Alexa’s Story – Joy Through Cancer & Loss

All of this is happening for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but I am excited to find out what that reason could be.”

As a little girl, I remember her being the fun, spunky girl with a gusto for life and who wasn’t afraid to do anything. Today, Alexa is still that brave and fearless girl. She is incredibly strong and her outlook on life – her life – through suffering and loss is nothing short of a miracle.

A few weeks ago we met up with Alexa in Denver to hear her story.

It is a story that I so deeply hope will inspire and encourage many others going through similar situations.

Photo by Britney Higgs

Photo by Britney Higgs

Alexa and Kevin’s love story started out pretty normal. Alexa, a small town Colorado girl, was studying nursing school at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith and looking for something more in life. Alexa decided to verge into the online dating world and soon met Kevin, a true Southern boy from Scranton.

After talking for a few weeks, they decided going on a date was a good idea. Kevin asked Alexa out to Starbucks and although Alexa didn’t have any expectations for the meeting, they instantly hit it off. They ended up talking for hours at Starbucks and continued the date to a local park, where they continued on for another few hours, passing the time in conversation.

As Alexa says, after that first date “the rest is history.” The two started dating and a bunch of failed proposal attempts (because Alexa kept spoiling the surprise) soon led to Kevin FINALLY popping the question and the two were married June 1st, 2013.

Photo by  Kendra Schlachter Photography

Photo by Kendra Schlachter Photography

The next step to their story was supposed to be what every newlywed dreams of, their own “Happily Ever After.” House, babies and growing old with your best friend. But for Alexa and Kevin, dreams of the future were put to a sudden halt.

In December of last year, only seven months after their Wedding Day, Alexa found a lump below her sternum. When antibiotics didn’t make it go away, she developed a fever on Christmas Day and was sent home from work. She went to the clinic the day after Christmas to get checked out. After running labs and some scans, they found out Alexa had a tumor under her sternum. She had the lymph node biopsied January 23rd and received the diagnosis, Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Cancer.

Cancer is hard enough to deal with when you are the one dealing with it. But when you have a loved one going through the same thing, it’s unimaginable. Alexa’s diagnosis was only the tip of the iceberg. Around the same time as her horrible news, Alexa and her family found out that her older brother, Zane, was starting to lose his own battle.

Photo by  Kendra Schlachter Photography

Photo by Kendra Schlachter Photography

Zane had been battling stage 4 melanoma for 2 years. He was in a clinical study taking immunotherapy, a drug that helps the body find and fight cancer. For about a year and a half  of his battle, it worked well and things were contained. Then tragedy struck again. The immunotherapy had caused the cancer to metastasize to his brain and Zane went under surgery to remove the tumors. Around Christmas after the surgery had been successful, the family had gained the tiniest bit of hope. But the uplifting outcome was short lived. Come January, they got the news that the cancer had spread throughout his whole body.

While the news of Zane had struck Alexa and her family, Alexa was dealing with struggles in her own battle as well. She had a port and cath placed under her skin and during placement, the surgeon accidentally punctured her lung. She was in the hospital for 4-5 days longer than expected needing two chest tubes to help her lung heal. Alexa started her first round of chemo the first week of February, and during that time, amazingly was able to travel to Arkansas one last time before Zane officially went on hospice.

On February 26, 2014, Zane passed away.

Alexa says she will cherish that last trip to see him for the rest of her life. “The hardest part of my journey with cancer was losing my brother. The ironic thing is that our cancers are in no way related! But his cancer will forever be linked with mine. When I think about my cancer, I always think about Zane.” Alexa says she wishes she could have taken his place, “I don’t know why I was given the chance to live when he wasn’t. I wish I could switch places with him so that he could be here for his wife and children.

The loss of her brother. The battle with her own cancer. The physical, emotional and mental suffering that goes with any loss and struggle… All of this is enough to make a person give up. But Alexa has been truly amazing. Since her diagnosis, I have been following her on social media and the optimism and encouragement she has spewed throughout this whole process is completely mind blowing. When I asked her how she can keep so positive at a time like this, she laughed and explained how it isn’t easy. “Oh, I have my moments!! For example, if this would have been yesterday, it wouldn’t have been good. I was very emotional and I cried. A lot.”

 

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Honestly, I think that’s what amazes me about this girl. This isn’t easy. I can’t think of many things more difficult and heart wrenching and yet, somehow Alexa finds a reason to hope, to smile.

“It could be worse. As far as Zane, it could have gone so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to say good bye, it could have happened all of a sudden, it could have been a total shock but we were prepared and I feel blessed we had that time with him. As far as me, I have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s one of the easiest to treat cancers. Usually you just do your 6 months of chemo and you’re done. That’s what I’m hoping for! So, I feel blessed to have the cancer that I have. And everything else… I just feel like it could have been worse.”

Along with everything she was going through, Alexa was also in her first year of marriage with the love of her life. I remember my first year of marriage and it wasn’t easy, even without something horrible like cancer being added to the mix. I can’t imagine what it was like for her and Kevin. Alexa explained, “It was a lot to swallow, but honestly, I feel like our relationship hasn’t taken a hit from it. If anything, I feel like it’s solidified everything. It’s a lot for anybody to deal with in a lifetime, and for us to deal with it in the first year of marriage sucks, but I can’t imagine going through this with anybody else.” Alexa continued with a giggle,”I’m glad I have him!”

Photo by Britney Higgs

Photo by Britney Higgs

Photo by Britney Higgs

Photo by Britney Higgs

Photo by Britney Higgs

Photo by Britney Higgs

On top of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, Alexa feels like she’s learned so much through this whole experience, something she can share with others. “I’ve dealt with cancer as the caregiver, the family member, and as the fighter. Two of those roles suck! I like being the caregiver! It has more happy moments and I like being able to help make people feel better. Having cancer has helped me connect with patients who have cancer on a different level. I understand their struggles and I have personal tips/tricks to help them through the side effects.”

When I asked her if she had any encouraging words for people going though similar situations, Alexa’s response was real. “It’s okay to be sad and mad and totally just pissed off. It’s okay to keep it all in, but it honestly feels a whole lot better to just let it all out.”

The biggest help for her was having a support system. “Whether it’s a one on one therapy session or a group, I highly recommend going to see and talk to somebody.”

With her parents still down in Arkansas taking care of things after Zane’s death, Alexa was amazed at the support of those around her, one blessing of being a part of a small community. “I’ve had a bunch of families and friends step up and take me to my chemo treatments and appointments. It’s been amazing.”

When asked about her outlook on this entire situation, Alexa left with this statement, “All of this is happening for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but I am excited to find out what that reason could be.”

Photo By Britney Higgs

Photo By Britney Higgs

Alexa finds out in two months if she is completely cancer free. Please pray for her. Pray for full recovery from cancer and comfort from all the worry this brings. With all of my heart, I hope this is the end of Alexa’s journey with cancer and she can continue on enjoying all the wonders this life has to offer. I also ask that we pray for her family. They have been through so much this year. To lose a brother, friend, nephew, son and father at the young age of 36 is beyond heartbreaking. Pray for peace and comfort as their family goes through life without Zane in their presence.

Lex, thank you for being you. You are Beautiful. Strong. Inspiring. God is going to use you and your story in amazing ways. Just wait, girl. 🙂

Photo by Britney Higgs

Photo by Britney Higgs

 For the vision is yet for an appointed time; . . . it will surely come. —Habakkuk 2:3

 

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