, and he quickly began the implantation. Not only did he start the procedure, but he also started up conversation with me. What a nice guy. Just another nice doctor in my cancer adventure. It’s been amazing. We talked about how long I had lived in Denver, but mostly about my immense love for my husband. How we met. How long we had been together. How I knew by our second date that I wanted to marry him. Friends, I deeply adore my husband. This wasn’t just the margaritas talking. He is my best friend, my encourager, my lover, my rock, my support, my personal comedian, my teammate, and my heart. Pretty soon, I was interrupted and told that I was done. My surgery was complete. What? Dang, that was quick!

This surgery did not hurt at all. It wasn’t even uncomfortable. Thus far, this has been one of the easiest things I have undergone since diagnosis. I merely felt pressure in the area in which my doctor was pushing my port and catheter under my skin. What a relief! Praise God for allowing some of these procedures to be easy! What I’m realizing, the deeper and deeper I get into treatment, is that the peace and grace of God is all I need. Not to say that I don’t get nervous, anxious, and afraid before all treatments (that’s my flesh, folks), but my spirit is continually drenched in the calm of Jesus. He has gone before me on this one. Just like everything before. He has always been here for me, and He will never leave me. He has my back. He has scouted the road ahead to make sure I can handle it. And, even though at times I don’t think I can, with God all things are possible. I will conquer this battle. But, ultimately it’s not just me. It’s Him. He is ever-working through me to fight this enemy. He will succeed. He has promised me that. Hallelujah.

Exodus 14:14 (NIV)

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

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