The Great I AM

IMG_2684You know the Israelites? They were slaves for 400 years in Egypt. Short story, God had Moses lead them out of slavery and promised them the “Promise Land.” (Exodus 3:8-10)

When Moses asked God who he was to say sent him to Pharaoh, God responded tell him it is I AM. I always thought that just meant he is the I AM – that’s enough, its Me.. God. But it means that He will be whatever Moses needs him to be. If you need miraculous signs – I AM. You need me to interrupt nature and part the sea – I AM. You need food and water in the desert – I AM. I AM everything you will need to accomplish this task.

God did say he would bring them into the land, but the Israelites had to fight for it. They were not expected to do it on their own strength, but with God’s strength. He says,”I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.” God would help them by bringing down the walls of Jericho, he would give them strategies to defeat the enemy, he would empower them, but they had to obey and fight.

This encourages me to trust that God is still my I AM. I AM your protector. I AM your toxic cleanser. I AM your medicine. I AM your strength at the end of the day. I AM your strategy giver. I AM your Father. I can be everything you need to accomplish this task.

In the last 2 weeks, I have made the decision to stop chemo (for now). I have met with too many people and have too many opinions to sort through. We have decided that a radical diet change is the best way to get my immune system jump started and let my own God-created body try to fight this cancer. The cancer is smart, getting smarter. It can dismiss drugs and leave itself completely unaltered. But my own body… it was designed to fight these abnormalities. My prayer is that God will allow me to stay well enough, long enough to fight this internally.

Maybe for some, I look like I am fighting. I am taking this in stride and giving it my all. But it is hard. I love Mighty Fine. I love Chick-fil-A. I love lunches with my husband and quick easy dinners when I’m tired. But now my life is planned. I have to always have on hand what I can eat and be prepared to cook a dinner worthy of this diet. That is hard. And honestly, I am angry at what I am now eating. I’m angry that the pleasures of food have been taken away. (I don’t actually crave roasted broccoli for a snack) I’m angry it takes so much prep and money to eat this way. I’m angry that there is not just one way to do this and everyone has a suggestion – only clouding the water for us. I am trying to do this on my own and not letting God be my I AM. You need me to take away your cravings? I AM. You need me to help with strategies? I AM. You need me to interrupt the way your body is working to fight the cancer. I AM. But in the same breath as I am letting God be everything I need, like the Israelites, I still have to fight. I have to go to the store. I have to cut the veggies. I have to make a plan for dinner. I have to look at this as an opportunity to fight this cancer. It is going to take work and dedication and perseverance. The PET scans show cancer in all my bones, and surrounding the right lung. There are spots on the liver and it appears that things have progressed in the last few months. It is hard to measure bc it is so wide spread. I just glow all over in the scan. I will stick to a detox and a harsh diet for the next 30 days and we will rescan. My prayer is that there will be signs that this is working. My prayer is that God will reward this hard work, this fight, with a new HOPE, and that there will always be grace to take the next step.

Thank you all for your words, you donations, your cards. I have taken 2 trips with my girls and have just Audrey’s left. I will try to get the pics up here for you to see. The love and support is indescribable. It is only from God. I am blessed to receive it.


Things change

Quicker than I would like. Quicker than I really imagined.

I have had some redness on my side for a few months. It is in the area where I have had major surgery, a 12 inch scar, 4 drains and then the latest thoracentesis. It was hard to know what the redness was from. When the doc had looked at it in the past, he mentioned it could be cancer or an infection, so we just kept an eye on it. Friday we did a biopsy. We waited through the weekend, waited Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and finally Thursday had confirmation that the cancer is in the skin. While there is cancer in plenty of other places, it is still very frustrating to have it still growing, moving and showing up in new places. It is common for cancer cells to show in surgical sites. The cancer cells get new means of transportation and blood supplies change or even travel through the surgical site like tubes. However it got there, I have individual cancer cells in the area. Not a tumor, but just cells — which is good. It we get to a tumor of cells, we would radiate that area.

So, here is where things change. Because cancer is still growing/spreading despite being on Xeloda, it kinda means that Xeloda isn’t working. Ugh! I had read several good testimonies about that drug and since it had “mild” side effects and the convenience of a pill, I really wanted it to be the one we stuck with. But after 2 cycles, we are already moving on. The next drug is Eribulin. It will be given intravenously, so back to typical chemo days. Side effects really vary so I am unsure what to expect. Fatigue, low blood counts, possible hair loss…. it goes on. The really discouraging news is that the more drugs I take unsuccessfully, the less chance the next drug will work.

It is just a dance. The diagnosis of stage IV, the prognosis of my time left, but I feel good and life keeps going. Then randomly through the day or week, I am reminded of what I am really staring at. A disease that is not understood by anyone. A disease that will keep me on toxic drugs for the rest of my life. I am in distress of what I can do on my own to help my body. Diet change? Med change? Doctor change? Eat this, don’t eat this? This vitamin. This oil. It is so overwhelming for a girl who likes her chocolate and Mighty Fine. I am in prayer for some insight or direction in these decisions.

Despite reality, I am so blessed by friends near and far. Friends who bring me food without notice. Friends who will sit and cry with me and sit and laugh with me. I have thousands of people who follow my posts and hopefully are drawn toward God through my struggles. Friends who pray because they can’t be by my side. Family who loves me. Who desperately prays for my healing. A church filled with love and compassion. I could go on…

Through this last week and my questions of why and what is the point in God’s plan… a new perspective was brought to my attention. Instead of the mindset that God is involved in this cancer journey, that he is making the decisions yes or no, that he is allowing all this to happen for some “reason”… what if He is just present? What if cancer is cancer because if this sinful world? What if my body is dying because that is what it does? Maybe I am just fighting against this world and not against God’s “no’s”. I like the visual of God walking beside me. Fully knowing what is going on and what is to happen, but simply being present. Offering His grace, His peace, His never changing love as I suffer and struggle.

Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength an ever-present help in trouble…Though the earth give way, mountains quake, God is within her…God will help her at break of day…THE LORD ALMIGHTY IS WITH US.

Psalm 121: I lift my eyes to the hills…My help comes from the Lord…he who watches over you will not slumber…the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

For now it does my soul good to just see God as my strength, my protector, always present. He may not prevent all the bad things from happening though He is fully capable. He never wanted them to happen. He never created the earth to be this way. Its sin. Let’s hate sin. And lets rejoice in the freedom we have from this sin in Jesus Christ. Let’s rejoice that even though our bodies wither and die, we are promised eternal glory if we only BELIEVE. I don’t want you to only hurt for us, and continue to follow us because of the sadness and drama of our story. If my story can do anything, it can bring any of you to the Savior.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Done and done. That’s it. That is all you have to do. For God has done the rest.


Starting cycle #2


imageI feel like I should apologize for my silence, but I won’t. I know there are so many, so many, of you out there who follow and who sincerely want to know how “we” are doing. And for that, I am sorry that I haven’t at least given you the update that I am well. I could tell by the reactions when I went to church 2 weeks ago that some of you were just surprised I was dressed. But when things are going well, I feel good, and cancer is not knocking on my bedroom door, I want to just live. I want to carry on in some way that isn’t wrapped around sharing news or thinking of news or finding out news. You can usually take my silence as good news.

I finished my first cycle of Xeloda and had 1 week off. My side effects were hardly noticeable during the 2 weeks, but as the off week approached, my body must have been saturated. My hands and feet began to hurt. Like a sensitive feeling. While I didn’t see any mouth sores, my mouth was sore. Certain foods burned, most food had no taste and I just felt like I was holding my lips funny all week. But today as I start the next cycle, my body is back to normal. Only to repeat the process in 2 weeks I assume. We haven’t had any scans or marker testing yet, but I am anxious for that in the next few weeks.

My breathing is much better. While in the hospital, I was explaining the difficulty to my sister in law, and asked her how many seconds she could inhale. She said she could inhale air into her lungs for about 10 seconds. At the time, mine was only 2 seconds. There was pain and then my lungs just stopped, I couldn’t take in any more air. Try it yourself.  I will always have restricted breathing, but today I can get close to 6 seconds. There are still pockets of fluid on the side we did the procedure on, it worked in some ways, but also trapped in fluid. We see fluid on the other lung as well, but it is not causing any problems right now so we will not address it.

I have been active with the kids, doing my daily tasks and trying to enjoy my moments. However, cancer is still present. Reality still meets me daily. Because in the middle of laundry, I am filling out a book about myself to leave to my kids. While I wait in the pickup line, I am signing birthday cards that I want to leave for my girls to open years and years from now. While planning for dinner, I am recording the book of John for them to listen to their mom’s voice and God’s word at the same time. You see, life goes on, for right now it really does. But how far it goes on is never far from my thoughts. What can I do for them or what should I leave for them is always heavy on my heart. The balance of staying full of hope for healing and preparing for the possible is overwhelming.

Still and quiet

FullSizeRenderIn the stillness and the somber of my morning, I opened my chemo pills. I prayed over each pill I took this morning as if it were the Lord’s Supper. Begging that the Lord would just use these little, toxic pills to transform my life. That somehow, His plan was for me to get to this point so He could restore me with this drug, if only temporarily. I have more fight in me and I am not ready to find out that this drug is not enough. I have more memories to make, more feet to rub at night, more hair to brush, more clothes to wash, more goldfish to sweep off the floor, more papers to sign, more meals to clean up, more soccer to watch, more days with friends, more belly-laughs, more bible studies, more lunches with my man, more head rubs, more.

I am thankful for this day. After a dark night of pain and loneliness, God’s goodness meets me just where I need it. In the form of my man knowing I needed to see him this morning before he went to work, some laughs with mom and dad, finally a hairwash, lunch and company from friends and the possibility of seeing an end to my stay here.

Pray with me that this drug, Xeloda, will specifically target the rebellious cells in my body. Search and find them wherever they are and destroy them. Please pray that I have the energy and life in me to continue to live these weeks and fight. And in 3 weeks, may we see a little more of God’s plan revealed. And may my soul be ready and prepared for that plan.


Longing for the sun

The weather is pitiful here. The clouds and the constant drip mimic my mood. I have been sitting in ICU for 4 days looking out of this dreary window. Out of six beds, only 2 have doors and I am so thankful to be in a room with a door. I had a chest tube placed last week to drain the fluid that is sitting in the lining of my lung. It is still draining quite a bit, so they have not released me yet. In addition, they sprayed some stuff on the pleural lining that will cause it to stick and close up the space that is filling with fluid. There was also a freezing technique that was used to any cancer areas that were seen in the lungs. It is meant only to work in conjunction with chemo, but could give my body a head start at killing the cancer in that area.

My chemo pills arrived today. They were delivered straight to the house I assume in a gold plated box for the price I paid for them. I will begin those drugs tomorrow and start the 1st 3 week cycle and then evaluate how the cancer responds. Thank you so much for your messages, prayers and donations. I have literally been reading messages daily since Wednesday.

The news of more cancer quickly changes your thinking. What is important? Who is important? One of the things that I want to do is to take a trip with each girl. One on one. It will be a great time for making memories and allow me to just pour my love on that one child. I am going to be bold and say I need your help. Alyssa would like to go to the beach. Sit in the sand, read a book no doubt, and listen to the calming orchestra of the waves. Does anyone have access to a property that would allow us to do this easily? I don’t have a specific location, but I do want it appropriate for the two of us. The other girls and I have discussed places they would like to go, but the beach is one that I am willing to reach beyond my comfort zone and ask. You were all chosen to walk beside me at different levels, your friendship is not by coincidence. Thank you for serving my family.

The hard and the ugly

I can only start with this:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither my ways your ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

There is no other truth that I can cling to if I don’t believe this. There is no explanation. No blame I can lay. No coincidences. No justifying. It just doesn’t make sense. And if God’s ways are as meaningless as mine, I would have nothing. No point to go on. Nothing to hinge my hope on. But despite the news that is staring in my face, I know My God has a plan.

In December throughout radiation, I began to collect fluid on my lungs. It is was being watched but we didn’t do more than that. I coughed for a few weeks, but as I returned home the cough went away for a bit. Let’s jump to today. I have been coughing for weeks. An unproductive cough. It is an irritation to the lining that makes my body think it needs to expel something. I have had shortness of breath and find it very hard to carry on a conversation without coughing. SubstandardFullSizeRender-4 This image is from Feb 24th. The white shows the amount of fluid that is compressing the lung. As it is drained, the lung begins to expand again. However, within 5 days, mine filled back up. So today I sit burdened by a cough and unable to take deep breaths. The fluid was sent to pathology at MDA and confirmed there are breast cancer cells in the lung.

This may be confusing to some, but the explanation is that when cancer metastasizes (spreads) it travels through the lymph or blood channels. So the cancer that I have had all along was not killed off with chemo and was given the chance to travel. Maybe it has been in my system for awhile, but October scans revealed no evidence of disease. And today I have a comparison scan that says something different is going on in March.

How I want to make this eloquent and worth reading, but my soul just doesn’t have it in me. So buckle up for the facts. Cancer in the lining of the lungs. A lesion on the liver that was not present 4 months ago. Multiple spots in the spine on the CT scan and areas on the femur and pelvis. It has gone where it wants. It is not contained. It is not medically curable. I have a MRI of my brain coming soon to see if it has spread to there as well.

I am not going to even address how we are doing. Stupid question with a stupid response that wouldn’t even touch the surface. We have a hard and ugly road ahead. I can’t even bring myself to type a fight. A fight suggests that you can win and we know the ultimate outcome here.

Things have been changing daily, but here is where we are now. I will start a chemo pill in a week or so. Side effects unknown, depends on each case. 2 weeks on, 1 week off. Then we scan. If the spots are steady or shrink, we continue. If they grow, we move on to the next drug. This will be the remainder of my life. Keeping the cancer managed.

To immediately address the issue of the fluid, I will be admitted Thursday for a surgical procedure to keep the fluid from returning. On the front end, it will be harder, but should permanently keep it from refilling.

I am sorry to deliver such bad news. I am sorry that I am not in a place to make it sound more hopeful. I know that many of you have been waiting and this is the fastest, easiest way to spread the news.

Do not let hardship and pain drive you from your maker. Do not doubt his love for me and my family. I don’t understand His ways, but I trust them. I will press into Him to reveal this path to me and I ask that join along side us, trusting Him.


To tell or not…

I was scheduled to begin a clinical trial with MD Anderson Monday, Feb 16th. Scheduled. A normal, scheduled appointment to sign the consent forms for the trial and a post-radiation ultrasound changed those plans. I have struggled for the last few days if I wanted to share this news. I don’t think that every detail needs to be shared, especially before anything is confirmed, but I also know many of you are constantly lifting me up. And if you don’t have the opportunity to pray over the situation, you certainly miss out on the joy of seeing God’s work.

10565158_1586144634956613_6063966244572237124_nThis is my friend, Vikki. I have many who support me, but she was the winner of this trip to Houston last week. She was by my side to keep me laughing. It started with an ultrasound, but what was found was fluid in my right lung. I was headed to my oncologist next, so we discussed the findings with him. The bottom line is to find why the fluid was there. The first step was a chest x-ray. By 5:15pm I was in the scheduler’s office waiting with a kind-hearted employee who was pulling all the strings to get Humana to approve a CT scan. She stayed til past 5:30, when she was off at 4:30, waiting for the email that let her schedule my scan. I was scanned and we were out of MDA pretty quick considering all that we had done that day. My oncologist called shortly after. He was walking through the airport on his way to Mexico and he took a look at my scan results. These people go above and beyond, don’t they?

Dr V said that there was significant fluid in my lung, on my lung… something. He compared it to a scan I had done in December that also showed fluid and there is definitely more now. I have been coughing for a few weeks and have found myself short of breath, so all this is concerning to us. I am waiting for an appointment to be set for this week where they will drain the fluid and test it for any signs of cancer or any other reason that fluid may be accumulating.

There are of course many reason why there may be fluid, but the reason that scares us most is a real possibility. Please continue to pray over us. Pray that the findings from this test are clear and accurate and give us the information we need to move forward. Pray that there is no cancer found. Our minds are scared, but our hearts are secure in the one we trust.

Good Shepherd

Psalm 7
1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;

in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by...

7 My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music,
Awake, my soul!

These words of David parallel my current journey. We began in late Feb 2014 with a visit to my oncologist. That led immediately to a biopsy, which led to another biopsy, to a CT scan and within 1 week my second diagnosis. My prayer so many times through those early weeks was “be merciful to me”. I didn’t say it as eloquently as David, it was a “please God, no! Please not again. I have done this already.” But in my heart, I was screaming, “BE MERCIFUL.”  It is in Him that my soul has always seeked safety, protection. Hide me here Lord, until the storms has passed. I begged for that storm to just cease, but it had to pass. And through 2014, I was by my Savior’s side until the noise quieted, the clouds parted and the sky showed its beauty again. 10805670_1568713080033102_7404892689082395568_nI knew no other way to cope.

Through the month of December the clouds began to part. I could see the end of the storm like a dark cloud in the distance slowly making its way past me. I waited and watched, counting down the days. And the last day of radiation was I guess when the sky opened up again. The storm had passed.

I have a spoken risk that the cancer can recur again in the next 2 years. The longer I go, the more the risk decreases. And with the unknown of the future, it is hard to really celebrate this victory. I guess that is why it has been weeks before I even announced it here. It has taken a few loving friends to remind me of where we are today. Remind me that there is reason to celebrate, there is reason to give glory to God for bringing me through the storm. My body IS free of cancer. So forgive me for not passing out the party hats. It is so nice to be home again and have much of this treatment behind me, but I just don’t feel the victory like I did in 2010.

Many have asked what my next steps will be. I have completed all my treatments, my cancer is in remission and I am healthy and well. I will continue with close monitoring at MD Anderson for the next year and then slowly decrease visits. But I have also decided to take part in a clinical trial that is researching a vaccine that would enable your own body to kill tumor cells: It will have little side effects on me, but the potential to help me and others fight recurring cancer in the future. Involvement will require treatment at MDA every 3 weeks for the next 12 months. It is inconvenient. Very. But Ethan and I agree that it is an important next step. Maybe that is why I don’t feel like celebrating too much, because I still have a year of treatments coming my way.

Thank you for standing by me. Thank you to those that open this window weekly looking for some news. Thank you to all the t-shirt orders and everyone who proudly Fights4 Me when they wear them. Lucky for you, since treatment is continuing you still have reason to wear your shirts on Mondays. My first treatment for the trial will be Feb. 16th and then every 3 weeks. People say they see the shirts all over Round Rock.

So the treatment goes on and so does the fight. We have come so far and I have to choose to trust again. Trust in the future as much as I trusted in the process. As one of my favorite songs says: “good shepherd of my soul… take my hand and lead me on.”

Awake, my soul, and follow.

The Story from post-op Day 5

My room is quiet. The halls outside seem quiet, but God’s people are all around. A knock on my door and a sweet, older lady walks in. She looks at me and says, “Are you the patient? Girl, you look beautiful.” I have the feeling that she says that to everyone.  I told her today I just felt like getting dressed and even put on some makeup. Again, “Girl, even without that, you are still beautiful.” She was simply a MDA volunteer but she radiated God’s love this morning. This is my first time to sit in this room by myself. It is Sunday, and my heart wants to be where I usually am on Sundays. My heart wants to be hugging my friends and praising my Lord. But instead, God brought this lady to me for encouragement to keeping fighting and never stop raising my hands toward Him like she said she did in the cotton fields many, many years ago.

I was checking into MDA Wednesday morning at 6 am. That morning, I pulled up the Verse of the Day:

“Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1

That verse washed a sense of peace over me. Reminding me of God’s greater plan, God’s greater love. While I did not choose this journey for myself, the way I embrace it serves as a sacrifice. And offering my body that day seemed very fitting. God is using my journey for a purpose. And he let my healing take place through the sacrifice of this body. Through a friend’s perspective, I began to see the surgery as a gift. It was the answer to eliminating the cancer. It was life-giving.

The surgeon told us that morning that if the chest wall could be closed easily, that there would be no extra tissue needed. But the extent of the cancer was greater than they thought. Because my cancer extended into the skin, it was very important that all diseased skin was removed. The surgeon took her first attempt at removing the disease. She then took samples of the surrounding area to be sent to pathology for traces of cancer cells. It came back showing several areas that were still positive. So to get clear margins, she had to remove more skin. The plastic surgeon then stepped in with the task of closing it. The plan was to take my latissimus muscle in the back and wrap it around under my arm to serve as new tissue and help close the gap, it’s called a L-flap. The surgeon then had to go a step further because he still needed more skin, and that came from a large skin graft on my outer thigh. So, I have three very invasive areas that are trying to heal. All the doctors have said that everything went very well. Healing is going well too. I will have quite the scars to tell my story, but I will have a story to tell. I will be held in the hospital for at least 5 days to make sure the skin graft bonds properly and stays healthy. I have heard rumors that I may get to go home on Monday.

Our next phase is to return on the 17th for a post-op visit that will reveal the full pathology of the removed tissue. The information from that will determine our next steps. It seems very possible that I will undergo 6 weeks of radiation, M-F here at MDA. Initially that seemed an impossible task. But the possibility of my full body being cancer-free is more important than the convenience of staying in Round Rock.

I am so overwhelmed and thankful for how far my story has traveled. But this is not just my story, it is God’s. His hand has been in this every step of the way. He knew the outcome before we ever stepped foot in MDA. He is good and his ways are holy. Thank you for walking beside us.

Our Story

We were teenage kids when we met. Two kids from the same neighborhood, with a shared history of places, schools and friends, and though it made it easier to relate and bond we were certainly different. I was brash and arrogant. She was quiet and thoughtful. I was floundering. She was grounded. She had joy in her heart. I had doubt. Pain filled my heart from loss, but she could see past it.

Her beauty and belief launched a thousand ships in my heart. She made me want to be a better man, more caring, more compassionate, more humble, more and more and more. Outside of my parents, no one’s influence on me has been more profound. Why? Because she insisted Jesus be the center of our relationship. Always, from the beginning. The problem was I stunk at it. Like a toddler I stumbled alot. I made so many mistakes, created unfortunate pain and hurt. I learned to say I’m sorry. And like any parent knows, when the toddler stumbles you pick them back up, nudge them forward with a smile, and tell them they can do this. And that’s what she did every time; smiled at me, nudged me closer to Jesus, and believed in me. And slowly the teenage boy more consumed with his own self-interests than others self-worth learned to love with purity and selflessness. I learned that when you put Jesus first you can figure out the other stuff. It’s still going to hurt and be difficult at times, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

During the past 20 years that’s exactly what our story looks like. The narrative has been filled with chapters of joy and love, pain and sickness, happiness and blessings, fear and angiush. The chapter today is certainly filled with angiush and dread, and maybe even the next couple of chapters. But what really got me thinking about this was when the pastor at church prayed over us the weekend during the service. I thought why single out Julie’s story? Surely there are others here who have similar stories; other people with pain, doubts, and difficulty. Aren’t their stories significant? Don’t they matter? Of course they do, but maybe God has choosen Julie to tell her to story publicly because she’s got a secret — Julie knows how her story ends. She knows that no matter how many chapters are left, at the end she falls into the loving arms of Jesus. She is surrounded by his grace and his mercy. It’s possible that what’s happened all along is each little smile she’s given you, each bit of witty sarcasm, each time you’ve found encouragement has been a gentle nudge back to Jesus. What I’ve come to realize is God knows each and every one of our stories, the beginning to the end, and that my hope and prayer is each of us marches boldy forward through all the chapters with the same confidence as Julie. Are you confident in how your story ends?

Father, today I come before you to plead for more nudges, more smiles, and more sarcasm. I need more story for me, my girls, and my wife. I pray that you wrap your loving arms around the girls. Give them comfort and wisdom beyond their needs. I pray that this cancer is removed from her body forever. I pray that you give the doctors the wisdom and understanding necessary to be successful. I pray that your glory shine through this story, that we do not lean on our own understanding but simply and boldy trust you in all things. I pray for healing in her body, that she recovers quickly, and she continues to be brave. I come before you with fear and doubt but I also know you hear my plea. Grow my faith today.