Eight years . . . yep, on March 4, 2006, Chris and I bravely “marched forth” into marital bliss (and refinement). Neither of us expected to be facing cancer shortly after our seventh anniversary. I chuckle to read my anniversary post from last year. I’ll share this excerpt with you . . .
One thing I can take away from this past year is that we make a pretty good team. We had some trying seasons over the past couple of months, but we’ve been able to encourage each other in the midst of them and persevere (we’ve even laughed too). We look forward to a new year – anticipating more time together, travel adventures and more opportunities to grow in our spiritual walks as a couple. We are eager to see what God has in store for our family and how He’ll allow us to be a part of what He’s doing.
“More time together, travel adventures and more opportunities to grow in our spiritual walks” – ha! I need to be more careful about what I write. Little did I know that “more time together” would be spent in numerous doctor’s offices, our “travel adventures” would be wearing out a path between home & Houston in a mini-van, and the “opportunity to grow in our spiritual walks” would be stimulated by a rare, stage IV cancer. The irony is moments after I wrote my anniversary post last year, I was stretching out what I thought was median/ulnar nerve tightness in my arm when I discovered a very insignificant bump underneath my right forearm. I showed it to Chris, but it was so small he could barely feel it. It was the first time I had noticed anything. Little did I know that insignificant bump was a massive malignant tumor embedding its nasty tentacles around the ulnar nerve and flexor tendons in my arm . . . and it was spreading its poison throughout my body. That disturbing discovery was made a year ago on this day.
Looking back, I wouldn’t say I am “eager” to see what God has in store for our family. (I am never eager to go to MDA which seems to be the institution determining our course these days.) However, I know He holds the future in His hands, and He has continued to show us His faithfulness and His mercies (and even some miracles) along the way. I do pray He has much better news in store for our 8th year of marriage. After all, we’re trusting and believing for BIG and miraculous things. And certainly, I believe He is using this unexpected journey to show us (and hopefully you too) what He can do in and through us. All of that said, I don’t want to repeat the last 365 days, and I pray the next 365 will bring more joy than tears. Just so you can better understand what we’ve faced since our last anniversary. Here you go . . .
OUR YEAR IN NUMBERS
13,540 miles traveled for treatment
13 trips to Houston
32 trips to MD Anderson’s campus
34 trips to Mercy Hospital in OKC
20 hand therapy appointments
10 doctors who have played integral roles in my treatment
6 rounds of stereotactic radiation
8 chemotherapy treatments (12 weeks)
15 weeks on a daily chemo pill . . . and counting
6 CT Scans
3 PET Scans
2 Bone Scans
4 Neulasta shots (bone marrow stimulator)
4 Xgeva shots (bone strengthening shots) . . . and counting
Too many doctor’s appointments, sticks in the arm and organic juices to count
. . . and one shaved head
Every year in our Christmas card, we include a top ten list of the year’s blessings. It’s a wonderful way of looking back on the year with a deep sense of gratitude for all the Lord has done. On a rare date night this winter, I laughed and asked Chris what would make the top ten list o’ blessings this year (meaning the blessings for 2013). We shared an “only you could understand this” smile with each other as a vast majority of this year was just . . . gross (for a better grasp of the word “gross,” please consult the year in numbers above).
And yet, as we shared our hearts about 2013, we created an impressive, I would dare say beautiful, list of God’s goodness. The top ten list never made it in a Christmas card this year. We have sort of been preoccupied with more pressing matters (again, please refer to the year in numbers above). Regardless, I wanted to include 2013’s top ten blessings in this post. I apologize. It’s the journalist in me that carries with it a strong conviction to record our family’s milestones. They serve as powerful reminders of God’s faithfulness – stones of remembrance, in Bible-speak. Regretfully, I am far too fickle and forgetful otherwise.
KENNEDY’S 2013 YEAR OF BLESSINGS
10. REFRESHING GETAWAYS – We were privileged to enjoy a 7th anniversary trip to the Big Apple just days before my diagnosis. And, we were blown away with an all-expenses paid trip to Walt Disney World with my family courtesy of my mom’s sales representatives, senior management and several of her co-workers at Balfour. I don’t mean to be cliché but in all honesty, both vacations proved to be magical and provided us with memories to last a lifetime.
9. AFFORDABLE INSURANCE – We are grateful for our insurance regardless, but with the approval of “Obamacare” (cringe . . double-cringe . . . triple-cringe), the provision of excellent insurance is a blessing indeed. To enlighten you – our insurance was billed approximately $645,268 last year. Let’s just say, we didn’t pay anywhere close to that amount. There are moments my skin boils and my palms sweat thinking about the future of healthcare for a person like me. I know the government will punish me for desiring the best treatment for my rare disease. So for the current blessing of unbelievable coverage, our hearts say thank you BCBS and thank you University of Oklahoma!
8. JOB FLEXIBILITY – Speaking of the University of Oklahoma and Balfour, we are utterly grateful for the flexibility they have afforded Chris and my Mom to work remotely. Because of their gracious bosses, both of them have been able to join me on every trip to Houston. Mom sets up her remote office in the dining room, and Chris takes his laptop & Bluetooth to every waiting room on MD Anderson’s campus. They often work very late, rather, very early hours to finish their work but I, for one, am so grateful they have been able to be by my side during some of the most trying days of my life.
7. PRECIOUS & UNEXPECTED GIFTS – We have been humbled and moved to tears by the sacrificial love poured out on our family during this season. (Please see Dec. 8 post for just a few examples of this tangible love - Never Alone.) Simply stated – we are indebted.
6. MIRACLES – This was one of our 2012 blessings as we witnessed God working miraculously in many of our friends’ lives. This year, we have been on the receiving end of His goodness. You can call these provisions “answered prayers,” but we prefer to deem them – miracles. Even in what we considered serious setbacks, God has shown Himself as the all-powerful Provider & Healer. He has gifted me with a tumor-free right arm – the same arm doctors expected to amputate. Through incredibly generous friends, He provided the perfect “home away from home” in Houston. He hindered the spread of cancer through my lymph system opting instead to spread to my bone which can, fortunately, be treated through stereotactic radiation (with a 90% success rate for tumors like mine). A true blessing for a type of cancer that is resistant to general radiation & most forms of chemotherapy. These are just a sampling of the “big” miracles. As a card I cherish says, “Sometimes the miracles God sends are so small they’re hard for us to see.” My prayer is that He opens our eyes to recognize even the smallest ways He is miraculously at work. And, of course, I pray we would experience the ultimate miracle of physical healing in my body very soon.
5. MUSIC – I am so thankful to know the music I enjoy on a daily basis will also be a part of eternity. This year particularly, music has provided the peace, the hope and the much-needed perspective when even scripture couldn’t soothe my anger, my questions & my fears. Music has a way to express what words alone cannot. I don’t know what I’d do without Pandora One and the many, many albums you have shared with me on this journey. We still go to sleep listening to music.
4. OUR BEAUTIFUL “WARRIORS” – I never knew 2013 would bring with it numerous & unexpected friendships (and prayer warriors) through the universal body of Christ. Only time will tell of the impact your worn-out knees & faith-filled petitions have made on our behalf. I pray one day on this earth, I can tell each one of you “thank you” and give you a heartfelt embrace in-person. Thank you for helping us persevere in fleshing out Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” We love you!
3. OUR PARENTS, SIBLINGS & EXTENDED FAMILY – Sometimes I think God allowed this disease into our lives because He knew we wouldn’t face it alone. We both have unbelievable families supporting us. We are well aware others are not as fortunate. Our amazing families are an undeserved gift from the Father. Without them, the fight would seem far greater. We are only as strong as those holding us up. Thankfully, our families have the strength of Sampson, the heart of David, the tenacity of Paul and the faith of Abraham.
--I also want to include my hubby in this section. I knew I would have too much to say about him which is why he deserved an exclusive post on Feb. 14th (see My Good Man).
2. THE JOY OF ALEXA HOPE – What can I say about our “hope fulfilled” that you don’t already know. She is the joy of our lives, our gift from above and the biggest reason I pray numerous times a day for deliverance from this disease. She fills our days with laughter, adventures and exhaustion, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Every time I see her contagious smile or watch her fall asleep, I thank God. This year has been especially meaningful as we have watched her grow physically, emotionally and intellectually. No doubt, the onset of this diagnosis was exceedingly difficult for our family of three, especially for Alexa. So much she had to process in her little three-year-old brain (and so much we pray she never does). It seemed so unfair to watch her wrap her mind around all that was and is still happening, but I am overwhelmed by her capacity to look beyond Mommy’s limitations and love me without condition (and expects me to do everything I used to). There is no doubt, we love her unconditionally as well and pray God uses this season to shape her into an immovable force for Jesus.
1. JESUS – We are learning so much on this journey. Even when I have been so angry and so confused by what is happening, I know at the end of this – the only hope we have is Jesus. Although I don’t always want to believe it, He is enough because what He did on the cross is enough. Ultimately, my hope, my peace, my strength, my healing and my deliverance come from Him. In a book I read this summer, the author challenged the reader to close your eyes and picture Jesus speaking peace to your heart (John 14:27). There have been many nights I have imagined His eyes of loving compassion gazing deep into my overwhelmed soul and doing just that. I am so thankful the peace Jesus gives is truly beyond comprehension and is available at any moment for you and for me. We simply have to ask Him and receive it.
* All photos lovingly captured by Shannon Ho Photography