One year ago today I took my last dose of chemo. I bid farewell to cancer and started to move forward….

Or so I thought I did….

I never imagined after that day would be months of tears, days of sadness, hopelessness and fear. I never imagined that I would wish my cancer to come back. I could have never dreamt to be so afraid of the future, but I was. Cancer had become my reality. My appointments became my safety net. And when someone told me to go and live I felt paralyzed. I longed for cancer to return so that I could feel safe again. The world being cancer free overwhelmed me.

I didn’t know how to process it, discuss it or grieve it…

Over the last year, with a lot of patience, a lot of prayer, a lot of friends, a lot of family, counseling and some medicine I am so proud to be where I am today. I am proud to say it feels so good to be Living.

To be doing life.

May today meet you where you are at. May you have the patience to accept the story you never wanted and start living in the middle of it. Celebrate those near, honor those who have passed and be so proud of yourself. They say that life is a gift. What an honor it is to be given more days.

Thank you for celebrating with me. Happy One Year of being CANCER FREE.

 

“Therefore the Lord waits [expectantly] and longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed (happy, fortunate) are all those who long for Him [since He will never fail them].” – Isaiah 30:18

IMG_6844    IMG_6845IMG_6854IMG_6855

IMG_6856IMG_6859

IMG_6858

I have almost completed two months of taking Tamoxifen (again) and am still feeling very well. I cannot tell you what a blessing that is to say. Besides the occasional sweating and hot flashes I am tolerating the medicine much better this time around. My hope is to remain on Tamoxifen for the next five years to lower my risk of reaccurance from 25% to 15%. Thank you for praying and thinking of me. I am very grateful and while many have asked that I write more often I must say I am grateful I have little to share these days.

I have been busy living and reflecting on my cancer journey no longer holds the place that it did before.

My hope for you is that whatever circumstance you find yourself in today, may you one day be able to look back and smile knowing you made it through. Because I smile a lot more today than I did this time last year.

Today I am tired from staying up too late, eating lots of yummy food, sore from my Monday workout and have a slight headache from the headband I am wearing. Yep you read that right a headband. I have enough hair to pull it back. (perhaps if I tried maybe a small ponytail). All of these things were things I could have never celebrated last year.

Next Month, March 19, 2016 I will celebrate 1 year of being Cancer Free and my last day of chemo! I am very much looking forward to that.

And to now leave you with something funny, I realized that I never shared my wig pictures from the day my mom and I went shopping for one, and thought it might make you smile! Enjoy!

wig

 

I was asked  to write a letter to someone recently diagnosed with breast cancer… I immediately said I would be honored to do so. Days passed since I accepted the request and the more I thought about it, I couldn’t seem to come up with the words. What would I say? Why should I say something at all? The more I thought about it, the harder it seemed to write. So I didn’t.

Now today, January 12, 2016 I have decided to write that letter;

___________________________

Dear Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patient, 

I don’t think I should be writing to you,  because if I am honest I never imagined I would have cancer.  I am certain you never thought you would either. I know that this letter addressed to you does not seem like you should be the one reading it. The words patient and survivor are words spoken about others, not to you. I wish I could tell you that you get used to being called that. Or  that one day you will feel like you belong in the cancer club but if I am honest you never do. Its the club you are in that you never wanted to be apart of. The club you show up too but somehow you wonder why they let you in. You look around at the other members and think wow they are so much more qualified than I. You say things in your mind about how hard it must be for them, never realizing that you yourself are one of them. So that is where I start.

You have cancer and believe it or not it is the most beautiful heartbreaking journeys you will ever encounter.

For whatever reason your story is being written without your input, it is being written just as it should because the truth of our stories is they are never up to us. I believe that there is a God that loves you and I both and in the depths of our heartbreak, our stories are still really incredible. Breast Cancer included. 

So while you are living this nightmare I would encourage you to trust it. Try not to fight it. I can assure you even in your deepest hurts you are being made into something new. You get the tremendous privilege of living on the edge of life and while it remains scary it is one of the most beautiful ways to live. 

Try not to miss the moments when others show up on your step and offer to help. Allow others to move closer to you. I can promise you that while it may seem suffocating it is the only way you will be able to make it through. It is really special to do life on the wings of others. I urge you to do so. Take flight on the wings of those around you. Close your eyes and allow others to carry you through. Life is really beautiful that way.

When it comes to taking care of yourself give yourself the gift of respect by being present with your feelings. You will feel angry, sad, cry, laugh and cry some more. Allow the tears to fall, the laughter to fill a room and the silence to be the gift of a moment. 

I could tell you tips on surviving chemotherapy, a masectomy, how to use scar tape, tell you what it is like to loose your nipples, or to feel like you lost your femininity but none it matters if the cancer journey passes and you missed it. I have no other recommendations to offer than urge you to allow your story to be the beautiful story that it is. Believe that even heartbreak and sorrow can show you life in the most tender of ways. I believe God loves you so very much and I can assure you, that you will never ever be alone in this journey. 

Thinking and praying for you as your journey begins, 

Love Kristina (A 28 year old breast cancer survivor)

___________________

  “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or death.” (Philippians 1: 19-20)

A new year is often a time of new beginnings, fresh starts and resolutions…. but what happens when looking back is so overwhelming you are a bit afraid of a new year starting. When the past year was  filled with heartache, celebrations, surgeries and changes that the new year with all of its unknown seems a bit scary.

If you are like me I kind of hate the new year resolution trend. I hate the notion that we mark a new year with endless to dos and expectations that often come up short. I would so much rather look forward with hope. Hoping to simply be around for whatever comes my way.

Maybe that is why my week has been hard… and overwhelming. I am afraid of the new year but more than anything overwhelmed by the last.

 

Kristina-11-2

(Taken in January of 2015)

This time last year I was preparing for my first round of chemotherapy. By the end of January my hair fell out and the physical characteristics of being a cancer patient began to take place. I went into  menopause and stayed up late in the evenings with hot flashes, insomnia and night sweats. By the middle of March I was already on my fourth round, and spent days in the hospital receiving shots and nights praying over blood counts that I hoped would come up. I finished my last round of chemotherapy on March 19 and flew to Houston, Texas to celebrate with my parents at the Rodeo. Shortly there after my grandmother passed away suddenly and I flew back to Indiana to celebrate her incredible legacy. April was a surgery month when I received my permanent implants and said goodbye to the dreaded expanders. May 10 we welcomed my nephew to the world when my sister and Josh celebrating Brady Warren’s arrival. June was marked with weddings and enjoying the new hair growth on my head. The beginning of July I flew to Mccall, Idaho to celebrate two dear friends wedding. August, I celebrated again my cancer journey by spending a week in Cabo San Lucas with three of my best friends. The summer faded to fall as I struggled to adjust to tamoxifen and the many side effects. I took two work trips to Vancouver and Napa Valley before celebrating my cancerversary by running in the Rock N Roll Denver Half Marathon in October. I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the 2015 Karens for the Cure and walked in my very first Susan G Komen Race for the Cure as a survivor. November I had yet another surgery, a small revision to my breasts, took a brief visit to the ER and slowly began to heal. December brought joy as I looked forward to the holidays and spending time with my family. And that brings me to today….

Today New Years Eve has found me in tears. Just yesterday at work I was speaking with some coworkers as they asked what my plans were for tonight. My eyes filled up with water and said I was not sure. That to be honest I have been taken back by this holiday as it has been a reminder of this year. I explained that I honestly couldn’t believe that I survived it at all.

Survivor. The new label I get for beating cancer as so many say. For “surviving”.

Tomorrow I will give myself another chance at taking Tamoxifen. After speaking with my doctor she indicated that without this medicine I am left with a 25% chance of my cancer returning. With the medicine I can drop that to 15%. I agreed it was worth another chance but I am prepared to abandon it for good should the side effects be too much to bear again.

So while the new year looms ahead I am praying for more good days, more joy, more patience and hopefully by the grace of God for my cancer to never return again.

From the very bottom of my heart I would like to thank you for journeying with me this past year. For showing me God’s incredible grace in the ways you have showed up for me. For the countless meals, gifts, celebrations, accompanying me to the doctor and for your prayers. I could have never done it without you. Even in the midst of it all I think God is incredibly good and that gives me incredible comfort.

Happy New Year

Love Kristina

 

“We want suffering to be like pregnancy—we have a season, and it’s over, and there is a tidy moral to the story.” I’ve come to sense that isn’t what faith is at all. What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good?”
Kara Tippetts, The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard

 IMG_8774

(Just taken over the holidays with my nephew)

 

A few days ago I interviewed with the Denver Post about my friend and fellow Breast Cancer survivor, Junko Kazukow. The post is writing a story on her amazing accomplishment of being both an Leadwoman (completing the Leadville Trail 100 mile run, Leadville 10K race, Leadville 100 mile Mtn. Bike race, Silver Rush 50 mile Run and Leadville Marathon) as well as completing the “Grand Slam” of Ultra Running. (Four 100 mile races in one season). To say she is incredible would be an understatement.

I found myself sharing about my friendship with her and what it meant to finish the Leadville 100 with her just months after I myself completed chemotherapy. As I spoke I began to cry. She is just one example of so many people that walked into my life during the past year. The journalist over the phone asked me, what was next for me then? Now that I had beat cancer and just did a half marathon and sky dived to comemorate my anniversary. She said so what was next? I paused, thought for a second and began to explain that I had hoped to bike more or maybe do a triathlon. As I spoke I interrupted myself and then said, “To be honest right now, it is such a gift to wake up and be here, that I could do nothing at all and it is really special to be alive”

After the interview, I hung up the phone and wiped my tears. I pondered what I said and thought more about it. For so long I felt pressure that since I beat cancer that I should  go and do and never stop (live like your dying mentaility). Don’t get me wrong, I still hope and dream for a lot but I have never felt so certain that even in the mundane, in the simple of what is today that that in and of itself is an incredible gift and worthy of a celebration.

As I pack to fly home tomorrow, I could not be more excited to spend time with family and friends, hold my nephew, watch sports with my dad, go on walks, decorate gingerbread houses, watch the Louisville basketball team play and meet my god daughter.

I am happy to announce that I had my follow up with my oncologist yesterday and my tumor marker levels came back normal. I go again in three months but am grateful that I remain cancer free. I also got up skiing last weekend (for the first time since cancer), in inches of powder, and it was like riding a bike. It may have been a while but my legs picked up right where they left off (just a little slower).

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all of you.

Love Kristina

Below are some pictures of the Team Junko dinner we had celebrating her accomplishments and the surprise snow day we had.

Older picture of Junko and I when I was going through chemotherpy.

Junko’s Leadville 100 Run Metal

Just shy of a foot of snow!

Zoolander pose and my crazy hair (trying to catch up to my roommates).

IMG_8898