Pray­ing for Zero

one woman's jour­ney leads to Cre­ations of Hope

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Her Eats - By Lind­sey Wells

Man­ag­ing life af­ter sur­viv­ing a rough bat­tle with cancer can be emo­tion­ally and men­tally drain­ing. There might be lin­ger­ing feel­ings of sad­ness and hope­less­ness, self-con­scious­ness and fear of what the fu­ture holds.

One Hot Springs woman turned her own near-fa­tal ex­pe­ri­ence with cancer into a sym­bol of hope.

At the age of 29, Frances Iver­son, now 34, had been mar­ried to her hus­band one year and just re­ceived the news that she was ex­pect­ing their first child. They were over the moon, she said. And then some­thing went wrong.

“We thought it was a mis­car­riage, but the strange part is, when I went in think­ing I had a mis­car­riage, they did an ul­tra­sound and there wasn’t a fe­tus. In­stead of a fe­tus, there was a mass,” she said.

Iver­son had what was called a mo­lar preg­nancy, a mass in her uterus that was mis­taken for a baby. A mo­lar preg­nancy hap­pens when tis­sue that nor­mally be­comes a fe­tus in­stead be­comes an ab­nor­mal growth in the uterus.

Even though it isn’t an em­bryo, this growth trig­gers symp­toms of preg­nancy and the body re­sponds ac­cord­ingly.

“They can tell it’s a mo­lar preg­nancy be­cause, of course, they can see the mass, but also when they do your blood work your HCG hor­mone level is out of the roof, so your body thinks it’s preg­nant,” Iver­son said. “I felt it, I was ex­pand­ing, ev­ery­thing. It was re­ally bizarre.”

Ini­tial surg­eries to re­move the mass were un­suc­cess­ful. The mass was grow­ing and had at­tached to her uter­ine wall, and at that point it was con­sid­ered a cancer and Iver­son was di­ag­nosed with chori­o­car­ci­noma.

Af­ter the surg­eries were un­suc­cess­ful the doc­tors moved on to chemo­ther­apy shots, which should have re­duced the size of the mass and brought her HCG lev­els down to zero. They were also un­suc­cess­ful.

“The num­bers just went up. So it was re­ally dis­ap­point­ing and frus­trat­ing. I thought, ‘OK, I’m do­ing ev­ery­thing right here, what’s hap­pen­ing?’ A big part of my jour­ney was my faith and we coined the phrase ‘Pray­ing for Zero.’ The word zero means a lot to me; it started then and it still does now,” she said. “Un­for­tu­nately the shots weren’t work­ing so they were go­ing to have to get more se­ri­ous about it and go to plan B.”

Plan B was three to four rounds of IV chemo­ther­apy, which caused Iver­son to lose her hair, lose her ap­petite, and ex­pe­ri­ence all of the side ef­fects of the medicine. Fi­nally, the treatment was work­ing, the mass was shrink­ing and the HCG lev­els were drop­ping.

“That Pray­ing for Zero, it was work­ing. The big drugs were do­ing their job, so that was ex­cit­ing to see that zero com­ing closer,” she said.

Pray­ing for Zero be­came a com­mu­ni­ty­wide move­ment and blew up on so­cial me­dia in honor of Iver­son.

“And then the treatment stopped

work­ing,” she said. “So, my HCG, in­stead of con­tin­u­ing to go down, it spiked.”

At that point Iver­son’s doc­tor and spe­cial­ists told her a par­tial hys­terec­tomy was her next and fi­nal op­tion be­cause they needed to get to the core of the mass and just re­move it, as it had also spread to her lung.

“So I didn’t have a choice. With my faith and my sup­port group I was re­ally do­ing well. I had so many peo­ple tak­ing care of me that I knew I was go­ing to be fine. But I think the worst day of the whole ex­pe­ri­ence was when I went to the spe­cial­ist, he took me into the room, I put on that un­com­fort­able pa­per gown and he said, ‘I have to take out the uterus be­cause oth­er­wise it’s just go­ing to keep grow­ing.’

“And I re­mem­ber look­ing at him and I said, ‘You know, I re­ally want to have my own kids, I re­ally do.’ And he said, ‘Well, if I don’t take this out of your body, you won’t live to see kids.’ And so that was re­ally the first mo­ment that I thought about dy­ing. I didn’t want to die.”

The doc­tor re­moved a soft­ball-sized mass.

Iver­son’s friends and fam­ily sur­rounded her af­ter she healed and they cel­e­brated with a big Pray­ing for Zero-themed party.

“Then, af­ter that, here I am,” she said. “But, I think peo­ple as­sume, if they’ve never had cancer, that when some­one does get cancer, once they get their re­mis­sion that they’re just good to go. It’s not like that. There are still rem­nants of fear and life is very dif­fer­ent, es­pe­cially if you’ve al­most died. Peo­ple’s treat­ments can be re­ally tax­ing on body, mind and soul, and mine was.

“I main­tained my hope that things were go­ing to get bet­ter but to be hon­est with you, child loss, then not be­ing able to have chil­dren, then cancer, chemo, and you deal with things like grief, post trau­matic stress symp­toms, de­pres­sion — it has been re­ally hard. It’s been four years now.”

Iver­son said she had a “what now?” mo­ment and, while think­ing of ther­a­peu­tic things she could do, de­cided to go out and pur­chase a blank man­nequin head. Be­cause of her love for flow­ers she cut out hun­dreds of col­or­ful flow­ers from mag­a­zines and cov­ered the head with them.

“I put her to­gether and she was a way for me to fo­cus on some­thing beau­ti­ful,” she said.

Iver­son’s Cre­ations of Hope pro­gram was born in 2013.

She de­scribes Cre­ations of Hope as a “unique and cre­ative way to ex­press hope and share that with the cancer com­mu­nity. It’s just kind of cre­ative, some­thing very dif­fer­ent and just a way for peo­ple to ex­press and share hope.”

She ap­proached Our Prom­ise Cancer Re­sources to be a spon­sor and they wel­comed her and the pro­gram with open arms.

The next sum­mer she be­came a board mem­ber of the Hot Springs Debu­tante Co­terie and for the last few years the 25 debu­tantes have dec­o­rated their own Cre­ations of Hope and do­nated them to some­one who has been af­fected by cancer.

“A lot of the girls, a lot of the par­tic­i­pants in gen­eral, know some­one (to gift the Cre­ation to) be­cause cancer touches us all. It’s very per­sonal, very emo­tional,” Iver­son said.

What started as a ther­a­peu­tic way for Iver­son to cope with the af­ter­ef­fects of cancer has now grown into a state- and coun­try­wide pro­gram.

For the do­na­tion fee of $30, the in­di­vid­ual re­ceives a blank man­nequin head and all of the pieces to turn it into a gift in­clud­ing a gift bag, tis­sue pa­per, a cer­tifi­cate and a story. All of the pro­ceeds go to Cre­ations of Hope and Our Prom­ise Cancer Re­sources.

Pre-made Cre­ations of Hope can be pur­chased for a do­na­tion fee of $50.

Email cre­ation­sofhope­pro­gram@gmail.com or visit http://www.face­book.com/cre­ation­sofhope­pro­gram for more in­for­ma­tion.

Frances Iver­son, cre­ator of the Cre­ations of Hope pro­gram.

FRANCES IVER­SON’S VERY fiRST CRE­ATION OF HOPE.

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