Monthly Archives: March 2015

My morning began with a shot in my arm and then I headed down south for the day. My vitals will not be taken until Monday so I am told to take it easy through the weekend while my blood counts rise. Yesterday I was feeling much better than even the days before so I am taking that as a positive sign that my counts are rising.

It was a beautiful day yesterday. One that you want to bottle up and keep so you can have it for a another. It was eighty degrees in Colorado. Blue skies and big white fluffy clouds. As I drove from Denver to Colorado Springs the view of Pikes Peak as I came down Monument Hill nearly took my breath away.

Many of you have heard me make reference to Kara Tippets and the book The Hardest Peace. Kara was welcomed into heaven last Sunday after her battle with breast cancer. Yesterday was her memorial service. Alongside a friend we attended her service to honor who she was, to celebrate her story and to give incredible thanks for the very person to whom God created her to be.

I will be honest, when my friend asked if I would like to join I was at first, unsure. In many ways I was not sure I would be able to make it through the service, a second thought was that I never met her, I was just someone who read her book, read her blog posts, and lastly I am bald. My thought was, that I am a physical reminder to the family and friends of the cancer that took Kara. Would it unfair to attend and remind them? As these thoughts passed I decided that I would attend knowing just how much her words have meant to me. Unfortunately my counts are still low, but the nurses said so long as I wash my hands, be extra careful than I am ok to go. So I did.

This is where my writing becomes difficult. I found myself sitting in her service wondering how it is that I can do life so well like her….

The inside of her memorial program read the words she wrote

“My little body has grown tired of battle, and treatment is no longer helping,” Kara wrote. “But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over Heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and He will provide. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love, will cover us all. And it will carry us—carry us in ways we cannot comprehend.”

Many times in the service I found myself holding back tears not because she passed. Not because she left behind four children and a husband at the young age of 38. My tears met my cheeks because of how she lived while she was here.

Her diagnosis of breast cancer became her opportunity. To move more into the story he was writing for her and more into the goodness of who God is.

And that is where it gets me. Believing that cancer can still be a good thing. That by refusing to be angry, and allowing my heart to be open to what he is doing in my story of cancer, that I can begin to see the very hand of God moving and working in my life.

Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.” – Kara Tippets

In leaving the service we found ourselves taking a short walk to sit atop a rock overlooking Pikes Peak. In sitting and talking I began to share …

There became a moment in the service when I began to think of both Kara and my dear friend, old younglife work crew boss, Amy Patwa together in heaven with their Jesus. I imagine them both there. Their hair now back on their heads. They are no longer in pain. The scars across their breasts are no longer there. Their tired eyes that met them in their final days are no longer tired. I imagine them with great joy and peace.

Karas service reminded me so very much of Amy’s. Two women. Diagnosed with breast cancer in their thirties. To women who refused to see cancer with anger but rather meet it with grace. Who knew that the homecoming that awaited them, while they were not ready to leave, was one that would be far greater than even what they would have on this earth.

So in my tears I found myself begging them both to show me how to do life so well. I found myself envious of the peace they now have.

How do I press on trusting in his goodness?

If I could have spoken out loud I would have pleaded with them both, How do I do it? How could I possibly live in the manner at which you both have? And how do I trust him so much so that I know that what meets me in the coming months whether news of good or bad that his peace is still available? The confidence. The assurance you have that HE is always good. That my pain. That my hurt does not go unnoticed. But He is here. He has always been here.

As my tears fell, as my words fell short and as I longed for an understanding….. of how breast cancer could hurt so much. How it could take two women away so soon? and how breast cancer stole from me….

I found my answer.

As though he whispered…. Kristina. You are my child. Can you trust me? Can you believe that I love you so much so that even in the midst of cancer you may have my peace. That you may know my joy. That you may live well beyond this. You Kristina must trust me.

And as my tears fell underneath my sunglasses and I gazed out at the mountains I wondered why it was I have fought this story so much. And the tears continued as I came to accept the only choice I have.

I must trust him. Even in all of my fears, as my friend assured me…. He is loving, merciful and kind.

So the rest of the day and evening my thoughts continue to come back to this place.

My dear friend Amy pictured below alongside me in 2002 and the picture below of Kara with her family. You ladies have made my walking with cancer doable. You have shown me what it means to trust.  It is an honor and privilege to be a member of the breast cancer club alongside you both. But more than anything it is a true honor to be a daughters of our most incredible loving King.

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In her Memorial service John Blase shared the below poem. I loved it so much I thought I should share.

I sent you the link to the rare Mary Oliver
Interview in hopes her wild voice and
Silky words would inspire you to write.
I knew she’d wooed your mind when
You began texting me quote after quote
You’d copied down, this one your favorite –
I SAW WHAT LOVE MIGHT HAVE DONE
IF WE HAD LOVED IN TIME.
But you never sent the one I hoped
You’d hear and pause to consider –
WHEN THE MORTAL DIES
IT WILL BECOME SOMETHING ELSE –
For that is the line the poet spoke that
Made me think of you.

Now that you’re gone my grownup thoughts wrestle with
Exactly what that something else is that you’ve become.
While off to the side the faith I held as a child
Holds that You’re now a part of everything from
The warmth of the winter sun to
The unself-conscious laughter of children to
The fragrance of lilac blooms in June.
For in death you were swept up into him
And since he holds all things then it’s not a stretch
At all to say you’re now a part of the grand show.

Mary Oliver would say you’re EVIDENCE OF THE CONTINUANCE.

But Kara Tippetts would grin wide and say Oh, Mary,
After death there is something else.
There is everything else. There is Jesus.

P.S. – You’ll have to forgive us if we have days or weeks where
We are unlikeable in our grief. This is only because we liked you so very much.
Death may have lost its sting, but it still burns.
And we press on here in the strange beauty of sadness

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This morning I am heading back to the cancer center for my shot. The rest of the day is going to be spent trying to take a look at how to do life well, which of course means cheering on my Louisville Cards around 1:00 pm. As well I look forward to picking up my best friend all the way from Guatemala City at the airport tomorrow who is spending her Spring Break with me.
Many thanks for your patience, understanding and loving me so well at this time.

I have tried to come here and write many times in that last few days and never even end up making it to the New Post page. It is not that there is not much to share, I think it is that there is too much to share.

One week ago, I walked into the cancer center for what would be my last time of receiving chemotherapy treatment. Quite soon after arriving I learned my counts were low but just high enough that I was still able to receive treatment. As many of my treatments have been, the nurses had trouble placing my IV in my vein. So much so this time that it took three tries. I made it as far as receiving my pre medicines before my IV slipped from my vein and I felt a sharp sting into my skin. The fluids were now making their way underneath my skin. So we started again.

My mom and I brought cookies to share with the infusion room and she filled treat bags with easter candy. We wanted to share the day but not make too much of the fact that it was my last round. I simply could not do it when so many others around me were on their 9th, 10th rounds and counting….  No bell ringing in celebration. No sign announcing my last round. Just me, my mom and a dear friend.

We knew. I knew, it was the last time.

So while the day emotional and filled with great joy, it found me very introspective. And you see that is where I am found today.

The end of this has felt like the very beginning all over again.

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Just yesterday while at work I spoke to a co-worker and referred to others in the infusion room as “those people”. She chuckled at my comment and I kindly asked what was funny. She said, “Oh nothing, just that you say that as though you are not one of them.”

Last night while lying awake around two o’clock I thought about my choice of words. How my brain automatically switched. I thought to myself why and how could I refer to others as “those people”. I knew I must apologise first thing this morning. When trying to explain to her, I started to cry, ” You see the thing is, I just don’t see myself as one of them. I just don’t. This does not seem real. It has not seemed real at all. But yet now, now it is all too real.”

My guard, that has so graciously been present has now been removed. My robotic way of going through the motions. The appointments,  the bills and the schedule have now found me crumbled in my tears on my knees begging for this ache to disappear. Asking that this reality that has been breast cancer to somehow not be real.

My tears meet me in the mirror when I stare at a face I hardly recognize. Asking that the hair that no longer meets my shoulders would come back. That my eyebrows that are fading would reappear. My fingernails, brittle, sore and now looking as though I shut them in a door bruised would be strong. My body does not work like it should. It hurts. Nothing tastes good. My mouth is sore. My stomach is full.  And my body has had enough.

Monday, I boarded the airplane flying back from Houston with a mask over my face and a hat on my head. I made my way to my seat to find empty chairs next to me. Before the plane took off I placed my bag at the window and curled up on my side. I fell asleep right away.

My body is exhausted and so am I.

While standing next to the baggage claim a man asked what color my bag was so that he could get it for me. My gut reaction was that I did not need assistance, but yet I was relieved, welcoming his invitation. One less thing. I do not have to do it all on my own. He retrieved my bag and I said thank you. He said take care of yourself.

I said Thank You, I will, as my eyes filled with water.

And so here I am trying. Trying to do just that. My counts are as the doctors predicted dropping as I type. I will arrive back to the hospital tomorrow for blood work and most likely a shot to boost my immune system.

In the meantime, I have spent more time awake in my bed than awake out of it. Sleeping has become a bit of a nightmare. My hot flashes have reached a new temperature level and are very uncomfortable. Just now as I type from my bed I am quickly removing covers as my head and face pour over with sweat.

The reality of cancer is alive and well in my life these days and I am taking these moments to attempt to extend grace to my stubborn self. I am only leaving the house to go to work and come home. Full mask attire at all times. Seems everyone around me is coughing, sneezing and I cannot risk getting sick.

So in reading this can you lift me up? Can you keep praying? My heart is very weary. For so many things, but most of all for what I am finding as I am embrace what this journey has been. I have asked myself to be present with all my emotions. To feel and to not resist. But the feeling of all of this is nearly breaking my heart.

In two weeks time I will go in for my blood draw and marker check. The blood work will check to see if any of the cancer proteins remain in my blood. This will “officially” or “unofficially” make me clear.  So while the assumption is that the chemo cleaned up what little the doctors did not remove in my mastectomy, the final test is the blood work. So the next two weeks are a heavy time.

While I await the next few weeks to pass, I am graciously embracing the gentle ways God has met me in my tears. How he has reminded me of who he is. Who I am.

I am starting to dream about what living well beyond cancer looks like and that makes me smile. Not because I intend to go to extremes but rather I yearn to embrace so much more of who I am. Leaning more into the woman I believe he crafted me to be and seeking so much more grace in the midst of this thing called life.

I have so many words to share soon about my time in Texas with my folks, attending the Rodeo and how there is a large part of my heart that is with the Kara Tippets family. In do time I will share….

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Suffering is never a meaningless waste of your life, but a meaningful way through your life. Sometimes the most painful chapters of our lives —- are the most meaningful chapters of our lives. Suffering doesn’t have to destroy our ultimate life purpose, but can ultimately achieve our purpose in life. – A Holy Experience

 

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“Through it all, through it all, My eyes are on You, Through it all, through it all, It is well”

These words have been read, listening to and repeated in my head time and time again since that day at the end of September when the words Cancer were heard through the other end of my phone. Those words I heard as I crumbled in my tears, in my fears and into the unknown. In that moment however I made a choice.

I made a choice that whatever he was doing with this story, I did not want to miss it. I did not want to get to the end and realize I had missed so very much of what he was doing in all of this. Merely because I was not living it. Because I was not present.

Presence is hard. Presence requires us to feel, to grieve but without it we may never know joy.

Today I officially go into remission. I type as tears fill my eyes.

No more cancer. No more treatments. My time at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center will now be limited to quarterly appointments to confirm that the cancer is gone. That will be it. This is it. (reconstruction surgery end of April).

In many ways counting down chemotherapy treatments felt I was counting down for someone else. Never could I have imagined that it would be me that would have a last round of chemotherapy. Never could I have imagined that I would be a “survivor”.

Because more than anything I never imagined that I would have cancer.

That is just it though, no one ever imagines it to be them….. Whatever you may be walking through today, you never thought it would be you, did you?

You were not going to be the one to watch your children pass away before you, you were not going to be the widow, you would not be the one struggling with addiction, you were not going to be divorced, you were not going to be the one struggling to conceive, you were not going to be the one living in an unhappy marriage, you weren’t going to be the one who would lose their job unexpectedly….

It was not going to be you.

But you are. 

I write these words with all gentleness and sensitivity, knowing what it feels like to be living a story that you never imagined to be your story.

My story of cancer at 27 years old. My mastectomy, egg fertilization, four rounds of chemotherapy and reconstruction. All that I was so confident that was never to be my story. But it is. It has been.

It is mine and goodness it has been good.

So while today is a day I never imagined to arrive, it is here and I will walk into the infusion room at the cancer center for what will be the last time. Although I will take a few weeks to start feeling better and the chemotherapy to leave my system, this is my final round, this is it. How good it feels to be writing these words.

My mom is here and today will be a special day. Of that I am sure. What an incredibly humbling, hard and beautiful few months it has been on chemotherapy. From feeling strong and well, to be knocked out by illness and weakness. Going from feeling so confident that I can do this, to feeling completely defeated. Chemo taught me grace and gentleness, patience and love. Gentleness with myself. That it was ok to rest, ok to lay down, ok to not feel good. I learned patience in the waiting….. But most of all I learned more of the love that comes in the words of strangers, friends, and family…. This place, my writing. While I could have never imagined sharing this journey in such depth, it has helped me heal. Helped me be present and most of all allowed me to hear from all of you. So thank you for being in this with me. For helping me be reminded of hard truths. Of allowing me to grieve. Of praying for me in distant places. For thinking so much that you would take time to send a thought or prayer my way.

So today, think of me while I receive my last round of chemotherapy. And more than anything attempt to embrace the story that is being told for you. Although it may not be the story you wished for, dreamed of, imagined….. it is yours. You should go live it. In all of its complexities it is yours.

 

“I was met with an unexpected disease – unexpected in every way…. I could never have dreamed…. But those places, those raw, broken places, are the heart of life. The brokenness of today causes us to look at tomorrow and hope for it.” – Kara Tippets

 

I have such hope for tomorrow. He assures us of that. To have hope in the days to come….. For the new days beyond this and days that no longer involve chemotherapy treatments.

Happy Last Round to Me!

Love Kristina

Yesterday was one of those days. A day that from the moment I woke up I knew it would be a difficult one. One that found me in tears on more than one occasion.

I had decided I should take some time. Unsure of what I would do with my day I sought out to spend it alone.

Somedays that is just what we need….

This week is a milestone week for me in my cancer journey. My last treatment is on Thursday. I will be officially in remission on that day. What sweet words those are to type.

So yesterday the day seemed to just feel all too overwhelming. What this week would be, what it meant, and even more it had me reflecting back on the last six months of doing life as cancer. Some days it almost feels like I am telling someone elses story. That the surgeries, the mastectomy, the three days spent this past week back at the hospital. So many days I feel like I am talking about someone else. But yesterday it was as though the story became a little bit more real for me.  It felt like my story.

I went to Washington Park twice yesterday (my very favorite place). Both times circling the park more than once, stopping to lay in the grass, walking to grab a coffee and to just simply be. (it was almost 80 degrees here yesterday). Early that morning with my coffee in hand, rubbing my hand across my bald head, I sat down in the grass and started to cry. No particular reason or another but in that instance it was as though I was watching snippets of my life the past six months pass by. The days spent on the couch, my birthday where I wore a fanny pack to hide my drains, the hundreds of appointments, the nurses helping me out of my hospital bed, the thousands spent on medical bills, the night spent amongst friends shaving my head, it was all right there in my hands… and my goodness how much there was to look back on.

Yesterday was just what I needed. I needed some time, to find peace, to find contentment and to find joy. To know that its all ok. To know that this story that is hard to tell and to comprehend is my story and it will soon be over. It will no longer have pending surgeries, it will merely be a portion of my life. A time that took much, but gave so so much more….

 

Peace is Christ’s distinctive gift—not money, not worldly ease, not temporal prosperity. These are at best very questionable possessions. They often do more harm than good to the soul. They act as clogs and weights to our spiritual life. Inward peace of conscience, arising from a sense of pardoned sin and reconciliation with God, is a far greater blessing. This peace is the property of all believers, whether high or low, rich or poor.— J. C. Ryle

What peace I was given yesterday. Peace and contentment that in spite of all things, all that awaits I may know both joy and peace. That I may have confidence in the outcome.

“Suffering isn’t a mistake, and it isn’t the absence of God’s goodness, because He is present in pain.” Kara Tippets

He has been and continues to be present in my pain. And for that I am grateful.

Now that the light at the end is near this one treatment that awaits will be a celebration. A celebration that the this story of mine, has been the outpour of some of the greatest blessings.  That changes  have taken place in me and in the most tender ways I have been reminding that “I am loved so very much.”

As for me I am feeling much better, my counts rebounded up to 4.5 on Thursday which was tremendous news. My mom flies in on Wednesday and I am very excited.

May you have a wonderful Monday.

Love Kristina

Ok. Two posts in one day. One could assume this must mean either something really good or that this will be a brief post sharing of bad news. BUT lucky for you and ME it is not the later.

I left the hospital a few hours ago and received good news that my white blood cells came up from a dangerously low .03 (Basically I had none yesterday) to 1.4 today. Whew.

So the shot they injected in my arm yesterday, helped my bone marrow do its work and build up my blood cell count. Hence the bone ache. My immune system was so low that the sinus/cold infection I got did not stand a chance at going away as long as I had no immune system to fight it. So with a lot of vitamins, cold medicine, good food and rest I am hoping that this is a thing of the past and I will be on my way to feeling better. I did go in for hydration which left me in the infusion room for about an hour. Hydration as I have mentioned before is simply a bag of salt water that makes me feel so much better so I am grateful for that.

A few things I observed as I arrived at the cancer center today….

  • I was not charged my copay ($100.00!) because well the truth is I have been going in so often that my doctor waived it today. I did not even know they could do that, but they did and I am so grateful. As you can imagine I am quite used to the 100.00 doctor visit co pay because I pay it so often but it does not make it any easier on my bank account.
  • I feel like I moved from the rookie squad to the all star team at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. I know the drill and the coaches (nurses) they know my name. I am a regular. Walk in, get on the scale, check my temp, check my blood pressure, draw some blood. It ain’t no thang anymore (except it still kind of is, because none of that is very fun).
  • My weight. Something I have not talked about a lot on the blog but it has been all over the place. It goes up, it goes way down and then back up again. I have learned (learning still) to let it go. My body is doing what it needs to heal and the best thing I can do is give it a lot of water, a lot of good food and rest to do what it needs to do. The weight, the number. Something my doctor needs to know because it often parallels with my counts but something that is of no importance to me.
  • Walking in with people vs. Walking in alone. Both serve its purpose. Today I went by myself, for the very first time. While laying in my chair, with my feet up and IV in I listened to music and read. It was relaxing and let me take a few deep breaths. The room was not that busy today but still quite a few people that appeared very sick. I am grateful that I have only one more round.
  • The hair growing pains are about to get very real. I bought Biotin today and have a few other things on my list to help my hair start to grow back….. You know that time you wondered if you could pull of a pixie cut but don’t have the guts to give it a try? Well today I realize that I will get to have my shot at rocking the pixie and every other length of hair for that matter. I am sure there will be a lot of future posts about this. Needless to say I look forward to celebrating new hair growth.
  • I have not shaved in three months! Yes you read this right. Hair is not growing anywhere so I have not touched a razor at all. On top of that I just use a bar of soap atop my head. Showers are about the most uneventful things these days. But they are also beautifully simple.

And that brings me to the reality that a week from tomorrow, assuming my counts continue to rise and I get rid of this crud, I will be having my last round of chemo. It brings tears to my eyes knowing that. Although the last round on Thursday is only the beginning of a week or so until I start feeling better, knowing it is my LAST one is even hard for me to comprehend.

Next weekend (yes right after chemo) I will be flying with my mom and dad to Houston, Texas for the Houston Rodeo. Friends and colleagues of my dads at Caterpillar are flying me there to fulfill my bucket list wish of attending the Rodeo. It is sure to be a great weekend celebrating this part of my cancer story being done. Sunday evening the three of us are going to the Luke Bryan concert and I am so excited. The weather in Houston should be warm as well which will make for the best post chemo recovery weekend.

Another thing that had me thinking ahead today was the warm sunny day that Denver had. Which can only mean that spring is on its way in and winter is on its way out. I so long to take a long run outside, drink a cold beer on a patio with friends, attend two dear friends weddings this summer (one in Austin, Texas and the other in Mccall, Idaho) and welcome my nephew to the world in May. There is so much to look forward to. But before all of that I need to get better, so I am back in bed writing and resting.

My body has made it clear it is tired and the only thing (besides good medicine) it needs is some rest. So the trail running can wait. The patio drinking can wait. There is much more time for that in the days ahead.

I am encouraged and grateful for each of you.

A dear friend sent this to me this morning and it resonated so much with how I have been feeling the past few days….

The deepest need that you and I have in weakness and adversity is not quick relief, but the well-grounded confidence that what is happening to us is part of the greatest purpose of God in the universe—the glorification of the grace and power of his Son—the grace and power that bore him to the cross and kept him there until the work of love was done. 

So while I long to feel better, I also am not naive enough to think this time is not being used for something. I will go back in to the hospital tomorrow to make sure my counts are still going up and for more hydration but hopefully the sick part of this will be moving its way out.

Hope this finds you well on your Wednesday.

Blue sunny skies this morning.

My poor right arm. I am not able to get IV’s in my left since they took my lymph nodes out of that side.

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The infusion room has snacks and yesterday I ate Annies honey bunnies, today I stepped it up and had the chocolate ones.


The picture below is from a few years ago. I love this one because I was hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, my hair was back in a ponytail and it was so long it came around on my shoulder.