“All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” – Helen Keller
For some of you this will be a story you already know, for others this is pretty intimate & in depth look into the path that led us to this point in our lives….
I never expected this to be the first part of our story…My path has been a tricky one up to this point. Everyone has their trials, God’s plan is full of them, He sees our strengths grow, our characters evolve and our love for the journey expand with every endeavor we face.
I was 14 when I had a vision with God. He sat across from me on the daybed in my parents’ house. He held my hand and spoke with conviction. He told me that I would not bear my own children, that there would be a time where I would have to accept this fully. He also told me I would hate Him. I remember vividly saying “never.”; and Him softly telling me that I would find my way again, not to give up hope when the time came and that He had plans for my future family. I was confused; He had just told me I wouldn’t have a family. But in the hazy dreamlike state I just took it in…He smiled, I smiled and then He was gone. I woke up and told my mom about the dream. Both of us thinking I must have been watching something interesting the day before but neither of us completely discounting the vision; my mother has always been intuitive spiritually so for either of us to have gut feelings, déjà vu or in some ways premonitions was basically normal. However, teenage years and time forced the entire sequence to slip back into the recess of my mind.
I met my lovely Stable Boy “M” when I was 15. We dated through high school, surprising everyone when we continued the relationship through college – never once breaking up, but definitely having our trials laid before us. We persevered and found ourselves marrying at 25 and 26 years old. Enjoying life, loving our blessings and for the first time discussing our future. We both agreed we were way too selfish to have a child at the time and in deciding that we put off for 3 years trying to conceive.
We had been actively trying for 3 months. I was 28. It was July and we were supposed to be heading to his father’s wedding in Texas. I had a yard sale – it was grueling in the heat and thought I had just overdone it when I started cramping. By 2 a.m. that Monday I was in the ER screaming my head off at the pain. Tests, scans, needles, everything was a blur until they told me there was nothing they could do. They called a specialist. She came in and spoke sternly but with reverence – asking me about past menstrual issues, any cramps before, did I know what a cyst was. M sat wide eyed, learning way too much about the female makeup in those 5 minutes than he EVER wanted to. She told me a cyst the size of a football had decided to wrap itself around my left ovary and that she could not see any of my organs due to its mass. She had no idea what she would find, if it was cancerous, if it had damaged organs, if it could be removed without damaging the other ovary; but extensive surgery was the only option…the tears came. By the Friday that we were supposed to fly out I was lying on a bed, waiting for the OR to open up and my anesthesiologist was asking me if I minded if he prayed for me. Crying, I told him, “please do.” He held my hand, he prayed for me and I felt Him again – just as I had 14 years before – that peace, that understanding that He was there and I was no longer afraid. 5 hours later I woke up with 39 staples, a 16 inch incision from my breast bone to my pelvic, the knowledge that my specialist had to remove ALL of my organs that were masked out of my body for a few minutes – creepy - no left ovary and had “birthed” a 4 lb cyst that got me in an article in the Medical Journal – Whoopee! But I was alive. But I was also angry. The memory of that vision/visit from my youth was fresh on my mind and I remember that first week, looking down at the Frankenstein-esque metal and thinking “yep, I hate You right now.” The first weeks of recovery were not at all fun – my sweet sister had to endure my anger, my tears and my frustration. It was a hard recovery, a difficult transition and the best definition of a true trial that I had ever encountered up to that point.
I had hope that the single ovary on my right side could be fine for conception. Checkups were many, follow-ups and blood work became words I truly despised, but the overall goal was to have a baby in the end. We had to wait around 6 months before truly trying to conceive again. The right ovary took its time getting back to rights. We tried, and tried and tried. Then we took a break – we decided to not drive ourselves nuts so we gave it all to God. 2009 passed, then 2010, and then in 2011 I realized that there seemed to still be some issues. After speaking with my OB/GYN (the specialist God sent me when I lost the first ovary had graciously become my doctor and I had become her most interesting patient) we decided to do a D&C. So there I went, into another operating room for a standard procedure that women have every day. It was at the middle of November, my doctor sent off her sample and Thanksgiving was upon us. When you go to Camden, more specifically to my parents, it means you are agreeing to no cell service for the holiday. I was okay with that. J
However, my doctor was trying to find me. Desperately. She left me no less than 8 messages. When we returned the Sunday after the holiday I was beyond curious as to what was going on. Stupidly, I did not call her back until Wednesday. She told me to come in immediately, she would work me in. I was nervous, but not scared…not yet.
She sat me down and when she teared up fear crept in. I hadn’t told M to come with me. It was just me and her. She told me that her findings had given her something she suspected – a thickly lined uterus – but there was something else. She found Endometrial Hyperplasia Complex with Atypia Stage 3. That afternoon I not only had an OBGYN but I was scheduled to meet an Oncologist at the Bruno Cancer Center in Birmingham, the following week – the 7th – the day before M’s birthday. The oncologist would be my second opinion and if the cancerous cells were verified – he would be my cancer doctor.
I remember calling mom – she was calm, but I know she was immediately googling, asking her resident doctor and nurses the minute we hung up. It’s okay, I did the same when I got back home. I cried too. I cried a lot in that small drive home. I cried when I saw M. He held me and said everything was going be okay.
The next month is still at times a blur. The first meeting and pathology confirmed our doctors’ fears. Our Oncologist, Dr. B, wanted to do surgery the following week – I was set up for a hysterectomy with a full lymph node scope (upper thighs and below the breasts) – we asked if we could wait at least until after Christmas. He agreed, he was so torn about removing my remaining ovary – at 30 I would have little to no hormone production and the long term effects made him wary. He said if everything looked good, he would do a partial hysterectomy leaving the ovary…December 28th – everything wasn’t good. The ovary was enlarged and I woke up in recovery at St. Vincent’s with a Total Hysterectomy. The idea of conception had already left me 21 days earlier, but now Menopause loomed at 30 and reality swept in. It was 7 days post surgery when I got the good news – they had removed all the cancer and I would not need radiation therapy. Life was blissful in those seconds. The recovery was another hit to my system and the following year brought all kinds of new bodily changes.
M was beyond amazing through everything. We had a discussion that day after confirming the cancer cells in Birmingham and that first initial meeting at the cancer center. I told him I understood if he wanted out – if he wanted the opportunity to have children with someone I would never hold it against him. I cried, begged him to think it through and my loving husband sat in front of me at The Tavern, held my hand and shook his head. He was in this from the beginning because he loves me, he had no intention of leaving me and that no matter what we would make it through this and God would be there for us every step of the way. I’ve loved him since I was 16 but in that moment I saw love for the first time; it was all over his face, in the way he held my hand and in the look he continued to give me as we ate. Then the surgery came, recovery came, crazy swings of menopause, insomnia, neuropathy and the idiosyncrasies of Courtney engulfed our life. He still smiled, still held my hand and I still saw that look of utter love – he amazes me every day and I am so thankful for his strength. We are a team. Marriage is not something that just easily happens, you build it, you work on it daily and you make it the most important portion of who you are. I am grateful every day that God saw us way before we saw each other and that He continues to guide us daily.
During all of this, during all the years since 2008 life was still circling all around us, we welcomed Kristin “The Duchess” (M’s niece) into our home and got a good taste of parenting a teenager. She has been a blessing in our life and we love her so much. She came to us in 2010 and we have enjoyed watching her go from 16 year old young girl to the 20 year old woman she is today. Her journey is just beginning and she is holding her own. We know that had we been able to conceive in 2008 that we would not have been able to take The Duchess into our home in 2010.
It all circles back to that first vision, first discussion with God. He knew the path in front of us, he knew that the Duchess was in our future, that we would need to have open hearts for different paths and Heknew that we would face our trials head on, accepting life with each passing day. He had more faith in me than I had in Him at the time. Now when I look back at the moments His presence filled me: 4 surgeries (laparotomy, D&C, hysterectomy & a random appendectomy), each recovery, sitting in the Bruno cancer center waiting for my oncologist to tell me “I rarely ever get to tell my patients this news: you are now cancer free.” and the moment I woke up in January of this year, on a Sunday, lying in bed, overcome with the deepest, strongest yearning to see M as a dad, to hear the word ‘mom’ and know it was meant for me, and to see the laughter in our child’s eyes as they run in the yard with the dogs...and on that morning 19 years ago after spending all night talking…He fills me. He surrounds me daily, blesses me always, loves me unconditionally and reminds me often that this life is not an easy one but it is worth every moment…thankfully I don’t think He will make me wait seventy years….
"For thus says the LORD, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.…” Jeremiah 29:11