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my mom’s battle

This time of year, especially being at my parents’ house, always makes a knot curl up in my stomach. I remember exactly where I was when I called my mom that day, June 29th of 2012. My older sister Karis had asked if I had talked to her yet that day, because she was sick. Karis didn’t seem worried because she said that mom had been having all sorts of stomach pain lately, and well, when you’ve been blessed with a healthy family, your brain doesn’t jump to cancer at the mention of a few months of indigestion.

I called mom anyways, worried about her. Nick and I were at their house with our kids for the week during the summer while they had left for Florida to visit my little sister and her boyfriend. I was opening their pool for them. I remember exactly where I was when I heard her voice.

My mom is the kind of person who smiles through everything. The kind who will be feeling so sick, but pull herself together to take care of others. So when she answered the phone and it was barely a whisper, and every word was laced with pain…my heart nearly stopped. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. My mom was crying. I can’t convey how scared I was in that moment. I heard her feeble attempt to brush it off as food poisoning. I wasn’t buying it.

The rest of the day is a blur to me, but I can point out the exact spot where I was when I heard her voice so full of pain.

A few hours later I was shaking as my older sister told me it was a “mass”. The doctors were being ominously vague. I remember where I was for that conversation too, I was in their TV room, the kids were watching a Disney movie.

A mass. A mass that was growing around her ovary and twisted it until it ruptured. That was the unfathomable pain. My mom’s ovary ruptured while she lay alone on a couch in Florida, not asking for help because she didn’t want anyone to go out of their way for her. But now the family was rallying. My dad made the drive back from Florida and got her in with a specialist in Cincinnati right away.

Over the next few months we all watched helplessly as my mom was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of ovarian cancer (that was miraculously only caught because of where and how it grew inside of her), and the surgery, hospital stays and chemo that followed.

We watched 4th of July fireworks inside her hospital room, moving her bed so she could watch Cincinnati celebrate…


My mom spent my whole childhood teaching me about God, about how good He is. It’s one thing to be sitting in a cozy home with your kids, in good health, and teaching them this. It’s another thing to still be praising Him while facing the possibility of being taken from this world.

When my mom woke up from surgery, all she repeated over and over was, “God is good. He is good all the time.”


Then there was my dad.

He’s a strong, tall man who has always looked after my mom like she was his precious little bird. He just has loved on her, protected her and provided for her since 1977. But this? He was helpless, and it tore him to pieces. He couldn’t do anything but just be there for her, and that was all she needed. I can’t tell you how many times he told me, “I wish I could take all her pain, all the sickness.” and meant it. His eyes had such a frantic look in them when she would have her bad days, like he was racking his brain for any possible way he could alleviate her suffering. More often than not, the only thing he could do was hold her hand, stroke her hair (and eventually just her head) and just speak positive words to her.


And then there were my sisters:)

Lauren at point had been living in Florida, and we started seeing a whole lot more of her after my mom’s diagnosis. Bonds that hadn’t been tightened in a few years were suddenly iron clad. Instead of three sisters, we simply became the four Murphy girls, and the husbands would just shake their heads at our hospital room antics, but it worked. No one could get my mom laughing like when all four of us got together! I don’t even know what’s going on in the next picture, but all I know is that I don’t think any other pre-hysterectomy patient has ever laughed so much before surgery!

There were so many hard days. The woman who felt my head for fevers and cleaned up my vomit was now herself bedridden some days. During the bad, chemo-days, it was almost as if my mom was gone. Replaced by this frail, jaundiced and weak woman I didn’t recognize. I didn’t know what to say to her. Touching her would hurt her skin. She was either too warm or too cold and all food smelled bad and wouldn’t stay down. Most days she just wanted my dad. I’ll never know everything that went on between them, but there was a definitely shift in their relationship. I’ve always seen them as having the perfect relationship, but now there’s this beautiful honesty in the way they love each other.

Today, my mom shared with me a project she’s been working on since the dark days of cancer. As a cancer survivor, she’s got this incredible heart for others facing the diagnosis she did, and has begun writing a devotional for anyone going through chemo/fighting any kind of cancer. I only read two entries, but each one moved me to tears because I not only was dragged back into the emotions of that time, but I saw what it was like through her eyes SO clearly.

I remember when my mom was in the beginning days of this journey, I was scouring the internet for ANY ovarian cancer diagnosis ending happily. She had a grapefruit sized tumor and I was searching for women who were in the same boat and came out victors. So I’m hoping that maybe this blog post can encourage someone facing the beast that is cancer. It’s cathartic for me, to just get these jumbled thoughts bouncing around in my brain OUT, so I can sit by my parents’ pool and not remember that awful day two years ago…watch fireworks without remembering watching them from that cramped hospital room, etc. I don’t want to forget those memories, but I want to focus on the now. And sometimes, blogging is the only way to do that;)

Mom- I’m so proud of you. I’m proud to be your daughter. Thank you so much for being a constant role model in my life. You’ve been my cheerleader with this crazy photography thing, shown me what an amazing mother does for her children, encouraged my walk with God, supported me during the hard years of marriage, and in recent years really just been my friend. I love you so much and I’m so thankful that your work here in this world isn’t over yet.

Patti - What a beautiful writing. I am a survivor and I can relate to all this. Your mom is amazing and you daughters are amazing. You got her through this! Cancer does a lot but it can never take away the important stuff.

Tracy - Thanks for sharing. I tested positive for BRCA2 (breast and ovarian cancer gene). I had a preventive hysterectomy last year because I know how difficult it is to detect ovarian cancer. I am glad your mom is doing so well.

Charlie Gassiott -

Laura - This is so beautiful, thank you for sharing. My aunt was diagnosed about a year before your mom was, she is still fighting every day, but this post gives me hope.

Jean Loper - What an wonderful sharing of such a beautiful person. I’m so happy that she is doing well. God is good, all the time.

Margo - Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, survived Ovarian Cancer. My daughter shared your post. I don’t think I realized how hard it was on her. I have been blessed with 9 years added to my life, and with God’s healing, I am still cancer free. It is possible to survive ovarian cancer. Severe abdominal pain should never be ignored, especially when is recurs once a month.

Rana - Rachel-

This is such a beautiful (and emotional) story to share. Thank you for putting this story out there!


inching forward – our home study


Today was our home study and it wasn’t anything I expected! What I envisioned in my head was some lady wearing a business skirt and heels with a clip board walking around my house, opening drawers, taking notes over the contents of my fridge and asking my kids if we beat them. Not even kidding, lol.

What really happened was our case worker (CW) came in our home, with Josie dancing around her singing a song about how she was the lady who was going to bring us a new brother and sister. She was warm and smiley with sparkly blue eyes and made me feel relaxed instantly. She just wanted to see the kids’ rooms, potential foster kids’ room(s), our room, play room, etc. We chatted about if our finished basement room with a recessed window would meet safety standards since we plan to have that room available if the kids don’t want to share with our kids off the bat. We want them to decide to room/be siblings, not just force them to start sharing rooms with strangers.

Then we hung out at our kitchen table and our CW just wanted to hear about our lives, what made us want to foster, why we were interested in older kids, do we have a support system, that sort of thing…and we ended up chatting for over an hour!

I shared how I had Brynn at an early age, and how much her biological family means to her, and therefore to us. How she’s biracial, which gives us that much more understanding of potentially raising diversified kids, whether white kids from a different walk of life than ours, or children of a different race. Nick talked about his parents taking in a 14 year old when he was in grade school and being exposed to a hurting teenager at a young age and seeing their patience and sacrifices to give him a better life.

Looking at our lives leading up to that moment, it’s hard not to see God’s hand at work in our lives…shaping our minds even as children, getting us ready to parent an older child someday. Then our CW confided that when she pulled up to our nice home, saw our “picture perfect” family she wasn’t sure how we were going to handle fostering/adopting an older hurting child from a completely different world than the one we seem to live in, but after hearing our stories, she was already thinking of how much our future child(ren) could thrive in our accepting family! I mean, wow, right?

I never dreamed that when I going through struggles as a young single mom, that it would help me be empathetic some day to my future son’s biological mother. There are a host of other hard issues we went through visitation wise with Brynn when she was babyAll things work together, don’t they?

After chatting a bit, and losing track of the time, we got a list of what we need to complete our certification:

- fire extinguisher

-birth certificates/marriage certificate copies

- first aid/CPR class certification (taking it Monday)

….and that’s. it.

She said that we should be done in 3-4 weeks. WEEKS people! This dream we’ve talked about since I was pregnant with Nicholas is actually happening. She’s told us that the need is great, and there are kids needing their forever homes *now*. All we can do now is get our ends tied up and pray pray pray.

We are asking any friends and family to PLEASE refrain from any negativity. Any concerns over our current children, concerns over if we have time for this, concerns as to if we can handle this, etc. These are little lives that deserve just as much love and a shot as life as our kids. We won’t put our kids’ safety at risk, but we are well aware that this isn’t going to be easy for anyone. Not easy for us, our children or our future children.

But if we don’t do it…who will?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:27

Jalnena - Rachel Vanoven i so see your family doing this it is awesome!!!!!!!!!

Christin - Rachel, I just told Erin last week, “I don’t even know her and yet, I love her!” and it’s so true. YOU EFFING ROCK! and have 50, 000 people standing behind you as support :)


Brittany Brock - How Awesome! “If not us then who, if not me & you, right now!” Everytime I hear that song from now on I’ll be praying for your family!

Pam - We began our adoption process as a foster family also. Ended up doing private adoption of infants, but it was a great/hard experience that began the learning curve God would put us on. Be blessed! It will be hard but it will be worth it!

Danielle Ryals - Sending y’all tons of prayers! This is amazing thing you are doing. You will bless these children so much and they will also bless y’all! I had my oldest at 17 and don’t marry till I was 27 and then had my youngest! I am so blessed to have a awesome stepdad for my daughter! I look forward to reading about your journey!

Jennifer - You are fulfilling James 1:27 in so many ways. Not only are you reaching out to take care of the little ones who need a mother and solid family; but you have also taken care of me in so many ways as a recent widow. I am so glad to have you in my life and I’m sure these future children of yours will be as well. Thank you. God bless, Jen

Rachelle - Congrats!! We are a foster family too. You are gonna love it!! God has used fostering in huge ways in our family. Hang on for a grand adventure!!!!

Amy - There is no doubt your family will enjoy this journey as much as the new addition(s). Love and postive attitudes are very contagious. Clearly you have enough to share. (:

Lauren Roop - I love everything about this story, they way you write, your passion and your excitement! Good Luck Vanoven’s, y’all are destined for this! You will be great just as you are in all the other aspects of you life that you share with us, your adoring fans!!!

Sara Pederson - I’ve “known” you since the xanga days and I agree with your CW! You guys have a lot of love and compassion to share and God planned for this to be the way orphan sere cared for. Your mission is good and I have no doubt God will bless you guys!

Kali - Thank you so much for sharing your journey into foster/adoption. My good friend just sent me the link to your blog saying, “Look another photographer is starting the foster/adoption process just like you. You should read”. I’m so glad I did. We just started our home study 2 days ago, so I’m really looking forward to following your blog and finding out what happens next with your sweet family. I’ll be praying for you all!

Melissa - Your last comment resonates with me…if we don’t who will?? There’s a new song out by Matthew West called “Do Something.” I love it because we are called to be God’s hands and feet. We can’t do that by staying in our comfort zones and always being “safe.” Praying for you and your family!!

Christine - Where were you when I was in Foster care??? Take it from an adult who aged out of FC, WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS AWESOME:))))))

Jessica v - Oh Rachel I have no doubt things will be wonderful and you will be able to change some young life. There are so many kids out there hurting that just need someone to show them love and compassion. Someone to nurture and guide them. I’m sure there will be bumps in the road but you and nick are strong enough to figure it all out. I’ll be praying everything gets finished and they send you a child that needs your family.

Mendi - Dear Vanoven Family, I’m so excited for this journey He has placed upon you. This child(ren) is so blessed to be a part of your family. Sending many prayers your way. I’m so glad there’s enough love in your hearts to share with others who so desperately need a place to call home & a family of their very own.

eleni - WoW! love what you do!! Inspiring!

Nicole - Good Luck! I have always been taught “were much is given much is required” The lord doesn’t give us so much to keep to ourselves and you are a great example of that! (the giving) Thank you for the reminder that it’s not just about learning and working hard to succeed in your own life but to help others (children) succeed in theirs as well!

Myranda - Thank you for sharing!! My husband and I are finishing up our “to do list” to become foster to adopt parents. It is amazing when you enter this process how you see Gods hand along your own journey and what He gives us along the way to prepare us. We are going to be first time parents so our experience will be a little different, but exciting all the same! Praying for you and your family as you begin this new journey!

Rana - Rachel-

I think it is so amazing that you and your family have decided to welcome adopt foster children into your home. I used to volunteer and work with foster children who were constantly being moved around in the system. If might take some time for them to trust you and have a solid relationship- but it will happen eventually! Sending prayers that you are matched soon with great kids who need the home, and for the adjustment period (for all).

God Bless!