How Cancer Changed Me Forever

How Cancer Changed Me Forever

2 years ago this month, I received a phone call that would radically change the trajectory of my life.  I can still vividly remember where I was, what I was doing, and the shock I felt when my doctor told me the biopsy came back and it turns I have Non-Hodgkin’s Follicular Lymphoma.  At this point, the majority of the people in my life who had cancer fought long and hard but I knew very few survivors.  As I sat in my diagnosis that day, I feared my life was coming to an end.  I thought I would be another person people knew that fought for her life and lost it.  I thought about Brandon becoming a widow and my mom losing her daughter to cancer the way she lost her husband to it. 

As I look back, 2 years later, I have come to realize that it wasn’t the diagnosis that changed my life but what cancer required me to step into that changed me.

Cancer forced me to face fears I would have preferred to keep hidden and unresolved.  Cancer challenged my thinking and pushed me to realize I was more strong and resilient that I knew. Cancer brought an onslaught of new anxiety and depression that I would have to face head on.  Cancer was added to my medical history and will always be a checkbox I fill in for the remainder of my days. Cancer made me level up. It made me do things I would have otherwise avoided and for that reason, I’m forever grateful.  Did I just say I’m grateful for cancer?  Well, I am.  And here’s 5 reasons why:

1. OVERCOMING FEAR: I’m not a fan of medical procedures, I can’t stand needles, and put a Band-Aid on my paper cut.  Now, I’m a pro at getting an ultrasound, CT scan, PET scan, biopsy, port procedure, and chemotherapy.  I’m such a pro that I have no desire to pursue these ever again. For real! Every procedure or appointment pushed me further than the previous one.  I had to trust that I was strong enough to handle it and lean on God to fill in the gap between my doubt and His grace that would carry me.  Going through all the procedures above has made everything since cancer easier to process.  COVID has impacted each of us but I guarantee it would have been much scarier for me had I not gone through cancer.  I can visibly tell that my fears and anxieties have gone down a few notches and my ability to handle stress looks different these days. 

2. SELF-COMPASSION: I chose to work in between my chemotherapy appointments and quickly learned that I couldn’t operate at 100%.  As an achiever and person who doesn’t like to let others down, I had to learn how to say no.  I became comfortable with setting higher boundaries, not responding to an email within 24 hours, and letting my to do list grow without plans to resolve it by the next morning.  I learned to listen to my body, to take an extra nap if I needed it, and to cheer myself on for walking to the mailbox on days when fatigue took over me.  I am still working on my negative self-talk but I have seen a softer, less achiever oriented, slow-paced Courtney emerge from my chemo days. 

3. INTIMACY WITH GOD: There is no possible way I could have made it through my cancer journey without my relationship with God.  He was the one who prompted me to go to the doctor.  He was the one who whispered promises to me that would carry me through my healing journey.  God was the person I cried out to daily, sharing my fears and worries only for Him to replace them with hope and peace.  God was patient with me, calmed me, and provided the people to come alongside me.  He led me to worship songs that would be my anthem for chemo treatments, He pointed me to scripture that would carry me on the hard days, and He fulfilled every promise He told me before and during my treatment.  He has continued to be with me and in some ways, I miss the days of such deep and raw dependence on Him.  There was so much unknown each day that He was my constant and the one thing I could trust. 

4. EMPATHY: Watching my dad go through cancer treatments 11 years ago gave me a level of empathy that I could extend to others who had loved ones going through cancer.  As a cancer survivor, I’ve found my heart grow in wanting to share and empathize with others who are going through chemo treatments.  Although I had so many people supporting me, cancer can be a very lonely, isolating and scary road to walk.  Finding people who have walked the path before me helped me navigate each hurdle.  I’m thankful for Candis who was my confidant and I am honored that God has allowed me to walk alongside my friend Rachel as she battled cancer.  My empathy for those with chronic illnesses and cancer diagnoses has only expanded and I trust God will help me harness my empathy to encourage others in the future.   

5. PERSPECTIVE: Receiving a cancer diagnosis at age 34 was not on my list of things to do and yet, it came anyway.  Being faced with the possibility of death changes a person.  Hearing you have a 50% chance of being alive in 10 years does not instill confidence in a person.  Knowing the cancer could likely return at any point is unnerving.  I’ve learned that these are not statistics or information I choose to live by.  I’ve learned to relinquish the control I never really had in trying to keep the cancer away.  There are things I can be mindful of (food, exercise, prayer, etc.) but there is no guarantee it won’t return.  But there is also no reason to believe it will return.  This is still a stretch for me but I’m trying to stay in the present.  To enjoy the life I have today.  To look to the future with hope that I’ll be around for a long time.  Not too long as heaven sounds great but long enough to make a difference in this world.  And I’m not done doing that yet!

Friends – some of you may be in the thick of it right now. You may be where I was 2 years ago – scared, overwhelmed, fearful, and unsure of the future.  I want to encourage you that this will not be your forever.  This season you are in is temporary.  It may alter the person you are today but the hope is that it changes you for the better.  That in time, you can look back (as I did above) and see the areas where you grew.  The areas that you may not have grown in had you not gone through the hardest time of your life.  I’m hopeful this will change you for the better. That before you know it, you’ll be sharing all you learned with others who need the hope that you carry.  The joy that you exude.  The wisdom you gained.  You will get through this.   

Fighting for Freedom

Fighting for Freedom

The best way to describe this past year of life after chemotherapy is fragile. I feel a new level of vulnerability that is uncomfortable. I am increasingly sensitive to my surroundings.  In some ways, I feel exposed and I don’t like it.  As I try to face these emotions head on, I question whether I’m on the right track.  This path feels hard.  It’s an uphill battle.  Part of me wants to revert back to the path I know that is paved.  But I feel God challenging me to lean into the hard.  Part of the hard is sharing what I’m up against.  So here goes…

In previous blog posts, I’ve briefly touched on my recovery and struggle with food after chemotherapy.  To quickly recap, a main side effect of my chemotherapy drug was a loss of appetite.  When I was told that in advance, I questioned what that would actually be like since I have always enjoyed food.  I’m that girl that wakes up hungry, ready for breakfast before I get out of bed.  And let me tell you – I experienced a loss of appetite.  What came with that was nausea, a lack of desire to eat, no interest in cooking, and an indifference to food.  There were days when all I ate was 2 pieces of toast.  Thankfully, God sustained me and in total, I only lost about 10 pounds from chemotherapy.  When people would compliment me on how good I looked, I would joke “it’s the chemo diet”.  Little did I know how true that statement would be. 

This past year, I’ve reintroduced food to my life and I remembered what it was like to taste and have an appetite.  As I began to gain back the weight, I started to focus on the scale and worry that I would gain too much back.  I began restricting foods and then went through seasons of binging because of those restrictions.  At the end of 2020, I decided I wanted to meet with a dietitian to see what I could do to lessen the cravings, binge eating, and ultimately, deal with the shame I was feeling on a consistent basis.  I’ve been learning a lot and felt it was worth sharing because I think this is relatable to others.  This goes beyond me being a cancer patient.  My relationship with food, body image and exercise goes back 20+ years – it just so happens this major life event brought it all to the surface.  Below are some of the things that I’m facing head on:

1. I find myself measuring my self-worth based on my weight.  As the scale goes up, my self-worth plummets.  I’m challenging myself to look at all the things that don’t show up on the scale.  Things like extending compassion to others, being selfless, working hard, being kind, forgiving quickly, and more.  I’d rather be known for those traits, not by being the girl who achieved her ideal BMI.

2. My stomach has ALWAYS been something I use to measure if I need to go on a diet or not.  As my body is recovering, my stomach has become increasingly shameful as it’s where I carry more weight.  I would obsess about it which would result in a lot of negative thoughts towards myself.  As I reflected on this further, I realized my stomach is also the place where my cancer primarily resided.  This instantly made it more shameful in my eyes.  As I spent time praying and processing, God showed me something different.  Rather than my stomach being a place of shame, I need to remember my stomach is the thing that told me something was wrong.  It was the thing that led me to go to the doctor.  It was also the part of my body that experienced the most pain and healing during chemo.  And it’s still healing.  But it’s also strong.  It’s resilient.  It protects my internal organs.  It is a vital part of my body and serves a unique purpose.  

3. I’m learning how to have a healthier relationship with food.  I have done so many diets over the years and I find myself rating every food as good or bad.  I have incorporated rules over the years and have moved away from having a balanced meal to give my body the nutrients it needs.  I’ve been told certain foods cause cancer and what foods to avoid.  This is a slippery slope as I can internalize that and feel like I caused the cancer.  This is not a helpful thought and one I’m working through!

4. I’ve always been one to enjoy exercise but it’s become legalistic.  I find myself exercising so I can eat and not because I want to exercise.  If I go a day without working out, I get disappointed in myself or feel like I’m falling off plan. I’m learning to listen to my body and make sure I’m doing things that fill me up.  Going for walk at sunset is so much more enjoyable that being on the treadmill tracking the calories I’ve burned.  Missing a workout because I have a bad headache should not result in shame – it’s actually wise to not push my body when it’s in pain and let it rest so I can have a better day tomorrow.  This will take some time but I am confident I’ll find the balance in pursuing movement that brings me joy!

As I pour my heart out, there is a fear that some of you may be reading this thinking how self-absorbed I am or how I need to use another word besides shame.  But the truth of it is that I’m a tough critic when it comes to my mental health and I’m not willing to settle for continuing to live a life of negative thoughts, unrealistic expectations, and endless rules.  As I prayed about my word for 2021, God gave me the word FREEDOM.  And I truly believe part of my journey is finding freedom from what I just shared.  Freedom to enjoy food, learn moderation, listen to my body, do things that lead to joy, remove feelings of shame, and extend compassion to myself.  So you better believe I’m going to lean into the hard because freedom is on the other side. 

Friends – some of you may be living a life of destructive internal dialogue, setting yourself up for failure.  Some of you have formed habits over the years that are taking you away from who you are created to be.  Some of you are choosing the path you’ve always taken expecting different results that may never come.  I’m here to tell you that you deserve better. That includes loving yourself and extending grace like you would to any other person.  It means leaning into the hard and not giving up. It means fighting for freedom because the opposite of freedom is imprisonment.  If you need a listening ear or someone to share the hard with, please reach out to me.  It’s so important to have others who can cheer you on and lift you up on the days when it feels hopeless.  I have those people in my life and I’d love to be that for you!  So reach out – you’re worth it.

Waiting For The Next Trauma

Waiting For The Next Trauma

In the last 4 years, I have experienced infertility, loss, cancer, moving out of state, anxiety, and depression. When I think back, I realize my childhood didn’t prepare me for all this heartache.  I grew up in a loving, safe, stable home.  It wasn’t until my early twenties that I had deep loss from my childhood friendships coming to an end. Years later, I lost my dad to cancer.  In the past 4 years, Brandon and I have dealt with a failed IVF cycle, moving to Michigan for Brandon’s job and battling long winters, finding out I had cancer, completing chemotherapy, grieving my grandma’s passing, and for fun, let’s sprinkle in feelings of anxiety and depression.  I’m not sharing all of this to invite you to my pity party.  I’m sharing this to give you context as to the lens in which I’m viewing life these days. 

2020 has been hard on all of us. With the global pandemic that’s gone on longer than most of us thought, the racial tension and divide in our country, the election, and countless other life events, it’s been a challenge.  I’ve definitely had my days of venting to friends, questioning when life will feel “normal” again, and contemplating how to navigate hard conversations.  However, this doesn’t feel personal to me.  This is something we’re all faced with, whether we like it or not.  We may handle it differently but we are all impacted in some way. 

The life events I listed at the beginning of this are unique to me.  They feel personal because they are. They feel isolating in some ways.  And they were hard.  Really hard.  And they have lingering effects.  I still fight anxious moments and go to counseling to work through my destructive thought patterns.  I’m still healing from chemotherapy last year.  I’m seeing a dietitian because I’m learning my relationship with food after chemo has negative components to it that I’ve never dealt with before.  But all of these challenges feel manageable.  None of them derail me the way cancer did.  I don’t feel a dark cloud over me like I did last year.  Praise God!

So this year, I’ve caught myself on many occasions looking for the hard. Anticipating the next hardship to come my way.  Part of this is how I’m wired as I’m a planner, cautious, and think about worst case scenarios often.  However, I’m having a difficult time finding the next traumatic event in my life.  In fact, I’ve had victories this year.  After 10 years of being married and paying off debt, Brandon and I bought our very first home – in San Diego!  This has been a long time coming and it felt unattainable at times.  But God blessed us with a beautiful home.  And you know what one of my first thoughts was in moving into the home?  I’m warning you – it’s dark! I thought “I wonder if I’ll get cancer in this home too?  I wonder if this will be the home I die in?” Yep – this is me.  Glass half empty girl right here!  Don’t worry – I didn’t let those thoughts last for long. 

I realized that there has been a cyclical pattern in my life over the past 4 years that include hardship every 6-12 months.  This year, I’ve been holding my breath waiting for my next battle.  And when it didn’t come, I looked at something amazing (buying a home) as a potential future tragedy.  I’ve since moved past this thinking pattern but I had to recognize that’s what I was doing.  I had to give myself the freedom and grace to stay present and enjoy the gifts in front of me.  The blessing of having a home.  A place where many memories will be made.  Lord willing, a place where we’ll bring our first child home to one day!

Friends – some of you are half glass empty people like me.  You look for the worst possible scenario and you play it out in your head.  You anticipate something bad will happen and when it does, it further confirms you were right and that life will always be hard.  I want to challenge you to look for the good.  Look for the blessings.  Look for the things that bring you joy.  It’s okay for life to have seasons where things feel easier than previous times in your life.  You are deserving of enjoying the life you’ve been given.  Don’t waste it searching for the bad.  And don’t forget that the hard seasons shaped you into the person you are now.  They had a purpose too.  They may not be something you want to repeat but they are part of your story.  So embrace the good.  Soak up the days that come with ease.  And know there are more good days ahead!

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

So the Youngs are officially moving again.  Nowhere far like Michigan.  Just Escondido.  But this move is different for so many reasons.  Before I share WHY it’s different, I must say that I secretly (and now publicly) like moving.  I enjoy getting to use my gift of administration and organization in my personal life.  I make check lists, create spreadsheets, plan out our schedule and determine what we will do each day leading up to the move.  I also love the idea of purging and deep cleaning.  I don’t do it often so when we are on the precipice of moving, it gives me motivation to simplify our life and donate a lot.  In 10.5 years of marriage, we’ve moved 11 times.  This is where you ask “what’s wrong with you”? And I answer “where do I begin”.  Why we have moved often isn’t the point of this story.  What I want to share is WHY this move is different.

SACRIFICE

The first few years of our marriage, we made poor decisions with our finances.  We spent more than we made at times and we had previous commitments that we needed to pay off (furniture, student loans, etc.).  In time, we decided to make a change and pay off all our debt.  But that choice came with sacrifice.  It meant not eating out as often as we’d like, traveling with a limited budget, living in a 1-bedroom apartment, and visiting Target less. Sigh!  About 1.5 years ago, we officially became debt free! We’ve spent the last year living in a 600 square foot apartment, both working from home, and being sequestered to our house thanks to COVID.  It’s been a sacrifice at times so this move feels like a serious upgrade.  And it is!

CHANGE

This apartment has a lot of bittersweet memories for me.  This was the apartment that we moved into after living in Michigan for 2 years.  This was the apartment that was greeted with friends and family from day 1.  But this apartment is also where I became very sick and fought for my life while undergoing chemotherapy.  This is the apartment where I experienced anxiety like never before, fatigue that I never want to feel again, and endless tears shed from grief, pain and worry.  On the other hand, this apartment is the same place where I found out I was in remission.  It’s the same apartment that I got 2 more “all clear” scans from the doctor. It’s the apartment I found out my grandma had died.  But it’s the apartment where I found out my sister had a healthy baby girl a few weeks ago.  All this to say, this apartment has been filled with life experience – more than I would have liked at times.  But all this life change has made me stronger.  So for that, I’m thankful.    

PROMISE

Earlier this year, I was praying and asking God to replace any negative thoughts with His promises and truths for me.  These truths ranged from “you are healed” to “give yourself grace”.  One recurring thing that God told me was “you are going to own a home this year”.  Every time God shared this with me, I wrote it down but questioned it.  Mainly because we live in San Diego and houses are crazy expensive.  We had been saving for a home since we moved back but were nowhere near that becoming a reality.  As I kept praying about it and asking God for direction, he told me “September”.  And here we are, about ready to move into our first home that we purchased by September.  The math doesn’t quite add up but God provided.  The home feels beyond what we could have dreamed in ways but God blessed us.  I mean – it has a pool…and a tree that we think will either produce limes or oranges (the verdict is still out).  All this to say, God has been so gracious in not just gifting us this house but also giving me something to look forward to this year!

Ever since chemo ended in December, I’ve been itching to get out of this apartment because of the constant reminder of what I just went through.  9 months later, I can’t say it’s been the easiest living situation due to our limited space, noisy neighbors, and quarantine.  But we sacrificed knowing something good was around the corner.  This move isn’t just us buying our first home.  This move isn’t about running away from a hard year.  And this move isn’t about the pool (entirely).  This move is about seeing God fulfill a promise He made to me.  This move is about years of sacrifice. This move is about a new chapter. 

As I think about what I want in our home, I have hope that it will be the home we raise our future child.  It will be a home filled with family and friends stopping by unannounced.  It will be a home filled with prayer, laughter, tears, and new memories.  It will be a home where Brandon and I become DIYers.  It will be a home where I get a dozen more “all clear” results.  It will be the home we fall more in love with each other.   

Friends – some of you may feel like your dreams of the future are so out of reach.  And they may be.  But don’t lose hope.  Focus on taking one step forward.  Take steps that will move you closer to your dreams.  To the future you desire.  You may take some detours that feel like a delay but sometimes, those trips are necessary.  When you can, take time to look back and see how far you’ve come.  Celebrate the little things.  All those little things add up and before you know it, you are one step closer to a dream becoming a reality.  Don’t waver.  Remain steady.  And when you can’t, I find trusting God who is unwavering moves me in the right direction.  I encourage you to give Him a chance.  I’m so glad I did.  He has been so faithful to me!

A Cancer Survivor’s Reality

A Cancer Survivor’s Reality

I’m a cancer survivor.  But what exactly is a survivor?  What makes one a survivor? A survivor is defined by:

A person who copes well with difficulties in their life.

A person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.

The thought of being a survivor makes me feel all sorts of emotions.  Thankful to be a survivor.  Saddened by my loved ones who don’t fall into the category of “survivor”.  Unsettled by the thought I had cancer in the first place.  Heavyhearted for other cancer survivors who have it way worse than me.  Although my cancer was stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Follicular Lymphoma, my treatment was only 6 months and I was in remission after 2 months.  And for that, I am grateful.  According to the definition above, that makes me a survivor and gives me a small amount of credibility to speak on behalf of cancer survivors.  Every person’s journey is different so what I share is specific to me.  However, I have found a number of struggles I’ve experienced to be common in the cancer world.

With that said, I felt a responsibility to share a snapshot of what life is like after treatments.  After the cancer is gone.  After your world has been turned upside.  Because the truth of it is, I’m still recovering from my battle with cancer.  And I’m not sure when I will move from recovery to a new place but until then, this is what I know:

FEELINGS OF BROKENNESS – Last year, my body took a beating with chemotherapy every month for 6 months.  Although my body was strong and was able to push through the pain, the body that remains feels weak.  It feels broken.  It felt like it was beat up.  It doesn’t feel like my “old” body before cancer.  Whether it be struggling through a workout that I used to excel at or feeling confident in my skin, I feel less than.  I recognize this is not truthful.  On the contrary, my body is strong.  My body is healed.  My body is a survivor. My body is a fighter.  But just know there are days when I question that. I’m working on it!

PTSD – Last year was traumatic.  Finding out at age 34 that I had stage 4 cancer was not on my vision board for the year.  In fact, it was on my “things to avoid forever” list.  And yet, I faced it head on (with God), did the treatment, and made it to the other side. Last month, I had a few PTSD moments where I had a flashback to the nausea I felt.  One day, I felt intense fatigue as though I were on day 3 after a chemo treatment.  They didn’t last long but they instantly brought me back to a very dark time in my life.  I don’t know if I will continue to experience them but it definitely shook me for the day.  It also reminded me of how far I’ve come.

UNHEALTHY HABITS – One of the side effects of the chemotherapy I had was “loss of appetite”.  That worked in my favor as I lost those 15 pounds I’d been hoping to lose for a while.  But sadly, I lost them in the worst way possible.  By not eating.  I lost the weight with an unsustainable method.  I did not set out to lose the weight but my reality led me to that.  Now that my appetite has returned, my body has moved to a survival mindset in which it fears deprivation again.  That means it wants to hold onto things.  It doesn’t trust I will feed it again.  It’s taken me months to work on retraining my body and I’m not in the clear yet.  I now weigh the most I ever have in my entire life and I have cancer to thank for it…not the cookie dough I consume late at night.  I avoid taking photos, I look the other way when I walk past my mirror, and I fight negative thoughts.  I know my body is still healing but I’m impatient. I want to feel confident with my body again.  But it went through a lot last year.  And it’s learning to trust me again just as I’ve had to learn to trust God in deeper ways!

SCANXIETY – This term is used in the cancer world and it refers to having feelings of anxiety waiting for the results of your scan.  Every 6 months, I have to get a PET scan to see if there are any signs of cancer in my body.  This one scan has the ability to change the trajectory of my life (again).  It carries weight.  It leaves me feeling vulnerable.  It requires me to wait days before I get the results.  God has been growing me in this area thankfully and I’ve come to the realization that me worrying about the results doesn’t change the results.  When I go in for my scans, I have no control over the outcome.  God does.  So why spend time worrying about the results when I never had the control to begin with? I’m still a work in progress on this one but I’ve made great strides.

PHANTOM PAINS – My cancer primarily resided in my stomach – well, behind my 6-pack abs.  There was a discomfort, a hardness and pain that led me to go to the doctor.  I never poked at my stomach before cancer.  After cancer, I feel it often.  At times, I wonder if it feels harder than normal…I’m wishing it would simply for muscle purposes so I can get back to modeling.  There are times when I feel pain. I still use a heating pad on my stomach on occasion.  I still avoid doing certain exercises as my stomach feels different now.  Heck – it had a large mass growing inside of it.  It takes everything in me to not question every pain.  To wonder if there is something to be concerned about.  To email my doctor and ask when I should feel “back to normal’.  And for the record, he said it takes 6-12 months after chemo for patients to feel more like themselves.  I’m going on month 7 since having chemo and am still dealing with some residual side effects.  What helps me is to remind myself my body is healing.  That my body is strong.  That I will get a scan in 6 months and that there are side effects I can monitor that would trigger a checkup.  But for now,  I’m okay.  My scan was clear in April.  So I’m doing my best to keep moving forward. To take it one day at a time.

Friends –  If you’ve read this far, thank you! This post isn’t meant to ignite joy or celebration. This is meant to educate and bring awareness.  Not every person will experience cancer in their life (thank God).  But we all will know someone who is walking through it.  And I’ve found the more I share, the more compassionate, thoughtful, and mindful people that surround me.  I think it’s easy to assume life has returned to normal for me.  But it hasn’t.  I’m learning what my new normal is – and I don’t love it.  But I’m trying my best to exercise grace towards myself, remain patient, prayerful and hopeful for the future. In the meantime, I encourage you to reach out to a loved one who is a cancer survivor and encourage them to keep fighting the good fight! I’ll leave you with a verse that brings me peace. 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

10 Years Without My Dad

10 Years Without My Dad

10 years.  It’s been 10 years since my dad went to heaven.  10 years of not getting to hug him.  10 years of not hearing his voice.  10 years of wondering what his opinion would be on matters of the heart.  10 years.

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I’ve been thinking about how I wanted to honor him today.  And the best way I know how to do that is to talk about him.  With that said, I’m going to share 10 things I learned with my dad’s help!

HOW TO MAKE OTHERS LAUGH – If there is one thing my dad was known for, it’s being a jokester. He had the natural ability to make fun of someone and they loved him even more because of it.  He was the ultimate prankster, finding out other people’s kryptonite and doing everything in his power to lovingly irritate them.  He knew I hated the sound of styrofoam and placed a block of it in my car under my emergency break. I was forced to wiggle it out while making the sound I hate the most.  What a gem!

HOW TO BE RESPONSIBLE – My dad was a great teacher. He didn’t try to do it all himself but instead, made it a learning experience for me.  He used to make me call the pizza delivery guy and order food.  He sat with me while we looked for jobs in the newspaper (it’s that printed thing people used to read), he showed me how to wash my car with a special shammy, he taught me how to drive with no hands using my knee (shhhhhh), and how to make a s’more while camping (clearly the most important of them all).

HOW TO MAKE MEMORIES – He was an adventurous guy.  He loved camping at the beach, riding dune buggies in the dessert, going for long rides on his motorcycle, and more!  He was always up for making new memories with those he loved.  I have so many fond memories of family trips to Disneyland, San Elijo State Beach, the Silver Strand and more.

HOW TO SERVE OTHERS – My dad’s way of showing his love was by his acts of service.  He would wash my car when I was busy studying inside, go out of his way to help a neighbor who needed to finish a home project, or offer his trailer for someone in need of moving furniture. You name it – he was there.

HOW TO WORK HARD – My dad typically worked 2-3 jobs at one time for most of his life. If he wasn’t selling ice cream at Dreyer’s, he was driving people around town in a fancy limo or working at Ralphs.  He got up early, stayed late, worked his way up the corporate ladder without a college degree, and was well respected by others.

HOW TO BE PERSISTENT – From the day he met my mom, he was persistent in pursuing her…especially since he was 8 years younger and they met when he was 19.  Say what! He was the type who knew what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to go after it. Clearly this worked in his favor because my mom’s a catch.

HOW TO LAUGH AT YOURSELF – One of the reasons he was so funny was that he was willing to laugh at himself.  He never took life too seriously and always found a self-deprecating way to make others feel more comfortable around him.  I loved the times when he wasn’t able to finish telling a story because he couldn’t stop laughing.  And he was a silent laugher so his nose would scrunch up and he’d barely get a word out.  So we’d all just wait impatiently for him to calm down long enough to finish the story.

HOW TO BE RESOURCEFUL – My dad loved to maximize every space in his garage.  He used every nook and cranny to hang yard tools, skis, helmets, beach chairs and more.  He made our dog a Halloween costume by spray painting a white t-shirt with black spots so our golden retriever was dressed up as a Dalmatian (poor Jakers). He loved taking the everyday item and making it better!

HOW TO FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE – This lesson has felt more personal to me this past year than ever before. My dad was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  When he was given a short time to live, he chose to continue treatment to prolong his life.  He fought with grace and strength.  I only experienced a glimpse of the pain he must have felt doing chemo and it makes me respect him even more now.  His ability to fight and remain hopeful paid off as he was able to attend my wedding and give me away.  He passed away 10 days later…on Mother’s day.  Feels full circle this weekend.

HOW TO LOVE – This one seems obvious at this point but it’s oh so important.  He showed my what it looks like to love unconditionally.  To fight for the ones you care for, to extend forgiveness, to be a consistent friend, to be selfless and to share your gifts with others.  I will go even further to say everyone who knew my dad loved him, which just shows how special he was and how freely he loved others.

Friends – I recognize some of you don’t share my experience.  Some of you can’t say 10 things you even like about your dad.  Some of you may have never met your biological dad.  Maybe you have been deeply hurt by your dad.   Some of you haven’t spoken to your dad in years.  I can’t speak to the hurt you’ve experienced but I can say I’m sorry for your pain.  For those of you who do have a present dad in your life, I encourage you to take a mental note of the things your dad does that irritates you.  And for a moment, think about life without your dad.  You may get annoyed at the way he coughs after he eats dairy or the fact that he never closes the closet doors.  But there will come a day when he’s not around anymore and you will miss those things…because they remind you of him.  I would LOVE to see my dad’s garage right now and see what he chose to hoard rather than throw away.  I would love to look in the fridge and see that he opened a new gallon of milk without finishing the last of the other gallon.

Regardless if you have a dad in your life right now, just know you have a Heavenly Father who loves you so much.  My list of things I love about Him would far surpass 10 things.  If you ever want to know more about that Father, I’d love to share!  And today, I’m going to open a new gallon of milk without finishing the old one. Cheers to you dad.

Grieving My 2020 Plans

Grieving My 2020 Plans

2019 was not my year.  Between getting cancer, undergoing chemotherapy for 6 months, and losing my grandma, I was ready to say goodbye and never look back. 2020 was supposed to be our year.  It was going to be the year we traveled more.  It was going to be the year we finally got to enjoy spending time with our friends since I wasn’t sick or fatigued from chemo.  It was going to be the year I returned to working in the office full time and volunteering in ministry.  It’s April and all of these plans were put to a halt last month when quarantine went into effect.  And at this point, it’s unclear when life will “return to normal”.  It probably never will to some extent.  We will find our new normal.

This weekend, I was reflecting on the things I’m not able to do right now and I found myself having a pity party.  I had high hopes for this year.  I wanted normalcy.  I craved returning to a life I once had before cancer.  As I learned with cancer, I will never be the same.  And that’s not a bad thing. But it changed me.  And I assume this season of quarantine and fear of getting COVID-19 will shape many of us in new and different ways.  Below are the things I feel I’m giving up in 2020 that I so deeply desired as we entered a new decade:

VACATION – Last year, Brandon and I planned to celebrate being debt free with a cruise. And then I got diagnosed with cancer…so that got put on hold.  After finishing treatment and being in remission, we decided we wanted to celebrate that.  And to top it off, we are coming up on 10 years of marriage.  We decided to go big and celebrate all 3 (debt free, remission and 10 year anniversary) with a cruise to the Bahamas this month.  Well, as you can guess, that is not happening.  And to top if off, we didn’t get a “true” Honeymoon as we cancelled our trip to Cabo because my dad was dying of cancer.  So this cruise meant more to me than a vacation. It meant a redo of our honeymoon we didn’t get to take.  And yet again, it feels as though this trip is being taken from me and that it’s out of my control.

FAMILY – We found out in December that my sister was pregnant and is due this July.  This was a great surprise after the year we had.  I’ve been dreaming about the type of baby shower to host for my sister.  I’ve longed to see my sister carry a baby and walk with her as she prepares for motherhood.  And yet, these things can’t happen due to the quarantine. And I’m sad about it.  We’re making it work the best way we can with zoom family nights but it’s just not the same.

SERVING – One of the things I missed most when we lived in Michigan was the events our church in San Diego had on a regular basis that served our community. Right now, our church is assembling N95 masks for the Office of Emergency Services.  300,000 masks to be exact!  And I’d give anything to help in any way I can. But I can’t.  Because I’m considered a person whose immune system is compromised.  Apparently, chemo does that to a girl! So that means I can’t risk my health to be exposed.  It means I can’t go to the grocery store which equates to Brandon searching in the butter aisle for almond butter. Bless his heart! But back to serving – I miss serving alongside others in person.

Before I go any further, let me preface my pity party above by saying that this COVID-19 pandemic is serious.  I have friends who have been diagnosed with it.  I know people who have lost loved ones to it.  I know medical staff who are literally risking their lives to save others.  So as I write out my thoughts, I recognize that all of this is trivial to some extent.  My desires for the most part will eventually be fulfilled.  I will take that amazing vacation with Brandon and we will celebrate the heck out of that trip – zip lining and all! I will get to meet my future niece. And I will get to physically serve again.  I think the main takeaway is that my plans feel delayed…again.  Last year, I had to put everything on hold to take care of my health and fight cancer.  And I was hoping this year would be filled with routine and normalcy.  Guess the jokes on me, right?  But the difference is I’m not in this alone.  This is not being “done” to me.  This is something we are all experiencing.  In some ways, that brings me comfort – because I don’t feel alone or isolated.  We have a connection to one another because we are all in it together.

So today, I’m taking some time to grieve.  To grieve the 2020 that I wanted and planned for.   I’m choosing to acknowledge that this didn’t look how I wanted it to.  I imagine I’m not alone in this thinking.  For many of you, you are sacrificing in this season.  You are having to delay something.  You are forced to dip into your savings account because you lost your primary income from this pandemic.

As I grieve today, I am also preparing for tomorrow where I’m choosing to look ahead.   I’m making it a point to focus on the things I want to fine tune during this season:

EXERCISE – I’m going to increase my morning/evening walks and stay consistent in my Beachbody workouts.

FINANCES – We are using this time to save more money since we are cooking from home more. I’m also not shopping at Target as frequently.  Don’t worry Target – I’ll be back soon.

COMPETITION – Brandon and I are watching less TV and spending more time playing Monopoly Deal (card game) so we can crush anyone after this quarantine is over. Did I mention we are competitive?

WRITING – I’m spending more time reflecting and getting things down on paper and out of my head. This helps me battle any anxiety I may feel with the unknown.

Friends – I encourage you to take some time to grieve this season.  Acknowledge what you would have been doing during this time that you cannot do. And then, make a list of what you want to get out of this time.  In many ways, life is slower right now and there are less distractions.  Use this time wisely.  Don’t waste it on having a pity party every day or barely surviving.  I’ve heard so many say they want to look back on this time and have positive memories that reflected growth in their life.  On those days when you feel frustrated, take time to seek out the things that are unique to right now that are a blessing. For me, it’s listening to worship music without my headphones on while I work, getting to see Brandon and Arrow in between meetings, not spending money on gas, and learning that See’s Candy has drive-up order capabilities.  Don’t let this quarantine pass you by! 2020 may not look how you thought it would but that doesn’t mean this year is a wash.  Grieve and then find the good in this season.

I’m Still Healing

I’m Still Healing

As much as I’d love to say that cancer is a thing of the past, I can’t.  It’s forever changed me.  Although the only visual reminder of my cancer is the scar from my port, I have physical reminders.  My stomach is still sore from chemo last year.  My immune system is still weak.  My hormones are still off.  I’m still going to counseling multiple times a month.  It’s been almost 4 months since I’ve had chemo (thank you Jesus).  As time passes, it’s easy for me to forget that I’m still healing.  I yearn to operate at 100%.  I want to be functioning like the Courtney of 2018.

So much of this journey reminds me of grieving the loss of a loved one.  After a tragic loss, you are inundated with people reaching out, checking in on you, and asking how you are doing.  As time passes, the questions lessen and people “move forward” with life.  I remember I was in a fog after my dad passed for a long time and was baffled that others were moving on.  But I had to remind myself it wasn’t their loss.  It was mine.  It was going to take me longer to heal.  And my journey of healing would look different than others.

I find myself in this similar place again.  It’s been almost 3 months since I returned to work full time.  The calls and text messages have decreased.  People are moving past me quickly as life has continued for them (as it should).  I’m not saying any of this because I’m feeling neglected.  I’m simply demonstrating how grief/healing can have overlapping experiences.  Sometimes, I forget what I went through last year.  It is still difficult to grasp all that life threw at me.  And yet, I’m still alive.  I made it to the other side.  But I’m still healing.

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The past 2-3 weeks, I’ve been experiencing some discomfort in my stomach and back.  I’ve had night sweats.  Both of these things are cause for concern as they are symptoms of lymphoma.  I finally reached out to some of my friends who have been my support over the past year and asked for prayer.  I knew I was downward spiraling in my thinking.  I was already asking myself “what if the cancer returns”? I was reluctant to reach out to my doctor because it would make this more real.

I’d love to tell you it’s nothing.  But I’m not sure yet.  My doctor suggested I get blood work done and a PET Scan.  That will help us understand if there is any metabolic activity (signs of cancer). If I’m being honest, I’d rather be frolicking in a field somewhere (which I technically shouldn’t do either because of the coronavirus lock down in California).  Anyway – as I processed all my emotions over the weekend, I was reminded of a few things that I’m still working through and healing from:

SHAME – I can’t speak for all cancer patients but I have read a few studies that say cancer patients deal with shame. I know this has been the case for me.  I have struggled with the thought that I caused this. I brought this cancer upon myself.  As I reached out to my doctor, I felt shame as though I did something wrong.  As if I didn’t heal properly.  I know this sounds ridiculous – it does as I type this.  But sadly, it’s a real thought I have.  And by thought, I mean lie! My encouragement is for those of you who have strong opinions about what causes cancer (food, stress, spiritual bondage), be mindful of how you communicate that to someone with cancer.  It can be very hurtful and reinforce a very real thought pattern.  At the end of the day, I’m responsible for fighting off the thoughts of shame so I’m not putting the blame on others.  But please be aware that some cancer patients do feel shame.

WORST CASE – I wish my mind didn’t go to worst case scenario but it does. When I feel pain, my first thought is “the cancer might be back”.  I’m retraining my thoughts and responding with “this is part of my healing journey – I’m still healing”.  That thought extends grace to the discomfort I feel.  It doesn’t discredit my pain.  It acknowledges it. But it also doesn’t give that pain power over my life.  It doesn’t cause me to believe something bad is going to happen. Just because I experience pain doesn’t mean the cancer is back.

WEAKNESS – I’ve always identified myself as being a person who doesn’t tolerate pain well. I get worked up and can overreact to pain.  Over time, I’ve allowed myself to believe that I’m a wuss.  That I’m weak.  In moments like this where I feel pain and discomfort, my internal dialogue says “Courtney – suck it up.  Get over yourself.  Stop being such a wuss.” And then I stop and remind myself what I overcame last year (with God).  From needles to chemotherapy, I faced each fear.  And I’m still here to write about it.

FRIENDS – Some of you need to change how you see yourself and what you say to yourself.  And more importantly, to stop listening to what the devil says to you.  If you have a negative thought about yourself, that is not from God.  That is from the devil.  And it has no place in your thought life.  I encourage you to be mindful this week as you listen to your internal thoughts.  Any time there is a negative thought, replace it with a positive thought.  For those of you who are visual learners, write down the negative thoughts.  In another column, write the opposite of that.  For example, I may write “weak and worrisome” on the left side and “strong and courageous” on the right side.  This doesn’t mean you necessarily believe each positive thought as that can take time.  But you need to stop believing the negative thoughts because that’s not who you are.  You are deserving of more.  You are made for more.  Start living as if you are defined by the positive list! It’s powerful when you realize you are those things – worthy, fearless, capable, trustworthy, intelligent, thoughtful and so much more! The verse below is a great reminder of what we should focus our thoughts on:

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How Cancer Prepared Me For The Coronavirus

How Cancer Prepared Me For The Coronavirus

Panic.  Fear. Survival mentality.  All of these words describe what the past 5 days have felt like with the ever growing and rapidly spreading coronavirus.  I’ve had many conversations, meetings, and emails discussing the potential implications for our church, community, workforce and more.  This virus is not just spreading physically but it’s effecting our finances.  It’s creating unease, requiring extra precautions to keep it from spreading, and changes how we approach life.  In my interactions with friends, feelings of anxiety have been a constant emotion.  I’ve had to check myself because this is something that should cause me to fear based on my past.  When things are out of my control, when my physical body is at risk, and when life feels unsafe, my anxious thoughts creep in.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had moments of feeling unsettled.  But I’m a different person these days because cancer entered my life last year in a very personal and real way.  And I’m beginning to think my season of cancer prepared me for the coronavirus.

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Below are the similarities of having cancer and the effects of the coronavirus that I’ve identified:

  1. Fear/Anxiety
  2. Quarantine
  3. Survival
  4. Out of Control
  5. Death

FEAR/ANXIETY – Cancer brought on a new level of anxiety I’d never experienced before.  Whether it was the chemo, the meds, or just my thoughts, I lived in fear.  Any pain or potential symptom made me question if I was healthy or not.  I wondered if my body was getting sick or if I was getting worse.  The coronavirus is bringing fear and anxiety to the everyday person.  It’s causing us to question every handshake, it requires us to be 6 ft away from others for fear of getting the virus, and it’s effecting people’s financial stability.  These are scary times for many.

QUARANTINE – During my chemo treatments, I spent 1-2 weeks a month at home.  Whether it was from sickness, fatigue, or anxiety, I was sequestered to my 630 sq. ft. apartment.  There were times when I didn’t leave my house for 4-5 days (which is not like me).  I couldn’t muster the energy to grocery shop and had to avoid social settings due to the risk of me getting sick.  The coronavirus is currently requiring those over the age of 65 to be in quarantine for their safety.  And I can only imagine this will expand as the virus spreads.

SURVIVAL – Most of last year felt like I was living in a state of survival.  As I’ve finished treatment and am recovering from last year, I’ve found myself stuck in survival mode when it comes to food.  I’ve been hoarding food and eating more than I need to because I had no appetite last year and food didn’t taste good.  I’ve been hoarding for fear that it will be taken from me again.  And this has required me to buy pants the next size up.  Sigh!  The coronavirus is causing people to live in a mentality of survival as well. Toilet paper has been sold out across the nation and grocery stores can’t keep the shelves stocked as everyone is fearing future quarantine restrictions.  There is a difference between being prepared with the necessary items and buying all the things in fear that you may need something 3 months from now.  Trust me – I get it.  I’m not judging.  But this is what our world looks like right now.

OUT OF CONTROLCancer was the epitome of me living a life that was out of my control.  I couldn’t control how I felt, how much energy I had, how I felt emotionally, or how sick I would get from treatment.  For a person who likes to be in control, I felt helpless.  And this only caused feelings of anxiety to spike because life felt uncertain, unpredictable, and scary.  The coronavirus is causing people to feel as though they are not in control.  Schools are shutting down and restaurants are limiting their serving capacity.   It’s hard when life feels out of control to stay calm.  To trust the process.  To see that we will get past this.

DEATHCancer forced me to face my mortality. It reminded me that my days are numbered and I’m not guaranteed another day.  It challenged me to rethink my future plans, to cancel all trips due to treatment, and to literally pause life.  Death was something I had to face head on – because a possible end result from my cancer diagnosis could have resulted in death.  Thankfully, it did not.  The coronavirus has resulted in over 6,000 deaths globally.  This is scary.  It affects you, your loved ones, and your community.  This virus is causing some to face the fear of death and worry about the possibility of a cough that may turn into the coronavirus.

As I reflect on the similarities, I want to clarify a few things.  I’m not trying to heighten your concerns to think the coronavirus is a form of cancer.  I’m also not trying to downplay the fear and pain this is causing many people.  The purpose for me comparing the two is simply to say that I survived cancer and believe it has helped me process all that is going on with the coronavirus.  It’s helped me to process everything I listed above with some familiarity.  It’s allowed me to refer back to some life lessons I learned last year.  I’m not out of the woods just yet but I am on the outside perimeter of the woods these days. And I’m thankful.  I’m thankful for a God who cleared a path for me, guided me, and comforted me.

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Friends – Some of you are living in fear right now with the coronavirus implications.  I can’t promise you it won’t be scary or that it won’t impact you in more ways than one.   But I can promise you that you are not alone.  I can say with confidence that you will make it through this trying time.  I would even dare to say you will become stronger from this.  You will look at things differently.  You won’t get as frazzled the next time a pandemic arises because you will have experience in getting through this one.

So much of this is out of our control.  I encourage you to find the things within your control and make those a priority.  For me, it means going for walks outside, meal prepping, getting up at the same time every day, kissing my husband before I leave the house, and snuggling with my sweet pup. Those things are within my control.  And the more I find consistency in those things, the less I stress about the constant change in restrictions, rules and guidelines.  All I can do is wash my hands, make smart choices, and pray.  My encouragement to you is to let go of the reigns a little, be consistent in your priorities, wash your hands, and give the rest to God.  He cares so deeply for you and doesn’t want you to live in fear.  He’s given you a spirit of power, love and self control!

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When Your Worst Case Scenario Happens

When Your Worst Case Scenario Happens

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a planner.  I love organization, excel spreadsheets, rundowns and order.  I love knowing the big picture and coming up with a plan to accomplish it.  In other words, I like to be in the know.  I even anticipate potential setbacks and have contingency plans for those.  When someone brings forth a new idea, I instinctively poke holes at it and think of the risks involved.  Some call it negative – I like to think of it as a strength when used appropriately.  But like any strength, there is a weakness.  And that weakness is that I tend to be a “worst case scenario” thinker in most areas of my life.  And sometimes, that worst case scenario becomes a reality in my mind even when it doesn’t end up playing out that way.

Enneagram types are the latest topic of conversation.  In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a personality type assessment that helps you better understand yourself but also others.  There are 9 personality types and I so happen to be a 6.  According to a recent study, type 6’s are the most likely to succeed in life.  Okay, that’s not true.  However, Type 6’s are engaging, responsible, anxious and suspicious. If you read up on 6’s, you will find that they are the most anxious type.  They think worst case scenario. They like security and safety and will become stressed if life feels unstable.

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If I were to sum up my biggest fear, it would be my health.  The thought of not being in control of my health is scary.  My body responding in a way where I feel out of control is crippling.  I like to be in control in general but when it comes to my health, I feel helpless when I can’t fix it.  The funny thing is that I somehow think I’m in control of my life.  I have to remind myself, “Courtney – you are not in control.  God is in control”. At the end of the day, that thought is much more comforting.  The God of the universe, who created me, is in control.  He knows me.  He will never leave my side.  And yet, I default to thinking I’m alone and in control.  Ugh!

Last year, my worst case scenario came true.  I was diagnosed with cancer.  At age 34.  Stage 4 cancer.  Non-Hodgkin’s Follicular Lymphoma. 

We felt led to pursue chemotherapy as my form of treatment.  The chemo caused fatigue, nausea, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, and more.  But God also used it to bring healing to my body.  But those 6 months of treatment required me to live out my worst case scenario.  It caused me to face sickness, needles, weakness, blood work, scans, depression, and feelings of hopelessness.  In case you didn’t know, I’m a complete wuss.  Whenever I would get a shot or my blood drawn as a kid, I would walk around the rest of the day holding my arm up as if it were in a sling.  But there was no sling.  Just me babying the poke I received earlier that day. I share that to give you a glimpse at how terribly I manage pain.  I mentally think I will be the 1% who gets that rare side effect from a procedure.  I’m the girl who wears a band aid far longer than needed to ensure the wound has healed.  And yet, I’m also the girl who got cancer, did chemotherapy, and beat it…with God’s grace, strength and healing hand.

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As I reflect on living my worst case scenario last year, I felt it was worth sharing the benefits:

  1. PERSPECTIVE – I have a different view of life now. I went through a dark time that was temporary and I’m on the other side now.  I have more compassion for those with chronic illnesses, cancer diagnosis’s, and more.
  2. CONFIDENCE – I have more confidence in God and myself to handle tough stuff. I see how faithful God was to surround me with community, counseling, prayer, and His provision.  He carried me through the toughest season of my life.
  3. PEACE – When you experience your worst case scenario and survive it, it gives you a new outlook on stress and how you want to exert your energy. I find myself more peaceful in areas that used to cause me angst.
  4. FREEDOM – My need to be in control is still a fight for me at times but I’m learning to let go. To let go of the things I don’t need to own.  To release the things that were never within my control in the first place.  And to trust the one who is in control.
  5. GRACE – I have high expectations and that includes how hard I am towards myself. I’ve learned to close my laptop even when email responses are waiting, to be okay with having a lazy afternoon on a Sunday, and to delay items on my to do list.

Friends – some of you are constantly planning for something bad to happen.  And the devil has twisted your mind to think that it’s a good thing as you will be ready when that bad thing happens.  But guess what – planning for the worst case won’t change IF it’s going to happen.  And IF it does happen, God is the one who will get you through it.  He will provide you with the people, resources, and grace if you put your trust in Him.

Some of you are living your worst case scenario right now.  You may be in the middle of a divorce, you may have just lost a child, or you may be about to file for bankruptcy.  Whatever your worst case scenario is, I want to encourage you that you are stronger than you know. This will not break you.  This will change you but you will get through it.  Today might feel hopeless but I promise there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I encourage you to reach out to someone if you are doing this alone.  Find someone who has walked the road before you that understands your situation.  Give yourself grace – that could be clearing your calendar, taking a day off from work to process what’s happening, making a counseling appointment, or saying no to someone. Just know there will come a time when you will be on the other side. And let me tell you – the other side is lighter.  It brings a new perspective on life.  It makes you appreciate your relationships, your health, or whatever it is you’ve been fighting for.  So keep fighting.  Don’t give up. You are worth the fight.

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