I grew up in Salem. My life growing up was okay.. I didn't grow up a Christian, and didn't come to know the love of God until College. I'm not really going to go into much detail about growing up just because it's pretty personal. My parents did the best that they knew how to at the time and I am so thankful for them. I can say with all my heart that God has restored my relationships within my family. I no longer hold any grudges with my dad, I can fully love him and my mom without expecting anything in return. I have been set free from the desire for my family to look and act a certain way and show love a certain way. I treasure the relationship I have with my sister and I find myself more and more being able to respond with love and kindness as opposed to reacting out of insecurity and anger. God has done a lot of work in my family and I know He isn't stopping here!
Growing up there were a few negative things that were kind of engraved in me.. These things play a huge role in who I am today and how I operate. The first being, I always thought I had to take control of every situation. If I wanted to get something done, I would need to do it myself. I saw a lot of failed promises and from that place of disappointment I decided that I would need to be in control of everything. Because I saw time and time again promises that weren't fulfilled I started to believe that people would just say things to make you happy but wouldn't really follow through with those things. From that place of brokenness I started telling myself that I could do everything better by myself anyways. I convinced myself that I didn't really need anyone's help even though I desired it, I just didn't want to bring myself back to that place of being let down by another person. So two things that even still play a big part of my life are trust and a spirit of independence. Now don't get me wrong, I think independence is a great quality to have but when it comes from a place of insecurity and thinking you can do everything better than everyone else and wont even listen to authority or peoples input that is now rebellion. Anyway, God is doing so much healing in my life in these areas. I thank God for Jeremy, because I know for a fact that God is using him to sift through these areas to bring full healing and restoration. That is one of the joys of marriage. It's hard though! It is so easy to respond negatively to that person and to just shut down when the areas of deepest hurt and pain are brought back up. I know I am guilty of that and I just thank God that He has given Jeremy and I grace to learn how to be married and lovingly deal with each others junk. I am so happy to be married though, besides the fact that I love Jeremy so stinkin much I really believe that God uses marriages to restore your ideas of family and He also gives you the gift of starting your own family. Alongside with that He uses the person that is closest to you in the whole world to be your partner in working through your pain and hurt. It's a beautiful thing!
I try to forget all the years before high school, mostly because I had no friends, watched wrestling, wore shirts with horses on them and spent most of my free time convincing myself that I was going to be a professional wrestler.. Bad I know.
High school was better for me. I started to get friends (once I got my braces off and learned that horse shirts were NOT cool). I also got my first boyfriend. Things were good. I lived in my little world, thinking things were perfect. I wasn't a terrible kid, I did things mostly by the books. Although I wasn't really a girl with much character, I wasn't kind to my family, I made fun of people who weren't as "cool" as me, I spent my high school years being comfortable because I was finally accepted. I did have some good friends though. This was my new family, and outside of this group of friends I was lost. I am so thankful for the friendships I made in high school and I am still good friends with some of them. My best friend Jess in high school was my matron of honor at my wedding! Because I was so comfortable with life, I thought that nothing bad could happen to me. I thought that my life would be how it was in high school forever and I was excited about that.
When I was 16 I was diagnosed with cancer. I remember going away with my family around Christmas time. I had lumps all up and down my neck and ignorantly I thought they were just swollen lymph nodes. After all, nothing bad could happen to me I finally had the perfect life. I was hoping for mono or cat scratch fever, anything besides cancer.. Turns out I had Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer. I was knocked off my feet. Me, the invincible girl had cancer. I was scared and insecure and even though I was surrounded by friends and family, I have never felt more alone. I started my treatment right away.. At the end of everything I had received 8 rounds of chemotherapy, 12 of radiation, 4 surgeries, and more CT scans than I can remember. But I was done!! Or so I thought. During this whole time of treatment I very rarely got sick, I didn't lose any of my hair and my life was still pretty "perfect". I thought I was untouchable because cancer couldn't even shake me! Three months later I felt another lump under my armpit. My cancer came back. Once hearing that I had to do all of this again I became depressed. I no longer wanted to see any of my friends, I didn't want to talk about it or do much of anything. I was finally knocked out of my perfect little world.
There were a few people who I felt like being around and a few of them were from my hospital. Finally I had someone who I could relate to. I didn't have to feel different any more, like I was the cancer girl that everyone stared at. I had a friend who understood me and could relate to me. Her name was Alison. We would spend many hours together in the back room playing Uno together, or just watching a movie. She was always so happy and secure. There was something different about her and I wanted to be around her as much as possible because she made me feel better, she made me feel alive. After I had relapsed and started more treatment I lost all my hair (and I mean ALL of it), I was sick all the time, very weak, very pale and very skinny. I looked like I was dying. But when I was in the hospital I felt free, I didn't have to think about how I looked because I knew there were people there who looked and felt just like me. After months of chemotherapy at my hospital I felt like the hospital was my home. I had my family of friends and nurses and I felt safe there.
(My hospital friends, me, Bruno and Alison)
Alison and I both were scheduled to have transplants after our treatment of chemotherapy. I was scheduled to go in first. Transplant was like a jail cell. First they lock you in a hospital room with only a bed, nightstand, chair and TV. They put an exercise bike in my room too, wishful thinking on their parts. I could barely focus my eyes enough to watch the TV let alone ride a bike. Although, it probably gave my visitors something to do while they visited because most of the day I was sleeping and could barely string together coherent sentences. You wern't allowed to leave your room the whole time you were in there. I stayed in the same room for almost two months. I felt like I had all of the life that was in me sucked out and all I could do was lay in my bed while being kept alive by the different tubes and machines that pumped little bits of hope into my body. And then, once I got my new stem cells things began to get better. Slowly I began to be able to see straight and walk around without feeling like I could collapse. Getting up to brush my teeth was no longer a chore. Then, one day I was strong enough to leave. I could finally pass through the doors that felt like a prison. I was on my way to recovery. I no longer took life for granted anymore because I came so close to death I could literally taste it. I tasted it when the chemotherapy came into my body and tried to kill all of my living cells. I tasted it when the inside of my mouth was so raw that I couldn't even swallow. I tasted it when all I could do was throw up. I tasted it the most when I saw my family and friends cry over me. It did not taste good.
I remember visiting Alison when she was in her transplant. My hair was finally starting to grow back and I was able to rock the afro for a short period of time. I came into her room and felt my heart fall to the ground. The gifts I brought for her were suddenly meaningless and I started to wish that I didn't bring them. I then realized as much as it hurt laying in the bed being the one getting the treatment, it hurt even more seeing a person you love go through it. I sat with her on the bed as she held her nose to try to stop the nose bleed. I only stayed a short while because I knew the pain she was in. I left the gifts that I brought for her. Things I thought would comfort her- a journal, a cd, a teddy bear. I told her to write down all the things that she wanted to do in that journal. It was something that kept me motivated during my transplant. I told her that it would get better and that she would be able to accomplish the things on her list. That was the last time I saw her. Everything I said to her was a lie, she didn't get to check off things from her list, she didn't get better. That was it.
I cannot even express the pain and guilt I felt after this. I was alone again and no one knew how I felt, no one could relate to me or comfort me. I was back at the same place I was in the beginning. A few weeks later I went to Alison's memorial mass with my best friend Jess. I went expecting to feel an overwhelming sense of sorrow and pain but I was surprised when I was met with the feeling of hope even through my sadness. I sat there and listened to the pastor talk about Alison and her love for God. I watched as her family sat in the front and had confidence that Alison was in a better place. I was met by the love of God and I was transformed. I knew that there was something different about Alison from the first time I met her, and I finally found out that it was God living inside of her that made her different.
My life has been drastically different from that day. I have now found security in God. My identity doesn't come from my family or friends. It doesn't come from the title "cancer survivor" or what I do. My identity comes from the fact that I am Gods daughter. I am loved, and known and understood by Him. I always have someone who can relate to me. I have someone who fights for me, who believes in me, and who is faithful to me! I have been transformed by the love of God because He truly loves and cares for me and because of that love my life will never be the same.
This love story is real, and it puts all the "blah" moments to shame.