Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Beginning of this Journey

This is something my sister-in-law wrote for me based on our conversations last spring. She wrote it because her sister was participating in a Lance Armstrong ride to raise money for cancer research...

I am 31 years-old. I am a daughter, a teacher, an artist, a sister, and a friend – and I have cancer. Before being diagnosed, my only symptoms were digestive upset and abdominal swelling. There was no pain, no dramatic warning signs, until my abdomen started growing larger and harder very quickly.

On December 29, 2008, my doctor found a soccer ball-sized tumor in my abdomen. My oncologist planned to remove the tumor during the first week of January, along with the ovary to which the tumor was attached. When the doctor operated, he found advanced cancer in the tumor, along with an additional smaller tumor, also cancerous. Because the cancer was so aggressive and growing so quickly, the doctor performed a complete hysterectomy. On January 7, I became a 31-year-old with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer. I am undergoing six cycles of intense chemotherapy every three weeks, in addition to weekly blood draws. Because of the aggressive nature of the cancer, I will have ongoing follow-up treatments and frequent medical check-ups to monitor my body for potential cancer recurrences.

When you are 31 and bald and have cancer, it is a bit of a conversation starter. I am an elementary school art teacher, and had to take two months off of work for my surgery and first two treatments. When I returned to teach, I explained to my students that I am taking medicine that made me lose my hair—to make sure I’m all the way better. My students’ questions have ranged from, “Are you going to die?” to “Can you still get lice when you’re bald?” And while people of all ages don’t come outright and say it, the question of “WHY?” hangs in the air. “Why you?” “Why in such a young person?” It doesn’t make sense. Heck, even my doctors can’t explain it. I can’t tell you WHY, but I can tell you that that God knows why and what for and for how long. And I can tell you that He is doing something beautiful with this whole cancer thing, that He does know, and that my only hope is in Him and in His faithfulness to keep His promises.

Cancer sucks, that’s all there is to it. It’s a painful, intensely challenging experience in every way – physical, emotional, and psychological. God has prepared me for this in many ways over the years and as I see His hand guiding this process, even in the tiny details, I feel loved and protected.

Through my family and friends, and friends of family and friends, I literally have hundreds of people praying for me, maybe even thousands. And in these long few months since my diagnosis, I have seen God answer many prayers in tangible ways. I have returned to school to teach again, even though I am in the middle of intense chemotherapy. My health insurance coverage is very good, making my bills relatively affordable. I have seen an outpouring of love from friends, family, co-workers and students since my diagnosis.

After my diagnosis, several people sent me some of God’s promises found in the first few verses of Isaiah 43: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze…You are precious and honored in my sight… Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

If going through chemotherapy isn’t walking through fire, then I’m not sure what is. Every three weeks, I sit through a day of poison being injected into my body to kill the cancer cells, and yet I am not burned. This is not my fight; this is not my inner strength; this is not just me gritting my teeth and getting through it as my body is rocked by the aftershock of each treatment. This is God’s fight, His strength, His work.

Cancer is an awful, awful disease. I would not wish it on anybody. I have been blessed to have the love and support of friends and family, and the financial provision to get through this. But cancer does not discriminate – and there are many, many people fighting this disease without access to treatment, health insurance, or a support system of family and friends. The Lance Armstrong Foundation provides these things and more for people who need them. Please consider supporting my friend Jen in her efforts to raise $5,000. And please keep me in your prayers.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written, Jo. Thanks so much, Jen! :-)