My cancer, His story

I open my tattered journal. The date on the first page is October, 1997. My mind reels back. I remember the day. I remember it was raining. I remember the fear. Although other words were spoken that day, the only words I heard in the sterile office of my OB/GYN: There is a possibility of malignancy. Cancer.

Cancer? Impossible. I was 29. I was 24 weeks pregnant. I was healthy. I was blindsided.

My journal became my contact companion as I faced each day, each procedure, and each milestone in my cancer journey. Diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer at such a young age I was misfit on many fronts. My daughter entered the world on Christmas day, only after the 12 cm tumor had been removed and determined to be an aggressive form of of cancer that required immediate chemotherapy. I was wheeled to the cancer floor. My daughter was wheeled to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

I had transformed from an expectant mother to cancer patient and mother of a premature infant in a matter of hours. My husband paced between the two ends of the hospital. The joy of holding our fragile 4-pound daughter seemed like a dream when he walked back across the hospital to hold my hand during a chemotherapy infusion. To say our lives were out of control would be an understatement. The premature birth of our daughter and uncertainty of my health combined to bring us both to our knees in ways we never anticipated as a young married couple.

But we could not see then the weaving God had begun. He held a purple thread in his hands. We just couldn’t see it year.

Through the numerous complications surrounding the birth of our daughter and my cancer treatments, Troy and I spent many nights in a hospital room. He, sleeping in a recliner, and me, semi-conscious on morphine and anti-nausea medications. But none of those medications or complications clouds the memory that I have on a cold December night just before our daughter’s birth. 

We knew what we would be facing. We knew the doctors were concerned. We know my life and our daughter’s were being delicately balanced by the physicians decisions. But the only thing we knew for certain was that there was a God that was greater than our circumstances. 

The tangible signs of this were everywhere. We received cards and letters from people we loved and food from church members who did not know us at all. An invisible chain had begun of prayers and encouragement that extended across the country. We tried to count the states in which people had us on their prayer list.

We lost track somewhere in the twenties. At that moment, in that hospital room, in all our despair, we could physically feel the prayers being lifted on our behalf. It did not take away all the pain or uncertainty, but it did deepen our faith, give us hope, and surround us with unconditional love. These were the three things we desperately needed during our crisis.

The memories of my diagnosis, treatment, and first year as the mother of a premature baby have faded, but will never leave me.

I am a 24 year cancer survivor. I am blessed today with two healthy children. (Yes, our son was born 2 1/2 years after Shelby) Both are medical miracles due to the procedures and treatment regime I endured during my illness. My husband Troy continues to be my anchor. I am beyond blessed.

(You can get a glimpse of this time in our life HERE in a little post that went viral a few years ago.)

But God had another miraculous blessing in mind with my cancer journey. A ministry was born out of this experience, and its birth began 7 years after my initial diagnosis. The Lydia Project began touching women facing cancer in 2003. The vision for the ministry gained clarity when God surrounded me with three women who remain my dearest friends, and the co-founders o an outreach to support women in their cancer journey. Although our backgrounds differed professionally, our hearts were united in a desire to support women who were suffering.

This is a Lydia video I co-created with Mark Albertin in 2009 of Scrapbook Productions and is based on the “I Am A Cancer Patient” poem I wrote in 1998.

The Lydia Project Group

The continuation of God’s story…

The Lydia Project Is Born

The project is named for Lydia who appears just briefly in the bible (Acts 16:14-15). She was a successful businesswoman in the trade of purple cloth. Lydia was blessed with creativity, a strong work ethic and generosity. Using these gifts, Lydia supported others in their faith walk and extended a hand to those in need.

The ministry began by sewing tote bags, each monogrammed with the word “faith” “hope” or “love.” The concept grew out of a decorating business I owned with two of the founders, eventually expanding to bring on Laura Holder as our first Executive Director, a friend with decades of experience as an oncology pharmacist. Together, the four of us rallied community volunteers to sew totes, developed patterns for the bags, organized groups of volunteers to pray over them and for the recipients. We solicited business donations, grants and fabric from the local Carole Fabrics- stitching together support, one tote at a time. Eventually a prayer card was added to each tote, along with practical items that may be helpful in their journey and a journal was published. More than 1000 totes and more than one hundred volunteers rallied in our first two years, reaching as far as Africa as a tanglible sign of support to women in the midst of their battle.

The totes reminded every woman that they were not alone, just as counting the states where people were praying for us had comforted joy husband and I during our time of need.

“You will never know the span of distance-locally and worldwide and the number of lives that are touched by your outreach. The words “faith” “hope” and “love” on each tote offer cancer patients a visual truth to hold onto at at time when the world seems to be spinning out of control.” -Carol, cancer survivor and Lydia tote recipient

I worked as the Co-Founder and Director of Development for Lydia for nearly 10 years. And although all four of us as the original founders went back to work in our fields or moved on to other ministry, Lydia was birthed of our calling by God and those years are some of the richest of my life- knowing that valleys of deep pain can be reclaimed by serving others.

The Lydia Project still operates in Augusta, with a 5,000 square foot Lydia House where cancer patients find refuge and a place to be supported as they undergo treatment. Hundreds of volunteers still fuel the mission.

I am proud to have been a part of God’s plan in it all.