Wife and mom are my two most important titles. I’m a Dietitian by training and like to call myself a Battle Strategist because I firmly believe that we are all warriors! I want us to be empowered warriors with the good energy and health needed to fight our daily battles. We can do this Warrior Moms! We have an important job to do!
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“It’s just not fair! I don’t understand this, God!” My frustrated prayers that I would utter while fighting traffic to make it to Sammons Cancer Center at Baylor Dallas. My sweet friend, Manda Maxwell, was fighting her third cancer battle. Third!!
It all started when she was just 5 years old with a diagnosis of Rhabdomyosarcoma. With her sweet parents by her side, they begged God for her life and she underwent extensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy as a child. It worked and prayers were answered! God healed little Manda of Rhabdomyosarcoma! That little girl grew up to be a beautiful woman. She became a teacher and got married. Everything was okay until. Until she fell and broke her leg just a couple of weeks after delivering her first child. This was no ordinary break. It was caused by extreme circumstances. Those circumstances? She had a different sarcoma in the same leg that had received radiation therapy as a child. This is called a radiation induced sarcoma. Medical experts would tell you that this is a possibility but not very common; for cancer treatment to give rise to another cancer. But it had happened. Oncologists determined that in order to save her life, they needed to amputate her leg.
At the time, I was leading a cancer ministry at First Baptist McKinney. God had guided this ministry and led me to this place where I had been able to help many families as they walked the impossible cancer journey. Because Manda Maxwell and her parents were also church members at First Baptist, I started receiving many calls about this tragic situation. I knew Manda but certainly not well. I did what I could by calling her, offering help and letting her know that I would pray. Honestly the situation seemed overwhelming to say the least. The family did not know me so I figured the phone call would be the extent of my involvement. God had very different plans.
On the morning of Manda’s amputation surgery, I felt God really prompting me to go to the hospital in Dallas. Of course, I did like any other rational human. I argued with God stating that I did not know the family well and it would be an invasion of privacy. The prompting to GO was strong. I resisted and then finally relented thinking I would just sit in the waiting room and pray and maybe that would count as obedience to this crazy prompting.
After securing a friend to take care of my little ones, I headed to Dallas. Upon my arrival, it became apparent how much I was needed. Navigating the health care system is something I am used to. That day is the day that I became Manda’s advocate. I sat with her, encouraged her and communicated with her nurses prior to surgery. At this point, she was only 2-3 weeks postpartum!! And here she is facing a major amputation surgery. Overwhelming would be an understatement! After surgery, I listened as the Oncology surgeon gave the details that would define her upcoming treatment options.
There is no way to describe how difficult and challenging Manda’s case was. We embarked on a journey to determine the best course of action to treat this aggressive cancer. Numerous medical opinions and consults, frantic prayers, considerations of the past treatment she had received certainly complicated matters. And all the while, Manda is coping with the stress and the joy of being a brand new mommy!! I have never seen such a young woman just lean into God like Manda did. It was such a crazy, all consuming, chaotic time. Time was of the essence and treatment decisions needed to be made quickly.
Having a front row seat like this. You see how God just shows up. He truly took care of details and a fight plan was developed. Manda received extensive treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Her oncologist was blunt and to the the point. The aggressive treatment was necessary to save her life. This sweet young mom turned into a determined warrior. Because now it was not just herself she was fighting for. She had a little baby boy and she was fighting for her life so she could be a mommy to him.
I saw her sweet parents, Ed and Cindy Davis, with a focus and determination that was unmatched. The love between this family was so evident. And I saw her church family embrace and empower her by providing practical support. It was an awe inspiring sight to see how everyone worked together to help Manda fight.
The treatment was rough and was made more complicated by the fact that it was in Houston and not Dallas. Not to mention the fact that she had an infant. But it worked!! Her cancer went into remission. Many prayers answered!! Manda continued to teach all of us how to have Faith over fear.
I would love to say this is where the story ends; answered prayers, renewed faith, cancer remission. However, the story continued several years later when Manda started experiencing back pain. A trip to the doctor revealed everyone’s worst fears. Scans and biopsy’s confirmed a third sarcoma diagnosis. Such devastating and frustrating news! God how can you allow this to happen?? Hasn’t this family suffered enough?
Facing a third battle with cancer and trying to make treatment decisions based on previous treatment already received. Well, there just aren’t adequate words to describe the feelings, thoughts, emotions and fears. At this point, Manda was a mommy for the second time to a sweet little girl only months old. More chemotherapy, radiation therapy, natural remedies, experimental treatments and clinical trials. This short list doesn’t even come close to what I saw my sweet friend suffer through to fight her cancer. Time and time again, I saw her cling to her Faith with a steadfastness that was unreal. The challenges she faced would weaken even the strongest human. Yet, she decided to put her Faith in her heavenly Father and move forward on His strength. She demonstrated Faith over fear over and over again.
We had a different friendship. I had extensive oncology experience and she had a very difficult and challenging cancer diagnosis. Our bond was formed over doctors visits and hospital stays. I was her advocate. She was my inspiration. Somehow, God granted me a front row seat to witness prayers answered and evidence of the cancer retreating. And to provide comfort as it seemed all earthly hope was lost.
When someone is facing the very end of their life, I think it is pretty safe to say that their true colors come out. Obviously she was frustrated but I never saw anger or bitterness for what she was going through. For Manda, her faith in her Almighty God remained firm. She clung to the promises in His word that He would never leave her or forsake her. (Deut 31:6) And she continued to fight! She desperately wanted to remain here on this earth for her husband and kids. I have many beautiful memories of Manda clutching her phone so that could listen to the song, “You make me Brave” by Bethel Music. She would close her eyes and pray and draw strength from above.
The last few days of Manda’s life were spent in the hospital. Desperate searches for additional clinical trials and experimental treatments were not fruitful. Her body was weak and so tired. An oncologist gently told the family that although she had fought hard, the end was near and it was time to simply keep her comfortable. Our focus quickly shifted to pain management and palliative care. Compassionate nurses tended to her as we shifted our prayers to begging God to be merciful and now allowing her to suffer any longer. Witnessing a little boy come up to tell his mama good-bye is something that will be forever etched in my memory.
I was in the room as Manda took her very last breath. I had actually just returned to the room and had my back turned as the nurses checked her vitals. They said my name and told me she was gone. It was very quick and peaceful. We had prayed for exactly this. That her passing would be merciful. As we stood there surrounding her bedside, we noticed how the corners of her mouth had turned up into a small smile. Manda was finally at peace and fully restored in her heavenly home.
On this side of heaven, we will never understand why God took Manda Maxwell at such a young age. She left behind a husband, a son, a daughter, a mom, a dad, brothers, grandparents, family members and many many friends. She impacted thousands of people with her story, her faith and her life. I know that when she was received in Heaven, she heard the words, “well done, my good and faithful servant!”