This blog post is written by Lisa Manns, an Ovarian Cancer survivor and the founder of Warrior Bags. Warrior Bags is a non-profit organization that donates bags and cancer care packages to cancer patients which can be used during chemo, radiation, and doctor's appointments. Lisa and her team has given out 979 warrior bags to cancer patients all around the world. Please help her in her mission to send out more cancer care packages by donating below.
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I will forever remember June 10, 2017. My husband and I were in Michigan, celebrating my niece’s recent elopement. On the morning of the party, I was talking with my mom when a sudden pain shot through my abdomen, doubling me over. I told my mom it was no big deal because I had self-diagnosed myself as having a strangulated umbilical hernia. I shared with her that this same pain had happened the previous day, and it went away, so I knew this one would go away too. She was having none of it! She told my dad to get the car while telling me that I needed to go to the hospital. I again assured her that it was no big deal, I didn’t need to go to the hospital and promised her that when I got back to our Indiana home, I’d see my family doctor, where I knew he’d have the same diagnosis that I had self-proclaimed. Plus, who wants to go to the hospital on party day?!?
As my dad pulled the car up, in the grass, next to the house, while my husband stood next to me, ready to escort me into this make-shift ambulance, I’ll never forget what my 22-year old daughter said to me as I was refusing to get in the car…
“Mom, get in the damn car.”
Those six words most likely saved my life. Because I got in the damn car, where my dad drove me 30 minutes to the nearest hospital emergency room, and that’s where this small-town ER doctor ran a CT scan for my self-diagnosed strangulated hernia, followed by a vaginal ultrasound.
I’ll never forget that doctor coming into my little cubicle, shutting off the tv, and sitting down next to me. He looked me right in the eyes and told me they had found a 7 cm mass on my left ovary that looked like cancer. So much for a strangulated umbilical hernia.
Life With Chemo.
Life during chemotherapy was organized chaos.
My chemotherapy consisted of six cycles, but each cycle had three parts: an overnight hospital stay for a 24-hour drip of chemo, followed by an infusion five days later, followed by another chemo dose two days later. Six cycles consisted of six overnight stays at the Louisville Hospital, six visits to the Louisville Infusion Center, and six visits to Louisville’s Brown Cancer Center. Each cycle occurred over seven days, followed by three weeks of recovery before the next cycle would begin again.
Each cycle of chemotherapy began with my husband driving me down to the Louisville Hospital early Wednesday morning. He would help check me in and get me settled and then drive an hour back home so he could go to work. While he was at work and I was lying in the hospital bed with Taxol coursing through my body, I would read, listen to music, watch shows on my iPad just to pass the time until he would return later that afternoon. We would have dinner together - carry-out because hospital food can be disturbing - and then he would drive back home to Indiana so he could go to work the next morning while I stayed in the hospital to finish the 24-hour Taxol drip.
This drip usually finished around ten o’clock Thursday morning. After this, I would get a second type of chemo, called Cisplatin; only this chemotherapy was administered into my abdominal port. It usually took about six hours to complete, which was about the time my husband would return to the Louisville Hospital and take me home. There’s nothing like an hour car ride with an abdomen full of chemo. When we would get home, my parents would be there from Michigan, ready to stay for the next seven days so my husband could continue to work. I was THAT high maintenance. We couldn’t have done it without my parents! They took over all household duties - cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, organizing all of my meds, etc. They were an amazing support system.
The weekends immediately after chemo were challenging. I would wake up very early Friday morning, nausea settling in. I would stay in bed until Monday morning when my mom and dad would drive me back down to Louisville’s Infusion Center, where I would spend a couple of hours receiving fluids.
By Tuesday, I would start to want food again, only to wake up early Wednesday morning for my dad to take me back to Louisville’s Brown Cancer Center, where I would receive another round of Taxol, only this time in my abdomen.
And then I got a reprieve for three weeks before we would do it all over again.
Neuropathy, Hair Loss, and Intense Nausea.
During chemo, I experienced neuropathy, hair loss, and intense nausea.
The hair loss was very hard for me. I can’t explain what it’s like to watch clumps of your hair fall off of your head onto the shower floor or be able to pull chunks out by the fist fulls. It was so painful for me that I had had it, so I asked my husband to buzz it all off with his clippers one day. He wasn’t too thrilled to do it, but after it was over, I felt a lot freer knowing I didn’t have to lose any more hair because it was all gone!
The nausea was intense for me!! And it got progressively worse with each round of chemo. By the fourth round, I was too sick to go to Louisville on Mondays for my fluid infusions, so my oncologist ordered home IV infusions. That means everything - from the IV bags, the IV lines, an IV stand, everything you need to have an IV - was delivered to my home. My husband got a quick tutorial from the hospital’s nursing staff, and we were good to go. Now, instead of having to go to Louisville on Monday morning, sick and depleted, my husband was able to administer my IV fluids at home. Thank you, Jesus!!!
Like the nausea, the neuropathy got progressively worse. Toward the end of my treatments, holding a pencil or opening up jars was too painful. If I were sitting or lying down for extended periods (which I was!), it would hurt to walk when I would get up. That didn’t disappear until about two years after treatment. On occasion, one of my fingertips will become numb again, but very rarely.
Couldn't Have Done It Without Family and Friends.
I couldn’t have done cancer the way I did without my family and friends!
My cancer surgery was on July 7th, so my daughter and her husband, who live 3 hours away, came down a few days before and stayed for two weeks after it to be a part of my recovery. My daughter took over the house while I recovered from surgery. She organized my medicines, watched over the place, all while caring for me. We spent every waking moment together, laughing, binge-watching Netflix, talking. She made me forget I had cancer. My son-in-law, who loves to cook, would go to the grocery store and cook for us. He’s also very handy, so I gave him my honey-do list. He and my son became best friends that summer because of the time they were forced to spend together. One of the hardest parts was when they went back home.
It was also hard taking my son back to college, knowing I was about to start chemotherapy. But I was thankful that he was at school during most of it because I didn’t want him to have to see his mom suffer. I hated him having to watch me transform into someone unrecognizable.
My husband was my rock. He took me to every oncology appointment, bathed me when I was too weak to stand, encouraging me during those darkest days. Those days I couldn’t get out of bed, he would hold the bowl so I could get sick in it, he would scrape me off the bathroom floor and practically carry me back to bed after getting sick. He would set his alarm in the middle of the night so that he could wake up and hand me my medicine. He would do the bills, tend to my parents and eat dinner in bed next to me because he didn’t want me to be alone. His devotion to me was what empowered me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, especially toward the end of chemo when I was becoming depleted physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
My secondary support team was my three best friends. My husband and I lived in Indiana for ten months when I found out I had cancer. I barely had found a dentist, never mind trying to find an oncologist. So not having my friends here to support me was tough. But they found a way. And that way was in the form of gifts. My first gift was a beautiful leather bag that I took to my appointments, hospital stays, and chemotherapy treatments. But they weren’t done. Every time I came home from my six overnight hospital chemotherapy treatments, there on my doorstep was a big package from them. They were determined to walk with me, even though they were now four hours away.
Tips for Other Warriors.
My biggest tip is this: hold on to Jesus. During my fight, I saturated my mind with Bible teachings, books, and worship music. The mind is a huge battlefield, and if you’re not careful, your physical fight with cancer can grow into mental warfare, which has adverse effects on an already tough physical battle. I also stayed off of the internet. I didn’t go researching about my type of cancer. It only brought on more fear, and that was something I didn’t need more of!
I also had to remove myself from social media because it was bringing me down. I was so mad and jealous because everyone was having fun and living their lives while my bald head was lying on the bathroom floor, too weak to get up.
And lastly, I would tell newly diagnosed warriors that cancer not only comes after you physically but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually too. But it is not who you are. You are more than cancer. And there is nothing you did to get cancer. You never know, God may be calling you into something very hard so that you can do something unique with it. Beauty from ashes.
Birth of Warrior Bags.
Remember that secondary support team? The ones who sent me unbelievable care packages throughout my cancer journey? Warrior Bags was birthed because of them. But not only them. I was also so blessed to receive so many gifts and cards from people. Some I didn’t even know! So when I was done with my chemo and started getting stronger, I wanted to do for others fighting this vicious disease what people had done for me - send them a care package. Because during my darkest days, it is incredible the power a card or gift holds. It showed me that people loved me, were praying for me, were thinking about me, and although they knew this was my personal fight, I was not alone.
The Warrior Bags Team.
My team consists of my three best friends, Mary, Mandy, and Joan, the ones that refused to let me walk my cancer journey alone. My daughter, Celia, is also on our team. She is our blogger. She has her blog, and we, Warrior Bags, “borrow” it because it’s so full of wisdom and truth and encouragement. She knows first-hand how messy life is, but how powerful the love of Jesus is. She’s created a safe space where people can come to feel loved, challenged, and encouraged. Those things are essential when you’re faced with an intense challenge like cancer. And we’ve added a Marketing Consultant and board member, Traci, a cancer survivor herself.
What's in a Warrior Bag?
Warrior Bags is a non-profit organization that uses its donations to purchase tote bags and various gifts (such as, but not limited to, blankets, journals, hats, scarves, chemo bands, hand sanitizers, lip balms).
New Things are Coming.
I want Warrior Bags to be an organization that acknowledges cancer and all that small word encompasses yet strives to bring light and encouragement to people fighting this vicious disease. Cancer can cause you to forget who you are. It’s a very lonely place to be. That’s why I’m passionate about letting our warriors know that although this is their fight, they are not alone. I want Warrior Bags to grow into a global organization that not only sends bags to cancer warriors but walks alongside them throughout their entire journey, supporting them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We’re still working on that piece as a team, but we have some ideas developing that I’m really looking forward to sharing once they’re completed and ready to be launched.
587 Warrior Bags Sent.
Today, we’ve had the privilege of mailing 979 Warrior Bags to men, women, and children in 40 different states, as well as Canada, France, England, and Ireland.
Please help Lisa in her mission to send out more cancer care packages by donating below.
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By Lisa Manns from Warrior BagsIn June of 2017 Lisa’s life changed forever. She was visiting family in Michigan when she received the news that she had ovarian cancer. She underwent surgery that July and began her first chemotherapy treatment just two months later. There were good, bad and ugly days, but through it all it was her faith that helped her persevere. She is now living cancer free and sharing her faith with others.
I also thought my pain was from something else only to be told that I have cancer. It was scary. The scariest thing I ever had happen. I knew deep down that I was seriously ill. Now I am going tomorrow to see if I also have breast cancer.