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! 

And the Decision is

As many of you know, I have been on a break from treatment since returning from Boston at the end of August. We recently met with our medical oncologist in Winnipeg to discuss the possibility of doing 6 more months of chemotherapy. This was the first time we sat down with a medical oncologist in Winnipeg. I arrived to my appointment in a wheelchair because the peripheral neuropathy has been so bad in my hands and feet. The first thing the medical oncologist asked me was, “What do you know about Medullablastoma”. I told him how it was a paediatric tumour and is very rarely found in adults (about 3%). So there is very little data on successful treatment plans for adults. Doctors therefore go off what has worked for kids which is typically; the operation, radiation, then chemotherapy. In doing so, they have found that there has been a huge question mark on whether or not the chemotherapy has made any favourable differences in adults.  

Once the doctor knew we had a good understanding, he asked me if knowing what I know, where do I stand on receiving six more months of chemotherapy. We told him that if this was a couple months ago, we would probably just go by the paediatric data and go with the chemo. But because of my current state of not being able to walk and the lingering peripheral neuropathy, it was hard to see myself putting my body through a harsh regimen of chemo that had no scientific proof of being effective in adults, and would only weaken me further.

The doctor quickly agreed and said if he gave me chemo and I ended up in the hospital, he would never be able to justify why he gave it to me in the first place. It quickly became clear to Paul and I, that it was unanimous: the decision would be no additional chemotherapy.

So where does this leave us now? I am working at getting stronger, by eating lots and exercising. The neuropathy has almost completely left my hands, and it has gotten much better in my feet. However it is still lingering and has impacted my motor skills so walking continues to be very difficult. I continue to work out my muscles so that once the neuropathy is gone and my motor skills recover, I will be able to walk sooner than later.

Since my operation was very successful and they were able to remove the entire tumour, and I have completed treatment, the doctors will monitor me by scheduling regular MRI’s. Since the doctors have no definitive answers with this type of cancer, they will continue to monitor me over 5 years by scheduling an MRI every couple months the first year or two, and then eventually yearly. 

My first scheduled MRI will be in December. I am continuing to believe in my healing and I thank God everyday for all my blessings. And yes – I will be throwing myself a party every time an MRI comes back negative and the doctors tell me, there is no sign of anything. For now I enjoy being with these 3 crazies, Paul, Ruby, and Phara – they take the best care of me. Thank you again to all those who continue to message me to encourage me, you’ll never know what it means to me!

To chemo or not to chemo 

 

 

Sorry it has been so long since I last posted! I have now been home for 7 weeks. I wish I could say I’m back to myself but I am currently “recovering from my recovery” phase. I guess all that sleeping I was doing the first couple weeks caused me to lose a lot of muscle mass. I can barely walk without assistance. Every day I am believing I will be stronger. I asked my parents for their exercise bike and it now sits next to my bed. Whenever I muster enough strength I drag myself on it. It’s the safest way for me to gain muscle without worrying about collapsing if my legs give. I am also very anxious to get rid of the aching (neuropathy) that has shown up in my hands and feet.
Today I have an appointment with the doctors where they will tell me what their suggestion is with chemo. Last time I talked to them, they said I needed more time to recover. They also said that because I have neuropathy symptoms, they want to refrain from giving me 2/3 drugs (the chemo suggested is a 3 drug cocktail for Medullablastoma), because 2 of them often give neuropathy symptoms and we don’t want to make the problem worse. They would substitute the 2 drugs for something else, but they are concerned about how effective those substitutes would be. They have been discussing

this for the past two weeks so we should have an answer from them. Additionally, now that I can barely walk they may not see me fit for chemo at all, and to be honest, I might not feel comfortable giving myself chemo in this state.

But I pray that today I will know what is best for me after talking to the doctors and for a peace that surpasses all understanding as we make our decisions on chemo.