Blessed

August 6, 2009

I asked my friend from Candy Jamamas (a fabulous blog) to write this post. We grew up together in California and blogging has brought us back together. She has an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, M.

What do you see when you look at this picture? A perfect little family? A mom and a dad and a baby, just starting out? Things aren’t always what they seem. We weren’t just starting out. We’d been to hell and back, and what you see in this picture is nothing short of a miracle.


Chloe wasn’t our first baby. We’d had our first baby over nine years earlier. When he was five, we decided it was time to give him a sibling. We were very young (and very broke) when we had him, and it took us several years to feel ready for another child. So in October of 2000, right after he started kindergarten, we threw out the birth control and decided to go for it.

Weeks later, I stood in my bathroom, staring at a pregnancy test, praying it was negative. My life had changed in an instant. In just one short month, I’d discovered a swollen lymph node, had a biopsy, and been diagnosed with lymphoma. And now the baby we’d wanted would have to wait. Luckily I was not pregnant, and I was able to immediately begin treatment.

Going through treatment was not the worst part. The worst part was the period of time between discovering the main tumor (for me, a large mass in my chest cavity) and beginning treatment. There are a lot of questions and a lot of tests. But mostly questions. I remember going online before I had my diagnosis, and looking up all the different cancers that present with large chest tumors. One of them had a survival rate of about five years. I sat at my computer, crying, and made a promise to myself. I promised that I would survive until my son could remember me. No matter what kind of cancer I had, I would have to hang on. The thought of being forgotten by my child was heartbreaking. It was unacceptable to me. I was so relieved to be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is very curable.

Here I am on the very first day of chemo. Look how healthy and happy I look! I’d chopped off all my hair in anticipation of the hair loss. I was so cocky. Chemotherapy every two weeks for six months wiped that smile right off my face.


Here I am at my last treatment. My hair was much thinner than it looks in this picture. I wore a baseball hat everywhere, except at home or to the doctor’s.


When my hair had gotten thin, I had my husband shave it off. I still remember the first time it started falling out, after my second round of chemo. I stood in the bathroom, pulling it out by the handful and letting it fall into the bathroom sink. My husband was horrified. “Stop doing that!” he scolded me. “But it doesn’t matter if I pull it,” I explained. “See, the roots are gone!” When your hair falls out from chemo, the roots are destroyed. The hairs are just very thin at one end. Every morning I’d wake up to what looked like a small animal on my pillow. The hair is just constantly coming out. I’d have lots of dreams about it, after a while. I’d dream about having long, silky hair. I’d often be brushing it. But then I’d wake up.

From November of 2000 through April of 2001, I had chemo every other Thursday. In between treatments, I gave myself daily injections of Neupogen, to raise my white blood count. It hurt. I had a newfound respect for insulin-dependent diabetics after that. Actually, I had a newfound respect for lots of people after going through treatment. When my six months were up, I had a PET scan. You lie in a tube for about 45 minutes without moving. It sounds horrific, but I just made up my mind that I’d sleep the whole time, and I did. The scan showed that all the cancer was gone. But to be on the safe side, my oncologist decided I should still have radiation. Here I am at my first treatment. I went every day, Monday through Friday, for six weeks. Having cancer is very time consuming.


Getting ready for radiation is quite a process to go through. Your tumor has to be mapped, because they don’t want to radiate any healthy tissue
. Even though I was declared to be in remission, I still had a tumor. In fact, I still have it, eight years later. The type of tumor I had doesn’t disappear. It shrinks in size and the cancer cells are killed, but you will always have some form of scar tissue. I have a chest x-ray every year, and it’s still there…an ugly little ball of yuck. Just a remnant of what it once was. Anyway, to map your tumor, they spend a couple of days looking at your scans and programming the machine. They mark all over you with a Sharpie and you are forbidden to shower until more permanent arrangements can be made. Meaning tattoos. Oh, yes. I have five tattoos on my neck and chest, little black dots that were used to line me up with the big, bad radiation machine.

On June 11, 2001, I was done. I quickly regained my strength and new little hairs started sprouting up all over my head. Life was good. You have a sort of honeymoon period immediately following treatment. You are on a crazy high every single day. It’s just so great to be alive, be done with treatment, and to finally be making plans and getting on with your life. I think about that sometimes…I realize I am taking my life for granted and I try really hard to remember those first few amazing months.

But after the honeymoon was over, I began to realize something. I realized I was not the same. I realized that my body had been through a horrible ordeal and it didn’t come out unscathed. I began having night sweats and hot flashes. I remember nearly ripping my sweater off in Home Depot once, feeling like I was on fire. It was awful. Both my oncologist and gynecologist explained that the chemotherapy would likely push me into an early menopause. They couldn’t tell me when, but a good rule of thumb was that I’d go through it about ten years earlier. Of course, who knows when I would have gone through menopause naturally. So no one really knew.

And it wasn’t like I could just try to get pregnant right away and try to beat the odds. At the time, I was having CT scans every three months. You drink what seems like a gallon of crap, for lack of a better word. Then they pump you full of contrast in your I.V. And then you’re run through the machine, which is exposing you to radiation. You are not advised to get pregnant around this time.

It went on like that for two years. I was under very close supervision and went through the night sweats, hot flashes, weird viruses, rashes no one could explain, and to top it all off, a case of the shingles. My friends started having babies and that was hard. Every baby shower, every baptism was painful for me. I wondered if I’d ever have another child. My son, Ty, was now eight years old and I just felt that my door was closing. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

One night, Ty had a sleepover at a friend’s house. We ordered in Chinese and had a bottle of wine one of my coworkers had given me. I opened my fortune cookie after dinner and it read, Your dearest wish will come true. I showed it to Tom, my husband. He laughed and said, “What’s that? To have a baby?” Well, believe it or not, our daughter was conceived that very night. It was November, 2003, and my oncologist had just informed me that I could stop having CT scans every three months. I was pregnant within weeks of that appointment.

Like I said, a miracle.


She was born on August 10, 2004. I’d been in remission for just over three years.
Here is my son with his new baby sister. I must have looked at this picture a hundred times that first month. I just couldn’t believe I had two children.


At Chloe’s first birthday party, I had myself a moment. Everyone had gathered around the table to sing to her. Suddenly, a huge sob just escaped me. It hit me out of the blue, and I just cried. I couldn’t believe what I’d been through, and I couldn’t believe I was sitting with a baby on my lap. You can see me blowing my nose in this picture, with tears on my shirt. I was mortified, but I couldn’t stop crying.


This is a still from the video…I’m not brave enough to post my “ugly cry” in action. I was totally overwhelmed with emotion.


My daughter has been such a blessing to me. She healed me. She healed my broken heart. She healed my spirit, broken after all I’d been through. She was a gift, straight from heaven. I wrote
this post, on her third birthday. It sums up how I feel about her.


And my son? I haven’t forgotten that night at my computer, all those years ago. I am so grateful that I did survive. I made it all these years. I was so worried that I’d only live to see him turn ten, and now he’s a teenager. My greatest fear was to leave him motherless, and worse, motherless with no memory of me. I know that I have been so blessed to watch him grow from a little boy into a young man. I know that I am blessed to still be at my husband’s side. I am blessed to just
be.


I think it’s easy to take our lives for granted, but we need to stop every once in a while and see the miracles. Maybe not everyone has a story as dramatic as mine, but we all have blessings in our lives, big and small. And the miracles are there, if you look for them.

I hope you take the time today to find yours.

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15 Responses to “Blessed”

  1. Andrea says:

    Praising GOD with you for all HE did to heal and restore your body, heart and soul. Thank you for sharing your story with each of us.
    Blessings and prayers, andrea

  2. Wow! What an amazing story.

  3. Tosha says:

    Thanks for sharing Michelle. I think of what you and Robin have gone through often. I am blessed and this has inspired me to try to remember that. Especially, when I am about to open my mouth to complain:) God has blessed you with a BEAUTIFUL family. Love you girl!!!

  4. Loren says:

    Candy,

    As I read your story I'm sitting at Mayo with my dad while he is receiving his chemo treatment and after this we go down the hall and do radiation. What a beautiful testimony this is and fills me with hope!

    God gives us the desires of our heart and he heard your cry…..a mothers cry. How wonderful to see HIS Faithfulness and Sovereignty in your precious family.

    thankyou for sharing your story….it truly glorifies the Lord in every way!

  5. Anonymous says:

    What a moving story. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  6. I linked here from another site and read this post. I am speechless after reading it. This is an amazing story of faith, hope and triumph. God bless you for your courage during this trying time and your courage now for telling it. God bless you and your family!

  7. Heart2Heart says:

    I am completely at a loss for words as I read this post! What an amazing story of a blessing throughout her entire life.

    This just goes to show that nothing we have in life should ever be taken for granted.

    My heart and prayers go out to her that she remains cancer free always.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  8. Marisa says:

    Thanks for sharing this amazing story.
    Your kids will share your story with their children 🙂 What an awesome legacy of strength to pass on to them.

  9. Maiya says:

    Michelle,
    What a beautifully written story…although I'm sorry to hear of all you went through!
    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thank you everyone for the kind words. Writing this was very emotional…doesn't matter how many years go by, it's still hard to think about it.

    Lori, thanks so much for trusting me with your blog for a day!

  11. Teresa says:

    I don't know you, Michelle, but it's so amazing to see your pictures. Hard to believe you were going for your first chemo session and you looked so healthy! One never really knows what's going on in our bodies! One thing I have learned is to never take our health for granted. Finally, when someone goes through something like this at such a young age, it really puts everything else in perspective. You're more aware of other people and their hurts. Small things people complain about are so trivial. Thank God for your miracles- healing, baby girl, son, and husband that stayed by your side. God Bless you all.
    Teresa

  12. Stephanie says:

    This is an awesome reminder of everyday blessings big and small…

  13. Karen Leeman says:

    Michelle,
    God is still in the miracle business!
    I was reading your story and kept looking at your pictures..praying Lord bless this sister and her family I got to the end and I gasped "it is Michelle".
    What a beautiful family you have… and a great testimony of God's Blessings, Love and Miraculous touch in your life…love and kisses to you.

  14. Krystal says:

    You are an amazing woman, I do not know you,but after reading this story I only know you are remarkable. Many woman would sink into a depression, or not fight. you did. Thank you for posting your story. You are an inspiration. This story brought tears to my eyes.

  15. What an amazing story. I needed to hear it today. I need a reminder of how truly blessed I am. Thank you for sharing.

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