Five years ago today, I first heard the words: “It’s cancer.” I was standing alone in my bedroom, but I wasn’t alone for long.
Within hours, a few family members and friends came over and joined me in my shock and grief. The next day – my 34th birthday – a larger group of friends gathered for a surprise birthday party full of prayers and tears. And over the coming months, a multitude of supporters came together with love, prayers and service that sustained us. The Lord used these people to demonstrate His daily care for us. I’m positive that I never could have survived cancer without this community.
In fact, I didn’t survive cancer. We survived cancer.
One of the most impactful stories of support during my illness occurred the week after my diagnosis. My husband tried to persuade me to seek a second opinion at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, but the logistical challenges overwhelmed me. I told him, “Maybe if we had a private jet, we could make that work. But I just can’t imagine how I could go to a doctor in another state when I can barely make it to a hair appointment across town.”
Within two hours of that statement, a family friend offered the use of their private plane for our initial appointments at MD Anderson.
That moment is not only an example of the generosity of our community. It was also the moment that I realized God was going to meet each and every one of our needs, just as He had promised. He used an army of friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers to provide tangible, emotional, and spiritual support as we battled for my health and for my life.
Most of you don’t have a private plane that you could loan me. But you gave what you could – a meal, a prayer, a card in the mail, a ride for my kids – and God weaved your thread of support along with thousands of others into a beautiful tapestry that provided for all our needs. I know it’s cliche, but it’s so true: we couldn’t have done it without you.
At the risk of leaving someone out, I want to describe all that was done for us during those months. As I celebrate five years of surviving angiosarcoma, I can’t think of a better way to mark this day than to acknowledge all of you who loved us through my illness.
I hope you’re comfortable, because if this were the Oscars, they’d never get me off the stage. We were well-loved, as you’re about to see. And I hope it will inspire you to love someone who is hurting in a way you might not have thought of before.
Our family and friends provided endless support. My husband, parents and in-laws made constant sacrifices to care for me and the kids. Lynette kept my kids often, drove them to school and piano lessons, and took care of countless details I was only vaguely aware of. Becky drove my kids to school and spent hours on the phone with me when I was lonely in Houston. The two of them also did my grocery shopping. Rachel organized a “Scripture shower,” asking others to send me notecards with Scripture and other encouragement. Staci, Anna, Marilyn and other friends called and texted me often to encourage me.
Allyson coordinated several months of meals and decorated our home for Christmas. Jenny cleaned our house regularly. Callie faithfully showed up every Tuesday morning to take Will to preschool. Alison made gingerbread houses with my kids at Christmas. Ginny and Alyse were our go-to babysitters, and an anonymous friend paid Ginny whenever she was at our house. (I know who you are, Anonymous Friend!)
Then I started spending two out of every three weeks in Houston. Penny left a stable job with benefits to take a leap of faith as our nanny. She loved our children well during a painful time for our family. During my first stay in Houston, Sara picked me up at the airport and helped me find housing. On my second stay, I met Greg and Blair, and I’ll never forget the day Blair asked if I would stay with them from then on. We both cried a little as I agreed – I was already starting to think of her as my “Houston Mom.” She treated me like a daughter, housed me and my friends, fed me, listened to me, and even picked me up from the airport in the middle of the night when my flight was delayed.
Jennifer and Catherine – who were each a friend of a friend – took the time to befriend a cancer patient and made me feel like I had friends in Houston. Becca left infant twins at home and drove hours to spend time with me in Houston. Friends flew in when I needed assistance during chemo – Marilyn, Amanda, Jenny, Melissa, Andrea and Tara each spent a week away from their jobs and families to care for me at my worst.
Our church family and my parents’ church family rallied around us with enormous amounts of food. Friends brought us dinner three nights a week for about seven months. Some friends even asked for a copy of my kids’ favorite recipes and prepared a family favorite. A group of Noel’s colleagues had pizza delivered to our home every Tuesday – our kids loved that! Our Providence Academy family provided freezer meals immediately following my diagnosis.
We received donations of cash and airline miles. Friends sent me treasured, thoughtful gifts. Several people made hats, including a pink knitted cap I wore every night. Nicole and Sarah fixed Sarah Kate’s hair on Sunday mornings when my husband dropped her off at Sunday school with a brush and bow in hand. Carol ironed our clothes. Friends visited me at chemo and during blood transfusions. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I remember visits from my mom, sister, mother-in-law, Crystal, Lynette, Evelyn, Laureen, Jamie, Eva and Jan. The “Henley’s Homies” participated in the Race for the Cure in my honor. The Mothers of Providence spent time on their knees praying for me.
My medical team was superb. Dr. Pope and Dr. Emily Hinton made a quick diagnosis that probably saved my life. Dr. Ravi and his staff at MD Anderson gave us hope of a medical cure. Dr. Vadhan and her attentive research nurses cared for me during the clinical trial. Dr. Rosenfeld, his fabulous nurse, Aimee, and the nursing staffs at Highlands Oncology and the infusion center all cared for me back home in Fayetteville. Dr. Hunt successfully removed the tumor after a team of compassionate radiation techs zapped the life out of it. Years later, Dr. Atwood put me back together again with reconstructive surgery.
In the years following treatment, friends continued to provide support. The Cancer Posse is an amazing source of encouragement and friendship. Mary Grace showed up just when I needed her. Carrie gives wise, compassionate counsel as I process the impact of cancer survivorship.
I wish I could list the names of everyone who brought us food, wrote a guestbook message online, commented on Facebook, emailed, texted, called or sent a card. I’ll never even know all those who prayed for me and put my name on church prayer lists.
Each and every one of you are a significant and meaningful part of my story. Together we are five-year survivors!Share