One Year Since the Deep Sleep

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A year ago today, I was called and urged to get to the emergency room. I was told Andrew had collapsed and he didn’t have a pulse. I waited for the phone call back saying they had gotten that pulse back. I waited…I waited…I waited. About twenty minutes later, I screamed out in both anguish and relief; Andrew’s heart began to beat. On the paramedic’s last cleared attempt to shock him back to life, it began to beat. A year ago today, I stood in front of doctor after doctor telling me they weren’t sure he was going to make it. I was told that Andrew wouldn’t be “Andrew” even if he did miraculously wake up. I was preparing to become a widow at the age of twenty-three.

A year has come and gone. It has had its ups and downs. We bought our very own house together and tackled a flooded basement a few months into said home ownership. We traveled to Cabo and I let the sunshine beat down on my face while Andrew covered himself in towels from head to toe to avoid sunburn. We have laughed, we have dreamed, and we have strengthened our marriage. But we have also still encountered hardships. Once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient. Checkups, maintenance chemo, scans…it all feels never ending sometimes. We get frustrated. We gawk at the amount of miles and gas spent to and from multiple hospitals. We feel overwhelmed at the longevity and permanency of its place in our lives. But then I think back to where I was one year ago today, where Andrew was a year ago today. I also think back to walking through the halls of the ICU & seeing sick patients and grieving families. Did they all have the same miraculous outcome as we did? No, they didn’t. Did they get to leave one week later, laughing while trying to get the hang of a steering a wheelchair with a loved one in tow? Not all of them. Do they get to look back, one year later, and think of how far they have come? No. But we did get this miraculous second chance at life. Andrew and I did laugh as I clumsily pushed him through the hallways of the ICU, making every nurse in sight nervous to entrust this tiny woman to support this humungous man. And one year later, we are sitting here thinking back to how far we have come in 365 days. Thank You, Jesus.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

A Bulldog’s Battle

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A lot of you have already had the opportunity to read the incredible story CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander posted just a few days ago. It is by far the most in-depth look an outsider looking in will ever read on the past year and a half for me and Andrew. It is hard to read- even for me. I lived those horrific moments, but it still brought tears flowing from my eyes and a heaving from my chest as I remembered those days. I am so blessed Andrew is alive. I am so blessed I have so many more years of memories to come with my husband. I am so blessed that I am not a widow at the age of twenty-three.

Below is Matt Norlander’s story. It is lengthy, but well worth the read. So grab some tissues and take a few minutes out of your day to be reminded of God’s goodness and sovereignty.

A Bulldog’s Battle by Matt Norlander of CBS Sports

Our Fearless Resolution

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It’s not breaking news that the year of 2014 was a rough one for the Smiths. It was brutal. It was relentless. It kicked our butts over and over again. We counted down the days leading up to 2014 in Lithuania- confused and waiting to hear results of a scan on Andrew’s chest. On January 2nd, we sat at our kitchen table with the General Manager of his basketball team telling us in broken English that there was a large tumor in Andrew’s chest and things were very serious. 36 hours later, we were on an emergency flight home. A week later, we received a heartbreaking, dream-crushing cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatments began a few days after that. We have spent a lot of our days in the hospital- some days in agony, some riddled with impatience, and some with only one of us conscious. I’ll be frank, this year has been terrible, and I have never been happier to see the clock strike midnight and have 365 days behind me.

This year has been one of conscience decision-making. Aside from taking a few days to be filled with tears and give into our sadness here and there, Andrew has been wonderful about choosing to stay positive and has endlessly encouraged me when I failed to do so. I fully admit that there have been some days that I have been stunned with fear of the day to follow. I have wallowed in sadness and the injustice of it all, and I’ve struggled with the idea of moving on from the chaos and madness of this year. How do you pick up the pieces after a year like this? It seemed like every time Andrew and I felt like we could reset and start over something bad would happen. And not just bad, something that would rock us all over again. I hated that this disease began to alter our decision-making and made us second guess planning our future. I remember the exact moment that this hostility flooded my body and anger boiled over towards this illness: Andrew and I talked about the idea of one day having kids and it was followed by a “but, what if…?” He didn’t need to finish his sentence, and we both knew the “what if”. What if treatment didn’t work? What if the cancer came back? What if we created a big, beautiful family and then things went wrong and I had to take care of them and Andrew by myself? What if? It was in this moment I realized that we had given this sickness too much control.

Andrew and I refuse to give this past year and all of its awful counterparts authority over our lives. Ever since that conversation, we have consciously rejected the paralyzing fear over planning a future that might never be. What good is a blessed, God-given life if you’re not going to live it? This disease has been life changing, of course, but we refuse to let it be life crippling. “God sometimes takes us into troubled waters; not to drown us, but to cleanse us.” The Lord didn’t bring this illness into our lives for it to take over and suffocate the goodness, but to mold our hearts and use us to help others. I smile from ear to ear when I read the many messages and cards telling Andrew and I how much we’ve helped others. I don’t smile because I think we did it, because I assure you, it wasn’t us. I smile because I feel a purpose for all of the suffering and heartache this past year. Andrew and I both strongly feel and believe that if only one person breathed a little easier because of sharing Andrew’s beautiful testimony, every minute of this past year was worth it.

So to 2014, good riddance! Thank you for your many lessons, but I’ve never looked forward to a new year more! We cannot wait to dream and live our crazy, beautiful life in this upcoming year. Andrew is doing extremely well and we are not looking backwards! Blessings to you all and we truly wish you the happiest of New Years. I pray that this year will be your best yet! :)

“The doors will be opened to those who are bold enough to knock.” (Tony Gaskins)

“I was facing death, and then He saved me.”

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There are no words to describe that heart sinking, gut punching, life changing phone call. “Andrew collapsed at work, Sam. The ambulance is on their way and they’re working on him.” My Andrew? My Andrew that I had just spoken to less than an hour ago? He was fine; this can’t be right. My head spun and my heart shattered. I prayed, I cried, and took off to make it to the emergency room, unsure of what I would find when I got there. In short, that day and the days following were the worst of my life. The emotional and physical tornado that took over our lives has left quite the mark and, admittedly, we’re still trying to work our way through it. That is why it has taken over a month since Andrew’s stint in the hospital to update or post much of anything; we’re still trying to process and figure everything out.

Andrew and I are private people, which may seem odd considering we have this blog. But I even fought this blog and said no to until I could no longer deny that the Lord was calling us to share our testimony through recording this journey. With that being said, we can’t share every detail of those 12 days spent in the ICU. Those were the most private, intimate moments that we’ll ever have between us. But what we do want to share is how much of an absolute miracle Andrew’s life is. And I understand that is hard to comprehend and grasp without having all of the details, but trust me when I say, the fact that Andrew is alive is only possible by the grace of God. The fact that Andrew can walk and talk is a miracle. The fact that Andrew woke up out of his medically-induced coma as my husband, the same man I fell in love with years ago, the same goofy man who laughed with me just hours after awakening, the same man who fights through every single battle with every ounce of strength within him, is an absolute miracle. The fact that Andrew and I are sitting here together, side by side, is a miracle. Our hospital room was frequently flooded with doctors, nurses, medics, ER staff; all of the people that took care of Andrew at his worst. They had all heard how remarkably and inexplicably well he was doing, but they just needed to see it to believe it. There was no way that the man they had resuscitated and worked so vigorously on just days before was sitting up in his hospital bed, smiling and laughing. Several nurses that had been in the medical world for thirty years made a point to note how they had never seen anything like this. And I must say, I never dreamed I would see anything like this. How many people in this world get to see an honest to God miracle? I don’t use that term to negate the exemplary and impeccable care and treatment Andrew received. The medics, nurses, doctors, and specialists worked tirelessly on Andrew, and for that, I could never give them a big enough hug and thank you for. But every single one of them recognized that things should have been worse. Despite their care and despite their efforts, Andrew should not be where he is today. The initial scans looked bad. The circumstances were tough. The fact that he has cancer complicated things. Basically, things were not looking great the first day or two. I did not sleep for those first three days because if things got worse, I needed to be there for him. But if he miraculously moved his head or squeezed my hand, I needed to be able to see that, too. That’s how bad things were; we were at the point where I just needed to see something. Something to show me that he was still there.

In those moments, I prayed to God that Andrew would wake up and, of course, knew that I was going to love whomever came out of that coma endlessly. But I certainly was not the only one praying. Thousands and thousands of people were blanketing Andrew in prayer and I truly, truly believe that he was being prayed over every single second of those days in the ICU. I know, without a doubt, that the Lord heard each and every one of those prayers and gracefully gave my husband another chance at life. Andrew woke up quickly, which is not typically the case; we were preparing ourselves to potentially wait days for him to fully come to. He didn’t make me wait long to let me see that beautiful smile and share in side-splitting laughter. He was there. He was alive. He was Andrew.

Three weeks later, we are snuggled in our cozy home about to make cinnamon rolls and watch the premiere episode of “Houdini.” Andrew is doing wonderfully and every day gets easier and easier. He is starting work again this week and this time, I will be at his side as his company graciously offered me a position since he clearly cannot be trusted to keep breathing on his own ;) . We have hit the reset button on our lives and plan to continue to live every day as fully as possible. The mantra of living every day because you’ll never know when it’ll be your last is a common one, but I truly hope and pray that after reading this, maybe that will sink in a little further in your hearts. I was speaking with Andrew a mere forty minutes before he collapsed and he was completely fine. For days, I feared that was going to be my last conversation with him and that I’d never hear an “I love you” again. Be grateful for those breaths filling your lungs and the “I love you’s” that are spoken from your loved ones mouths. Live each day as purposefully and gracefully as possible and love one another as the Lord has loved you. (John 15:12)

A note from Andrew: Even though I can’t remember everything, I just wanted to thank all of the people that came to visit Samantha and I at the hospital, and for all of the prayers, cards, gifts, and well wishes we have received. I know that Samantha would not have been able to get through the first few days in the hospital without all of your support and I am truly grateful for how well everyone took care of her when I was unable. Things are getting back to normal slowly but surely and that can only be attributed to the many prayers that have been said over the last several weeks. Thank you again and we look forward to continue to report good news.

“The Lord protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and then He saved me. Now I can rest again, for the Lord has been so good to me. He has saved me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. And so I walk in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth!” (Psalm 116:6-9)

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

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We have deviated in every which way from our former normal, and each day seems to bring a new variation. From those deviations, we have made progress. Some days it doesn’t feel like progress; it feels like a kick in the gut, but in hindsight we always see growth. We’re currently in the process of that growth revealing itself to us after finding out that there are additional months of treatment that we were unaware of. Frustration, confusion, and exhaustion sometimes mask progress but I believe, with time, the dust will settle and we will see how far we’ve come- spiritually, mentally, and physically.

In January, we had just begun the journey of going through a whirlwind of life experiences and emotions and I was desperate for a constant. I yearned to latch onto something that I knew would allow me to escape. My mind wandered when I tried to read and nothing on TV seemed funny anymore, but I do love to run. In Lithuania, that was how I passed my time every morning and it always allowed my mind to be blank. That sounds weird and not very appealing to some, but I feel that sometimes it’s helpful to shut off your mind and not have to think or worry. So our nurses, as they ALWAYS did, went above and beyond and delivered a treadmill to our (already crammed) hospital room. I was ecstatic.

That evening, I laced up my tennis shoes and began to run. I had not left the hospital in a week and my legs longed to stretch and run for miles. I thought to myself, “This is wonderful. I can run but never have to leave Andrew’s side.” But when I looked over my shoulder, the sight of Andrew lying in his hospital bed, receiving his chemotherapy completely shattered my heart and stopped my feet from running one more step. Tears fled over my cheeks and the incomprehension hit me like a ton of bricks. “How was it possible that Andrew has cancer? This isn’t fair. It’s not fair that I can run freely while he has to sit in a hospital bed getting a drug that completely wipes out his entire body; the body that just weeks ago was healthily running up and down the court.” After that meltdown, I refused to run. For a little while I tried, but with each step I was reminded of the injustice that I could run and Andrew could not. And that was just not something I could handle.

It’s now summer. Together, Andrew and I ride bikes at least three times a week and run daily. Progress. In between the bitter cold of January and the mugginess of June, there were some pretty miserable days; days that masked the progress we were making. In the days that Andrew could not even physically get out of bed, it certainly didn’t feel like we were moving forward. It felt like a life of physical activity and days filled with sunshine and tennis was a lifetime away. But after each of these immobile days, we became stronger. Stronger because we had handled the adversity with as much grace and understanding as we had in us. Stronger because Andrew never complained and wallowed in self-pity of any kind. We were stronger because we were progressing instead of becoming debilitated.

Progress is impossible without change. When that change is forced, it is easy to refuse progress because of the lack of recognition of a potential better life. We can dig in our heels and think that if we refuse to move forward things will stop changing. But life keeps moving whether you choose to participate in the transformation or not; why not choose to make that a positive, progressive life?

“Focus on progression, not perfection.” (Unknown)

Emphatic Answers

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Spring is here, and Andrew and I have never breathed the sweet, fresh air in more deeply than now. We, unfortunately, spent four straight weeks in the hospital last month, and it was 28 grueling days of staring out the window as the flowers began to bloom and the sun began to shine. My chest felt heavier just watching Andrew lay in his hospital bed day after day. Needless to say, we have taken a grand total of zero days for granted since receiving Andrew’s discharge notice. I am thrilled to be able to say we have played tennis a handful of times, ran a few laps around Zionsville Park, and taken our dog to sniff up and down nature trails. It may seem trivial to many, but these are activities that were completely out of the question two months ago. We have been blessed to see so much positive progress. It makes the tough days easier and the long hospital stays worth it. We continue to learn life lessons and are humbled daily. Humbled by the love and support from hundreds and hundreds of people. Humbled by the courage and strength from the patients we pass as we walk up and down the hallways of the oncology unit. Humbled by the continuous protection and provision of Christ. The Lord has emphatically answered our prayers; not necessarily in the ways we had imagined, but answered in the perfect ways that only the Lord can provide.

Andrew has been praying for years to gain a testimony that can speak to the hearts of many and lead those to the Lord. Did he EVER think it would come in the form of cancer? I think it’s safe to say no. And yet, the Lord has provided exactly what Andrew has spent the entirety of his blessed life praying for.

Andrew and I have been together for a little over five years, but we’re just now approaching our one-year anniversary as a married couple. We have spent hours praying over our marriage and our single greatest hope and prayer was to be used by the Lord. Those were the words we used but, in hindsight, what I think I was really asking for was to be sent to an overseas country to shine the light of the Lord while Andrew made a career out of doing what he loved. But yet again, God has provided exactly what we asked and prayed for- to be used by Him and to minister to people across the world.

It has been eight weeks since Andrew’s last chemotherapy treatment. The typical amount of time between treatments is two weeks…again, we’re on week eight. This is nothing to be alarmed about and Andrew’s body is just taking a bit longer to recover from this last intensive round of chemo than expected. We love the break, but we are ultimately adding on more time to the end of this treatment and we are more than ready to be done with daily visits to the hospital for chemo. But I think back and realized what we prayed for: a break. Four weeks straight in the hospital can make you go crazy. Luckily, we have an INCREDIBLE nursing staff who planned random dance parties and allowed therapy dogs to visit and that made our stay more than manageable, but it’s not time spent enjoying the winter melt to spring and it’s not fresh air. And Andrew desperately needed both. So, we prayed for a break. We prayed for a time to go on a date or two and feel like a normal, married couple. We prayed for time to scream and be silly at a Pacers game. We prayed for time for Andrew to not-so-subtly break the rules and invite our dog, Charlie, onto the bed after he had not seen him for a month. We are on week eight of this break we prayed for; the Lord provided exactly what we had asked.

As I reflect on our prayers and how faithfully the Lord has provided, a strong lesson has been learned. I realize that sometimes I ask for the Lord to manifest His answers to prayers in the way I feel will be the best solution to those prayers, not necessarily in the perfect way that He has plans to see our prayers to fruition. I’m so thankful to serve a God who knows far better than I and who provides for our every need, even in ways beyond imagination or expectation.

“I’m thankful for my struggle because without it I would not have stumbled across my strength.” (Alex Elle)

 

A semi-unrelated, sappy, public profession of love:

            Sunday, May 18th is our one-year anniversary. And what a crazy year it has been. We have moved across the world, put up with the madness that is professional basketball, received a cancer diagnosis, and practically had to restart our lives together. Oh, and we learned our beloved dog has epilepsy last night; that was another rough one. All in all, I think it’s safe to say it’s not what we expected. But, you know what? It’s better. We have lived and loved one another through every single line of our wedding vows. I appreciate you, I respect you, I love you, and can’t wait to continue to grow with you, Andrew! Happy One-Year Anniversary! Aren’t you happy we have a blog so that I can publicly brag on how much I love you? ;)

 

 

Halftime

 

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Arguably, we are in the midst of the best time of the year. The only reason I say “arguably” is because Andrew thinks Christmas tops March Madness. Clearly we’ve gone back and forth on this matter and we’re just going to agree to disagree. While brackets get busted and we dream of Butler’s miraculous back-to-back run to the NCAA Championship, we have our own kind of madness going on.

Andrew has officially completed the halfway point in his treatment. Granted, this is assuming that everything continues to go well and his body remains responsive to the chemotherapy, but hey, we’re feeling great about assuming that. To be frank, this past round has completely kicked our butts. Typically I don’t lump my feelings and weariness with Andrew’s, (after all, he is the one getting pumped with chemo every single day) but I’m right there with him for all of the twelve-hour days multiple times a week and we are exhausted. As always, Andrew has pushed and pushed and we will now take the next two to three weeks to allow his body to recover from the absolute demolition it’s been through this past month and then gear up for the second half.

So, halftime. Andrew and I both have reflected on what we’ve learned thus far and what we want to continue to carry into the second half of this battle. Yes, we’ve got some adjustments to make, but we’re happy to make them and see this thing through until we see the final buzzer declaring our victory.

Here are the top five lessons Andrew and I have learned from the first half. I’ll cover the first two and then Andrew will round out the last three, (that’s right folks, I have finally coaxed him into his blog debut!) J

1. People are good.

–       Much thanks to many of you, our mailbox seems to always have an uplifting card and message of encouragement in it. Some from close friends and family, some from people we’ve never met and probably will never get the pleasure of doing so.  Regardless, the positive words and prayers lift our spirits and remind us of the incredible community supporting the Smith family.

–       I’ve never sat through one of Andrew’s treatments in an infusion room full of cancer patients without witnessing at least one random act of kindness. Even in the face of their own exhaustion, each patient is so quick to take care of another and remind each other that it’s going to get better.

–       We have a large envelope full of handwritten letters from an entire 8th grade class from St. Michael-St. Gabriel Archangels School of Indianapolis, all of which uplifted Andrew and melted my heart. Those kids will never fully grasp how much that touched us. From messages of, “you’re going to get through this” to “I want to be just like you when I grow up,” each letter reminded us of the bigger picture of all of this.

2. Nurses, though appreciated by many, are still undervalued.

I have yet to meet a nurse that isn’t kind, passionate, and understanding. I could never express my deep, deep appreciation for the men and women who have tirelessly and endlessly taken care of my husband. Though my respect has always been high for these caregivers, my admiration has grown immensely.

3. Live each day without expectations.

When people say that during chemo you can feel great one day, and horrible the next they certainly are not lying. Countless times Samantha and I have tried to make plans to go out to eat on the weekend or visit the Boston Celtics as they play the Indiana Pacers, but we were cut short. These are things that are really taking us awhile to get accustomed to. We are still so blessed that I have been able to do almost all of my chemotherapy as an outpatient, but it still is admittedly hard to not hope and dream to be able to do normal things (like make a trip to PF Changs without getting sick) when I can feel so good the day before.

4. Having cancer teaches you patience.

I am on a pediatric regiment of chemotherapy because of how well younger children usually respond to my type of cancer, so it is intense. We have been told that I am extremely blessed that my body has been able to hold up enough to do all of this as an outpatient. But as nice as it is to be able to come home and sleep in our own bed, we are still at the mercy of our doctors. Three twelve-hour days at the hospital in one week isn’t a rarity, and typically we will not know when those days are coming. As Samantha has been with me literally every single step of the way, we are being forced to learn patience.

5. The amount of Jimmy John’s that one can eat is absolutely amazing. 

As I have now been going through chemo for over two months I can rarely find foods that sound good to me, but for some reason Jimmy Johns is one of the exceptions. Even when my white blood cells are low enough to where I cannot have vegetables on my sandwich I still enjoy eating their sandwiches and chips to my heart’s content. Let’s just say that out of the last four weeks, twenty-eight days total, twenty of them at the hospital, I have probably had a sandwich fifteen of those days. I am often compared to a pregnant woman with my obsession with these sandwiches, but I do not mind the comparison because I cannot see my love for these delicious gourmet sandwiches changing anytime soon.

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”  (Isaiah 43:2)

Round Two: Treatment Eighteen

ImageI’d like to think we’ve created a new norm. Prior to diagnosis, we were more than comfortable with life and, as mentioned in our previous post, it was sad to realize those dreams and plans were altered significantly. But, true to our Smith style, we took a day (or seven) to be sad and then declared that we need to move on and create a new normal. Though our aspirations will continuously shift through various phases of our lives, cancer centers and Dr. Birhiray will always be constants. But we are learning, we are pushing, and we are believing that we are going to have an amazing life together beyond this.

 I am so happy to be able to share how well treatments are going for Andrew. His body is responding excellently to the chemotherapy, and our doctor couldn’t be more pleased with how “remarkably well” he is doing. But his body’s positive response certainly comes with ugly days. It is a double-edged sword. As the chemotherapy kills all of the bad, it also takes with it the good leaving Andrew with very little to get through the day with. We spend at least four days in the hospital each week and every evening resting in preparation for the next day full of nurses and needles. I won’t lie; it hasn’t been pretty & Andrew is taking a beating. But you know what? Things could be worse & we are incredibly, incredibly blessed.

 Last Thursday, Andrew and I were going through the motions of our routine- blood work, wait for two hours for results, office visits, chemotherapy for five hours. I cringe to admit my fatigue that day and Andrew’s concern for me and my lack of sleep and restlessness. In short, it wasn’t our best day. Feeling worn down, we settled into the infusion room with a handful of other chemo patients and began our many glances at the clock to see how much longer this day was going to go on. I couldn’t help but notice that we were sitting across from an older lady sitting through chemotherapy treatment by herself which, naturally, broke my heart. As the afternoon hours went by, we learned that not only was she battling cancer herself, her husband has Parkinson’s disease and the little family she had left lived far away. She went on to discuss difficulty in her day-to-day life with general functions, but not just her own, her husband’s as well.  She was carrying this burden alone. After asking if there was anything we could do but learning that she lived too far away for us to help and assist her, she left. I cried. Things could be worse. We are so blessed.

It has been weighing heavy on my heart to challenge readers to take a moment and recognize blessings. We are living and breathing, given another day on this earth! So many are struggling to make it through the days that we so casually wish to pass quickly. Our days and lives are temporary and fleeting, but we are so blessed to have them in the first place.

“The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.” 

To Send Love to the Big Guy…

We have had many people ask for an address to send cards and gifts of encouragement our way. The kindness has just been astonishing and so humbling. Thank you for the well wishes. Andrew was even able to muster up the energy to make it court-side to the Butler vs. Providence game last night! I truly believe that Andrew is doing so well in the face of this mountain because of all of the prayers said on his behalf. He still has his days that are harder to get through than others, but his attitude and positivity have remained uplifted. We can be best reached at:

6295 Boone Ridge

Zionsville, IN 46077

 

With deep love and appreciation,

The Smiths