The day had finally come. And I just wanted to do two things. Honor my dad, and honor these couples.
Even though I thought I was prepared for the emotion of the day, I had no idea how deeply powerful it would truly be. In the weeks prior, I had gotten to know their stories. I’d cried over them and prayed over them; they were inspirational, to say the least. But meeting them face to face just solidified what I already knew to be true. They were heroes…yet they were just everyday people. They were kind and gentle…yet they were STRONG. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so inspired by a group of people as I was with these 15 couples. Their marriages, their commitment, their constant desire to find JOY in everything. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been a part of.
This post is unique, because from here on out, THEY are the authors. I didn’t want it to be from my point of view, because it really isn’t about me at all. It was more important to my heart for them to tell it anyway; after all, it’s THEIR stories that made this day amazing.
To my readers – I know this is one of my longer blog posts, but I promise you…it’s worth reading. Please, remember their sweet faces. Remember their names. Pray for them and lift them up.
And to my dear, sweet, couples of Project 14 – You are loved. You are brave. But most of all, you are inspirational. YOU are the beautiful ones that helped to make this dream a reality.
Ryan & Erika Waggener
Written by Erika, 7 year breast cancer survivor
I was so blessed to discover the lumps in my breast and to have a husband who although couldn’t physically help me, he went above and beyond to be thoughtful, loving and supportive in every way. I had a nagging feeling I needed to start self breast exams. So I did and 8 months from that first thought I felt a lump in my breast. We took action immediately and our lives changed forever. I had stage 2, triple negative BC as well as the BRCA1 gene. God was whispering in my ear and thankfully I was listening. God had us every step of the way, from the nagging feeling and thoughts in my head that I needed to start self breast exams prior to my diagnosis, to selling my car just before my diagnosis of which the proceeds from the sale covered most of the medical expenses and all of the people God brought into our lives to help us. Me being here is a definite ‘God thing’, and I am so grateful every day to be alive.
Shane & Vicki Hall
written by Vicki
Shane-diagnosed with Stage 4 Kidney Cancer January 2017
Vicki – diagnosed with Stage 4 Rectal Cancer July 2017
Shane and I have been married for 30 years and renewed our vows in Las Vegas on our anniversary in December. There is no cure for what we have, but they treat to extend our lives. I am responding to treatment, and my tumors are shrinking. Shane had his left kidney removed and initially responded to treatment, but that stopped. He’s on his fourth and final chemo under standard treatments. If this doesn’t work only clinical trials will remain. Our intention is to remain positive when we can and have as much fun together as we can, while we can. We could be angry and sit around moping all day, but we choose to live whatever life we have left in the best way we can. We have wonderful friends and family who have graciously been there for us and will continue to be. We are very lucky, even if it may not seem so from the outside. We have love and that is what life is about!
Chad & Amanda Brown
written by Chad, diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma in December 2014, three year survivor
Jared & Nicole Watson
Written by Nicole
Jared – Stage 4 Colon cancer, diagnosed March 2017
In June 2017 Jared was admitted to the hospital after a colonoscopy. Leading up to the colonoscopy, Jared had similar symptoms to Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis-mostly displaying frequent stooling 20-30 times a day. His labs were within normal range. These symptoms presented themselves starting back in April 2017. By the time he was able to get in for a colonoscopy, he had lost about 30 pounds and a week prior to the scope, he started vomiting. We share these symptoms to show that cancer can present itself in many ways. Looking back at it, yes, some of that may make others wonder about cancer, but who would have thought a previously healthy 27 y/o male would be at risk for colorectal cancer? Don’t get us wrong, we know Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis can drastically alter life, we just had not prepared ourselves for the “c” word.
A week after receiving the cancer diagnosis, Jared’s brother who is 9 years older than him also received the news his biopsies showed colorectal cancer. Jared had a Total Colectomy on July 27th. 3 weeks later his brother had the same procedure. Biopsy results confirmed Jared was Stage 3, but thankfully his brother’s was caught early and was stage 1. After recovery Jared started chemotherapy on September 5th. They believed the surgery removed everything, but wanted to do chemo for any “lingering cells”. At the time they told us the chance of recurrence was very low, however he would be monitored every year just to be safe. Chemo was going fairly well from the standpoint of side effects, however Jared has hardly slept since October 2017 due to pain. The pain started a few weeks after surgery and prior to initiation of chemo. Pain is something Jared has never previously complained of and no matter what we tried, the pain was persistent. This affected his activities of daily living greatly. I (Jared’s wife) mentioned several times to the providers that it was weird to me the pain began so much after surgery, it did not feel like typical post-surgical pain to me. We were seen by our oncologist and pain management who all thought it was sciatic nerve pain.
We now know the reason for Jared’s pain. Thanks to a nurse who went above and beyond to get us in to pain management on Jan. 9th when Jared was supposed to have chemo. After the appointment and while waiting to begin chemo, his pain continued to spike. Our nurse was quick on her toes and had our oncologist see Jared in his pain to understand what his spikes look like. They ended up admitting Jared for pain management. After many scans, we found out on January 10th 2018 that Jared has Stage 4 cancer. All of our providers were just as shocked as we were. His CT was completely clear on August 18th and now he has 3 (possibly 4) “decent sized” tumors. The tumors are too large for radiation or surgery at this time. The treatment was changed from Chemotherapy, to now receiving an Immunotherapy drug known as Keytruda. The goal of the treatment is to shrink the tumors, so they can proceed with debulking surgery. If a candidate, the surgery will hopefully remove most if not all of the current tumors. Then the plan will be to stay on Keytruda as long as he responds (basically as long as no new tumors arise).
We are praying for a miracle. We know God is bigger than the cancer and the fears. We are praying He works through us and specifically Jared’s journey to heal him and see the peace Christ can bring even in some of the most difficult days of life. I count myself SO lucky to have him. He is the most humble, loving and kind human being I know. I promise I am not just saying that to be cheesy! He gets me…we can just be sitting in a room quietly and I feel so cared about just having him there. He is my human!
This has not been an easy journey and it is so hard not being able to take this pain from my husband. At the same time, we know God is faithful and has provided each step of the way. Our support group is outstanding! We found a home church just a few months before the first diagnosis. We pray that even when we do not understand everything, that we will allow the Lord to use us and orchestrate everything in a way to further his kingdom.
Sara & Mike Cummins
Written by Sara – diagnosed with breast cancer August 2017
Mike and I were married in 2012. Mike was my first real love back in 1988 when we were kids. We reunited as adults and our love picked up where it left off. We really never stopped loving each other all these years. In 2017, I was sick a lot. I would go to doctor and get better, but in a matter of weeks I’d be sick again. During one of my coughing spells, I put my hand on my chest and felt a lump. I wasn’t too worried at the time. I had my doctor check it out at one of my appointments and one thing lead to another. In August 2017 the biopsy came back breast cancer. We were both very afraid of what the future would hold for us. The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I decided to have a lumpectomy in September 2017. Chemotherapy started in October, at one point I could barely get out of bed to use the restroom. Mike did everything he could to keep it together. I’m currently doing radiation and it’s taking all my energy, not to mention neuropathy has set in. This has definitely been a tough journey for us. It seemed like we just found each other again and now we could lose it all. We both have our own business and he put his on hold while he runs mine and takes care of me and the kids. I could not have made it this far without him.
Jerry & Stephanie Jermain
Written by Stephanie, 2 year breast cancer survivor
I had a mammogram in 2014 and was told that they would need to see me in 6 months due to something on my test. Of course, I forgot and remembered 9 months later when they said the spot had grown. After a biopsy and testing, I had breast cancer and the BRAC 1 gene in the spring of 2015. The only choice was for me was to get a double mastectomy followed by a hysterectomy due to developing into ovarian cancer. Within 8 months, I had 3 major surgeries and chemo therapy. I continued to teach first grade only missing my chemo days and was lucky enough to have all the side effects that went with chemo and believe me, I had all of the side effects except being nauseous.
I had my surgeries in the summer and during breaks: happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas to me. The saddest thing was not all of this but that 2 of my 3 children now have the gene. However, not once did the thought of death enter my mind. I had peace of mind, no tears and I know that it was from God letting me know that it was going to be alright. Now my children, parents and brothers didn’t fare so well, lots of tears, worrying etc. and no matter how well I fared they still struggled.
My friends say that this happened for a reason and the reason being that I would be there for others going through cancer. I think they may be right…
Kris & Liz Skidmore
Written by Liz, diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer October 2017
In late September of 2017, my doctor ordered that I have a pelvic sonogram due to some symptoms I was having. I was actually at the doc’s for a whole different reason, but just happened to mention the symptoms as I was getting ready to leave. The sonogram showed a polyp and a large mass fibroid. I was then referred to a gynecologist where a biopsy was done. I wasn’t all that worried, as the symptoms, polyp and fibroid are fairly common. After returning from an out of town business event, Kris brought me to my Oct. 10 follow up appointment. He stayed in the waiting room as we both thought it would be a quick in and out. Well, the nurse went to get Kris, and when he saw the doctor and my face, he knew it wasn’t good news. The results proved to be a cancerous tumor. Needless to say, we were both pretty shocked. I was already struggling with a chronic handicap of vestibular migraine and dizziness causing nausea and balance issues. I wondered what God was up to and how He would use this newest diagnosis for His glory.
Everything started moving along quickly. Preparations for a colonoscopy and complete hysterectomy were set in motion for the end of October. Our biggest question… Had the cancer spread? Yes! The pathology report came back with the diagnosis of Endometrial Cancer/Lymphovascular Space Invasion. A plan for treatment was set in place: three rounds of chemo, six weeks of radiation, three more rounds of chemo. Our faith was not shaken! We took the information and brought it before God, knowing He is our Sustainer, Healer and Defender! This was NOT going to steal our joy!
It was also recommended by my doctors that I have genetic testing done due to family history of cancer and that they are carriers of the MSH6 gene which is associated with Lynch syndrome. The results came back positive. This is important to know so we can use the information to help with making decisions about my healthcare. I am closing in on finishing my treatments. The last three rounds of chemo start in early April and finish up in May. I have every confidence that the treatments are killing the cancer and I will be cancer free by summer!!!
Throughout this whole process, the Lord has walked before me, with me and behind me. He has wrapped me up in His comforting arms, wiped my tears and calmed my fears. Through His precious Word, prayer and in praise, I have found peace and rest, strength and joy. Our family has stayed positive and hopeful knowing our HOPE is in Christ and in Him we put our trust. So many people have loved on us, prayed for us and helped us in so many ways. We feel so blessed and thankful for our community of family and friends that circle the globe. God is so good! “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to the power that is at work within us…to Him be the glory forever and ever, Amen.” Eph. 3:20-21
Travis & Amy Toebben
Amy – diagnosed with ovarian cancer Fall 2017
It was this same time one year ago that I was in the middle of planning our son’s first birthday party. As I look back at the pictures from that day I stare into faces that had no idea of the news that was coming just a few months later. The faces that were so full of happiness and joy that were easily lured to reflect concern and worry for the unknown. I had no idea that my diagnosis of ovarian cancer was about to change how I “did life” and all my plans would be altered so drastically.
In May of 2017 I had a surgery for the removal of a cyst and ovary. It was something that doctors and I had been proactively watching over a period of time and the size of the cyst had indicated that surgery was necessary. It was less than two weeks after my surgery that I received the surreal phone call from my doctor revealing that I had Ovarian Cancer Stage 1. Between the end of May and the beginning of July I had two surgeries, had a port placed and had already began my first of eighteen rounds of chemo.
Cancer changed me in so many ways. Ironically for me, I was never so much faced with being scared to lose my life, but I honestly struggled to find the courage in living everyday in this new way. Everything I knew or identified about myself was so quickly stripped away from me and cancer doesn’t allow you time to process your thoughts, feelings, or emotions. I never wanted cancer to be who or what I had become. Places I had been a hundred times suddenly felt so foreign because I didn’t feel like me. It was me with different hair and different scars and was like introducing myself to people and places all over again. I admire those who have the strength to be so open about their fight, but I just couldn’t do it. To some, reading this will be a surprise because they may not have known. It’s not that we have chosen to hide it, but I just needed my life to be as normal as possible and not be focused on this one thing and living out my transition through this process felt too out of my comfort zone. Maybe it was just giving me control of one last thing?!
This entire process I had to continue to lean on my faith and thank God every.single.day for the blessing of my husband. Through six months of treatments he held my hand through every single treatment, blood transfusion, and doctors appointment. He physically held me when I cried and didn’t even really know why and cried with me when I did know. He continued to assure me I was a great mom to our son even though I knew in my heart I wasn’t because I just didn’t have the energy. He made sure I never lost the connection with either of them and that I still felt needed as a part of our family. He held me tightly when I knew I would lose my hair and allowed me to cry when it started to fall out. He went to my haircuts with me when I started cutting it shorter and shorter. He was an amazing partner to allow me to feel vain, fear, helpless, stubborn, tired, sadness and pain and never knowing when, or how, those raw emotions might be demonstrated. When we made our vows to one another 8 years ago, we never imagined how tightly we would hold true to our words as we have during the past year.
I hope in the years to come we can look at pictures from today and see the strength and courage that we didn’t even know we had. I pray we continue to find the joy in the small things, find laughter even in the hard times, and to love one another deeper and harder than the day before.
Les & Beth Schwartz
written by Beth
Les – diagnosed with Stage 4 Retroperitoneal Undifferentiated Pleomorphic Sarcoma in December 2012
We are both 66 years old.
Married for 37 years.
We live in Lenexa, Kansas.
Les was diagnosed with Stage 4 Retroperitoneal Undifferentiated Pleomorphic Sarcoma in December 2012. We went to the ER thinking he had a kidney stone.
This is a soft tissue sarcoma. His main tumor is wrapped around his right ureter (goes to kidney); he has a stent placed every 6 months to keep the ureter open and the kidney healthy. He has mets in his liver and lungs. Sarcoma is very rare. Less than 1% of cancers are sarcomas, and most of those are Ewing Sarcoma, which affects the bones of young people. Within soft tissue sarcomas like Les has, there are 50-70 possible subtypes. So, it’s very hard to diagnose and treat.
Early on, we visited the Sarcoma Center at MD Anderson in Houston for a second opinion. The specialists there concurred with our KU sarcoma specialist: no cure; the goal is management of the tumor and mets. That was 5+ years ago, and with the exception of a couple of scans showing minimal growth, things have not changed. Les sees the oncologist for labs and a check up every 2 months. He has CT scans every 4 months. We live in 4-month intervals, and there’s lots of “scanxiety” before every scan!
He is the longest surviving sarcoma patient on Votrient in KC. Votrient is an oral chemo he has taken every day for 3.5 years. There are daily GI side effects which we and the docs work very hard to control.
Les is an attorney with 40 years of experience. He works every day, on selected cases. Beth has taken up ceramics and pastel painting. We travel as much as possible. During the last 5 years, we have visited Colorado and California several times. We’ve been to Wisconsin and North Carolina. And, we’ve been to national parks in Utah, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Carolina, and Jasper and Banff (Canada).
At home, we love spending time together, and we have a daily date for “Judge Judy.” We value every minute we spend together, and we laugh. A lot.
John & Marissa Roberts
written by Marissa, 2 year Breast Cancer survivor
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2015. Following this diagnosis, I began a treatment regimen involving chemo, radiation, and a lumpectomy. I finished treatment in the spring of 2016 and was cancer free! Now I see my oncologist every 6 months for check ups. Cancer is definitely a humbling experience. I was blessed with so many reminders that the Lord was with me every step of the way from notes and gifts to meals for my family to gift cards to strangers offering to pray for me. It deepened my faith and assured me of the strength the Lord provides.
Jay & Janna Thomason
written by Janna
Jay – 1 year Stage 4 Head and Neck cancer survivor
In September of 2016 – Jay noticed a swollen lymph node on his neck. He didn’t think much about it and finally told me in October. I urged him to go to the doctor. He had no other signs/symptoms. They ordered a CT and the physician immediately called us and said it was cancer. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 Head and Neck Cancer. It was at the base of his tongue and involved lymph nodes on both sides of his neck. Fast forward lots of shock and fear – he started treatment on Dec 15 2016. It was incredibly hard to break the news to our kids 13 and 16. He had 7 weeks of chemotherapy and 35 radiation treatments. He continued to work everyday until towards the end of treatment. He lost 70lbs in 2 months despite getting a feeding tube. But he did it! He did it with grace, humility, grit and most of all humor. They told us it is one of the toughest treatments. He finished the treatment on Jan 31 2017. It took him a couple of months to get where he could eat again (and he loves to eat). He pushed and persevered. Our family was surrounded by our church and community. People loved us and prayed for us and it got us through. 3 months after his treatment was over – he was re-scanned. There was NO MORE EVIDENCE OF DISEASE! Amen! He is now back to nearly normal. His only real issue is having difficulty eating certain food that choke him up. So there is our story!
Daryl & Kendra Parris
written by Kendra – 3 year Ovarian/Uterine Cancer survivor
My name is Kendra Parris I’m 42 years old. In March of 2014 I tripped and fell at work. Because I was injured on the job I was sent to Concerta for a work related injury. I had hurt my lower back. I soon began receiving physical therapy for my back after a month of not getting better I had an MRI done it was then I was told a had a very large pelvis mass. After seeing many doctors I was diagnosed the week of mothers day 2014 with cancer. June 2014 I had surgery and had a total hysterectomy it was after the surgery that I found out the cancer was stage 3 ovarian/uterine cancer. Today I am 3 years cancer free. Going back in time to Dec 25 2010 my husband had a massive stroke that left him disabled, left side paralysis and legally blind. We have been each other’s rock and if not for each other I don’t know what we would have done or where we would have been.
Stephenie & Lanny Stiles
written by Lanny, 3 month Oropharyngeal Cancer survivor
I was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer after surgery remove a swollen lymph node under my jaw in August 2017. I began chemotherapy and radiation treatments in September and my first scan in December, after my treatments had concluded, showed no more signs of cancer. It was a quick but rough course of treatment and I am very thankful for such a great medical team. My wife Stephenie was, and continues to be my rock.
Jim & Lynn Matthys
written by Jamie, daughter of Jim & Lynn
Jim – prostate cancer 2008, bone cancer 2017
In June 2008, dad had is prostate removed due to cancer. On April Fools Day 2010, he had six stents put in his heart. In 2011, his cancer came back and had 38 radiation treatments. In April 2016, he had rotator cuff surgery. While in recovery, he had a major heart attack. They put one stent in for the blood clot. In May of that year, dad had to have four bypasses on his heart. After that, they made five trips to the ER for blood clots in his bladder. Two minor surgeries followed. Finally, last year we found out his cancer is back and in his bones. He is only able to take shots as treatment from here on out.
Andrew & Niki Schlatenbrand
written by Niki – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor
My name is Niki Schaltenbrand and I am a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was first diagnosed in August 2014. I had been sick for months and couldn’t get well. When I finally was diagnosed it was a relief to know I wasn’t crazy and we could plan for the future ahead. In the coming months I went through chemotherapy to rid the disease from my body. After 6 months of biweekly treatment the scan revealed that I was cancer free! I found my strength during that time from the Lord and relied on my faith in Him to sustain me. As well as my family and friends. I have been a survivor for 3 1/2 years and now have a beautiful baby girl. HIS mercies are new everyday!
For more information on Project 14, please click on the PROJECT 14 link in the menu bar!
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Restoration 1894 – Donation of their BEAUTIFUL event space!! Michele is amazing to work with!
Cory Thomason Productions – Cory is a GENIUS behind the camera. He saw my vision for this and put all of the pieces together beautifully. If you need a special event filmed, he’s your guy!
Opal and Orchid Hair Salon, Whitney Williams – Whitney lost her own sweet mama to cancer, so she knows my heart. AND she donated two hair stylin’ sessions to one of our couples!
Blance Palette – Jessica generously donated a couples painting class session to be won by one of our couples! Amazing!
Sorella’s Deli – Stephanie Chambers donated a sweet gift card for a lunch date for one our couples! If you haven’t been here, you need to visit!