The Beginning

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Every story starts somewhere, whether we realize it’s the beginning or not. Our story began before we knew it existed; three months before, to be exact. A foreign, unwelcome illness began to settle itself into our lives and, more specifically, into my husband’s chest. The chest that I had fallen asleep on night after night, the chest that supported wonderful, too-tight hugs that Andrew loves to give me, the chest that has encased five years of laughter thus far together, the chest that our silly dog had tread over one too many times because he thinks he’s a cat, the chest that holds my husband’s heart that I so proudly claim- a life-changing tumor was growing among us as we obliviously made our own kind of life-changing memories.ย 

Andrew is a baller. No, like seriously, he is a professional basketball player. In September, Andrew moved to Lithuania and, a month later, I followed suit. We embarked on a journey of completely unchartered territory that is professional basketball. To say we didn’t know what to expect is an extreme understatement. There were ups and downs, (and then some more downs) but through it all, we had each other. We were away from all of our family, all of our friends, and all of our favorite foods- but we had each other! We had God, and we had the one person on this earth that we needed in one another. Oh, and we had our dog, Charlie. His participation was a non-negotiable. This is all we needed to get through the constant windy-weather and the lack of hearing the beautiful and incomparable English language. Andrew travelled to so many parts of the world that he never thought he would step foot in; his passport is pretty impressive, to say the least. But an adventure that was supposed to kick off our marriage into a whirlwind of experience and culture was cut short when we were sat down at our kitchen table in Lithuania and were told there was a sizable tumor taking shape inside of Andrew. Shock, dismay, sadness, fear, and an emergency flight home were our next 36 hours. We had dreamt of the joyous day of setting foot on US ground once again, but this is certainly not what we had pictured. It was hard to be excited about reuniting with our loved ones because we knew that those hugs would be brief before heading straight to the hospital from O’Hare.ย 

A few days into tests, scans, and sleepless nights in the hospital, we received my sweet guy’s diagnosis. Andrew has a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that is more common (and curable) in young children. In hearing the diagnosis, we felt like we were taking blow after blow. And yet we knew that the one thing ย the doctors would not factor into any sort of success rate or percentage is that we serve a mighty and sovereign God. We serve a good, just God who is the ultimate Physician. We serve a God who performs miracles every day, but also doesn’t always grant the miracles we pray for because His will for our lives is perfectly thought of. We serve a God whose plans are bigger and better than any of our dreams. No, not every day has been or will be easy for us, but a cancer diagnosis is easier to swallow when we know that this is no surprise to God and that He is in control. We are so joyous to know that the Lord will use this and deepen our ministry and testimonies. It is our hope and prayer that this blog is a tool and that the right person at the right time will stumble upon this in their time of need. Please read, share, comment, pass along, and experience this journey with us. We ask for your prayers in this life lesson and pray that we can all learn a little something from one another from this.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

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27 thoughts on “The Beginning

  1. Praying for you & Andrew and your families! Remember that He is mighty to save, and He never wastes a struggle. Surrender your hearts to the One who made them, and remember how much you’re loved!

    • Praying for both of you. As an encouragement, our son who is now 28, had a rare form of leukemia usually found in an adult when he was only 8 months old. The doctors did not give us much hope. We chose to fix our eyes on Jesus, author and perfecter of our faith. We knew, despite statistics, we had 100% chance that our son would survive until God showed us otherwise. We focused on God’s word. praised Him through our trials, and shared our trial so many people could pray. We serve a mighty God, Jehovah Rapha, a God who heals and is Mighty to Save. Be encouraged that your trials will become a living testimony to reach others for Christ.
      Cheryl Curtis

  2. Below is a comment from a dear neighbor of mine after reading this post. Know that your story and faith is already being used by God through people and to people that you haven’t even met. He is mighty and he does love you so very much.

    “Thank you for posting Christina. I needed to read that tonight as a friend was just re-diagnosed today after being cancer free for 6 years. Saying prayers for them and for my dear friend :(“

  3. Beautifully put for such an devastating topic. Praying for you daily! The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!

  4. Heartfelt prayers for all of you – His strength is sufficient and His peace is overwhelming!

    4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

  5. God bless you both, will be praying for you. “The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you”

  6. Praying for you. And loving your attitude. He is a great God who can perform miracles. But, His ways are not ours, as you noted and His plan is perfect even in our sorrow. I pray for healing, courage, His strength to uphold you, and His peace and love to surround you.

  7. Wow…this is hard news and definitely a big blow…but, I think that both of your trust, faithfulness, and devotion to God have and will continue to deliver a bigger and more encouraging blow to everyone around you. It has to me, when I read these words and I know that the Lord is your Rock.
    Thank you for letting us into your lives. You both are in my thoughts and prayers

  8. Andrew and Samantha you are a encouragement to all of us who have been and will continue to pray for the great physician to heal Andrew! We pray for discernment , peace, comfort & healing for both of you and your families.

  9. The Birds are praying for your entire family knowing that God is working something out amazing in and through each of you. Praying for peace and perseverance.

  10. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.” Eph.3:14-19

  11. Pingback: Former Butler forward Andrew Smith diagnosed with non-Hodgskins lymphoma | CollegeBasketballTalk

  12. Sam and Andrew,

    “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Rom. 8:28

    Praying earnestly for peace, strength and healing for your family, and that you continue to seek His face. I’ve been reading through Packer’s “Knowing God” and hope this passage can be of some encouragement to you in this difficult season:

    “We should not be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Simply that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and he is dealing with us accordingly…

    “Paul saw part of the reason for his own afflictions in the fact that God ‘comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God’ (2 Cor. 1:4). Even the Lord Jesus ‘learned…obedience by the things which he suffered,’ and so was ‘made perfect’ for his high-priestly ministry of sympathy and help to his hard-pressed disciples (Heb. 5:8-9): which means that, as on the one hand he is able to uphold us and make us more than conquerers in all our troubles and distresses, so on the other hand we must not be surprised if he calls us to follow in his steps, and to let ourselves be prepared for the service of others by painful experiences which are quite undeserved. ‘He knows the way he taketh,’ even if for the moment we do not.

    “We may be frankly bewildered at the things that happen to us, but God knows exactly what he is doing, and what he is after, in his handling of our affairs. Always, and in everything, he is wise: we shall see that hereafter, even where we never saw it here. (Job in heaven knows the full reason why he was afflicted, though he never knew it in this life.) Meanwhile, we ought not to hesitate to trust his wisdom, even when he leaves us in the dark.” (Chapter 9)

  13. Dear Andrew and Sam,
    You don’t know me but my daughter Emily Newell is 2011 graduate of Butler in journalism and followed the Butler Bulldogs to those wonderful and exciting final fours. I think I was and still am the biggest Butler fan from Columbus, Ohio. I watched you mature from a young college freshman to your senior year. I remember telling my daughter “Emi he is getting better and better every game.” You really exemplified the “Butler Way”. Our prayers and thoughts will be with you both everyday. May god bless you. God has a way of taking care and healing wonderful people.

    Columbus, Ohio’s biggest Andrew Smith and Butler fan
    Duke Newell

  14. Andrew:
    I am a 1983 Butler University graduate and 4 year tennis letterman with the Bulldogs. I have a sports medicine column that I write. Here is a previous column that you might enjoy. If you want advice, feel free to contact me.

    Sincerely,

    Alex Kor, DPM, MS
    akisok15@hotmail.com

    ——————————————-

    “Scarred for life ? … Nah … Empowered by Strife ”
    by Alex Kor,DPM,MS
    akisok15@hotmail.com
    ——————————————————–

    A basic tenet in performing foot surgery is to always minimize the size , length and thickness of a scar. Typically, regardless of the success of the surgery, a scar that is displeasing to the patient will result in a less than desirable outcome. In life, we are all the product of our pasts. Thus, when one encounters a negative situation, an “emotional scar” can be the end result. Each of us responds to these challenges in different ways. Some of us truly struggle (which is understandable) while others use the negative experience in a positive way.

    Losing to a player that you have beaten many times is frustrating. Missing an easy volley that you have practised a thousand times is troublesome. Not being to play a tournament due to a scheduling conflict is irritating. But, when any of us (or our loved ones) encounter true life changing events, tennis (and its idiosyncrasies) take a back seat. That is, when an illness challenges your life or that of a loved one, daily inconveniences become trivial.

    In May of 2001, an American born female professional tennis player who previously was the number one women’s doubles player in the world began to experience significant foot pain while playing a tournament in Croatia. Despite a normal bone scan and MRI , the diagnosis of stress fracture was considered and she withdrew from the tournament. When she returned to Florida, she was placed in a walking boot and began to rehabilitate the injury. However, her symptoms were not confined to the foot. Since March , she had been experiencing a number of unusual symptoms including fatigue, a difficulty in concentrating, bruising and severe nose bleeds. So, at the constant urging by her parents, she had blood work and other tests which confirmed that this 23 year old tennis player had Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. This tennis player is Corina Morariu, and in February of 2010, she (along with Allen Rucker) wrote “Living through the Racket” (published by Hay House,Inc).

    Corina underwent grueling chemotherapy during the remainder of 2001, and never considered a return to the courts. She was fighting for her life. As is stated in the book (page 31) ,” It wasn’t the fear of dying that kept me going- it was my will to live ..” During her chemotherapy, she was supported byher family members and was overwelmed by the wishes and thoughts of the tennis playing community. Specifically, while she watched the 2001 French Open quarterfinal match between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati, Corina was overcome with emotion when Capriati held up a sign that read “GET WELL SOON, CORINA” .

    And, after completing the chemotherapy, “GET WELL” is exactly what she did. That is, slowly but surely, she began to feel better. She was simply trying to re-gain her strength. By March of 2002, she began to play and practice. And , during the summer, she returned to the tour. She played Serena on the opening night of the U.S. Open on national television, and her comeback was underway. Thereafter , she was named to the 2005 USA FED CUP team and was a finalist (with Lindsay Davenport) in Women’s Doubles at the Australian Open . As impressive as her post cancer results are, her courage and her “never give up” attitude are an example for all of us to emulate.

    Cancer, unfortunately, has affected many other athletes in the midst of their careers. The list includes former ATP player, Butch Walts, Lance Armstrong, Jon Lester (Red Sox pitcher), Mike Lowell (former Red Sox 3rd baseman), etc. And, obviously cancer knows no borders, does not discriminate and has touched the lives of many of us in the mid-atlantic.

    In 1987, a 26 year old former college tennis player was living in Chicago,and was pursuing a career in medicine. Thus, he had no time to pick up a racket because of the demands of his training. In February of 1987, he began to experience severe lower abdominal pain. While studying for an upcoming exam , he was examined in an emergency room, and his symptoms improved. But, by late May, the symptoms returned, and at the urging of his parents, he was again seen by a team of physicians. After blood work and an ultrasound were performed, a preliminary diagnosis of testicular cancer was presumed. The word, “cancer” was thought to be synonymous with death by his father. After surgery, chemotherapy was started at the Indiana University Medical in Indianapolis under the direction of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn. (Incidentally, in 1996,a cyclist by the name of Lance Armstrong received his initial chemotherapy at the same facility.) Having lost all of his hair by July of 1987, the chemotherapy continued until late August. And , then ,in Sept., he returned to school. And, now 23 years later, that 26 year old former college tennis player is THIS tennis playing podiatrist that you are now reading.

    As an avid reader, I am always looking to read inspirational and motivational books. Recently, I read Corina’s book and was very moved by her experiences. Although, my successful battle versus cancer was a long time ago, her book took me back immediately to 1987. Many people might think that a potential terminal illness is something that I would not want to remember. Well, like a surgical scar, surviving cancer is a scar that is a constant reminder of how fortunate I am to have persevered. In other words, I am sure that Corina would agree that we are the lucky ones, and live a life that is empowered by our previous strife. Her book needs to be read by everyone whose life has been touched by cancer.

    ### Author’s Note: Via e-mail Corina Morariu graciously granted me an interview. Below are the questions/ answers:

    1. When I was told the seriousness of my CA (e.g. that I would need chemotherapy , the cancer had spread) I realized that I could die & I was initially very scared . The instant that you were told that you had leukemia , did you have those thoughts & what is your advice to others when they are initially told their diagnosis/ prognosis ?

    Yes, I had some of those very same thoughts- fear, uncertainty, concern, etc. But for me, by the time I was diagnosed, the diagnosis almost came as a relief in strange way. I was so sick and my health was deteriorating so quickly that I knew something was seriously wrong, and I felt like I was dying. So, when the diagnosis came, at least I knew what I was fighting. Like I said in the book- my competitive instincts took over. I had a support system and a strategy in place to battle the disease, and that was comforting in a way.

    As far as advice to others, it is always difficult to dispense advice because every situation is different and everyone handles their diagnosis in different ways. There are a couple thing I will say. One is that there is always hope- we are both living proof of that. Also, I would advise people to get as educated about the disease, treatment, potential treatments, side effects, etc. as possible. I was lucky enough to have a family full of physicians that helped with this, but the knowledge and information I gained from them was extremely helpful. Lastly, I would tell people to be honest with their feelings, lean on family and friends as much as needed, and if necessary, see a therapist or a professional to help them through the range of emotions ones experiences during this difficult time. Personally, I kept many of those emotions to myself while I was battling the disease, and that caught up to me later.

    2. Ever since I recovered from my bout with testicular cancer 23 years ago , I have always maintained that I do NOT want anyone’s pity / sympathy ; I want them to envy me. That is, I once read a book by Karl Nelson (NY GIANTS FOOTBALL player who had cancer) who said “If this is the worst thing that happens to me, I can use this experience as a positive “… In other words, I feel I have an advantage in my life (vs. others who have NOT had to overome terrible experiences) . Do you agree ?

    Absolutely. I look at my battle with the disease as the best thing that ever happened to me. It was a wake up call that forced me to truly evaluate the way I wanted to live my life. It made me took a look at myself and examine some of the issues I had long ignored. And it gave me a newfound perspective that I would never have had otherwise. As difficult as it was, the diagnosis was a gift in many ways.

    3. I have read that you had to forgive in order to write your book . I am very curious about your forgiveness & the role it played .

    a. How did your battle with cancer affect your ability to forgive ?

    I don’t know that my battle directly affected my ability to forgive. I think the insight I gained through therapy helped my with that more than anything else. I learned to forgive and accept myself, and I think that helped me forgive others. We all go through life with sets of experiences that shape us, affect our behavior, and color our outlook on life. We have all had to endure hardships, and we can never know what someone has been through. I think compassion and understanding are important aspects of forgiveness. Related to me illness, I will say one of the many things that battling cancer does make you realize that life is short. Often too short to hold grudges and go through life as a victim.

    b. What does forgiveness mean to you ?

    I think I answered part of this in my answer to the previous question, but I also think forgiveness gives you freedom to live the life you want to live. It takes work, but life is too short to harbor negative energy. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to forget, excuse or defend, but it means you can understand, release, and move on to a more positive way of living life. I have always felt that forgiveness is extremely liberating- letting go of negative energy makes room for positive emotions and experiences.

    c. Do you think that forgiveness is a skill that can be taught to children (like tennis is taught to children) ?

    I do. We can all lead by example. That is one of the most powerful tools we can use to teach children a variety of valuable life skills and lessons.

    4. How has being a cancer survivor affected your role as a tennis commentator ?.. In other words, do you find that you have a unique perspective (that perhaps other former tennis players who announce do not have) ?

    I think many cancer survivors have a unique perspective on life. I can’t say that it affects my role as a commentator. My role there is to be objective and discuss tennis more than anything else. But, I do appreciate the opportunity I have as a commentator and I know how lucky I am to be alive and doing the work I do. I hope I bring that positive energy to work.

    5. It has been 23 years since I had cancer & reading your book instantly took me back to 1987. It has been 9 years since you have had your battle … Do you think that one can “heal the emotional scars of our battles” or is it correct to say that these are good “scars” that can only remind us of how lucky we are ?

    Both. We can heal the wounds of our battle, but there will always be a scar there to remind us both of the trauma and of how lucky we are to have survived it.

    6. Please tell us about the Tim and Tom Gullickson Foundation and your role ?

    I have been involved with the foundation since Tim Gullickson, my former coach, was diagnosed with brain cancer and died from the disease over 10 years ago. The Tim and Tom Gullickson Foundation helps support brain tumor patients and their families. I have been involved in various charity events to raise money for the cause, and I, along with Pete Sampras, started a scholarship program for brain tumor survivors or children of brain tumor victims/survivors. Unfortunately, the foundation is no longer active, but longtime supporters of the Foundation are now involved with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. The Tim and Tom Gullickson family support fund at PBTF carries on the spirit of the foundation and helps provide money for scholarships awarded to students who have been affected by brain tumors.

  15. Great blog. Great testimony. I sent Andrew a message earlier but let me encourage you and any other reader whom God guides to this post.

    I battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma in my chest and neck in 1998. I have the radiation mapping tattoos to remind me. I was a 34 year-old otherwise healthy husband and father of 4 young children. I was a single wage earner in a solo practice.

    I hate the term “cancer survivors”.There are no “survivors” who are believers. We are VICTORS. I claimed that as soon as I suspected the cancer. A battle involves a fight. There are winners and losers. The cool thing about being a Christian in a battle to the death is that we can never lose. It’s win:win!! So, Andrew, welcome to the Conqueror’s Club! Joshua 1:9 is the club’s battle cry, Brother. It’s okay to be scared. It’s just not okay to not be courageous. Courage is doing the right thing or fighting in this case, in spite of fear and danger. Nothing like going into a fight that is a sure thing!

    My perspective was I would either win more lifetime on earth with my wife and family or eternal lifetime with my Father in Heaven. I recognized that my responsibility was to do everything I could to fight for time on earth and use that time on Earth to serve Him and be a testimony for what He did for me and the rest of the world.

    The Byrds are praying for you guys as a family that has been there. Feel free to contact us anytime if you want to have a “club meeting”.

    Blessings!

  16. You might find it odd to hear from “Mrs. Slagle’s daughter”…but I have also been on a 5 year journey with disease and illness. I do not have cancer, but I do have a condition that will progress into colon cancer…if I don’t take action. Scary stuff, for sure!

    Without going into all the details of my story (but if you want to hear, I’m more than willing to share!!), I simply wanted to pass along some documentaries (all on Netflix) and books that radically changed my understanding of preventing and healing diseases. The power of nutrition is absolutely incredible! And it has challenged me seriously think through what it means to honor the Lord with my body, and how to care for his earth. I may sound crazy, so feel free to disregard all of this, but I thought it might be an inspiration to you too.

    Documentaries:
    1. Food, Inc.
    2. FoodMatters
    3. Hungry for Change
    4. Forks Over Knives
    5. Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead

    Books:
    1. The China Study
    2. Crazy Sexy Diet

    …seriously, these have been changing my world. I pray they add some hope to this season of struggle. If you ever want to e-mail me, I would absolutely love it! [beckyslagle@gmail.com]

    Praying for you!!
    Becky

  17. What a beautiful heartfelt blog. Your courage and faith are evident. But I know waves of fear, doubt and anxiety will wash over you. God’s presence is the shelter in the storm of this event, so enter into His presence for comfort and rest. Pour out your heart to Him.

  18. I stumbled upon your blog looking for blogs about lymphoma. I can feel the shock, hurt, and fear in your words. I can also feel your faith. You and Andrew are young and have so much to experience. I am 43, but my 60 year old dad has a relapse from Hodgkin’s. He was in remission for only about three months and now we are facing a stem cell transplant. He is older and has lived, but that is hard for his 11 grandchildren ages 2-20 to find comfort in. Me and my family have an amazing faith and like you said, we fear the unknown, but it isn’t unknown to God. Every day is a gift and only He knows our plan. Whatever happens with my dad is God’s will and I just have to have faith in what He has planned. You, Andrew, and your family are in my prayers. I am glad I found your blog. We have to support and comfort one another always and in every situation because God wants us to care for and be good to each other. God bless.

  19. In July 2013 I was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma at the age of 49. This is a cancer people usually do not get in late in life. In August I underwent Rituxan treatments for four straight weeks. I will have my three month check-up next month and I remain faithful that I will be cancer free. As part of my journey through all this, I am spending my time running for Team In Training with the LLS. I was a runner before the diagnosis who simply ran for a time. However, I now have a new focus—Run for a Cure. I started a blog recently to chronicle my running journey for my next race for Team In Training. I will be running the Circle City Challenge this spring—-the Carmel Half-Marathon in mid-April, the Indianapolis 500 Mini the first of May and then the Geist Half-Marathon two weeks later. My goal, to find a cure of LLS for all those going through a similar journey. We will find a cure!! I hope you will read about journey and follow my Run to find a Cure. I will now add you to my list of individuals I will be running for. God is awesome and He will see us through this.

    Julie
    http://runforacure2014.wordpress.com/

  20. Pingback: Brad Stevens flies to visit former Butler player recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma | Larry Brown Sports

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