I’m so excited to share today’s Wednesday story! I follow Julie on Instagram. She has gone through something I can’t even begin to imagine. And she has come out stronger, braver, and more positive. I truly wish I could meet these amazing women I follow on Instagram. Julie is always an inspiration to me. I hope that you will find hope in her journey.
“Two years ago life was busy but life was good. I was 36 years old, had been married to my high school sweetheart for 12 years and was a stay at home mom to our 3 daughters, then ages 10, 6 and 4. One day, while in the parking lot at Home Depot, I got a call from my doctor with the words you never want to hear, “It is cancer.” I was completely caught off guard and instantly distraught. How could I, a young, healthy mom, have cancer?
I had gone to the doctor a few months before because I had been having some pain with bowel movements. Yep, just going to say them all now: poop, bowel movements, rectum, rectal…always a little awkward but hopefully now we got that out of the way and it won’t be too uncomfortable. I thought I had hemorrhoids, I mean I had birthed 3 babies after all! And my doctor thought it was hemorrhoids too, saying that I was much too young to have colorectal cancer. But I did have cancer. And as scary as that was, I was grateful that my doctor, who doesn’t deal with internal hemorrhoids, had referred me to a gastroenterologist. He thought that this hemorrhoid just didn’t feel normal so he did a colonoscopy so he could get a biopsy. That biopsy showed that I actually had a tumor very low in my rectum, not a hemorrhoid as we thought.
At this point, my whole world stopped as I tried to process that I had cancer. We didn’t know how bad the cancer was, if it had spread, or what treatment was going to look like. We didn’t know if I would survive or what the survival rate for colorectal cancer is. All we knew was that I had cancer and life would never be the same again.
What no one ever tells you about getting a cancer diagnosis is that in the beginning there is a lot of waiting and a lot of unknowns. And lots of tests. So many tests. And so many doctors. It immediately consumes your entire life. Although we went through the motions of getting kids to school and trying to keep life running as normally as possible, my hubby and I were stuck in an emotional whirlwind. I am used to having control of things and for the first time in my life I realized that I, in fact, am not in control of my life. I realized very quickly that my fate is in the hands of my Heavenly Father.
I knew that I had two options-I could hide in my bed all day and cry (this was very tempting) or I could submit myself to the will of the Lord and accept that this is part of the plan for my life. After getting this cancer diagnosis I wasn’t angry because I know that cancer doesn’t discriminate. But I was scared. I wasn’t even afraid for myself though, but of what this would put our family through and afraid of how it would affect our girls. I knew that for the sake of my hubby, my girls and everyone that I love, I would need to rally up all the strength I had to face this cancer. I had one goal-to be a survivor!
After numerous scans and tests and even a second opinion, we found out that my cancer was stage 3 and that although it is treatable, those treatments would be grueling. I received radiation for 5-1/2 weeks while taking chemo pills. After that I had a brief break before starting 16 weeks of IV chemo given through a port (catheter) that had been implanted in my chest.
The doctors were right-the treatments were awful. The radiation burned my insides and my outsides. I had never been in so much physical pain in my entire life. They gave me cream that is given to burn patients to try to alleviate the pain and encourage healing. And when I was still recovering from radiation, I began IV chemo which made me very weak, nauseous and caused me to throw up. My girls saw me go through it all and saw me at my lowest. But they were so strong and brave, being my own personal nurses and giving me lots of extra snuggles. I had to rely on my husband more than ever as I was worn out from even just taking a shower.
I am pretty stubborn and don’t often ask for help, but during treatment I humbled myself to receive help from our family and friends. I will forever be grateful for those people who provided for our family. We could not have made it through this terrible time without them. I felt the comfort of the Lord through their hands and the service they gave us. I knew that we were not alone in this trial and I recognized every blessing along this long, rough road. And yes, there were many blessings and tender mercies even while going through cancer treatment. Some I did not even realize until many months after finishing treatment.
Typically with a low rectal tumor like mine you have surgery to remove the tumor which involves removing part or all of the rectum and the patient gets a permanent colostomy. If you aren’t familiar with a colostomy, it basically means that a person’s intestine is re-routed and sticks out of their stomach (this is called a stoma) and a bag goes over the stoma in which any output (aka poop) is collected. My body had reacted very well to treatment and so we decided to hold off on surgery to “watch and see” what happens.
For one year I had scans every 3 months and each one came back clear. There was no sign of cancer! We were so happy! I was slowly recovering from treatment and finally getting back into a normal life routine. In December of 2017 I had a standard colonoscopy done which is recommended one year post-treatment. The doctor biopsied the area where the tumor had been and we were once again hit with a hard blow when the results showed that cancer cells still remained.
To be honest, we were completely shocked. My scans had been clear! I had been feeling better! Apparently the cancer cells were so small that they weren’t even showing up on scans yet (and this was actually good news). We felt extremely grateful for modern medicine and technology and for my medical team who were monitoring me so closely. But at the same time, this meant that it was now time for me to have surgery.
I had surgery to remove the remaining cancer cells in February 2018. I also did another 2 months of chemo pills just as a precautionary measure. We don’t want any of those pesky cancer cells roaming around my body! So I have now been living with a colostomy for the past 6 months. I was so nervous for this surgery. Not only because it was a major, life changing surgery, but I was worried about how my girls would react. Would they be embarrassed or disgusted because their mom now pooped into a bag? We’ve been pretty open and honest with them throughout this cancer journey and always encourage them to ask any questions they have. I feel that it’s because of this that it made everything less scary for them and they have handled things pretty well.
I have to say, having a colostomy hasn’t been as devastating as I thought it would be. Sure, there was a long, slow recovery time after surgery and it definitely took time getting used to the bag itself. I will also have side effects of chemo, radiation and surgery that will last for the rest of my life. But I am still no different than anyone else. I can still wear normal clothes, eat regular foods, exercise, travel and swim. More importantly, I am still able to be a wife and a mom. My girls have been so great too and I don’t think they really even notice my colostomy anymore. And we were so happy to find out that the doctor got clear margins during surgery and that all lymph nodes removed were clear which means that I am cancer free!
I still have the constant fear in the back of my mind that the cancer could come back. But I can’t live my life in constant fear. I don’t know what the future holds. But do any of us know what our future holds? For now I can say that I am thankful to be alive! By the grace of God I have been given more time here on this earth and I try my best to live it to the fullest! I am able to be here for my family. I have learned a lot and grown so much during this experience. Patience being the hardest and biggest lesson. I have come to realize that none of us are exempt from trials in this life. We all have our own unique challenges. But we don’t have to wallow in them. We can choose to be happy and focus on the blessings we receive because even in the darkest times they are still there.”
Julie is an example of great faith. We never know how long we get to be here on Earth. She is totally right that it is what we choose to focus on that makes the difference in how much happiness we have while we go through our trials. We all experience trials and heartaches. We actually need them to grow. When we focus on being happy and the blessings through the challenges, our perspective shifts to one that’s positive and hope-filled. Every minute will not be filled with happiness, but we can experience and over-all feeling of happiness when we choose to focus on the blessings we are receiving.
I hope this week, you will take time to write down a few blessings that you have received. And then if feelings of sorrow, loneliness, or doubt come, replace them with thoughts of those blessings. It will help you endure with joy. And this thought from Elder Scott(Trust in the Lord, 1995) comes to my mind:
I am so thankful to Julie! I am grateful she let me share her amazing story of triumph!
Life is Good. Share the Good.
PS Head to Julie’s Instagram and watch Julie’s “about me” video. Her strength and faith are so evident as she speaks.
PSS Julie blogs at wifemomwarrior.com Check it out!