It was June 4, 2005 and the sun was shining brightly in Michigan. A beautiful bride walked down the aisle to the man she couldn’t wait to marry. They had been dating since Jr.High and were now college graduates! Meet my friend, Stephanie and her husband Josh Tovey.
After enjoying the first 11 months of wedded bliss by riding bikes, playing soccer and working in youth ministry together, Stephanie was surprised one day to find a lump just above her collar bone. The lump had appeared almost overnight and since Stephanie was a nurse, she knew she should get it checked out right away.
In May of 2006, a biopsy confirmed the worst. Stephanie was 23 years old, married for less than a year and she had Stage III Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They were devastated. They had plans for the future, plans to have children, and they knew that this cancer was going to change everything.
After receiving the diagnosis, Steph admits that she just cried non-stop. She didn’t have answers and not even a bunch of questions for God, but she felt emotionally tired and worn. She was given some good news in that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is “the best kind of cancer to have” and that “it should take 8-10 rounds of chemo” and she’d be cancer free. This was a little glimpse of light in a very dark tunnel, but God had other plans for Steph and her husband.
It was a long and twisted path. Steph has been near death several times, literally hanging on by a ventilator filling her lungs and a disease ravaging her body. Her bones have deteriorated because of the high dose steroids she’s been on and both hips have had to be replaced. The balls of her bones have literally died and eventually her shoulders will also need to be replaced. There’s been so much pain.
After just 3 weeks of chemo treatments, her hair began falling out in clumps. But being the humble woman that Stephanie is, she took it in stride. Her husband and family were incredibly supportive through it all. One of the students from their youth group came over and shaved her head, but just to make it fun, she gave her a mullet first. Steph has chosen to be joyful in spite of her circumstances and drew closer than ever to God.
After being cancer-free for 6 months, it came back. Then a bone marrow transplant was the next option in 2007, and after only 30 days, the cancer came back. They tried a donor marrow transplant in 2008 and God provided 3 perfect matches. After a year and half, the cancer came back again. Stephanie and Josh were told at this point that the cancer would win.
This was devastating to hear. They wanted so badly to beat the cancer! It was the arch-enemy at this point and it seemed to be “setting up house” in their lives. Steph says: “The Lord’s faithfulness is what helped me get through it. His faithfulness in His promises…to never leave me or forsake me, to grant me peace, provide joy no matter what the circumstance, wrestling with his sovereignty and my futile plans of what I thought a “normal” marriage was…total bliss, buy a house, get a dog, have kids in a few years, continue to be physically active.”
God indeed has had other plans for Stephanie and her husband Josh. Nothing about her cancer has been “normal”. The story He has written for them has played out like a white knuckle roller-coaster ride. There have been moments of joy and times of deep sorrow. But through all of it, their strength has been found in the Lord. He is their rock and their portion. They have chosen not to be moved.
I have witnessed Stephanie’s story since her diagnosis, though at a distance for most of it. We received fairly regular updates and were shocked over and over at how she would pull through when her status was bleak. I remember many times crying out to the Lord on her behalf and like many others were, we begged God for a miracle. Steph says, “I knew I would live until the good works God had planned for me were done.” Her testimony while so full of pain, has bursted with grace and peace from the Lord.
Stephanie’s husband joined our church staff just over a year ago and we are thrilled to have the pleasure of having them on our “team”. Stephanie has been cancer-free for a year now after a new drug came on the market to fight Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They spend most of their time enjoying their nieces and nephews and engaging our youth.
It’s true that cancer has changed everything in Stephanie’s life, but it can’t take her soul and it has only deepened who her trust is in. Her story is still being written, but Stephanie prays that all glory goes to God, for great things He has done!