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;

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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)

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  “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.

 

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(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

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(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).

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I remember this time last year. Meeting with the fertility doctor to discuss the short time frame that I had before me to harvest eggs. I decided pretty quickly that I did not want to do it. I remember arguing my position to my dad on the phone. I was sitting in my car as tears fell. I remember that morning frustrated. More than anything I was frustrated that I had to make the choice to begin with.

So my initial reaction was to not deal with it by choosing not to do it. But turns out not doing something is a choice. I eventually came around to decide after some wise words and love from others around me that I should atleast give it a shot. Give myself the chance to have the option later in life to have children. As of today I do not know if I am sterile or not. I know that my menstrual cycle has returned but this does not mean that I still have eggs, or that I would be able to conceive. So in a medical office in Littleton, Colorado are four eggs that the doctors extracted from me. I still reflect back on that time and tears fill my eyes. A choice I never wanted to make I had to and I did.

To be honest that has been what much of the past few months have been like. Looking back unsure how I did all of that. How for ten days I had my blood drawn and a vaginal ultrasound before going into work. Last year this season was hard. It brought about a lot of grief and many many tears and I must say the newness that is this year has brought on is refreshing.

For my family we have had a busy last few months. On November 5, I had a revision done to my breast implants and I have recovered well. I saw my plastic surgeon yesterday and he is very pleased.

I also share this with a heavy heart as I realize that I am nearing the end of my cancer road and for me that kind of scares me. There is comfort in seeing doctors, appointments, and having surgeries. By still seeing a doctor, it feels as though you are doing something and it seems to make living “beyond” cancer less scary. I have an appointment next week with my oncologist regarding my choice to no longer take, Tamoxifen. If you could pray over that appointment I would appreciate it. I do not want to go back on the drug and know that I will be strongly advised too. I have some decisions to make regarding preventative breast cancer care over the next few years and I am a little unsure of what to do.

I also ask that you life up my dear friend and fellow cancer fighter Jenna Maddux in Louisville, who is being operated on at this very moment. Her brain tumor has returned for a third time. She enduring a long journey  seems to be knocked down just when she is being brought up.

Of course then there is me complaining because I am scared to be a survivor. Like a fellow cancer blogger said here : “A headache will never just be a headache, and my worry is forevermore.  Although, I’m sure as the years go by (and hopefully, the years do go by!) these feeling will dull.  It’s a little intense, I know, and that’s why I haven’t been around.”

I promise though… I want to write more. Writing I have learned has more to do with me and less about the audience reading. I am taking each day in stride and trying my best to be present in the midst of all that I feel as I celebrate anniversary dates upon anniversary dates of the past year. It is still strange to me to be labeled a “cancer survivor”. And as for my newly constructed breasts, I am still slow to accept them, but I can confidently say I look in the mirror a little bit more these days (than I have before). I have a decision to make regarding nipple reconstruction/ tattooing but I am going to wait several months for that.

In the mean time I am soaking up the season, trying to rest when I get the chance and looking forward to flying home next Saturday for the holidays.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season.

Love Kristina

 

Post – Egg Harvesting – a lot of tears.

I learned one year ago… that I mattered. That not only did I matter to those near, I mattered to those far, those I encountered briefly and more importantly I mattered to the creator of the universe.

I remember waiting to go back for my surgery, my parents  fighting back tears as their youngest daughter just shy of her twenty seventh birthday was being taken back to have her cancer removed.

I however remember feeling encouraged, calm and ready. But I remember looking in my parents eyes and was unsure if they were going to be ok. I wrote my parents a card to open when I went back for my surgery. I wanted them to be encouraged as I was. In more than a few words I reminded them that they raised me to be strong. That I was their daughter after all and this moment while nothing we planned for was something I was going to be able to do. I wanted them to trust that everything was going to be ok and that I knew that I was loved. I wanted them to know that I was so sure of my future as I ever had been and that even if the surgery did not go as we had hoped, that their were plans laid out for me that were far more than I could have ever imagined.

Those words have remained true to this day. The journey at times seems long. But I feel incredibly honored and humbled that I was chosen to walk the story of cancer, and now wear the badge of survivor. This past weekend a college football player from Southeast Missouri wore my name on the back of his jersey after some of my dearest guy friends from high school raised money for breast cancer in my honor. I cannot say enough how grateful I am. Thank you. Though this player may not know me, I certainly hope he knows how much it meant to me.

This day more than the diagnosis day will forever hold special meaning. The day as I look back had very little to do with being cancer free but had everything to do with for the first time believing that I truly mattered. The waiting room was filled with dear friends to sit and pray with my parents while they waited. College students in California stood holding a sign that said “we heart kris” and I only new one student in the picture. My high school teachers, nearly 25 of them gathered out front of my high school to pose with a sign saying “We heart Kris”. (I graduated almost 10 years ago). Distant friends showed up with food, meals, cards and offered their prayers. Two strangers next me on a plane bought me a drink and toasted to my journey just days before. The Crossfit Bluegrass (Louisville, KY) morning WOD ended by taking a photo holding a sign honoring me. Hundreds showed their love and support by taking to the world of social media to make it clear that I mattered. Girlfriends gathered at my church on Saturday mornings to pray over me. Spending an hour in prayer over my name. My second grade class down in Honduras (at the time in fourth grade) wished me well via video.  Please know I look back almost daily. Thank you.

I say all of this today because I know how hard it is to believe that you matter. Some days harder than others. But please hear it from me. You do. You matter.

Tomorrow morning I am going in for what I call Phase 2 of my reconstruction. My plastic surgeon is going to work on my breasts to work on both their shape and my scars. Your prayers are appreciated.

Below are some pictures from last weekend of my high school friend,s Andrew and Philip with the player wearing my name.
From the very depths of my heart…. thank you for everything you did this time last year and continue to do for me today.

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