Longevity

 

I have to say, 2017 was one of the hardest, yet best years of my life. My relationship with God and my friends and family deepened so much. So much joy and love came out of such a hard time. And I got to check one of my bucket list items off my list- Italy.

Around this time last year, I embarked on an unwanted adventure- stage 4 thyroid cancer. I remember the devastation I felt getting that initial diagnosis. Later I was told that this adventure was going to be brief; below is the conclusion to that unwanted adventure. To all of you who saddled up and joined me on this adventure: thank you. You mean the world to me.

Enjoy.

On January 8th,  I received an email with the results of my CT scan. Three of my tumors had grown. The cancer treatment I received in July did not work. I was devastated. This was not the answer I was expecting. I was supposed to be healed.

I immediately called the my doctor’s office for an appointment to set up a plan of attack. I left messages with no response on their end. I was frustrated, frightened and saddened by the aspect of losing my hair, chemo and my PTO being wasted on medical treatments instead of fun adventures.

I shared my email results with my closest friends and coworkers who immediately prayed for me. One of my coworkers who was outraged that I found out via email told her mother, who was equally outraged, and a nurse at CCare, a cancer treatment center here in town.  My coworker connected me with her mother who got me an appointment with one of the best oncologists at their center. On January 23rd, I took my squad, Lauren, Donna, Tammy Jo and my Uncle Johnny (who drove up from LA for the day just to be at my appointment) and we met Dr. Rao.

Dr. Rao went over my scans and medical information and gave me some of the best news of my life: there was no need for further treatment at this time. I was overjoyed: no chemo, no hair loss, no sickness…I would get to keep my PTO. I was thrilled.

After the good news, came what my boss calls “good bad news”: my tumors were not going to go away and there was no treatment that would rid me of them completely. There was no need to treat me now, as I wasn’t symptomatic. There would come at time where I would be and when that time came, there were treatment options that would help shrink the tumors and slow their growth, but again not rid me of them completely.  They would prolong my life, but decrease my quality of life. His goal was for me to have the best quality of life possible for as long as possible.

I took all this new information in and asked: ” So, will this cancer eventually take me out?”

Dr. Rao sighed and said: Yes, eventually you will die of Thyroid cancer.

“How long do I have?”

“15 to 20 years”

I was stunned. I did the math; I’d be 50-55 years old when I died. I want to get married, have a family of my own…15 to 20 years would definitely affect that. I wouldn’t be able to grown old with my friends. I may spend my last days sick and suffering. I sat in stunned silence, my mind racing with the thought of only 20 years left.

Dr. Rao continued on.

“The goal is to keep your TSH levels as low as possible. This will slow the tumor growth. They are very small now, not even a centimeter, so I am not too concerned. In 3 to 4 years they might be an inch. Right now the plan is to watch the tumors. When they start to become a problem, we’ll talk treatment options. I’m going to set you up with an new endocrinologist to monitor your thyroid levels…”

I don’t remember much else from that appointment. My friends embraced me once the doctor left. They prayed for me. I cried. I counted my years. 20 years. It was long but not long. I couldn’t believe this was it and there were no other treatment options. I’d have to live with it until it took my life. I was numb.

But…I also had no peace. The words of the doctor didn’t sit right with me. I respected him and trusted him but the dying of thyroid cancer part- it didn’t fit.  Having only 20 years left didn’t sit right with me. Some would say it’s denial- but I felt like his word was wrong and that this would not be my ending.

God then whispered: You are going to have a long and happy life.

Me: “I know God; 20 years is a long time. It could have been 6 months left”

God: No Alexis, not only 20 years. You are going to die an old woman. You are going to be married and have children. You’re going to have grandchildren.  You are going to live a long and happy life.”

At the time, I was too stunned to hear or believe God’s words. I delivered the news to my family, friends and coworkers. They were shocked, but encouraging and supportive. Many of them were in disbelief of the news too, and almost all have stated: God is in control and has the ultimate say in all things.

God whispered to me daily to trust Him and His plan. To trust His word. The week after I got the news, I had to fight hard not to give into despair and give up. The enemy was so loud;  reminding me daily of my shortened life and broken dreams. It is so easy to listen to that voice and believe it when you look at reality: cancer, stage four, no cure.  But when you look at things through faith and trusting God- reality means nothing.

Unknown

He spoke to me again at church through my pastor- “The word of man is meaningless; you are going to live a long and happy life.”

And finally, I had peace.

Side note: I am learning to trust what God tells me and not having to rely on the words and prayers of others.  Not that those things aren’t good, but I need to realize I can hear Him clearly and I have to start trusting that I hear Him correctly. Thankfully, God is patient and will give me multiple confirmations of things He’s told me through His word or through others.  It bothers me that it took me hearing it from my pastor to really believe what God was telling me. I am working on that.

Since that meeting with my oncologist, I’ve met my new endocrinologist who confirmed that word from God: the cancer will be controlled by my medication. If I take the right dose of thyroid hormone and my TSH levels are at zero, then the hormone will act like chemo and keep my tumors from growing. She let me know that she has patients who are in their 70’s and 80’s with these tumors and still doing well. They have some symptoms but they are well managed. She didn’t want me to worry about dying from this; she was certain that I would have a long life.

Again, God sweetly confirmed his word.

So now, I am clinging to that word. Once the enemy realized that I fully believed God about my cancer and wasn’t afraid of the what the doctors told me- he was silenced. He may try to bug me in other ways, but my cancer- he doesn’t bring it up. He knows he can’t hurt or discourage me with it. And that my friends, is sweet victory!

So that’s the end of my cancer story for now. I get to live with it, but not be overcome by it.  I look forward to a year filled with new babies, new marriages, new travel adventures and plenty of PTO.

 

A Peach… in Italy? Yup.

2016 sucked.

Sorry there is no light and happy way to put that. It sucked. Bad. When it left, I felt torn to shreds. Uprooted. Lost. Unsteady. I was so happy to see it go.

As I sat in a coffee shop with one of my friends, trying to smile through the leftover pain of 2016, my friend asked:

“Alexis, what is one thing you’ve always wanted to do? One thing that you’ve always put off because you felt too scared to do it?”

“Italy.” A small bit of the joy and excitement that I’d lost waved over me.

Friend: “Then you’re going to Italy.”

My friend and decided to be accountability partners for big things we were supposed to do this year. She’d check on my Italy process (passport, flight, etc) and I’d check on her prayers for the cities process.

Now, when I promised to do this, in the back of my mind I thought: “There’s no way I’m going to Italy this year. It’s expensive, it’s not practical, it’s extravagant. I don’t NEED to go to Italy. I WANT to go to Italy, but I don’t really need to. It’s not going anywhere.”

venice-italy
Isn’t it beautiful…

In the middle of my talking myself out of going, God spoke up.

God: You should go to Italy.

Me: Um, why? Shouldn’t I be saving money for practical things?

God: I want you to do something for you that you love. You love Italy. You’ve wanted to go since you were 12 years old; you even pretended to be Italian just to feel connected to the country. You were supposed to go after your mother died but didn’t. You’ve put it off for years. You’ve put yourself last for even longer than that, especially last year. I want you to do something for you, just special for you. Get your passport and go to Italy.

Me: Speechless

So I turned one of the large open walls in my kitchen into a giant vision board. I covered it in verses to map out my promises of the year. In the middle of that, I placed a big map of Europe, and highlighted  Italy. I bought a giant calendar of Italian cities. I sat down and worked out a budget for a two week trip. I did my taxes super early and received a NICE tax return; which God made me promise to use for my trip.

payday

Once I knew I had the funds and was 100 % sure I could go, I filled out my passport application and got my passport photos…

Then life happened.

I was thrown back into health issues that I thought were resolved. Weeks earlier I was preparing for going to the passport office and purchasing my plane tickets. Now I was meeting with surgeons to have a section of my lung removed. Possible cancer they said. I’d miss two to three weeks of work as I recovered from the surgery.

God: You’re still going to Italy.

roma
I can’t believe I get to see this.

While I am relaxing at a friends place on medical leave, I finally work up the courage to purchase my tickets. Despite not knowing how long it will take my disability insurance to kick in so that I have income, I select my dates in September. Feeling a bit nauseous and excited at the same time, I click “purchase”. God congratulates me on trusting him and then states:

God: “Now that you’ve purchased your tickets, things are going to happen that are going to make you question what you just did. You’ll feel afraid but I want you to trust me.”

Me: “Not liking that statement, but okay. I trust you.”

I was diagnosed with cancer the next day.

God: You’re still going to Italy.

procida-naples-italy
Naples. So beautiful.

So here I am, with Stage 4 thyroid papillary cancer (very treatable and not terminal) planning a trip to Italy. And totally at peace with the cancer diagnosis, the extra surgeries and treatment. It makes no sense and I can only attribute that to God.  I have asked questions about affording the medical bills this treatment will bring, and God says, “You’re still going to Italy. Trust me.” And I am. And it’s weird. Because usually I am super anxious about this kinda stuff and right now…I’m simply not. I’m just trusting and taking things one day at a time.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been moments of sadness and some anger. At one point, when the darts of the enemy kept coming, I reminded God of the word he had for me: restore.

Me: “God, I don’t feel restored. Honestly, I feel like things are being ripped apart.”

God reminded me that sometimes before something is made new, the old has to be destroyed and yes, it will hurt. He then showed me an image of a forest, trees cut down, ground and stumps blackened by the fire. It looked as if all was lost. Then, He showed me a vibrant green shoot coming out of the ground. Despite the wasteland around it, that shoot was growing vibrantly.

58809268-new-leaves-grown-after-forest-was-burn

“That’s you.” God said.

So I don’t know how much more of the forest God plans on clearing in my life. I know there will be more painful things, but I all I can do is lay down and trust God. I can’t fix it. I can’t control it. I just have to trust that God will take care of me. He’s done amazing so far; the love I’ve received from my church family has been amazing. It’s actually made this whole mess fun because I get to see and experience His love for me through others, and who doesn’t love that? Nothing has been required of me; I just get to receive love. It’s a pretty sweet deal. The only things He’s asked me to do is to love myself, trust and obey Him and plan this trip to Italy.

campo-dei-miracoli-pisa
Pisa. I can’t wait to see Pisa.

So finally, after years of putting it off, this blog will finally be used as it was intended…telling about the solo adventures of this peach in Italy. I’m going September 9th through the 23rd. I start in Rome.

Here are the cities on my “must see” list: Rome (obviously), Pisa, Venice, Naples and Pompeii.  I’ll be there for two weeks, and if I get a little bit of time in each of these cities, I’ll be a happy peach. I’m still working out where to start,whether to go hostel, hotel or Airbnb and how long to stay in each city. Pisa, Pompeii and Venice can be done in a day. Rome is downright overwhelming. But I have time to figure it all out and am tapping into my Type A personality to get some planning done. It’s exciting and exhausting but can’t wait to see what I come up with.

I’ll try to update my travel plans as they get more solid. If you have any tips for cities that I should see feel free to comment. Thanks for reading and even bigger thanks if you decide to keep me in your prayers. This year may be rough, but I am hopeful and looking forward to what’s ahead.

 

Adventure

I figure I should write about this now, because next Sunday, I’ll be hanging out with my AZ peeps and probably be a bundle of joy/nerves/crazy…

(Fair warning, there is an over abundance of meme usage in this. Sorry. I usually try to stray from using these, but nothing else seems to work with this post)

I’m 14 days away from what I believe will be one of the most exciting adventures of my life.  I’m taking a roller coaster road trip that will start in Texas and end in Pennsylvania. The first leg of the tour, is a road trip with 96 other people visiting parks in TX, AK, WI, MO, IL, and OH. The last leg is a mini tour to three parks in PA, then back to OH where I get to spend some time with my siblings. The trip is about 20 days total. At the end of it, I would have ridden 94 coasters in all and driven thousands of miles. I so can’t wait!

Seriously the coolest thing I've probably ever done.
Seriously the coolest thing I’ve probably ever done.

In April, I signed up for the Theme Park Review Texas Midwest Tour with my friend Darin. He’s been talking about going on this tour for quite a while. It sounded like a great time but in the back of my head, I seriously doubted it would ever happen. 1) It was really expensive. 2) I was desperately trying to get back to Fresno and spending money on something like this seemed far from logical. 3) I just couldn’t see it happening at least not this year.

Well, I was wrong.

I had no idea what was coming...
I had no idea what was coming…

After visiting with my pastor from the RC in Cave Creek, I came home one Friday night  to an email from Darin  saying he’d signed up for the trip and it would be fun if I could go.

oh-god

Before I even started my prayer to God about whether or not I should even consider this adventure, God shouted a very loud and clear YES.

oh-god

I had so many questions:

Me:  Okay, God, what is going on?  Am I insane for actually wanting to do this?

God:  This is a great gift. You’re welcome. I said an abundance of joy is coming your way. Well, here is the start of it. You’re not insane. You’re going.

Me: How am I going to pay for this?

God: You have your savings and your state pension from AZ. You’re going.

Me: What about the job I was just offered?

God: Not the right job. You already know this. Sandi also confirmed this.  You’re going.

Me: What about the VA Home position? I’m supposed to be interviewing for that and trying to move home remember?

God: None of those things have happened yet. Stop worrying about future things. You’re going.

Me: I feel like I barely know him. Isn’t this something you’d rather have me do with one of my besties?

God: Well, get to know him. That’s who I’ve chosen to go. Stop making excuses. You’re going.

Me: What about…

God: Look, you asked for a long vacation before you started your new job. Well, here it is, times 1000.  I know this is not what you imagined, but this is what I am giving you. It is better than anything you could ever think up. You love roller coasters and you love road trips. You’re going to have a great time. Stop worrying about the details and over thinking; I’ve got everything covered. Again, you’re going.

Seriously.
Seriously.

It took me a day and a half from that conversation to sign up and send in my deposit. I was really, REALLY hesitant and very much on the fence about actually taking the trip. God hounded me ALL WEEKEND until I finally broke down and signed up.

God: Alexis…

Me: I’m going to sign up right after this commercial.

God: Send in your deposit Alexis.

Me: I promise I will. I just need to go take a walk at the lake.

God: Alexis…stop procrasinating. Send in your deposit and sign up.

Me: Are you sure you want me to do this? Is this really from you?

God: Nice try. Sign up Alexis. I won’t leave you alone until you do.

God is persistent. VERY.
God is persistent. VERY.

(While I’m trying to sleep) Sign up, Alexis. Have you signed up, yet? Sign up.

(While getting ready to meet friends) Have you signed up yet?

(While driving in my car) You still haven’t signed up? Sign up Alexis.

(While shopping for clothes) Sign up Alexis.

(While hanging out with friends) You’re signing up when you get home.

(While trying to go to sleep). You could have signed up tonight. You can still sign up now. Sign up.

(While eating breakfast) Seriously, you still haven’t signed up. Alexis…

(While getting ready for church) Look, here’s the link again. You should sign up now. Come on Alexis, it’ll only take you five minutes…

Me:  WOW OKAY FINE!!! I am signing up. See, here I go. I sent it via pay pal. I’m going. It’s done. I signed up.

God: That wasn’t so hard was it? Thank you.

Me: **grumbles**

Once I realized that I ACTUALLY sent money, BOUGHT a plane ticket and ACTUALLY signed up for the trip, theOMGWHATTHEHECKAMIDOINGAMICRAZYTHISISINSANEIMUSTBEOUTOFMYMINDHATISGOINGON freak out started.

oh-god

I’m pretty sure I woke up every morning that first week and paced my apartment. I was happy, but OH BOY was I freaked out. I was in complete shock that this was actually happening. The craziest thing, everything I’d been through, every hardship and trial now started to make sense. If I wouldn’t have moved to AZ, and worked for the state, I wouldn’t have had the extra money to take the trip. If I would have taken any of those jobs I was offered, I wouldn’t have enough time built up to take off for this trip. I have over 100 hrs of PTO with my current company.  If I would have left AZ in April like I planned, I wouldn’t be able to afford this trip.  Everything was covered. Everything was taken care of.  I was getting what I asked for…and more. God was all over this.

This is the only picture that I can find that most accurately displays what I felt as all of this was going down.
This is the only picture that I can find that most accurately displays what I felt as all of this was going down.

Staying committed to going was not easy at all. So many things popped up immediately after I signed up that really made me question my decision to go. I wanted to leave Arizona SO BAD and this stuck a three month delay on that.  My current job got a lot harder (and is still hard to deal with). I got offered three more jobs, one that would pay for relocation and everything…and I had to say no. There were so many moments I was ready to say “screw this” and do my own thing. God would quietly remind me of the promise He made, the abundance of joy that was coming, my promise to stay on His “Yes Walk” and I’d eventually calm down. This whole thing has been a huge test of my faith (and sanity) but I feel stronger because of it.

Pretty much where I've been the last three months
Pretty much where I’ve been the last three months

It’s been three months since I signed up for this thing, and I think I just now stopped freaking out (sort of). Now there is just a ton of joy and excitement. There are still moments where I really think about this adventure I am about to take and I start to get a little freaked, but then the joy floods in and washes it away.

God blessed me with an epic adventure. EPIC.  He took two of my favorite things, put them together and added a friend to it. It really is perfect.  No one else could have given me this opportunity but Him. I feel like this is a “thank you for being faithful” gift from God. I love it. God is seriously the coolest dad ever.

So like I said, in two weeks from today, I will embark on one of the most epic adventures of my life. I have no idea what is coming, but I bet it is better than anything I could think up. There will be ton of pics. I can’t wait to share them with you all and update you on all the fun that I’ll be having.

As always, thanks for reading!