MRI Round 4

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It has been a busy couple of weeks and I am a bit late on my regular every-3-month-MRI-update post, as Paul and I recently went on a honeymoon-do-over trip to Europe. As many of you know, two months after our original honeymoon marked the onset of my symptoms from the brain tumour, subsequent brain surgery, cancer diagnosis, emergency treatment in Boston, and side effects from chemo that resulted in not being able to walk on my own for 9-10 months. Needless to say, we needed to reset the button and celebrate how far we have come in such a wild year and half. We had a wonderful time visiting Amsterdam, Munich, Vienna, and Budapest.

I somehow even managed to break 10,000 steps on multiple tours. This is a miracle considering a mere 6 months ago I could barely break 100 within the walls of my own house. I planned for plenty of days of rest between cities so I could allocate my energy accordingly. My legs definitely felt like jello by the end of each day, but I remind myself that is necessary progress to regain the strength that I’ve lost over the course of the year.

As for my MRI news, I recently had my 4th MRI scan since treatment at the end of August. The MRI has revealed there is no sign of any brain cancer reoccurrence, and that I am now 16 months cancer free! We are thrilled with this information and look forward to more good news as time goes on. My next scan will be in November.

My doctor could also not believe the progress I have made with my feet in the last few months. They are almost completely healed from the neuropathy (nerve damage that was caused by chemo), and I now rely on very little assistance while walking. My head wants to celebrate by throwing the walker and leg braces that I once relied on into a burning fire, but of course my heart always wins, and I will donate it to someone else who may need it. I look forward to be able to run/jump/hop/skip soon as my body continues to heal!

Now, for your enjoyment and my embarrassment, a video that was taken in August at my friend’s wedding. This is me ‘dancing’ with my sister, Heidi. As you can see, she is holding my hand to help keep me centered, but this is the closest thing to dancing I have done since my own wedding in January 2016. Consider this blog post a celebration, to a hope that has been rooted in Jesus, and an expectation of favor as my body continues to heal and strengthen!

Mark 11:23 “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

An Open Letter to my Nephew on his Birthday

 

Dear Henry,

Today it is your first birthday, and your Aunty Coco could not be more proud of you! Some birthdays from now, when you are much older and able to understand some of the content in this blog, your parents and I will read some of it with you. You will not believe what your family has been through, and it all started when you were inside your mommy’s tummy.

When mommy was 2-3 months pregnant with you, we were at your Aunty Coco’s and Uncle Paul’s wedding. We had the best time and laughed and danced all night. It was the best day of my life. 3 months later, an MRI found a large growth in my brain. I had a week to prepare for brain surgery that would hopefully remove as much of it is as possible and find out if it was cancerous.

During that week, mommy and papa (‘dad’ in German) had an ultra sound to see how you were doing. They told me they would not find out the gender as they wanted it to be a surprise, and they came home from their appointment thrilled to see you growing so big and strong. As they spoke with excitement about what they saw, they handed me a small piece of paper folded and stapled shut. Mommy said, “We know right now it is probably difficult for you to be excited for the future, but we want you to be able to picture playing with your niece or nephew by reading what is on this paper”. At that moment, as I opened it up and read the stapled paper, I was the only one who knew you would be a boy. I began to dream and picture all the things you might like to do, the name you might have, and what you might look like.

Your mommy wanted to wait for your arrival to find out if you were a boy or a girl. But papa was so excited and could not wait! Mommy and papa then said, “When you wake up from brain surgery, Eric wants you to tell him if he is having a son or a daughter.” A week later I underwent brain surgery. I spent days in the hospital recovering from the procedure. Papa walked into my sectioned off room in the ICU, eagerly paced over to my bedside, his eyes bouncing with excitement. I could see all over his face he couldn’t wait to find out more about you. I turned over to him and said, “Are you sure you want to find out?”. He nodded his head, and I shared, “You are going to have a son”. Tears welled up in his eyes as his heart began to see a clearer picture of you.

Mommy was 7.5 months pregnant with you when I was diagnosed with brain cancer and had to move to Boston for 6 weeks with Uncle Paul and your grandparents, to get the medicine that could possibly help me. This was so hard for us, because we could not see the last 6 weeks of you in your mommy’s tummy. Mommy told me her favorite boy and girl names while we were face-timing. In my head, I began to call you ‘Henry’, hoping that would be her final pick for your name. A week before you were born, I had a slip-up and spoiled the surprise on face-time by referring to you as ‘Henry’ and not ‘baby’. Mommy didn’t mind, she already knew you in her heart.

On August 18th, 2016, I finished my treatment and it was time to come home. I woke up in the morning with a text that read, “You could be an aunty today!”. We packed up the apartment in Boston and headed for the airport. We landed at 6 pm and had not heard any news as your mommy was in active labor. By 8:30 pm, you arrived into the world, and we got a text saying that we could come and meet you!

We arrived at the hospital and we were greeted by Uncle Lance, “His name is Henry!”. We were so thrilled to see your mommy and papa for the first time in 6 weeks, and to meet your precious little face. To the doctors, you were a week early. But to us, you came exactly on time!

It was as though God knew that we as a family so desperately needed to see your smiling face, be greeted by your infinite cuddles and be inspired by the life he created for you. By now perhaps you are old enough where you will turn on the news and see that the world seems to be a scary place.

But I do not want you to stay in that fear. God does not like to see the world as such a terrifying place, just like he did not like to see me hurting from a cancer diagnosis. Although this was not in God’s plans for me, He takes what is meant to harm us and He uses it for good when we trust in Him. My prayer is that you would know that God wants you well all the days of your life, and that you would understand the power behind the beliefs of your heart.

As I write to you today on your first birthday, I have a MRI scan coming up that I am believing will reveal I am now 15 months cancer free. As your Aunty I will spend my life sharing with you how to see the miraculous power of God in your everyday life, how to see His perfect plan come to pass, and how to walk in victory over the trials before you. Aunty will always be your living testimony of God’s grace and His desire for us to prosper and be in health. That is His heart for everyone, including you. Happy 1st Birthday my Henry, God’s incredible plan for you has only just begun.

Love,

Aunty Coco

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MRI Round 3

FullSizeRenderLast month, I wrote a blog in honour of being one year brain cancer free. For those of you following, I have been getting an MRI scan every three months since my treatment ended last August (2016). A few days ago, I obtained the results of my third MRI where the doctor revealed, “your MRI scan looks nice and boring, just the way we want it!” Yes! This now makes me 13 months cancer-free.

My next scan will likely be sometime in September. People often ask me if these MRI’s get easier with time, and I often have a tough time answering that question. The act of getting an MRI is relatively easy; I get a needle in my arm for the IV contrast, walk into a room that sounds like a scene from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and then I lay on a table with my head strapped in place so I don’t move for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The machine scans my brain and spine and sends out different noise frequencies that sound like a violent video game.

But almost every time I am laying in the machine, or even waiting for my results at the doctor’s office…thoughts cross my mind: “It probably came back”, “You’re probably going to have to deal with this all over again”, “You aren’t going to beat this”. I instantly fend the thoughts off with a verse. Usually it’s, “A thousand fall at my side, ten thousand at my right hand, but it will not come near me” or, “He who began a good work in me will finish it to completion”. The fear eventually leaves, and I am once again in a state of peace.

I know that I am a walking miracle, not only because I am alive today, but because there is not a shred of evidence of any cancer in my brain or spine, even after I only received the bare minimum of conventional medicine (i.e., surgery in Winnipeg, and then 6 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation in Boston). I have met many fantastic doctors on my journey and almost every single one of them said, “This type of disease at your age is so rare, we know that radiation is helpful, and anything after that is a huge question mark. But we recommend you do at least 6-12 months of chemotherapy after radiation.”

Paul and I decided with our oncologist that I would decline the 6-12 months of additional chemotherapy. Not only because the data supporting this suggestion was so controversial in my case, but also because the chemotherapy they would use consisted of more Vincristine (along with two harsher drugs), the very same drug I had taken in Boston, that I reacted so poorly to once I returned home. The drug had damaged my nerves so bad, I was left using a walker to get around the house, and a wheelchair to commute to doctors’ appointments.

I am at peace with the decision to forgo further treatment and have no plans for future or alternative therapy. You could say I have adapted a mind, body, and soul approach to healing. I try to eat the best that I can by paying close attention to my intake of sugar and unhealthy fats. I take about a dozen capsules of herbs and vitamins a day to give my immune system the tools it needs to fight disease. I try to exercise at least 3 times a week (back in November 2016, “exercising” was standing on my feet for 2 minutes straight. Now, I have advanced this to about 1 hour and 30 minutes of floor exercises, and 20 minutes of standing exercises as I hold the counter for balance). And by far the most important thing, I make a conscious decision to rest in God’s promises of health and healing every day, and that is available to anyone who will believe.

I am now 13 months’ brain cancer free and I don’t take this miracle lightly. The neuropathy (nerve damage) that left me immobile since the end of September of 2016, has almost completely left my feet. I still need assistance while walking, but usually it is just an arm to hang onto, to keep me balanced. One thing I believe so strongly is the God-given authority we have over our bodies. But I am not going to let life pass me by to realize how much power was at my disposal. I wake up every morning like I have for the past year and say to myself, “I am healed and my authority starts now.”

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words – Celebrating One Year Brain Cancer-Free!

IMG_1002Thousands of you have been following my story since my very first blog post (posted in Boston in July of 2016, which was 2.5 months after my brain surgery). The question I often get is, “I’ve read all your blogs, how have you been able to stay so positive and strong through this?” Well, you asked, and for my one year anniversary of being cancer free, I am going to share with you the most incredible truth I have ever known.

I have no idea how this picture was taken, who took it, or even that it was being taken. But I look at it and I am overwhelmed with words. This is the last time there was any evidence of any cancer in my brain before I was whisked off to the operating room for surgery – exactly one year ago today, on May 9th, 2016. You can see our nervous smiles. At this time, we didn’t know the tumor was cancerous, but regardless we wanted it out.

The appointments that followed the surgery were hard. It seemed that once we heard the tumor was cancerous, every doctor’s appointment that followed cut me like a dagger to the heart. Full of terrifying statistics, unknowns, and fear. Medullablastoma is a pediatric tumor and it is so rare in adults, that doctors constantly told me, “Courtney, we don’t know a successful treatment plan for adults. We know operating, and radiation is helpful…but any success in conventional medicine after that is unknown”. I would also hear, “The statistics in adults are very unfavorable” over and over again. I knew this was bad and that the odds were not in my favor. I was haunted by controversial data and unfavorable numbers.

It was obvious that conventional medicine did not have the answer. But I knew God did. I’m not about to defend any set of religious practices or beliefs. I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious. Of course, it depends what your definition of religion is. If religion to you means simply believing in God, then for sure slap that label on me. But if religion is following a set of rules, obeying commandments, earning God’s approval and favor, “doing right to get right”, then absolutely I am not religious. I believe God is good. It does not matter what you have done, what you are doing, or what you will do; he meets you EXACTLY where you are. I believe He looks at your heart, not your behavior. And I’m not talking about how “good” your heart is. I mean whether it is receptive of His love, His power, and His incredible inheritance.

I also believe that Jesus did in fact walk this planet and that he was exactly who he said he was. I believe he came and gave his life, not just for salvation which is amazing, but he also came so we could have life in abundance (i.e., peace, joy, health, prosperity, protection, etc.), and faith in his finished works is his delivery system!

I’ll never forget the first 3 months after my diagnosis and how much fear was pent up in me. At this time, I would wake in the early hours of the morning, with the word “CANCER” stabbing at me. It seemed like even my subconscious was against me. I would go as far as to picture my funeral, my husband and family burying me into the ground at the age of 24. The emotional pain and shock took its toll on me, as every day I relived a terrible nightmare that was not a nightmare at all, but sadly it was my reality.

I thought, “God, I know you did not do this to me. And I know the doctors don’t have my answers, but you do.” I was reminded of the verse “faith is the substance of all things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). So I thought, “if I’m hoping for healing, then faith is the answer. How do I strengthen my faith?” I was later directed to, “faith comes by hearing the word of God” (Romans 10:17). So, I did just that. I listened to podcast after podcast of positive faith/grace messages (Leon Fontaine, Joseph Prince, and Creflo Dollar just to name a few).

After filling my heart and my mind with these messages over a few months, my first thought in the morning wasn’t “cancer” anymore, but rather, “By his stripes, I am healed!” and “I am more than a conqueror”. Or my favorite, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper”. My heart and mind completely shifted.

As I felt faith overtaking my life, fear lost its hold, and death lost its sting. I began to envision myself going to my future doctors’ appointments and them telling me “your MRI is clear Courtney. It looks great.” By shifting my perspective to God’s view of myself instead of how the world saw me, I could finally enjoy my life despite my battle.

The most incredible part of this journey is that as I began this process of establishing my heart and mind in faith, my body started to align with the truth I knew deep in my spirit. The MRI’s showed “no sign of any cancer”, the evidence of neuropathy (side effect from chemo) left my hands, and continues to leave my feet.

I am not saying I have arrived. I am saying, that I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually better than I was a year ago. I have an MRI at the end of this month, and I will continue to do exactly what I have done since the beginning of this journey. I will rest in Jesus’ finished works, continue to use the shield of faith to guard my heart and mind, and continue to watch my body align with the truth I know in my spirit.

“Courtney what if you get this all wrong? And what if this is the very thing that kills you?” First of all, I would never believe in a lie. But hypothetically speaking, if I were to die from cancer, then at the very least you will know I lived a life full of expectation, peace, and joy instead of fear, worry, and dismay. I would take the former over the latter any day. You see this is win-win. And I am one of cancers worst nightmares.

MRI Round 2

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March 10, 2015 will always be special to me, as it was the day Paul proposed to me in Hawaii. Two years later March 10, 2017 we found ourselves at CancerCare waiting for my recent MRI results. My MRI’s are currently every 3 months and this is the second one I’ve had since treatment. I walked into the office with Paul’s arm in mine. The doctors and nurses instantly were beaming from ear to ear. They could not believe I was without the wheelchair that I normally commute in at the hospital. They marvelled at this progress and said it made their day. We sat down with our oncologist and he delivered us the best news, no sign of any cancer or abnormalities in the brain or spine! I am 10 months cancer free and my heart is full of gratitude, hope, and expectation.

The neuropathy is still in my feet but I have noticed subtle improvements in the last little while. I am not able to walk on my own quite yet, but I am relying less and less on any assistance. In the words of Joyce Meyer, “I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be!”. Paul has returned to work since January and I spend my days with my two pups and whoever is checking on me for the day. I am happy to see the cold weather leaving, the snow and ice made me feel cooped up for far too long. I welcome the sunshine with open arms.

Thank you to everyone who continues to pray and believe with me. It has meant the world.

Mark 11:24

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

To An Unconventional First Year of Marriage

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Happy 1 Year Anniversary to my husband Paul!

I look back at the past year and the word “unconventional” comes to mind. We were blessed to have an incredible wedding with so many loved ones that celebrated with us until the venue shut us down! It was my dream day, and we had an amazing honeymoon in Mexico. The week after our honeymoon I started to experience the symptoms from the brain tumor. Two months later the symptoms became so unbearable we made our second trip to the ER where they ordered an MRI and found a tumor of “considerable size” wedged between my brainstem and cerebellum. I will never forget that moment. I was sitting on the bed, and a group of doctors and specialists stood around me and delivered the news.  I looked over at my mom and I could see in her eyes that her heart was breaking…my shoulders collapsed forward and you were sitting behind me on the hospital bed. When my shoulders collapsed I could feel you stretch out taller, puffing out your chest and broadening your shoulders. You didn’t have to say a thing; your body language said it all. In that moment I felt weak, but you towered over me with assurance, strength, and protection. During one of the darkest hours of this journey, I will always be thankful for your support in that moment.

That day we met with the man who would operate on my brain a week later. He warned us it looked as if the tumor was on the brainstem and there would be no guarantee he would be able to remove the whole thing. His goal was to at least get a piece of it to see whether it was malignant or benign. On May 9th, I said bye to you and our family and I was whisked away to the operating room. You waited patiently alongside our family for me to wake up. The surgeons came over to you and said the operation could not have been more perfect, it was a “textbook” surgery. The tumor was in fact on the brainstem, but when they reached for it, it simply “rolled off the brainstem”. The entire thing was removed and it was a moment of victory for us, a true miracle.

I returned from the hospital 4 days later and began my recovery. It took almost a month to get results of the pathology report, and it was confirmed the tumor was cancerous and that further treatment would be required. I’ll never forget driving home with you that day and asking how you were and how you felt. You turned to me and said, “This just means we have some business to take care of”. I quickly realized how blessed I was to have you by my side, that your attitude was identical to mine… as long as there was a battle to be fought, there was a victory to be won. Your comment foreshadowed how you would handle adversity in the months to follow.

By the time we got the report, I was 5 weeks post surgery and all of the specialists told us that treatment should begin around 7 weeks post surgery. Time was of the essence and we decided proton radiation therapy would be the best plan for me. We were able to get into Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for proton radiation therapy. The radiation oncologist really wanted to help me, and squeezed me in months earlier than expected. We got in at the nick of time, another miracle.

Every day, you walked me to the hospital from our apartment to get my daily dose of radiation and weekly dose of chemo. You patiently waited for me every single appointment. For my 25th birthday you decorated the entire waiting room with balloons and streamers and cupcakes for the staff with the help of my brother.  My 25th birthday also marked the day I would begin to lose my hair which was a tough pill to swallow but you made that day special. We later fell in love with a Yorkshire terrier and brought her to our Boston home. It wasn’t until we returned to Winnipeg we found out she was born a day before my surgery. What a coincidence.

We made it through 6 weeks in Boston, and on August 18th we packed up the apartment and received a text from my sister, “You could be an aunt today!”. Sure enough, baby Henry arrived 3 hours after our plane landed in Winnipeg. He was early according to Heidi’s doctor, but to us Henry came into the world exactly on time. The day we became Aunt and Uncle together for the first time was another great day.

After being home for a month, I struggled to sleep. I would move from bed to bed in the house and you would follow me watching over closely. By the end of September, I slowly began to lose control of my hands and feet due to peripheral neuropathy, a side effect from chemo. I became 100% dependent on you as I could barely find my fingers to lift a fork up. My feet and hands were completely numb. You took care of me with such pride and joy. At times when I felt like a burden, weak, not enough, you looked after me like I was a precious jewel.

We still have “business to take care of” on this journey of healing. And it has been an unconventional first year of marriage, but one laced with so many miracles, signs, and wonders.

Happy anniversary my love, to many more years of slaying the dragons that come our way, and to defying the odds. Not through our own strength, but through the power of Jesus already in us.

My Hallelujah Post

Last week I had my first scheduled 3 month MRI. I have had a number of MRIs before and after surgery/treatment so far but this was the first MRI I have had over an extended amount of time without any intervention (I.e. chemo or radiation). We received the results on Friday and I’m happy to report that the MRI came back clear – no evidence of any disease or abnormalities in the brain or spine! I know this is the first of 4 MRIs this year as they continue to watch me closely, but it is a moment of victory as I continue this journey.

The peripheral neuropathy has completely left my hands. It still however, remains in my feet, which throws me off balance since half my foot feels numb. A couple weeks ago I was able to wiggle my toes for the first time in 2 months. I am very thankful for this progress and I’m excited to see more!

A clear MRI and a pair of wiggly toes is one of the best gifts I could ask for this Christmas. But the real gift has already been given December 25th, over 2000 years ago – “a saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord”. (Luke 2:11) My hope is fully anchored in the one who came and gave his life so I could have life and have it in abundance! (John 10:10)

Again, thank you to all friends, family, and acquaintances who have reached out to me, you can bet I have seen your post and I have been encouraged by it. I also wanted to give a special shout out to all of my coworkers at National Bank Financial – I think of you all often and I am touched by all of your thoughts and support. Merry Christmas to all and a happy new year!