November 1st, 2019
| Survivor: Other/Rare Cancer
Struggles are for you not against you, if you choose, is a belief I didn’t always have.
When I was 18, I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma.
Also known as bone cancer, a very rare cancer, targets the young cancer, and totally sucks cancer.
Roughly 16,000 cases of childhood cancer are diagnosed each year. That is 1 % of all cancers Diagnosed. Out of 16,000 cases, roughly 450 are children (ages birth-19) who are diagnosed with osteosarcoma.
Oh, I forgot to mention that when I was diagnosed with cancer, I was also 6 months pregnant, married, and had a 10-month-old daughter.
Having osteosarcoma already put me in rare category, throw being pregnant on top of it, made it even more difficult.
My doctors advised me to terminate my pregnancy. They said they didn’t have any research showing a healthy baby being born to a mother who underwent chemo in their 1st or 2nd trimester.
I told my doctors that termination wasn’t an option. That chemo would have to wait till after she was born.
They told me waiting wasn’t an option. By then it could be too late.
I had high-grade osteosarcoma, meaning it grows and spreads quickly if left untreated. The problem with this was once it spreads to my lungs, my 5-year survival rate would go from 60-80% to 40% and if it spread elsewhere, my 5-year survival rate would drop to 15-30%.
No matter how young a mother is, her instincts to protect her child is fierce.
All I could think about was saving my unborn child’s life. All my doctors were thinking about, was saving mine.
What I heard them say through the fog of it all, was I had to choose between my daughter who was already born and the one living and growing inside me.
Because choosing Elly meant losing Fayth and losing Fayth meant choosing Elly and my life.
It was up to me to make an impossible decision. How was I ever going to choose? How could any mother be expected to make that kind of decision?
Thankfully I’m stubborn and a fighter. Tell me no, Tell me I can’t, Tell me it’s impossible, and I will prove you wrong.
With me not budging on termination and the doctors backs against a wall, they told me that if I gave Fayth just a few weeks to allow her to hit her third trimester, she would probably have a good shot at survival but that they couldn’t give me any guarantees or tell me what chemo would do to her.
After talking with my mother and keeping all 3 of us in mind, I agreed to treatment but not until Fayth hit her 3rd trimester. Thankfully that was only 3 weeks out.
It seemed like the only logical way to give all of us a fighting chance, to be standing together at the end of this.
This meant Elly could have a mother, Fayth had a chance at life, and I lived.
In my heart, I knew Fayth would be ok! But if she did have any issues, we would deal with them.
After the 3 week waiting period, I was scheduled to be admitted to MDA on 9/11/2001. Yes, the day that our country stood still. The day that changed our country and so many lives, forever. The day we were under attack. The day we will never forget!
Due to those horrific events, my chemo was delayed until the next day.
While the world was glued to their tv screens and our country was preparing to go to war, I too was under attack and preparing for the biggest battle of my life.
After my first round of chemo, my husband left me. I hold no ill feelings towards him. Although at the time, I was extremely heartbroken. His family told me he couldn’t stand by and watch the girl he loves, die. Even though I kinda grasped that, it didn’t make me feel any better. He too was young, and I know expecting him to care for me, was asking a lot of him. He did the best he could under horrible circumstances. I filed for a divorce…….
After doing 2 more rounds of chemo with my daughter she was born 6 weeks early. They wanted to take her as early as possible without having any major complications.
While I was laying on the bed as bald as Mr. Clean, she was born at 3lbs 10oz, screaming with a head full of dark brown hair! The doctors, my family, and I all took this as a good sign. We knew this meant she was a fighter and going be ok!
While she stayed in the NICU for a few weeks putting some meat on her bones, I head back to the purple floors of MDA to continue 1 more round of chemo before having the 13-hour long limb salvage surgery.
Christmas was fast approaching, and I was still in the hospital recovering from my surgery. The doctors didn’t think I would make it home for Christmas, but I assured them I would. They thought I didn’t understand what they were telling me, I understood them clearly. They didn’t understand me. I told them, “I am leaving this hospital with or without your permission so I can spend Christmas at home with my two daughters.”
Reluctantly, they released me Christmas morning!
We brought in 2002 with more Treatments and all the side effects imageable.
Each chemo presented its own set of side effects. I dealt with kidney failure, low blood pressure, mouth sores so painful I couldn’t eat or drink, which lead to extreme weight loss and dehydration, which led to ER visits at MDACC.
But when I did eat or drink, taco bell and red fruit punch were my go-to. My mom didn’t appreciate all the red stains on the carpet from throwing up and I would NOT recommend that diet to anyone, under any circumstances, especially someone who is as sick as I was!
I received multiple blood transfusions which made me feel like a new woman! Secretly hoping that every time they ran my blood count they would say I needed a blood transfusion, that’s how good they made me feel. Bring on the blood!
I was overdosed on chemo which led to me losing my motor skills for a day. Talk about scary! I didn’t know if this was going to be the new me. At MDACC ER, they brought in a neurologist to try and figure out what was wrong with me. They showed me flashcards of animals, shapes, colors, letters, asking me if I knew what they were. You know, the ones we show our 3-year-old when we are trying to teach them something new.
I knew what they were showing me. But I wasn’t able to communicate it to them, because I couldn’t speak.
I couldn’t walk by myself due to the surgery and not being able to bear weight on my leg for 10 months. Crutches it was, independence gone, frustration built.
From all the isolation of being in the hospital and the toll all of this was taking on me, I slipped into depression and the only way I knew how to deal with it at that time, was to use my pain meds they gave me from my surgery. They transported me to a place of feeling carefree and not having to face my reality.
If I wasn’t in physical pain, I was in mental and emotional pain.
I eventually got to the point that I felt death would be far better than what I was going through.
I didn’t truly want to die but it seemed like a better alternative than my current reality.
My body was shutting down and I knew, if I completed those few last rounds of chemo, I would die. Cancer wasn’t killing me. The chemo slowly was! I knew it. My spirit knew it. I could feel it in my bones.
I was again faced with a difficult decision. Either end chemo or continue on with the treatment plan. While thinking about what to do I thought about my uncle who had leukemia and passed away about 10 years earlier.
I remembered my family saying that cancer didn’t kill him, the chemo did. His body just shut down. I didn’t want the same fate, but I knew that my outcome would be the same if I continued.
Over a year after being told I had cancer, I decided no more!!
You could say going to war with cancer beat me up pretty good, that’s a fair statement. But I am here today because I won that battle, and I even have the scars to prove it!
I thought my life would go back to normal. Something I didn’t understand and something I think a lot of people don’t, is just because treatments are done or you are cancer-free, doesn’t mean life goes back to the way it was before or that it should.
My experience with cancer was very traumatic and life-altering. I needed to allow my body that I had just poisoned for over a year, time to heal along with my heart and mind.
I had to relearn how to walk all over again which was a painful process. I had to step back into a world that I was no longer familiar with, because when I was sick, I couldn’t be in public or around anyone with the slightest sniffle. My life consisted of my bed and MD Anderson.
I couldn’t speak about what I had just gone through, to the point that I would get upset if anyone I knew talked about it or asked me questions. I so badly wanted to brush it under a rug, act like it never happened, and move forward.
Out of sight out of mind, right?
But here’s what I’ve learned about brushing things under the rug. They may be out of sight but until properly dealt with, will also be the ugly lump under the rug that you constantly trip over.
Over time I started sharing bits and pieces of my story with others and as I would do this, I realized that pile under the rug got smaller. I felt better and I felt like I was on the road to proper recovery. It really is true, the more you talked about the hard things, the less power they have over you.
I was never that person who said why me? I was worse.
I would only focus on getting through all my struggles, so I could move on. At least the person asking why me, is seeking for some kind of understanding. I didn’t care to understand. I just wanted to get out of the discomfort as soon as possible.
I’ve been through a lot. Cancer was just the ultimate struggle. After everything I had been through, I wanted to believe it wasn’t all for nothing and that good could come from it.
One day I decided it was time to really dive into understanding struggles. The way I did this was through a reflection of my struggles, and research.
The idea that struggles could be for me instead of against me, lead to my perception of them. My perception lead to my belief. And my belief lead to my actions in how I deal with them.
Through it all, I came to an understanding that struggles really weren’t the enemy. Struggles were just opportunities for growth. No matter how big or small the struggle, they always offer value, but it is up to us to take what they offer and apply them to our lives.
With time I came up with what I call the Struggle Formula.
I learned that when life felt hard, I needed to recognize it as a struggle so that I could apply my new formula to them. We can’t work on what we don’t acknowledge.
So, once I identify it as a struggle. I then identify what kind.
I’ve learned there are 3 types of struggles.
Self: meaning self-inflicted pain based on one’s own choices.
Other: meaning pain inflicted on us through other people’s choices.
Life: pain inflicted on us at no one’s fault. Like my cancer.
Now, we can move into reflection. This is where the magic really takes place. Because without this, we can’t move forward.
To help me reflect, I came up with reminders and questions to ask myself.
1. You are not meant to go through struggles alone. Who are you leaning on that is helping you through it? Spouse, friend, family, church leader, God, anyone you trust falls into this category.
2. Recognize the kind of struggle: Self. Others. Life.
To help me figure out the kind of struggle, I ask these questions.
3. Focus on controlling the controllables. I may not always have control over having struggles, but I can certainly control how I respond to them.
4. Do the things you know will lift your spirits. Paint, get fresh air by taking a walk outside, hang out with friends, listen to music or an uplifting podcast, exercise, read a book, anything that makes you feel good.
5. This is for you not against you, if you choose. So, lean in and search for the lesson it has to offer. I believe deep down we all know the lessons we need to learn. This will take placing pride aside.
6. I can use what I went through, to help someone get through.
Whether we reflect in the struggle or out of it, what matters most is that we reflect.
I’ve learned that the smaller struggles are easier to reflect in and the harder ones are easier to reflect out of, once the fog lifts. As long as you reflect, the struggle doesn’t go to waste.
Knowing all this helps me deal with my struggles.
Through all this reflection a lesson or two are born.
Struggles + Reflection = Lesson
Applied Lessons = Growth
Growth = Progress
Progress = Happiness
Struggles = Happiness
So, chin up, happiness awaits!
Having had cancer was the worst thing I have ever experienced. To date, it was the hardest struggle I have ever been through. But if I could go back and change it, I wouldn’t. I took way too much from that experience. It added value beyond measure to my life.
My belief system didn’t come overnight. It started off as a small flame and with each struggle that I applied this formula to, I was able to fuel that flame to the size of a bonfire! I’m talking TEXAS size!
I don’t have these beliefs about struggles just because it makes me feel better. I have these beliefs because I have personally experienced it for myself. This isn’t something that only works for a select few. This works for anyone who is willing to put it to work.
And because I believe every sad story should have a happy ending.
If I would have listened to my doctor’s initial advice, Fayth wouldn’t be part of my family today.
She is healthy and happy. She is a senior this year. She is a social butterfly and loves spending time with her friends. She is a sweet girl with an old soul who has a bright future ahead of herself.
A year after Chemo I married the man of my dreams!
We are going on 16 wonderful years of marriage. We added 2 more children to our family. He adopted my girls, who are now his girls. I have far surpassed my doctors’ expectations with the use of my leg. And for the past 4 years have been teaching group fitness classes.
I have had multiple opportunities to speak at various MDA functions and share my cancer story, to inspire and give hope. I’ve appeared on Great Day Houston and been able to participate in neat events around town, due to my volunteer work. I have also launched a speaking career sharing with others, what I am sharing with you today.
Although I still have struggles in my life, I am better able to get through them and put them to work FOR me.
Struggles are universal experiences, but what’s not universal, is what you choose to believe about them and what you choose to do with them.
I’m just a girl who realized, I could let my struggles take from me, or, I could take from them.
So, it is true, struggles are for you not against you, if you CHOOSE.
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