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.

Surgery #2 and Recovery

As most of you know, I had my second surgery for thyroid cancer April 26, 2013–almost exactly 8 months after my first. I’m surprised I haven’t written until now, but recovery has been difficult and lengthier this time.

Surgery

I had my first surgery with a different surgeon at a different hospital, so I knew this experience would be different. However, I don’t think I was really anticipating just how much different it would be.

My parents flew in from California to be with me during the surgery and to help me afterward. I picked them up from the airport the afternoon before, and we made it to University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) hospital for my surgery by 5:30 a.m. the next morning. My surgeon showed up a half hour late , so I didn’t get rolled back into the surgery room until after 8 a.m.

When I woke up from my first surgery, my surgeon was right there reassuring me, and it was a matter of minutes before I was in a private room and with my family. This time, I woke up and no one was around me. While the nurse visited occasionally over the next hour and a half, I felt very alone. To make matters worse, I had an allergic reaction to something they used in surgery, which created intense itching under my skin from my sternum to my chin. However, since the nurse wasn’t around very often, he didn’t take the time to listen to why I was crying heavily (I hate to admit this). Since my voice was weak and my throat was in pain, I couldn’t raise a voice to alert anyone’s attention. Instead, I sat weeping in my bed, wishing my family was there.

Eventually after what seemed like a lifetime, a room became available and I was wheeled to a room and able to see my family. The itching intensified over the next 6 hours, without any relief. Since my skin was so numb and I didn’t want to scratch close to my incision, I was rubbing my chin and neck for relief, but my hands felt like they were touching rubber because of the numbness. There was no relief. It felt as though thousands of ants were crawling under my skin and I couldn’t do anything about it. It was truly miserable.

I have very few allergies and interestingly, one of them is Benadryl cream. I have taken Benadryl successfully by pill before, but the nurses didn’t want to risk any further irritation, so they did very minimal dose through my IV and gave me morphine just to try and calm me down. It didn’t get better until my dad convinced them to finally wipe down the surgical prep area. I was only itching where they would have prepped me for surgery, so Dad and I thought my reaction might be from whatever sterilizing prep they used on my skin. Sure enough, after they did this, I felt exponentially better within 30 minutes. Dad said the next day, there was a clear red rash. It was such a rough way to start recovery, especially after being back in a room feeling uncared for and alone for what seemed like an eternity.

The room I was in was a double, which bothered me mostly because my family couldn’t stay as long as they could have if I was alone. For the majority of my stay, I had a very noisy roommate, which made it very difficult to sleep, and without anyone allowed in the room from 8 p.m.-11 a.m., it was rough. I was so thankful when they let me go home to recover.

36 stitches and a drain!

36 stitches and a drain!

Physical Healing

After my first surgery, they sent me home the second day with heavy bandaging on my neck and nothing else. This time, I went home after three days with no bandaging, and I had a drain in my neck for five days. While it was bizarre to have to drain a bottle of liquid from my neck several times a day, it is clear that my incision is healing much better and with a much slimmer line than last time. It was also much more comfortable not having thick bandaging to deal with.

Removing the enormous drain

Removing the enormous drain

The surgeon removed 47 lymph nodes from my neck. Raise your hand if you knew it was possible to have that many nodes in such a small area? I didn’t. This is after having several removed in my last surgery and he even left one chain of nodes on my left side and cleared everything else out.

Forty-seven. Wow.

The swelling on my neck and chin was much more apparent and lasted much longer this time (I’m still slightly swollen), though I’m not surprised. He said some of the cancerous nodes he removed were imbedded in muscle in the thyroid bed. and after reading the surgical report and seeing some of the major maneuvering they did in my neck, I’m surprised my swelling was equivalent to my overall body weight. For example:

“After rolling neck contents into the internal jugular vein, a combination of sharp dissection using a 15-blade scalpel, as well as blunt dissection with a tonsil clamp and division with Bovie electrocautery, was performed to released the neck contents off of the internal jugular vein.”

GROSS (and kind of awesome). The first time I read “rolling neck contents,” I gagged a little. hah

My chin practically disappeared for more than a week. It was a beautiful day when my dad looked at me and said, “Hey, I can see your chin!” 🙂

The first day I really noticed the swelling going down.

The first day I really noticed the swelling going down.

My pain level this time around is also substantially more, as well as the area left numb. Last time, I was numb under my chin and around my neck and never gained back feeling. This time, I’m numb from down on my right shoulder up to slightly above my chin and my right ear is completely numb (I’m seriously considering getting a new piercing, since I can’t feel it!). At the same time, these areas also have bizarre sensitivity, where clothing and touching certain areas feels like pins and needles. Wearing shirts with a normal crew-neck collar is completely out of the question right now, and extremely uncomfortable.

When I came home for recovery, my pain level was high, but no medication was helping. Until yesterday, there was a constant dull pain in my shoulder and sharp pains that changed day-to-day. The dull pain has lessened, but sharp pains remain, especially when I have to take a deep breath–a sharp pain in the back of my neck shoots down my spine. I’ve tried the narcotics they gave me, with no success, and every kind of anti-inflammatory, to see if it stemmed muscularly but who knows. I saw my surgeon this morning, and while he doesn’t know why I’m having the pain I’m having, he’s not concerned. I’ve given up on medication, so I’m just waiting it out.

The good news is, I’ve lost 5 pounds.

Emotional Healing

Healing emotionally has been a bigger challenge this time around. After last surgery, I returned to letters/packages/cards from my friends all over the country–I felt so loved. I definitely feel supported this time around as well, but there have been many dark days as well, and days where I feel isolated. I am thankful my parents were able to be here for my surgery and that my dad extended his stay for a week to help me heal. If they weren’t here, the dark days would have been unbearable.

One thing I’ve learned over the last 8 months is how much harder this journey is the longer you’re on the road. The longer you’re dealing with the same issues, the less people ask and the more isolated it becomes. I have started to think about all of the people in my life who have been on similar journeys, and I wonder how many of them felt truly uplifted lately. I encourage you to do the same. If you know someone in your life who has been struggling with any kind of issue for a long time, while it may be old news to most people, it’s something they are dealing with every moment of every day. Reach out–Give a hug, send a card, shoot a text, show support, let them know they’re on your mind. It can make all the difference.

Lately when I lay in bed at night, all I can think about is how much I can feel God’s presence. For some reason, late at night in the quiet of my room, I feel closest to him. He’s tangible–real. I feel as though the worries on my heart are already in dialogue with the One who loves me more than I could ever comprehend. I often get overwhelmed, sometimes to the point of tears, knowing that He wants to walk this with me. I remind myself Jesus is enough… I don’t need anything else. I’m not sure this has ever resonated so strongly.

Law School

I start school May 29. It’s been a long time coming, and now it’s approaching fast. I was also offered a scholarship for housing downtown for a year. I signed the lease yesterday. Below will be my view starting this August:

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Redemption to my story

Since my trip to Italy, life just continues to look up.

The new job is great. I feel valued and challenged at the same time–which is the perfect balance. I have been getting up around 5 a.m. most mornings to get my runs in for the 1000 mile challenge and packing a healthy lunch and working vigorously from 8-5 p.m. I love feeling productive again.

Law school

The most exciting news since my last post is that I have registered to start law school this summer! Instead of waiting until the fall, I have registered to take Criminal Law this summer. I could not be more excited. We had an admitted students weekend last week, and I met some awesome ladies from my entering class, as well as a few people who would’ve been my classmates this year, who I have been connected with via Facebook. It was so encouraging to meet them in person and to feel so welcomed and supported. I can’t believe I would already be finishing up my first year–so much has changed since last August.

Chicago-Kent College of Law entering students

Chicago-Kent College of Law entering students

I also received exciting news that I am one of five finalists for a full tuition scholarship. I am so thankful to even be considered in the top five, and it would radically change my life if I am actually blessed with this gift. I am trying not to get my hopes up, but it’s so exciting to think of the possibility.

Surgery #2

There is still a small chance I won’t be able to do the summer class, but I am doing everything I can to make it happen. The only reason I would pull out is if a complication from my second surgery (April 26) is too great for me to handle on top of school.

As I mentioned before, there is a high chance of at least temporary damage to my vocal chords this time around. They are putting a large tube down my throat to hopefully prevent permanent damage, but in doing so, my vocal chords will be stretched and could be damaged up to six months post-surgery. We will have no idea until I wake up that morning. The Assistant Dean of Admissions has been so supportive and understanding–I can wait until the class is supposed to start and make my decision. She said she would easily shift my start to fall if I need to and I wouldn’t lose any money. She was the same person I talked with last August, when I had to defer school, so she has been following my story.

My story arc

Lately I have been noticing a certain redemption in my story that is starting to unravel. There has been a story-arc to the last eight months of my life which I could never have prepared for. Someone told me being diagnosed with cancer soon after moving across the country and then having to defer law school a year is just a “detour in my life,” but I would have to disagree. The longer I walk this road, the more I realize how instrumental this chapter of my life is. Instead of a detour, I believe it has firmly directed me down the road I was already journeying toward.

While I still have another surgery and a few more months before I can see if I am cancer-free, the countless blessings and answers to endless prayers I have seen realized in the last month is the hope I have been seeking and waiting patiently for. Thank you, Jesus.

In those days when you pray, I will listen.If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.I will be found by you,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:13-14)

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My April calendar picture…

Finding Peace in Change–Surgery Week.

Well, many of you know that after sitting down with the Dean of Admissions, and speaking once again with my surgeon, I was encouraged to defer a year of school. This has been pretty difficult to grasp. I just moved across the country again, to start school. I was excited to begin working toward a degree that I believe will help me most readily in my dream of helping those in modern-day slavery.

It’s hard to not feel like a failure or that I wimped out or that I gave up. I have never backed out of anything in my life…once I commit to something, I see it through. It was extremely hard to make the final call. I talked to several of my professors and they articulated how incredibly difficult it is to miss even one day of law school–and I was looking toward missing at least 5 days upfront. Also, while the surgery recovery is supposed to take 10 days, the ENT was clear that it could take some time to regulate my “fake thyroid” medication after surgery (I’ll be on this medication the rest of my life), and it is likely that I will be tired frequently. I will have radiation treatment about 6-8 weeks later, and that also looks like there will be a few days I’ll have to be down for the count. The Dean of Admin thought it was a wise choice to defer for medical reasons, which means that I have an automatic spot secured for next year.

With all of this in mind, it seemed unnecessary to struggle to hang on the first year of law school–a lot hinges on the first year and there were several other external factors that confirmed my decision:

  • Scholarships for your remaining years in school are determined by your grades your first year. I want to work toward being the top of my class.
  • The bar is mostly based on first year material.
  • I don’t want to just make it through the year–it’s essential to me that I truly understand the material. I want to know what I’m learning and not just frantically catching up.
  • I’ve been told several times that students develop study groups at the beginning of their first year that often carry out through all three years. I would be in surgery the end of the first week into the second and realize it is likely I will miss out on opportunities to connect with classmates from the beginning.
  • I’m really not on any time frame. Taking one year off at 22-years-old is not going to drastically change the outcome of my career. I’ve just never wanted to take any time off, because I have goals and I know what I hope to accomplish in the future.
  • If the doctor is trying to regulate my “fake thyroid” medication, I imagine it will be much more difficult if my stress level is through the roof with school.
  • I have been going non-stop for a very long time, and it could be very good for me to take a step back (I wouldn’t have made that decision on my own, without something health-related to stop me 😉 )

I know that this year is going to end up being something very special. I am going to make the best of it, and I am already extremely excited at all of the places I plan to go, people I plan to see, things I plan to do once all of this passes–whether it’s 6 months, 8 months, 10 months, etc. Whenever this passes, I’ll be ready to continue pursuing life at full force 🙂 :

  • Looking into an internship at International Justice Mission
  • Teaching percussion at the two high schools I’ve already started to help this year.
  • Riding my bike, just because!
  • Training for a mini marathon and/or decathlon
  • Writing more, taking pictures again, art projects with my roommate
  • Seeking a conversation partner to finally become fluent in Spanish
  • Spending more time with my family north of the city
  • Driving to Indy and spending time with my brother and sister-in-law and baby nephew (due in January!)!
  • Going to The Justice Conference in February! I have always wanted to go to this. It’s in Philly this year, assuming I can pull the money together for the ticket and travel, I can’t wait! I’ve always wanted to go.
  • Continuing to write articles from Halftime and freelance elsewhere
  • Jazz events in the city
  • WGI Finals 🙂
  • Participating in another Venture Expeditions trip!

I am also making sure over the next several months that I spend significant time alone, in reflection and prayer. I am opening my mind to what the Lord has in store for me, even if it may not be what I have been convinced of for so long. I am letting go of all of my expectations and remembering the journey and finding peace in the process. I pray that I am sensitive to my conscience and not stubborn in my goal-set ways. I’m already growing and learning.

My surgery is this Friday, August 31, and I’m really hope time passes fast between now and then. The anticipation and waiting is pretty rough. I’m SO thankful that my parents are able to fly in this week from northern California to be here during the process. I am so blessed to have them. I love them dearly.

My parents and I at Biola graduation– May 2012

My lovely parents

So many curve balls.

I am doing everything in my power to plan every detail of the next year of my life, and each day it seems a new curve ball is thrown my way.  One of these days I will learn how to not strike out, and hit a home run, or maybe at least get to walk to first?

Today is not that day.

In just over a month, I still have no housing lined up. I have been doing extensive research on apartments, viewing them, crunching the numbers, trying to solidify a roommate.  Each little detail has glitches and the process keeps getting stunted by one factor or another. The clock is ticking, I need to start the application process for an apartment like….now.

I don’t even know when I am graduating anymore.  I was set on December, but then pushed just one unit to the spring because I was recommended for a leadership position at Biola in which I would have had to be a student for the full year.  I reworked my classes and figured out how to make that work.

Well, turns out the position requires a full-time student status for the full year. So, now I’m back to December.  Now I have to try and figure out how in the world I can get all these credits done by then.

Then there are the law school applications. Do I stick with the LSAT score, or do I start studying now to retake it in June? I should retake it, but can I keep my sanity with my schedule right now?

I don’t do well without structure when it comes to these things. You know, having a place to live, knowing when I graduate, deciding whether or not to retake the test that could determine my entire future…

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I am still recovering.
I don’t think I could ever put into words what the days and nights have been like the past month and a half.  I will never forget it though, even if the words won’t find their way onto paper.  You will never know, and that’s probably a good thing.

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God, I pray for Your guidance over all things.  I pray that You remind me that You are sovereign.  I pray that You humble me and make me sensitive to Your will.  I pray that I don’t become caught up in the details and that I remember that You work for the good of those who love You, God.

I pray that my heart is softened and not callused. I pray that You continually show me how to forgive.  I beg that You continue to fill me with a love for others that can only be explained by Your presence in my life.

God, I pray for Japan.  I pray for the families of the lives lost.  I pray for the survivors, God, that You meet them where they are.  I pray that they feel Your love and your presence.  I pray for those still missing, God. I pray that you bring them home to their families.  Your Word says Your love reaches to the heavens and stretches through the skies, God, show this devastated country a love that is incomprehensible, for Your love is extravagant, God.

God I just pray that I am reminded to seek first your Kingdom each day. I thank you for being a personal God, an intimate companion. Thank You for never leaving me. Thank You for being my rock and my salvation.

To You be all glory, now and forever,

Amen.