Need your Help: Fund a Human Rights Lawyer

Thankful for my friend Kevin’s support. Please take a moment to consider donating and sharing with your friends my goal. Thank you!

There Is No End In Sight

This summer I met a young woman named Lydia during my 4K for Cancer ride. Sitting in a room surrounded by strangers, she courageously shared her story of her fight with cancer. Diagnosed as she was about to enter law school, Lydia deferred for a year for treatment. This year she made it through orientation but once again is going through surgeries to fight cancer. Yet despite all the time she spends fighting for herself she never stops fighting for others.

2013.11.11 Lydia's Human Rights Lawyer Campaign

This year Lydia’s Christmas wish is to fund a human rights lawyer for those who are in need of defense but cannot afford it. Defending human rights is Lydia’s passion, and she has this to say about her fundraising goal:

For Christmas this year, I want to raise money for an IJM human rights lawyer to stand up for a victim of violence throughout the legal process. Without an…

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Preparing for surgery #3

“Seek justice. Love your neighbor. These two imperatives do not conflict.” Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff

Since my last post, I’ve had ultrasound scans, painful biopsies, consults with two surgeons and several other appointments. As mentioned before, I am no longer responsive to radiation treatment, and since cancer still remains, surgery is the only option. So, my third thyroid cancer surgery will be October 24, 2013, at the University of Chicago (Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine). This will be my third surgeon and third hospital in the last year.

Bruising that lasted for over 2 weeks from the biopsies. (looked like awkward hickeys for a bit)

Bruising that lasted for over 2 weeks from the biopsies. (looked like awkward hickeys for a bit)

Since I’ve already had two extensive surgeries in the same area, this surgery will be much more difficult and the risks increase substantially. I pray this will be my last surgery for awhile, but without the option of radiation, it is not likely. It’s going to be tedious from now on.  Normally, radiation  would take care of any remaining disease, no matter how small, but I don’t have this option anymore. Essentially, I will be waiting for masses to be large enough to remove surgically.

My biggest fear going forward is my voice. It is always a risk to injure the vocal chords in these operations, but the risk is much greater now– and nearly certain. They say over time, injections and additional surgery can correct speaking problems resulting from such an injury (yay!), but not so much singing. The idea of losing my singing voice at 23-years-old is difficult to comprehend. Music–playing and singing–is the way I cope, and if this is taken from me, it will be tough. Permanent or temporary damage to my speaking voice also poses a challenge in regards to my legal studies and career. I was joking the other day and said, “How am I supposed to be a ‘voice for the voiceless,’ without a voice?” hah. I’m praying the tumors they see around my vocal nerves are not attached and thus more easily removable.

My new surgeon has a very targeted and less invasive approach, so it’s likely they won’t need to reopen my entire incision again! I’m hoping this means my recovery time will be much shorter. Assuming my calcium levels are kept under control, it also looks like most of my recovery will be at home and not in the hospital–maybe even as little as ONE NIGHT in the hospital. Challenge accepted.

In the midst of all of this, I’m still pushing through and tackling my first year of law school. I’ve had several days of classes on either side of appointments/scans/biopsies, and sometimes I feel as though I’m living two different lives. I’m blessed to have friends who go above and beyond to keep me up to date in school and above all else, make me laugh. 🙂

The more I learn and the more I invest in school and legal work, the more excited I am. Likewise, the amount of time I feel out of my element is overcompensated by the number of times I am affirmed in this calling. Something deep within me stirs when I think of the ways I can use law to help people and truly make a difference. I’m ready to go, I’m anxious to start, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to create a life-story worth reading and one reflective of God’s love for each person individually, wherever they are and in light of their unique value. Let’s do this.

Law school friends at my Colts bar with me. I won an autographed Peyton Manning mini helmet with their help!

Law school friends at my Colts bar with me. I won an autographed Peyton Manning mini helmet with their help!

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.

Photo Jul 01, 2 23 33 PM

Life is beautiful when you allow people to journey with you

So much has happened and changed since my last post, and I am wondering if I can even put it into words. It has been one of the most memorable months of my life. I’ve challenged myself intellectually, made new friends, hit some of the highest and lowest points in health and relationships, and continue to try and heal from a deeply hurting heart. In everything, I see how beautiful life is when you allow people to journey with you, near and afar. 

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Deanna, Katie and I at the beach.

Criminal Law

I’m about half way done with Criminal Law, and it has been quite an adjustment. I remember when I was studying for the LSAT, there was a distinct week when I finally noticed a shift in thinking and a new level of understanding of the material. It was so different from my studies in journalism/music/biblical studies. Because I was supposed to start school a year a go, it has now been over 2.5 years since I took the LSAT, and if there are any applicable skills to carry over to law school, they have been lost the hiatus.

It’s been humbling to be around such brilliant people and learning from a great professor. While this type of study does not come naturally to me, I do have the confidence that I will fight through and come out on the other side. This last week I feel like I finally started to see a similar shift in thinking, particularly in the way I read news and think about issues. It’s fascinating.

I have spent an exuberant amount of time with people in my class, and spent many late nights out on the town and days studying, spending time at the beach, etc. I cannot begin to articulate how much your support has meant to me. Each of you mean the world to me, in very genuine ways.

Night at the Navy Pier listening to a live cover band and watching fireworks.

Night at the Navy Pier listening to a live cover band and watching fireworks.

Physical Therapy

I started physical therapy a few weeks a go. Before they can work on my post-op muscular and nerve pain, they have to correct my spine, which apparently is fusing itself together in my neck. This problem has absolutely nothing to do with cancer/surgeries, he said it actually looks like I was hit in the back of the head with a blunt object about 5-6 years a go–Bizarre. In any event, I have at least three months of PT 3x a week to correct this problem. Half way through they will reevaluate and decide if they can add a fourth day in to work on the muscular, nerve pain.

The black line is a normal spinal curve, the red line is mine. Two of the vertebra are already fused in the back.

The black line is a normal spinal curve, the red line is mine. Two of the vertebra are already fused in the back.

Physical therapy has been excruciating, but I don’t know if it’s in a good way yet. Because he’s been focusing on correcting my spine, and not giving attention to my post-op pain, I sometimes feel like some of the exercises I do may be improving my spine, but worsening the post-op healing. I’m in more daily pain now than I have been any other time this year. I’m praying this is just because it must get worse before it gets better, we’ll see.

Cancer-free?

After injections and radiation from last week, I will find out this Wednesday if I am cancer-free or if I need another round of radiation. I really don’t know what to anticipate heading into this appointment. I get nauseous thinking about it.

I’m praying it’s clear, largely because I want to focus on becoming well again. This whole process has been a bit frustrating because right when I feel like I’m turning a corner toward good health, I’ve had another surgery/treatment/adjustment to bring it even lower and start the building process over. When I finally felt recovered from the first surgery, it was time for radiation. When I felt as though I was finally getting energy back after radiation, it was time for my second surgery, etc.

I’m praying this Wednesday I get the all-clear signal so I can focus on physical therapy and working towards a level of health I once had. In any event, it’s a big week, and I kindly ask for your prayer for strength physically and emotionally.

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Thyrogen injections before radioactive iodine and full-body scan.

Update: One month post-op surgery #2

Rolls of thunder echo outside my window, and I find it fitting to write and reflect tonight. It’s my last night before beginning the long-awaited journey in law school. That’s right, tomorrow night, I start school. It’s 9 months later than anticipated, but also not a moment to soon.

Surgery #2 Update

My incision is healing beautifully! I’m so impressed, and certainly satisfied with my change in surgeons. I’m substantially more tired right now, because I don’t think my thyroid medication has been correctly adjusted after this surgery, but I’m doing a great job of faking it! 😉 By around 2 p.m. I’m normally in desperate need of time to recoup–not necessarily a nap, but time to rest my mind and body. I rarely find the time to, but it’s nearly clockwork each day.

My pain is tolerable and I often find myself forgetting about it! My right ear, neck and right shoulder are still numb, but I’ve learned to wear different neck-lines again, no matter how uncomfortable (before anything that rested on my collar bones was intolerable). It’s a game of adaptability and pain tolerance, and I’m winning 😉

School Orientation

Last week we had school orientation, and it not only made me extremely excited about the subject matter (something I’ve been questioning for awhile now), but I have already made some great friends. Every person I’ve talked to has such a unique  and incredible life-story. Either this reflects admirably on Chicago-Kent’s admissions committee, or it shows that as we age, we are given more opportunity to write meaningful stories with our lives that will impact people daily. I believe the latter has the most to do with it.

It’s such a beautiful concept–our life stories are merging together for a few short years to co-write the next chapter in our lives, before moving on to the next. I pray we write a story together that is memorable and noteworthy, not only to ourselves but to our friends, family and community. 

Who’s story inspires you? Tell them.

Skin Biopsy

Last week I went to the dermatologist for the first time. After several years of drum corps (two of which I never wore sunscreen…I know, terrible), I figured it would be good to have a general check up before the summer. To my surprise, they decided to remove a mole from my stomach that day and send it to pathology. I received the results today–it’s a dysplastic (atypical) mole, which is the stage moles gets to right before cancer. (Seriously, I wish I was making this up. hah). Because of these results, I am up to 30% more likely to have melanoma sometime in my life, so I will be going to the dermatologist every six months for a full-body check up.

I am relieved that they took proactive measures and removed it, but part of me is heavy-laden. While I am hopefully nearing my thyroid cancer treatment end, having another cancer scare surface, a multitude of emotions arise. I’ve always been a very healthy person–active, eating well, taking vitamins, rarely sick and never missed a beat. Then 9 months ago the rug was pulled out from under me.

Trying to remove the “cancer” stigma

Since my thyroid cancer diagnoses last summer, the hardest struggle I have faced has been emotionally the last five months. As a 23-year-old single woman, carrying the tainted tag of “cancer” begins to weigh heavily on your heart. Your thoughts frequently turn to feeling like “damaged goods” for anyone who might be interested in you. You start to feel guilty allowing people in because you have this stigma that will never be erased. Think of the people in your life who have had cancer. After knowing they have had cancer, how often do you think of them independently of that title? I know I unintentionally always marry the two. I don’t want people to think of me and think “cancer.” It’s such an isolating thought.

Even though I know I will be fine eventually, and I will live a full life, part of me feels selfish to enter any kind of relationship. I often feel as though I’ve lost a part of my health that I will never get back and this could potentially impact my future kids, so who wants to willingly walk into that mess? How is that fair to them?

I am normally not one to admit any of the above, but I’ve learned from my thyroid cancer community on instagram (several ladies who I considered close friends), transparency for others walking this road is essential. I’m strong and stubborn to push past any adversity, but I’m learning to put my ego aside and let people know when it hurts. Believe me, it’s not easy. If I had it my way, you would think the last 9 months of my life has been a walk in the park.

I am afraid of appearing weak or look like I’m seeking pity, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has struggled with this, and I want to be honest to anyone who might be following my story and struggling in similar ways. You are not alone.


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