Sunday, September 27, 2015

Scar Tissue

If you’ve ever been cut before, you may have a scar on your body. I have a few on mine. One from when I was a child and my sister convinced me to spin around in a circle with my eyes closed and then I walked right into our fireplace! (Thanks Meg J) I have a few from my dog scratching my arms when she was a puppy and a few from different surgeries I’ve had throughout cancer. (port, infusion lines, picc lines etc.)
Scar tissue is an interesting thing. It’s a part of our body’s natural process to heal itself. When tissue is damaged, scar tissue forms and even though the cut or scratch is healed, a mark remains. The tissue has a different color or texture and just doesn’t look the same anymore.
Scar tissue not only forms on our skin, but can also form on internal tissue. For people who have fought cancer, this means that wherever their cancer was, scar tissue can form. It can show up on scans, cause the patient to feel tightness, press on nerves, and very often cause pain where tumors once were.
I was thinking about this a week or two ago in regard to my body. There are days when I feel a tightness in my chest or a moment of pain or a tingling in my arm and my stomach drops. My mind immediately goes down the very familiar road of worry and doubt and concern about whether or not I’m still in remission. My hope is that the familiar feelings and pain are simply scar tissue or some unrelated twinge, but I can’t help but worry for a moment….or more than a moment.
As many of you know, I head to New York this week for my 3 month scan. I am beyond thrilled and a little dumbfounded that it has been 3 months since I was declared in remission. Where does the time go? I have no logical reason to believe that this scan would be bad. I don’t have any symptoms. I feel great and my energy is up and I believe that this remission will be a lasting one…but my anxiety has still been present. Much more present than I would like.
You see, I definitely have some scar tissue inside my body, but I also have some scar tissue in my mind and my heart.  Up to this point we’ve had many more bad scans than good ones. I’ve been in remission before and then 6 weeks later was not. I’ve declared to the world that my cancer was gone only to be proven wrong by a scan a few weeks later. I have believed for good news when bad news came. I have been wounded by life and there is quite a bit of scar tissue there.
I was wondering why the Lord would choose to make scar tissue a thing. Why do we have to be reminded either in appearance or by feeling that a wound once occurred? If the body is going to heal itself, why can’t everything be as good as new?
And then I thought about Jesus. He had scars too you know. He was wounded. He was healed. He died and then came back to life and bore the scars on his hands and feet and side from everything He went through.
Why? If He was made perfect again and came back in a glorious body, why did His scars remain?
I don’t have all the answers, but one way he proved to his disciples that He had actually risen from the dead was to show them the scars on his hands and feet. Those marks caused the faith of His best friends to increase.  They were not used to shame them or cast them into despair over what had happened, but to remind them of the glorious thing that Jesus did for them…for all of us. The Scars on Jesus are our reminder that we get to go to Heaven, that the miraculous has happened and that we have been redeemed! Praise God!
I want my scars to be like that. I want my physical and emotional scars to not serve as negative reminders of the hard things David and I have walked through over the last three years, but as reminders of all God has done for us! The way He has carried us and how He provided a way out when we thought death was the only way. Praise God for what He has done!
Whatever this scan shows this week, pray that I will choose to trust in the God who saved me and remember how far He was brought me instead of dwelling on the hurt of the past. Please pray that this scan shows continued healing and remission and that God would use me in whatever way He sees fit to bring Him glory…scars and all.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Weathering the Storm

Today marks five years since I became Mrs. Vogel and made one of the best decisions of my life. I am so blessed to be married to a man who is as steadfast and strong as he is funny and adventurous. In honor of our five years together today and our recent good news, I am going to share a story that I think symbolizes the last five years. I have been waiting for the right moment to share this story and I think today is the day!

About two years ago David and I were in the thick of our cancer storm. I was still not in remission after a few types of chemo and we couldn't move forward to a stem cell transplant without a complete remission. Staying active was one way we coped, so we decided to take our two dogs and head out to Haw Ridge for a hike. We had looked at the weather, but thought we could beat the storms that were coming later in the afternoon. When we arrived at the trail head that morning, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and we were looking forward to our time together.
We hiked about 2 miles in and everything was going well. We spent some time reflecting on where we were and discussing what we hoped would happen in the future. We had just started to head back when we heard some thunder in the distance. We picked up our pace a bit as we saw lightning paint the sky. When the rain started, we just looked at each other and laughed. We were grateful to get a little relief from the heat.
The mood changed quickly, however, as the rain increased and the lightning and thunder became louder. We heard a few trees fall in the distance and our anxiety increased a bit. By this time we were still over a mile away from the trailhead and the safety of our car. The rain was so heavy that a rushing stream had formed where the trail once was making it almost impossible to continue going safely. There was no shelter in sight and we were literally stuck in this storm. The dogs were nervous and David and I were uncomfortable, but we decided to just wait it out. We figured it would pass quickly like most summer storms do.
Then things got worse when the hail began. We looked at each other in disbelief and I saw concern on my husband's face as we hard another crack of lightning and a tree fall, this time not too far from us. The hail was about the size of a pea, maybe a bit larger, and didn't feel great on my bald head!
I gathered the dogs at my feet and did my best to arch my body over them so they would be protected from the hail. David did the same over me. We kept watch in opposite directions for falling trees. It was pretty intense, but I felt safe huddled there with my little family! We prayed that the storm would pass and like all storms, it did.
The hail stopped and the rain slowed down. As it was stopping, we made our way down the slippery trail back to the car. When we were almost to the end, we rounded a bend and went up a small rocky hill. The sight before us was literally one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. We stood in silence as we watched the sun burst forth from the clouds. I will never forget the way the golden light fell on everything before us and what the Lord spoke to my heart in that moment. David grabbed my hand and we exchanged tearful looks. The summer storm that took us by surprise and kept getting worse when we thought it would get better had passed. We knew in that moment that our storm wouldn't last forever either and what waited on the other side of it would be even more beautiful than the sight we saw that day. I went on to get remission and then relapse again. Our storm got worse after that day, but I have held onto that memory for the last two years, hoping and praying that I would see the things the Lord spoke to my heart that day.

With the recent clear scan, I finally feel like the sun is breaking through the clouds. I can see it. We are stepping out again, eyes blinking, cautiously praying that good weather lies before us.

The storm has changed us. It has brought us closer together. It has transformed the way we see life and see each other. I am grateful for the storm because I am not the same person I was before it came.

I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt, I could not have survived it without my husband. David you have protected me, walked with me, hurt with me, celebrated with me, and loved me through a very long and difficult storm. You have literally become my umbrella at times when I couldn't stand the rain. You have watched for falling trees and sheltered me from hail. I am so grateful for the gift that you are to me and I am looking forward to the sunny days ahead. I don't know what all lies ahead of us, but the clouds are breaking my love and I'm so glad to have you by my side.

Happy Five Years. Here's to many, many more!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My Prayer Army

"To God be the Glory Great things He has done!"
I honestly don’t think there are words full enough to express what I feel right now.
Here is a quick recap of the last three years:
Diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma April 2012

Endured 6 months (12 treatments) of ABVD chemo.

Found out in November 2012 that the cancer was still present making me a refractory patient.

Harvested my eggs in January 2013 and tried two doses of a newer smart drug called Brentuximab.

Cancer actually increased on this drug so switched to the hardcore, traditional chemo ICE.

After 4 rounds of ICE, cancer was still present.

Tried a drug called Bendamustine that put me in remission in August 2013.

Then immediately went on to have an auto stem cell transplant in September and October of 2013.

90 days after my transplant, the cancer had returned.

Underwent 6 weeks of radiation and finished in January of 2014.

Scan after that showed that the cancer in the areas radiated was gone, but new nodes in my abdomen had popped up.

Went to a specialist in New York City at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. Since the nodes were too small to biopsy, went on “watch and wait” for several months.

Successful biopsy in August 2014 and entered into a trial with the drugs Nivolumab and Ippilumab.

After 10 months on the trial, I just found out last week that I am in complete remission!

I go in a week to see my original doctor that we saw in New York, Dr. Younes. We will know more about next steps after that appointment, but we are hopeful the cancer will never return and we can move on, finally, with our lives!
I’ve written all of this out to recognize the fact that we’ve been on a long journey friends.
We've been on a very long, very hard journey. One that I wasn’t convinced at times would include earthly healing but would only offer heavenly healing. 
And by we, I mean all of you with us.
I have been overwhelmed over and over again by the amount of love and support I have found in the people around me. My family, friends, church body, and extended network through friends and other churches have been such a blessing for us. I am beyond humbled.
The morning that I had my appointment to find out the scan results last week, I got up a little early and was praying to the Lord. The words that came out of my mouth were as follows:
“Lord, go before me today. Father please come behind me. Hem me in on all sides as I go today.”
I am confident that the Lord has answered that prayer in the last three years through all of you.
“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” ~Psalm 139:5

We have had so many people praying for us and carrying our burdens, many that we’ve never even met. These people have been hemming us in for three years.
I can’t tell you what it means to me to know that complete strangers have prayed with us, cried with us, mourned with us, and are now celebrating with us!
You all have been my army, my prayer army, and I am firmly convinced that I’m still alive today because God has heard the prayers of His people.
Thank you friends, family, extended family, and loved ones for being my army and lifting us up when we were too weak to do so ourselves.
This burden has been so heavy and I’m truly grateful for the help to carry it.
The Lord has done a great work in me and because of Him, I can have hope!
I hope that cancer will never again be a part of my life.

I hope for ministry opportunities.

I hope for children.

I hope for trips and time with family.

 I hope to love on broken and hurting women.

I hope to rescue orphans.

I hope to grow more in my faith.
Without the Lord, none of my hopes would be possible. And without all of you, the past three years would have been too much to bear.
 We don't know what lies ahead, but we are living in celebration and victory right now and ask you to join us! You’ve earned it!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why I Won't be Crying in the Corner on Mother's Day

This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day. I am so blessed to have an incredible mother. I have watched her endure through hardship. I have seen her fiercely protect those that she loves and I have learned how to be a compassionate person because of her example. I have always found in her a comfort and friend. I am also blessed with an incredible Mother-in-Law. She has accepted me as one of her own children and loved me unconditionally. Her tenacious spirit and faith has inspired me and I know I can count on her. These two women deserve to be celebrated this Sunday and every day of the year!
So why does the thought of Mother’s day usually make me cry? Why do I get a knot in my stomach when I think about it? Because I’m not a mother.
1 in 8 women are affected by infertility. 1 in 8. Women who have a desire to be a mother and walk out the most difficult and rewarding journey there is, but can’t. These women hurt. These women cry. These women blame themselves and think they have done something to deserve their heartache. These women hide their feelings and put on a happy face at baby showers, friend’s children’s birthday parties, church events, family gatherings and more. They listen patiently when friends go on and on about their pregnancies and the trials and joys of parenthood. They endure the looks and comments insinuating, “you’ll understand someday” or “If you had kids, then you’d know what it’s like.” They feel the pain of each year that passes without a child and Mother’s Day is a very obvious reminder that yet again, they are not a mother.
My story isn’t typical, but I consider myself a 1 in 8. The past few Mother’s Days have been challenging for me. I want to celebrate the women in my life who are mothers. I have so many friends who are incredible mothers or mothers to be. This is their day! It’s just incredibly hard to be reminded yet again that you don’t belong to this amazing club and I have spent Mother’s day in tears before. I have put on a brave face at church and then fallen apart at home. I have felt the pain and longing and defeat and I know that I am not alone.
However, this Mother’s Day I desire something different. This Mother’s Day I will not be crying in the corner. I will choose to stand in hope that I will be a mother some day. I will make room for the blessings that I believe the Lord has in store for me. They may not play out the way I originally thought they would, but I believe the Lord is faithful and my joy and fulfillment can be found in Him, not in a status of mother.
A few years ago, dear friends of mine were in a multiple year wait for the adoption of their three beautiful children from Columbia. They had endured much hardship in the adoption process. They knew they were called to this road, but had met so much frustration and hurt along the way. At Christmas, they could have been defeated and hurt by another holiday without their children. But instead, they hung three small stockings on their mantle. They didn’t know who their children were yet. They didn’t know their names. But they made space in their lives for them. They prepared their hearts for the day those little stockings could have names printed on them. They sat in expectation of what the Lord could do instead of defeat by what hadn’t happened yet. And they have inspired me to do the same.
It reminds me of a story we learned about a few weeks ago in the kid’s ministry at church. We learned about Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who waited by the roadside for Jesus to pass. He wore a cloak that represented his status to the world. The cloak told passersby that he was a beggar. That he could not work because of his ailment.
Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road.47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.”50 Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51 And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.” ~Mark 10:46-52
Do you see? He threw his cloak aside before Jesus had healed him. His faith was so great that he knew his status was going to change before it actually did.
The pain of infertility and waiting on a child is real, tangible even. But the joy set before those of us that suffer is even greater. I don’t know what my future holds. I don't know when I will be a mother. I don't know how many more Mother’s Days I will experience without a child in my arms. But I believe that the Lord has great things in store for me. I believe that right now, he is calling me to make room in my life for the children that will come. So this Mother’s day I will not cry in my room. My face will not be downcast. I will choose to have joy and anticipate my change in status!
 I will not bear the cloak of barren or sick or cancer patient. I will throw it aside and find joy in the blessings to come. I will celebrate the amazing mothers in my life and try to learn from them as much as I can about motherhood because I believe it is in my future. I will bear the title of future mother and worship my Savior on Sunday through any feelings that may come up.
Whatever it is you are waiting for in your life, whatever cloak you bear that oppresses you and steals your joy, I encourage you to throw it off and step into a life of expectation. And if you are like me and you fall into the 1 in 8, please reach out to me. Please contact me. I would love to walk with you and pray with you and worship with you in the midst of your wait. We are not meant to walk alone. Let’s throw off our cloaks and anticipate what the Lord will do!

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Weight of His Tears

It's Good Friday.
I love Easter and all that it represents.
Christ rose from the dead and allowed us access to Him forever! That's the very best part of the whole story of the bible.
But Good Friday is the very worst.

This year I had the privilege of teaching the K-2nd grade kids about Jesus time in the garden before he died.
It was an intense lesson and it really helped me reflect on all that Jesus went through those few days before He gave us the best gift we could ever get.

I think it's easy for us to focus on the fact that Jesus was God. He was perfect. He never sinned. He knew the plan all along.

It's harder for us to focus on his humanity.

One of the biggest paradoxes of the bible is that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. It wasn't a 50/50 situation.

We think that because Jesus was perfect, going to the cross was easy for Him. I mean, He knew His whole life that that day would come. Those moments would come where He waited in the garden after Passover for the soldiers to come take Him away. Knowing it was coming made it easier right? Wrong.

Jesus left the sleepy disciples at the foot of the mountain and went to be alone with His Father.

In Matthew 26 He says, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death."

He prayed and asked God, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

He wanted a way out if it was possible. He knew what was coming and He didn't want to go through with it.

In Luke 22 it says "And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."

This was a man who knew hurt and sorrow and anguish and fear.

Don't for one second believe that because Jesus knew what He was facing, His task was easy.

My heart was so heavy today thinking about what must have been going through Jesus's mind on that night long ago.

One of His closest friends had betrayed Him. His other friends were obliviously sleeping. He was about to take on punishment that was not His. He did not deserve it. He knew He was about to face the hardest thing in His life...and he cried.

He prayed and He cried and His soul was in anguish. Yes, He was God. Yes, He knew the ending. But He still hurt.

I can't possibly ever understand what Jesus went through that night long ago, but I can relate to his hurt. I don't know what it's like to be perfect and face punshment, but I do know what it feels like to feel injustice. I know what it means for your soul to be in anguish and to stare death in the face. I know what it means to cry heavy tears.

The weight of His tears that night is not lost on me. My suffering is nothing compared to His.

And the craziest part about the whole thing is, He willingly faced all of this suffering....for me.
That night was the saddest in history, but it was because of that night, that the best day in history could happen.
I can't wait for Sunday!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

If we only knew....

I'm sitting in the waiting room in NYC about to get my CT scan. It's amazing to me to think of the number of times I've been in this same place. The amount of feelings over the last three years every time I have to sit in a waiting room, drink oral contrast, get an IV, walk back to a scan, wait for results...

I have felt a lot of anxiety in the past. These scans determine so much for a cancer patient. Is my current treatment working?  Has my cancer grown? Is my cancer gone? Is my cancer still gone? Will the scan show something else? What will the next season of my life look like?

But the Lord has granted me so much peace amidst these questions.

I don't want to let the fears and doubts about the future overwhelm me and rob me of what the Lord is doing in these very moments. Because He is doing SO MUCH!

I have been so blessed by this time of LIFE! My energy is up! My friendships are sweet! My hair is back! So many wonderful things are happening in my life right now.

My 2015 Living Water Challenge has been such a blessing to me. I can honestly say that the more I learn, the more I want to learn!

Just this morning, the Lord revealed something to me.

In John 4, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at a well. He asked her for a drink and she asked Him how He could even ask her that? She was a Samaritan and Jesus was a Jew.

"Jesus answered her, 'If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.' "

..."Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

I have asked for physical healing for three years. I have asked incessantly for healing to the point that the Lord is probably tired of hearing it! It has overwhelmed my thoughts and has been my focus for so long!

 We ask God for specific things in this life and I think that is good and right and the Lord wants to bless us. But what if He is saying to us, "If you only knew what I could give you, you wouldn't ask for that anymore. You would ask for living water instead!" 

If I only knew all the the Lord could give me, would I be so focused on the things I can't have right now? What if I just sought His face? What if I focused on all He has already done instead of being impatient about what He hasn't done yet?

I believe this scripture is pointing us to the bigger picture. Jesus was telling this woman, it's not about this physical water in front of us. It's not about my race or your race. It's about the will of the Father.

In the past, my spiritual life has been a lot of me trying to do the right thing and fit into the role I thought I was supposed to play and praying for God to change my circumstances. But I have come to a place in my life where, yes I want some things about my circumstances to change, but more than that, I want my heart to change and I want to better know the One who can change it!

Yes, I still want healing.
Yes, I still want children.
Yes, I still want long life.
But I want something else even more.
I want to know my savior more. I want to see what He can give me. I want to drink of Living Water, and it doesn't really matter what my circumstances look like anymore.
If you only really knew what the Lord had to offer you, would you worry so much about what you were facing? If you only knew the gifts the Lord had in store for you, would your focus shift in any way?
I believe God desires to give us good things here on earth, but He wants to give us Living Water even more! Water that will satisfy us and never leave us thirsty!

I pray that my appointment goes well tomorrow.
I pray that the scan shows only improvement.
I pray I reach a very long remission from cancer.
I pray that my lungs continue to heal.
I pray that David and I would be able to be parents soon.
But the prayer that overshadows ALL of these things is that I would know Jesus more.
Everything else fades into the background when I turn my desire towards Him.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Well, I don't have much time, but I wanted to give a quick update and share a little something from James!

I have been in New York this week and got a scan on Tuesday. I got the results today that my tumors have now decreased by 90%!!! 90%!!! I'm so excited!

The doctor said that most, if not all of the lymph nodes are in the normal range and one in particular they have been watching didn't even show up at all on the scan! Praise God!

There was a little bit of a complication that I would appreciate your prayers about. I got sick over Christmas with a very bad cold that settled in my lungs. At my last visit they did a chest x-ray and it looked fine so we went ahead with treatment. The CT scan is much more sensitive and this week picked up on some inflammation. This is no surprise to me since I have had a lingering cough since Christmas. Even though it's gotten better, it's still hanging on.

The problem is that this trial drug is documented and known for causing lung inflammation. So....they kind of freaked out. They decided not to treat me today because the medicine has the potential to make the inflammation worse. We are going to wait two weeks, take stronger antibiotics, and see if it's any better at that point. Since the scan was so good, they don't want to risk a lung complication that would disqualify me from the trial. So we're looking at the long term here! Please pray with me that my lungs heal quickly over the next two weeks! I believe I just got a nasty bug that caused this, but I'm glad they are thinking about the long-term and not just the short-term.

My living water challenge has been going well! I've found some ways to help keep myself in the word such as listening to podcasts on my phone instead of watching TV or opening my bible app instead of facebook when I have down time. I'm definitely still a work in progress! God has been showing me some amazing things in the book of James.

Many of you are probably familiar with the beginning of James one when he says to "count it all joy my brothers and sisters when you face trials of many kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."

This verse used to irk me a bit honestly. I've been in the thick of suffering for a long time and honestly have not always felt very joyful. Jen Wilkin makes a great point though that "counting it all joy" and being "joyful" are two very different things.

Suffering is not meant to be a joyful experience. It's supposed to be hard. It's hard because we live in a fallen world and sin stinks! Sin messes up everything perfect and good that God prepared for us. When we face suffering and trials, it's ok to hurt. It's ok to cry. It's ok to not be "ok" all the time. I don't think Jesus put on a happy face when he was being crucified and said "I'm blessed!"  he hurt and cried and mourned.

We count trials as joy because we know that joy is coming. We have hope that the trials we face on this earth are temporary. That there is light at the end of the tunnel and Heaven will be the opposite of earth. We also count it joy because it produces good and joyful things in us like steadfastness and perseverance.

My journey has been extrememly hard and it very well may not be over yet. It's hard and it's ok for me to cry about it. But I know that it is producing good things in me and that joy is coming. And it makes good news like this week's scan all the more joyful!

This journey has been more of a tortoise situation than a hare like I would have liked, but I am grateful for the perseverence. I am counting this experience as joy in my heart. Thank you Lord for providing us a way out of the darkness and trials of this life by sacrificing your perfect Son on the cross. Because He who was perfect suffered much, our suffering is only temporary.

Thank you Jesus.