from left to right: Greyson, Shannon, Aaron and Lauryn

from left to right: Greyson, Shannon, Aaron and Lauryn

November 15, 2013, was a day that changed my life forever. I went to the doctor, nervously, not knowing what to expect. Immediately, my doctor looked at my pale face and ordered some blood work.  I was told my white and red blood cells were extremely low along with a low platelet count. Low counts are a concern because white cells fight infection, red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body, and platelets clot blood.  Because of the severity of my counts, I received a blood transfusion.  After receiving the transfusion, I met with the oncologist who decided I needed a bone marrow biopsy. This biopsy would reveal if I had leukemia or other bone marrow diseases.  In that moment, my health was a concern.  Fearing the outcome, I had the biopsy.   As much as I felt like everything around me stood still; my heart was beating uncontrollably.

Several months prior, I struggled with shortness of breath, headaches, and nosebleeds.  Assuming I was just "out of shape," I didn't let it phase me.  But as I sat in the doctors office that cold day in November, I knew it wasn't that simple. My husband and I went home that Friday and returned to the doctor's office the following Tuesday. Nervously, we sat and waited for the biopsy results. My oncologist came in and gave us somewhat good news. I was told I did not have leukemia or anything too serious from what she could tell. She still wanted to do some further testing, but the "bad" seemed to have been ruled out. You can imagine the joy we experienced as we left. We immediately prayed and thanked God for hearing and answering our prayers.  Yes, that's right.  We prayed.  We thanked God. We probably cried.  However, my story was just beginning.

Although my oncologist ruled out every possible worst case scenario, my health was not improving. I was not only receiving blood transfusions almost weekly, but platelet transfusions were now being added to my regime. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year passed by, but my low blood counts were still ever present. I even saw another doctor for a second opinion and was told it was nutritionally related. Every possible CT scan and x-ray was taken, but I was no closer to a diagnosis.   Blood transfusions can be life-saving, but receiving them habitually can become toxic.  Your body will soon develop iron overload which can result in organ damage.  Therefore, my diagnosis was a major concern for me. My husband and I, my family, friends, and church family were praying continually for answers and healing. My hope in the Lord truly sustained me during this time. So often I've known people question how a loving God can allow bad things to happen to good people.  I have no deep answer for this except that because of sin in the world, there is pain.  There is loss.  However, what I can attest to is that  God does not abandon us during the pain.  Personally, I've "seen" God more during this illness, this "storm," than in the past.  God has weakened me so I would rely on His strength.  God has chosen this path for me because He loves me.  As a mom, I make choices for my children daily.  I make choices they like and choices they don't like.  That is part of my love for them.  In this season of their childhood, I know what is best for them. And, candy for breakfast is not their best!  Do you think a young child can grasp the wisdom a mother has?  Absolutely not!  All they comprehend is not getting what they want.  They don't see the big picture.  But, I assure them to trust me; I remind them of my love for them.  They may cry; they may get mad; but they cannot see what I can.   God loves us, and as hard as it may seem, He wants His best for our life. I don't know why I became ill; but I know that even in this illness, He is good.  In reality, bad things do happen but so does the good.  God sees what we cannot.  He has chosen this illness for me, and although, it is not my choice, I must trust Him.   I'm human and just as anyone else I've experienced hard times. I've cried through this; I've been scared; I've felt alone; I've feared the unknown. I prayed daily begging God to remove this illness, this mountain from me. But, He didn't. But even in my hardest days, I felt His presence.  He never leaves us alone; it is in the darkest days where He shines the brightest.

I sat in a waiting room with dozens of hurting people at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I remember being near a woman battling cancer, and a doctor stopped by to speak with her. Overhearing them talk, the doctor hugged the cancer patient and before leaving said "good luck!" The ill woman replied with "thanks." My heart was saddened by those two words: good luck! I felt blessed knowing that I had hope in God to get me through whatever I was dealing with. My hope is real; luck is like a coin toss. Heads you win; tails you

lose. But, with God no one loses! Even if my health concern was fatal; my eternity would be in heaven. You can have this same hope! It is a fulfilling hope. Hope brings peace during the raging storm. An anchor is often used as a symbol of hope. A boat will continue to drift on the waters unless the anchor is lowered. Tossing uncontrollably during a storm, a boat would most likely overturn unless its anchor was stable and secure. That anchor offers hope to those during the storm. The picture on the home page is an anchor, reminding you to hold on during the storm. Hold on to God and His Word because He is our Anchor of hope! There is no greater security! During this "storm" that possibly might be raging in your life, realize God is your anchor. No matter what you're going through, God wants you to trust Him.  

Finally, towards the end of January 2014, I went to Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA and there I saw a specialist who deals with blood disorders. More testing was done and in February 2014, I was officially diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia. The name alone sounds minor, but it is a life threatening illness. It has nothing to do with eating more spinach and fish which is what I had hoped was the cure! My bone marrow was producing blood cells but not a normal amount and my immune system was destroying them. The only potential cure was a bone marrow transplant. I was praying for a miracle. I wanted God to heal my body; I wanted doctors to be amazed at the power of God. I believed the Bible and claimed God's promises. But, in the medical field, things were progressing quickly with the transplant protocol. I have 3 siblings, but none of them were a donor match. Thankfully, I had an unrelated donor from Germany. A date was set, and I began my pre-transplant testing. Various heart and lung tests were scheduled to assure the doctors my body could tolerate the transplant. My illness was not cancer but still very severe. A bone marrow transplant can cure cancer and many other illnesses, but it is a serious procedure. The week before the transplant, chemotherapy and radiation is administered to completely destroy the patient's immune system. This way, the body is then ready for the donor's marrow to start fresh. Sounds wonderful, right!? Wonderful it is, but along with that there is a risk of rejection and various infections. Most are treatable but a small percentage can be fatal. Once the patient goes home after approximately a month in the hospital, a one year recovery at home is required to allow the immune system to rebuild itself. This was what I was experiencing. In a moment, my life had changed. Chemo and radiation and doctors visits twice a week were my new life. I was not just praying for other people with cancer and serious illnesses, it was my name on that list. Did God answer my prayer? Not in the way I wanted. Hundreds of people were praying for me, and yet I prepared myself for transplant. Did I lose hope? Was my faith weak? Emotionally, this illness terrified me; physically, it was draining me, but spiritually I chose hope. Hard as that was at times, seeking God daily was my hope. 

May 11, 2014 I was to begin my first day of chemotherapy. Mother's Day! I thought I would spend it at church with my two children and husband. I would eat somewhere nice; smile over the cards my children colored me. But instead I was in the hospital hooked up to an IV, watching the bag release toxic drugs into my body. So toxic that I would be nauseous, lose my appetite, and lose my hair. My body would experience pain that only the strongest pain medication would alleviate. By the end of the week, radiation would end the pre-treatment only to produce more nausea.

 

 On May 16, I received my transplant that took 4 hours. As I watched the bone marrow drip slowly through the IV, I began to think about the young lady who willingly went through an invasive procedure for someone she does not know. It was humbling for me. It was sacrificial on my donor's part; he didn't have to go through such a painful procedure for someone on the other side of the world. But, he did. His bone marrow saved my life; it can be my cure. I went home after being in the hospital for 25 days. My blood cells are all normal, and I'm doing well. It's a long recovery still, but I will not lose hope. Far greater than my donor is a God in heaven who willingly gave His life for you. Sacrificially, He shed His blood for you when He died on the cross for our sin. He knows your name; He knows your pain. Whatever you are facing, God offers hope to you. Trust Him today!

Please feel free to message Shannon through the ihope1212.org Facebook or email her directly at shannmf@msn.com

Shannon McCarthy founder of iHope1212.org speaks for the first time after being confined to her home for a year because of having a Bone Marrow Transplant. Shannon is speaking at a pioneer themed ladies luncheon at her home church, the First Baptist Church of Groton Massachusetts May 16, 2015.