Legs and Lungs of Endurance

 

“The victims of injustice in our world do not need our spasms of passion; they need our long obedience in the same direction – our legs and lungs of endurance;
And we need sturdy stores of joy. ”
Gary Haugen

Many of you know my story. Many of you know I came to law school after a trip to the Dominican Republic and a desire to advocate for people to be free from sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Over the last three years, I steadily developed my dream Equal Justice Works fellowship proposal through internships, research, and volunteering. I made every decision to further my project.

I submitted my project for consideration almost one year ago. I tried not to get my hopes up. I knew it was a long-shot and there would be so many well-deserving projects. In November, four months after submitting my application, I received the exciting call to interview with a large law firm interested in potentially sponsoring my project. I was ecstatic.

I did three mock interviews, created the perfect handout, went to the interview, presented my project to a room of 8 attorneys, answered questions, and walked out feeling fantastic. Could this finally be happening?

I received a call weeks later. They chose another project. I was heartbroken.

This would happen two more times. The mantra become receive the call – participate in mock interviews – defend my project at the interview – receive excellent feedback – wait three weeks – receive a denial. Each time, I became more and more discouraged.

After three interviews, there was six months of silence. The interviews were to be done in April, so I knew the end was near, and I needed to start coping. So I did. I started to mourn the loss of a dream. As with any kind of grief, I went through moments of sadness, moments of denial, moments of anger, and moments of acceptance. I poured everything into this project. Was it worth it?

In May, Andrew and I graduated from law school. We celebrated the much-anticipated completion of our academic careers and savored the day before diving completely into studying for the Bar exam where we remain until the end of July.

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One week into Bar prep I received another phone call. Another firm was interested in my project, and they wanted me to interview a few days later. I was shocked. I was fully immersed in Bar prep and was not prepared to re-visit my proposal and defend my project in front of another panel of attorneys. I had already walked through all of the stages of grief telling myself this was over, and it was time to move on.

It’s funny how life works in those ways. I spent the weekend reacquainting myself with my project and remembering all of the sweat and tears I put into this project. I knew this was really my last shot. I walked out of the interview feeling confident but also content. I knew I was prepared for whatever happened.

Yesterday, I accepted an offer from Greenberg Traurig to sponsor my fellowship. Beginning this fall, I will be working at Equip for Equality for two years advocating for people with disabilities to be free from sexual abuse and human trafficking. This is it. I cannot believe it is happening, and I am so incredibly humbled by the opportunity. I am anxious to get started and so excited to see what the future holds.

I will sing of all You’ve done
I’ll remember how far You carried me
From beginning until the end
You are faithful, faithful to the end

 

Surgery #4, A.K.A. “Surgication”

Just over one week ago I had my fourth thyroid cancer surgery–this time at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. My parents, Andrew, and I drove the six hours up the day before and back a couple days later.

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Rochester Marriott Hotel

The night before the surgery we swam in the hotel pool, and it was the first time I put a bikini on all summer! With working full-time and taking a night class, I haven’t made it to the beach yet this year, so it took driving to Minnesota for surgery to give me a brief chance to swim :).  It was so nice.

We quickly coined this trip a “surgication,” because even though we were there for my surgery, we were able to break away from work/school/life and enjoy each others company surrounding the procedure. With meals we raised our glasses to our “surgication.”

The overall experience at Mayo was positive, and my vocal chords were spared! The first day I struggled with significant nausea that did not go away until the next morning, but other than that, the hospital stay was short and sweet. My drain only stayed in for a day, and I talked my way out of the leg compression device (which help you from getting blood clots, but are less than conducive with sleeping uninterrupted), and they unhooked my IV for the night, so I could sleep with minimal wires attached. I can definitely say after the nausea passed, I have never slept that well in a hospital.

After three surgeries going through the same incision, this surgery made a new mark. I can’t really decide what story I can derive from this now–what do you think? As many of you know, my fall back story is always that I live in Chicago, and people don’t ask many questions. 😉 Please comment below and tell me your creative story for my “y” shaped scar:

Photo Aug 17, 9 02 46 PMThis surgery I managed not to take any narcotic pain killers and stick to occasional ibuprofen, so my pain was definitely easy to manage. This also allowed me to enjoy some more wine on our “surgication” before we went back home.

However, I do ask for your thoughts and prayers in my continuing recovery. I have yet to sleep through a night after leaving the hospital, and as a result, I have been even more exhausted than usual during the day. I have been taking a one-week intensive class this week entitled “What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About Business,” and the sleepless nights have really added up. Our final is tomorrow, so I’m praying for a good night’s sleep tonight.

Another prayer request is for my lungs and heart. My chest has been burning off and on, and it’s been hard for me to breathe freely. I’ve experienced this with past surgeries, so I know it’s part of the healing process, but it definitely adds to the exhaustion. I did a short stationary bike ride at the gym the other day and stopped because my heart rate was off the charts. I haven’t done anything since then, but I would really like to get to the point where I can at least jog again. Without the endorphins of working out, there’s only so much coffee that can help counteract my exhaustion from sleepless nights, on top of general surgery exhaustion.

Thank you all for your love and support–I certainly felt the love the past couple weeks.

Rising 2L and Mayo Clinic visit.

“Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.” David Brainerd

After receiving my grades the last couple weeks, I can safely say I survived my first year of law school, and I am a rising 2L. Not having surgery mid-semester in the spring (as I did in the fall) reflected positively on my grades, and I did noticeably better. I wasn’t sure if I was really cut out for this law school thing, but with minimal medical interruptions this spring, my hard-work actually showed some fruit in the end.

In addition, I did my first oral argument this spring. Unlike many of my classmates who thrive in the idea of speaking and arguing in the courtroom, the practice is not something I enjoy (believe it or not, there are lawyers who don’t spend their careers in the courtroom ;)). However, my argument, in front of a panel of lawyers I had never met, turned out to be…fun? I never thought I would do anything like that in my life, and I truly felt like I overcame a great obstacle when I finished.

Mayo Clinic

At the end of May, I traveled to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, because my doctors in Chicago suggested I try some alternative thyroid cancer treatment before going in for another surgery. I flew up there for what was supposed to be about a three day procedure: I’d have a bunch of tests run on the first day and meet with the doctors to create a plan, and then the next two days would be the treatment.

My parents flew in from San Francisco, and the first day we were in the clinic from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I had a bunch of blood work done and scans. After several meetings throughout the afternoon with various doctors, I learned I was not a candidate for the alternative treatment after all. I must say, I didn’t think this was even a possibility.

They showed me my imaging, and there was more cancer present than they expected to see. The suspicious spots were too close together for the treatment to be safe. At the end of the day, I learned I would have yet another surgery. This time, I will go to Mayo for the surgery, making this my fourth surgery, fourth hospital, and fourth surgeon in 2 years.

Yet again, the new surgeon made a point of telling me that with the amount of surgeries I’ve had and the location of the masses, I need to be prepared for permanent vocal damage. Of course, this is not easy news to stomach. I’ve had the warnings before each surgery, and seem to defy the odds, but as I have more and more surgeries, the odds will probably not be in my favor. I’ll have to summon my inner Katniss Everdeen and hope for the best.

I find myself singing more freely these days, and praying harder than ever for my voice remain unharmed. Unless, of course, I end up with a raspy blues or Nora Jones voice. THEN, color me blessed.

They told me I could schedule my surgery within a couple weeks of my visit, but I decided to wait. I have one week between summer and fall classes, and I plan on making the trip then. In my opinion, if more grows or becomes visible–great–they can get it all out at that time. Without my body responding to radiation, the only option is for masses visible to the eye to be removed in surgery, so waiting for masses to become visible sounds fine to me. My fourth surgery will be August 12, 2014.

Summer 2014

This summer, I am a full-time legal intern for Equip for Equality. I had such a positive experience working there this spring, and I couldn’t be more pleased to come on full-time for the summer. I’ve been able to do a lot of research lately, and I am learning more than I could have hoped for. I am also taking Evidence with a bunch of my friends. It reminds me of taking Criminal Law last summer, which was probably the best summer of my life.

Thank you

Thank you for all who continue to read and support me on this long journey. I can’t thank you enough for reaching out to me and lending your thoughts and prayers. I often find myself numb to the scans, blood work, meetings, surgeries, etc. It’s so routine these days, that I often forget to rest in the weight of what I’m going through physically, emotionally, intellectually…

The longer I go without writing on here, the more I feel like I’m missing out on an opportunity to truly find myself and become a stronger, healthy woman. Thank you all for challenging me to put my pride aside, and sometimes recognize that this can be tough, it can be frustrating, and it can be completely exhausting. Someday I’ll be able to close this chapter of my life, and move on. Until then, I rest in Jesus’ promise to be present through it all.

Mayo Clinic preparation–approaching the end of 1L year

I spoke with an assistant at Mayo Clinic today regarding my alternative treatment for thyroid cancer. The treatment is called ethanol ablation, and you can read my brief explanation in my last blog here. It’s been another month of running around the hospital systems in Chicago, gathering my various pathology slides, imaging CDs, reports, etc., to send to Mayo for review.

Right now it appears my treatment will be two days back-to-back at the end of May (28-29), and I am so thankful that this will be after finals! They plan on doing the treatment, but I found out today the doctor I was referred to is not the one administering the treatment, but instead a resident doctor. Little surprises like this make it difficult to prepare and know what I’m getting myself into. 

Another hiccup in this process is that the hospital with my team of doctors will stop accepting my insurance in three weeks. It has taken two years to feel as though I have a team who has my back and knows me. Thankfully Mayo takes my insurance, and my surgeries are at another hospital that accepts my insurance, but my endocrinologist and the team that regulates my medication and treatment plan is now out of the scope of my insurance, and this is very difficult for me to stomach. Please pray for some direction with this.

Law school has been the most challenging experience of my life–emotionally, physically, intellectually–and there have been many days I just don’t want to be there, many days where I feel like I don’t belong. At the same time, however, I am so sure this is where I am supposed to be. Thank God for my internship this semester, and the incredibly gratifying work I’ve experienced at Equip for Equality through advocating for those with disabilities and their right to be free from abuse and neglect. Without this, I don’t know if I would see any light at the end of the tunnel.

There is one month of this semester left, and I can say I survived 1L year of law school, despite surgery in the middle of the first semester, biopsies every couples months, ultrasounds, body scans, PET scans, blood work, and immeasurable exhaustion. One month until I can say I made it. Thank God.

Easter is this weekend, and I can’t wait. Jesus is the reason I have hope.

Your love it beckons deeply, 
A call to come and die.
By grace now I will come 
And take this life, take your life.

Sin has lost it’s power,
Death has lost it’s sting.
From the grave you’ve risen
Victoriously!

 

Barrister's Ball (law school prom)

Barrister’s Ball (law school prom)

One year later

“What we have is time. And what we do is waste it, waiting for those big spectacular moments. We think that something’s about to happen — something enormous and news-worthy — but for most of us, it isn’t. This is what I know: the big moments are the tiny moments. The breakthroughs are often silent, and they happen in the most unassuming of spaces.”

(Shauna Niequist, Why You Should Stop Waiting for Life to Be Perfect)

Since my last post, I “celebrated” my one-year diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Crazy, isn’t it? Sometimes it feels like just yesterday, other times it seems much longer.  Two major surgeries, radiation, physical therapy, medication adjustments, ER visits, etc.–a crazy year it’s been.

Law school orientation was last week, and it brought an array of emotions. Last year, the first day of orientation was when I deferred school because of my recent diagnosis. It was the strangest deja vu, as you can imagine. The format was the same as the year before, and I remembered vividly the break in the schedule when I went to the Dean, made the decision to defer and took the train home, feeling discouraged and feeling like a failure.

This time, when that break came in the schedule, I remained in my seat and I a certain sense of accomplishment swept over me. It may just be the beginning of my law school career, but it is the beginning of a journey that seemed so distant for this year.

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View of the Chicago skyline from the deck of Shedd Aquarium

After the third day of orientation, Andrew and I went to Shedd Aquarium and enjoyed live jazz for the evening. While taking in the beauty of the aquarium and listening to the music, I was suddenly overwhelmed by it all. I realized just how different my life is now than it was a year a go. Not just in the oh-you-have-cancer kind of way, but in every facet imaginable.

Last year at this time, I frantically moved across the country, traveled around the summer for several weddings, rode my bike from Cincinnati to D.C., made one friend at the pre-orientation law school mixer (thanks Laurel 🙂 ) and was diagnosed with cancer. It was a whirlwind heading into orientation week, and I was terrified. I didn’t know anything about the law. I didn’t know how my health would pan out. I didn’t know how to navigate Chicago. I didn’t have many friends and was too shy to really reach out. I started questioning where I was supposed to be, who I was supposed to be and if I was kidding myself with becoming a lawyer.

Yes, this year was challenging– yes, my health comes and goes, but you know what I have? I have a family who will do anything for me. I have a God who remains steadfast with me. I have more friends from school than a girl could ever hope for–friends who stick by me during every health season and act as family. I also have one law class completed, and I actually believe I did very well (we’ll see when the grade comes back ;)). I have favorite “spots” in Chicago and have fallen even more in love with this city.

When I realize every blessing I have been given this year, I am overwhelmed.

At the completion of orientation week, I met Professor Walters at the Dean’s Welcome Reception. I would have had Walters last year for Contracts, and throughout the year, he has been a huge supporter and encourager via email and Twitter, without even meeting me in person. It was great to finally meet him and talk with him for a while. I updated him on my current health and the unclear future. We talked about what it is like to accept my “new normal” and to push ahead through this year. He said he thought it was important I felt connected to the institution while I wasn’t there–and by his efforts I can say I truly did. He encouraged me to keep in touch and said I’ll always be part of his section, even though I was placed in a different section this year :).

Neck scan and next steps

This Wednesday, August 28, I have another neck ultrasound to see if they can find the remaining cancerous tissue. I will have the results and talk of further steps the following Wednesday, September 4.  This potentially will tell me if we’re looking at another surgery in the near (or distant) future and/or alternative treatments (since radiation seems to not be working any more). If you think of me in the next couple weeks, please say a short prayer over these two important days. I am determined to go through this semester as planned, and I am concerned my situation may interfere with school again.

It’s your move

I am so excited to be on the road toward fighting human trafficking and modern-day slavery at the legal level. International Justice Mission released this new video, which pumps me up even more. Please take a moment to watch, and if for no other reason, see myself and my friend at minute 1:15 😉

Freed people, free people. Let’s do this.

Summer is winding down.

Summer is winding down quickly. I have one week left of my main job, two weeks left of summer school, DCI finals are just around the corner, I’m moving apartments and before I know it, I’ll be in full-time school. I’m holding on to each day and look forward to finishing the summer strong.

Pitchfork Music Festival

Last weekend, Andrew and I went to Pitchfork. The day was filled with three stages of great music, great beer and memorable weather. We also hit it off with people from the Rock for Kids booth–a great nonprofit in Chicago bringing music education to underserved children. I’m hoping to volunteer with them eventually.

The headline of the concert was Bjork, and she certainly delivered. While most of the day was beautiful and sunny, the concert ended with Bjork saying, “Well, I was just informed by the weather service that you all must leave now. I should tell you this wouldn’t have been the case if we were in Iceland.” Hah. So, we all evacuated and within minutes there was torrential downpour. An abrupt ending, but a memorable day nonetheless.

Click to watch us dance.

Click to watch us dance.

‘Tumor Marker’ and PET Scan Results

Prior to my last scan and then this PET scan, I had blood work completed to check out my thyroglobulin level. This is considered a “tumor marker” and signals problems. If everything was clear, it would be 0. Having even 1 or 2 is considered high for thyroid cancer patients. My level came back 9.1, which means there is certainly remaining cells in my body. After a failed full-body scan which would normally show anything remaining in the body, no matter how small, we went to plan B and did a PET scan a couple weeks a go. While an extremely detailed and powerful test, PET scans only show sizable masses, so my doctor was not expecting to see what he needed to see.

As anticipated, the scan came back clear. This would be great news, if they thought another round of radiation would take care of anything remaining. However, it appears my body is not responding to radiation any longer, so we are essentially waiting until cells are large enough to see on scans and then deciding where to go from there. This could mean further surgery or alternative treatment. It’s just a waiting game at this point. I’ll have a neck ultrasound August 26, the first week of my full-time law school classes, and then I’ll talk with my doctor the next week to talk about treatment and next steps.

If you are the praying type, I ask you to kindly lift up the next couple months for me. It is unnerving that I could potentially be in the same position I was last year around this time (diagnosed just days before school began, had to pursue surgery and radiation, thus putting school off a year). My heart is heavy knowing how this could potentially pan out.

Criminal Law

No matter what happens at the beginning of the school year, one fact remains, I’ll have completed my first law school class! It’s hard to believe there are only two weeks remaining in this course (terrifying). I’ve been joking with my friends that if school is hindered again this fall, I could just take one class every summer and graduate in a decade. 😉 Oi

Physical healing

I am continuing to heal from the latest surgery and pursue physical therapy. Some days are much better than others. Lately it’s been frustrating because my face has been particularly swollen. While my body weight is now exactly like it was before the surgeries and radiation (small victory), my face is very swollen. I can tell in every picture of myself and every time I look in the mirror now–it’s a constant reminder that everything has changed.

It may not be obvious to others, but it’s infuriating to me. My surgeon said that because they removed over 50 lymph nodes in my neck between the surgeries, my body has a difficult time draining from surgery and repairing itself like a body normally would. There’s a lot of residual fluid that may never leave. This also contributes you my consistent pain.

I can tell you, it is certainly humbling. I try not to let it get to my head (and face 😉 ). I’m learning to let go and try to think less about what used to be and instead focus on what is and what will be. 

Feeding my Adventurous Spirit

I was rereading some of my favorite sections of Into the Wild the other day. I do this frequently when I have an itch to just run away to a new adventure, meet new people and breath in new air (often…very often). I wanted to share the following excerpt with you all. I hope it brings you life and challenges you, the same.

“I’d like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty. And so, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road. I guarantee you will be very glad you did. But I fear that you will ignore my advice. You think that I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me. You had a wonderful chance on your drive back to see one of the greatest sights on earth, the Grand Canyon, something every American should see at least once in his life. But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted nothing but to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day. I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover.

Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. You are still going to live a long time, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.

You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.

My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.”
— Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild)

Post surgery #2, Full-body scan results

This morning I went to find results of my full-body scan to see if I’m cancer-free. Long story short, I’m not cancer-free. Things continue to get more interesting.

Difficult case

For a long time, no one lead me to believe my case was unique, but slowly it has become clear that it is. I learned last week my first surgeon said my case was the most involved he has ever seen, and my new surgeon at University of Illinois at Chicago mentioned in passing a couple times that they have “round table discussions” about my case. Still, no one had verbally told me my case was abnormal until today.

The form of cancer I have is typically one of the most easily targeted in regards to treatment. Most people have surgery, maybe one round of radiation and they’re done. I’ve had two total thyroidectomy and neck-dissection surgeries and radiation in less than a year and there is still remaining tissue.

I went in today to learn if my full-body scan came back clean or if I need another round of radiation. While the full-body scan came back clear, my thyroglobulin level (which is considered a “tumor marker”) was high. Without getting too technical, the full-body scan uses a small dose of radiation (radioactive iodine) to see if anything is left in the body.

Since the scan came back clear, but my thyroglobulin level was high, this means whatever is left, is not responding to the radioactive iodine, and thus radiation will likely not work. Some doctors believe if you give a very high dosage of radiation, the cells might end up responding, but it’s a shoot in the dark.

What does this mean?

Next week I will have a PET CT scan, which uses glucose, instead of radioactive iodine, to identify abnormal cells. We are hoping to identify where the remaining cells are located. However, the catch with this scan is that it only works with decent-sized masses, and will not detect microscopic diseased cells.

So, right now radiation is off of the table (small victory) because it won’t likely work, and if the scan comes back clear, and my thyroglobulin levels continue to be high, I will just be waiting it out until the cells become large enough to be detected and most likely removed surgically again.

New Tattoo

This week I got a new tattoo, and it’s even more fitting now. The bike represents my ride last summer from Washington DC to Cincinnati, OH which lead me to diagnosis, as well as the biggest lesson I’ve learned–life is about the journey, not the destination; the date on the card in the spokes was my first surgery (8-31); and the colors are the thyroid cancer colors.

I’m continuing this journey and writing the best story I can with my life. I’m blessed to be loved so fiercely by so many of you all. Thank you for stepping along side me and remaining near in spirit.

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