Monthly Archives: February 2015

“For Paul, accepting his circumstances is the secret to being content in them. Such relinquishment fress Paul to glue his attention to the opportunities before him rather than focus on that which has been stripped away. The journey to joy begins with ACCEPTANCE.” – Fight Back with Joy, Margaret Fineberg

Sweet words that are music to my ear this morning… Just last night it took me an hour to drive home. One hour to go four miles. I am certain I could have walked faster than driving. My moms expected arrival last evening left her with a flight cancelled and rebooked for this morning. This morning she is again delayed and should it not be delayed again she might make it in before I am all finished up with chemo. Denver is a beautiful painted white of snow that makes travel complicated to say the least.

This morning I woke up a bit sore and tired. That is the new normal. I am sleeping through the night but for the past week I have noticed that I am getting more and more tired. On top of that I am now experiencing daily hot flashes. One minute I am freezing, the next I cannot seem to take my clothes off quick enough. My colleagues at work are used to my wardrobe changes…. I go from wearing a coat and a hat with the space heater running, to then a tank top and fanning myself. Sleeping with these temperature change episodes is a whole new adventure….

I appreciate so many of you commenting on my last post. I know I was honest, and it may have been hard to read, but know it comes from a place that believes in healing. That believes there is power in working through “our stuff”. That believes in shedding light on hard things to bring restoration there. And if I am honest it did wonders for me to write it down, to pour my heart out, to express my frustrations and my fears…  So thank you. For caring enough to read and to pray for me.

The quote above is from the book I am currently reading and it has really touched on some things I am working on currently. This notion of being stripped away…. of being shed of everything. But that by focusing on what has been stripped away I am unable to see the opportunities before me.

She goes on to write, “We tend to resist that which inhibits us….. Worse, we spin in the comparison trap of what our lives used to be….. Paul does not find contentment in bucking his circumstances but in surrendering control of them.”

Just like that, her words knock me over. My comparison. My everyday longing for the past. For what was. For what my life used to be. What I never realized is that by doing so I robbed myself of the joy that comes in the today? In the tommorow? In the unknowns that are before me. That I am robbing myself of the story that is mine.

So today, as I prepare for chemotherapy round three…. I am choosing to be accepting of what is today. The today that is a sidewalk that continues to be covered in snow, even after two attempts to clear it. The sun shining for the brief moments this morning before our second wave of snow comes tonight….. and that this is my second to last chemo treatment.

A friend of mine text messaged me after reading my last post and said,

Your thoughts, your hurts, your pain all matter and are a big deal. You dont need to numb yourself to their realities. But don’t overwhelm yourself with the unknowns of the future. One day at a time. He will reveal your story and because it His story for you, it’ll be amazing and unlike any others.”

I hope that encourages you because it encourages me. I am humbled by the faith and trust this friend has in the Lord, and even better to be on the receiving end of the truths he shares. I have re- read this text message nearly every day…..

His Story. He is writing a grand story. One that requires acceptance. One that believes in his goodness. One that trusts it is His story for me.

May today find you accepting of your own fears, your own hurt and your pain, but never doubting that acceptance of these things, reveals the grander story being written for you.

I appreciate your prayers as I drive in the snow to chemo and my parents try and make it in to Denver today.

Love Kristina

“Sometimes we sweep away opportunities to grieve by convincing ourselves the loss is not big deal or if we ignore the loss it will vanish…… They never do. We may not feel as much pain but we also don’t feel as much joy.”- Margaret Feinberg

A woman who I met just a month before I was diagnosed approached me saying she felt compelled to pray for me. Truthfully it was a bit strange. We were both attending a bible study together with seventy women and I was not much for getting to know others in the study. I simply wanted to attend and leave. Unbeknownst to both she and I, the very next week at the study I would be announcing my diagnosis. I would be asking for these women to lift me in prayers as I began my journey with breast cancer. I never returned to bible study after that week.

Since that day I have been receiving emails from this lady, declarations of God’s promises and her consistent commitment to lift me up. It has truly been a blessing, most especially when I do not know how to. This week she sent me a book that has spoken to me. The above quote is taken from that book. A book that has been just perfect for this time.

If you want the honest truth this morning I am fighting tears. I attempted to sneak into the office without having to answer the usual, “How are you?” question. Thursday, I go in for chemotherapy round three and I am dreading it. The side affects have been building on themselves and I am tired. Emotionally and physically I am tired. We received close to a foot of snow this weekend and my window cracked straight across the middle. It was a small thing, something I had no control over, that makes my tender emotional heart crumble to tears.

I am tired of days that my energy is focused on making sure I am eating enough, drinking enough water and taking all of my medicine. I don’t even know how to function with others without cancer being the focal point of conversation. How long till my next treatment? How are you feeling?

I have tried to convince myself that the loss of my hair, my breasts and so much of my femininity does not matter. As though if I convince myself that it is not that big of deal then it would not hurt that bad. I tell myself that the hats look cute. Others will say I should be grateful it is winter, everyone is wearing hats, so I fit right in. Or better than that, other women like to take the opportunity to compliment my new chest, comparing the ones they have as being less than mine.

It is as though shifting the conversation to the benefits of my diagnosis it takes away the harsh truth in it all.

Or when the lady at Starbucks, said “She loved my hair cut” and I can barely walk out of the store before tears meet my cheeks.

It works for a time, the conversations that focus on the positive. But the loss of this all turns out is a big deal, and pretending it is not is only making it worse.

It is amazing my ability to convince myself it is not. I have gone so far as to tell myself that I don’t think I want to have kids anymore. I start coming up with scenarios for how I can spend my years volunteering in a youth ministry or in schools. I tell myself that this must be what God has for me. I tell myself this, so I don’t have to think about the fact that I may never get to have my own children. As though making it no longer a desire of my heart makes it easier to face the reality that I may never get too. Every baby shower post, or new born photo shoot adorning Facebook I smile with joy and hide my feelings of jealousy.

Conversations I have read arguing whether breast fed or formula fed children are smarter and healthier have taught me patience. This argument is something I will never debate over. I am not able to breast feed. That is just a matter of fact. So I begin to tell myself that it is OK that I will not have those things, that I can go on and do something great and having my own children may not be in my cards. A lot of women go on to carry children on their own after chemotherapy but in the unknown of right now, it is easier to take it off the table as an option all together.

My worst fear beyond the side affects is the chance that my cancer comes back. Although I am getting closer and closer to the end, cancer is something I will carry with me for years and decades to come. It will look different of course, and it will someday be a small part of my story but it is still a part of my story. Does this cancer return? Does my life get to look seemingly normal again?

Another lie I find I am trying to convince myself of is that maybe I am supposed to be single. Let me explain, It is one thing to be a single woman in your late 20’s that attended a Christian college where everyone seems to have gotten married right away, now try being a cancer patient and thinking about dating. It is hard enough to look in the mirror and embrace myself. Now try feeling beautiful when everything has been stripped away, let alone trying to meet someone. Again it easier to think about not having to face someone else with my scars than it is trying to allow someone in to love me as I am.

Better than that how about when you are mistaken for a boy in the women’s restroom. (yes this happened). I know I do not look like me. I know that the former “me” will never look the same, so I am working to love the “new me”.

I certainly do not mean to go on with all the ways I am discouraged and hurting. The list at times is growing. So I am going to stop. Not because there is not more, or that shedding light I do believe can help bring healing there. But it is just been an observation. Of how many times I allow the lies become truths as though it will protect me from feeling the weight of it?

The losses are real. The losses have cut deep and struct heart strings in me that I did not know were there.

I do not want to pretend that they are not a big deal.  I hurt. I am tired and I am discouraged. But like the quote above. Without recognizing that they are a big deal, I do not allow light to be brought on them and for them to be restored.

I believe that I can be restored in the places of this hurt. And that while they are thoughts and emotions, they are just that. Thoughts and emotions…

What lies have you believed to protect yourself? How can you bring light to them to bring healing?

Love Kristina

*** My mom and dad will be here this week. Something to look forward too.

 

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It has not always been good. This journey. Nor has it been easy. Most of the time truthfully, it is very hard.

Most days I am tired. Tired of putting a hat on my head each time I leave the house, and if I have forgotten, the cool air atop my head reminds me. I am tired of endless appointments. There was a time when I complained about a week where I had a dentist appointment. One measly appointment would knock my week out of routine. And today…. I am lucky if a week only has two appointments. This week, I had four. Next week, I have three.

 

 

The picture above I love. Not for one particular reason or another but I think because I know what I was thinking in that very moment. My thoughts were overwhelming as the blade met the top of my head. The physical evidence of disease. Of this journey. This has really happened. Thoughts of “you’re doing great, you’re doing it, you’re strong…. shifted to thoughts of, this hurts, I am scared.”

It is the perfect capture of my laughter that turns to tears, or often vice versa. My laughter so very often turns to tears.

Every day more and more stripping of what once was takes place, to a make room for a newness that is taking place in me. I am being made new. Time and time again I am being renewed, and changed to something new. I may not ever understand why now was the time for this.

Why now?

Do you ever wonder why things happen in the way that they do? Do you often think how much better it would have been if it were some other time? Could it not have been even just months later?

I must confess, I have full confidence in the timing of this. For me. It is very evident that this was orchestrated to happen just as it should.

It has and will continue to be the very perfect time.

You are probably thinking, is she crazy? When is a “good time” to get cancer?

OK, trust me I hear you. No time is “good time” for cancer.

But…… I would beg to differ.

So much of this journey, this written part of my life story, is believing that is is being written exactly as it should. The more I believe it is being written as it should and the more I trust the author of it all and the more I move into the story itself. The more alive I become.

Is that not what he called us for? To be living fully in the story he designed and orchestrated for us.

_______________________

It is Friday and just this morning I had some toast and coffee at my favorite spot in Denver. Next to me was an older man in a wheelchair with his wife having a cup of coffee, doing crossword puzzles and sharing a pastry. I looked at them and could not help but be encouraged. I pray one day I get to have that. The slow down of time, shared with someone in my life. That mornings are spent next to someone whom I have loved and been loved by well.

When so much of my future is unknown…. questions like, Will I be able to carry my own children someday? Will my cancer return? Will I look like me when my surgery is complete? Will someone be able to embrace me with my scars? Oh so many questions I could spend hours pondering.

Time is something that has become so dear to me. I prefer these days to spend it well and with others who matter a great deal to me.

May this find you well today.

Love Kristina

 

Wednesday? Already I ask myself. The weeks these days seem to be passing by quickly. Perhaps it was because last week I spent two days at home in bed but nonetheless I am finding it hard to believe that next week I will have my third round of chemotherapy.

Yesterday, I had two very special appointments, the first with my breast surgeon. A three month post surgery check up. She did a full exam, and said everything looked good. She told me that I was healing great and that she did not feel anything unusual. Not only is she the one who initially confirmed that my lymph nodes were clear after my surgery but she is the one that will walk with me for the next five years as count down until I am in the clear. My next follow up with her will take place in three months. I will then go to six month follow ups and then yearly. I will not have any scans, or mammograms (since I have no breast tissue) but she will do a thorough exam to see if she notices anything.

Rachel came with me as she has for so many appointments and sat with me. From the breast surgeon we went to an appointment with the plastic surgeon. A place that I once dreaded but today one place I look forward to visit. The nurses, of whom I have developed a relationship with have played their own role in my support system and it is always a joy to see them. My plastic surgeon is someone who I have an entirely different level of respect for. I am not a patient, a business transaction or a body but a person. A living and breathing person who he treats with care. Yesterday was an important meeting because I was able to plan for my reconstruction surgery. Based on my counts recovering from my last chemo treatment I should be having my reconstruction surgery end of April (this surgery is the removal of expanders to place implants). In addition to talking about the next phase, I had him take a look at one of the expanders that seems to have softened. He said that next week he would fill it again and see if it retains the saline. If there is a small leak taking place it is nothing to worry about, in that my body is just absorbing the saline. Overall he said that I have healed very well and that he is very pleased. I too am very pleased with how everything has progressed.

As for the rest of me, these days I am still exhausted. I am sleeping through the night but there seems to be never enough of it. I am hoping that over the next few days as my counts continue to bounce back, I will be re energized. My crackled hands, and often bloody nose are all lovely reminders of this medicine that destroys not just the cancer cells.

Last evening I shared coffee with an old coworker and talked about this journey of mine. There has been great comfort sharing this and just last night connecting with her was wonderful. She was once a cubicle distant neighbor from my first job out of college and today we find ourselves connecting over our lives stories.

Kara Tippets of whom I have spoken of, who is under hospice care and fading, posed the following questions on her blog today….

“What grace do you enjoy today that gives you the strength to get through, perhaps even thrive in the midst of your hard? How are you learning to press into Jesus when the hard edges of life come creeping in to your reality? How do you cling to and remember truth when the answers you desire don’t come? How can you know you are not forgotten when the story isn’t simple or easy? That’s all of us isn’t it?

I read these and wonder the same thing. What makes me cling. What allows me to keep going. Is it the gentle whisper of others nudging and cheering me on? Is the cards that fill my mailbox every day? Is it the timeline that is shortening?

To be honest I am not sure.

I know Sunday I cried watching as my sister opened gifts for the baby she is carrying. I smile looking at pictures of Avi and Austin that are at home from the hospital in California, with my cousin and his wife. Just last night I looked back at some pictures of my classroom in Honduras. I could feel the joy again that filled that room when we sang, danced or when we installed the basketball goal for March Madness and used paper basketballs to practice dunking like Lebron James. I was met with tears as my boss showed me pictures of baby furniture that has now filled a room that for so long sat empty, hoping and praying for a miracle.

It is these gifts.  These small joys, and big celebrations that invite me to keep going. To celebrate even the tiniest and faintest of things. Life is indeed learning to dance in the rain but also honoring the change that takes place in grief. My heart continues to be softened, to be filled and stripped away of things that I once thought mattered that do not anymore.

In the past few days I have finalized travel plans to be back in Kentucky to meet my nephew Brady for the first time. As well as my flight is booked to be at the Houston Rodeo after my last round of chemotherapy. I cannot believe I am almost over half way there.

May this find you enjoying the snow back in Kentucky (or wherever you are) or finding the quiet stillness a welcomed stranger. I am seeking patience in the waiting. Waiting and hoping for so much, but yearning to trust the larger narrative in it all.

Love Kristina

**** I am currently reading C.S Lewis A Grief Observed and have so enjoyed it….

“The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just that time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I spent the rest of my day Monday and Tuesday trying to feeling better. After adjusting some medicine, and applying a steroid cream for the rash on my head, I was on the mend. By Wednesday morning the rash was fading and my body felt more stable. It took about one full week after chemotherapy before I started to regain my strength….

I would love to say that I am getting the hang of the chemotherapy song and dance, knowing what to expect and anticipate but that would not be true. This treatment round was quite different than the first. The fatigue and tired hit me at different times. I have heard from quite a few others who have undergone chemotherapy, that the unknown, the constant ebb and flow of the side effects are hard, but knowing and accepting that it will be different and that it is ok is half the battle. So this next round, number three, hopefully I can do just that.

Friday evening, I attended a fundraiser my roommate put on. Knowing my counts are low I did not stay too long but wanted to be there to support her. After standing to the side watching as everyone boot scotted to a local Western folk band, someone leaned over and asked if I was Kristina. I said that I was (I did not know him). He went on to explain that he is friends with one of my girlfriends and he had heard about my story. He saw pictures from my hair shave party and that he wanted to wish me well. He said he has heard about me and that he knows I am strong.

My goodness I thought, what an honor….. as my eyes pooled with water.

Is strong crying in front of a stranger? I thought.

Don’t cry I coached myself.

Just say thank you and it was nice to meet you, and walk away.

So I did.

I walked away humbled, overtaken by my story, this story and most of all by all of you.

The word strong is not something I often use to describe my cancer journey. Many of you use it, but I do not. I think it is because I have misunderstood the meaning of the word strong.

Maybe strong is not doing it all yourself, but allowing others to do it for you. Maybe strong is allowing this story to not just be mine, but something I share. Something that invites others in.

Maybe strong is being vulnerable enough to believe that God works and heals when we are honest. When we are open. When we allow others to care for us. When we surrender the strength that we do not have.  Maybe that is what he intended life to be all along. That when we are weak, he is strong. He provides. That strong is allowing yourself to feel, to grieve and to be with all the emotions and thoughts that meet you. Allowing them to just be….

That evening, I went home early and crashed in my bed. I was still pondering this notion that I am strong. Still trying to understand why someone would describe me that way. I began building my case for why I am not. All the times I cry. All the times I am anxious and afraid and stopped…

That’s just it. So often I try and tell myself what I am not, and don’t believe in what I am.

___________

Just yesterday, I spent a large part of my day looking out at Pikes Peak, the sun coming through the clouds and the horizon lined up with mountains far in the distant. It was a beautiful day. A very perfect Colorado day. One filled with day dreaming about traveling, three flavors of wheat thins, jump starting a car, Thai food, Beer, Hugh Grant, bourbon and ice cream.

A friend months ago said to me ….. I believe that you are today more alive and living than any of us ever will be.

I am indeed living. Everything matters to me. Every face I see, every conversation I share. It all matters. A diagnosis of this magnitude, that makes you grapple with life in such a way that it appears to be taken away at any moment has allowed me to live in the very present. To be so fully present that everything matters. I have the tremendous privilege of knowing how very precious life is. Cancer gave me this.

God is using this cancer to teach me how to live more fully. More alive. More intentional. And to know him more. To start trusting him as my shepherd. That he is working and moving all around me, I just need to listen.

I certainly will celebrate when this part of my story is over but for now I will continue to enjoy the very preciousness that is this time. A time when everything is so very real to me… when moments are not wasted. When time and energy is spent in company and doing the very things that make me feel alive.

May this Sunday find you feeling strong, alive and investing the very things that matter to you. That remind you that you are very much alive.

A very special Congratulations to the my cousin Vance and his wife Whitney as they welcomed two precious twins this week in California. I was met with tears at the picture of them and honored to be little Avi’s godmother. As we can never say enough, God is so very good.

Love Kristina

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Pikes Peak