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When Cancer hits home (Part 2)

Cancer, Clickforhope, FamilyJasmine Lopez2 Comments
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My journey with cancer begins in January of 2015 with a small red spot in the center of my chest.  I remember first seeing it after taking a shower.  Although odd I didn’t think much of it; I was young at only 35, a very active father of two children and considered myself to be in good health.  I thought little of it and went on with my busy life.  Over the next 4 months’ new spots started appearing and as the spots got larger I could feel lumps under the spots.  I was also losing weight and not sleeping well, although at the time I didn’t connect any of these issues together.  In April of 2015 I finally decided to make an appointment with my doctor.  
My primary physician referred me to a dermatologist who suggested a biopsy.  It was a simple procedure done right in the doctor’s office.  It was another couple of weeks before the results came back.  The doctor called on a Thursday afternoon while I was in the office; the results indicated I had a form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  I was shocked, I had convinced myself that it was just a reaction to something or maybe calcium deposits which I’ve had in the past.  But no, I had Cancer.  
I needed to tell my wife, I wanted to tell her right away so she could tell me it would be okay and we’d get through this.  But the timing was horrible.  My Birthday and Mother’s Day fell back to back on the approaching weekend.  My wife had worked to make plans for my birthday and I the same for her on Mother’s Day.  This news would surely take all of the joy from our celebrations.  I decided to wait to tell her, or anybody else.  My wife tells me I should have told her, and she’s probably right, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything, the kids and Michelle were enjoying themselves so much.  It was a great weekend; my birthday went off without a hitch and Michelle had a wonderful relaxing Mother’s Day.  I even convinced my wife to get a hamster for our daughter from a local pet expo.  
On the following Monday I told my wife the results of the biopsy.  She was loving and supportive telling me what I already knew.  Together we can get through anything.  We decided not to say anything to the kids until we had to.  And managed to go through my entire treatment without ever saying the word Cancer to or in front of our children.

      
The next couple months were filled with more biopsies, tests and scans.  In the meantime, we began discussing treatment options with my doctors.  The two Oncologists I was seeing had a difference of opinion over the exact subtype of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that I have.  It was suggested by one of the doctors that I try a “watch and wait” approach.  This approach made no sense to me.  I had been “watching” this cancer spread from my chest to my arms and back for 6 months now and it had been stressful.  I didn’t want to “wait” any longer, every morning I looked in the mirror and was reminded of the worries and uncertainty the future may hold.  I wanted to start fighting back now.  
The doctors told me there was no cure for my cancer and that my battle would be a lifelong one.  I was ready for the fight, I had my family’s support and a positive attitude.  Eventually more testing determined the exact subtype of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that I had & I started Immunotherapy treatments in August of 2015.
I handled the treatments well and the side effects were tolerable.  I was extremely tired the day of treatment and for maybe a day or two following.  I continued to lose weight, at my lightest I weighed less than 130 lbs, and developed joint pain that got progressively worse as the treatments went on.  My legs get very restless as well.

 
The first couple of treatments were the most difficult.  Due to the potential for adverse reactions, the first infusions are done very slowly.  Unfortunately, I still developed a reaction to the treatment.  Shortly after the infusion began, I began to feel itchy and asked my wife if she could scratch my back.  She lifted my shirt and gasped, almost my entire upper body was covered in huge, red hives.   They stopped the infusion immediately and switched over to IV antihistamine to treat the reaction.  Once everything seemed under control they began the immunotherapy infusion again at a slower rate, taking more than eight hours to complete the first treatment.  Treatment days continued to be an all-day affair but they were able to control the reactions during the remainder of the treatments.  
At the end of my treatments I was feeling great.  I even felt a bit lucky, the side effects weren’t horrible, the small tumors had faded away and the large ones were getting smaller every day.  I hadn’t lost my hair or had to undergo any surgeries.  At my appointment a couple weeks following treatment I even heard the words every cancer patient hopes for.  Remission.  Well Partial Remission for me, but I’ll take it.  The tumors had mostly gone away and I was happy, life was good.  My Wife and I with our two wonderful children were ready for move on with our lives.  But we were in for another shock…
In February of 2016 my wife was diagnosed with Stage 2B Breast Cancer.  My wife’s cancer was more aggressive than mine and treatment started very quickly.  In March my wife had bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.  After healing from surgery she began chemotherapy, and following chemotherapy, she underwent radiation which she just finished this past month.  My wife is the most amazing person I have ever known.  All throughout my treatments she took care of me and our family.  And all though her own cancer treatments, she still took care of our family.  My wife is an an amazing mom, wonderful wife and my best friend.  


As if that weren’t all enough, in June my cancer unfortunately relapsed.  After new tests and scans my doctors believe the same cancer has returned.  This wasn’t completely unexpected; my wife and I were prepared for this possibility.  
My treatment will be similar this time, but much longer.  I am currently undergoing treatment every week in an effort to stop and shrink the current tumor growth.  After which I will continue to receive treatments every other month for the next 3 years and we’ll reassess at that point.
In spite of it all, we’re still as strong and positive as ever.  Cancer has been hard on our family but it has made us stronger and for that we are grateful.

Cancer | Part 2 | Tim's Story

Testicular Cancer, Cancer, ClickforhopeJasmine LopezComment
"The constant reality of my frail humanity forces a celebration of each day on this earth, and reminds me of the countless invisible threads that form everyone around me; I must be compassionate." -Tim

Please share your story:

I can still remember the very specific point in time when the course I charted for myself and that of my body diverged. I became quite sick midway through high school, and the best and brightest I visited were befuddled by what it might be. Tests were inconclusive; traditional evaluations pointed everywhere and nowhere. It seemed like the flu, came on like the flu, passed like the flu, and yet it wasn’t the flu.

My parents and I moved on; I didn’t ‘feel’ sick any more. I was busy in high school and was never the type to sit still for very long. But something was different: my heart skipped a beat sporadically; my ears rung; my joints hurt; my stomach was never settled; my head ached; my memory was not so sharp. But I never thought of these things as related. They were part of my day-to-day, and for the most part they were a low din not worth dealing with. Plus, I was growing and active: it could have been any number of things, I thought.

Life flew by. I met and fell hard for an amazing woman, a high school crush. I went to a great college. My crush became my girlfriend, who went to college a few towns away. My girlfriend became my fiancé and I graduated; with my fiancé now wife, I moved to Chicago. We studied, we worked, we struggled, we traveled. Each day we fell more in love, each day life got a little better, and yet each day I felt a little bit worse. Imperceptible changes added up to noticeable realities over the years. We lived abroad, we challenged ourselves, we challenged each other, we brought life into the world. I almost didn’t notice the skipping heartbeat becoming more sporadic; my ears roared and my joints ached. My stomach swirled; my head pounded. I never slept. My memory failed.

We saw specialists, tons of them, who checked everything, finding almost nothing, except small masses in my lungs and brain that were inconclusive, distinct memory loss and verbal retention issues, voids where my spinal cord had been eaten away, bones fusing together. They all seemed to be leftovers; every test suggested I was as healthy as could be, as if we could see the wreckage from a tornado but no proof that one had ever passed through. I took pills, lots of pills and gave myself shots. Doctors and nurses successfully destroyed my immune system, sending me to the hospital with meningitis and encephalitis, probably from a cold floating around our house. We had no answers, and worse, we had no proof— only wreckage.

This ghost of an illness started creating gaps in our family fabric. Beth was afraid to be intimate for fear of getting me sick. Our son knew I was fragile. I knew I was. We changed our life plans; we denied our desire to bring more life into an uncertain future. We grieved. I questioned myself: was it all in my head? I wanted some real, active, living proof that what I was feeling could somehow be measured. I hated feeling foolish for seeking answers; I desperately wanted resolution. I wanted something that we could treat, something that could restore our family hopes, something that removed my guilt for what this had done to my family.

I learned to cope, to ignore, to push through, to accept my fate. We grew our family, adding two more beautiful people into our world. We lived and we loved. I ignored the deep, hidden longing for proof, a silent prayer that we would one day find something.

And we did: in February of this year, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I must admit I had been jealous of some of the cancer patients I’d seen at the hospital— they had something real; they had something that had a game plan. I guess now I did too. We had SOMETHING to treat, finally. We were aggressive: I went under the knife to remove two tumors and a testicle, and a week later my appendix. We jumped at the chance to do a heavy round of chemo to remove what the surgery could not.

And now we wait: to see if the treatment worked, to see if the treatment resolved any of my other issues, preparing ourselves for the possibility that it didn’t. And we live. And we love.

How has your story shaped who you are today?

I don’t remember my childhood. I have Polaroids floating in my head of a few moments but I’m not certain if they are real or recollections from photo albums. I don’t know what it feels like to wake rested. I don’t know how music sounds without the ringing in my ears adding to the composition. I am constantly aware of my body, because its painful reminders mark my every step.

I know the fragility, the temporality of my body. And to be honest, I wouldn’t change it.

The constant reality of my frail humanity forces a celebration of each day on this earth, and reminds me of the countless invisible threads that form everyone around me; I must be compassionate. I reinforce what little my brain understands by reading faces and lips; I must be present. And those lost markers of masculinity—strength, virility, appendage, confidence— remind me of what really defines me. I am vulnerable and human.

What compelled you to share your story?

Hope is not about seeking the answer I want, but accepting the lesson in my journey. My hope is no longer for physical healing, but for spiritual growth, for being rather then becoming.

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

I’ve always wondered if the next bit of bad news would wreck my faith, if whatever was around the corner would be my faith’s downfall. If the physical, emotional, relational strain would ever be too much for my bride, my family, or my faith. If every future trial had been revealed to me so many years ago in high school, I’d have long given up. If every moment of strength, of hope, of love, of opportunity were revealed, I’d want all of it.

I don’t know what the future holds— I don’t know how we will be tested, or if my body will ever know comfort. What I do know is that from every trial we’ve found opportunity; from every challenge, hope; from every weakness, strength.

Trisomy 18 | The P Family

Clickforhope, Trisomy 18Jasmine Lopez4 Comments
She's beautiful and valuable and she's become the 4th child we thought we weren't going to have. -Nathan (Dad)

Please share your story: : Last fall (2014) my wife Heather and I received news that our 4th child, due a few months later, had a terminal disease called Trisomy 18. If she survived birth, we'd probably only have an hour with her. The following months were so dark. We met with doctors and grief counselors who assured us she was "incompatible with life" and referred us to a funeral home to make arrangements. They said the undertaker would be at the hospital to take her in a basket when she passed. We did all we could to take care of the kids during the days, then fall apart and sobbed at night until we went to sleep.

Olivia did survive birth. Contrary to the doctors' expectations, she survived her first day, then her first week, then her first month. She's still alive today and just turned 1 in January! This year has been an entirely new reality for us. We couldn't leave the house for the first part of last year. We must have watched her die and say goodbye to her over a hundred times. There were so many times we called the kids and our parents in to say goodbye to Olivia. She'd turn blue and stop breathing. We'd cry tears of sadness and relief. Then she'd gasp a new breath, color would return to her face, and she'd open her eyes and start again. It as such a rollercoaster.

Somewhere around month 6, her episodes slowed down to just every few days and then only every couple of months. We haven't had an episode for a few months now. In a lot of ways, Olivia is developmentally about the same as a 2-3 month old. She just learned to take a sippy cup. Heather was nursing LITERALLY every 30-60 minutes for an entire year, day and night. She can't hold her head up, so someone's usually holding her. BUT, she has been able to do SO MANY things we never thought we'd see her do - like smile, dance (shaking her head from side to side when she hears music!), and I think we heard her just about laugh the other day. She's beautiful and valuable and she's become the 4th child we thought we weren't going to have.

Our life is nothing like it used to be. Heather and I are in survival mode most of the time. We get 2-6 hours of sleep per night with lots of all-nighters. Olivia gets sick often, and when she does she's right on death's door. We're told by the medical community that she won't live much longer - that she shouldn't be alive or doing any of the things she's doing now. But everyone - us, the medical community, our friends, and many other onlookers are amazed at the difference between what should be and what is actually happening. We're living in the middle of a real live miracle.

The main lesson I think Heather and I are both learning through this is about rest. So much of my life has been spent trying to nail down what will happen before it does. I want to know. I want to remove uncertainty and discomfort at any cost. This situation has made certainty impossible. We haven't made plans for a year. If someone asks us to do something next week, we say "check back in with us next week" because we can't think that far ahead. Many times, even living day to day is too much, even hour to hour - we're learning to live now. The fear we have to cut through to be able to live now without knowing what's about to happen, especially when it comes to the health and life of our children, not to mention our finances, careers, friendships... it's nearly impossible. The fear is debilitating. But the alternative is to give up, and Heather and I don't do that very well. :)

I don't think either of us would give up this last year for anything in the world. I can say that this was the most difficult and painful year of our lives by far - but it's also been the richest. And of course, we have the gift of Olivia - knowing her, holding her, loving her. It's the highest privilege in the world to be trusted to walk her through her beautiful life, however long or short it is.

How has your story shaped who you are today?: This year has made us more present, and i think it's made us more solid, at our core.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?: When Olivia was in the womb I was afraid to name her. I put it off thinking "she probably won't live anyway". It was all subconscious, but in retrospect I was definitely hoping to not have to name her somehow. That was me, deciding not to live, because living was too painful and too scary.

But that's what living looked like for me at that time. That day, in the womb, my daughter was alive. She did exist. And as her parent, I needed to name her. I needed to talk to her, the same way I did for my other 3 "normal" kids.

Live. Today. You know exactly what that looks like. Yes, it's painful and scary, but that's life. You were made for this: to step straight into this terrifying dark room and to do what you know you have to do.

Orphan Care | Lacock Family

Clickforhope, Adoption, Orphan CareJasmine LopezComment

Please share your story:

Over 5 years ago God was distinctly working on Tom and my heart towards orphan care. James 1:27 had hit us like a ton and bricks and we knew that this was a command to us to care for orphans. As we wrestled in prayer with how that would look for our family (prayer, supporting others, fostering, adopting etc) We were both certain that at this time, God was calling us to adopt internationally. So we started the process of adopting a girl from Thailand. We were in that program for 2 1/2 years when the program came to a halt due to government issues. We were devastated by the thought of switching countries. We had grown to love Thailand and its people as we had prayed for them for over 2 years. We had to grieve the loss of a child we thought would be from Thailand. God directed us through many circumstances to China. The trafficking issue had been a heavy issue on our hearts while we were in the Thai program and our eyes had been opened to the same issues facing girls in China. So we began our process in China to our little girl. Only a couple months into our process God brought to our attention a 5 year old boy with cerebral palsy and profound developmental delays. We knew he was to be ours and we started the journey to our Hudson. Even during Hudson's adoption I knew that I had a daughter in China and that we would be going back at some point to get her. The waiting on the Lord part was hard for me as I had realized this unknown girl had become an idol in my life. I was turning a good thing, that God had called me to do, into something that was hurting my relationship with Christ.
In January of this year (2015), I called a friend of mine who works for our adoption agency to see what the upfront fees would be for starting a new adoption. {Just trying to get info for a year or so down the road when we start an adoption again.} She told me that it would probably be over $6000 initially to begin. So I thanked her and in my mind was thinking.....well that won't happen anytime soon. Before we got off the phone she said to me that she was going to start praying that we would adopt from Suixi, which was a new partnership orphanage with our agency. After we hung up, I went online and watched a video about the Suixi orphanage and then looked at the waiting child list. I saw our Fallon immediately and melted. "Lord, why do I feel so drawn to this baby?" I texted my friend and asked her if she had Fallon's file that I could peek at. She sent it over and I read it carefully. Fallon's special needs sounded scary but I couldn't get over this feeling of love I had for her. I had some good prayer time that afternoon. Praying with my hands open, I said these words "Lord, please place in my hands what you want me to have and take out of my hands what you don't want me to have."

God gave me a sense of peace that I couldn't explain.
I showed her picture and videos to Tom that night and we had a good discussion about her. Tom, although he knew he wanted to adopt again, thought the timing wasn't right and it would be best to wait another year and try to save money, etc. Again, I had an unexplainable peace. The next day I was confident that God had given me an immediate love for Fallon because I was the one that was to be His hands and feet in finding a family to adopt her. So I began praying for her often. Thinking of ways I could advocate for her. {and watching her videos weekly!} My love was growing stronger, but the peace of submitting to Tom's decision and ultimately wanting what God wanted for me in His timing was so evident. I was not wrestling with discontentment, as I had in the past.
Fast forward 1 month.....It was a Friday afternoon and I was on my way home from school when one of my best friends, Jess, called me. She told me that a few minutes before our agency had sent out an email giving updates and advocating for the Suixi kids. There were new videos of Fallon. I rushed home to watch videos of this sweet baby walking and smiling. Once again my heart melted. I texted Tom and told him he had to watch the videos. He told me he was just leaving work and I said he needed to just watch one really quickly. A minute later he texted me back and told me that I was "evil". LOL I laughed and told him I was just so excited that she was going to get a family now. How could anyone not snatch up with sweet baby girl now??!! There was a long pause and he texted these words "What do we need to do to put her on hold" What??? Are you serious?? I was NOT expecting those words from Tom and I immediately burst into tears as I realized that God had let me fall so deeply and instantly in love with this baby girl because she was MINE. This was the baby girl I had been praying for for over 5 years. God needed me at a point of complete surrender to His will before granting me my desire, a desire that all along He had given me, but I needed to want more than anything His timing and not my own.

We left to pick up sweet Fallon from China on Wednesday, October 14th. We went to Hong Kong for a few days before we headed to Mainland China for a Monday "Gotcha Day" of Fallon. Thursday morning, October 15th, the morning after we had arrived on the other side of the world we received a call that would rock my world. My 24 yr old brother had unexpectedly passed away sometime the night before (while we were flying). The news was devastating. I felt helpless. I was on the other side of the world and couldn't be with my family and I had a baby girl that was waiting for me to get her in just a few short days. I wrestled with was I going to be able to find joy during this overwhelming grief? I wrestled with the guilt of having joy during this awful time. It was a lot of emotion to deal with all at once. But God was gracious to me and was able to give me complete joy the moment I laid eyes on our sweet girl. She is a JOY. She smiles all the time. She is so loving. She is God's kindness and gift to not only me but my whole family during this time. Tom was amazing to me as we both processed the loss and gain of the past month. He would step right in when I would need a moment to myself or a shoulder to cry on. God is faithful. God is loving. God is kind. God is good.

How has your story shaped who you are today?:

I have a deeper understanding of not only God's amazing adoption of me into His family, but of His unspeakable, unconditional, never-ending love for us and His kindness to us.

Why were you compelled to share your story?:

I hope it will be an encouragement to someone that might be struggling with loss. I hope it might spur others into looking at James 1:27 for their own family and see what God would have them do for the plight of the orphan.

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

God can and will give you joy and peace in the midst of great sorrow. Look to Him, Call on Him and Fall into His loving arms. Only He can give you this joy and peace and hope for an amazing future with Him one day.


Single Mom | Stephanie

Single ParentsJasmine LopezComment

Please share a bit of your story:

I am a single Mom to an awesome 4 year old girl. Although being a single parent was something I never intended on being, it’s how my life turned out being and despite the sadness that came out of that situation, my daughter and I live a VERY happy life.

What/who is your inspiration?

My daughter motivates me and other hard working single moms inspire me.

 

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

I have not let me becoming a single Mom define who I am and plan to be in the future. I have too much that I still want to achieve in life.

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

I believe that my story, if chosen, would be able to help and inspire other women going through something similar. It’s always a great feeling when you see that other people know what you are going through and you can relate to them.

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

Sometimes certain things happen in life that we don’t plan for or understand, but we have to believe that those negative situations help to put us on a path for something greater and that positive things are to come .