I had a fabulous birthday yesterday. The best part of the whole day, God provided my family with a huge miracle. In November of 2008, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 Larynx cancer. It was very unexpected. At the time my mom had just turned 48. She was healthy and a non-smoker. It started with a sore throat and progressed into a bad cough. I was living in Nashville at the time and noticed a change in the sound of her voice over the phone. We kept telling her to go to the doctors but she thought it was a bad cough that would pass. After a few months of the cough, she finally went to the family physician. He diagnosed her with acid reflux. She took medication that was supposed to help the acid reflux but her throat seemed to get worse. So she finally went to a specialist.
My parents before mom's diagnosis
I will never forget that day or that call. I was working at Mercy Ministries at the time. My coworkers and I had been praying for healing for my mom for the past few months. I left for my lunch break and met Erik to grab a quick sandwich. We were in the Zoes parking lot when my dad called. His voice was trembling, and he was obviously upset. My stomach turned upside down. I knew my mom went to the specialist that morning and deep down in my heart I knew it was something bad even before I received the news. "Your mother has cancer." Talk about a stab at my heart. I got really lightheaded and felt sick to my stomach. Then I started to sob. "What do you mean? What kind of cancer? Is she going to be ok?" I had so many questions and emotions at once. It was a really hard day.
At first they thought my mom's cancer was stage two. Which is bad, but usually treatable. They decided they were going to start treatment within a few weeks. But then she went in for more tests and they realized her cancer was way worse then they initially diagnosed. It was stage four and they had to perform a laryngectomy right away.
Here is the Wikipedia definition of a laryngectomy:
Laryngectomy is the removal of the larynx and separation of the airway from the mouth, nose, andesophagus. The laryngectomee breathes through an opening in the neck, a stoma. It is done in cases of laryngeal cancer. However, many laryngeal cancer cases are now treated only with radiation and chemotherapy or other laser procedures, and laryngectomy is performed when those treatments fail to conserve the larynx.
A laryngectomy is normally used as a last resort but mom's cancer was bad enough that they had to perform the surgery before they even tried radiation and chemotherapy. My mom wanted to make recordings of her voice for all of us before the surgery. But they had to get her in so fast that she didn't have time. I still remember her voice and when I am around her sometimes I just think she is just going to start speaking again. Unfortunately, as of now, she can no longer speak. And to put it bluntly, it sucks! I want to call her and tell her about the baby kicking and I even want to hear her yell at me for not putting my dishes in the dishwasher. But I am thankful the surgery saved her life... and I guess her voice is just a small price to pay to have her still with us.
After mom's surgery she started a very harsh chemotherapy and radiation program. She did the chemo and radiation treatments at the same time. It took a lot out of her but she stayed strong throughout the entire process. She was determined to beat the cancer.
This was taken on the way to the bridal luncheon.
She finished her treatments a few weeks before my wedding. The doctors thought the chemo and radiation worked. The cancerous spots on her throat were gone. She also had one spot on her esophagus that was a point of concern but it seemed to be cleared up. She managed to make it to the big day. I was so glad she was able to share that wonderful weekend with us! And man she was a trooper... you would have never known she had just finished treatments two weeks before!
At the rehearsal dinner
At the reception.
But then just a few weeks after the wedding we received more devastating news. Another horrible phone call. Erik and I were eating dinner at Brick's in Nashville when my sister called. I could barely make out what she was saying. The only thing I heard was "Mom is going to die." Mom's cancer had spread to her lungs in two places. The doctors in Spartanburg told her there wasn't anything else they could do. They gave her 5-12 months to live. They told her they could try alternate methods but they probably wouldn't work and they would make her very very sick and weak. I couldn't hold back my tears. I had to rush right out of the restaurant. I wanted to get in the car at that very minute and drive home to Spartanburg to be with my family. But my dad told me not to drive in my emotional state. So I went home and cried myself to sleep. I was so thankful to have Erik in my life. He really helped me through everything.
Well my mom is stubborn as an ox. She decided to ignore the doctor's advice of living out her last few months and started researching alternative treatments and cancer centers. She kept coming across things for MD Anderson in Houston, TX. My parents decided to try to get a doctor in Houston to see if they had any new treatments they could try out on her.
Mom started making monthly trips to Houston to undergo a new Chemotherapy treatment. She also started taking a pill that was supposed to help stop the cancer from spreading. It was all experimental but that didn't matter because it gave us all hope. And just having that little bit of light in all of the darkness really helps! The doctors there couldn't make any promises but they told her they would try to at least add a few years on to her life.
The new Chemotherapy took a toll on my mom. She lost all of her hair... her eyelashes, her eyebrows. She was down to about 95 pounds at one point. She hadn't been able to eat real food in over a year. Her daily intake was strictly Ensure and milkshakes. It was hard to see her so frail.
Mom when she was under 100 pounds
But she kept fighting and fighting! And when we found out we were expecting... man she was determined to fight and see her first grandchild. After her last round of chemotherapy was complete (just a few months ago) she had another PET scan. Her tumors had shrunk!!! Now this was a MIRACLE. The doctors didn't expect them to actually shrink. They were trying to prevent them from growing and spreading. We never expected them to start going away. It was wonderful to finally receive some good news. The spots on her lungs were still there but they didn't see any active cancer cells. WOO HOO!!
We were still scared. The doctors didn't really know what that meant for my mom. We knew it was a vast improvement and it would prolong her life. But we still didn't think she would ever be clear of the two tumors and were concerned they could still come back.
My parents flew to Houston for a doctor's appointment yesterday. Mom was scared all week long. She would cry and tell me how worried she was and it broke my heart. But I had a good feeling about this checkup. Her hair is growing back. She has a cute little fuzz now and her eyebrows and lashes are growing! She has gained over 20 pounds! And she was able to eat real food all month long. This has been her first solid foods since December of 2008! Not to mention, I told her "it had to be a good checkup with good news if it was on my birthday!" She laughed and decided I was right. The last good news actually came on April Fool's Day! So I think we are going to start scheduling all of her future appointments on holidays. She went in for her scan yesterday afternoon.
Mom's hair is growing back!Her cancer is GONE! Well it is never going to be completely gone but she is in remission!!! My mom is living proof that miracles do happen and that you can never give up. Now that is what I call a great birthday gift!
Psalm 103:1-3 Bless the Lord, Oh my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all His benefits-- Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.