Thursday, November 8, 2012

In August 2011, I started a long year of chemo to fight stage 3 Melanoma.

In August 2012, I finished.

Fighting cancer is a war. And like all wars, there are winners and losers. Battles won and battles lost. The ultimate winner of the war had casualties as did the side that lost. The loser has moments of greatness and victory. As it is with war, a lot of times it feels like even the loser wins some and the winner loses some. This is cancer.

My cancer has won some battles; I have won some. We are still fighting, and the harsh reality for me and my family is that we will always be fighting. Luckily, I believe the greatest war ever fought has already been won. My soul is already saved. My time on this earth is limited, but my time living in eternity is not. With that said I really really want to fight this war for much longer. In October 2012, we got that news. The chemo worked. There was no new cancer growth in my body. We take a breath and celebrate. We take heart knowing that eventually there will be more battles.

I dreamed of the day that I wouldn't have to stab a shot full of poison into my stomach. Lying on the couch, fighting yet another fever I told myself, just wait soon you will be done. In my head, I told myself that I would be the best mother, wife, sister, friend, and daughter once I stopped treatments. I gave so much up for such a long time, surely when I stop this craziness life will be so....perfect.

When I stopped treatments, I jumped head first into life. The life I had put on hold for so long. I found myself struggling, treading water, and working so hard for just a breath.

I am a tough cookie and don't like sharing struggles, but I told myself that when this cancer journey started I would be honest about every step. The good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly.

Now, please don't get me wrong. I experienced so much joy, beauty, grace, and blessing during that hard year. I was only in the hospital a couple times. Even though my body had a harder reaction to chemo, I was able to just put my big girl panties on and deal with it. Just finishing one of the hardest treatments out there was a miracle. I was able to continue going to the gym keeping my body as strong as I could. My kids knew I was sick, but never had trouble with anxiety or fear. My family and friends were supportive. We were given meals. Friends and family helped with our kids. Adam got to work from home most of the time. People selflessly donated to a fundraiser to help pay down our medical bills. God showed His great love and we were so thankful.

But, it was also a really tough year. The chemo wreaked havoc on me. I was sick every day. Throwing up, headaches, fever attacks, chills, swelling, muscle loss, weakness, exhaustion, memory loss, decrease of liver function (my doctor compared my liver to that of an 80 year old alcoholic at one point), and terribly low white blood cell counts. Overall, I was just not very "Jen". The Doctor kept promising that everything would come back. I smiled weakly and believed him. He always cautioned me that for a lot of cancer survivors coming off treatments is even more difficult than being on chemo. I secretly laughed. How could that be?

The day I had dreamed of finally came. No more chemo. I could be the athlete I wanted to be. I could be the wife I was before cancer. The mother. We wouldn't have to hunker down every evening knowing that I would soon be facing fever, puking, and other sickness. We could enjoy a weekend. School was getting ready to start and I would be the most involved and organized Mom ever. No more soup and sandwiches for dinner. I would meal plan every week until Christmas. I could open my Bible and read it without getting a headache. Sit down and talk with a friend without fearing that I wouldn't be able to keep up with a conversation mentally. I could start remembering the week before. I wouldn't get frustrated easily and so tired that I couldn't clean a bathroom. My hair would grow at miraculous pace and I would feel pretty again. The scars would heal quicker than anyone else. All those weddings and babies births that I missed - everyone would just understand. My leg that caused me so much trouble during the year would simply not be a problem. I wouldn't struggle with pride or love of things of the world, after all I almost lost it all. I would appreciate everything I was given never once looking at another wishing and wanting. I would begin volunteering again. Maybe crafting. Stop watching so much TV. And eat completely clean.


For a couple weeks I pretended that everything was ok. Until one day.

I was tired. I was still sick. My house wasn't as clean as I wanted it. We did have soup and sandwiches for dinner. I struggled with what my body looked like. I did not open my Bible. I felt like a joke at the gym. My hair was still ugly. School was not what I dreamed it would be. I watched another couple hours of some stupid show. I yelled at my kids.

Mentally, I was struggling. I felt Satan whispering, "Jen, you are a big fraud". I had been so strong for so long and now what? I sang praises to God every day through treatment. But now that I was done, I felt myself saying, "God, I got this now, thanks though". I had tried to run by myself and landed on my face.

I don't cry often. When I do, it is BIG. I wept in Adam's arms. I cried out that I thought I was strong enough to do it all on my own. I had forgotten that God was the one helping me everyday on chemo and the second I finished I had ran away. I confessed that I was angry we had to struggle through this. I cried out admitting this was harder than I thought. Although we believed that cancer was gone, I was still letting sin try to steal my joy.

So for weeks and months now, I have been taking it slower.

Cancer or no cancer, I need help. Chemo or no chemo, I need help. Physical strength or weakness, I need help. Hair I love or hair I don't, I need help. Clean house or utter chaos, I need help.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
(Psalm 121 ESV)

I know where my help comes from. Every day, I remind myself of this. I admit to God I can only do this with His help.

And you know what? I'm finding my joy again.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Video

When I was first diagnosed with cancer everyone was so sweet and encouraging to me. People said things like : "if anyone can beat this it is you" or "you are so strong" or "you got this". I kind of felt exactly that way, like I was going to kick this cancer's ass. But as time went by my heart changed a bit, I still wanted to live and still wanted cancer to go away. But I wanted my story to be about more than a girl who is a tough chick. I wanted God to get all the credit. I wanted this story to be about Him. So I started praying.....

 At the time Daniel Davis was living with us. He is a brilliant photographer and ask us if he could take pictures of our cancer journey. We agreed still not knowing how God would use them. Daniel began working for the story team at our church Austin Stone and the idea to do a video began.

These pictures are real, raw, and kind of scare the crap out of me. I don't remember most of these images or when they were taken. I was sick very sick. I don't look "cute" in them (and we all know that we want cute pictures up on the internet of us). I was smack in the middle of doing crazy treatments everyday. I had gained 15 pounds, my body was freakin out, and our family was in survival mode. I was nervous about this video. Nervous at how it would be received.

But we prayed and believed that God had a story to tell. That His name was going to be lifted high in the midst of trial and suffering. Please friends!! Post, email, share, tweet, Facebook this video. We have been praying that God uses it somewhere for someone for months now. The story team at The Austin Stone did an incredible job and we want people to see it.

Thanks again for everyone who is praying for us. And please continue to pray for those who are fighting this fight alone with no hope of the Gospel.

* Daniel Davis also did an incredible job taking pictures of the night I lost my hair. Feel free to share this one too.

Strength from Adam McManus on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Updates, Game Plans, and Coffee Enemas

Greetings Friends,

It's time for your favorite cancer update.....

I met with my oncologist team earlier this week and we had some great chats. We looked at my labs and talked about how low they still are. My white blood cell count is in the 2.5 range which is yucky and explains why I am so tired, but it is high enough to keep doing chemo. In August it dropped under 1 and that is when we pulled the plug on the last 2 treatments. This is good news. My doctor is impressed that my body has handled these treatments so well and I FEEL LIKE CRAP! It was good hearing that he is happy with everything, because I have been struggling lately. Struggling with how bad I feel ALL THE TIME. Honestly, I have wanted to quit. On a side note, I need to give a shout out to God for protecting our family's health over this year. I have a weak immune system and with 3 little kids should have gotten sick many MANY times, but we have had ZERO sickness. It has been incredible.

"Your liver looks like a 80 year old alcoholic". My doctor thought that that was funny, I was quite horrified. But he reassured me that my liver will bounce back. And that my liver is not cancer-sick it is chemo-sick. Does that sound better? Cause it is. It means my liver is struggling because of the treatments, pain pills, and other drugs. NOT because cancer is spreading. GOOD NEWS! It also means that I get to start a new "fun" regime. *Disclaimer: If you have a weak stomach go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. Two words my friends: Coffee enema. It is exactly what you think it is, and it is going to save my liver. Who knew??!!!

The end is near. After looking at labs and chatting about coffee up my bum, we decided that my body is starting to just "BE DONE". So we are going to finish with chemo AUGUST 1st!!!! Which is beyond awesome! Stage 3 Melanoma is a mean cancer and has a high chance of spreading again (60-70% reoccurrence rate) which is why we have been doing this treatment for a YEAR! We are praying that every cancer cell in my body is destroyed and DOES NOT GROW AGAIN!

On October 3rd we are do a big MRI, the kind where you lay in a plastic tube for a couple hours. On October 8th we'll go over the results. Hopefully that day we will hear the phrase NED, which means NO EVIDENCE of DISEASE. Which means I still have cancer, but it is NOT alive in my body. We talked about this for awhile. Apparently cancer survivors really struggle with the "after" treatment. I have been in "fight-mode" for over a year and then on October 8th, I just what? stop? Nope, cause I am still fighting, but it will be more of a mental battle not the physical one. Every headache, sneeze, restless night of sleep will be a struggle. "Is the cancer back?" "Has it spread again?" That will be a struggle and I am sure I will write about it more later.

So only 9 more weeks to go.....

I want to give a shout out to everyone who has prayed with us over this last year. I have felt every prayer and needed EVERY single one of them. We couldn't have done this journey without of prayer community. You guys rock!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

One year later.

It has been a year since I first heard the words, "you have cancer." A year since I heard words like: melanoma, malignant, tumor, stage 3, and "this is serious."

This year has been quite a ride. I have had: 3 surgeries, an 8 day stay in the hospital, 18 days of 4 hour rounds of chemo, 4 MRIs, 2 emergency trips to the ER, x-rays, 6 skin biopsies, more doctor appointments than I can count, 6 weeks of physical therapy, and have given myself a shot of low dose chemo 3 times a week for over 7 months.

On this cancerversary, my first of what I pray is A LOT, I wanted to talk about that day a year ago. The day I heard that cancer was trying to kill me.

"Jen McManus, the results are back. It is a malignant melanoma tumor. The is very serious."
"I better not die. I can't. Do you hear me, God?" It was my first reaction. It was short. A simple cry, prayer, and request to God.
"Jesus, I need you right now. You are the only one that can comfort me at this second. You knew suffering. You knew pain. You knew what it feels like to cry out for your life. And I need you to hold me."
"How I am going to tell Adam?" He is so strong and was so sure that this was nothing.
"I am a tough chick and I am SO going to beat this crap!"
"Ok maybe not that strong. But with God's help I can beat this...............right?"
"God if I don't beat this, please help my see that Your plan is good. Because right now Your plan does not feel "good".
"I can't believe that I have cancer. How can a person who is not even sick have cancer? This has to be a dream?! Wake up, Jen. Wake up! This is not fair."
"Nope, this is fair. So many people out there are getting this same news, but they don't have the hope of the gospel. I do. I need to show them that that changes everything. I am not scared."
"Ugh I am scared. I am scared for my kids. How do you tell your kids? Will they understand? Will this hurt them? Will they blame God and hurt? This feels more real when I think about my kids. They need me to be strong."
"Will I be strong? Can I be strong?"
"Jesus, be my strength. This is going to be a long journey. Life as I know it changes right this second."

Wow. It feels crazy remembering that day in such a real way. In so many ways those thoughts, concerns, and fears are VERY different now. But, in so many ways they are very much the same.

I am not dead yet! To any cancer patient this is a big deal. The statistics for someone fighting stage 3 melanoma are not fun to read. And, to be honest I try to ignore them. 1 year later and God still has me here and that is worth celebrating.

I still need Jesus everyday. In moments when it would be easy to cry out in anger, I find myself instead crying for the comfort from a Savior that hurt just like I do. I love that God's perfect plan gave us someone who just "understands" everything we feel. My Jesus has felt everything I have, and that is so comforting when treatment gets tough.

It was so hard telling Adam that I had cancer and telling him that it had spread was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But he has been incredible in this journey. He continues to write me letters everyday: . I couldn't fight this fight without him.

I am a tough chick, but cancer is mean. I still get sick A LOT. I get fevers, body aches, headaches, and nausea. I'm tired all the time. But, I continue to drag myself to bootcamp 3X a week. It is not pretty, but physically I keep fighting.

Having people who pray for me daily has been one of the biggest blessings to me. There are people all over the world praying for me, and I feel every one of them. All I have to do is tweet that I am having trouble and BOOM people begin praying for me. Thank you everyone!

God's plan still doesn't seem all that "good" to me, but I have seen "good" in this situation. God has used my cancer journey to show others His perfect love. I have seen my kids knowledge of Jesus and how faithful God is grow so much this year. And, I have been given opportunity after opportunity to share my story with so many. That is definitely....GOOD!

It still feels like this is just one big dream. Actually, it feels more like a nightmare at times. I wake up every day, and one of my first thoughts is "oh crap, I still have cancer." Some days, it feels like it was just yesterday when we heard the word: cancer. Other days, it feels like we have been fighting cancer for years.

I wore a LIVESTRONG bracelet long before I was diagnosed with cancer. Living with cancer has been very eye opening. There are so many people out there fighting this journey alone with no hope but their own strength. That makes me sad. I will continue to show others that God does not want us to be alone in this fight.

I am still scared for my kids. I'm scared that they don't get it. I'm scared that they don't understand why I am sick all the time. I hate when I hear things like "Mom, I know we can't cause you are sick, but tomorrow can we go to the park?" Or, when I have to answer the tough questions like: "Mom, so and so said that you are going to heaven, is that true?" But, I still get to be home with them full time and we find a way to make our crazy McManus Life work.

I am physically weak. I am mentally weak. And some days I feel spiritually weak. I don't feel strong. I don't feel like myself. The drugs I am on are powerful, and I hate them. BUT I continue to tell myself that with God's strength and love I am very STRONG!

One year later, life has changed so much; yet, in many ways not at all.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An update and more

Some days I try my hardest to forget that I don't have cancer. On those days I try to just live life. Some days it works. I forget for a moment that cancer is trying to kill me. Here is one of those days. My brother came to visit and we went and did all the tourist "stuff" in Austin. Like taking a picture in front of a big longhorn. (only in Texas)

Then there are the other days.....The days that I really feel like I have cancer.

One of my biggest struggles is the mental battle cancer wages with you. Having a deadly cancer and trying to beat it takes quite a toll on your mind. I try to do a good job staying positive and I have a strong faith. But some days my mind is weak. My doctor has me on some heavy medications that also make my head fuzzy. I am worst at night after the kids go to bed and find myself most nights just laying on the couch. (That is why I haven't been blogging a lot, it is really hard to even put sentences together)

I am sick and tired all the time. I struggle with headaches from the chemo and frequently have a ice pack on my head to help with the swelling(yes my BRAIN SWELLS...scary huh?) and pain. I have a fever every other day. It usually breaks at around 103 degrees. I hate having a fever!!! I throw up a lot from the meds I'm taking. I am tired.....really tired. Like I sleep over 12 hours a day and am still tired. I get mouth sores, have really dry skin, have thinning hair again, and overall feel like crap all the time.

I am not myself. I try so hard to smile. To be joyful. To laugh. But at nights when I am the sickest, I just can't. I'm on so many meds that mess with my head and most of the time they keep me from being myself. I tried new meds last week and I hate them. They make me loopy and kind of crazy. And I hate feeling that way.

I still work out. I know that you think that it is crazy. But it is the ONE thing that hasn't changed. Well kind of. Unfortunately I am weak. I can't do what I used to be able to do physically. But I still try. My doctor and I agree that going to the gym is one of the reasons I am able to still do this treatment. Did you know that over 70% of people with this cancer do NOT complete the year of chemo? They just give up or their body gives up. Going to the gym is how I fight this from happening to me.

I have a serious, deadly cancer, and I ignore that a lot. I don't ignore that I am sick. I feel sick. But I do ignore the seriousness of my type of cancer. Is that weird? I am not sure. A doctor asked me what kind of cancer I had. When I told him, his face went white and he said that he was so sorry. That felt really weird.

I don't know how you can help me. I'm not good at letting people help out. It makes me feel weak. And I HATE feeling weak. And to be honest I am not sure what I need help with. We have a routine that works right now. And we just keep swimming.

My doctor wants me to go to some cancer camp. Rock climbing and river kayaking in Colorado. It sounds interesting. But I really just want to go to Disneyworld with my family. And I want to go to Haiti with my husband and our friends at @HELP.


Life is still quite perfect. My kids are awesome and we really love the routine we have right now. I can still go to Connor's karate here and there, I love coloring and laying low on my "sick days", we live in the best city that gives us chances to have fun outside and together, I have friends who love me, a Mom who talks to me whenever I need her, and a husband who rocks my socks off. No, seriousily he is really the best. He continues to write me letters everyday (, lays on the couch with me every night, gets up with the kids when I have bad mornings, and makes me laugh.

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, I still love Jesus. Ha that sounds funny huh? But I really do. It would be really easy for me to have a problem with Jesus. It would be easy to play the "why me?" game, but I don't at all. I love Him more than ever. I have seen Him get me through so much and I really do feel so lucky and so loved. I trust and believe that His plan is perfect for me. And having cancer will not change that.

*Medical Update: I go in for x-rays next week to make sure everything still looks "good" and that there is no new cancer. We decided to keep trying this higher dosage of chemo even though it took me out for a week or so. We want to get as much in my body as we can, which makes a lot of sense to me.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Have you ever ran a marathon? Is it a dream of yours?

Me? Nope, NO WAY! Never ever EVER. I am not a good runner. And I don't enjoy doing things that I am not good at it, especially for over 4 hours!

But on Sunday I was honored to be apart of this race:
Nope, I did not run. Not strong enough to do that. But I did stand out at Mile Marker 10 for hours cheering on as many as I could. We have been a huge fan of LIVESTRONG since Lance started it. We actually joked about how we loved LIVESTRONG before it got "cool". And then I got cancer. And then it became very REAL! And keeping you body as strong as you can became ever more REAL! Working out has become a huge part of my treatment. Even on days when I don't want to, I get my butt to the gym.

So when I had some friends asking if they could run for me in the upcoming LIVESTRONG marathon, I was honored. And beyond excited to get out there and cheer for them. So I made some signs, got up early, found the perfect spot, and cheered and cheered and CHEERED!
It was an incredible experience. There was almost 20,000 people at the LIVESTRONG half and full marathon all out running for someone they cared about or loved. It felt electric out there. And for the first time in my life I considered running! WHAT??!!! And I might have told someone that if I beat this crap I want to do just a marathon. (crazy!!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Please be my strength...

Today is my 200th day on chemo.....

And to celebrate my body has completely failed me. This week has been super hard. Side effects that are usually pretty bad were worst. And I have been getting some new ones.

Instead of being sad about a bad week, I have made a video that I pray encourages you today.....

I miss my hair. I battled with it a lot in the past, but now that it is gone I miss it more than I ever thought I would. Yesterday while washing my hair a clump came out. I forgot that it could fall out again now that I am on a stronger chemo dosage. That made me so sad. Sad because it has taken months and months for my hair to grow.

It reminded me of the thousands of people out there beginning their cancer journey. I thought about all the women who are scared about what cancer will do to their hair. And I closed my eyes and prayed for them.

So I put together a little video. A video that I pray brings others hope. Hope that only our God can give them.

Be strong my friends....And find strength in Jesus......

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