Living Blessed, even in 2020

It’s been one year. One whole blessed year. Like marriage or a child’s age, it feels like a lifetime and yesterday all at once.

On December 11th, 2019, I was being prepped for surgery. My surgeon prepared my mind and body for the worst. A 17 cm mass engulfed my left ovary, hemorrhaging my abdomen, and causing me to bleed at an alarming rate. Cancer. An egg sack tumor the size of a grapefruit. Forever altering my probability of having more children. And scarring my body.

You can read more about my experience in last December’s blog post here.

My Pennsylvania friends. I miss you all!

I’ve had ghost pains the last couple of days. A body’s memory is a funny thing. But it’s only fear playing tricks on us.

I had so many fears last year. Fear of dying with unfinished business. Fear of leaving my family. Fear of the darkness. And fearing my life would remain the same. I had so much stress too. I had the most anxiety I’ve ever had. But I also had hope. Hope for a bright future. Hope that all this darkness would soon be behind me. Hope that the cancer would never return. Hope that our move south would change everything. And hope that God had the BEST in store for us.

The next few days of 2019 were a whirlwind to say the least: mountains of moving obligations, visits with family on all sides, goodbye visits with friends, and bidding farewell to all of our Pennsylvania life. 3 days before Christmas we journeyed to our new state. 11 hours of driving with only 3 short stops because we were so excited to go to our new home in South Carolina. You can read more about our move here.

I took things easy in January and February since I was instructed to not lift anything for 6 weeks after my surgery. Yeah, that was an interesting move-in to say the least. lol My 6-inch scar took a while to heal, but it closed with time. I became strong enough to walk the 1/2 mile to Riker’s school each day to pick him up. I met several amazing new friends as we waited for our kids at what’s called “the back path.” We had play dates, ice cream gatherings, and excursions to the local parks. I enjoyed a stress-free life for the first time ever!

Then covid hit. And fear crept its ugly head back in.

After my surgery, I had 3 doctors tell me I should get chemo “just in case.” But all 3 agreed that my blood work showed the cancer was most likely gone. “But,” they said, “there’s an 80% chance the cancer could returning within the first year. After that it goes down drastically, but, don’t you want to be sure?”

I always want to be sure. I’m a planner. A scheduler. I say I like surprises, but honestly, I just want to know everything. So, sure, I wanted to KNOW the cancer was gone for good. But, something didn’t feel right with these doctors’ words. I heard God plain as day to NOT get the chemo. So, I said no. No to the chemo. All 3 times. Once in December. Once in February. And once in June.

When the first rumors of covid hit the media over the winter my immune system was strong. Sure, I’d just been through surgery, but I was eating healthy, no crippling radiation coursed through my body, and the southern sunshine does wonders for the spirit! In fact, in all of 2020 my little family and I weren’t sick once. Not even a sniffle. Until a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks to living in a state with few lockdown regulations, and our thriving immune systems, we actually ENJOYED this year. We’ve climbed mountains, splashed in waterfalls, traveled to neighboring states, vacationed on the beach, sailed on ships, saw dolphins, went to small parties, enjoyed neighbor’s campfires, kayaked a river, refinished my dining room set, held a birthday swim party for Riker, toured a vineyard, tried countless different foods for the first time, had friends over, went to friends’ homes, went out for girls’ nights, and joined my church band. I wrote a novel, a picture book, and a short Christmas play. Riker learned to swim, then competed in several swim-meets and won a couple! Riker played flag football and scored a few touchdowns. We lived despite 2020!!!!

Then for Thanksgiving we journeyed back to Pennsylvania to visit our families. We were so excited to see everyone, but had anxiety about passing over the forbidden Pennsylvania boarders. You see, PA just instated a travel ban asking all travelers to quarantine for 2 weeks once entering the state or have a negative covid test within the last 72 hours. We don’t trust a 40% accurate rushed covid test, so that option was out of the question. We were only going to visit for 4 days, so 2 weeks quarantine didn’t make any sense. We didn’t know if we’d be met with a string of checkpoints from police officers checking out-of-state plates. We didn’t know if we’d be turned in by a whistle-blower. But I felt strongly about going. We hadn’t seen some of our family members in a year, and I feared we wouldn’t get another chance to see them again for awhile. -There’s that fear again.-

We stressed for several days whether going would be the right decision. We agonized over it. I could feel my immune system compromising as anxiety raked my body. On our drive up, a sore throat formed. The soreness stayed for the entire trip, but that was my only symptom. It forced me to not eat as much junk at Thanksgiving at least, but I worried that I might be coming down with a cold soon. Sure enough, the day after we got home a cold hit me full-force. I was tired to my bones, no appetite, and zero energy. I was couch-ridden for almost 3 days. But I never got a fever, no cough, and no congestion. By the evening of the 3rd day I felt like myself again. And that was it. A whole year of health except for a 3 day cold. I think that’s pretty impressive for a cancer survivor. But I wonder if I wouldn’t have been so healthy in this crazy year if I had accepted chemo. Guess I’ll never know for sure.

Fear stems from the unknown. I didn’t know if the cancer would return during my first year. I didn’t know what would happen when we crossed over the PA boarder. We didn’t know if we’d have to battle covid.

Instead of fear coursing through my veins this Christmas season, I’m so extremely thankful. I’m thankful the cancer is gone. It didn’t return this year. And I’m believing in Jesus my healer that it’ll NEVER return. I’m thankful we never hit a single obstacle during our Pennsylvania trip. It truly was a wonderful time with family. I’m thankful the cold, or whatever sickness I had, was short-lived and didn’t stay in our house for long. I’m thankful that Jesus is Lord over all. It’s been a blessed year of living. I pray you all had a blessed year too. Despite the obstacles of 2020.

This year had its challenges too. I got a few more scars, several sleepless nights, battled some surges of depression, got numerous book rejections, and struggled to keep it together. My life isn’t all roses and sunshine. But like I’ve said many many times before: it’s about perspective.

Near-death experiences definitely give you perspective on life. But like children, marriage, and a year of living in a pandemic, it can pass by in a blink or feel like eternity. It depends how much you live. I pray you all take the time to live.

“It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” ~ Galatians 2:20

Risk vs Fear

There’s an image I can’t shake from my mind’s eye. It happened last Friday. My husband, son, and I were having a fun evening of shopping. Life felt almost normal. We were shopping at a local grocery store where there were no floor signs directing traffic, no one yelling that we were going the wrong way down an aisle, no mandatory mask signs, the shelves were full, and we even found toilet paper. We were feeling downright giddy, and laughing as we decided today would be a good day to splurge on some ice cream. We rounded the bend of the frozen section, still laughing at a random joke, and I stopped cold.

“Sorry, sir.” I said with a nervous chuckle as we stopped short of crashing into an older man pushing his own cart.

But he’s not moving. Not matching our smiles. And not tearing his stare from us. His eyes are wide. His knuckles are white from his grip on the cart. They match the pale color of his face mask.

I nervous chuckle again, and try to continue around him. But my heart immediately turns. I can’t shake the image of his eyes. They’re engorged with fear. And suddenly this pandemic is far from over.

It’s amazing how lightening fast fear can creep under our skin. It seems to take forever to get over our fears; years of therapy, countless days in prayer, volumes of books on positive thinking, long-term relationships to prove we can trust, etc. etc. etc. But it only takes a single incident to bring it all crashing back. At least, it seems that way.

I probably looked just as horror-stricken when I had to shop for necessities in the middle and end of March. I sanitized EVERYTHING, made sure Riker stayed at home with Andrew, and hid in my house 99% of the time. Will we be the next victims of this disease? What if we got it? What if this is the new normal? What if we die?? Fear is all-consuming when you give in to its grasp.

Enjoying the pools opening in South Carolina!

Today, our state is one of the minority that have mainly resumed business life. Our restaurants are open to 50% capacity, salons/barber shops/gyms/museums/parks/pools etc. are all slowly opening, and only a small percentage wear masks. Yet, people all over are saying, and I quote: “Just stay home.” “It’s not safe out there.” “It’s time to live in the future and worry about what’s ahead because there will be more deaths.”

I’m not saying these people aren’t right. There’s death and disease all around us. We risk calamity the minute we walk out of our front door.

But there’s also risks inside out own homes. Suicide, abuse, and diseases are in our very homes. So where is it actually safe?!?!?!

The answer: nowhere on this earth.

Have I depressed you yet?

But that’s reality. Nowhere is safe. Nowhere is without risk. There is nowhere that can guaranty you will not die or succumb to an accident.

But when did the risk of falling stop a rock-climber from reaching the top? When did the fear of getting burned stop a chef from flambeing a dish? When did the fear of a car accident stop a NASCAR driver from racing? When did the fear of concussion stop a Quarterback from playing in the Superbowl? When did the fear of contacting a disease stop a nurse from tirelessly entering a hospital everyday? When did fear stop the human race from living?!?!

Many of my readers and friends know that I’ve been through my fair share of near-death experiences. Read part of my story here: Forever Blessed – No Matter What! Last Christmas I had the tumor the size of a grapefruit removed, along with one of my ovaries. The internal bleeding led to me loosing 2 pints of blood during the emergency surgery. It was a scary time. If anyone had a reason to be scared, it was me. If anyone has a reason to continue to be scared: also me. The doctor told me there was an 85% chance of it coming back within the first several months after my surgery due to the internal bleeding.

I lived through January, February, and March, with a false brave-face. Inside I was shuttering. Praying the least little pain or discomfort I felt in my abdomen wasn’t the cancer returning to eat me alive. While the rest of the world was worrying about a virus, I was fearing my own body.

This came to a head in the last week of April. The pain in my abdomen had become more than a ghost pinch. I had a doctor’s appointment the beginning of May and I was scared of what they could possibly find. I was scared of a re-occurrence, the need for chemo, and death itself.

I went to church on Sunday, April 26th (yes, we have a fiscal church service!!), with almost doubled-over pain. But I didn’t let it affect my smile. I still felt so blessed to be out of the house, and around people. I stood, and I worshiped. And in my singing and worship, I prayed. I prayed for healing. For peace. And I didn’t just pray for me. I prayed for those around me. For my family, friends, and strangers. I got my eyes off myself. And without even realizing it, my pain vanished. Completely.

The very next week, I went to the doctor’s office. He ran tests, and completed blood work for tumor markers. The results were undeniable: I’m cancer-free and the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life. Praise God!!

But you could argue saying that I’m still at risk, and you’d be right. You could say I’m living in a delusion: I shouldn’t leave home, I shouldn’t eat anything besides vegetables the rest of my life, that I should take a few rounds of chemo just to make sure all the cancer cells are truly gone, and never leave my house without a mask again. And I would answer you with:

But in the day that I’m afraid, I lay all my fears before you
and trust in you with all my heart.
What harm could a man bring to me?
With God on my side I will not be afraid of what comes.
The roaring praises of God fill my heart,
and I will always triumph as I trust his promises.
-Psalms 56:3-4

God’s promises include never leaving us, blessings, protection, healing, loving us unconditionally, prosper instead of harm, and strengthening us. God’s promises are yes, and amen. That means they are final. All we have to do is accept them. That’s it.

The words at the top of my website read “Writer. Artist. Risk-Taker.” I created that about 3 years ago. Those words are not a coincidence. Risks are all around us. But let me put a “risk” in a different light:

If God’s promises are final, and He promises that we will have His strength, are we truly taking a risk in doing something He tells us to do? I.e. if God tells me that I’m pregnant (which actually happened years ago – God told me through my pastor that I was pregnant 2 weeks before I could take a test), is it truly a risk to take a test and worth the fear of it being negative? If God tells me I’m healed (which He again did through my current pastor one week before the doctor told me I’m cancer free), is it a risk to take a test and worth the fear of it coming back positive? If God tells us to move to a new state, is it truly a risk to make that move? If God says in Luke 10:19 “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” Is it even a risk to walk out our front door??

This is a crazy, crazy world we live in, and seems to get more insane by the day. There will always be something to fear, whether cancer, virus, or murder hornet. There are measures to stay safe, and there are measures to stop living. It’s up to us to listen to what God says, and take the “risk.”

Don’t be the man who’s afraid to even smile. Don’t be like me and waste countless nights in fear of a disease God promised to heal me from. Please don’t stop living because you are too afraid of dying.

Love you all! Be blessed!

Forever Blessed – No Matter What!

I’m sitting here nestled on the couch, surrounded by boxes, finishing a hot bowl of my grandmother’s Japanese soup, and trying to find the words to relay the last couple weeks of my life. The only descriptions I can come up with are “blessed” and “forever changed.”

Yes, our move forever changes our environment. But something happened this past week that has changed me physically forever.

This has been a VERY stressful year for me. Between the school I worked for closing, our move, and my career changes, my daily life has given me anxiety for the first time in my usually positive outlook.

On top of that, I had a hard fall down our stone steps a couple of months ago. It happened on a cold rainy day. I was rushing because I was late picking up Riker from school. I miss stepped halfway down, and found myself catapulting toward the concrete. Head first. I immediately prayed for God’s protection. It happened in slow motion, but I suddenly found myself in a sitting position on the ground. I’d twisted in such a way that didn’t seem humanly possible, because it wasn’t. I firmly believe God saved me. It wouldn’t be until this past week that’d I’d find out the full extent of that saving grace.

I first became aware of something wrong on black Friday. I started feeling discomfort in my lower abdomen. My stomach began to bloat. I thought maybe it was the Thanksgiving food, and then the leftovers. God knows, I loved indulging with family on that day! But the discomfort grew to pain. I ate healthier, I exercised more, but the bloating and pain grew as the week stretched into the next. On Friday, December 6th, I started to bleed on a day I wasn’t supposed to. I knew something had to be seriously wrong, but I continued to work toward our move.

An hour later I slipped down our basement stairs while moving boxes. The bleeding turned to large clots. This is the moment I became scared. (It sounds like I fall down stairs a lot, but I swear I’ve NEVER fallen down stairs until this year! lol Now, I had fallen UP stairs before….haha)

On Saturday, I researched my symptoms & talked with my sister & best friend. They encouraged me to see a gynecologist on Monday. I didn’t know if it was a very early miscarriage, ulcer, or just the heavy stress I’d been going through.

On Monday, most of the gynecologists in the area said they were booked until the new year. I became frantic. I needed answers! Finally, I found one in Wilkes-barre with a cancellation that morning. Breathing easier, I met with a young woman who was a complete Godsend. She sympathized with my limited time-frame due to my move in 2 weeks and placed “STAT” on my ultrasound. It’s only because of this, that I got one that day. If not for this woman putting a rush on all of my tests that day, December 9th, I don’t know if I’d be typing this now.

After my ultrasound, I waited an eternity in a waiting room watching an old episode of Friends on their wall TV. But I couldn’t laugh, my mind raced too hard. I could sense something was wrong. I knew it. I’d seen something on the lady’s face who had done my ultrasound. She couldn’t say anything, but her actions had quickened. Her completion had paled.

They finally called my name. I sat next to the gynecologist in the room she’d examined me in just 2 hours prior. She hesitated, and I knew. “We found a mass that doesn’t belong there. It’s 12 cm…”

I caught my breath. It didn’t feel real. I’d always said how I ate healthy so I wouldn’t have to worry about cancer in my 30s. Why had I said that age so specifically? I’d been an ignorant fool.

“Is it cancer?” I had to ask. “When you say ‘mass,’ I can’t help but say the ‘c’ word.”

She smiles, but it never hits her eyeglass-covered eyes. She says that it could be, but she doesn’t want to say. She tells be she wants me to get a CAT scan and blood work either today or tomorrow. She apologizes several times, but then I find myself standing in the busy reception area. I’m holding back tears and forcing smiles as I talk. The receptionist won’t help me, she says I have to order my own CAT scan and gives me the number. I swallow a lump and trudge outside.

It’s raining. Of course it’s raining. The sky is crying, but I can’t yet.

The lady on the phone can’t schedule an appointment. The gynecologist hasn’t sent her request yet, I have to go back into the building. I get out of my car and splash into a puddle. I run back inside, fling back my hood and let out a little chuckle. “I’m back again.” I say to the receptionist I’d just seen 3 minutes before.

“Name?” She glares at me.

I swallow my emotions yet again, and calmly tell her the situation. She nods and quips out a line or two. She goes away. At her return, she informs me that the gynecologist had my file open in the back, and all should be okay now. I can leave. She’s kind enough to give me a sad smile this time. She must have been informed of my condition.

Once again, I dash through the elements to my car, and call the number to schedule my answers. They’re booked until February. “But I need it now!” I plead with the woman on the other end. She apologizes and offers excuses. Then a miracle happens: the gynecologist puts a message of “STAT.”

“Well, this changes everything!” The lady proclaims. “We’ll see you immediately.” She’s suddenly full of helpful responses.

I rush to the main hospital building and perform my actions in a blur. They take blood, prod me with needles, and I catapult into a large whirring cylinder. I’m released without another word. I drive home in a fog as I relay emotional words to my husband via phone, and collapse on my couch.

Two hours later, my phone rings. My husband silences our son as I press the green button. “We think it might be ovarian cancer.” She says. “You’ll need to have surgery in the next few days. We won’t know for sure what it is until you do. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this over the phone.”

I hang up, and the waterworks flow free. I look at my husband sitting beside me, and I imagine him as a single father. I lose it. No, I know God has a plan no matter what. I know there is a reason for all this. I never stop praying.

Thirty minutes later, my phone rings again. It’s a woman I’ve never heard before. “Laura?”

“Yes.” I say through tears. I try to swallow the lumps.

“First, what were you told?” Her voice comes fast. She wants to say something more, but she stops herself. I tell her about my previous phone call.

“Hold up. I want to back up there.” She says. “You’re only 32. I highly doubt this is cancer. I’m not ruling it out, of course, but we need to think reasonably here. That mass could be anything…” Her voice soothes me. She makes sense. “I’m calling without even looking at your whole file. I needed to call as soon as I saw your images.” Her pace picks up again. “You have internal bleeding. Large amounts of it. We need you to come in ASAP for more tests and surgery.”

My despair suddenly became a feeling of urgency. After getting off the phone with her, we called family, packed overnight bags, and made arrangements for the next day.

The next day, December 10th, we traveled to Geisinger Danville, PA (over an hour away). I saw my horrifying images, talked with so many wonderful and skilled physicians/PAs/nurses/etc. who met me with peace and strength. They told me I had one of the highest pain tolerances of anyone they’d seen. I was strong, healthy, young, and thin (I so loved hearing them say that exaggeration!! lol). They succeeded in lifting my spirits. I prepared for the worse, but they hoped with me for the best as we prepared for an early Wednesday surgery.

There were possibilities of a hysterectomy, or a removal of both ovaries that would bring on a severe early menopause. And the possible inability to have any more kids. And, of course, the chance of cancer. We prayed against it all. And God gave me peace.

I entered surgery laughing with the attendees. I exited in a sleepy fog. Andrew read my favorite Bible passage as I slowly woke up. And I heard the good news.

The mass was actually my ovary. It had somehow gotten twisted, probably during an exercise or fall, and pinched the blood flow. But my ovary still looked funny. They called it weird, unusual. Of course; I’m a weird person, of course my body HAD to concoct something that’d stump 3 pathologists!

In order to remove the mass/ovary in one piece, they had to cut me. I’ll have a scar on my belly the size of my hand. I’ll wear it proud. Maybe one day I’ll get a tattoo around it. My sis says it makes me hardcore. I don’t feel it now, but I like that thought.

It’s taken a long week after that surgery to hear my results. In this week I’ve begun the healing process, lost 10 pounds, prayed, and we said goodbye to our Pennsylvania home. I’m still typing this in PA, in my sister-in-law’s home, shivering in 15-degree weather. I’m hopeful, feeling blessed for my life, but numb.

This morning, on December 20th, I received a phone call from my surgeon with my pathology results. My life is forever changed with the words “it’s cancer.”

But, just like when Jesus said the words “it’s finished” on the cross over 2,000 years ago, that is NOT where the story truly ends.

The tests came back that an “egg sack tumor” was on my ovary. They might or might not have gotten it all because it ruptured on that Friday, December 6th, when I fell down those stairs.

This type of tumor is genetic. I found out that my Japanese grandmother had a tumor on her ovaries at my age. She’s about to turn 91 years old.

They caught the cancer in an early stage, although it was huge (over 17 cm!!). It existed before my ovary had twisted. If not for my twisted ovary, I might not have been able to tell something was severely wrong. This ovary most likely became twisted 2 months back when I fell down our front stairs. So, if not for that fall, my tumor would not have made itself known until much later perhaps.

My life and situation is in the palm of God’s mighty hands. This cancer, although known to be aggressive, has a high success rate. It’s mainly common in woman under 40. It’s easily treated, and a healthy body helps with the recovery. But even with the facts aside, I know God is letting this happening for a reason. Perhaps this is just part of my testimony. This is another page in my story. This is a piece of who I am. As I take the next steps, I am confident. Whether they got all the cancer out or not, my God is bigger than this situation.

In two days, we’ll be driving to our new home. My environment will be forever changed, but the blessings will never stop. Trials come and go no matter where we live, but God’s grace remains constant. His grace and blood transformed me years ago, and I was forever changed. Today is no different.

I’m blessed to have life. No matter how fleeting. And may my continued story encourage those who hear it to never lose faith in what God can and will do. No matter what the horrifying images show.

I. Am. Blessed.

This weird rebel will see you all on the other side. Of the Mason-Dixon line that is! And I’ll keep you informed of my continued story. In the meantime, prayers are appreciated! God Bless!