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!

A Debt of Gratitude

So it is the last day of September for thyroid cancer awareness and I just wanted to take the time to express my gratitude and pay tribute to those who have played a role in my journey. Each person that I have come across has affected me in one way or another. Even that simple gesture from a stranger in the hospital who gave me that smile as I walked the halls of the Huntsman Cancer Institute after my first surgery. It lifted me more than they will even know. Back then my journey had just begun and I know it is not over by a long shot.

Nevertheless, I have much to be grateful for. First, for the warriors who have gone before me and branded me with the knowledge about my disease and how they have taught me to fight and to never give up. They have shown me just how ugly this disease can get as I have watched many of these beautiful souls, my fellow thyca warriors battle this to the end. Although the cancer may have taken their life they have shown me to never let it break their spirit!

Next, my deepest gratitude to my amazing medical teams from my surgeons, endocrinologists, radiologists, nurses, lab and radiology techs and even those who schedule my appointments. Their efforts do not go unnoticed. Every single one of them has played a crucial role in this journey of mine. When my body failed to respond to the standard therapies in treating my type of thyroid cancer, my doctors had made the decision to essentially not treat the cancer, but instead they have closely monitored me for further progression as it is a slow-growing cancer. It took me quite a long time to be okay with that decision as my thoughts were that I just wanted this cancer out of me pronto! However, with a lot of patience on their part they have helped me to truly comprehend why this was necessary in order to give me a better quality of life. I am sure it is never easy on them when they have to make decisions like that, especially when they have a situation where the treatments they can offer could possibly harm their patients even more. I could not even begin to imagine what it must be like to walk a day in their shoes and the decisions they have to make on a daily basis, nor would I even want to try. Nevertheless, I am forever grateful that my doctors did not rush into treatments which could do more harm than good. They have demonstrated to me just how much they truly do care what happens to me. Thanks just doesn’t ever seem to do it justice for everything they have done for me so that I can have the best outcome possible, but I hope they know just how much they are truly appreciated. They are my heroes and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today!

I am so fortunate and grateful that I have had such competent teams, because I know many out there who struggle to find such good medical care. You need to be on the same page with your team, and yes you should be part of that team effort in making decisions. I have been so lucky to have such good medical teams that have that kind of mindset and work together as a collective team to find solutions to issues that arise. Throughout my journey I’ve had to travel many miles to get good care. First, I had to be sent oceans away from my family in order to get the proper care I needed. I was living overseas in Japan at the time of my diagnosis and was sent back to Utah, to the Huntsman Cancer Institute to get properly diagnosed and treated. Then, when we moved to Colorado, I had to travel again to get the best care possible and it has been so worth the time and expense to do so.  My advice to those just starting their journey, do your homework to find the doctor that is right for you, especially your surgeon. It is so imperative to have a surgeon that has a lot of experience and is well versed in thyroid cancer. Find a support group, as they can give you recommendations and can help you to tap into your resources, for there are many!

Next, a thank you to all of the researchers out there who are tirelessly working around the clock to find a cure for this disease that affects so many people! It is so important that we support research and why funding is such a necessary component. We don’t get funding from big pharmaceutical companies because we are a small population and they don’t have a big monetary gain from us. Most of our funding for research comes from organizations such as ThyCa – Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association Inc. or Light of Light Foundation and other private donors . We need everyone’s help to support in those efforts so that we can find a cure for all!

Last of all I want to express my gratitude to my friends and family who have stood by my side as I have faced the biggest trial in my life in facing cancer. They have kept me grounded and give me the reason why I continue in this fight against this relentless enemy.

My final message is this, I encourage everyone to develop an attitude of gratitude and take the time to thank those who have helped you in your life, whether you have faced a trial such as cancer or even when you are just trying to do those little day to day things. We can all do our part and pay it forward in thanking someone today. A simple gesture of saying thank you could make someone’s day seem a little bit brighter. You can be the difference!

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As this thyroid cancer awareness month comes to a close it does not stop there, we still keep on fighting this battle and continue to raise awareness for a disease which is becoming more and more prevalent. We as survivors are forever grateful for those who keep us going and motivated to keep driving on, never giving up hope and praying for a cure for all one day!!

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I Made It!

As I reflect on my own life, I am grateful for those milestones that I have reached from when I was very young all the way through adulthood, but the one I want to talk about is the important milestone of being a cancer survivor. Today, marks the day in which I can now call myself a 5-year thyroid cancer survivor. I can’t believe that I made it this far! After being diagnosed with Stage 4 thyroid cancer, I never would have imagined that I would be here 5 years later and still be able to talk about it.

What really defines being called a survivor? There are many different definitions of what it means to survive. Some define it as having the ability to carry on despite hardships or difficulties in your life, others may say it is to remain functional, whereas others may even say it is to remain alive or in existence. So when exactly do you define yourself as a cancer survivor? That is really up to the individual going through it – that exact moment to which they can call themselves a survivor. Some people believe it is from the time of diagnosis, others say it is five years after being cancer free, whereas others believe it is one who remains alive. For myself, personally I view it from the day I was rolled into surgery to remove my cancerous thyroid.

This has been quite the journey filled with many ups and downs and a lot of unknowns. Recently, I was sent a book by one of my surgeons, Brandon G. Bentz, M.D., who is also a very dear friend. The book is called “Love, Medicine, and Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon’s Experience with Exceptional Patients.”

Love medicine and miracles

For those who have read my blog before, you may be aware that I have remaining cancer which they have had a difficult time in treating, because of where the location of the cancer is. Any of the treatment options that they can do puts me at great risks that could potentially reduce my quality of life. The remaining cancer is located on my laryngeal nerve. If they were to do another surgery it most likely would cause them to have to sacrifice that nerve as the cancerous lymph node is embedded under very extensive scar tissue that the surgeon just can’t get to safely, because of its small size. The consequences of sacrificing that nerve would cause me to lose the function of my voice. Traditionally, most thyroid cancers are treated with surgery and Radioactive Iodine; however, another added twist to my complicated story is that my body no longer takes up the iodine to absorb it and so it is resistant to that treatment method, which is of no benefit to me. In addition, other less invasive procedures can put my life at great risk as well, something my doctors don’t want to see happen.

The book talks about how some patients just want that quick fix such as an operation and I can see that was totally me. I just wanted them to completely cut this out of me without even considering the consequences of what that would cause.  Reading this book has helped me to gain a better perspective on how I look at my situation. Before, I had a really difficult time understanding how nothing could be done to completely rid my body of this cancer. However, my doctors have been taking a very careful approach of watching and waiting to see how the cancer will progress as it is a slow-growing cancer. If it had progressed at a more alarming rate, they would have taken swifter action; however, the magnitude of what they were trying to do had not really hit home for me until recently. So, at this point, we patiently wait in the hopes that it does not do anything further to spread; at least that is what we are counting on.

The book further describes many cases of cancer patients who took a negative view of what they were facing which ended up resulting in their demise, way before it should have. They simply gave up and lost their will to live. One important principle that the book discusses is about one’s attitude when facing such a life-altering condition as cancer. One piece of advice that my doctors have always tried to get me to understand is that my attitude and outlook on my situation is key. As I reflect on where I have been, I believe that they were exactly right.

I have always thought that there is some type of mind, body, spirit connection, which is what this book depicts and I am beginning to believe that more and more. This book has been a tool to help me to understand that I can be that exceptional patient and take a more positive perspective. One of the important concepts that I took from the book is that we all have the power to heal ourselves from within. I believe that part of the healing process is to be able to heal yourself from the inside out. When a cancer patient or anyone going through an illness can understand that and believe it for themselves that is where change can take place. As noted in the book, love is a powerful stimulant and can be a great healer. Miracles happen every day, something which science just cannot explain. Just as the author described that there was no scientific evidence of what was making his patients get well, but it was the way that his patients viewed their situation that was the change. It was the connection of love and miracles. As the author stated, “when a patient can stand with courage and actually work with their doctors they can participate to influence their own recovery.” Am I saying that I am going to cure myself from my disease? No, not necessarily, but what I have been able to recognize is that healing is not always in the physical outward sense, but the inner as well. I have realized that I needed that healing on the inside too. I highly recommend that cancer survivors and their families read this book, because I believe the principles in it are something every survivor needs to know. Now there may be some people who may not have this view or perspective on their journey and that is fine. Everyone has to come to their own understanding, but it is something that works for me that I wanted to share, and perhaps it could also help someone else.

I now have a better perspective on not only my cancer situation, but also the way I look at life. Although I know I still do have cancer, I view my life differently and choose to be happy despite my circumstances. How one responds to a situation I believe can play a role in the outcome. For the first time since I began this journey, I finally feel at peace and I am good with where things stand for me. I had to reach this point myself, in my own way and in my own time. I had to come in agreement with the decisions my doctors have made on my behalf. I really do know that patiently waiting this out is the is the decision which is right for me. Being that exceptional patient means you look at your life different and you really live with purpose and meaning until you do die. Having cancer makes you face your mortality much sooner than you want to, as you know this disease is something that could possibly end your life as you know it. Nevertheless, it is also understanding that it is possible to have a full and abundant life as long as you accept each day you have as a true gift and use it to do good.

This has really been such an awakening as I don’t think that I have been really appreciating the time I do have. Nevertheless, another important thing I have learned on this journey is that life is far too short to worry about things you have no control over – something I have to be reminded of frequently. I am learning the importance to really live in the moment and something which is to be treasured and savored. With that I want to share the following song called “One Life.” We have to live as though the moment we are in right now is going to be our last, because tomorrow is never promised!

I am truly grateful for every person who has crossed my path on this journey. Most importantly I have to give the credit to my doctors, for without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s also been those fellow survivors who have taught me what it means to fight for your life and to never surrender! Moreover, a very big thank you to my family and friends who have been there to support, encourage and give me the strength to keep driving on. One last final thought………even though I still do have cancer, in my own mind I feel as though I have already won this battle! As one fellow survivor used to tell me often “when you lose your mental battle…..your body will not be far behind.” That is something that has always stuck in my mind and I believe that to be very true. If I made it to the first 5 years to survive this cancer it is my hope and prayer that I will make it through to the next 5 years and beyond and I wish the same for all survivors!!

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No Action

So I have been on this cancer journey for a while now, four years exactly and it has been one very bumpy ride full of many different twists and turns. Today is no different as another twist is added to the story. Most cases of thyroid cancer can be treated with removal of the thyroid, radioactive iodine treatment and then a pill for the rest of your life. It seems simple enough, right? However, it has been somewhat more of a challenge in my case as I have had continuing persistent disease despite going through all the traditional treatment methods.

So this pesky cancer still remains on my laryngeal nerve which is under some fairly extensive scar tissue. Trying to make a second attempt at removing it surgically poses risks of causing injury to the nerve, which in turn could have a drastic effect on my voice; this is something that my surgeon doesn’t really want to do as he is not sure that he can get to it safely at this point. My case has also been reviewed recently by a multi-disciplinary team of doctors that included endocrinologists, endocrine surgeons, and interventional radiology and other folks to determine if other less invasive procedures such as ethanol alcohol ablation or radio-frequency ablation could be utilized. However, those procedures pose an even greater risk as it could potentially paralyze my vocal chords and put a hole in my trachea. So now the decision is pretty much to do nothing but wait. Knowing that I still have these cancer cells housing and residing in my body has been very difficult to say the least and I would do just about anything to have this cancer gone.

I don’t know if you have ever lived in the south and with the heat and humidity comes along with it all kinds of pests. One particular kind that I just absolutely loathe is the cockroach. When I lived in Louisiana it seemed like they were everywhere. It is really disgusting when they invade your house and they seem very hard to get rid of and just when you  think that you have zapped them all, another one appears. That is what this cancer kind of feels like; we’ve tried pretty much every method known to rid my body of this disease, but it just doesn’t want to leave!

So we have done this waiting and watching for the last three years and I was hoping that with these changes in the appearance of the nodule that these other additional options would be able to be utilized. I am a very action oriented person and if I see a problem I find a way no matter how, to find a solution to that problem and just plain fix it! To play this waiting game and not doing anything has been very challenging. However, sometimes the reality in life is that there are simply no clear answers, which appears to be what is happening in my case. Maybe perhaps then the real answer is that NO action is the best one of all! After talking it over with a very good doctor friend he’s made me see this with a different set of eyes by thinking in terms of the bigger picture.  He raised the following questions and something I had to think long and hard on.

  • Do you want to kill some cancer cells and assure yourself you will paralyze your vocal chords?
  • Are you willing to accept the resulting effects of what could happen?
  • Are the risks really worth it?

My entire medical team has answered a resounding NO, that they do not feel that these other non-invasive procedures are going to be of any benefit to me and it is most likely not going to extend my life by any means. Even if they did try these procedures there is still the likelihood it could come back again, especially given the fact of the aggressive tumor that I had. On the other hand, this remaining cancer could sit dormant for many years and possibly forever, so why not wait this out and save myself some heartache and grief?  The resulting effects of what could happen would make my quality of life go downhill mighty quick and why put myself in that situation? Now I think the light bulb has finally come on for me to realize the magnitude of what could happen and I am not sure that I want to expose myself to such great risks. The way my luck has been in this journey, I simply would not have a good outcome. If I am getting the same feedback from all these medical experts, it would be wise of me to listen and heed their advice.

For the longest time I always kept thinking to myself, why are the doctors doing this and not taking any action? The fact of the matter is that their inaction was indeed the best action of all! My medical teams have always done what is in my best interest  and I just didn’t even realize it until now. They have probably saved my life, or in the very least have saved me from more complications that I just don’t need; in years to come they will most likely be saying to me “ I told you so.” Sometimes it is hard to accept those tough decisions in life as we want what we want. They were giving me that tough love just like a parent has to do from time to time, no matter how painful. I am sure it is just as hard on the doctors who have to make these tough decisions and I honestly don’t know how some of them do it. One thing for sure is that having a competent team that looks out for you is so imperative; I have been so fortunate to have such caring and compassionate doctors who are concerned with helping me to survive this disease! The doctors on my medical teams are truly among the elite and pretty much the best doctors in the country, in my opinion. All I can say is that God put the right people, in the right place and at the right time, specifically for me.

So in this case, NO ACTION is the best course of action after all! As I reflect on this, I have been reminded once again of the following quote, which there is so much truth to.

 

Scott Stuart2

 

This principle was taught to me by my very good friend, Rob Bohning, who recently lost his very lengthy battle with thyroid cancer. He lived this very principle as he did not let a bad set of circumstances drive him down; instead he used it for good to help others in their path by showing others that you do beat this disease by how you live your life and the example you set. What I can do to pay it forward to honor him and what he taught me is to follow his shining example to uplift, inspire and encourage others in their journey. It doesn’t matter if you are just starting this cancer journey or have been at it for a while, you will come to appreciate the importance of having someone you can lean on for support, those who have and are walking this same road and can share with you their experiences and insight on what they have learned along the way. Moreover, you have to continue to move on and drive on with your life even when circumstances in this journey try to drive you down, because as Rob told me many times that “you have cancer it does not have you.”

I want to end this post with the following quote:

 

Get back up

 

Sometimes it takes getting knocked down a few times to stand taller than you ever have . For me the choice is very clear to “ALWAYS GET BACK UP and FIGHT ON!”

 

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.

 

Rob

 

 

 

 

 

Every season

Be Still

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunrise

 

Pier

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

attitude

 

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!

Gratitude

I have talked about the medical professionals who have assisted me in my cancer journey; however, the people who I have the utmost gratitude for as I have gone through this experience are my family. They are truly the glue that holds me together! First and foremost, is my wonderful husband, Jerome who has stood by my side, as I have gone through all of the ups and downs of this cancer experience; he keeps me grounded. He has been the constant in my life and is my rock that I rely on the most and I don’t think I would have made it through this cancer ordeal without him!

The separation while I was being treated was difficult especially during the Tsunami and Earthquake not knowing what was going to happen and wondering if and when I would see my husband and children again. However, the separation I looked at it like a deployment. That was not new to us as we have been through that before when Jerome was sent to Bosnia years before, but it had been such a long time. I really admire the men and women in the Armed Forces and the sacrifices that their families have to face on a daily basis.

This experience has made us take a step back and really appreciate each other that much more. It has made our marriage stronger than ever as we appreciate and know that life is so fragile. I am extremely grateful that I have someone in my life that puts my needs ahead of his own, which is the way it should be and sadly it doesn’t always work that way for everyone as I know many people who have walked out on their better half at a time when they need them the most.

Next, I want to express my appreciation to our wonderful daughters, Chelsie and Chandra who were there to support my husband during the Japan tragedy being that I was not able to be there, and to ensure that our home was well taken care of; I’m sure that it was quite a learning experience for them as well. If anything, we have learned as a family to really rely on one another and we have come out stronger, because of this experience. I reflect many times on the song by Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger.” If it doesn’t kill me, this cancer WILL make me stronger and I know that to be true! When cancer strikes, it doesn’t just affect that individual it really does affect the entire family and can turn your whole world upside down. It makes you appreciate each other so much more and every moment you have together is priceless!

I am so grateful to my wonderful parents who have taught and raised me to always give my best efforts in everything that I do. They have taught me to work hard and have molded and shaped me into the person I am today and I feel so fortunate to have them in my life.