Real Life Hero: Alana W.

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Jessica met Alana through their kids’ school. She immediately loved her thick southern accent and infectious laugh. The two became great friends. Jessica considers Alana her real life hero and was anxious to share her story. Most of this post was written by Jessica.

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A little more than a year ago, Alana was diagnosed with breast cancer. Knowing she had a difficult battle in front of her, she faced it head on and never lost sight of what she was fighting for-her beautiful family. She had the love and support of her wonderful husband and two children, as well as friends and family all around her.

This is an entry from her Caringbridge.org page. (in Alana’s own words)

After attending the Justin Timberlake concert in New Orleans on August 3rd, I discovered a lump in my left breast after taking off my very uncomfortable strapless bra. Chalking it up to a night of fun and an ill-fitting bra, I carried about my time in New Orleans and then the following week in Mississippi. We returned to Austin and I made an appointment with my doctor. She saw me the next day, August 12th, and then ordered a mammogram for the following day, Wednesday the 13th. To be honest, I was not that worried because the lump was painful and breast cancer is not supposed to hurt. Right? Regardless, I had my mammogram on Wednesday and the radiologist immediately ordered an ultrasound which was done at the same appointment. After the ultrasound, the Radiologist asked to meet with me in private. Uh oh. He informed me that the lump had calcifications around it and then a line of calcifications extending 10 centimeters from the lump. He said the lump measured 1.6 centimeters. I asked what all of that meant. His reply was “I am concerned. You need a biopsy right away.” Well crap. I had a biopsy the next day, Thursday, August 14th. However before the biopsy was even done the surgeon told me that I had breast cancer. She was very matter of fact and left no room for doubt. She proceeded with the biopsy. There was a fear that the lump was attached to my pectoral muscle. I was sent home to wait for the results over the weekend. The longest weekend of my life. I was convinced I had stage 3 cancer and was worried I wasn’t going to be ok. On Monday the 18th, I found out I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Poorly differentiated. I was devastated. I did learn, however, that it didn’t appear to be attached to my pectoral muscle and that I most likely had caught it early. The pain was from the tumor pressing against my muscle, causing soreness. I breathed a little sigh of slight relief. My cancer is fast growing and aggressive. If it had gone untreated, who knows what could have happened! Wearing that strapless bra that pressed the lump into my muscle causing soreness truly saved me! (Thank you, Justin Timberlake for “making” me dress up for you and your concert! ) The next 2 weeks were filled with endless doctor appointments, more biopsies (ouch), more mammograms, ultrasounds, and lots of fear. Today, I’m ready to fight this cancer and come out like a champ. I am positive and ready. I know I have a long road ahead of me, but I also feel confident that I will be ok. My kids are being brave and seem to be handling all of this ok. My husband has been a rock and his faith that I will be healed has never wavered. The Lord promised to never leave me or forsake me. I know He has me in His hands and will see me through this. My prayer has been one of thankfulness and faith. I can’t wait to see what God does through our family and I can’t wait to see how He delivers us from this nasty thing called cancer. We are ready.

 

At the time, she thought it was probably stage two. She was scheduled to go in for a double mastectomy and we had a big going away party for her boobies. She was so strong and brave and always had a smile on her face. Her faith was and still is very strong. That is one of the main things that has gotten her through all of this.

She had the surgery and found out that the cancer was also in 10 of 32 of the lymph nodes they removed. One of them had erupted and which caused it to spread to other parts of her body. She was dealing with a diagnosis of Stage IV, which is incurable.

She had such a difficult battle in front of her.

She went through chemo, lost her hair, bought wigs and hats with hair. She changed her diet completely and gave up so many things that would not be beneficial in her fight. After she finished chemo, she had to have radiation for some spots on her sternum.

The road has not been easy, but she has endured it like a champ.

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Fast forward a year. Alana has been declared NED! That means NO EVIDENCE OF DESEASE! She will be the first to tell you that it is a miracle, that her faith in Jesus is what cured her.

When asked why Alana is her hero, Jessica responded,

She is one of my heroes because she never lost faith or sight of what is important. While she and I have a very different religious and spiritual belief, it has never been an issue. She just has the biggest heart and so much determination. She knew she had to fight and she did it with everything she had and she gave control to God because that is what she felt she needed to do. I am a fighter too and very strongly believe that you always have to try to see some sort of good in everything, in every situation. She believes she was given all of this for a reason, she may not know it yet, but that God has a plan for her. I admire her attitude and her will and her faith.

Thank you, Jessica for sharing this amazing story of a real life hero. Thank you, Alana, for being that hero for those around you! You are a true example of strength and perseverance. You never gave up hope.

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

Real Life Hero: Lenzie D.

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Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday’s. The amazing woman I’m writing about today is Jaxon’s mother.

Many people are inspired by Lenzie Davis. I’m glad several asked me write about her, although I would have written about her anyway.  🙂

Lenzie is a dear friend of mine. Knowing her has always been a blessing, but it was our struggles that brought us a deeper friendship in recent years. I believe she is a gift from God to me and to many.

Lenzie is married to Cory. She is the mother of five babies. Two of them are in heaven, she lives with two, and she has one on the way. Cory and Lenzie have a solid marriage. They’ve lived through a lifetime of heartache in a short few years. They love and support each other even on the toughest days.

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that Lenzie’s son, Jaxon, passed away almost three years ago. Although the death of a child is difficult, Lenzie and Cory know that Jaxon is in heaven free from pain and sorrow now. When referring to Jaxon, Lenzie will say:

Some people never meet their hero… I gave birth to mine.

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Courtney nominated Lenzie as her hero. She met Lenzie in January 2012 when they were both in the hospital with loved ones. Lenzie’s son Jaxon and Courtney’s brother both had brain cancer. In the short time they’ve known each other, Courtney has been inspired by her.

When asked why she is her hero, Courtney replied,

Lenzie wakes up ready to continue to share her son’s legacy. She is one hundred percent transparent about the emotions and daily struggles that come with the death of a child. She shares the victories and defeats with the grace of a woman and not the grief of a mom. Her faith in God remains her strength. For Lenzie being a mom isn’t just about feeding and clothing children, it is about teaching them to be amazing people who are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. In five short years she impressed that upon a child who was a servant of God until his dying day, and who continues to unite those who loved him to continue his work.

Lenzie continues her son’s legacy through Jaxon’s FROG Foundation. She spends time giving back to children who have cancer and their families. Knowing first hand what that is like, she is sensitive to their needs and understanding to each situation. Cory and their two children are all involved, too. The FROG Foundation is a family affair!

Lenzie Davis is a real life hero for many reasons. She is an example of a strong wife and mother, always looking out for her family’s best interest. She is an example of a firm believer in Christ, trusting completely in God’s plan for her life. She loves to serve and give to bless others. She is an example to us all.

I cannot fathom the pain she must feel after losing a child. I’ve heard the saying that parents should never have to bury their children. She did. I’m proud of Lenzie for waking up every morning and getting out of bed. I’m proud of her for keeping the faith and continuing to live life to the fullest. Although she couldn’t control what happened to Jaxon, she can certainly control how she chooses to move forward. She is making Jaxon and the rest of us proud by just being who she is. And, for most of us, she truly is a real life hero. Love to you, dear Lenzie!

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

Real Life Hero: Jaxon D.

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(A variation of this post appeared on Alamo City Moms Blog.)

Today’s hero is a child. A child whose five years on earth made an impact on more people than most of us ever will. Read and be encouraged.

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There are people who come into your life whom you don’t ever forget. Their smiles are etched in your mind long after they’re gone from view. You get a fuzzy warm feeling inside just thinking about them. You know you are a better person for knowing them.

Jaxon Davis is one of those people.

At the six-week ultrasound, his parents were fascinated by their baby’s heart beating. It was the first thing they fell in love with. Little did they know just how special this heart would be.

Jaxon came into the world on May 23, 2007. Everyone who laid eyes on him immediately adored him. His smile was big and contagious. Wherever he went, an aura of joy surrounded him. Jaxon was an active boy, exploring and loving every minute of life.

Jaxon had a seizure when he was three-and-a-half years old. This took everyone by surprise. Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy and started medication. However, the seizures did not stop. Three months and several hundred seizures later, doctors revealed Jaxon had a brain tumor. The Davis family was heartbroken, as were their family and friends. Although they were discouraged, they had hope that God would heal Jaxon and use their situation for good.

After considering their options, the Davis family decided they would move to Houston for seven months to provide Jaxon the best treatment possible. Family and friends far and wide prayed for complete healing for Jaxon. The Davis family received donations, meals, gift cards, and toys for the hospital. God provided every need during this hard time.

During his treatment, Jaxon looked to God for strength. Joshua 1:9 in the Bible says:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

This became Jaxon’s motto. He knew he could be strong and courageous with God’s help. Jaxon went through the treatments, no matter how tough. He wouldn’t give up. He was always brave and ready for the next thing.

While Jaxon was at the hospital, he saw a need. Other children with cancer were struggling, too. Sometimes they weren’t as brave or courageous as he was, and he hurt for them. He wanted to lift their spirits and bring smiles to their faces. Soon Jaxon was more interested in helping others than he was in himself. On hard days, helping and encouraging others was what helped him get past his own pain and frustration.

He began raising money to help kids in the hospital. He used the money to buy toys, stuffed animals, pillows, and other items to encourage other kids struggling with cancer. He loved helping others! Jaxon’s heart of gold didn’t stop there. He continued helping and giving to kids with cancer, was recognized by the Pay it Forward Foundation, and became the third inductee into their hall of fame.

Sadly, Jaxon’s cancer returned. Even when it became clear that treatment was ineffective, Jaxon never got discouraged. He continued to raise funds to shop for toys for other kids battling cancer. He never stopped caring for others.

Jaxon passed away on November 25, 2012. Although Jaxon’s cancer was not healed, his parents have hope in God and believe he is healed in heaven.

Even from heaven, Jaxon’s heart of gold continues to touch lives. His parents, Lenzie and Cory, have formed Jaxon’s F.R.O.G. Foundation, a nonprofit organization that continues his ministry of spreading smiles to kids with cancer. Jaxon’s favorite animals were frogs, and the acronym “Fully Rely On God” is a perfect fit. The foundation provides welcome bags for kids arriving for radiation treatment, treats families to outings away from the hospital environment, and delivers smile bags to kids at the hospital clinic. It also invests in childhood cancer research and has sponsored a playroom at the hospital to brighten the days of these young warriors.

Jaxon Davis is a hero. Heroes don’t have to be adults. Heroes are people who inspire us, who motivate us to do better. We love you, sweet Jaxon! Godspeed!

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

Real Life Hero: Wayne M. (+2)

I’m moved beyond words to share today’s story. Sometimes a person’s act of kindness changes someone else’s life. Sometimes it actually SAVES another person’s life. Although I’m writing about one individual, there are actually three heroes in this story.

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Wayne M. is a family man and a college student. Most days he wakes up at 6am and does the typical things most of us do. He gets up and gets dressed, spends time with his wife and daughter, feeds his dogs and chickens, and is out of his house by 7am. He attends Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is working on his BS as an Aerospace Engineer. His school day starts at 7:45 and ends about 5pm. When finished, he goes home and does dinner, homework, housework, and feeds the dogs and chickens again. Pretty normal sounding guy, right?

Ten years ago, on September 15, 2005, Wayne was at the right place at the right time.

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The second hero in this story is Yvonne L.

It was a day like any other. She was at a shopping center parking lot. She could never see it coming. A driver high on meth. It was all so fast. The car hit her. Her legs were severed on impact.

Wayne was there. Without hesitation, he ran to her side. A U.S. Marine at the time, the life saving techniques he learned in training camp came into play in a way he never they could.  Wayne was at the right place at the right time.

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Our third hero is James C. He, too, was a U.S. Marine at the time. James, too, was the right place at the right time.

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The two men ran to Yvonne’s side. Wayne took off his belt and applied it as a tourniquet to one of Yvonne’s limbs. James did the same with his own belt. Her blood was all over them, but they did not care. If they hadn’t done this, she would have bled to death. These men saved her life.

Yvonne shared this story with me. She considers these two men her heroes. They didn’t have to help her that day. But they did. She considers them her angels.

Yvonne is in a great place in her life. She is back on her feet. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Yvonne through the San Antonio Amputee Foundation. She has a heart of gold. Her smile is warm and contagious. She, too, is a hero although she would never admit it. When she told me about these men, my thought was,

You are a hero, too, Yvonne! Look at what you’ve been through and you still have love, joy, and peace in your heart! You, sweet lady, are amazing!

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Thank you, Wayne, Yvonne, and James, for being real life heroes! Thank you for being such light in a world that can often feel so dark. You are an inspiration to us all!

 

To read about more real life heroes, go here.

Real Life Hero: Catherine T.

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Most of you have heard of the great marketplace called Craigslist. It’s a good place to sell something you don’t need anymore. You might be able to score a good deal on furniture, collectibles, or even a car. The possibilities are endless. Really.

Today’s hero story will shock you.

Catherine T. came across an unusual ad on Craigslist one day. I don’t have the exact ad, but I imagine it was something close to this.

IN SEARCH OF KIDNEY FOR MY DAD. Please help save his life.

Woah. I’ve never come across anything like that on Craigslist. What would you do if you came across this ad? You might think, oh that’s so sad. This lady is so desperate to find a kidney for her father. She is posting on Craigslist! I would probably think, there’s no way I’m giving someone I don’t know one of my kidneys. Besides, I’m probably not a match.

Catherine reacted in a way most of us wouldn’t. Her heart was touched. She wanted to help this daughter pleading for her father’s life. She was willing to give a stranger one of her kidneys.

Well, wouldn’t you know she was actually a match!

And she followed through with it. She gave a complete stranger one of her kidneys to save his life.

All because of an ad on Craigslist.

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Catherine is a real life hero. Her friend, Denise, nominated her because she is the most giving, selfless person she knows. The two met thirteen years ago when Catherine was Denise’s daughter’s art teacher. In that time, Denise has watched Catherine go out of her way to help others. She never turns anyone in need away. She always has something to share, even in times when she has gone through hardship herself. Catherine has taken people into her home. She loves and rescues dogs and wolves. Yes, wolves. But the most remarkable act she has done has been donating her kidney to a stranger.

Catherine gave someone else a chance at life. She gave something of herself that cannot be replaced. I suspect she did it not expecting anything in return.

Isn’t this such a sweet story? Wouldn’t you want to be friends with Catherine? I just want to give her the biggest hug! It’s refreshing to know that everyday people like you and me can be heroes. I’m convinced real heroes don’t wear capes. Heroes are people who do what they do, not for anyone else to see, but because their heart tells them to. That’s what we admire about them.

Thank you for being you, Catherine!

 

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

 

Real Life Hero: Ian W.

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You knew I’d share about my own hero first! Ian Warshak. My high school sweetheart. My dear husband of twelve years. The father of my children. The person I admire most in life.

Why is he my hero, you ask? I’m not even sure where to start. I suppose I’ll start at the beginning.

I met Ian in ninth grade. He was thin, but not too tall. He had blonde, frizzy hair that was parted down the middle and reached down to his ears. He was what you’d call a class clown, always joking, always giggling about some line in a rap song or a movie. Everyone liked him. Ian was a theatre kid, the only freshman in the senior one act play. He wasn’t my type. I had a boyfriend. I didn’t talk to him for the next two years. (He had the lead role in the play our senior year by the way. 🙂 )

For some reason that I don’t completely understand, we ended up dating our senior year in high school and stayed together through college. His humor was just what I needed. I was uptight and serious. I was the girlfriend who constantly got upset when he said the wrong thing. I still don’t know why he stuck around with me. (But I’m glad he did.)

Ian and I finished college and got married. Three years later we started our family. He was a self employed software developer. I was a special education teacher turned stay-at-home mom after our first child was born. Life was great.

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Then something we had not planned for happened. Life threw us a bump in the road.

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I’ve watched Ian go through the unthinkable. I’ve sat by his side during the hard times. He’s been through medical procedures, therapies, and numerous surgeries including amputations. After being healthy and independent for thirty-two years, I watched him unable to take care of himself. It broke my heart.

Ian learned to walk again. He figured out how to do things in life in a new way without fingers. I’m happy to say he is now back to normal.

So why is Ian my hero?

Well, he does amazing things everyday. For one, he puts on contact lenses and loads a dishwasher without fingers. He runs regularly, which is not an easy feat since he has to do it on prosthetic legs. Ian throws a football and plays soccer with his kids. He assembles desks and chairs for me when I order them (try grabbing tiny little screws or using an electric drill with no fingers… he does it!) He grills dinner for our family by himself. He works as a software developer (on a computer) everyday to provide for our family.

Those things are great and everything, but that is not why he is my hero. Ian is my hero because he never quits. He does whatever he sets his mind to. His attitude has been positive from day one when he woke up in that hospital room. He is grateful. He is passionate. He is determined.

Ian shows our children that anything is possible when you set your mind to it. He encourages others just by being himself. Just think, if you think you’re having a bad day, look at Ian! 🙂

Our family and friends don’t even notice that Ian is missing fingers and feet anymore. He is just Ian. His body may be changed, but his spirit is still full of joy and life. He is still the silly kid I met in ninth grade.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d married Ian if I’d known he would be a quadruple amputee. I don’t know the answer to that. I hope I could have seen past it. I’ll admit life has been hard. It would have been nice to have an easier path. But, this is the path God chose for us. Till death do us part.

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

31 Real Life Heroes: A writing project.

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I’m working on a project this October! With all the negativity these days I want to focus on the positives to encourage people. Rather than criticizing and attacking others, I suggest loving one another and sharing each other’s accomplishments and goodness.

Everyday this month I will be sharing a story about a real life hero. The person may be someone who has beat the odds and thrived through hardship, or maybe someone whose act of kindness changed someone else’s life. Any reason to be a hero works for me.

I’m asking for your help in this. You, my dear friends, are bringing these heroes to light. You can nominate someone you consider a hero for simply being who they are. Let’s encourage each other by sharing each others stories.

(If you’d like to tell me about your hero, send me an email at dwarshak(at)gmail.com. I will send you a few questions to answer that will help me write their story.)

I’ve already received some great suggestions and I can’t wait to share them with you! After reading about these heroes, my hope is that you will have renewed hope and faith in humanity.

Love,
denisse