Wednesday, September 9, 2015

#mandastrong An Update



This time last year I watched as one of my very best friends received devastating news.  A two-time cancer survivor, she was diagnosed for a third time and was embarking on another battle for her life.  In all honesty, it didn't seem fair.  She'd already beaten this twice.  She had a beautiful family - a son in Kindergarten, the cutest baby girl - and her body was riddled with cancer.  Again.



Over the past year I have had the absolute privilege of  walking alongside Manda as she has undergone numerous treatments and just as many setbacks.  The amazing thing, though?  It's never been about her.  Ever.  In the midst of chemo and illness, uncertainty and fear - it's always been about her kids, others and living her live in a way that glorifies God.  She has NEVER given up hope, has clung to the cloaks of Jesus and has demonstrated an unshakable faith in the midst of the unthinkable.

Our group of girlfriends surprised Manda at the end of her family photo session last Fall... we smiled, we laughed, we prayed and we all threw our hands up in the air and cheered MANDA STRONG as an enthusiastic battle cry of sorts.  We hugged Manda, told her everything was going to be fine, made her promise to let us take care of the details while she took care of getting better and watched her drive off.  And then we lost it.  All of us.



When we took that picture above, none of us knew what our group would look like one year later.  We were hopeful, and, per Manda's explicit instruction, were determined to praise Him no matter what the outcome was.  365 days later, against all odds and probabilities, Manda has no active cancer and is a walking testament to living in faith. 

I asked Manda to tell her story and today I am honored to have her share...

Hi, my name is Manda Maxwell, some of you may know me as “Manda Strong” because of my Facebook page,  I wanted to start by thanking my sweet friend Andrea for asking me to be her guest blogger for September, I’m not a blogger myself but you never know maybe I’ll be one after this. ;)

 The month of September marks a big milestone for me. I was diagnosed 1 year ago this month with an aggressive stage 4 sarcoma on my spine. My life journey has had many ups and downs just like most, but unlike most it’s included cancer three times. In my 34 years of life, I’ve been faced with many fearful obstacles; like going through the war zone of chemotherapy, making the unthinkable decision to amputate my leg, and confronted with the reality of death at a young age but through it all God has blessed me beyond measure with two beautiful children, an amazing husband, loving family and extremely supportive friends and church family. I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you just a few things I have learned in my walk of faith.

Engagement 2003

Patience is a Virtue
In my opinion, patience is one of the hardest fruits of the spirit to produce. It doesn’t come natural for us. You have to learn and develop patience over our lifetime. Waiting at doctors’ offices, waiting for test results, waiting for chemo to start, waiting for chemo to end, waiting for your hair to grow back, I could go on and on.  Waiting is a huge part of cancer! It is not fun and can be very difficult to do, but for me, I had to come to the realization that God had His hand in all of these situations and was going to use them in my life for good. According to 1 Samuel “Lack of patience can cause you to miss blessings”.  Looking back I can now see where God used those hours, days and months of waiting to provide blessings to me and others. From praying with a complete stranger in the doctor’s office to teaching me to become completely dependent on Him for my hope and peace. God used that time to discipline and remind me to rely on Him alone. Lamentations 3:26 says “The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”

Me and Aiden 2010

The Power of Prayer
I always knew prayer was an important part to our relationship with God. I was taught it was the way we could speak to Him and express our hearts requests but it wasn’t until my diagnoses in 2009 that I truly got to experience the power of prayer. There is something so humbling in kneeling before the creator of the universe and surrendering your life over to him completely helpless. All throughout my journey there were so many moments that were evidence of the power of prayer, like the supernatural peaceful moment right before my amputation, or my miraculous first steps on my prosthetic leg without crutches, and being told you have Hepatitis C when in fact I didn’t. God not only heard our cries but answered them above and beyond our expectations. Ephesians 3:20 says “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

Maternity Photos 2013

God is Ever Present
When the dark and devastating trials came, initially feeling God’s presence was difficult for me. I turned to His word and dug deeply into his wisdom and comfort. The words I found there became my rock in the storm as well as my strength for the day. I used hymns and songs of praise as a channel for hearing God’s voice, as well as lifting my voice and feelings to Him and the Lord sent special friends to minister to me through meals, groceries, house cleaning, monetary support and lots and lots of prayers. As terrible as the time was, it was also filled with irrefutable evidence of the presence and grace of God. I now have a certainty that whatever the outcome, the Lord will be with me and His strength will be enough. Isaiah 41:13 says “For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear, for I am with you.”

Family of Four 2013


Normalcy is Overrated
I have worked so hard my whole life trying to feel “normal.” Since my first diagnoses in 86’ with the removal of the tumor as well as all muscles in my leg, as well as becoming an amputee in 09’ and losing my hair three times, the word normal was not a word used to describe me.  I have always felt like I was different not just physically but also in the everyday life as well. After each diagnoses, I tried so hard to hold on to the normalcy of life but the more I held on the more it slipped away. I realized very quickly that God’s plan for my life was very different from what I had planned for myself. I believe God calls us all to be set a part with a sacred purpose. The Lord is continuing to teach me not to chase after my own personal gain but to serve Him and bring Him honor and glory.  Romans 12:2 “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”



Family 2014

Live One Day at a Time
I’m sure you’ve heard this a hundred times before but do you actually live this way? It’s not until you been given devastating news like you have cancer that this becomes a lifestyle. From the moment I was diagnosed thinking of the future was painful and scary. Would I be able to see Miley graduate high school or dance with Aiden on his wedding day????? Mathew 6:34 says “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  God asks us to trust him one day at a time because this keeps us close to him. He knew this would not come natural for us either.  So we must fix our eyes on him and he will equip us to get through each day. It’s only with God’s grace that I’m able to face the uncertainty of tomorrow. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says; “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”



Chemo Treatment 2014


Choose Faith Over Fear
This has been the hardest one for me to learn but one God continues to challenge me with still today. Fear is very real, overwhelming and (in my case) can be paralyzing at times. I had to make a decision very early on if I was going to live my life in faith or fear. My entire life God has been “stretching” my faith. I may not have enjoyed it but I know he has a loving purpose in it. I love this phrase from one of my favorite devotionals Jesus Calling: Affirm your trust in me, regardless of how you feel. If you persist, your feelings will eventually fall in line with your faith. I am so thankful that God is fighting this battle for me and through Him I have victory! “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage: I have overcome the world.” John 16:33



When Manda picked a verse to mark her journey so to speak, she picked Exodus 15:2.  I LOVE that she picked this verse because when she picked it she didn't know that that victory would look like.



I've relaunched her shirt campaign, so if you'd like to purchase one to show your support for her you can do so HERE.

To stay up to date with Manda and prayer requests for her and her family, please be sure to follow her MandaStrong Facebook Page.

If you'd like to hear Manda speak in person, she'll be sharing her testimony (along with her mom) at our church's Women's Coffee House on October 25th from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.  Tickets will be available HERE starting on September 27th.



Thank you SO much to Manda for sharing today and thank you to everyone who has rallied with us over the past year in prayer and support.  #mandastrong

45 comments:

  1. Manda has been praising God throughout this entire process. Her actions have spoken volumes to me. Thank you for sharing, Manda!!! XOXO

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  2. Awesome, amazing, beautiful story to share.....yay Manda....you are one inspiring woman!

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  3. Manda, I am so proud of you, your determination, and your faith. Love you bunches!!!!! xoxo :)

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  4. all I can say is WOW. How very inspiring! THank you for sharing your story, Manda! I am saving this -- it is a very important reminder of what is important in life!

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  5. Thank God that there is no cancer in her body. Manda, thank you for telling us about your faith.

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  6. There is nothing like a good cry at 6am. Not only is her health a true miracle and an act of God but also her attitude and faith is! Thank you for sharing

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  7. Thank You for Bringing Amanda to all of us. You have been blessed with an amazing friend. She has given hope and strength to anyone who follows her. I hope to be able to be as strong in my everyday life as Manda is in one day of hers. Her inspiring words are ones to keep close and reflect on. May the Lord be with you both. May God hold you in his arms. Manda we praise you and admire you.

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  8. I read your blog this morning via Mix and Match Family... our dearest friends have a son named Wesley who has just undergone his SECOND bone marrow transplant for an aggressive leukemia... He has battled now for 3 years... many of the verses sited are verses he and his family cling to! buying a t-shirt for Wesley and his Mom and myself :-)

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  9. You are awesome! Faith over fear!!

    Www.in-due-time.com

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  10. Praise Jesus for the miracle of her life and testimony.

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  11. What an encouraging testimony! I have a friend,since 5th grade,that is also batteling cancer for the second time right now. Continuing to pray for Manda!

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  12. Praise God for the miracle! Such a great reminder to live life to glorify his name!

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  13. I've thought of you often since Andrea and Shay first mentioned you on their blogs this time last year and I loved reading your own words. Thank you for sharing your story. You serve as a beacon of hope for other cancer patients and a great example for the rest of us as to how we should react and navigate the most challenging situations. Praying for many more years of health and happiness.

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  14. Your testimony blesses me. The scripture you shared speaks to my soul. Praise the Lord!
    And, thank you to Andrea for sharing such beautiful stories like Manda's and Ashleigh's. They remind us of what's really important in life!

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  15. Manda is such a strong, beautiful woman of God!!! What an awesome testimony and great reminder for us all. Prayers continued!! #mandastrong

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  16. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Praying for a future of health and happiness for you !

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  17. Thank you for sharing, Manda!! You beam such strength as a Christian, Momma, and friend!! I've been praying for you and your sweet family and will continue to do so! Now... pick a new scripture and make another shirt! I'll buy another one!!! :) tehehe! Kidding.. kinda!

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  18. Beautiful story of faith and courage. Thanks for sharing Manda...love the verses you have chosen .

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  19. Manda, thank you for sharing your story. It's such an important reminder of what matters most in life. You have blessed me beyond measure this morning. Continuing to pray for you and your family.

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  20. Such an amazing story to start the day. I'm so happy for Manda, her family, and her friends. It's not always easy to see the miracles happening around us, but this one lights it up!

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  21. Wow! Such an inspiring story! I've been praying for you Manda and your sweet family. Thank you for teaching me how to be courageous!

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  22. Amazing story & faith! Thank you for sharing and providing such a great example of what it can be like to put all of your trust in God! Glory be to God!! Bless you & your family & friends!

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  23. Beautiful story...thank you for sharing! Manda, my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 head and neck cancer several years ago. Isaiah 41:13 became my life verse during that period of time. Love that you've used it here!

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  24. What a beautiful woman - with a beautiful faith!!

    www.balancingbyfaith.com

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  25. I admire her for staying so strong in her faith. I love my mandastrong tshirt & will say a little prayer for her each time I wear it.

    Tara
    http://hcheart.blogspot.com/

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  26. What a testament to faith!!!! Thank you for this sharing this blessing of testimony!!!

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  27. Manda,

    I had to stop reading several times so I could get more tissues. Your story is truly remarkable. Your faith is inspiring. I'm so thankful that you opened your heart and shared your story. It reminds me how loving, compassionate, faithful (the list goes on! :) our God is. When you said that you used to understand prayer as "speaking to God and expressing our heart's requests", but didn't fully experience the power of prayer, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I feel that I am in a similar place right now... waiting to experience the power of prayer. And your wisdom on waiting / patience is inspiring, too. There's so much more I can say, but thank you! Thank you for being brave and sharing. Thank you for reminding me about God's power and love. Please do start a blog! I'll faithfully read it daily! :) May the Lord continue to bless you, your husband and your kiddos.

    P.S. on a completely superficial note, where is the white tank top in the "Family of Four 2013" photo from? I'm guessing it's old, but it is so cute! :)

    Blessings,
    Katie

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  28. Wow! LOVE this! "Normalcy is over-rated." =) YEP! So wonderful to hear that Manda is cancer-free. Her story of faith has been such an encouragement, and seeing how your group of friends has rallied around her is beautiful!

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  29. Such a beautiful and strong woman! I can't even imagine having the strength to go through everything Manda has.

    My third cousin once removed (very confusing!) has written a memoir of her journey with her own health battles and leg amputation, as well as her focus on God and his steadfast love for her. I think you'd love it!

    Paula L. Sturgeon
    "Grace Rolls On"
    www.gimpybygrace.com

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  30. Wow. Wow. Wow. So much wisdom and faith and tenacity. Your story is an inspiration and I am quite sure that you are making your Maker so happy. Blessings on you, Manda!!

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  31. Thank you for the update and for Manda sharing her story!! Love the photo over her pushing the stroller with her hand in the air...beautiful & strong! I will continue to keep Manda, her family, friends and doctors in my prayers. xoxo

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  32. This is such a powerful story of faith and hope! Hugs and prayers Manda!! Start blogging soon...you have readers in all of us!! :)

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  33. What an amazing, amazing person she is. She never gives up and always keeps on fighting. Brave, beautiful (inside and out) and amazing. Thank you for sharing her story with us!

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  34. Love this!! Praise God!!! Will continue to keep her and her family in prayer.

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  35. Continue to stay strong, Manda. Prayers for you and your family.

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  36. What an empowering testament of faith! Thank you for sharing your story.

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  37. You precious child of God! Never did I know that someday the wife of sweet Aaron, who went to school with my kids Brandon and Sarah Jones, would end up being a dear friend of my precious daughter in love Lisa Jones! Your testimony has just filled my heart and each time I have heard of your victories I have just held my hands up and praised the Heavenly Father. You are a special chosen child - none of this is a surprise to Him! Thanks you for your testimony and for showing others that God will make a way when there seems to be no way! Continuing to pray - give your sweet hubby a hug from Momma Hannah! Blessing!

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  38. A woman of such strength - in so many aspects of life! Stay strong, Manda! Prayers for you and your family!!

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  39. Love this!!! Thank you for sharing Manda!! Wish I could come back to hear you speak in a few weeks. I know it will be amazing.

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  40. Thank you so much for having Manda share! It's so amazing to see how God has blessed her and healed her!

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  41. Love this Manda! I have your shirt and have been praying for you. I'm thrilled that you are now cancer free!!!! I'm reading this book right now called The Cancer Killers by Dr. Charles Majors and Dr. Ben Lerner. I would highly recommend it for doing everything you can to keep cancer from coming back. Thank you for inspiring me in my faith!

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  42. The power of prayer! AMEN! Thank You Lord for Your mercies and for healing Manda! We praise Your Holy Name Jesus! XOXOXOXO

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  43. Your faith and life journey is an inspiration to me. Praying for you and your lovely family xx

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