Tag Archives: cancer

I’m sorry, did you say cancer? And thoughts on “getting over it”

I asked the nurse practitioner what it could be. She replied, “Well, it could be nothing. Or it could be cancer.” And this is what I learned…

get over it real

 

 

I’ve had a myth in my head for far too long. A myth that said when things get hard – unbearable even – you have to just keep moving and eventually it will pass. Head down, hand to the plow…keep moving. Get past this and it will be okay on the other side.

Advice was a lot easier to give when I was in my early 20s.

“You’ve just got to get over it.”  That was usually my advice. Maybe because I thought time was supposed to heal everything just like the Hallmark cards prophesied. Skimming past a situation with your fingers crossed that it won’t be too tragic is a solution. Get over it. Skip it and pray it never catches up to you.

As I’ve gotten older I have realized the faultiness of my advice. It seems life’s arm has gotten stronger and the curveballs it throws are harder and leave bigger marks. There are some things we can’t just get over.

Last week I started having unusual symptoms. I went to the doctor who was equally concerned. Tests were scheduled for this week. I was told that it could be cancer. Maybe other things were said, but that was pretty much all I heard.

For the next five days I had to try and live life as usual until test results came back in. I realize that for many people dealing with illnesses waiting five days isn’t too bad, but for me it was almost unbearable. Waiting to find out if you have a tumor or not hangs over each minute no matter how hard you try not to think about it.

By the time Saturday morning rolled around I discovered that I had two choices. I could go on, pushing through my days acting like everything was okay. Ignore the problem and it will go away. Ignore the thought patterns and eventually they will blur into everyday thoughts. I could wait until the situation changed and then my fear would subside.

I could learn how to cope like this. I could “get over it”. 

Or I could walk through it. Acknowledge the moments my heart started to panic and resist the urge to drown myself with aimless distractions. Stop hiding from the distress that surfaced with every quiet moment. Ask the hard questions. Throw punches at Jesus for bringing me to a place that didn’t feel safe.

I wrestled with myself, my imagination and the beliefs I desperately wanted to cling to. In the end I had a deep internal peace. Whatever the lab results told me, I was going to be okay. Tumor or no tumor, I decided I wouldn’t let fear dictate how I lived.

On Tuesday I got the tests back. It was not cancer.

There could have been another outcome. I could have just “gotten over it”. Shoved all the flaring emotions under the bed. Taking a deep breath when the news came in that I was fine. Then resume business as usual, keeping the debris of my heart hidden beneath the bed. Hoping it doesn’t slide out when the next hurdle in life comes.

And that is what happens when we try to get over it. It is out of sight but never quite gone. Slowly making its way back into the middle of our lives when we aren’t looking. Jumping at us whenever the next situation triggers it.

This is the myth so many of us believe when it comes to moving past our pain and weakness.

We stuff every moment with business or mind-numbing media. Some choose to fill their glasses with elixirs to make them forget and others laugh on cue – God forbid anyone see them cry. We work like puppets praying that someday – hopefully soon – we will wake up and it will be gone. All the pain, fear and insecurity.

Maybe one day we will wake up to realize we are no longer being hunted by the shadows of our past. But it has been my experience that things are rarely “gotten over”. They are ignored and avoided, but never conquered.

Sometimes the best way to get over something, is to just go through it. —> click to tweet

I wonder what would happen if we chose to just walk straight through our fires. If we quit trying to tame our pain into bitesize pieces that we have to digest for the rest of our lives. Sometimes our mountains we face just can’t be ignored anymore. We’ve got to cross those cliffs and walk through the forests. Cause there is no getting over something like this.

There is no getting over your breakup, your loss, your abuse, your addiction, your diagnosis or your shame.

There is just getting through it.

Acknowledging instead of ignoring. Looking at the photos, feeling the pain. Laying on the cold tile ’cause there is no easy recovery from a blow like this. Crying the tears and writing out the words your heart utters silently inside. Letting ourselves grieve the things we have lost or the fear of what may be. Going there bravely when everything in us screams to run away.

We don’t sit down or give up. We don’t walk around it. We simply walk through it – asking God to carry us when we are past the point of our own strength.

Look around you, friend. I’m not sure where your feet are standing at the moment. I don’t know what you are needing to walk through right now.

But you are destined for good places. Beautiful things are ahead for you – the kind that take your breath away for all the right reasons. Take heart friends. You can get through this.

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May 5, 2014 · 12:09 am

Do You Feel Brave?

Hearing your stories is one of my favorite things about this blog.  A few months ago I received an email from the Von St James family. Eight years ago Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a rare cancer that kills most people within two years.

Today I am posting an interview with her and I know you will be inspired by her journey just as I was. Plus, I have a crush on her hair. Heather Von St James

1. Heather, tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in a small town called Spearfish, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I had worked in a small salon for a few years and wanderlust got the better of me. I decided to drop everything and move to Minneapolis/St Paul, in hopes of a better job and a better life. I’m a city girl at heart. I met my husband after I moved here , worked in a big salon, and eventually became part owner.

At 36, I had my first and only child. Three months after she was born I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. I had to quit working, sell my portion of the business and commit my life to battling this disease. It has been 8 years and I’m still going strong.

2. When your daughter was born you started having some unusual symptoms. What were they? I was tired. BONE tired…more than what I thought a new mom should be, but I chalked it up to breastfeeding and going back to work so quick after having a c-section. I had a low-grade fever that would hit the same time of the day every day. I was loosing weight at an alarming rate. 5-7 pounds a week.

One day I woke up with what felt like a truck parked on my chest. I couldn’t take a deep breath. I became winded and breathless when walking up the stairs or standing for too long. I thought maybe I had pneumonia, but I wasn’t coughing. Also, I was very pale. I had no color in my cheeks or lips. I found out I was extremely anemic and the cancer was the cause of it all.

3. I can’t imagine what it is like to hear a diagnosis of cancer. What did the doctors tell you about your condition and what was going through your mind?

All I really remember is my doctor telling me that I had pleural mesothelioma. My husband is the one who said, “Oh, this is bad”. I just looked back and forth between the two of them not really understanding. He then asked what my dad did for a living.

When I was a little girl my dad worked construction. He would come home from work covered in dust. His jacket would be white and crusty from the drywall dust that he would be sanding off the walls. Anything that I had to do outside I liked wearing my dad’s coat. Unbeknownst to us, it was chock full of asbestos. The cancer I had was actually caused by asbestos exposure and the latency period was 10-40 years.

He then told me the news that if I did nothing, I would only live about 15 months. Chemo and radiation would give me perhaps five years. There was a radical surgery that would give me my best chances – up to 10 years or more. I just kept thinking of my three month old little girl. How she needed a mommy and how my husband needed me to help raiser her. How did this happen? So many questions were flooding my brain. I couldn’t speak.

Thank goodness my husband had a clear mind and can function under stress. He told the doctor to get us to Boston where they did the surgery. My first words were “How do we pay for this?”. I couldn’t fathom the cost involved, but my doctor took care of the insurance. He totally went to bat for me and got my insurance company to cover my surgery and hospital expenses in Boston.

4. I was reading an interview you did and you said that you kept choosing hope over fear. That is an easy thing to say, but a hard thing to do. How did you actually do that?

All I had to do was look at my little girl. I never once asked “Why me?”. Instead I figured, why not me? I was young, otherwise healthy, and I WOULD beat this. And if I did die from it? I would spend eternity dancing on the streets of gold. This gave me great comfort, but I knew I had to beat it.

I wanted to reach out to others and help them right from the beginning. I knew there had to be a purpose for all I was going through and chose to learn as much as I could to inspire others. I was choosing to be a warrior over a victim. I will never be a victim.

5. I have never heard of this type of cancer before. What was the treatment like? And what was the main thing you were looking forward to when it was over?

Surgery was recommended. Following that is chemo and radiation as precautionary treatment. The surgery is brutal and not for everyone. It consists of the removal of the entire lung, the lining around it, the left half of my diaphram and the lining of my heart. They were replaced with surgical grade gor-tex. The doctors also had to remove the 6th rib for ease of entry into the chest cavity. The procedure is called an extra pleural pneumonectomy.

I started the first of four sessions of chemo three months after that. In September of 2006 I had the radiation. By the end of October 2006 I was done. Exactly a year from when my symptoms started.

6. People who face tremendous obstacles and overcome them always seem so brave as I hear their story. Do you feel brave?

I hear that a lot. “You are so brave”. I don’t feel brave. I just followed the advice of an incredible medical team and prayed a lot. Brave? Nope. When I really think about it – TOUGH. Like holy moly look what I went through. I’m one tough mother! Then I come back to reality and just go back to the fact I did what I did to live. Brave? I don’t know.

7. Going through something like this must be life changing. How has being a cancer survivor altered the way you see life.

It has given me so much FREEDOM. I’m serious. I really don’t let a lot of things bug me the way I used to. I’m much more easy going and relaxed. I also feel like I have a lot to offer and want to try and make my corner of the world a little better. So many people helped us and I wanted to give back as much as possible.

Don’t have time for negativity anymore. I quickly found out who my real and true friends were and got rid of negative influences and people in my life. I’m just very happy and I think it shows. Cancer isn’t who I am. It is something that happened to me and knowing that makes life a little sweeter.

Heather, thanks so much for showing us what it looks like to be a warrior over a victim. I know we will all be sending prayers and thoughts your way that you continue to stay healthy. Thanks for inspiring us!

To hear more of Heather’s story and mesothelioma —> click here.

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Filed under An Uncomfortable January, Global, Kiddos, Sunday Kind Of Love

The Adventure I Didn’t Ask For

Moving to Europe and facing the reality of cancer – two very uncomfortable things I have never done, but today’s post comes from someone who has. This whole Uncomfortable January series is about leaving our comfort zones and risking more in 2014. Beth Stedman struck a chord when she posted this fall about a severe mercy. I know you will love her again as she shares a bit more of her story.

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When I hear things about risk,  adventure, and living uncomfortably, my heart starts to do little excited somersaults. These things resonate with me. I have never wanted to live a normal cookie-cutter life. I have wanted something different. Something bigger. I have wanted adventure. And I have understood that adventure requires risk and discomfort.

So, when Liz first told me about this Uncomfortable January series I wasn’t just excited I was thrilled. These are ideas that have shaped a big part of my life and character. But, then I started to think about the present. I began to thing about what risks I want to take right now, and suddenly I was at a blank. As I stared at the blank page I realized something very uncomfortable for me. Right now, I lack all desire to risk. Where had that heart for adventure and that desire to stretch myself gone?

In order for you to understand where I’m coming from I want to take you on a little journey. I want to show you a snap shot that displays my past love for adventure and one of the biggest risks I have taken, and then I want to show you a snap shot that I think displays why I currently don’t desire risk or discomfort.

Snap Shot One: A Risk I Chose

We walk slowly, hand-in-hand, watching as the sun’s rays disappear over the city of a thousands spires. The bricks that make up the bridge under our feet are hundreds of years old and each step seems to whisper stories to us of times past. We stop near a statue and watch the rushing Vlatava river sweep under us. It has rained most of the week in Prauge but today it is dry and the river sings a merry and contented song.

prague

Prague

“So, should we do it? Should we move here?” I ask the question with as much fear as excitement and before Bryan has a chance to respond I am processing through my own answers. Admitting my fear. It feels too risky. Too unknown. Too uncomfortable. But, I want that. I want a life that is different from the norm, a life that is bigger, a life of adventure. I want to be the kind of people who move to Europe for no other reason than because we want to.

I fluctuate with every sentence.

Together we talk through every fear, but we keep coming back to one question, “What kind of people do we want to be?” And suddenly it’s clear.

“Fear is not a good reason to make a decision.” My husband’s words seem to echo on the stone bridge. “It is scary to think of moving here, but we don’t want to be people who live in fear. We don’t want fear to dictate our decisions. We want to be the kind of people who intentionally stretch themselves, who take risks and seek out adventure . We want to be the kind of people who move to Europe.” He pauses before adding, ” I think we should do it.”

” I think we should too.” And with that a decision was made that would change my life.

We spent four years in Prague. It is the longest my husband and I have lived anywhere together. The friendships that we made there are some of the closest relationships that I have ever had. Those friends are family.

Living in Prague shaped us and changed us. It strengthened our marriage, it shifted our values, it expanded our minds, and it taught us how very strong we really are. It was not easy. There were dark seasons and heart aches, there were stressful situations and failures. Moving to an unknown country was a massive risk and it was not without expense. All risk comes at some expense though, and often it is worth the cost. Prague was worth the cost for us.

Snap Shot Two: A Risk I Did Not Choose:

Bryan says a shallow goodbye and sets down the phone.

“Who was it?” I ask right away, eager to solve the mystery that has been going on in my head.

” The dermatologists office. They got the pathology report back from that mass that was under my thumb nail.” His voice is controlled and calm. “It’s melanoma.”

The words crash over me like a wave. I feel adrift. I can’t seem to focus or completely grasp what that means.

“What does that mean?” The words escape my lips as a question, but I am not sure I really want an answer. I know it is bad. I know it is cancer, but I can’t wrap my mind around it. Bryan’s young. He’s healthy. It doesn’t mean what I think it means, right? It couldn’t mean that.

chemo

chemo

But, it did mean that. Just over a year later I would be looking over Bryan’s shoulder at a scan of his body that took my breath away. There was one shot where his body was shown in white and the tumors in black. It looked like swiss cheese. I will never forget it. His cancer had progressed aggressively.

I asked God for a life of adventure and now that he’s given it to me, I don’t want it.

This is an adventure I didn’t ask for. This life I have been walking for the past two years, this path labeled cancer, it’s too far outside my comfort zone. It’s too risky. Fear has become my constant companion – and I don’t like it.

My husband and I value risk and adventure and even being a little uncomfortable. We don’t want fear to control or guide our decisions. But, what do you do when you are thrown into an adventure that feels too risky? An adventure that comes hand-in-hand with fear? When all of life becomes a great risk, when the adventure feels too stressful to take anymore, well, what do you do then? You go into survival mode. You stop seeking risk. You seek out comfort, not the uncomfortable. And instead of your life expanding, it shrinks.

There has been a lot of shrinking in our lives in the past two years. At times our fears and pains have been so great that they served as giant blinders keeping us from seeing anything but ourselves.

Right now if you asked me that same question that my husband and I asked each other so long ago on Charles’ Bridge I would not answer that I want to be a person of risk or adventure. In fact, even asking the question, “What kind of person do you want to be?” feels too risky, to grand, to intentioned for me. For the past year ( or more ) my only answer to that question would have been ” an  alive one”.

I don’t want to live that way anymore. I want to keep stepping out and taking risks even amidst a risky uncomfortable adventure that I didn’t choose.

Bryan

Bryan

I want to go back to choosing to risk and I know exactly where I want to start.

With the biggest risk of all … Love.

In the adventures I’m currently walking it would be easy to wall off my heart for protection. Loving is risky. Loving means the potential for loss. But, I don’t want to let the fear or pain of loss serve as a blinder for me anymore. I’m throwing off the blinders. I’m inviting in the hurt and accepting it with kindness. I’m telling fear to take a hike and replacing it with prayerful trust.

I want to choose again. I want to choose to get out of survival mode and open myself up. I want to choose to dream big dreams again and take the scary risky steps to pursue them. And most of all I want to choose to risk opening my heart to all the love that is around me.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

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headshotsBethany Stedman is a mom and writer who often wishes she was saving the world with a super hero cape, a quill, and some rocking literature. Instead she spends most days playing peek-a-boo with her baby girl, reading Goodnight Moon, and racing around the house with her preschooler. She’s completely addicted to Pinterest, peanut butter, and Doctor Who ( yup, nerd to the core). She blogs about life with God, parenting, marriage, and anything else that comes to mind at http://www.bethstedman.com. Come stop by and say hello.

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Filed under Faith, Fire, Global, Uncategorized, Uncomfortable January 2014

The Dirty Gospel : A Severe Mercy

I’d like you all to meet my friend that I have never met. Well, never met in person. We found each other on Instagram somehow and I began following her story through her pictures. I started The Dirty Gospel series a few weeks ago. Last week I talked about finding God in the midst of loss and depression. I was overjoyed that Bethany agreed to let us in on what the dirty gospel means to her. This week Bethany is sharing her story. 

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Many years ago, I read the book  A Severe Mercy and it shook me. It is among a handful of books that shaped who I am today.

I remember reading it and thinking this is the kind of marriage I want to have. A marriage with no “creeping separateness”. I wanted a marriage where we always remained open with each other. I wanted a marriage where we were friends as well as lovers and just loved being together. I got the impression from the book that they had that. And I remember sobbing when the writers wife died.

His conclusion in the end of the book is that his wife dying was God’s severe mercy to him, because it was her death which led him to a relationship with God. It was in her death that he was able to find God in a way he hadn’t been able to with his wife alive.

In the past year I have had two such severe mercies. Two struggles which have come into my life that I never would have wanted, but that have shaped my relationship with God in ways that nothing else could have.

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When I was in college I begged God not to give me a child with special needs – seriously prayed nearly every day for a year that He wouldn’t!

I thought if God did allow me to have a child with special needs He would be cruel, sadistic, and unloving.

Now I stand at the other end of that prayer, not only having a daughter with special needs but with severe special needs – a daughter who ( according to specialists) is unlikely to ever walk, talk or live on her own.

I can see clearly, from where I am now, that God giving me this child wasn’t cruel –  it was deeply loving. It was His mercy and grace to me.

I want her. I can’t imagine life without her. She has showed me, in ways I never could have understood without her, that God is love. She is a severe, and at times painful, grace to me. But she is still grace.

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When my husband was diagnosed with stage three melanoma there was one prayer that was never far from my lips, “God, don’t let it progress to stage four. Please, Lord!”.

Two months ago, God wrapped His arms around me and whispered His presence into my heart as I read the PET scan that told us my husband’s cancer had indeed progressed to stage four.

And I thought of that book I had read so many years before.

Even in this, God shows His love.

The Gospel is messy in my life because God cannot be controlled. He continually does things I don’t want Him to do. He isn’t made in our image.

God hasn’t come to me in the ways I’ve wanted Him to, but He’s come in the ways I’ve needed Him to. —> click to tweet

This doesn’t make Him unloving, it makes Him GOD.

In all of our lives there comes a time when we pray, “Please, God, anything but ____”.  There comes a day when something happens that we absolutely didn’t want, that we don’t know how we’ll face, something that we don’t understand.

The same happened for Jesus.

Christ Himself prayed that very prayer in the garden, “If there’s any other way…” Oh, God, please not this. Anything but this.

It is the ultimate severe mercy for all of us, and even for Jesus Himself, that God answered His prayer for another way with “no”.

So, today I am grateful for severe mercies. I’m thankful for the heavy, messy, and sometimes painful love of God.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

*** If you consider yourself a praying person, please pause and say a prayer for Bethany’s husband Bryan. He is continuing to fight stage 4 melanoma ***

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photoBethany Stedman is a mom and writer who often wishes she was saving the world with a super hero cape, a quill, and some rocking literature. Instead she spends most days playing peek-a-boo with her baby girl, reading Goodnight Moon, and racing around the house with her preschooler. She’s completely addicted to Pinterest, peanut butter, and Doctor Who (yup, nerd to the core). She blogs about life with God, parenting, marriage, and anything else that comes to mind at www.bethstedman.com. Come stop by and say hello.

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Filed under Faith, Fire, The Dirty Gospel, Uncategorized