Posts Tagged ‘treatment’

Treasures in Texas

MD Anderson Cancer Center

MD Anderson Cancer Center

You know that feeling you get when you’re on your way back home from a trip out of town? The one where, though sad to leave, you are excited to get home and sleep in your own bed? This time I didn’t have it. My trip to Texas was so incredible, I wished I could have stayed longer.

MD Anderson Cancer Center is spectacular. As weird as it may sound, it felt like Disneyland to me. While some may view it as a place where people are dying, I saw it as a place where people are living. The spirit on the campus was breathtaking, and I often had to hold in tears. Walking through the doors of the nation’s greatest center for cancer care was awe-inducing. As if the angels were singing above me, I felt immediately ushered into the community. From the valet attendants and staff, to the doctors and survivors around me, everyone was so kind.

Never did I feel a sense of sadness. Through the view of wheelchairs, bald shiny heads, white coats, and the ever-present ports, I instead felt power, strength, faith, and unwavering hope. We had all shown up that day; a team fighting the same opponent. Arm in arm, mustering up everything within us to defeat cancer. Walking through the halls, I wanted to give everyone passing by a high-five… For all that they have done, and all that they will continue to do.

Among the hope inside it’s walls, MD Anderson is a congregation of camaraderie. A house built to support the strength and determination of people from all over the world. A home to doctors who pour their lives out to help rid our bodies of this disease. A tool for residents and fellows in the shadows of their mentors committed to learning all there is to know about this wretched plague. Survivors. Fighters. Cancer warriors on the front lines. Old and young alike. We were all in it together. Every moment I spent within the campus, I was surrounded by my teammates. My partners in crime. My brothers and sisters facing the same fight I have faced for nearly three years.

There’s something about being aware that everyone around you intimately knows what you are going through. The fears, doubts, and worries are shared. The experiences, surgeries, and treatments are all similar. The prayers, desperation, and pleading is unified. The camaraderie is evident, and though few of us exchanged stories, with a simple meeting of the eyes, we knew. We were walking in similar shoes.

I met with the lead doctor researching my diagnosis, and though I have spoken with him several times over the phone and email, meeting him in person was unlike any encounter I had had before. Upon his entrance into the exam room where I was waiting, I immediately stood up and asked if I could give him a hug. Though a small gesture, It was the least I could do for the one man representing women like me facing such a rare diagnosis. His knowledge astounded me. His passion overflowed. His mission was apparent. He is doing all he can to find a solution to defeat Large (and Small) Cell Neuroendocrine cancer.

After my exam, we sat in an office and went over my case, from diagnosis to the direction of treatment. He told me that he was able to talk for as long or as little as I wanted. This in itself amazed me. He truly is committed to me and my success, and was pouring in whatever I needed while I was there. We spoke about different types of chemotherapy, statistical numbers, the rarity of my specific diagnosis of Large Cell compared to the rare (but more common) Small Cell, the possibility of molecular testing, and maybe even a stem cell transplant.  After our long conversation, we developed a great plan for this fourth adventure. My doctor set up an appointment for a PET scan and contacted the stem cell department to fit me in before I left Houston. I exited his office standing tall and confident in my next steps.

While we are still awaiting results from a few remaining tests, we have chosen a new type of chemotherapy for me to try. After meeting with the stem cell team, we were given a resounding “no” on the idea of a stem cell transplant. There is not enough information to prove that it would be beneficial to my case. Frankly, this is alright by me, as I was simply exploring all of my options and wanted an open door or a closed one, but no in-between. As we expected, my PET scan results came back completely clear and cancer-free. However, though there is no known malignant activity in my body, we must do everything we can to kick it while it’s down. Considering this is my fourth season fighting this stubborn disease, monitoring it is not wise. Therefore, I will be starting a new chemotherapy regimen within the next couple of weeks, and will be back to baldalicious before we know it.

The rest of our trip in Texas was beautiful. The humidity and resounding heat didn’t even bother me! I was too focused on the blessings in my life…The treasures that Texas had to offer. The opportunity to go to MD Anderson. How God worked everything together in His perfect timing. The generosity of those who donated, and the realization that I wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for my supporters. No matter how hard the trial, blessings continue to come. It’s up to us to see them. Light always overcomes the darkness. Our visit to Houston put a spark in my step and lit a new fire underneath me. I have been refreshed and renewed, ready for this next fight ahead of me.

Whoever said, “Third time’s a charm,” was wrong. I believe four will soon become my lucky number.

Awaiting my PET scan and cancer-free results!

Awaiting a PET scan and cancer-free results!

 2 Corinthians 9:8 (MSG)

“God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done.”

 

Comfort in Unfamiliarity

(Guest post by Matt)

I write this blog post at Stephanie’s request while sitting in a vast expanse of a waiting room. This is not the usual waiting room I write from on surgery days. In fact, this isn’t even the usual hospital that I write from. Today’s surgery is taking place at a different location than the others, because today’s surgery is in a different part of Stephanie’s body.

To catch up those who may not know, Stephanie’s most recent CT scan revealed something on or near her left adrenal gland. This comes after months of thinking we were out of the woods with surgeries. After getting the results, Stephanie and I consulted a friend from our church who is a pediatric urologist. This led us to a referral to another doctor, who is regarded as the top adrenal surgeon in the state of Colorado. After meeting with him, the decision was made to get into the operating room soon to remove whatever this mass is. As I write, Stephanie’s patient number is still green on the board in the waiting room, which means that she is currently in the operating room having it removed.

Another surgery is not what we wanted. It’s not what we expected. Nerves get heightened with each surgery that happens. We are both over it, and we never want to have to step foot in a hospital again. But at the same time, we know that God is still good. We are still believing in miracles. We’re believing that whatever this thing is that is on or around her adrenal is benign. As scary as it is, we still have faith.

One of our friends from church told us something a couple weeks ago that still resonates with me. She said that God has provided a stage through Stephanie’s story and, because of that, people are watching. It’s one thing for the miraculous to happen when no one is paying attention, but it’s quite another for God to show off when people are paying attention. That’s what we are believing. We believe that no matter what happens, God will show up and show off to proclaim His name to people who may not know who He is.

Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement. Keep them coming, because there is power in prayer. We’re believing.

Mark 5:36 (ESV)

“Do not fear, only believe.”

Pruning What Doesn’t Belong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pruning quote for DMD

John 15:2 (ESV)

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

 

 

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.”

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.”

New Skin and a New Day

Some side effects of chemotherapy aren’t textbook. It’s well-known that I have a rare diagnosis with a rare recurrence, so why shouldn’t I have rare side effects? Bring ‘em on.

HFS Steph

The beginning signs of Hand and Foot Syndrome on my palm. (January 2013)

As I am beginning to experience a handful of side effects in this season of treatment, I am reminded of the initial meeting we had with my General Oncologist. We learned that patients can go through a gamut of side effects (duh), but that there are only a handful of rare ones that could plague me during treatment. One of these mentioned was drippy eyes. My doctor shared that because of the drugs being administered, sometimes patients will look as though they are crying, and will consistently dab at their eyes with tissue. I find it weird to remember such a small detail in the midst of such a large conversation, but clearly God was preparing me for what was to come. Like other patients, the specific chemo drug that I am now receiving is tricking my tear ducts into over producing tears. Therefore, it appears that I am an emotional wreck at all times of the day. Yes, I may be tipping the levels into menopause because of my surgeries and radiation, but I assure you, I am emotionally stable…or so I think.

This particular side effect is quite the annoyance. My eyes leak. They drip. They pour out tears. And if I don’t catch them before they take the plunge onto my cheeks, putting on makeup in the morning is quite the joke. “Crying” all day does offer humor, though. For instance, being the procrastinator that I sometimes can be, I waited until the day before Valentines to get Matt a few cards. Tissues in hand, I walked into Hallmark. It became abundantly obvious that I was not the only procrastinator for this holiday as swarms of people flooded the aisles. Great. I could only imagine what was to come. As I politely shoved my way through to the section I needed to peruse, my anxieties began to creep up. After all, there I was, sniffling from allergies and dabbing away at the tears that continued to pour from my eyes. While I can admit, Hallmark does have some touching cards, I am not one to publicly weep over them. Needless to say, I was embarrassed. The girl who was crying over Hallmark cards; I’m sure I was the topic of many dinner conversations. And sadly, that’s not the end of it. As I was taking multitasking to another level by wiping my tears, sniffling, and reading sentimental words, the anxieties sent me into a full-blown hot flash. Oh yes, friends. Crying, sniffling, and sweating. I began to curse my fellow procrastinators in my head. I was flustered, embarrassed, and wanted to leave immediately. By a supernatural miracle, I found cards I liked, and soon was able to depart from the Hallmark Hell. Looking back, this is quite hilarious. Go ahead, picture it in your head. I invite you to laugh.

As if having to dry my eyes at every waking moment isn’t enough, my skin has turned on me, as well. For whatever reason, it would rather fall off. Apparently, I am no longer fun to be attached to. Welcome, Hand and Foot Syndrome. It’s a real thing, folks. And, according to my nurses and doctors, the fact that I am plagued with it is……Rare. Apparently, they have never seen a patient undergoing my treatment regimen experience this syndrome as a side effect. There’s a first for everything, I suppose! I get to be lucky number one. Oh joy. So that I don’t have to go into the scientific depths of explanation, feel free to read the details about Hand and Foot Syndrome HERE. Essentially, the chemo drugs are leaking out of my capillaries and burning the surrounding tissues. The surrounding tissues happen to be my hands and feet. It is the most painful side effect I have ever experienced. Prescription pain medicine doesn’t put a dent in the misery.

HFS 2 Steph

Hand and Foot Syndrome on the top of my hands. (February 2013)

A couple of days after each chemotherapy session, the cycle begins again. My hands (tops, palms, and fingers) and soles of my feet become swollen, tight, and dramatically red (sometimes even purple). It feels as though I placed these limbs over a scorching hot fire and waited. Walking becomes difficult and painful. Gripping anything is a task. And for as long as they are affected, daily routines are put on hold. My heels brushing the sheets in our bed even causes discomfort. Bending my knuckles, picking up anything, wearing shoes, and even washing my face is a painful chore. I must keep my hands and feet moisturized with a heavy cream and topical steroid 24/7. About two weeks later, the swelling, tightness, and redness eases and then blisters form. Which, in turn, leads to the skin coming off. Therefore, as gross as it is, I have been peeling skin off my hands for a while now. The other day, I made the mistake of removing a giant blister off my heel. With chemo brain fogging my thought process, I didn’t think about how it would feel to walk on raw skin. Needless to say, I soon found out. And I still walk with a slight limp in my step trying to avoid pressure on my sensitive and raw left heel.

Usually I can feel when the chemo has made its full course through my body and is near the end of its damaging rampage. Chemotherapy takes months to fully be out of your body, but the “hard part” wears off a little by the third week. Just in time to get another dose! Of course. So, today my tears aren’t as overwhelming, and my HFS has eased. The peeling continues, but the skin has already died, so it’s not painful to remove it from my hands. My nauseous feeling has dissipated and I can lead a fairly “normal” life four to seven days before my next treatment.

HFS 3 Steph

And the peeling begins! (February 2013)

The sloughing off of my old skin is similar to the birth of a new day and a new future. My old skin cells are being wiped away, and my new cells are forming. My old body is being pushed aside, and my future is being born. No more cancer. No more pain. Only a healthy new day. A healthy new life. Sometimes God won’t bring new into your life, until you remove the old crap. He won’t place new on top of old either, and therefore the old must be wiped away completely. My skin was the old crap. And through this journey, I am becoming more and more ready for what God wants to bless me with in the future. I commit to believing in favor. I believe that I will be healed. As it says in Colossians, I am removing my old garment and awaiting my new wardrobe. I am throwing away my sick body, in preparations for my healthy one. Yet, I must be in this storm to fully be refined. Believe me, I wish we didn’t have to suffer trials and tribulations to get to the good stuff. But through these trials, I am thankful for the refining work He is doing in me and through me. Today is a new day. I choose to move forward in power. So, be gone old skin… I’ve got better things coming!

Isaiah 61:1-7 (The Message)

“The Spirit of God, The Master, is on me because God anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners. God sent me to announce the year of his grace—a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—and to comfort all who mourn, to care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness” planted by God to display his glory. They’ll rebuild the old ruins, raise a new city out of the wreckage. They’ll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new. You’ll hire outsiders to herd your flocks and foreigners to work your fields. But you’ll have the title “Priests of God,” honored as ministers of our God. You’ll feast on the bounty of nations, you’ll bask in their glory. Because you got a double dose of trouble and more than your share of contempt, your inheritance in the land will be doubled and your joy go on forever.”

Hangovers and Television

Chemo effects have officially begun again. Oh, joy. For some reason these poisonous concoctions affect nearly everything in my daily life, at least for a little while. Could the reason be that they are actually poison in some form? I suppose. Annoying. However, I would much rather deal with these side effects and survive than not. You gotta do what you gotta do…to live.

This morning I’m experiencing the exact reactions that I get the morning after anytime I go in for chemotherapy. I call them chemo cocktails, so what better way to call the morning after, my chemo hangover!? Those who have never had the pleasure of ingesting these molecular-killing elixirs, can not truly understand this specialized hangover. It’s nothing like a hangover you elected yourself for by enjoying too many liquid grapes the night before. It’s not a hangover you can salve by drinking lots of water and taking a Tylenol. My face is flushed, my body is tired, my emotions are out of whack, and I’m exhausted with an edge of queasiness. My joints hurt. My bones hurt. My throat is dry. This hangover is one you’ve just got to push through. Fighting cancer doesn’t stop after treatments. You still have to gut it out while the life-saving drugs course through your body.

Seeing myself on TV is nuts! (January 2013)

On the nightly news! (January 2013)

Last night, sleep eluded me. And it’s partner in crime, Ambien, clocked out early. Yet again, I awoke wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at 3 am. After attempting to trick my body into surrendering to slumber, I gave in. No use. I was awake. So, what better thing to do than check my social media. Facebook, Instagram, my blog. The only negative is that none of you post anything in the wee hours of the morning. There wasn’t much to look at, and I wasn’t particularly in the mood to creep on anyone’s page. So, I decided to check our local news station FOX 31 KDVR and see if a particular interview from yesterday had been put on their website. After scrolling through stories of tragedy, death, and how auto-mechanics are ripping off customers (duh!), I found a story of hope.

For those who were unaware, one of our local news stations had asked me for an interview. This interview just so happened to take place yesterday, and aired four separate times last night. My apologies for not making y’all aware earlier. Everything happened so fast. I write bearing good news, however. Those that were at work, out of town, or who don’t have cable are still able to watch the segment. Below I will post the link to the interview that aired on FOX 31 KDVR and also on Channel 2 KWGN.

Yet again, God is making it apparent that my story is a big one. Never would I have thought that people would care to see my story through a cancer diagnosis. But, I trust that His plans are bigger and far better than my own, and I’m rollin’ with it. The segment is fairly short (long in news time), reaching a little over 2 minutes. Obviously I’m a talker, and the crew had to condense my monstrosity of words into a nice package, so not all of my message was shared. For those who have been introduced to my story fairly recently and are visiting my blog for the first time, whether you are undergoing cancer treatments as well, are struggling in other areas of your life, or just feel like some perspective, here’s what I can tell you:

Behind the scenes. Photo courtesy Matt Madsen. (January 2013)

Behind the scenes. Photo courtesy Matt Madsen. (January 2013)

My God is a BIG God. He determines my destiny. A medical diagnosis is not God’s diagnosis for my life. The medical statistics are not congruent to His statistics. I believe in miracles. I believe in healing. And, I believe in a miraculous healing in my body. Regardless of “poor prognosis,” only He will determine when I leave this Earth. And, I can assure you, He will have to drag me out of it kicking and screaming. I’m a fighter. I’m stubborn. I won’t back down from this annoying bug called cancer. As grammatically correct as I am, I will never capitalize that word; Unless it has the pleasure of being at the beginning of a sentence! This diagnosis of cancer will never rule my life. It will never define me. It’s only a part of my journey. And it will be a small portion in comparison to the multitude of years I will live.

For those fighting this disease as well. You can do it. More often than not, you just have to suck it up and keep battling. It’s a hard struggle, but you will discover more of yourself than you ever have. When you feel weak, know that our God is strong. He has not given this disease to you, but has allowed it. For what the enemy tries to use against us, God transforms into something miraculous and good. You will have hard days. You will grieve. You will cry. You won’t want to leave your house, let alone get out of bed. You will experience pain and heartbreak. BUT, you WILL have good days. Great days in fact. Life is put into perspective when you are fighting for it. You will laugh. You can experience joy and hope. This isn’t the end of the road. Certain things in your life will change, but you can continue to hold on to things that bring you happiness. There are people around you, whether you know them or not, who just want to help. Let them. And dammit, don’t give up. As soon as you resign yourself, it’s over. This is an epic battle. You are a soldier. You are on the front lines. And with your medical staff and The Man upstairs, you will crash through this diagnosis with guns blazing. Allow yourself to experience the rough days. Allow yourself to grieve and cry. After all, cancer is shitty. I give you permission to be sad, angry, hurt, and possibly devastated. Sometimes that’s all we need… someone to say, “It’s ok to cry.” However, once you’ve exhausted yourself from tears, pick your cancer-kickin’ ass up. On days that you feel well enough, get out of the house. Don’t isolate yourself. Enjoy the world we live in. Spend time with your friends and family. Go to a comedy show and laugh. Eat good food. Please, don’t let your diagnosis run your life. You are not a cancer patient. But rather, a person who just so happens to have cancer. And last but not least, fight hard. This disease is a jerk.

Feel free to view my very first television appearance on FOX 31 KDVR and Channel 2 KWGN by clicking HERE! And for those who are not so tech savvy, here’s the link: http://kdvr.com/2013/01/31/26-year-old-battling-cancer-urges-getting-life-saving-tests/

2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (Message Version)

“Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us,

‘I heard your call in the nick of time;
The day you needed me, I was there to help.’

Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.”

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.”

The Why

Many people initially respond to trauma or heartache by asking “Why!?” Whether someone you love passes away, you didn’t get that dream job, or things just didn’t work out…more common than not, it’s “Why me?!” I challenge you to be open to hearing the answer. In some moments, God may never reveal it to us; However, if you pay close attention to what He is doing in your life and around you, you may get a sneak peek inside His purpose.

It would be easy for me to ask, “Why?”, throughout the ups and downs in my current adventure. I am human and the fact is, I hate that I have cancer. I hate that I have to endure months and months of grueling treatment. It would be easy for me to ask, “Why did you allow this to happen to me!? I’m young! I have so much going for me.” And more often than not, we are faced with that thought, “Why?” While I have only once let that word slip from my mouth, it’s hard to not have that lingering thought bury itself in my subconscious as a cancer patient.

I am learning that the less I feel, “Why me?!”, the more I learn the reasons for my story. A wise woman once said, “Don’t focus on the problem, fix your eyes on the promise.” Let that sink in. It’s powerful.

There have been several moments in my journey that God has taken me behind the scenes to see what’s really going on. It’s as if He’s saying, “Stephanie, you want to know why? Check this out. You’ll be amazed.” And it’s true. In all things God wants the glory, and I believe my story is no different. No matter what, God will be glorified. And it’s an honor to carry this torch and spread hope for Him.

Today specifically has been a day where I got to peek behind the curtain. In fact, I pulled up a [chemo] chair and watched it unfold before my eyes. This morning, Matt and I woke up bright and early to prepare for another chemotherapy day. As we were on our way to the hospital, my anxieties slowly dissolved. And once I walked into the room where all of us cool kids get treatment, I noticed one lady. Only one. This is extremely unusual, as there are at least eight chairs for patients. Any lingering discomfort fell aside, and I sat down in my usual chair which happened to be next to this beautiful woman. Soon, we discovered it was her first time receiving chemo. After introducing ourselves, we began to talk…and talk…and talk. Divine appointment? I emphatically say “YES!”

I believe that we are each given a story for bigger reasons than ourselves. We interact with others on a daily basis and encounter people who need to hear hope through every situation. I still hunger for hope, and have learned that my true hope comes from Him alone. But for those of us undergoing trials, be aware that you are a vessel. You are being used to share and help others through similar storms. Today, I was able to speak truth, life, and hope to someone very vulnerable and new in her journey. In speaking with her, I saw strength, determination, courage, and bravery in her eyes. She has a genuine spirit full of joy. We bonded immediately, and I look forward to where our journeys will take us in our friendship. As we left, I gave her a hug and shared my perspective of a cancer diagnosis and the battle to victory. “It’s going to suck. I will not lie to you. It’s going to be extremely hard and you’re going to have horrible days. But, be encouraged. Along with those bad days, there will be great ones. You can and will do this. Allow yourself to grieve, but focus on the positive and on overcoming this thing. It’s going to happen.” And she responded with tears in her eyes, “You are amazing. You have made this whole mess seem a lot less scary and much more hopeful. Thank you.” <–THAT, my friends, is the “Why.”

While leaving treatment, I was overwhelmed by the sense of joy and fulfillment in my spirit. Sometimes I yearn to know the bigger picture. I yearn to see the path that God has put forth for me. But, I am thankful that I do not know it all. I am thankful that He gives me blessings along the way. I am thankful for the unexpected surprises. I am thankful for a five-hour conversation with a stranger, who is transforming into a friend. We are going to be “chemo buddies,” we both agreed. I am thankful that she is extremely well-versed on all things baseball (Matt’s favorite sport), for she kept my husband entertained and captivated the whole time. I am thankful that God answers the “Why.” Who knew that you could discover another piece of the bigger picture whilst walking out of chemotherapy treatment!? (Proof that He shows up anywhere!)

It’s so empowering and fulfilling to know that my story is making a difference. I thank each and every one of my readers and dedicated followers for supporting my journey and rallying beside me to kick cancer’s ass. I am encouraged and deeply humbled.

The truth is, cancer sucks. There’s no way around it. If you read my blog, you know I am transparent in sharing my rough days. But those who read, also discover that I make a conscious decision to choose joy. I choose happiness. I choose life. I choose to be above my circumstance. I choose to fight. I choose to be a cancer survivor.

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (MSG Version)

“The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that He not only knows what He’s thinking, but He lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that He is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.”

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