This past week has been full of reflection, anticipation, and joy! On Friday I completed my radiation treatments and first round of chemo. I am now home and I get to enjoy a four week break! I am scheduled to go back to Johns Hopkins at the end of May to have an MRI and to meet with my Medical Oncologist who will give us the results from my scans and discuss my treatment plan. I am to expect the next scan to look worse because of the irritation to my brain from the radiation. This scan will become my new baseline to compare my scans to. I am then to receive 5 days of chemo a month for 6 months which is in capsule form and can be done at home. I will go to Johns Hopkins every two months for an MRI and to meet with my doctor. Now that I'm home I will continue to have labs done here every week to manage my levels and will correspond with my nurse at Johns Hopkins on a weekly basis. I am doing well. I am tired and my left side is numb which makes things more difficult but that was to be expected and should improve over the next month or two. The support we have received from our family, friends, and community has been incredible. I am not always able to respond to each one of you personally but please know you have touched our lives and truly blessed us with your prayers, encouragement, and generosity.
On Friday when it was time to strike the bell to celebrate the end of radiation treatments I was surrounded by my family, the radiation team, and other patients and their families. I am so thankful for that moment. I will never forget it and I will never forget the people that I have met during my treatments. The other families I have met throughout the weeks have been a blessing to me. We all have our own journey but we are all connected by our pain and our struggles. As we shared our stories I found comfort in knowing someone else could relate to what I was experiencing. There are good days and bad days and some weeks you feel so worn that it helped to have others who could encourage you during the process. Some families finished before me and some continue on without me but each one of those families I will never forget. I think of and pray for them often and I hope for them to find peace and strength as they continue on their journey.
As I look back over the past several months I can attest to the fact that God who created the heavens and the earth, who gives us life each day, cares for each one of us in a real and personal way. The first day of this journey was filled with uncertainty. A simple MRI turned into a journey I never expected to take. As I waited in the hospital for hours and had many tests done the verse of the day from my Bible App gave me such peace. Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10 NLT) These words were what I needed to hear and have given me so much comfort on the difficult days.
The day Josh and I received my diagnosis we sat in the car and cried together. Your hopes, dreams, and life changes in an instant. There have been a lot of very difficult times for Josh and I over the years. We have struggled with the loss of our first baby, job loss and unemployment, financial issues where we had to sell our beautiful home and start over, and a time in our marriage where we no longer had a relationship and we were both living separate lives. This time in our life has given us time to look back at the many trials we've been through and see how God used all of them to strengthen our faith and draw Josh and I closer together. We can allow our pain and trials to hinder us or we can allow God to use our pain and our trials to shape us and teach us. I am so thankful that Josh and I went through those trials together. We did not give up on our God and refused to give up on each other because without those struggles, we would not be who we are now. As we drove home that first day we talked about how if we didn't have faith in God and His plan for us we wouldn't have any hope. We talked about how even now we would continue to look to God and seek and do His will in the midst of the uncertainty. I told Josh that I didn't want this to be about me but that I wanted God to use me, to do His will, with the time I am given. I wanted God to take my pain and use it for His glory! Through our darkest times there is always hope and I see so much good even in the midst of the bad. I see God continually working and it is comforting to know we can rest in His plan for us if we are willing to trust Him.
The night before my last treatment I was reminded of a dream that I had many years ago that left a lasting impression on me. I was standing in the middle of a crowded arena and I could see my family, friends, and many people I didn't know. I was calling out to a large group of people, feeling vulnerable and exposed, trying to share my heart. I felt like God wanted me to share about his extraordinary, unfailing love and faithfulness, but no one could hear me. I felt such desperation and sadness, lost in the noise and commotion with something I knew I was meant to share. At the end of the dream I cried out to God and pleaded for Him to help me because I knew he would comfort me in His presence. I share this with you because God is using my journey to share His love with others and to teach me to live each day resting in His presence. I have always struggled with fear but for the first time in my life the fear which would have crippled me has been replaced with courage, strength, and peace. I know this is because my perspective has changed and I am fully relying on God.
The first thing I did Friday morning was open the Bible App to read the verse of the day. "I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart." (Psalms 40:8 NLT) I thanked God for blessing me with His living and powerful Word. Josh and I cried as we read through the verses of Psalm 40 and I want to share them with you because they are our confirmation that God loves us so much:
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord. Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them. You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand — you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings. Then I said, “Look, I have come. As is written about me in the Scriptures: I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.” I have told all your people about your justice. I have not been afraid to speak out, as you, O Lord, well know. I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness. Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me. Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me. For troubles surround me— too many to count! My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out. They outnumber the hairs on my head. I have lost all courage. Please, Lord, rescue me! Come quickly, Lord, and help me. May those who try to destroy me be humiliated and put to shame. May those who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace. Let them be horrified by their shame, for they said, “Aha! We’ve got him now!” But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “The Lord is great!” As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay. (Psalms 40:1-17 NLT)
Whether we choose to recognize and accept God or not does not change His love for us. He is constantly pursuing us, waiting for us, and wanting to embrace us when we call out to Him. Whether we recognize it or not our own individual stories are a part of something so much more than we can comprehend which is God's story and truth. My God, the One True God cares for me and He cares for you. He has heard my cries, He has seen my pain, He knows my heart, and He has filled me with joy! These past months have been difficult and I am worn but I know that I will never be the same because of this journey. I do not know the details of the plan God has for me and my family. There is still more to this journey but even in the midst of the uncertainty, I am certain of my Savior and my God. I will continue to trust completely in Him and I will give Him all the glory for His work.
As we came over the mountain I was overwhelmed with knowing we were almost home. The sky was absolutely beautiful and the closer we got the more excited I became. As I came up the sidewalk to my front door my beautiful sister, Kelly, had surprised me with garden planters filled with flowers, balloons, and a sign that said "Welcome Home". At that moment I was overcome with relief and joy and I stood there hugging my family with tears in my eyes. I had persevered through another part of the journey and now I can rest. Later, I thought about that moment from an eternal perspective. I do not know tomorrow and I do not know how long I have but I do know that My Savior and My God is waiting for me, to embrace me, and say "Welcome Home". Until that day I will continue to persevere and live with anticipation and joy! That is why we should never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT)