Larry Lanham, his wife, Michelle, and daughters Madison and Maggie raise sheep and cattle on their 38-acre farm in Corbin, Kentucky. Larry has worked the same job providing housing for the elderly for 26 years. However, the last five years have been anything but stable for the Lanham family.
“We all know we’re gonna die, but when reality hits you, it can shake you and knock you out,” said Larry, 40.
Cancer rocked the Lanham family in the summer of 2007 when, at age 39, Michelle began experiencing pain that led to the discovery of tumors in her colon. A doctor told her that she had up to three years to live.
Michelle enjoyed good health for two years following surgery and six months of chemotherapy, but cancer returned in November 2010. She underwent the same surgery for the second time.
Colon cancer forced lifestyle changes upon the Lanham family. In addition to the stress of operations and medical bills, Michelle said she struggled with being physically unable to do activities - like shopping, cleaning, and cooking - that were part of her normal life.
"I have to depend on other people to do things for me, and that's really hard," she said.
Michelle’s daughters, Madison and Maggie, were eight and three years old respectively when their mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. Maggie doesn’t remember a time when Michelle wasn’t sick, Larry said.
“We decided from the very start that we were going to be truthful with them and tell them exactly what we knew,” Michelle said.
In February, days after Michelle's 40th birthday, the Lanhams flew to Orlando for an Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat®. They met 12 families facing terminal illnesses and made connections with others who share their experiences.
"It was like being with family," Larry said.
IOH volunteers tended to the Lanham family's needs, pushing Michelle's wheelchair and playing with Madison and Maggie in the theme park. Larry said he watched his daughters make friends and gain independence during the Legacy Retreat® weekend. Madison and Maggie now have pen pals with peers they met at the retreat.
The Lanhams also explored the concept of leaving a legacy for their daughters during the retreat. Michelle and Larry recorded a Legacy Video to give their daughters in the event of their deaths and now seek to give Madison and Maggie memories. They are taking control of their lives, making efforts to cherish their time as a family.
"Leaving a legacy and doing things on purpose was one thing I brought back from the retreat," Michelle said. "Whatever you do, make it count. You don't want to miss out on anything."
Madison and Maggie are on summer vacation from school and spend all day with their mother, Larry said. The Lanhams plan trips and parties, implementing their desires to lead lives with purpose and intent.
"Michelle is probably in the best health she's been in two years," Larry said. The Lanhams will undoubtedly make the most of her health this summer.
The Lanhams documented experiences from their last five years with cancer on Michelle's Caring Bridge page <http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/michellelanham>. The blog details the ups and downs of Michelle's treatment, creating a legacy of its own.
In a recent update, Larry writes that the family went camping near a lake. A year ago, Michelle enjoyed the scenery from a wheelchair. Now she walks.