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!