Monday, March 2, 2015

The FULL Life

Two years ago, on March 1, 2013, I heard those words no one ever wants to hear: “You have cancer.” But today, at my appointment with my oncologist, I heard great news! “You are finished!” Ah, the words ring such freedom and joy to me. I didn’t realize how much those words would impact me, until I called and shared with my husband, and the tears started flowing. I am finished! I am cancer free! I am singing hallelujahs and celebrating with a vanilla tea latte as I write my Monday blog post.

I said from the beginning that I would not “waste my cancer.” I would use every trial, every rough road, every good moment, to give glory to the One True God—Jesus! For those of you who have followed my blog from the beginning, you have heard the stories, but as I pass this two year mark, and celebrate the new cancer free journey that is ahead, I must take the time to reflect on what I have learned and how God has brought me to this miraculous place I am in right now.

I wrote a reflection at my one year mark that you can find in my blog archives in March of 2014. But today is a new reflection, a new “rejoicing”.

It all began with that initial diagnosis, but quickly spiraled— the first full scans showed that the primary cancer had spread and I was battling stage four metastasized cancer in my colon and in my liver. The outlook wasn’t good or pretty, but my mind and heart said otherwise. I was going to beat this and my doctors joined me in tackling a severe case head on.  Four months of chemotherapy and that first intense surgery in which two surgeons removed three tumors from my body in a grueling 9.5 hour surgery. I remember all the love and support and community of faith that surrounded our family during that time and in the recovery period afterward. I had another surgery in January of 2014 to “resect” my colon, and then it was on to another recovery and more scans.  They found a shadow on my lung and kept an eye on it, and in July of 2014, that shadow was in fact more cancer that had spread to my lung. Within six months, the cancer was back. I had surgery on my lung in September 2014 and the scans after showed that the active tumors were gone! I was technically cancer free. But stage four metastasized cancer means that cancer cells got into my bloodstream and the little nasties could run rampant in my body. So, in December 2014, I began weekly “insurance” chemotherapy to try to run those nasty cells out of system.  I started off strong, but soon the weekly regimen began to take its toll. I had “anticipatory anxiety”—I would taste and smell the plastic, saline, and toxic drips days before I would go in.  I would have dry heaves just walking into the infusion center.  It didn’t take me out, but it definitely slowed me down. Here I was trying to live life to the fullest, and I had to deal with weekly chemo that tripped me up for two-three days, only to gear up for it again within the week. I wasn’t sleeping well and I was nauseaus most of the week and my energy was slipping. I got a two week break and I was ecstatic! I felt like it was free. 

So today when my doctor said, “You are done. No more poisons in your body. You are strong and fit and healthy—it is time to celebrate being cancer free!”--there were hugs and high fives and tears. My doctor reminded me that I have been his poster child and rock star patient and he said he would watch me carefully, but to move on and celebrate life! He then asked me if I would speak at the gala/fundraiser that the Moore’s Cancer Center surgeons and oncologists have each year! Why yes of course I quickly told him, as I repeated my mantra “don’t waste your cancer.” If I can impact one patient, one surgeon, one research scientist, and give hope, then bring it!

As I have repeated many times in my blogs and my Facebook posts, God has taught me so much about who He IS (the Great I Am) and who I am (just a flawed woman who loves a flawless God). It bears repeating because we live in world that seems to lose hope on a daily basis.

One of the biggest things I had to face was my mortality. Now we all know that we are going to die, and we don’t know when and we hope to live a long and prosperous life, but when you are told you have stage four cancer and you have two teenage sons, you cling to hope and life!  But I had to come to terms with the fact that I might not live through this and that God was still GOOD.  My circumstances weren’t good, but His character remains GOOD…and pure and holy and merciful and loving. I had many wrestling matches in my mind and in my prayers in which I cried out for healing, but had to understand that God might not choose to heal me on this earth.  The fact that He DID heal me and did carry me through this ordeal makes me truly a walking, living miracle. I will never go a day without giving God the glory for the fact that I am still alive.

On that note, I don’t take one single day for granted. Not one. Each day I wake up and I thank God for my comfortable home and my beautiful neighborhood and the nature that surrounds me in these hills we are nestled in. I thank him for Life and for my husband and my boys and my friends and family and the material comforts that I am afforded. I catch myself if I complain about a long line, or gas prices, or the change in weather. Really, who cares? I. Am. Alive.

Over the past two years with all the appointments, scans, chemo sessions, surgeries and recoveries, our family decided that we would continue to live life to the fullest. Though I have been battling cancer for two years, I have also had the opportunity to experience the beauty of this world with my family and dear friends. In this time of cancer, I have been to Charleston, Cancun, Honduras, Belize, Cozumel, and the Hawaiian Islands. I have snorkeled in Honduras and hiked a volcano in Hawaii and driven mopeds in the pouring rain in Cozumel. I have wined and dined and shopped through Charleston, and bobbed in the waters of the Caribbean. I have been able to experience so much of God’s creation with those I love and as I said of my motto in 2014—I am “blessed beyond belief”.

As I rejoice in this news today, I want to remind all my readers, followers and friends of one true thing. Please, from the bottom of my heart, do NOT wait for a crisis to strike to start living a full and purpose filled life. The time is NOW. Be grateful for each new day. Love those who are near to you dearly and fully. Experience God’s creation, whether it is the freesia that bloomed with power at the first sign of spring, or the green hills after the winter rains, or the fresh snowfall that leaves a quiet hush. Experience the places God has created in this world, and if you are able to travel, go find those places that cause you to have an “ah ha” emotional experience. Create precious moments with your family whether it is a hike on the beach or a rousing game of Yahtzee or watching “The Sound of Music” together and realizing that life is triumphant and that we are all resilient—more so than we really know.

Today, two years after my initial diagnosis, I celebrate the FULL life. I don’t know how many days I have ahead, and neither do you. But I have this day. Today I am cancer free.  And I will celebrate and LIVE. 


Irene said...

My heart is filled with JOY for you. You are a poster child, as is your family and medical team, for all that can be done to stop cancer's course. Light and love be yours today, tomorrow and always. Namaste

Unknown said...

Catching up on my "Joy" after our workout this morning and just have to thank you for using your God-given talent of prose to bring so much light, reflection and hope into my day. I watch you give 100% on the days when it appears easy and still give 100% on those days when it hasn't been so easy -- you're such an amazing woman! Your healing is God's wonderful expression of faith and love!

Debbie Pederson-Nuñez said...

Seeing all of the details of your experience in summary on paper makes it even more compelling that you are a walking miracle!! Praise God!! Truly amazing...both what the Lord brought you through physically as well as the perspective you had while in the storm. I'm so thankful that it has passed for you!! Live life to the fullest indeed!!