Category Archives: Uncategorized

Excitement and Sadness

I haven’t written in so long!  For that I can say honestly both “I’m sorry” and “you’re welcome”.  I’m not delusional enough to think that anyone can’t get by without an update post from me but I also understand that with the cancer I have sometimes not updating leaves people thinking the worst.  So here I am!  Feeling great and loving life and ready for our next few adventures, some of which some of you are aware of and some of which may be quite the surprise.  

First of all, long story short, we are just about finished with building our very own house!!  It’s unbelievably exciting and we should be fully moved in this week.  It’s crazy how things went from just talking and dreaming to actually building and doing.  It’s been a ton of work but it’s paying off big time.  Here, check out our little slice of heaven!

But the truth is, I didn’t really want to update anyone about our house.  Is it wonderful?  Yeah, definitely.  But we have something much more exciting going on that we need to explain to people: we are planting a church.

Yes.  You read that right.  We are in the process of starting a church right in the area we will be living!!  I am so excited that I could scream, and yet I’m also so sad that I could, and do, cry at the mention of it.  So please, feel free to check out now if this doesn’t interest you.  But if you know us and go to church with us, please hear me out, because I have so much to say.


1. This was not our idea.

We believe God has been working on this in our hearts for a long time but because we have been so happy and comfortable at our church, we didn’t see it.  We have had Acts on our hearts and minds for years as an example of how to “do” church and we are thrilled to try to take this out to our new community.

2. This is not in spite of our current church. It’s because of it.

It’s because of it.  Did you get that?!  We have been so inspired by how the people at our church love and move and breathe Jesus to the New Holland community that we were inspired to do the same in the new community where we will live.  I will always love New Holland Church of the Nazarene.  Always.  We have no reason for leaving besides being obedient to a calling.  We love it there and we love the people there.  That will not change, not ever.  I would recommend that as a church to people without hesitation.  It’s where I found Jesus and where I found a Christ-centered family that supported us and loved us through our hardest times.  You all taught us how to be the church and I pray that we can do that any sort of justice in moving forward with this endeavor of starting a church of our own.  

3. We aren’t trying to start a trend or create a divide.

Unity!  Christ came for unity!  I’m sad to say this but Christians can be just as bad as anyone about jumping to conclusions and assuming intentions and I truly hope that we don’t get caught in the middle of these things.  These things are of the devil and are meant to destroy the church’s credibility so can we all just do our best to not fall prey to this?  My biggest fear in this is that our church will feel betrayed, but I hope I’m wrong.  I hope people will support this endeavor with love and prayer because aren’t we all on the same team??

4. We aren’t trying to steal anyone.

Look, we aren’t trying to take anyone from an already established church who is involved and happily serving.  But if you have felt the call to be a part of a church plant and wish to be involved in this then we welcome you to come and see what we are about.  Just as how it is layed out in Acts, our goal is to build community and serve in Jesus’ name. We want to be outreach focused and we are putting our tithe directly towards community causes.  These are things that our core group all felt strongly about and it’s so exciting to think about the implications for the Kingdom!  

5. Please, talk to me.

I know I’m not the most important human in the universe but I also know that there may be people who have questions or who feel uneasy about this.  Please please get a hold of me because I do not want to leave our church on a bad note.  It’s the only church I’ve ever known and I love it so dearly.  Please, if you want to talk about this, talk directly to me, I’m happy to clarify!

6. Lastly (And most importantly) I do not feel “released” from NH Naz

When I became a Christian, I had to learn a lot of “Christian-ese”.  Most of the phrases and sayings came to make good sense to me and I began to speak this language fluently. But one phrase never made sense to me is the idea of being “released” from a church.  Since becoming a Christian 10 years ago now, I’ve heard it said countless times that the church is not the building, it’s the people.  And that’s exactly why I feel no sense of release from our church.  I love these people with my whole heart and have no desire to lose any contact with any of them.  We intend, with the blessing of our current pastoral leadership, to remain involved in the kingdom work at NH Naz, we just won’t be there Sunday mornings.

I have no idea how this is coming off or even if anyone will care, but it’s been on our hearts for months and as we have a target start date in mind for our new church (Sept 17th!!) we just felt like the cat should come out of the bag and people should hear it from the horse’s mouth.  Animal analogies aside, we are ready!  And if you live in the Lancaster/Lebanon area of PA, feel free to contact me for more info about Faith Journey Church!!

**I’m editing this to add this: if you have any suggestions or advice on church planting we are more than open to hearing it!

.

Results are in

I met with my oncologist in Philly this afternoon and I’m just still so astounded by how this all played out.

It started with seeing my results posted online yesterday.  The wordings of the reports from my brain MRI and my full body PET scan are something I literally thought I’d never see the day.  In fact, I was a little suspicious so while I shared the news with close family, I did not spread the word just in case my homie Dr. A would say something different today.  But yo.  Check it out:

Whoa.  There was a ton less medical jargon to google and the reports were shorter than I’ve ever seen.  What is happening?!  (There was a fascinating report detailing my sinus infection seen on both scans though.  Totally rad for real.)

Then today I met with my oncologist and he was obviously very pleased with how this is all going and… he thinks it’s ok for me to stop my seizure meds!  Why is this important?  Because he can’t assure me I won’t have any seizures once I’m off of it because he’s never had a stage 4 patient go off of this medicine.

It’s nuts.  And I only say this because I’m still trying to grasp this myself.  Once you have tumors in your brain from melanoma it’s typically marked as the beginning of the end.  The meds keep the side effects as minimal as possible while tumors typically grow, multiply, and metastasize.  And here is my genius doctor with a million patients saying he thinks it will be fine but he doesn’t know because he’s never had this opportunity before.  This was super exciting!!  

Until I had to give 10 vials of blood for research purposes.  Eh whatever, I’ll be a guinea pig for this. 😎

It was a gorgeous day today and I received some really great and exciting news.  I’ve recently found it harder to deal with this topic with the kids as they get older and have more specific questions but we take it a day at a time. 

Today, as we were laying in the grass watching the puffy white clouds roll quickly past us while basking in the patches of sunlight, I told them I had some big news.  I told them that at this point they can’t find any cancer in me.  My six year old sat straight up with an open mouth and wide eyes.  They began to sing “Mommy doesn’t have cancer!  Mommy doesn’t have cancer!”  My heart both flew and sank at the same time.  My kids are fully rejoicing in this good news, but it’s also not something that I would choose for them to have to deal with if I could avoid it.  

Our life is different from cancer but I cannot say it’s worse.  I know this isn’t the case for many people and so I share this with a heavy heart on their behalf.

So….we enjoyed the afternoon.  They played joyfully in the springtime weather and I rejoiced inside knowing that I shouldn’t even be here to see that.

It was a good day.

Missing Cancer

“I actually miss it.” I said, probably a little too casually.

Her head cocked to the side as her furrowed brows conveyed her confusion.  A tight smile ran across her lips as her mind reeled with the possibilities of how she had misheard me.

“No, really.  I miss it.” I assured her.

They say that after you have a baby you forget about all of the physical agony your body just went through in the wake of basking in the joy of the new life before you.  And although I can’t say this is 100% true, I can say with complete certainty that it’s worth it.  And I would go back in time and do it again, both times, in a heartbeat.  I’ll never forget how much it sucked, but I’ll always remember that it was worth it.

When I look back on my cancer journey, I feel quite the same way.  Because even though there were so many tears and there was so much heartbreak and physical suffering, everything that happened was ultimately good.  Even if not in the moment, it certainly lead to good.  And I miss it.

When I was sick and facing death, I felt God more clearly than I even knew was possible.  My relationship with Him was solid and easy.  His words were clear and His depths seemed to have no end.  I think back and envision our times together as a literal walk side by side in a lush and beautiful garden on a warm, breezy summer evening.  Just the two of us.  The soft, sweet grass squishing gently between my toes as I beamed with pride at the chance to walk with my Father.  Side by side.  Every time I think of it, this is the image in my head and I gasp a little every time I remember this feeling.  So real.  So close.  So much love and intimacy.  

And so fleeting.

And I hate that it’s over and I hate that it’s so hard now.  I have to work so hard to find Him now.  I know He’s here and I will not forget what has done for me.  But I miss it.  I so much miss that intimacy and connection.  I know that even if I don’t get to experience that again in my life, although I yearn for it, that that has been just a glimpse of what is awaiting me when I pass.  And I long for it, as weird as it might sound.

But I thank God for the fact that not only can I, with confidence, assure someone that He really does work for the good of those who love Him, but that I can look back and actually see where that has happened.  

I was willing to die of it meant somehow that more people would find Him through my death than through my living.  And I still mean that.  But I’ve actually gotten to witness first-hand the genuine love of the Lord gripping my children and I get to walk them through tough moments in their lives and I get to see them putting the pieces together of who Jesus is and why we need Him.  I get the great privilege of serving in ministries where I can see Jesus working first hand.  I’m not sure I could have looked at parenting or ministry with such a God-centered urgency without cancer being a pressure on me to do so.  And I thank God for this every day.

Although I’m thrilled to still be here, it was never my goal to survive cancer.  Maybe I was pessimistic or maybe just realistic, but there was a point where, medically, survival wasn’t in the cards and I accepted that.  I wish I could say I had a fighter’s fire within me that just wasn’t going to give up, but that just isn’t true.  Don’t get me wrong, I always appreciate when people say they’ve found strength because of my story.  That to me is such a blessing and I’m so glad for it.  But when it came down to it, I’ve never in my life been someone who people would describe as particularly brave or courageous.  Any strength that I may have projected came only from God.  It was in my illness that I finally understood what God meant when He said that in our weaknesses is where He shows His strength!  I am, and I say this without fishing for compliments, literally as ordinary as they come.  I am awkward and self-conscious and just completely and painfully average.  

But yet somehow through my circumstances, God was able to reach people and draw them to Him.  I’m still in awe that I was able to play any small part in the growth and cultivation of anyone’s faith.  It’s beyond anything I could have dreamed of.

But a few months ago I began to feel like a hypocrite trying to comfort people in the depths of their pain when I was no longer at a place of physically suffering on that level.  And I had something, at least for the time being, that I couldn’t assure them they would have.  I had life.  I had clear scans and improving health.  I had a second chance and I knew that wasn’t anything I could in good conscience give people hope for.  That wouldn’t be fair or honest.  So I stopped writing for the time being and focused on the relationships right in front of me and how to best serve Jesus in a more hands-on way.  Not  I’ve ever been hands-off in ministry, this is just where I felt God leading.

This is something I’ve said from the beginning with this blogging stuff: I don’t want to give people false hope.  There is no hope in medicine, doctors, treatments, holistic stuff, any of that.  All of that can and will, at one point, fail us.  There is hope only in the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ.  That will never change and His grace will never fail us.  I never wanted to give people false hope and I felt that as a stage 4 melanoma survivor who is doing, well, fine, my continued blogging would do just that.  Do I want that for them?  More than anything!  But I can’t give false hope.

I don’t say this to be coldhearted but honest.  I pray for people to be healed and I desperately want that for people who are suffering but I just never found hope in that.  Hope comes from knowing Jesus is who He says He is and did for us what He said He’s done.  God doesn’t change or fail us or leave us.  He may allow suffering but if we embrace it and try to use it, it will be used for good.

I’m just lucky enough somehow to be able to have been around long enough to see some of this good happening.  I’m so appreciative of people who have shared with me how my story has helped them or a loved one.  And because of that I am much more conscious about telling people how much I appreciate them and how much their stories have helped me.

It was just so beautiful.  It was simple.  It was clear and fresh and everything good.

And I miss that.

But wow am I glad to still be here.

.

It’s My Cancer-versary…

There are lots of things in my life that are amazing and awesome, but this is downright unbelievable.  It’s crazy.  Insane, actually.  Today marks 3 years since I was diagnosed as having advanced stage malignant melanoma.  So much has happened (and if you’ve been with me from the beginning you’re well aware of that) but as I soaked it in today through all of the wonderfully mundane things I did, I realized that so much is the same.  How can this be?  How can my life look so normal?  It’s unfathomable (don’t worry, I’ll run out of adjectives eventually…)

It’s wild to think that three years ago today I was at work in our church office with my cell phone right beside me just waiting for it to ring.  I already knew.  I knew I was sick but there was that small glimmer of hope that they were just wrong.  That the biopsy would show the lymph nodes were benign.  That it was all just a crazy scare.  

I’ll never forget taking that phone call.  Hearing those words.  Trying to soak in everything it means to have cancer while also just trying to figure out the logistics of getting an appointment at Penn and the scans I’d need to rule out more metastasis.  How would I get there?  Who would watch the kids?  What am I supposed to tell my one and two year old?! It was right then that I learned that dealing with cancer is an existential awakening as well as a logical, practical process.  There were steps and protocol and buttloads of appointments.  Appointments for days.  And scans.  And more appointments.  More specialists.  Endless specialists.  (Here we learn how good it is to have cancer in America.  We are fortunate to have this level of care and for that I’ll always be grateful.)

It’s been 1,059 days since I heard the words, “You have cancer.”  And not any part of that was easy.  Not physically, not emotionally, not relationally, not spiritually.  The surgery, the radiation, the chemo.  All of it was awful.  It was awful for me and everyone who knew me.  I don’t say that to sound conceited, but you don’t realize it until you have it that cancer affects everyone you know.  And it’s hard to watch.

And then came that little part where we were told it’s terminal.  I’m going to die.  And not in the philosophical sense of “oh we are all dying aren’t we?” but in the “buy a burial plot, tie up all the loose ends that you can, and look at these hospice pamphlets” sort of way.

I was told I wouldn’t live past Christmas 2014.  That was when they found my brain tumor and I was told the cancer was “exploding in my body”.  They would try to slow it down, try to control it of they could, try to zap it as it popped up, but at the end of the day, the term “quality of life” was thrown around much more than one would like to hear when they are 30 and with a young family.  

669 days.  I’m 669 days past my expiration date.  669 glorious, beautiful, painful, crazy, wonderful days.  It’s absolutely baffling.  It’s something that makes me want to stand up and cheer and it’s something that without exception brings shame and guilt.  Every single time I hear about someone who has passed from cancer, all I can think is “it’s not fair. That should be me.”  Survivor’s guilt is real, and it is painful.

But I’ve grown.  I’ve loved more radically.  I’ve reached out more.  Been a better mother and wife because of this.  I’ve been able to watch my kids grow and learn and be awesome little people.  I know people who don’t like to think of their cancer as a journey, and that’s ok.  But for me it absolutely has been.  I’ve allowed the Lord full control of my entire life and have trusted the Spirit in times when I could not possibly do things myself.  I’ve learned that God has a sense of humor in that I’ve been privileged enough to have been able to (and continue to) share my story in many churches and at cancer events.  I hate public speaking, but I love the Lord and wish to be some small part of furthering His kingdom so I’ve (sometimes with grumbling) agreed to do His will here for as long as I possibly can.  I’ve learned how to say yes to God, unquestioningly.  And that’s been the best part.  

And I’ve learned that, above all and through everything, my only goal is to spread hope.  I wish I could honestly say that I was interested in giving people hope that they may survive cancer.  But I can’t and won’t do that.  Because I never want to lie to people.  But I will absolutely tell people about the hope in Christ.  The hope of peace, purpose, and a love that surpasses anything Hollywood can concoct.  Hope in something very real and absolutely true.  And hope that through Him, our sufferings are not in vain.

I’m still here.  I don’t understand any of this, and of course my prognosis is still guarded, but I don’t feel cancery.  I don’t feel like someone with cancer.  Although mentally it will always be there and physically it’s statistically very likely to be an issue again in the near future, I feel good.  And have peace.  And, Lord willing, tomorrow I will celebrate 670 days past my expiration date.

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this with me.  Whether walking alongside me physically or just hearing of my story and praying.  I just love you all so much.  

Happy Cancerversary to me…

Just a month before diagnosis. Blissful ignorance…
After my first radiation treatment (and about 1 month post neck dissection surgery)
I know it’s gross, but this is what radiation does, folks
Zapping my brain tumor with gamma knife
Dat port tho

I’d do it all again in a heartbeat ❤

.

.

Cancer…Free? 

As many of you know, I had my scans and visit with my oncologist today.  I got to meet with him after my full-body PET/CT and brain MRI and his initial read of the scans were that they looked good!  Like as in, no new cancer and zero growth of the old.  And, not to brag, but I’m pretty sure at one point his exact words were “Your brain looks Great”. So maybe there’s still that pesky brain tumor.  And maybe I have scar tissue from radiation that’s affecting my memory and some other cognitive functions, but still.  It looks great.  A win is a win in my book!

I also received some very comforting validation that as people were on this drug longer And longer (remember, when I started keytruda it was still in clinical trial) they have seen certain chronic issues emerge like…wait for it…headaches!!!  I am plagued by headaches every day And I tell ya I felt like I was going crazy because I’ve had every test in the book but there didn’t seem to be a reason for them.  Well there we go.  Validation.

And as a little cherry on top, I don’t have to go back in three months.  Oh no, I get to spread out my PET scans and oncology visits to every 4 months and my brain MRIs to every 8 months! I never, ever expected that.  He asked if I would feel anxious spacing them out and I told him that usually I forget all of this exists until a few days before and then I’m a wreck so we are spreading them out! Woo hoo!!  Now I can adequately worry about other things, like our first baby going off to kindergarten in a few short weeks….

Ok, so maybe I’m not officially “cancer free” but I do feel free from cancer, and quite officially, I might add.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief today that I’ve been holding in for a very, very long time. I mean come on! I was supposed to die by Christmas of 2014! This is insane…but a good kind of insane haha.

Thanks guys so so so much for all the love.  Every message, note, text, snapchat, encouraging verse and everything else seriously made my day and had me smiling and feeling the love. ❤ I seriously am blessed by those God has put in my path, and it does not go unnoticed.

A rainbow so vivid the other night that my jaw dropped. It was right over our church ❤

There’s always hope and God’s promises are always true!

.

God is Still Good…And Cancer Still Sucks

Hey guys! I know it has been an obscene amount of time and for that I apologize.  I had felt lead to focus my ministry more on people I could see and touch and less out over the internet.  I’ve enjoyed these last few months doing just that but I have certainly missed blogging quite a bit.  Not so much in the writing but in the connection with others that this has brought me.

I received an email today from a sweet friend who has been following this journey and was checking to make sure I was ok.  I realized when I read her kind and sincere words that I may have left a few of ya hanging – never my intent!  Anyway, you should know I’m fine.  I have problems here and there but in the grand scheme of things, they are completely minor. 

Considering at this point two years ago I was literally planning my own funeral, things are definitely looking just fine.  

But I’m faced with an issue tonight that I had to really confront after reading That email. 

I have my three month scans (PET/CT and brain MRI) tomorrow and, well… I’m scared.  There have been some major changes recently just all around in life and I’m not dealing well mentally with them and all I can think is that this is all preparation for the horrible things that will pop up on my scans tomorrow.  Crazy, right?  Obvi. I mean, come on, doesn’t the world revolve around me??

 So I did what any sane person would do.  I made and froze 10 jars of pesto.

For some reason, I’ve found it super relaxing to massacre the things from our garden in the form of freezing or canning *shrug*

So I guess I’m blogging tonight to let everyone know that I’m ok…

…And that I’m not ok.  I’m so painfully aware of what it will mean if something pops up on a scan.  I’m still and always trusting God but I still feel anxiety for what a bad scan will mean.  My kids finally know what it’s like to live a normal life. They have a mommy here everyday and tucking them in at night.  I feel totally fine – well at least fine enough to be everything they need to feel a sense of normalcy.  

And that could all be gone if something is found tomorrow.

God is still good. No. Matter. What.  And I truly believe that.  He loves my family even more than I do and so anything that happens will ultimately be for their benefit, as that is always the prayer of my heart.

But I’m not sure I’m strong enough to deal if something is found.  Yes, God is still good!! But…in my human-ness, I feel anxious and afraid. 

I would absolutely covet your prayers.  I have not a single doubt that that is what has gotten me this far.  I thank you all for being so amazing.

I know that no matter what happens tomorrow, that life is good. God is good. And we will keep going with His help!! ❤

.

Cancer Maintenance and the Physical Battles

I did receive some good news recently – another clear PET scan!  I’m thrilled and my oncologist even thinks it’s ok now to do brain MRI’s just every 6 months instead of 3 which is really cool.  I never thought I’d get to a point where my scans would become farther apart.  I mean, I was always thrilled for my friends who got to do that but I never thought I’d see the day.  And I’m glad I am.  So in August I’ll get another PET scan and a brain MRI at that point. 

And I don’t care if this sounds cheesy, but I would be absolutely crazy not to thank all of those who have been praying for me and my family and who have been so amazing and supportive.  I covet every prayer and have taken to heart every message and comment on here with deep appreciation.  You guys have been amazing through all of this and although my thanks is all I can give, I do give it sincerely and with a heart that stays humbled by the fact that I don’t deserve all of this.  Thanks guys ❤ 

So just for the sake of keeping you amazing peeps updated, I’ve not only had the pleasure of getting my brain MRI’s spaced out a good bit, I’ve also been doing something else I never thought I’d be around to do: maintenance rechecks.

I know, glamorous life, right? Yup, be jealous!  Joking of course, but the truth is it was almost exactly two years ago now when I was pushed to stage 4 with the discovery of my brain tumor and other spots of metastasis, and at that point I was having regular rechecks with almost 10 doctors.  When things started to look grim, the only logical decision was to simply stick with my oncologist for the big “cancery” stuff and let the rest be.  I mean, was it really necessary to keep having rechecks with my neurologist, radiation oncologist, surgeons, and everyone else? No, it really wasn’t.

But now, I’m, well, still here.  And things need upkeep so I am starting up seeing a few more doctors again, but it’s not bad.  I’ve seen my dermatologist continually every three months through all of this and my most recent visit showed another severely atypical mole biopsied that now needs a wider excision (no biggie, I get at least one of these taken out at every single appointment.  Then I get to go back and get the chunk removed and get stitches and then a few weeks later get the stitches removed).

I also have been better at seeing my dentist. Didn’t seem so important when death seemed imminent, but now since having radiation to my head and neck can cause major dental and jaw problems, it’s imperative that I keep up with that.  (Sidenote: after head and neck radiation you’re supposed to see your dentist every 3 months forever.  But that’s expensive, so I’ll stick with every 6 months for as long as I can get away with it.)

Last but not least today I got to see my Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist.  I have a huge soft spot in my heart for her for many reasons, not only does she know her stuff, she was the one who diagnosed me and insisted I go to Penn.  I wouldn’t have known where to go and if she had told me to go to a local hospital I would have.  And I’m just beyond grateful that she got me to go to Penn as there I have not only had access to the best doctors in the world, but I also got into clinical trials that otherwise would not have been available to me.

So anyway, she confirmed what I already knew, I’m losing my hearing in my right ear as a side effect of radiation.  Also the inside of my right ear is perpetually dry and raw and painful.  Small price to pay, in my opinion. 

So these are the things I’ve been up to in case you were wondering lol!  I’m seeing now that these mental and emotional highs and lows are going to stick around and that these maintenance appointments that seemed so silly and pointless just 2 years ago are really important for me to keep up with.  I didn’t  think existing this far past my expiration date was a possibility, but now that it is not only a possibility but my actual reality, I’m trying to figure life out again.  Trying to figure my relationship with God out again.  Trying to figure out where I fit in in the Kingdom again.  Trying to discern where the Spirit wants me.

It’s confusing and wonderful, frustrating and beautiful.  And I’m so happy to be here for it.

image
This pic has nothing to do with anything. But aren't they the cutest?? 😉