Posts tagged ‘young cancer survivor’

10 Years Chemo-Free

They say that a blog can be therapeutic, and a great way to process raw feelings and emotions. Well, this is one of those posts. At least I gave you a heads up. Sorry, no baby photos or poop jokes today. Maybe next time.

On this cancer journey, several of us have special milestone days each year that take us back to when we were in the midst of our fight. Here are a few of mine:

  • January 23 – the day I was diagnosed, how long I’ve been fighting this bad boy cancer.
  • The two weeks between January 23 – Feb 2 – it’s like this shadow hangs over me these weeks as I remember the journey from being diagnosed, to finding doctors, to finally having my first major surgery.
  • June 9 – my new date I have to go off to consider myself “cancer free.” I’m at 2 years.
  • July 24 – my original “survivor day” that my family and I celebrated on the glorious day I was released from cancer treatments and finished with chemo all together!

I know it’s a lot, it is for me too. But these are my special cancer days that I remember each year. I don’t do big celebrations or even really recognize them all each year  (although my husband typically does, bless his heart) but as each one of these days comes, it’s a time for me to reflect – or as it has been in the past, push away the rush of emotions that come with the reality of this cancer game.

Today is one of the days along my journey that always means something special to me, July 24. I hope I never forget what it was like to walk into my oncologist’s office 10 years ago. I was supposed to have a treatment, one of my last. They drew my blood and saw that I was absolutely too weak to take the next chemo treatment. My white blood counts were way too low. Six months of chemo and a month of radiation had been enough. Instead of heading for the chemo room, I got to go into the physician’s room where he explained that I was done, I didn’t have to finish my remaining two treatments, and that I was released from treatment.

While I walked in there without any strength, I nearly floated out of the office. Finally after several months of living through one of the horrors that comes on this side of heaven, at age 17 nonetheless, I was free. My parents took me to Eskews Fine Jewelry to get a watch – and had it engraved “SURVIVOR” and the date, 7-24-01. I still wear it every year on this day. We went out to dinner at Gojos to celebrate. It was a huge day for me.

Just like the Sunday morning earlier this year on January 23, I had a rush of emotions come over me this morning. It’s funny because during the first years of being in remission, I don’t think I really had it all sink in yet. I would be so excited to reach my cancer mile-markers, and just be pumped to celebrate. I even made a homemade t-shirt and wore it for a few years. I was on cloud nine.


My homemade "Survivor" t-shirt I sported for years - in 2002

Maybe it’s because my cancer HAS come back once that I find it hard to joyously celebrate now, or maybe it’s because I’m older, I’m married, I have a kiddo – and the actuality of what I went through has just begun to hit me. But instead of breaking out my old shirt today and sporting the town with it – proudly showing I am a survivor – I had to make myself get out of bed, go through my typical Sunday routine and not break down bawling along the way. God bless my friends and family who showed up with flowers today, and my hubby who splurged on delicious cupcakes. He knows the way to my heart.

Although I hate that I feel like crying rather than celebrating as each one of my “Year 10” mile markers has come, I actually think it’s a good thing. Last year when I went through counseling, I learned that instead of processing my emotions, I’ve developed a pattern to unplug from them and disconnect with how I really feel. I’ve slowly started to “plug back in” throughout the year, and the raw emotions of fear, sadness, grief, loss and more have rushed in as I’ve dealt with the cancer face-to-face.While it’s not been fun, it is nice to actually feel again and get real with what I’ve faced throughout the years.

So, today hits 10 years for me that I’ve been “chemo-free” and my original Survivor Day. And while I’ve got a train of emotions hitting me, I’m so, so grateful for them. Not only am I grateful for the ability to feel the emotions, but for life and how God is using my story even 10 years later. I could have easily not made it 10 years ago. But He chose to heal me so that His glory would be made known through me and my story. Why that’s not been the case for everyone who has faced this disease, I don’t understand – but I have faith that it’s all for a reason, and I will continue to point people to hope as long as I’m still here. As hard as it is to face the fears, side effects and impacts that surviving cancer so young has had – I absolutely feel blessed to be part of the bigger picture and do my part in pointing people upwards to Him.

So on that note, a huge “hurray” that I’ve been off the chemo for 10 years now. A huge thank you to everyone who has prayed for me, supported us and walked with us through this journey over the years. I can only pray that there are many more days full of flowers and cupcakes ahead.

July 24, 2011 at 9:47 pm 8 comments

Bucket Lists

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, and bucket lists came up. As a cancer survivor, I have a handful of opinions when it comes to certain topics. And while I like to think I’m pretty easy-going, for some reason, these I have a very clear, passionate view on at least four things:  the need for colonoscopy,  cancer crawls, breast cancer awareness month and bucket lists.

I’m not Down on Bucket Lists

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on bucket lists. I actually think they’re great… for most people. Especially when the “Bucket List” movie came out and raised awareness about the whole idea. I think it’s great that people start thinking about what they’d like to do in life. Bucket lists stir passions in people. They motivate people to go get all that life has to offer, at least as much as they possibly can. So while I think bucket lists are great.. they’re just not for me.

Why I don’t have a Bucket List

I don’t have a bucket list. I think it’s mainly because the idea that life is short is all too real for me. Maybe it’s unhealthy and out of fear that I won’t create a bucket list. I mean, I don’t want to create a list that I have no way of achieving. I know that’s how it works for everyone (not everyone can always get to everything on their bucket list)… but that possibility is all too real for me. And although it’s a daily process for me to not live out of fear, I think there are some healthy reasons I don’t have a bucket list. I really do try to live each day realizing that it could be my last … or at least as best I can. I try to cram as much as I can into life just because I’m very aware that life is short. And while I don’t have a long list of big things I’d love to do before I die, I do try to take each opportunity that comes to me. I feel blessed that I’ve gotten to do, see and experience a ton of things already, and that as I continue to follow my heart and passions, that will only increase.

So Should you Have a Bucket List?

I’m not the one to say if you should have a bucket list or not. I think they’re great for so many people, even though I don’t have one. I’d say what is important more than a bucket list is an awareness that life is short. We were all put here for a reason and with a purpose, and so why not find that reason and what drives our passion. We’ll all have the opportunity to do things we dream of doing throughout life, so if it takes a bucket list to realize them – then go for it. Or, if you’re like me and refuse to make a list (but still have a few things you’d love to do in your life in the back of your mind) – do that too. Life is short, so let’s make it count.

May 27, 2011 at 3:31 pm Leave a comment

The Seven Levels of Healing

I recently completed a course called “The Seven Levels of Healing” hosted by my oncology office, Kansas City Cancer Centers.

I was initially introduced to the 7 levels class by my treasured Nurse Kim. Actually, the last conversation she and I ever had was about this class. She lit up the room with excitement and hope as she talked about the opportunity to offer this course to all of KCCC’s patients. She had gone through the class herself and absolutely raved about it. After that day, I was sold, but had not signed up yet. After her sad departure from this world, I knew I had to go through it and not wait another minute. Not only had I been facing some issues that the class could help me with, but it was a way to honor my friend and keep her work going.

When I signed up for the class, I was nervous, excited, and clueless about what was to come. I saw a counselor this summer for several weeks and was curious if the class would cover the same topics. It did cover some of the same topics, but offered me a totally unique and surprising experience that I could have ever imagined.

The course is broken up into seven levels:
1. Education & Information
2. Connection with Others
3. The Body as Garden
4. Emotional Healing
5. The Nature of Mind
6. Life Assessment
7. The Nature of Spirit

Each week offered me a new perspective on how to handle life with cancer. I walked away realizing that my body is a garden, not a machine, that must be carefully tended to. I was reminded about the power of our thoughts, and of unharbored bitterness and forgiveness. I had a host of others cheer lead me through some frustrating test results one week, and I was faced with the uncomfortable situation of thinking about my personal bucket list. I was encouraged that the secular class covered the role that the spirit plays in our physical healing.

This class was absolutely fantastic, but what was even more awesome was the group that I went through the class with. As a teen survivor, I have not been one to jump on the “support groups” train in the past. I have never been against them, but avoided them as I knew I’d be by far the youngest person in the room. Now that I’m in my twenties, I am still usually the youngest person in the group, but there’s often a thirty or forty-something in there with me. And while age has held me back from joining groups in the past, this experience quickly taught me that age doesn’t matter when you’re dealing with cancer – all of us could relate with one another in a deep, very emotional way. Like many of my experiences with the Colon Club, this group of a dozen strangers or so quickly became close friends over the course of seven weeks, and I pray we continue to keep in touch.

I am thankful for the Kansas City Cancer Centers for offering this class. It really did feel like my doctors and nurses were giving back to me in a way. It was of no charge to me and my husband was able to come with me, too. It was led by two nurses who, like my Nurse Kim, believe in the program so much, they volunteer their time to lead the group. It is informative, impactful and mind-altering. It’s helped me view cancer not as a monster hiding in my closet, waiting to strike again – but as a beatable, manageable disease that comes with a lot of support from others who’ve also been through it. If you’re in the KC area and diagnosed with the Big “C,” I strongly recommend checking out this class at KCCC. It will help you heal in ways you had no idea you were hurting.

October 6, 2010 at 5:35 pm Leave a comment

Cancer Survivor Scholarships

On the first day of my chemo treatment, I made a comment to Nurse Kim about the need for scholarships for teens who survived cancer. I figured that little kids with cancer get to go to Disney World for free, the least someone could do for older teens was to help send them to college. Well, Kim started her research and found the American Cancer Society’s “Young Survivor Scholarship.” I applied and was awarded funds each semester for my undergraduate degree.

I’ve been forever thankful to Nurse Kim, as well as ACS, for providing me a scholarship to go to school and live a full life post-treatment. It’s been almost 10 years (I know, I can hardly believe it too…) and I’m excited to see other non-profits and groups catching on to what ACS helped provide for me as a young survivor. There are many additional programs out there these days for assistance with tuition for cancer survivors.

I’m not sure if I have many teen survivors who check out my blog, or those who’ve survived cancer hoping to go to school, but if you know of any, I’d encourage you to pass this info along. Many of the deadlines have passed for this year, but keep it in mind for the next if you’ve got a sophomore or junior on your hands! (Thanks to the SAMFund for notifying me!) I’m sure there are many others too, here are just a few that I’ve learned of recently….

The Kyle Lee Foundation provides financial assistance to college students who have survived cancer, especially Ewing’s sarcoma.

The Ryan Mulally Second Chance Fund awards $1,000 scholarships to individuals 22 years of age and younger.  Priority is given to students still undergoing treatment, those with permanent effects from treatments and those at the beginning of their post-high school education.

The National Collegiate Cancer Foundation is currently accepting applications for their $1,000 tuition scholarships. 

Working Against Cancer’s Survival Scholarship Program assists young adult cancer survivors (ages 30 years and under) by providing awards toward academic and vocational education.

American Cancer Society’s Young Survivor’s Scholarship. Google it for specifics regarding your state!

June 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm Leave a comment

My Personal 9/11

Some days you never forget. Just about everyone can tell you where they were during 9/11. I distinctly remember Columbine. And my dad still tells stories of JFK’s shooting. Today is not a day that is remembered by our nation, but it is a day that’s significant for me and my family. It’s one of those days where no matter how many years go by, I will always remember where I was and what happened nine years ago.

My story actually begins at the library. I worked at the public library near my house as a “page” which meant I had the glorified job of arranging books on a cart and then reshelving them. It was a great job with flexible hours, decent pay and amazing coworkers. It was a Tuesday night. I was with my friends (we called ourselves “The A Team”, ) and we were excited this evening because we had the special job of  moving the tables and chairs in the childrens’ book area for a speaker. We loved when speakers came. We’d spend at least 30 minutes on unique arrangements for the chairs and table stacking patterns.  Anything that could take up extra time, we tried.

As much as I was trying to have fun with our furniture arranging on this evening, I wasn’t feeling it. I was expecting a phone call, and my mind couldn’t stay focused. I couldn’t shake a feeling that something was off. As we finished setting up for the program, I looked up to see my mom & dad coming through the doors. I was surprised to see them since I had two hours of work left. Something was strange though. Their faces verified my anxious feelings. Plus, they looked like death. They met me in the childrens’ area and began to deliver the news.

“We got a call from Dr. T’s office today,” my dad said. “Your mass they found was malignant.”

Dad and Mom looked at me with somber faces, pursed their lips, and anticipated my response. As they began to reach in for instant comfort, the reality that I was a little too young for the disease set in as I asked,

“Malignant? What does that mean?”

They got an even sadder look on their faces.

“It means it’s cancer honey,” Mom said. “Your tumor is cancerous.”

As soon as Mom explained that malignant meant cancer, I felt a heaviness that hasn’t ever completely lifted. I’m sure I began asking many questions they couldn’t answer. We made our way toward the front of the library for my coat and stopped by to tell my boss that I’d be gone for a while. She gave me a big hug and told me not to worry about a thing.

The rest of the evening is a blur, except I remember telling my brother, calling Mike who was at SBU, and having Nick come over to pray with my family that evening. I knew nothing about cancer, except that the only man I knew who had it, died.  I knew I should have felt scared, but didn’t fully understand. I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t sure I was upset. I was just numb and confused about what this all meant. At 17, I didn’t have a lot of experience with the disease, nor did I understand its repurcussions. All I knew was that life would be different.

One thing I remember telling Nick that evening was that I was thankful for the opportunity to spice up my testimony. I had always felt I had such a vanilla story of knowing Jesus. I was raised in the church, so my journey was so typical up until then, or so I felt. But this night, when the cancer bomb dropped, I knew my story had changed. While I was unaware of the physical and mental changes, I definitely knew that part of this new diagnosis was spiritual. And my teenage faith automatically put me into the “God’s got a purpose” for this mode that night.

Today I enter my ninth year as a cancer survivor, and I am reminded by my own words back then. No matter what comes – whether it’s a third diagnosis, a complete colon removal, a rough day with olive oil, losing a friend, or just a challenging emotional day, my prayer is that I forever hang on to my own teenage advice and remember God’s got a plan for all of this – and I have to trust that.

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2-4

January 23, 2010 at 9:58 pm 3 comments

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