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Category Archives: Illness

You restore my spirit, You redeem my pain – Leigh’s Story

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This story is such a beautiful reminder of how the Lord reaches us in the midst of our pain, in the pit of our sorrow, and in the depths of our suffering. He removes seeds of destruction and despair and replaces them with seeds of restoration and hope. The new seeds grow into goodness, deeply rooted in the unconditional love and faithfulness of Jesus.  

I have 14 friends who are pregnant. And while I’m happy for them, there’s still a slight pull on my heart. Between you and me, it’s hard for me to hear the intimate details of another woman’s pregnancy and I’d rather not be invited to baby showers.

I’m 35 years old, and for more than 20 years, I’ve known that outside of a miracle, biological kids would never be a reality. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia shortly after my 12th birthday. The next few years were by far the most challenging and faith-stretching years of my life. As a young child, I gave my life to the Lord, inviting Him to be my Lord and Savior. The Lord ministered to me in very real ways and I grew tremendously in my personal relationship with Him.

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Shortly after completing my 2 ½ years of leukemia treatment, my cancer returned. I knew I was at a high-risk to relapse during my treatment, and without the chemo, the leukemia did come back. Exhausted from years of weekly treatments, I was faced with the decision to have a bone marrow transplant. This only offered a 20 percent survival rate, and if it didn’t work, I would go Home and be with the Lord. I remember sharing with my parents that I would win either way as the apostle Paul so boldly shared in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  

After much prayer, I decided to move forward with preparation for a bone marrow transplant. A month into rigorous treatment to get me back into remission, I was bedridden from the high-dose steroids. Shortly afterwards, I was hospitalized, leaking spinal fluid and “mentally absent” due to the stress and weight loss. The Lord graciously brought me back into remission, restored my mind, and provided a bone marrow donor, my sister.

After the initial 2 ½ years of weekly treatment, I knew that there was a chance that I might not be able to have kids. But at the same time, I remembered how the Lord had given me a heart for international adoption before I ever learned that I had cancer. I knew without a doubt that God was in control and had a plan for my life. However, the pain I experienced that day in March 1995 when I learned of my upcoming infertility will forever be etched in my mind.

My parents took turns taking me to the hospital. On this day in early April, it was my Dad’s turn to go with me to meet with the radiologist “Dr. K.” My heart still pounds and tears roll down my face as I remember this painful visit. Dr. K is a world-renowned radiologist and very nice man. But none of this mattered as he shared that the eight total body radiation treatments I would receive in the days leading up to my bone marrow transplant would cause infertility. My spirit was shattered and I needed a shoulder to cry on, but I was in a room of men who could never fully understand the implications of this news on a 14-year-old young woman. When I got home and shared the news with my mom, we cried together. Of course, my mom wished she had known and could have been there with me as I received the news. I later learned that my mom sat outside the radiation room during my first treatment and wept for my loss.

I won’t go into all the details of my bone marrow transplant, but I will say that I know I am here today by God’s grace. The marrow I received was a very poor match and I spent a week on the ventilator and 7 ½ weeks in the hospital. The new marrow did graft which was a huge relief to everyone, especially to my sweet sister who donated the marrow!

The news from my radiologist remained on my heart, but I am a very private person and rarely talked about it with anyone. I knew that my infertility would be more challenging when my friends got married and had kids, and even more so when I got married. But for this season in life as a teenager, I could entrust it to the Lord.

Fast forward a few years — my life continued to look different than I expected. I always thought I’d be married in my early to mid-20s, but the Lord had other plans.

I met my husband in 2007 during a work conference in Colorado. We were both serving in Christian ministry and he had just moved to the city where I had been living for the past year. We got to know each other better over the following months and I remember how fascinated I was when I learned that he was adopted from Korea as a young child!

He was working as the assistant to the president of our ministry and traveled quite a bit. I laugh now thinking how much I wanted him to ask me out. When he finally did, we had to wait two weeks to go on our first date due to his upcoming travels!

When I look back at our dating relationship, two of the things that stand out the most in my mind are related to my illness. After we’d been dating awhile and were pretty serious, I remember him asking me the sweetest question: “Will we be able to grow old together?”

In January 2009, I had extensive surgery around my right eyebrow to remove basal cell carcinoma caused by the radiation I received. This was such a hard and long day as the doctor had to go in six times to remove layers of tissue and examine the cells under the microscope. My face looked hideous, but my husband was right there with me, helping me make difficult decisions and doing everything he could to support me. I knew that this was the man I wanted to marry. My husband and I were married shortly before our 30th birthdays!

While the Lord continues to bring healing to my life, the life-long side effects from my years of treatment have not been easy. The Lord is helping me trust Him and find joy in trials, but I will admit that I battled a spirit of bitterness and anger at times as I thought my life would look much different 21 years after cancer treatment. The radiation has left mental and emotional scars causing headaches, hormone, ear, eye, skin, bone, memory and muscle damage. I get sick much easier than others and the sickness hangs around a lot longer. And then there’s the infertility.

It was only over the last few years that I verbalized the shame I felt with my infertility. Why shame? I couldn’t control the fact that I had childhood cancer and needed the chemo and radiation. I had nothing to be ashamed of, yet the feelings were still so present. This was an area where the enemy wanted to have victory in my life.

My husband and I began talking more seriously about adopting a child in the winter/spring of 2011. I was thrilled and wanted to begin the process immediately, having had a heart for adoption for more than 20 years. Words could not express how much I wanted this child!

Later that summer, we met with some friends who adopted a little girl from South Korea to ask questions and hear about their experience. I remember tearfully sharing my biggest fear for the first time: others will know of my infertility when they find out we were adopting. My pain and my sense of loss were still very real.

That same week, the Lord spoke to my heart as I brought my pain before Him. I was getting ready one morning when I heard the Lord’s voice so clearly, speaking the truth of Joel 2:25 into my life: “I will restore what the locusts have eaten. In my human mind, I had lost so much life from the cancer, but I had an overwhelming peace, knowing that God was in control and would bring redemption and restoration for His glory. My cancer and plans to adopt were not “plan B” in God’s mind. They were and always will be “plan A.”

In her article, Redeeming the Locust Eaten Years, Hannah Goodwin writes,

When we allow God to work in our souls, we give Him the access He needs to clean out what the locust (the invading enemy of our souls – sin) destroyed and build up what the Spirit delivers. The Holy Spirit, in effect, redeems what was lost by working through our lives . . . .

Our sin makes us weak, but it is Christ in us that makes us strong in spirit. God works everything together to restore what sin has cost us. It does not matter what the “locust” have done to destroy your testimony or the life of a prodigal you know; the Lord, through His mercy and grace, is ready to redeem.

This encounter with the Lord has remained on my heart. The Lord graciously brought me through this time and I soon became involved in the ups and downs of an international adoption.

The extensive paperwork, background checks, personal questions and expenses of an adoption quickly taught My husband and I that there would be many fewer parents in the world if everyone had to go through this detailed process to have a child! But I knew in my heart, that if I had not had cancer, I may not have taken this opportunity to give a needy child a home.

Nine months after beginning our adoption, we took our third and final trip to Russia to bring our son, Isaac, home. I celebrated my first Mother’s Day in our flat in Moscow with my husband and Isaac! The following weeks were challenging as I wanted to care for my new son, but had become very sick while in Russia with pneumonia, ruptured ear drums and fluid in my lungs. Many prayers, my husband, and a kind pharmacist friend in the U.S. helped me through this time!

Shortly after returning home, I was lying in bed one night when the Lord reminded me again of His provision in Isaac. Years ago, a doctor told me that my chances of getting pregnant were about like the chances of Abraham and Sarah conceiving. I joyfully shared this with my husband and said, “But Isaac is in the other room!”

I am continually tempted to ask, “How would my life be different if my body hadn’t been physically weakened by cancer?” But I can’t go there. I have a husband and child who need me to be present now and a God who will give me victory over the enemy.

Surprisingly, having a child hasn’t really lessened the pain of infertility. But verbalizing my pain has brought great healing. I was able to sit down and talk with another friend and adoptive mom about my struggles with infertility. It wasn’t anything she shared that helped my heart — it was the fact that I put it out there. It’s not a secret and it’s not something I should be ashamed of. This experience brought so much healing to my heart and I’m much more at peace about things. The Lord is teaching me a lot about what it means to know His true joy that is not dependent on any circumstances.

I’ve since shared this struggle with a few other friends and have taken a huge step of faith to share it with you. I know that I am on a lifelong journey of completely releasing my infertility to the Lord and embracing His plans for my life. And I pray that He will use my story to encourage others. We will never fully understand God’s ways this side of heaven, but we can know He is at work and has a greater plan in mind than you or I could ever imagine.

These days, if someone asks if I adopted because of medical reasons, I still share that I’ve wanted to adopt a child for many years. Others laugh saying, “You’ll get pregnant now that you’ve adopted Isaac!” And as a very petite woman with a son who looks like a “future linebacker,” people ask, “Is his daddy tall?” I respond, “Taller than I am!” as we all laugh! I usually don’t share that my son is adopted. Often, this information isn’t relevant. Isaac is my son and I’m his mom, and that’s what matters.

In December 2015, we became a family of four, bringing our daughter, Lottie, home from South Korea after a three-year adoption journey.

I’d be honored to talk with you about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, cancer, infertility, and/or adoption.

Your will, not my own – Ann’s story

This story leaves me in complete awe of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness time and time again. So often we think that we have it all together, that we are in control. And then suddenly, without warning or anticipation, something happens that changes everything. But when it does, He is with us. Guiding us every step of the way. 

The hardest struggle I have ever faced began in December 2010 at the age of 23. Up to this point in my life, I had experienced external sadness and sorrow with the loss of loved ones, and through my husband’s life-changing motorcycle accident during our first year of college. These experiences taught me many lessons, helped shape my character and helped plant seeds of faith. However, I had not experienced any real internal struggles. I felt that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I had not experienced failure, and felt that if I worked hard enough, I could achieve success in any aspect of life. I thought that I made the plans for my life and then watched them unfold. I felt secure and in control of my thoughts, feelings, actions and destiny. Little did I know, these convictions were all about to change as my world was turned upside down.

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I was halfway through my second year of law school and was really excelling. I had several prosperous job opportunities lined up for me when I graduated, and I saw the path of my life laid out before me. However, inside I had a tugging, nagging feeling that I could not define. Now in hindsight, I realize the nagging feeling was the Holy Spirit trying to lead me down a different path. At the time, I ignored the prompting. I was stubborn and planned out my life using my head and not my heart. I suppressed feelings and bulldozed ahead to accomplish the goals I had set for myself.

During final exams before Christmas break, I took some Benadryl to help me sleep after a late night of studying and lots of caffeine. Unknown to me at the time, I had an extreme adverse reaction to the Benadryl. I was without sleep for an entire night, and felt extreme anxiety and restlessness. The next night I took more Benadryl, and this pattern continued. By the third night of no sleep, I was having rolling panic attacks (which I had never experienced before in my life). I felt like my body had been taken over, and I was in an extreme state of panic and agitation. A family friend gave me a benzodiazepine, (Klonopin — same family as Xanax, Valium, Ativan) and I instantly fell into a deep sleep.

Knowing I had to finish my exams, I went to the doctor to get a prescription for the benzodiazepine to take for the rest of the week of my exams. I still did not equate the Benadryl to my sleepless nights and was not sure what happened to me. The eight nights taking Klonopin was enough for my body to become dependant. Two weeks after stopping this medication, my body went into withdrawal. It is hard to describe what withdrawal is like, because it does not seem humanly possible to experience the level of physical and mental pain I went through. It is like I entered hell on earth, and I plummeted very quickly into a dark pit. I had to be put back on Klonopin to begin a very slow taper that lasted for 10 months. During this time, I experienced many nights of no sleep, was unable to eat for two months (lived on Ensure), had extreme anxiety and panic, shaking, heart palpitations, inability to breathe properly, and deep depression. There were many moments when I felt like I could not endure the pain any longer; many times I wanted to give up because I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even after I was completely off the medication, it still took more than a year for my brain to fully recover. So, in total, I spent more than two years in this dark pit of suffering.

However, God had me in his grip through every moment of this trial. It truly is awesome to reflect on how He was there from the very start of this walk through the valley of darkness, how he provided me with exactly what I needed to get through each day, and how he was able to change what was meant for my harm into pure goodness.

His sovereignty began on the very first night of no sleep when I took the Benadryl. I received a message in the middle of the night from my uncle who is a missionary in Guatemala. He had never sent me a message through Facebook before, and this message read, “Ann — remember, God does not give us a Spirit of fear, but a Spirit of power, a Spirit of love and a sound mind. — 2 Timothy 1:7” I did not understand the meaning behind this message at the time, but I now view it as purely miraculous. God knew the trial that laid before me, and in His mercy and love, He made sure this message was sent to me from the very start.

In a time of confusion, and under the care of a doctor who was, to say the least, ignorant of the extreme harm these medications cause, God opened the door for me to see a new doctor. This doctor had compassion for my situation — he was knowledgeable about withdrawal and the damage caused by benzodiazepines (benzos), and he helped manage the entire process of slowly getting me off the medication. In my first appointment with him, he pulled out a Bible and read a scripture verse to me. Never in my life has a doctor been bold enough to bring out a Bible during an appointment. He said he felt that God’s hand was in this situation, and he needed to share this with me.

God surrounded me with an amazing support system during this time. My cousins, aunts and dear friends spent many days and countless hours by my side. They poured love and encouragement into me, and spurred me on to not lose hope or give up. God used my husband, family and friends to keep me walking through this trial.

This trial brought stillness to my life. The life I had all planned out suddenly came to a complete stop. Everything I thought I knew, I no longer did. My world was turned upside down so quickly, I was lost and scrambling to find ground beneath me. During this forced quiet time, I was so hungry for Christ. I read scripture and many Christian books. My favorite verses were, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. I also found so much encouragement from reading, “Calm My Anxious Heart” by Linda Dillow, “Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer, and “Believing God” by Beth Moore. I listened to Christian audio tapes, started attending a bible study, and talked with family and friends for hours about my faith and my purpose. I prayed ceaselessly, and prayed harder than I had ever prayed before. I prayed for healing, I prayed for strength, and eventually reached the place where I prayed for God’s will to be done in my life in His perfect timing. My faith and relationship with God grew exponentially during this trial. Not to mention, the faith of my dearest loved ones, including my husband. He came to faith through witnessing God’s work in my life during this time of suffering. As hard as this trial was, the goodness that came out of it could not have happened any other way. Now that I stand at the end of this struggle, I am in reverent awe of God’s sovereignty in every aspect of my life and the lives of others.

I am now healed and am a much stronger version of myself. My perspective on life has become God-centered, and my life is now God-controlled, instead of self-controlled (I still have my moments, of course). I know that life is full of trials, and there will be many more trials to come. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 However, now I can rest assured that no matter what valley of darkness may come, God will be by my side through it all.

Truth Speaks © 2017