Lightning Strikes Again

Would you imagine for a minute if lightning were to hit you, what that jolt would do to you. Then imagine if it happened twice! I’m not talking about lightning striking in the literal sense, but we often have events that happen in our life that really feels like such an immense jolt. It makes us scratch our head and think what in the world just happened to me and why? The events that have happened in my own life are related to having that evil enemy we call cancer strike me not just once, but twice. It was bad enough when I learned that I had Stage IV thyroid cancer and the complicating journey I’ve had with that, but then was I was told that I had another possible cancer, that pill was a bit hard to swallow.

Here we go with events that led up to learning about my second cancer journey. Going back to January of this year, is where it all started. I work with an awesome group of special needs students and as you can imagine in any school environment when one kid gets sick, they all do. It spread like wildfire this year and of course I succumbed to it as well. For me, the minute I get the slightest cough it turns ugly into a full-blown asthma exacerbation.  This went on for the next three months. My immunology doctor and I both could not understand why it was so bad this year. So, she recommended that I have a chest CT to investigate further whether there was some other underlying cause. One never wants to hear those words…. I have good news and bad news, but that was the phone call I received from her the following day after that scan. The good news was that the scan didn’t show any underlying reason why my asthma was so bad this year. Unfortunately, my doctor said that it was just a bad season for my asthma to flare up. Incidentally, the scan showed a large tumor on my left kidney. She suggested further testing. So, one ultrasound and another CT scan later, it was still highly suspicious of renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), but they could not differentiate if it could also be a benign tumor. This all seemed so surreal, I thought I must be dreaming or something….is this really happening to me? It was a bit hard to digest.

Like always, my doctors at the university took swift action getting me in quickly to quite an awesome urology surgeon, Dr. Nicholas Cost. He explained to me that because the tumor is so large he highly recommends that we remove the kidney. He said the other option would be to just watch and wait to see if it grows further. I’m thinking to myself oh hell no! I’ve already been through the watch and wait with the thyroid cancer. I want this thing out before it has the chance to grow and cause even more problems!  I scheduled the surgery about a month later so that I could complete the school year out. In addition, we had already made plans for my husband to be home from overseas at about the same time.

The surgery went as my surgeon and his team thought it would and my left kidney was removed successfully. I was in the hospital for two days and I could have been discharged the next day, but my oxygen levels kept dropping. Thankfully, it resolved itself quickly. I was glad to get discharged as it seems that you can never get any real rest when you are in the hospital as they are always checking your vitals so often. I understand the importance of that, but sometimes you just want to say enough already! It was kind of a rough ride home from the hospital as we live ninety minutes away. I felt every tiny little bump, but utilizing some pillows helped to alleviate the jerks I felt from each little bump. At least I was riding home in style with my husbands new ride, he had just bought a new 2017 Ford Mustang convertible. At first he had the top down, but that lasted about a minute. It was easier having the top down to get me in the car, but I didn’t feel like getting wind whipped; nevertheless, I was able to endure that ride and grateful to get back home and to be with my family.

Testing after removal of the kidney did in fact show that it was kidney cancer, but the good news is that it was caught early and so the only treatment needed is the removal of the kidney. No radiation or chemo is required!! I am truly full of so much gratitude for the amazing team of doctors I have at the University of Colorado Hospital. I have been blessed beyond measure to have such a stellar team of elite professionals, who truly care about their patients. If my doctors had not been so proactive we would have never known about the kidney cancer. I’m truly lucky and grateful it was caught early. Expressing thanks just doesn’t ever seem to be enough, but I hope that each and every one of those doctors know just how much they are appreciated!

I never imagined that lightning would strike me twice! However, I have witnessed and experienced many tender mercies over the course of my cancer journey. Although, the road has not been an easy one for me, I’ve learned so many valuable life lessons along the way. As my friend Rob, who unfortunately lost his cancer battle said to me many times “we need to embrace our sufferings and adversities if we can, as we will learn the most about ourselves during that time…… we are walking through the refiner’s fire to make us into something better.” His words have always stuck by me and there is such truth to them. I miss that man so much! What I wouldn’t give to have just five more minutes to talk with him.

I was recently reminded of how many of us throughout our lives will be asked to climb mountains and some days it may feel as though we may never reach that top of the mountain. We may ask ourselves how is it possible that I can do this? Nevertheless, it is something which is attainable if we exercise a little bit of faith, patience and belief in ourselves that we can do hard things. I know that this is just one of the many mountains that I have been asked to climb and I am sure it is not the last. Although, life may sometimes knock you down, what matters most is that we keep getting back up. We must make that choice to never give up, to keep going even though it is hard. What can define us is how well we rise when we are knocked down.

A very good friend of mine, who also happens to be the surgeon that took out my thyroid has always given me those reminders frequently that every day is a gift. It is something that took me getting cancer to truly understand just how precious life really is and that tomorrow is never promised. How we choose to live out the remainder of our days is up to us. How do we want to be remembered? What is our legacy going to be? I want to be known as that person that didn’t let bad circumstances such as cancer effect my outlook on life. Also, it is to educate others on the importance to pay attention to your body and health. Learn as much as you can about your disease and pay it forward by passing the knowledge you have on to others. Most important of all, tell the people in your life just what they mean to you, life is just too short not to. Don’t let cancer or anything else that comes in your life drag you down. Grab life by the horns and don’t let anything hold you back. Be your best self. A great and simple truth I have learned is to appreciate every precious moment and live as though today is your last!

I will close this post with the following song which has such a great message that we can rise above anything that comes our way it just takes a little bit of faith!

Tribute to a Warrior

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People may come and go throughout our lives, but there are those few people that touch our lives in such a way like no other; those extra special stars that put a stamp on our heart so deeply and we are never the same. One such unique individual that I have met through the online cancer support group forums is a wonderful man named Rob Bohning.  As many can attest, the influence this man has had on so many people as he has shared his own journey with Thyroid Cancer, as he has been there to inspire and uplift others in their good days and especially during their darkest of moments with this disease. Despite the many difficulties he was going through himself, Rob’s thoughts always seemed to be towards his fellow thyroid cancer survivors and what he could do to help them. He was the leader of the pack and truly the “one” who always put others needs ahead of his own.

So what exactly defines a cancer warrior? I think that all who are touched by cancer in one way or another are warriors, whether you are the one going through it, family members, friends and even the doctors themselves trying to battle this beast of a disease that sometimes seems to have no end. The struggles of these brave souls are many with what cancer puts them through both physically and emotionally. Those going through cancer each have a story to tell. Although every journey is different, cancer survivors have such a common bond in relating to one another and being able to support each other in this fight, which is why support groups are so important.

I met Rob through the Light of Light Foundation Facebook support group. Through these online forums I have been able to gain more knowledge and understanding about thyroid cancer and its effects. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts for the first year after my diagnosis I felt like a little lost puppy not knowing how to navigate my way through this disease. However, when I stumbled upon these online support groups I felt as though a weight was somehow lifted and that I could see a light at the end of the tunnel after all. The knowledge gained through these forums has taught me what questions I need to be asking my doctors and the skills necessary in learning how to advocate for myself. I am truly grateful that I have been able to have that support from someone who gets it as they are living through it and walking in similar shoes.  I have been able to develop many lasting friendships with those in the online support groups; although I have never met many of these people in person we are uniquely bonded together by similar circumstances.

With that being said what I want to do with this blog post is to pay tribute to one of these true warriors who has had such an impact on me as I have traveled this path. Unfortunately, Rob lost his very lengthy battle with Thyroid Cancer. He always shared his wisdom and honesty and was always straight forward about it. I think what I loved most about Rob is his testimony and faith in God. He was a man of enduring faith and was an instrument in God’s hand spreading his message of love and hope even amidst the darkness that this disease can put on a person. Here are a few lines of what Rob spoke about in our discussions that I want to share as they have such great meaning to me and are pretty powerful.

“Cancer is a hard diagnosis. But many have lived with it as a chronic illness for years. Even a stage 4 diagnosis is not a death sentence. ( I really thought that I did receive a death sentence with my Stage 4 diagnosis, but Rob has taught me to see things in a different light)

“I will tell you that fighting cancer begins in the mind. If you lose the mental battle with it, your body won’t be far behind. So wake up each day and be determined to live your life to the fullest.. and choose to beat it. I know there are bad days of pain, new things that pop up, and new things that can worry you every single day with this cancer. But take it a day at a time, and do not let it control your life. Remember, you have cancer, it does not have you.”

“ I do what I always do–I choose to pray. I know this battle ultimately resides with God. It’s His to fight in the end. All of us are merely renting these bodies and they will all break down over time………

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says:” there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens”

If you are in a healthy season, enjoy every minute of it. If you are not healthy, embrace that too. Because in these deep furnaces of affliction, God will infuse you with iron and you will be able to withstand anything. “

“It matters when you are put into the fire, because it withstands despite the heat. So embrace your sufferings if you can.. you will learn the most during this time about yourself, and God does His most precious works in you when you are being refined in the fire.”

 

One other amazing quality that Rob had was his talent and passion with photography and here are a few pictures of how he captured nature’s beauty. The first is a favorite of mine and words that I now live by which Rob taught me.

 

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Every season

Be Still

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunrise

 

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Rob would often speak about the things that just stick with you forever and how serving in the Marine Corps helped to prepare himself to have the fight and attitude to win the battles of life. Without a doubt those marine experiences did prepare him for this war and battle with cancer.

 

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Another important quality that Rob demonstrated was the deep love he expressed for his wife and beautiful children. It was very obvious in the way that he spoke of them and proudly shared pictures of them with us. He taught his children well and I was so impressed when his son Andrew, wanted to do his part in helping his dad fight this disease when he did a triathlon last year to raise funds for research and had raised over $7000. The apple surely doesn’t fall far from the tree there. The impact of one small little boys’ wish was great and I am sure that Andrew is going to do great things and make an impact on the world, just as his dad has.

Rob was there for others sharing his love for God and his testimony of faith through his actions. Here is a short clip of of how he shared his cancer journey and his faith which was done about a year  ago and and I will let this video speak for itself.

 

One song that comes to my mind when I think of Rob is by Kutless entititled “Even If” which is a video with lyrics that I want to share:

 

 

Although the healing just did not quite come for Rob and yet in the midst of all the suffering he went through, he still knew who God was and chose to have gratitude even with the trials and challenges he was facing. He was one extraordinary man teaching others what it means to endure to the end.

It just seems so surreal and I can’t believe I will not be able to have conversations with Rob again. He was there providing such wise words of wisdom and I could always count on Rob to lift me up  and give me encouragement when I was feeling down. The ThyCa community has been greatly affected by loss of this amazing individual and his death is greatly felt among us.

I look forward to the day, as do many others when we can see and talk with Rob on the other side to tell him face to face just how much he influenced our lives. Rob was such a true warrior in every sense of the word and fought this fight to the finish; this brave soul may be gone, but he will never be forgotten!

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One More Year

When you think about it there are different milestones we experience throughout our lives. Some of the common ones you think of could be starting school for the very first time, learning how to ride a bike, going on that first date, attending and graduating high school and college, starting your career, getting married and having kids.  The last four years has been another important milestone for me in remaining a cancer survivor. Today, February 22nd marks the day I consider myself to be a survivor. Many cancer patients use different ways in which they recognize that they became a survivor. Some may use the day their doctor gave them that fateful news that they have cancer; others may choose to use the day that they were declared cancer free. For me, I use the day that my cancer laden thyroid was removed for good and how I recognize my survivorship. Many call this their cancer anniversary and something which should be celebrated and accumulated every year you reach that milestone.

Having the opportunity to celebrate another year of survival and reaching yet another birthday, especially when you are at Stage 4 is something to be valued. I feel so very fortunate for still being here; however, then those thoughts start swirling in my head and sometimes I wonder why I am here when others have lost their battle? I have pondered over this so many times, especially over the last year as I have had to watch some friends lose their cancer battle.  Moreover, I’ve watched other close friends lose people who didn’t even stand a chance, because they had cancers and other deadly diseases which spread so rapidly that resulted in their demise in only a few months’ time. Their life was cut so short way before it should have been.  It has been a struggle coming up with an answer as to why my life has been spared, but their life was not. So far the only thing that I can figure is that God must have a higher purpose for me and maybe there is something that I still have yet to accomplish; although, I’m not sure exactly what that is. Perhaps it is just to be there for people who are experiencing cancer whether they are a survivor or a caregiver. Knowing there is someone out there that understands what you are experiencing and can share their knowledge just might be what that one person needs. When we can begin to have an understanding of things that just don’t make sense, I believe that is the ultimate test of our faith. There is a music video from Kutless that I want to share about faith:

Never before at one point in my life has my faith been tested more than it has been by going through this cancer experience.

When I was first diagnosed I really thought my days were going to be very numbered as I didn’t understand that it was possible to survive a Stage 4 cancer. I allowed all of those doubts and fears to overtake me. The thing about fear is that it can paralyze you, if you allow it. It can prevent you from moving forward and living life as you should. I know just how crippling that fear can be; it was as though I was at a standstill for the longest time. I am truly grateful for the people in my life that helped me to realize that I had to learn to let it go; I needed to change my mindset and how I look at things. However, sometimes those fears can somehow seem to sneak back into your life when you least expect it. With the challenges I am still facing, I just have to constantly remind myself to let it go as I don’t want to go down that road again in letting it control my life.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for my fellow cancer survivors who have shared their experiences and insight helping me to really understand that I can be a survivor. Some of these survivors have literally been to hell and back again with what cancer has put them through, but yet they are continuing to stay in this fight and are winning this battle, some even 10 years, or more down the road. Being able to relate to someone else who is walking these same lines and knows the dark valleys I have experienced has been so imperative for me. My cancer support groups both local and online, have been that lifeline that I have been able to cling to. Many of them I have never met in person, but yet we have cried, prayed and laughed together through a digital world; we are all uniquely bonded by similar circumstances.

I want to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude for my outstanding medical teams who have always had my best interest at heart, even when I haven’t always understood the reasons for some of their decisions. I could not have had a better team of skilled doctors, nurses and other professionals who have dedicated their lives in the service of others. God certainly put the right people in my path who have provided me with such excellent care, but yet so much more; some of them have become such close and dear friends to me.

Being a cancer survivor has really helped me to understand and appreciate that our time here on earth is so limited and why we need to savor every moment that we have. I now place my focus on those things and the people in my life that make it worth living. One quote that truly stands out for me is this:

What matters

 

It is not about those material possessions we have in life, but what matters most is the people in our life. My family and friends are my most precious jewels in my life that I no longer take for granted. The piece of wisdom that I would like to pass on to others is with the following quote:

 

 

Opportunities

 

You never want to leave words left unsaid. Sometimes you may think you have time and then that precious commodity we call time is swept away from you, because of cancer or other situations that is something beyond our control.

One hard lesson I’ve had to learn throughout this journey is that I don’t always have control of things and learning to let go of some things has been a bit of a challenge. I will admit that I am a total control freak, and it has taken me quite some time to understand and embrace the fact that I am not always the one in control. However, what I have learned is to control the things that I can and the rest is in God’s hands. We may not always understand why things have to happen, but there is always a reason or purpose for it.

Just as precious metals are refined in the fire, so are we being refined as we face trials and tribulations. I think that is when we learn more about ourselves; at least that is what I am finding out for myself. This turbulent journey has also been one of self-discovery in realizing who I am, where I am going and just what I am capable of accomplishing. Just because I have cancer does not mean I can’t continue to live out my dreams and to see those dreams become a reality. I have come to understand that you just have to keep pushing forward and live life day by day. You do your best with the circumstances you’re given, as the attitude you carry truly does play a role in determining your destiny!

 

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No matter what challenges that lie ahead as I continue on this cancer journey, this is something that I would not trade for anything.  I have learned so many valuable life lessons and it has helped me to be a stronger person because of it. I have met some of the most wonderful people along the way, who have truly touched my life more than they know. Moving forward, I am very appreciative of being afforded one more year of being a cancer survivor and will continue celebrating each year of survivorship as an important milestone in my life!

Faith & Hope

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This cancer experience has been such a faith-building journey that has had many ups and downs, but one that I hold dear to me as I have learned so many valuable life lessons because of what I have had to go through. I have had to learn how to trust and by the grace of God I have come to know that we all have challenges or hiccups in life; it is by exercising that faith that we are able to endure those trials and challenges we are faced with, no matter how difficult.

There is a song by the band, Kutless, which is entitled, “Even if” which is a song about praising God even if we are experiencing difficult times in our life. Sometimes in life the answers to our most heartfelt prayers are simply NO. We just have to put our trust in God and accept what he has planned for our life, even if it is difficult for us to understand at the time. I would like to share the music video for this song which is something that really applies to me:

 

 

There is another song that resonates so much with me with what I have been through and experienced throughout this journey. I believe it has an important message that God is with us during the good as well as the difficult times in our lives and I’m including that music video for this song as well:

 

 

There are some that may even question the existence of God and we are all entitled to our own personal beliefs, but I don’t need tangible evidence to know that there is a higher presence, because I know it in my heart. It really is a freaking miracle that I am here and have a voice to even speak and I firmly believe that God truly guided my surgeon’s hands for them to accomplish what they did. God is the One who is bigger than you or bigger than me and is all knowing.

Although that complete healing just never quite came for me, the lyrics to these songs have spoke volumes to me and have been such a great reminder that God is with me always as I walk in these shoes that have been put before me.  He placed this trial in my life for a reason and is something which has helped me to grow as a person. Even during the darkest moments in our lives, the one thing we can look toward is hope. When we think that we just can’t possibly keep going during a difficult circumstance we can find that hope that can get us through those difficult times. There is another song that I want to share that helps me understand that I can always rely on hope:

 

 

God knows our fears, pains and struggles that we go through. Although at times it may feel as though it is hard to feel his presence, we have to put our trust and faith in Him that he will get us through these difficult challenges and dark days in our lives. Even though it may be difficult to see that light at the end of the tunnel, we can rely on the fact that there will always be better days ahead of us. God led me to this challenge and has been walking me through every step. He is really the true healer and will never forsake us no matter what trials and challenges we face in this life.