Tag Archives: survivor

20 Years Later: What cancer took from me, and what it gave me

©Billy Howard Photography
(1994) from the art show & book
Angels & Monsters: A Child’s Eye View of Cancer
(find it HERE on Amazon)

Twenty years ago today, my oncologist confirmed that all of my scans were clear. Thirteen months of chemotherapy behind me, and loads of possibility and unknowns ahead. I was officially in remission, off-therapy, and a cancer survivor*.

Twenty years. I don’t remember a lot of details. Partly because it has been a long time, and partly because that’s what chemo does to your brain. But I do remember what it feels like to be so sick that you start to wonder how cancer could be worse than what the chemo is doing to you. I remember the feeling of receiving Benadryl through an IV (amazing what that can do for nausea – and how quickly it makes you sleep!). I recall how good it felt each time the scans would come back clear after  an MRI or spinal tap. And I remember how excited – and scared – I was when they said I was finished with chemo.

Cancer took a lot from me. It took my hair – quite devastating for an 18 year old girl. It took my energy. I felt tired all the time. It took the majority of my senior year. I completed most of the final semester from home. It took me away from friends and activities. It took what should have been my first semester of college. While most of my friends were off to school, I was spending my days in the hospital or sick at home.

Yes, cancer took a lot. But cancer gave me a lot as well.

There were little things: an amazing hat collection, more flower deliveries than I could count, gifts and visits from family & friends, a standing ovation at my high school graduation, and lots of other fun little things. But the big things are much more memorable and important.

Cancer gave me the chance to really examine who I am and what I believe. And even though I was sick and my body was weak, my faith grew stronger. I felt God’s presence, and I knew He could make something beautiful out of my circumstances.

Cancer gave me more time with my family. It gave me a chance to evaluate relationships and priorities. It opened doors to my participation in/with newspaper, television, and an art exhibition. It provided me with the opportunity to set goals. It gave me (and continues to give me) so many opportunities to share my faith with others. And cancer gave me the chance to start college a semester late, at the right time so that I could meet the man I would one day marry.

I am a cancer survivor, but that is only a part of who I am. It is a journey that I would not have chosen. But it is a journey that made me stronger in many ways, and one that ultimately led me to, among other things, my husband, my children, and a life overseas. I am grateful that God has given me this testimony, and twenty years of life and opportunities. God is good!

You can read more about my cancer experience HERE.

*And FYI – once you’ve lived a moment beyond your diagnosis, you are a survivor in my book!

19 Years Cancer Free

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.

©Billy Howard Photography
(1994) from the art show & book
Angels & Monsters: A Child’s Eye View of Cancer
(find it HERE on Amazon)

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.

©Billy Howard Photography
follow-up photo for the book

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.

©Billy Howard Photography
Billy graciously took
family portraits when we
first brought William home

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!