winning

June 26, 2012

Some good news! This morning I had a PET scan to see if the new chemo has been working, and my scan came back clear! This means that there is no cancer present in my body at this time and that I am ready to move on to a stem cell transplant so that it never returns.

However, I still have months before I’m out of the woods. I still have to get another dose of the chemo I am currently on next week to ‘hold me over’, so to speak, until I get to the stem cell transplant. It’ll be a few weeks of insurance processing and medical testing until I can actually start the SCT. And then the SCT is a month-long treatment itself and will probably take a couple of months to recover from. But the important thing is that I am headed in the right direction. Praise the Lord.

“and call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Psalm 50:15

nothing to lose

June 10, 2012

Tomorrow I start on my second round of chemo (ICE). It has been a quick, crazy three weeks. So much has happened.

The Friday after my chemo was the day I felt my worst. Once I made it through that rough weekend, I started to come around on Monday. Although I was feeling better, my immune system was at its lowest and got the best of me 7 days after my chemo. With peculiar fever and back pain that came on suddenly, I ended up at the ER from 8pm to 3am…there’s no such thing as a quick trip to the ER. Fortunately, it was nothing serious: just your average case of getting sick with a weak immune system.

After a couple of days of antibiotics, I was feeling much better and decided I couldn’t stand to be away from North Carolina any longer. So with my immune system back up, I went to Boone for a few days to spend time with my fiance, friends and my oldest sister, nephew, and niece who drove there from Virginia. I had a great time, and I’m glad I made the trip because I’m not really sure when I will be able to go back.

Just about the time I could say I felt almost completely normal again, the strands of hair that came out in my hands were a disturbing reminder of the reality I was trying to forget. Last time it took months. This time it took days.

I was a little upset about my hair starting to come out at first just because I honestly was not expecting it to happen so fast. But having been through this before, I knew how it was gonna go. After a couple of days it was getting pretty thin. So I asked my sister Britta, who conveniently enough is a hairdresser,  if she would cut it shorter and try to even it out. A few minutes into cutting it, I could tell it was past saving because it would fall to the floor when she touched it. So I just told her, “Just do whatever you want. I’m not going to have it for much longer.” And a little bit of bleach and tin foil later, I had golden blonde highlights in it! [She was originally going to tone the blonde so it was a reddish color but we were afraid if we messed with my hair again there wouldn’t be any left.]

You can see from these pictures how fast my hair was coming out this weekend.

In a way, it helped me to have those horrendous blonde streaks in my hair because it made me want to get rid of them faster. Since there wasn’t much left anyway, and it was to the point of just annoying me, I shaved my head clean today.

IN A NUTSHELL

  • I’m feeling great right now. I start my second round of chemo tomorrow.
  • I lost my hair just within the past 4 days or so. Not gonna lie, I’m gonna miss my hair, but there are much worse things you could lose than your hair.
  • I thank God for continuing to bless me through my treatments with good health and peace about what I’m going through.

put some ICE on it

May 24, 2012

I started my new chemo, ICE (Ifosfamide, Carboplatin, Etoposide) today. It takes three days to complete my first round.

Day One: Today I was at the hospital from around 8:30am to 5:00pm. Yeah, long day. I got a picc line in my arm that will stay in for the three days. Besides having tubes coming out of my arm, the only annoying part is that I have to put one of those long, plastic gloves farmers use to deliver baby cows on my arm every time I take a shower.

After getting the picc line, blood work, and seeing the doc, I started the chemo sometime around 1pm with some pre-meds to prevent nausea and allergic reactions. Then I had to have 3 bags of the different ICE fluid medicines through my IV while taking some pills and a little bag of medicine that prevents blood clots in the bladder (which the ICE can cause). I know, it sounds complicated.  I don’t always know exactly what’s going on at all times, I just let the nurses do their thing.

I’m tired and a little dizzy when I walk around, but I will take that over being nauseous any day. Praise the Lord: I feel a lot better after having all of that chemo than I thought I would. Then again, it is only the first day.

Day Two: The day started out with me feeling really good. I was only at the hospital from 1pm to 5pm today because I didn’t have to see the doctor or anything. I just had to go straight to the infusion center to get the chemo. I started to get nauseous a little bit during all of it, and of course I am exhausted after.

Day Three: I definitely didn’t feel as good today as I did yesterday morning. Nonetheless, I was glad to get my last day of chemo over with. I was at the hospital from 1pm to 7pm…I had to wait longer than usual. For some reason, during chemo my neck and body started to feel really sore.

*****

Honestly, I’m feeling better than I anticipated after 3 days of chemo. I don’t feel amazing, but I’ve felt a lot worse after chemo before than this. (knock on wood)

I feel a little weak and nauseous today, but I’m glad that my body aches are gone. My immune system is expected to be fragile now so I have to get this shot tonight that is supposed to boost my white blood cells.

Let the conquering begin.

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. -1 Peter 4:19

IN A NUTSHELL

  • Finished my first round of the new 3-day chemo (ICE).
  • Not feeling the greatest, but not the worst either. I’m thankful to feel a lot better after 3 days of chemo than I thought I would.
  • Three weeks from now I will get the same chemo again.

summer bummer

May 11, 2012

“You have cancer.”

“You have cancer, again.”

“You still have cancer.”

I’m not sure which of the 3 is the hardest to hear, but I got the third one today.

I started off today by going to the dentist for a check-up to qualify for the SCT (stem-cell transplant). Honestly, I dislike the dentist so much that I was dreading seeing the dentist about dental hygiene more than seeing the doctor about cancer. Everything went really well at the dentist, though it took forever and made me an hour late for my blood work at the hospital.

The nurse got the IV on the first try, so I was good to go. (it took 3 tries last time) Then on to see the doctor…

Though I could tell my mom was anxious, I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to receive good news today–until I saw my doctor enter the room. I could immediately tell from his presence that he wasn’t going to tell us what we wanted to hear. He basically came right out and told us that the two places in my neck/chest that we expected to be non-existent were still there and that though one had gotten smaller, the other had gotten bigger. So I didn’t continue with the third dose of Brentuximab (chemo) today, and I won’t be getting the SCT anytime soon.

By now I am kind of used to switching gears. When we finally think we know what is going to happen is when we find out that we don’t know what is going to happen. I prefer to have some sort of plan that may fail or change then have no plan at all. Though, we never really get a say in God’s plans.

New plan: May 21 I will start a new chemo called ICE. This one is going to be a lot more intense than the Brentuximab (the chemo I have been on for the last couple of months). ICE will weaken my immune system and make me lose my hair. It will be an all day event in the hospital for 3 days at a time. Then after 3 weeks I will get another dose of ICE. Two weeks after my second dose, I will get a PET scan to see if I am in remission again to determine if I can go on to SCT.

I have to admit that hearing this news is disappointing and a bit discouraging. When I am upset though, it is not because I think I’m not going to ever get better, it’s just because I can’t do all of the things I want to do, go all of the places I want to go, and be with all of the people I want to be with. I’m mostly upset about not being able to graduate next semester and having to be away from North Carolina for a long time.

I also miss what “summer” used to mean. But when I get facebook messages from people I don’t know, or haven’t talked to in years, about how God has used my story to touch their lives and inspire their faith, I am reminded that God is using me through these experiences this summer in ways that he couldn’t use me through pool parties, beach trips and fun in the sun. I have to keep in mind that there is a lot more gain in this, than there is loss.

25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. -Matthew 16:25 (NLT)

***

Thanks again for all of the prayers and for supporting Jared Hogan and me with the film this week. This film means so much to me as I am going through this because it gives me something to be excited about, and I think my story will be captured and put together effectively so that it can impact lives. To watch click here, www.chesliesstory.org

 

sneak peek

May 8, 2012

Just wanted to share with you a promo for the documentary Jared Hogan is working on. I am so excited to have the opportunity to work with Jared on this project over the next year to capture my story and use it as a tool to proclaim God’s faithfulnesss!

Click Here to Watch: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jaredhogan/cheslie

On this very morning one year ago, I was awoken by a phone call that would completely alter the course of my life. I had no idea a casual walk to the post office to check my mail (on the afternoon before) would turn into a not-so-casual visit to the health clinic the next morning.

To be honest, this past year has felt more like three. I almost feel like I’ve had a lifetime worth of things happen in a year’s time. I wouldn’t say I had my dreams crushed, just changed. Basically I thought this year was going to go like this: Be healthy, graduate, and get married all by May 2012. Let me reflect a little on how it really went: Get cancer, get engaged, miss a college semester. Beat cancer, plan a wedding, start a college semester. Get cancer again, cancel the wedding, finish a college semester.

While I was writing those last couple of sentences, I feel like I am talking about someone else’s life. How did all of that happen so fast? How did all that happen to me?

I think the more appropriate question is why did God choose me to go through all of this? What is He trying to get out of your average, awkward 21-year-old college student majoring in graphic design? I guess I’m gonna keep trying to find out.

If I knew in advance what was going to happen this year after someone telling me last May, “You’re not going to get married or graduate next May. Oh yeah, and you are going to get cancer a couple of times.” After punching them in the eye for being so casual about it, I would have said that there is NO way I could handle all of that! Which makes me wonder, how the heck did I make it here?

Maybe that’s part of why God keeps His will a mystery, so that we trust Him in stepping-stones instead of us being intimidated by the big picture and minimizing His power. I didn’t spend this whole year trusting God to get me through cancer per se, I spent this year trusting Him one treatment, one test result, one doctor’s visit, one needle…at a time. Then when I looked up and saw where I had made it to in my life, I realized that I actually was trusting God to get me through cancer. I have found that when you look back at your life, you realize that trusting Him in the smaller things is trusting Him in the bigger things. That’s how I made it here.

Though I have had some of the worst things happen to me, I have to honestly admit that this has also been one of the best years of my life. I’ve never felt so loved and blessed as I have in the past 12 months. If I experienced this much joy and gratitude from all the honor, selflessness, compassion, and Christ-like love offered and given by so many from the moment I first found out about the cancer, I can only image how joyful and glorified the Lord is by His children. So though it has been hard, it has been so wonderful at the same time.

“A life of great faith requires great faith.” Well, God has provided me with circumstances that require great faith, so now I just have to provide the great faith.

chops for cheslie

April 27, 2012

Chops for Cheslie was a success! Most of the ladies from my eGroup had enough hair to be able to donate!

I don’t think today has even really sunk in yet. I’m still in awe of everything that went on. Ok, so a bunch of amazing girls who really care about me with long beautiful hair and two very talented hairdressers (that drove up 2 hours from Charlotte) gave up a whole day and created an event to cut their hair off short and raise financial support to bless me. As I was watching it all take place, I felt excited to be a part of the event, not fully wrapping my head around the fact that I was the “good cause” it was for. It’s still hard for me to believe someone would do all of that for me. But that really did happen today. I have lots of pictures to prove it.

To girls especially, cutting your hair short is a big deal. These girls were not only sacrificing the inches of hair that took months and years to grow and the time they took out of their busy schedules to be there, but also sacrificing their emotion, their willingness to feel anxious and uneasy about doing something. Even if they were afraid it would make them feel less beautiful. (Which of course it didn’t, every single one of them looked stunning with short hair!) I know they all loved their long hair, but they wanted to show me that they loved me more. They thought I was worth going through all of that. Wow.

I feel so unworthy, so undeserving of all these good people and good things that keep happening to me. Sometimes I’m not really even sure how to handle them or accept them. Of course I’m thankful, but how can I let them know just how much this means to me? And though I’m not worthy, I know I shouldn’t feel that way because He is. And I also know creating and being a part of something like Chops for Cheslie is an opportunity for God to bring joy to those who serve and sacrifice, and to me.

My heart is filled-up with appreciation and joy from all of the blessing and love that is overflowing from the lives of these people supporting me. I’m not calling cancer itself a blessing, but it certainly has opened a lot of doors for blessing in my life and others lives that would have not otherwise existed to be able to be experienced.

Today is going to make for an incredible memory. I’m so thankful for all of the people who made me feel so special and loved today.

take two

April 20, 2012

Never did I think my life would ever be intriguing enough for someone to actually want to film it. But then again, never did I think I would ever have cancer. A couple of years ago I had what was probably the best summer of my life, interning under the Graphic Designers at Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC. In the creative department at Elevation, I had the opportunity to meet an extremely talented filmmaker, Jared Hogan. Little did I know, a couple of years down the road I would receive an email from Jared asking if he could capture my story on video. It’s funny how God uses connections with certain people in your life you’d never suspect in ways you’d never imagined.

There was really no question. I felt like this is something that I couldn’t say no to, something that I absolutely had to do. I am beyond excited to work on this documentary-type film with Jared over the next few months to create something that is close to my heart on a personal level, but more importantly, to create a powerful tool to reach and inspire others with what God is doing through my experience with cancer at a young age. Even though Jared is basically filming my life, I do not want to come off as the star or the main character in this story simply because I’m not—God is. Since I have to talk about myself so much, it is easy for me to bask in my own glory when the spotlight is on me. But if the spotlight is on me, and not Jesus, put down the camera because there is really no point at all in filming this story. If anyone believes that I got this far on my own, they are greatly mistaken. I’m not the hero here, He is. So I am praying for humility as we continue this video journey so that the film will become less and less about me and more and more about Him.

Today was my second dose of the new chemo. Thanks to Jared, I have to say that today was probably my favorite treatment experience out of the 14 times I’ve had to get chemo. With my little “film posse” (consisting of Jared on video and his partner Jeremiah on audio) following me around Vanderbilt hospital to each appointment, I was really excited to share my experience of what exactly I go through on a typical day of chemo. I think my excitement counteracted any usual anxiety I would’ve experienced today because it took 3 tries to get a good IV in my arm and I didn’t panic, and also the familiarly unpleasant smells of the infusion center didn’t make me as sick to my stomach!

Though I have the “rough stuff” coming up this summer, making this film gives me a reason to actually look forward to going through all of this again. Instead of just going through the motions of treatment to make it to the finish line, I want to really embrace this time in my life in such a way that I can extract all the good stuff I can from it, to drain it for all its worth so that I don’t “waste my cancer”.

Three weeks from today, I have the PET scan to see if I am in remission in order to move on to the stem cell transplant, and I will also be getting what will most likely be my last dose of this chemo (Brentuximab). Fortunately, I haven’t had any side effects from this chemo and have just been catching up with all of my school work this semester so that I can finish it out.

Another really amazing thing I am looking forward to is Chops for Cheslie! My friends in my eGroup (Elevation Bible Study) in Boone started this event to cut their hair short in my honor since I will be losing mine again soon. I was just ecstatic that these girls would all sacrifice their gorgeous long hair for me, but they are also going as far as making a fundraiser out of it by getting people to sponsor them by the inch of what they are cutting off and other donations!

And the blessings just keep flowing! My home town of Kingston Springs is having an event in May called Harpeth Springaroo in which there will be food, live music, and more to raise support for all the people in our community battling cancer.

I honestly have no idea how I ended up with such incredible, selfless people in my life. I have been so touched and empowered by everyone’s contributions and compassion. I am so blessed and thankful for all the people who continue to inspire me and show me a perfect picture of God’s love.

IN A NUTSHELL

  • Round two of chemo today was a success! All has been well because I haven’t had any side effects from the chemo and have been able to be a fairly normal college student for the past few weeks. Praise the Lord!
  • I have the great honor and privilege to work with my friend and gifted filmmaker Jared Hogan on a film with the purpose of capturing my story and how the Lord is working through my experience with cancer.
  • My friends in North Carolina are cutting their hair to support me through an event they created called Chops for Cheslie  and friends in Tennessee are hosting another event called Harpeth Springaroo to support me and others with cancer. If you are interested in getting involved with either of these events, you can click on the links and send a message to those hosting the events.
  • I couldn’t ask for better people in my life or a better support system. Thank you for keeping up with my blog, encouraging me, praying for me, and ultimately making this time in my life so much easier on me.

I thought about updating my blog many times in the past couple of weeks, but I’m glad I decided not to. I’ve had a different plan literally everyday– from this treatment in Texas to that treatment in Tennessee, from having to drop this semester of college to being able finish, and until yesterday I had an appointment scheduled to get treatment in California. Plans have been all over the place so I didn’t want share what was going on and confuse everyone until I knew for sure what exactly was going to happen with my treatment.

It has been a bumpy ride to get here but I think we ended up with the best option out there! It seems like its been months since I found out about the cancer coming back, although its only been a few weeks.

I know this sounds weird but from my experience both times, cancer hasn’t come without blessing. After denying coverage for the chemo once already, our insurance company still hasn’t given us an answer about covering the chemo for over a week now, so the Pharmacy Billing lady at Vanderbilt got the actual drug company to agree to provide the chemo for free regardless of what the insurance company says! Praise God! I don’t need an insurer, I have ‘the Ensurer’! So I get to finally start treatment tomorrow!

After a CT scan in the morning, I will start my first treatment of Brentuximab (chemo) at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. I will have very few side effects while taking this chemo (i.e. I get to keep my hair and immune system), and I think I will only have to miss a couple more classes, so I am going to try my hardest to finish out this semester of college! I will have 4 rounds of chemo every 3 weeks and after I finish the Brentuximab, I will start the stem cell transplant this summer. In case you haven’t guessed or assumed by now, there is no way the wedding is happening in May. I have way too much going on.

The stem cell transplant will take about two and half months including some testing that has to be done prior to it. The stem cell transplant will involve freezing my stem cells after collecting them from my blood through a process similar to giving blood, but it will “filter” out the stem cells and the blood will go back into my body without them. Then I will have to have 5 treatments of  another type of chemo for 5 days in a row. This will be some seriously “hardcore” chemo that will wipe out my entire immune system and make me completely hairless in 5 days! After the 5th day of treatment, I will then get my thawed stem cells back and start growing a brand new immune system! During that time I will have to go to the hospital everyday for 20-30 days so that my blood counts can be monitored and to make sure I don’t need a blood transfusion. And after this whole process is complete, even though statically its a 50/50 chance, we expect that the cancer will NEVER come back.

It’s not that I’m excited about starting chemotherapy for the second time at 21-years-old, but I am excited to get the ball rolling so that I can put all this behind me and move forward. My hopes are to be done with everything in time to finish school next fall so that I can graduate from college in December 2012. But we shall see…

IN A NUTSHELL

  • The milder chemo (Brentuximab) that I wanted is paid for and I get to start it tomorrow! (Wednesday, March 28)
  • I will have 4 treatments of Brentuximab every 3 weeks and after that I will start the stem cell transplant (which will take around 2 and half months) during the summer
  • If everything goes accordingly, I should be able to finish out this semester of college!
  • Praise the Lord! He provides and rewards patience.

hard one to swallow

March 13, 2012

If only it were as simple as swallowing a spoonful of cancer syrup to make it all better…maybe someday it will be.

I met with Dr. Morgan last Friday, and didn’t really want to post the plan he suggested on my blog just yet because I knew it wasn’t set in stone. Even though my mom and I came to Houston for a second opinion, I think I kinda had hopes that Dr.Younes, Hodgkins lymphoma specialist of MD Anderson Cancer Center, would have the same opinion and just agree with Dr.Morgan’s treatment plan.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly the case. Although Dr. Younes did agree with Dr. Morgan on the stem-cell transplant part, their opinions differed on the initial chemotherapy. Unlike Dr.Morgan, the type of chemotherapy suggested by Dr. Younes would not allow me to finish this semester of college out like I had hoped and might even require me to move to Houston for a few months. Though it would be inconvenient, convenience isn’t the priority right now. When is cancer ever convenient anyway? I’m going to do whatever it takes to get rid of this and move on with my life.

I’m not sure what treatment option I am going to decide on because it also depends on what my insurance company will cover and what further research reveals about the different drugs. The hardest part about all this is that ultimately, the decision to choose the best treatment is left up to me. It’s a blessing to have options, but I wish that I didn’t have to be the one to make the choice. I feel too young and incapable to make a decision that is so crucial to the rest of my life.

It was also a bit unsettling to find out that the cure rate of stem-cell transplant for Hodgkins is 50%. Being an optimistic person, I thought it was going to be a lot higher. I know that God is able.  That no decision that I make, no treatment that the doctors do or don’t give me, and no statistic can change His will for my life or hinder His power and ability to heal me.

 28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  “Yes, Lord,” they replied.

-Matthew 9:28

IN A NUTSHELL

  • We’ve discussed possible treatment options with my oncologist in Nashville and another oncologist in Houston
  • Your prayers as we are weighing our options and considering both opinions over the next few days to decide which treatment path to pursue are greatly appreciated