How did you spend your senior year of high school? I would imagine that most of you would say finishing projects, waiting on college acceptance letters, skipping a few classes, making memories with friends, and looking towards graduation and new chapters.
That’s how I thought I’d spend my senior year, too. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball (for my European friends, it’s a baseball analogy for something difficult or tricky). And that’s exactly what happened to me.
It started with strange pains in my right leg/hip. Multiple doctor visits, blood work and a biopsy resulted in an appendectomy and exploratory abdominal surgery. Turns out, my appendix was fine. What didn’t seem fine was a lymph node the size of an egg. It was sent off for testing, but the results said it was benign.
That was October/November 1993. By January 1994, I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t stand up straight unless I pulled my left leg up towards my chest. I was frequenting the chiropractor who, through x-rays, could see what he called a ‘gas pocket’. Most nights as my family slept, I would toss and turn, trying to make myself comfortable with stacks of pillows and piles of ibuprofen, or attempting to soak in a hot bath to relieve the pain.
By the beginning of February, I found myself in the hospital with a diagnosis of Stage IV Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. That ‘gas pocket’ was a large tumor pressing on my spine.
And thus began my life of living with the C word: Cancer.
There were times where I laid in a drug-induced coma, the doctors telling my family that the chances were slim and they needed to pray. Sometimes it was because of the cancer. Other times it was because of a gram-negative infection or meningitis, brought on when my immune system had been weakened by the chemo.
But through it all, God gave me peace. Looking back, I can’t remember a single time that I thought I was going to die. I guess others must have thought it, but it never crossed my mind.
Yesterday, February 28, 2014, I celebrated 19 years since I finished chemo. 19 years since I was declared cancer-free. It hit me that more of my life has been as a cancer-survivor than not.
During my treatment I was invited to participate in an art project, which was later turned into a book (Angels & Monsters: A Child’s Eye View of Cancer). In the project, I shared about a dream I had shortly after my diagnosis. You’ll have to read the book to get the whole story, but one of the lines I wrote at age 18 was “It then occurred to me that perhaps I hadn’t yet fulfilled all that God planned for me.”
I’m thankful that God chose to heal me this side of heaven. And thankful that all of this is part of my testimony. Thankful for the way he led me to a husband who loves me, even when I’m moody and difficult (I still blame that on the chemo side-effects!). Thankful for the way he built our family across continents. Thankful for the opportunity He has given us to work in a new country and culture. Thankful that He is patient with me when I don’t get it right.
Nineteen years later, I have so much to be thankful for. This anniversary reminded me of that, and reminded me not to forget the journey God has allowed me to take.
*Special thanks to my friend Billy Howard (Billy Howard Photography) for capturing some special milestones of my our journey. Billy, you and your camera are quite a pair!