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Life before and after Breast Cancer

Clickforhope, Breast CancerJasmine LopezComment

Please share your story: : It was a Saturday in May of 2014. I was laying on my couch watching tv when my little pup climbed up on my chest. Where he stepped on me hurt, like someone pressing deep on a bruise. I touched the area and instinctively pushed around. Then I placed my hand on my other breast. All I can say is they felt different. Because I was only 33 years old, I talked myself out of it meaning anything. Until I noticed it was uncomfortable to sleep on my belly. I looked up how to properly do a self breast exam, and did one. And felt the same lump on my right side. Standing there in the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, I called my gynecologist. I had to wait 4 days to get in. I researched like crazy and found so many encouraging things. Things like 80% of lumps aren't cancerous. Cancer doesn't cause pain. Risk factors of obesity, drinking and smoking...none of those applied to me. Check, check, check. It must be a cyst. I saw the PA at my gynecologists office, and she said she wanted me to get an ultrasound, and then a mammogram if they felt it was necessary. 2 more days of waiting. As I laid there on the ultrasound table, I knew that I had cancer. She was taking way too long. And were those tears in her eyes? She knows. I know. I have CANCER. I had the mammogram, and got called in to the radiologist. He told me I needed a biopsy. That is all I remember. I called the surgeon who operated on my mother, and the fastest appointment they would give me was the following week. More waiting. Until my gynecologist called the next morning and asked when I got scheduled for a biopsy, I told her, and she then said words I will never forget. She said "the radiologist called and he's very concerned, and I am very concerned. I want you to have the biopsy today". I knew it...I knew it in my head but now I knew it in my heart. I had cancer. How could I possibly have cancer? My surgeon excused my mother and boyfriend from the room when doing the biopsy. It was just him and me. I asked him point blank if he thought it was cancer. I was ready for the crappy response of "let's wait and see". But he didn't say that. He touched my arm gently and said "yes, I do. But I am going to take care of you". When my cancer was confirmed days later, I was ready for the news. Ready to fight like hell. But I cared most about 1 thing. I hadn't had the chance to have kids yet. In 1 month, I had a mastectomy, genetic testing, underwent fertility preservation and started chemo. I was officially diagnosed with stage 2B ER+ Sentinel node positive axillary node negative breast cancer. I was very open about my battle, creating a private Facebook group for people to follow my story and encourage me along the way. It was my own personal army. I blogged weekly, pouring my heart out for anyone who cared to read it. And I kept moving forward. I went back to work when I was cleared to (I'm a pediatric physical therapist). It was then I shocked my team of doctors by asking if I could run in the Chicago Marathon, which would take place in between my 6th and 7th rounds of chemo. I had already signed up to run in honor of a patient of mine who lost his battle with a brain tumor. I knew I may only be able to get across the start line, but I didn't care. I just wanted permission to try. My oncologist said I could do as much as I wanted to do. And that gave me another purpose to fight on for during my treatment. I'm proud to say I finished 14 miles of the marathon that year, making Charity a Row my finish line. Every step out on the street that day made me forget that I was a cancer patient. I may not have crossed the finish line, but I will always think of that race as my best race of all time. I proved to everyone around me, and myself, that cancer may have chosen me but I chose to fight back and refuse to let it own who I am.
I went back and ran the marathon again in 2015, celebrating 1 year cancer free, and crossed that finish line.
I sit here now, just over 2 years cancer free, reflecting on how much life has changed for me since that May weekend back in 2014. Life will never be the same after you've been told you have cancer...but it reminds you that the time you have left is a gift.

How has your story shaped who you are today?: I found a strength, a passion and courage in myself that I never would have known I had, had I not been faced with cancer. Cancer has helped me relate to the children and families whom I work with on a different level now. I am open about my story, my journey, and I think it helps to know that they are working with someone who has "been there too".

What compelled you to share your story?: If I could get one message out, it's that I wish for all women who are faced with this terrible diagnosis to know that they are brave. They are strong. They will continue on, they will fight the beast and they can be the one in control. I took control when I somehow managed to run 14 miles of a marathon in the middle of my chemo treatments. I missed only 1 day of work because of pink eye. Otherwise I got up everyday, and lived my life exactly as I wanted to live it. I decided how I was going to feel that day and what I was going to do. And I wish the same for anyone who is in the same shoes.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?: There are good days, and there are bad days but every day you get up and keep going, you win.

Tshirts: Hope 25

Blush Skirts: Marsymo

When you find your tribe...

Alopecia, ClickforhopeJasmine Lopez1 Comment

I can't believe it's been 6 months since our Alopecia Campaign, and I realized that I never blogged the group photos. You guys, this shoot was one of the most humbling, mind blowing experiences for me. I had the amazing opportunity to photograph 6 lovely ladies, all in different seasons of life, but have Alopecia.

What I wasn't ready for was what would happen when you got them all together. Each lady was given a time slot for makeup and their individual session. I had prepared my team for a long day, but didn't expect for our storytellers to stick around. Before I knew it, everyone was sitting on the couches sharing their stories with each other. They were sharing wig shops, makeup tips and more. I wish I had another photographer with me to photograph the behind the scenes so you could see what we witnessed as I feel my words don't fully describe what we felt. Needless to say, I saw community take place in the most organic way possible.

I saw togetherness.

I saw walls come down.

I saw FREEDOM.

And most of all I saw a tribe of women form a bond together that I believe will last for years to come. As a source of inspiration and encouragement for each other. To be there in the dark parts of their journey as it unfolds, and to wipe each others tears as they get hurt, and to help each other heal and become whole. 

No story was the same. The one commonality was that they have ALOPECIA.

You can read each of their stories here:

Amy

An Aneurysm Brought Me To My Knees

Aneurysm, Family, ClickforhopeJasmine Lopez3 Comments
“There came a point when I had to decide: will I let this break me or will I let this grow me? And if I'm honest, it had to break me first in order to grow me. But today? Today I survive on faith.” -Alice

 

I can do this.

I say this to myself at least five times a day. When I’m out swimming, biking, or running- training for Ironman Wisconsin, I say it about every ten minutes. 

I can do this

Let me backtrack...towards the end of 2015, while at home with my two girls, I lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. After months of tests and doctors’ visits, I was told that I had at least two different issues – possible partial seizures and an incidental finding of a right PCA brain aneurysm. What this means: about four days out of every month, I feel faint. I feel faint standing from sitting. I feel faint standing from laying. I feel faint just standing.

My doctors don’t really know what this means since every test except the MRI has come back normal. All I know is, I had an episode that left me unconscious with my then almost three year old standing over me and my six month old screaming after being dropped from my arms. This moment is seared into my brain – and it terrifies me. 

The MRI showed a small ballooning of an artery in my brain directly behind my right eye. The finding of this aneurysm brought me to my knees. For the first time in my life, I couldn't (and still can't) fix the problem. I can’t just keep my head down and power through. I can’t run through the pain. There aren’t studies to read about thirty something year old active and otherwise healthy Chinese females developing brain aneurysms either.  So, at this point, we are playing the "wait and see" game.

To help prevent the aneurysm from rupturing or leaking, I was told to avoid activities that raise my blood pressure. What does that mean? Doesn’t the simple act of living life equate to the rise and fall of pressure?

 And yet, I am training for the Ironman Wisconsin.

Yes, there are obstacles.  Swimming, biking, and running don’t come naturally to me. My body hasn't always been able to go the distance. I’m not fast. I’m not particularly strong. I have terrible knees and joints that seem to add to my pain list with each season of training. But I do all of this because I can. I do all of this because I enjoy setting goals, reaching them, and seeing my progress. 

I can do this. 

Since having kids, my inclination towards setting these physical goals has grown; I want my daughters to know they can accomplish anything they set their beautiful minds to. I want them to see the work I put in, the failed attempts, the pain, and the celebrations of getting there.

With this diagnosis, I have oscillated between hiding and fighting. There are days I am frozen with fear that I will leave my children motherless; leave my best friend and husband a widower. These are the days when I want to stay in bed, I want to stay quiet, I want to watch my girls play and memorize every detail about them. These are the days I want to close my eyes and only see and hear my three favorite people. But then I remember that this life, these loves, they are all gifts from above. And to hide is to squander all that I have been given. 

I can do this.

While I have a deep fear of my aneurysm rupturing and drowning during open water swims, I am doing it. Because my purpose on this earth is to be the best wife, best mom, and best person I can be. And to do that, I need to live. I need to set goals and work towards them. I need to fail. I need to pick myself up. And I need those finish lines. So on September 11, 2016, I will be swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles for my partner and best friend in life, my girls, and myself. Because I can do all things through Christ.  

I can do this.

How has your story shaped who you are today?: My circumstances have forced me to grow in my faith. There came a point when I had to decide: will I let this break me or will I let this grow me? And if I'm honest, it had to break me first in order to grow me. But today? Today I survive on faith.

Why were you compelled to share your story?:  I hope my story inspires my daughters. I hope one day, my story will teach them perseverance, strength, and endurance. I hope they will know I lived my life because of my deep love for our family. And along the way, I hope it touches others to do more and be more.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?: We are all braver than we believe and stronger than we think. And despite our situations and circumstances, it takes grit, guts, hard work, and faith to go after our goals. So go after them.

Bipolar Disorder | Jenn

Clickforhope, Depression, Bipolar DisorderJasmine LopezComment

Please share your story:

 For a little over than 20 years I have struggled with depression, self harm and suicidal tendencies to name a few. I have survived the isolation and shame. It was only in my adulthood that I was officially diagnosed with being Bipolar. As a teen I was hospitalized for observation due to attempts on my life but nothing really came of that. I just learned to internalize more and more. One can only do so much internalizing before it starts to overflow. How I survived my teens and 20's is beyond me, I honestly never thought I would live past 13, let alone approach my 32nd year on this earth. 

Everyday that I draw breath is a FIGHT, I choose to keep fighting. I don't always understand why I struggle so deeply, but through this LONG JOURNEY I have continually encountered God's Grace and PERFECT LOVE. I was a terrified lonely 12 year old GIRL when I first cried out to Him at 14. He sent me a dear friend that spoke GOD's love into my SOUL. 

One thing that is constant, is my TRUE NORTH. GOD has such a love for me that HE is walking this JOURNEY with me. HE already knows what is in store but nevertheless he accompanies me on this journey as I discover what it means to see myself through HIS eyes. Some days are easier than others and some days I allow myself to be identified by how others see me or label me.  Then there are the days that the chatter all around and especially within me is silenced and I only hear God and His sweet whisperings into my heart and soul.

How has your story shaped you into who you are today?:

 I have discovered that I am truly stronger than I had ever imagined, I AM A FIGHTER, and I definitely have a purpose. Though I may not know the specifics, I truly believe God has plans for me. HE loves me so much that he refuses to let me give up. I am still being shaped and molded. There have been many times where I have had been broken own, to then be built up again. It is a painful process but I am learning to not fear an unknown future to a Known GOD.

Why were you compelled to share your story?: 

There have been many times I have felt like I am alone in my struggles, and fears. I have felt like there was no one on earth that could possibly comprehend what I struggle with behind this smile of mine. I have come to learn that there is strength in sharing one's story. Even if there are people out there that won't understand or even try. There is power in SPEAKING UP. There is at least one person out there that might need to hear my story, even if it is STILL BEING WRITTEN. Everyone's journey is different and God can use ANYONE, we are here to manifest the GLORY of GOD that is within us, and I am no exception. If my journey can reach even just ONE person and encourage them then why wouldn't I share it for that ONE!?

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story? : 

God doesn't give us a timeline throughout our struggles, but He always promises to come through. So don't give up. Everyone's journey is different and we all have to walk it out. Surround yourself by people who will speak LIFE into you, lift you up in prayer. Don't allow the labels to define you or the stigma of such labels to confine you. So your brain works a little differently and you feel things a bit more intensely. YOU still have PURPOSE!

Single Mom | Martha

Single Parents, ClickforhopeJasmine LopezComment

What is your story?

Hello! My name is Martha McGrane and I am a single mother to a beautiful baby boy named Aidan Joseph McGrane who turned 1 on 10/19/2014. I work full-time at a non-profit agency with children who are survivors of abuse and trauma.

What/who is your inspiration?

I am inspired by a close friend of mine, Tara Lattanzi. She gave birth to a baby girl this summer, and is also in the process to adopt her foster child. Her story is a picture of God’s love for us, and how deeply He cares for us, even through struggles.

How has your story defined or not defined who you are today?

My story has given me a deeper understanding of who God is. He has defined me as a Mother, and daughter of Christ, even through struggles he has blessed me, and given me strength to be the best mother, daughter of Christ, and friend.

Why should your story be selected to be featured on our blog?

I would like my story to be selected in your blog as a way to give other mothers a sense of hope and also community. To know that they are not alone and that through dififcult times, God’s love still exists.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?

Don’t give up. Never forget how BEAUTIFULLY and WONDERFULLY you are made. God’s deepest desire for you is to be to best person that God has made you to be.

FAMILY | The G Family

Family, ClickforhopeJasmine LopezComment

Please share your story:

Family.

It’s such a simple word, yet, it carries so much meaning. It’s a word that has the ability to stir up all kinds of feelings and emotions with just its mention. For some, it brings up a sweet sense of nostalgia full of warm and loving memories.

It’s home. It’s love. It’s safety.

But for others, it’s a painful reminder of all that was lost and broken. Of everything that was not as it should have been.

It stings. It hurts. It disappoints.

In my life, I have experienced both. Once by birth, once by the grace of God.

The family I was born into was broken from the start. My parents were already treading rocky ground by the time I was born and just a few months later, they were  divorced. As a result, I never really knew or understood what true togetherness looked like. I had no idea what it meant to be a family.

My mom, a severe alcoholic at the time, moved to another city soon after the divorce and left me with my father. Although it was the best choice for me, I missed my mom tremendously. There were weekend and summer visits but none of that time spent seemed to satisfy the craving I had for my mother’s love. She was lost in her addiction and incapable of being the mom I needed her to be.

My father, meantime, was married and divorced three more times. His job required him to travel extensively so he was only home a couple of nights a week. I know he was doing his best to provide a good life for me, but what my dad didn’t realize is that I just wanted him.

His time. His attention. His care. His protection. His love.

By the time I was a teenager I was very independent and self-reliant. Not because I wanted to be but because I had to be. With my mom out of the picture and my dad out of town most of the time, I was left to do as I pleased. I went where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go there and I didn’t ask for anyone’s permission. If I didn’t feel like going to school then I didn’t go, and no one was there to make me. I had the freedoms of an adult but I was just a kid. It may seem like a teenager’s dream but trust me, it wasn’t good.

I needed rules. I needed boundaries. I needed a family.

Thankfully, God already knew that and out of His incredible grace He had a plan to provide me with a second family. And I’m not talking about any kind of regular average family. I’m talking about one of the most amazing families I’ve ever known. That’s exactly how our great God works. He always gives us more than we could even think to ask for.

I met the Taylor family through a volunteer opportunity at my church when I was 14-years-old. It wasn’t long before I started babysitting for them and immediately fell in love with their three children. When they realized my dad was gone most of the time, they began inviting me to spend the night at their house. This became a regular occurrence until I eventually moved in. I loved every minute with them!

For the first time, I got to experience what it was like to be in a real family. To sit down and have nightly family dinners. Together. To have someone who cared if I did my homework or not. To know I wasn’t on my own anymore.

I was soaking it all in. Every moment.

I listened as the kids were read stories and tucked in bed at night. I watched as two parents loved their children well and loved each other deeply. And I learned what it meant to be a mom and a wife and a follower of Jesus. It was exactly what I needed and more.

God was good. So so good.

Fast forward to the day I became a mother. I looked into the eyes of my sweet baby girl and felt a love I had never felt before. It was strong and it ran deep. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for this little person. I was hers and she was mine.

But in the midst of my joy, a sadness started to creep in. I wasn’t sure my own mom felt the same way about me. Perhaps she did but alcohol had robbed me of ever knowing it. Regardless, the damage had been done. She had missed so much. And it hurt.

That’s when God began to work.

God showed me how the lack of a relationship with my mom had left me with a gaping hole in my heart, full of sadness. Lots of sadness. I realized I would never get to experience all the things little girls should experience with their moms. There would never be any hair braiding, tea partying, make-up playing, bedtime story reading, boo-boo kissing, or comforting after a scary dream. The opportunity for those seemingly small & mundane parts of the mother/daughter relationship were lost in the past and could never be retrieved. The wound was deep and it ached to my bones.

I knew there was only one who could heal it.

The process was slow and it was painful. Many tears were cried and many prayers were prayed as God lovingly walked me through the broken areas of my heart. Little by little he put the shattered pieces back together. My heart started to become whole again. The walls I had built began to come down and love started flowing in. With its current came the ability to forgive. I began to see my parents through God’s eyes. No longer was there anger, resentment, or sadness. Only love.

But that’s not the end of the story.

God isn’t just our healer, He’s also our redeemer.

My mom started reaching out to me when I was about 21-years-old. She was trying to get her life on track and part of that meant she wanted to salvage our relationship. I cautiously and slowly welcomed my mom back into my life and it was really nice to reconnect with her. A few years later I got married and became pregnant soon after. That’s when I finally gave my mom an ultimatum – Quit drinking or never know your grandchildren.

She went to rehab a few weeks later.

That was nearly 7 years ago. My mom has been sober ever since. Not only is she sober but she also loves Jesus. God has completely changed her life and I couldn’t be more grateful to get a second chance with my mom. She is such a blessing to me and an amazing grandmother to my children.

My dad and I are also very close now and I have such a deep respect for him. He may not have done everything perfectly but he did the best he could do at the time. He is an honest man who has sacrificed so much for me to have the life I have today. For that I am thankful.

Despite the difficulties, I can honestly say I’m very grateful for the life God has given me. I could have never imagined I’d be where I am today with a loving husband and two beautiful children. Now it’s my turn to decide what the word ‘family’ will mean to my kids. I’m certainly not the perfect mom but I’m doing my best. I can only hope the seeds I’m planting in my children today will become their warm and loving memories of tomorrow.