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Friday, December 9, 2016

A Loving God and His Infinite Mercy

In early June, I was driving down the road in Grenada and had an impression that "my health was fleeting” and “be grateful for what I have". Two weeks later I found a lump. 

That impression was the major reason why I wasn’t surprised when the biopsy came back positive for cancer, and it was the beginning of a greater understanding of personal revelation and spiritual promptings. 

A few rounds into chemotherapy I had another impression. A gentle thought was unfold in my mind that when the doctors would go back to find evidence of cancer, that there wouldn’t be any evidence that the tumor had been there. 

I was a little perplexed by this impression. Of course I wanted that, but who am I to have such a miracle? I researched scientific terms for such a thing and set the thought aside. A couple of rounds later, I thought that perhaps I should ask my oncologist about it. 

Come to find out, this little miracle is referred to as “Pathological Complete Response” (pCR). In other words, chemo worked so effectively that no evidence was left when a pathologist looks at tissue microscopically. While I would not quite say it is a frequent in breast cancer outcomes (statistics vary on how often it can occur--up to 50% in some cases), I will say that it is infrequent in my type of breast cancer. 

Even with a complete response, I would need still need the most aggressive chemo, some form of surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy), and radiation. 

But it would be a miracle.

I knew God could perform such miracles, but was I placing my will above His? 

Who am I to receive these kinds of miracles? 

I talked about it a lot with Ryan, but outside of that I only shared it with a few close friends and family when I felt prompted.

At some point during my chemotherapy, I told my mother-in-law, Jennifer, about the impression. Later that day, she sent me a text that said, “the day you were diagnosed with cancer, I offered this as my prayer for you.” With it she had the scripture reference, Alma 15:10 ’And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.’

Reading this scripture helped me see that if I were going to see miracles, I would need to have unwavering faith in my Savior, Jesus Christ.

The weekend before meeting with my surgeon in late October, I was full of fear and doubt. I had had this impression, but why would it happen to me? To this point in my life, I had never felt this kind doubt. Yet in that moment, Satan was working desperately to crush my faith. That was the weekend I asked openly for friends and family to fast and pray on my behalf. I needed to have unwavering faith in my Savior, and I wanted a calm, reassuring presence regardless of the outcome. 

The power of prayer and fasting is real. And miraculous.  

Two days later I went into my surgeon’s office full of hope and optimism, yet with a trace of doubt. I told her my impression, we discussed the possibility of pCR which she said she had definitely seen before. It was not just a figment of my imagination, it could happen. We talked about all of the options and plans for the post-chemo treatment and in that moment, a sense of peace and calm settled over me, overshadowing any doubt that I had felt. I was confident and full of faith looking forward to the end of chemo and a December surgery.

In November, a few days after my last round of chemo, I had an MRI to check the tumor. When the results came back, they were excellent. And, although the tumor was still there, it was significantly smaller. But, it was still there. When my nurse called to tell me the results, she read a hand-written note from my surgeon that said something to the effect of "It's still there, but that's okay because I am extremely pleased with the outcome! This was promising. 

I would be lying however if I didn’t admit that in a small way I was disappointed, but the faith and confidence I had gained through fasting and prayer overshadowed the disappointment. I knew it was only four days into the last round of chemo, and later, when I met with my radiation oncologist, he said that an MRI can only show so much, and a complete response is something that one can’t possibly confirm during and after surgery.

This past Friday I showed up for surgery and went to mammography. They were going to place the radioactive seed, and said they were hoping to do it under ultrasound. Well, the tech looked and looked, and the radiologist looked and looked, and they couldn’t find it. I told the tech there had definitely been something there to which she said incredulously, "I know. I saw the films."

Afterwards, I went to Pre-op. My surgeon came to discuss the procedure. She said that she would start by doing an ultrasound to find the tumor, which is when I mentioned that they had already done one and that they couldn’t find anything. She turned to look me straight in the eye, and said, “they couldn’t find it?” The silent conversation we had at that moment will stay with me forever. She knew.

After surgery was over, my surgeon discussed the procedure with my sister-in-law Erin (standing in for Ryan who was in Georgia) and said that we had clean margins (no cancer at the borders of the tissue removed!) and that if there was cancer, it was as small as the end of her fingernail. 


I honestly thought that would be it, my miracle. No evidence on ultrasound. That was pretty literal to me. 

After surgery I had a few episodes of conversion disorder again where I would pass out, but my amazing nurse (and friend!), Sarah, helped me to retrain my brain to focus elsewhere. 

Other than that, no complications. 

Over the next 48 hours I expected pain, but didn’t have any. Another small miracle. 

Tuesday I got the call. 

Carol, Dr. Tittensor’s nurse said, “you know how you wanted to be cancer free for your 30th birthday? Well, McKenzie pathology came back and there was no residual tumor.” In that moment, I understood, but I did not wanting to jump to to any incorrect conclusions. I started sobbing and fumbled the words, “I’m sorry, can you say that again with different words?” “McKenzie there was no evidence of cancer, you had what we call a Pathological Complete Response. Merry Christmas.”

In the minutes after that phone call, I found myself gazing out our back windows with tears rolling down my face as I squeaked out the words to Ryan “Pathological Complete Response”.  And as I ended that conversation, I was truly overwhelmed and fell to my knees in gratitude for a loving God and His infinite mercy and plan. 

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12: 27 from The Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ.) 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Mom, Why Do You Have Cancer?

A few nights ago in one of those rare moments of calm as I put Adrielle to bed, I asked her, "do you have any questions about my cancer?" She paused for a moment and said, "Yes, how did you get cancer and why do you have cancer?"

I'm not sure how I expected her to answer, but these sweet questions were so much more than I expected.

After pausing for a moment to think about her questions, I told her that those were good questions and started to explain.

How, how did I get cancer ...

I put one hand into an 'O' shape and said that our bodies are made up of cells (something we've discussed previously) and that each cell is an 'O' and that they multiply into other 'O's (holding up the other hand). I told her this process happens every day from before we're born to when we die, and that it usually goes perfectly, but for me, somewhere along the way, one cell snuck past the checkpoints and went from an 'O' to a 'claw" (holding up a claw). Holding up one claw I said that instead of making an 'O', that cell split and made another 'Claw' and that process repeated and that was how I got cancer.

(I was honestly shocked and humbled that I was able to so easily and succinctly describe the how to my six-year-old.)

Then we discussed the why.

I told her I didn't know why and that sometimes sad and bad things happen, but then I told her that what I did know was that through this experience I could be an example and a light to others, and that I was grateful that Heavenly Father trusted me enough with that responsibility.

As those words came to my mind and out of my mouth,  I was humbled with the weight of that realization and buoyed at the same time.

God does not allow us to experience trials without also giving us the strength, tender mercies, and miracles to overcome them, and reasons that we may or may not see.

While I have only scratched the surface of this challenge, I have received countless acts of kindness, hundreds of prayers (and fasts), and more-than-my-fair-share of miracles. They have showered me daily.

How often do you have hundreds of people praying and fasting on your behalf?

How often do you have hundreds of people, all over the world praying and fasting on your behalf?

How often do you have hundreds of people, all over the world (including General Authorities) praying and fasting on your behalf?

How often do you have hundreds of people, all over the world, from a variety of faiths praying and fasting on your behalf?

I have had Mormon, Evangelical, Non-Denominational, Seventh Day, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic, and even atheist friends tell me they're praying for me.

I have had friends (and congregations) near and far fasting for me.

And these prayers and fasts have sustained me.

They have helped me feel God's love.

They have helped me face the diagnosis, surgery, the ICU,  and chemo and its horrible effects.

And I know they will continue to do so.

Heavenly Father loves us and hears our prayers. I know he hears those on my behalf.

Today I went to church. I had made the plan of going to church one last time before the effects of chemo really kicked in and I become too immune-compromised.

As I sat in the very back, I was unaware that my congregation was holding a special fast for me, and as I listened to testimonies and prayers given and heard people mention me by name from the pulpit, I felt an overwhelming love.

Love from friends.

Love from family.

Love of my Heavenly Father.

Even now, as I write, I feel his love.

I clicked over to Facebook when a notification popped up and sure enough, another sustaining miracle.

"Just wanted you to remember that even though you're not physically here in Grenada with us doesn't mean we don't think about you! The St George's Branch relief society wanted you to know that, and that we included you in our fast this Sabbath day! Not everyone was able to make the picture but everyone prays for you!! We love you!!! ❤️❤️ (Go Get 'em!)" 

I know the road ahead is steep, and demanding, and ugly, but I am grateful for the prayers. Please continue to pray as I battle physically and mentally; I will need them.

They will be my strength, tender mercies, and miracles that will help me as I face this trial.

Friday, August 5, 2016

One Month

I saw my family doctor today. It's been a month since she said "cancer" over the phone as I paced on the front walk. 

We hugged. We laughed. We cried. She is so much more to me than just my doctor. She is my advocate. My caretaker. My friend.

We talked a lot about what I need... Anti-anxiety Drugs? Therapy? Help coping? Textbook grieving? Affirmations? Permission? Validation?


Permission to feel. To truly feel.

All of it. 


Validation of all of the feelings. 

All. Of. Them.

The good. The bad. The ugly. 

Validation that it is sad that this is happening to me. 

Hearing her say those words took my breath away a little. Is it? Is it sad? 

Is it okay for me to think that? 

Should I allow others to feel that.

Her saying those words gave me the permission. The validation.  

And as I lie here, I feel so "normal" like maybe I'll wake up from this strange dream...

Like maybe I won't lose my hair.

Or maybe I don't have cancer.

I know that sounds foolish, but I feel good. 

Really good.

But as each day creeps closer to the next treatment I become more and more anxious. More and more worried, fearful, resistant to my fate every other week. 

Thank goodness for small miracles and guardian angels. 

It will be bad.

And ugly. 

But it's okay to feel, and to struggle.

Because the struggle is real. 

People will forget, and move on, and that's okay. 

But here's to the small miracles and guardian angels that have buoyed me to this point, and the miracles and guardian angels that will carry me when it is bad. 

And ugly.  

Our Family

Our Family
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