“Cancer-free!”

Yesterday, May 28, 2015, my endocrinologist came into the room and said:

Are you ready for a party?

For the first time in nearly three years, my thyroglobulin levels showed “undetectable” thyroid cancer. We will meet again in six months to see if anything changes, and if not, I will shift to yearly check ups.

I don’t know if I believe it.

It’s been a crazy three years. Four surgeries, unsuccessful radioactive iodine treatment, extensive nerve damage throughout my neck and right shoulder (which continues to get better), low energy, little metabolism, hundreds of needles, etc.

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I am not the person I was when all of this began. I’ve tried to think of how to tell you how this experience has changed me, but I can’t find the words. All I know is 25 year-old Lydia is completely different from 22 year-old Lydia.

I’m overwhelmed looking back at all that has happened, and all of the people who have come alongside me from every part of my life. Thank you. Importantly, I also have a community from around the world who I connected with on Instagram right after diagnosis. It may sound so silly, but they changed everything. I know their stories, and they know mine. Our struggles, our triumphs…my little support group. Sometimes social media can be–dare I say–beautiful.

Photo May 29, 10 56 35 AM

I can’t wait to see where life goes from here, without so many interruptions. I am still learning how to live in this new body, figuring out how to maximize energy and metabolism. Now, I can do this without any setbacks!

I can’t wait to dive into my final year of law school and to be fully present. What a change! I can breathe deeper already.

Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for your faithfulness.

One more year of law school!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written and honestly it’s because I chose the most writing-intensive semester of law school. From writing a research project on the intersection of people with disabilities and human trafficking, writing a research project on wage theft in the U.S., and four major writing assignments for Legal Writing 4 Public Interest, I was not sure I’d come out of this semester in one piece. But, alas! Here, I am.

It’s hard to believe I have two years of law school done and only one to go. Part of me is sad knowing I could be graduating right now had I not taken a detour. However, I’m thrilled to have more time to volunteer in the community without the need to start paying back major student loans.

Health Update

The next two weeks I have blood work, scans, and a meeting with my endocrinologist to check in after my elevated levels a few months ago. Please pray for the all-clear or that I will be eligible for alternative treatment this time around.

“Scary Close” – Donald Miller

In Donald Miller​’s new book, one of the conversations is about how we wear our jobs as a costume and how this prevents people from actually getting to know us. He went on a retreat and the only rule was that you could never talk about what you do for a living. He writes:

I never realized how much I’d used my job as a social clutch until the clutch was taken away. I must have hinted that I thought my work was important a thousand different ways…I must have been nauseating to be around. But deep inside, I wanted to desperately to talk about what I did because I knew people would like me if they only knew. I knew people would think I was important. Slowly, over the week, I realized I was addicted to my outer shell, that without my costume I felt vulnerable. p. 31-32

Man, I know I’m guilty of this. How frequently do we enter new social situations and the conversations start out like “What’s your name? What do you do?” How different would our relationships be if we didn’t approach conversations this way?

What kinds of questions do you think would spark honest, meaningful conversation? What would it be like to allow people in to that vulnerable place to know you for you?

Being an introvert in law school – moving outside comfortable

Yesterday, I read an American Bar Association Journal article about how law school and legal training is made for extroverts and so rarely fitted for introverts (most specifically in the way classrooms have been structured for 100 years, as well as the types of law you’re supposed to pursue). Can I get an AMEN?

Because of this, law school has been one large trust game for me –continually placing myself in one uncomfortable situation after another, trusting that by the grace of God I will come out on the other side. From the classroom to field experience, it’s been a game.

I know I am not alone in this.

While frequently this game has cornered me in fear, with several nights of little to no sleep, more and more I’ve seen how God has used these situations to strengthen and train me to learn and grow so I am even more equipped to pursue public interest law in whatever form it takes.

But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”
― Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

I spent one year working at Equip for Equality (EFE), a disability rights organization, working with people with disabilities on abuse and neglect cases. Entering this internship, I was not comfortable cold-calling strangers or speaking on the phone for long periods of time. I was also worried I wasn’t qualified to conduct phone intake with people with severe mental illness and developmental disabilities. However, through this internship, I found a voice and patience I didn’t know I had. I pushed past these fears, and came out a stronger, more articulate advocate for people with disabilities.

My training at EFE has also been extremely helpful in volunteering at the Daley Center, helping people who can’t afford attorneys fill out legal paperwork. There have been several instances where people with severe disabilities effecting their speech have been at the desk, and I have been able to understand them and walk through the process patiently. Without my time at EFE, I would not have the know-how or patience to make sure they are adequately helped.

This semester, I stepped out of my comfort zone again. I am interning at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation working on litigation for sexual abuse and sex trafficking cases. While my motto throughout law school has been “I would like to never step foot in a court room,” I decided to join this litigation team and help them prepare for trials.  I had no experience drafting paperwork necessary for these trials, and I was worried about inadequacy and how my work could directly impact victims of serious abuse. However, over the last month, I have learned more than I could have imagined through the extensive research projects I’ve been assigned. I have also seen how my training at EFE prepared me for sensitivity and understanding with another vulnerable and hurt group of clients.

Taking it a step further, I just accepted an internship offer for the summer to work at Cabrini Green Legal Aid in their family law division. Accepting this internship is a big step of faith, because I will be getting my 711 license, allowing me to be in court and represent clients just like an attorney. From what I’ve been told, I will be in court almost every day with clients working on child custody, child support, visitation issues, etc. I have no court room experience and I am terrified of the idea of it, but I know I will come out on the other side I better (future) attorney.

You know, God continues to be incredibly faithful through this journey. It is the most challenging and frustrating experience of my life, but at the same time, the most humbling and gratifying. 

Job found contentment and even joy, outside the context of comfort, health or stability. He understood the story was not about him, and he cared more about the story then he did about himself.”
― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

#SharpNessRun13Point1

Many of you know that a couple years ago I rode my bike from Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington DC with my Venture Expeditions family. For this trip and on our route, we raised awareness and money for International Justice Mission and their fight against modern day slavery (including sex trafficking). The trip was a game-changer for me.

I had never cycled before, never trained so hard, and never experienced the kind of joy that comes from physically sacrificing for others. Each mile we prayed and thought about the people we were advocating for. Each day–through sweat, pain, and tears–we had the opportunity to focus our hearts and minds on what it means to love people like Jesus.

Instead of just placing money in an account, we pushed through mountains, flat tires, rain storms, and injuries declaring “Freed people, free people.”  The people we were advocating for live in modern-day slavery, so we chose to push our limits and physically sacrifice in a way that says “We’re with you.”

Venture 2

Well, it’s time for a new challenge and a new cause. On June 6, 2015, Andrew, my dad, and I will run a half marathon and raise $1,200 in support of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). CAASE addresses the culture, institutions, and individuals that perpetrate, profit from, or support sexual exploitation. CAASE’s work includes prevention, policy reform, community engagement, and legal services.

This semester, I am a legal intern at CAASE, working on cases regarding sexual assault, rape, sex trafficking, etc. I am passionate about the work CAASE does, and I am thankful to be part of it.

Just like being a cycling rookie for my Venture trip, I am certainly a long-distance runner rookie. 🙂 I have never run more than 5 miles at once, and I look forward to training for this cause. I pray for a centered mind and heart in order to get the most out of this experience. I look forward to the inevitable growth that will happen in the coming months.

Please consider joining our cause by donating below. The money raised will directly support the CAASE’s work, which includes providing free legal services to survivors of sexual assault and the sex trade, advocating for legislative and policy reform that will hold perpetrators accountable, creating resources for survivors of sexual harm, and preventing sexual exploitation by teaching young people about the realities of the sex trade and sex trafficking.

Online fundraising for #SharpNessRun13point1 - Race for CAASE

Approaching 25

As most of you know, I received wonderful news after my fourth surgery this past August. My abnormal thyroid levels were “virtually undetectable.” This was the first time I received this news since the start of my journey two and a half years a go. My endocrinologist was equally as surprised as me.

For the last couple months, I have been enjoying living a relatively normal life. I have had only a couple of doctors appointments and no biopsies or surgeries. This has been the most uninterrupted semester of law school so far. Law school is much better without having to regularly miss class and also taking classes I’m interested in! (who would have thought?! 😉 )

I’ve finally had the chance to deal with the on-going complications of having no thyroid, as well as the repercussions of having so many surgeries. In the last two years, just when I learn how to adapt and listen to my body and how it has changed, I’ve gone in for more surgeries or testing which inevitably changed the playing field again.

Because my thyroid medication has to be so high to suppress abnormal cell growth, my heart rate accelerates quickly, and I have frequent heart palpitations. To keep this under control, I’ve had to cut back on caffeine significantly. This was a difficult adjustment, because having no thyroid also significantly lowers my energy level. I always felt like I had to overcompensate with high levels of caffeine, just to feel normal.

However, I’ve had time to adjust without further complications, and I’ve been substituting morning coffee with superfood smoothies, and it’s been a game changer! Any other my thyroid cancer sisters reading this, I highly recommend it! This is just one ways I’ve been blessed the last few months of appointment-free living. I’ve been able to understand my new body and make steady life-style changes.

On February 12, 2015, I go in for further testing and on February 19, 2015, I learn whether or not I am for sure “cancer free.” What a week that will be–I cannot wait.

On another note, I will be turning 25 in a few short weeks. This birthday has kind of taken me by surprise. If you would have asked me ten years ago where I would be in my mid-twenties, this is not what I pictured. However, this is not a sour realization.

Most notably, if you told me ten years ago, I would be in law school right now, I would have laughed at you. I would have told you I would be a musician, running a photography studio, and/or writing a book. But, God works in funny ways sometimes and instills in you a passion to go outside of your comfort zone, to try something that terrifies you, and to trust him along the way.

Francis Chan wrote in his book Crazy Love, “‎Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter, unless it is about loving God and loving the people he has made?” It’s so simple, but I’ve been holding onto these words lately. Law school has been so outside my comfort zone and frankly, it is still terrifying at times. However, I’m convinced that pursuing justice through the law is the way God has called me to love the people he has made, and I’m choosing to trust him along the way.

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.

Preparing for surgery #4

In less than one week, I will be traveling with my parents and Andrew to Rochester, Minnesota for thyroid cancer surgery #4 at the Mayo Clinic. The surgery will be Tuesday, August 12.

I write this today asking sincerely for your thoughts and prayers heading into the week. I must admit that up until now, I have not really been afraid or nervous going into surgery. Maybe I’ve been a little naive, but in my gut, I always believed everything would go according to plan or even better. While there have always been risks associated with surgery, I never really believed anything could go wrong. I trusted my doctors, and I believed I would put each surgery behind me and move forward.

Unfortunately, speaking with my surgeon this time, I feel more unsettled than any surgery before. Many of you know that with each surgery, the possibility for permanent damage to my vocal chords increases each time. I have been blessed so far with only damage to the outer ranges of my singing voice.

However, this time, I heard much more of a certainty in my surgeon’s voice that permanent damage to my voice is almost likely to happen. This will not only influence my ability to sing–but it could drastically impact my speaking voice. Please pray that my voice to preserved in the surgery.

No matter what happens, how cool is it that I have a community of friends in Chicago willing to go karaoke with me before this surgery? No matter what happens in surgery, I will be singing my heart out tomorrow, surrounded by friends and family. I’m blessed.

In addition, with each surgery I’ve struggled with self-esteem issues, because I notice a significant change in my face. I notice quite a difference when I look in the mirror these days. I’m not referring to my scar–I actually think that’s pretty badass–I’m talking about my face shape. This is partially resulting from no-thyroid (yet again, who knew your thyroid impacts SO much?!), but also the significant amount of scar-tissue in my neck. Unfortunately, no amount of exercise or weight loss will bring back my jaw line. It seems silly, but it can be so frustrating sometimes.

I am so thankful to be going to the nation’s best hospital for this surgery, and I look forward to putting it behind me before starting my 2L year of law school (YEAH!). Cheers to hoping this is the last surgery, and that I will qualify for the alternative treatment after this! I’m approaching two years of surgeries and treatment, and I think it’s about time to close this chapter of my life. Who’s with me? 😉

Thank you for your continued love and support…. No matter what, I choose JOY.