It was this evening one year ago that I went in for the MRI that ultimately discovered that I had Breast Cancer. This MRI was supposed to occur every year. It was to simply be a test to monitor me closely and be proactive. That was all it was going to be. Or so I thought at least.

When I was finished I went to dinner with my mom to celebrate. We had a glass of wine, good food and I sat with my arm wrapped in purple tape from the IV. The picture below evidence.

While I look at the girl and smile at her innocence, I am so grateful I am not that girl anymore. The last year in all of its complexities and heartbreak made me someone new. Someone different and that person in the picture below is no more.

Cancer took a lot, but in turn gave so much more. I will be writing more these days, sharing on my cancerversary. What looking back looks like. Who am I today? Who was I then?

Today I have hope and joy in that I am here. While I am still journeying through survival, through the unknown and many moments of tears…… I am here. I am alive.

 

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My own pain in life has taught me that the first step to healing is not a step away from the pain, but a step toward it… I am convinced that healing is often so difficult because we don’t want to know the pain… It is especially true of the pain that comes from a broken heart. The anguish and agony that result from rejection, separation, neglect, abuse, and emotional manipulation serve only to paralyze us when we can’t face them and keep running away from them – Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved

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These days seem to be getting harder but I can say I am handling them a bit easier. At this time I still remain in menopause. I am now six months out from chemotherapy. Last week I had a blood test and learned that my estrogen level is very high (indicating that my ovaries are coming back). Can I get a amen to that??! My oncologist expects that I will have a menstrual cycle again before Christmas. This is tremendous news. My doctors hope that as my ovaries start waking up, that my body will start to normalize again. Unfortunately as a result of the both the medicine and menopause my weight continues to climb as these symptoms remain. (close to 12 lbs. in eight weeks). Clothes that I wore just four weeks ago are no longer fitting. To say this is easy or I am handling this well would be a lie. Every day I have to take a deep breath, remind myself that my body is still healing and allow myself the grace to see through the end of the day, or get through the dreaded “what should I wear today” saga. Most days I fail at this miserably.

At this time I will remain off of Tamoxifen until things start to balance out, i.e. my emotional health, my ovarian suppression, menopause symptoms etc.

As I read the above quote I kept thinking about how in life we are so quick to run from things. But yet something in me tells me that I have gotten this all wrong. That instead of running,  in order to find healing I must face the pain, confront the hard, be honest with myself, lay things out there that I struggle with…. and work through it. I am working to take apart the parts of who I am that are ugly and shed light on those places. I think that by shedding light on these things I can begin to make changes and move to a place of healing.

What things have you been running from in fear? What could you move towards, or approach head on to bring healing?

As time approaches my anniversary I have experienced nightmares over memories. I noticed just yesterday in talking with a friend “chemopause” is a very real thing. So many things this friend reminded me of that I have no recollection of. While the last year was good and hard there is also a lot I recognize that is a blur. Memories that are merely just faded moments in time. Conversations that got lost in my mind. This again is another hard reality.

Last weekend I was up in Vancouver, BC all by myself. One of the best parts of traveling alone is you get to delight and indulge in whatever YOU want. (If you have never done this before I highly recommend it). This past weekend I spent exploring, walking, biking, running, eating and drinking all that Vancouver, BC had to offer. I rented a place on AirBnB in the West End and thoroughly enjoyed the modern flat with an ocean view porch. It has been a while since I traveled alone, and I forgot how much I enjoy it. A lot of thinking, reflecting, resting and just enjoying the city.

The summer is drawing to a close, the nights are cooler, the mornings darker. I am beginning to pray over the words I will share in a few weeks at the 2015 Karens for the Cure Fundraiser. I am honored to have been chosen as the Keynote Speaker. If you are in Colorado and would like to join I would be honored to have you there. You may register here. Next weekend I will run in the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Race wearing my Survivor Shirt proudly. I must admit it is sort of surreal to be participating in this way.

Thank you for thinking of me. Praying for me and never leaving my side.

Happy Friday to you.

Two Saturdays in a row where the first thing I have gotten to do is sit down and write. This is one of my happy places.

The title of this post is unique, because this week was special for me.

“Celebrating Surrender”

In honor of this date and this time (September of last year I was diagnosed), I decided to be more intentional, seek truth, rest, read, listen and humbly commit to prayer. While these intentions may seem minimal, typical or cliche… for me they are none of these things. I am aware of how difficult this month is. Just the word September gives me goosebumps. Just the mention of the phone call I received that day fills my eyes with tears. I decided it would be best if I allow myself the time to grieve, to reflect, and to most of all surrender over my life.

Why then you may ask would my title this week be a celebration? For the past two years I have been in counseling. I know for some of you counseling is a standard practice for you and for others you hold strong opinions about those that attend counseling, perhaps you had a negative experience or you went yet were unable to find the help you desired. For me counseling has been monumental. It has given me a space to explore, to share and grow. I tell anyone when they ask about it, that it is the hardest but the very best work I have ever done. In conjunction with counseling I have made a decision to seek additional assistance to help me heal. So this week I met with a psychiatrist.

I mention this boldly and admit this only because I have for so long made assumptions about those that seek medical assistance. I was determined to not be one of those people. I allowed my assumptions about what that meeting would be like to keep me from going in the first place. I now can see that the relief, the freedom, and the peace I gained in taking this step, that it was something I should have been doing a long time ago. More than the fear about meeting a stranger for the first time and sharing my story, I was most afraid to admit that I was not doing so well. So these words while hard to write are my surrender.

When I met with the hospital social worker months ago she advised me that the next year is often harder than the year of cancer. She showed me a lovely presentation that discussed common side effects, grief, depression, anxiety, inability to show up day to day, the list goes on… I remember viewing the presentation and thinking, yep, I got it. I will be ready when that hits. What I failed to realize in that moment was that the list of side affects had already taken up root in me and they were slowly revealing themselves over time.

Whether one wants to hear it or not, I am on a long journey of healing that is at times unbearable. The weight of my cancer story and the daunting future ahead overwhelms me to the point of paralyzation. I am overwhelmed in the reality that I may very well be in permanent menopause. Overwhelmed by what it means to have been diagnosed with cancer at 26. I am overwhelmed when it comes to thinking about interacting with others my age. I find myself at times unable to relate when someone complains of a broken down car or that they were late for a dentist appointment. I find myself sometimes so far removed from their reality that it seems incredibly overwhelming to try and find my place. The thought of cancer returning is the big elephant in the room that everyone wants to know. Are you in remission? Are you still battling? The answer I often want to give.  No I am not, but at times I wish I was.

Ouch.

I have learned in the last couple months of voicing this reality that this is a very common outlook survivors have. The thought of doing life as a survivor is often so overwhelming that the cancer journey seems easier. It was structured, it was goal oriented, I was focused, I was doing self care the best way I know how and now, I am told to go and live. To go and do. That is overwhelming.

Maybe you do not understand but imagine for a second… and if you cannot I only ask you to commit to praying for me.

So many of you have been and I am so grateful for that. I am excited about the place the Lord has me in. I am excited about the very desire I have to surrender over so many things I have been holding on to.

The very first one, “It is ok, to not be ok”.

I hope this finds you well on your Saturday and my words are an encouragement to you. I am off to a wedding in the mountains. Have a great Saturday!

(Also got my second hair cut since chemo yesterday… silver lining folks)

As the summer begins to slowly fade away, I love how the sun wakes up a bit later each morning and the evenings are cooler. I am looking forward to fall. While this summer has been filled up with adventures in the mountains, bike riding, running, hiking, good food and many wedding celebrations, I look forward to the slow down that the fall brings. This was the first Saturday morning I woke up in my house and had coffee in quite some time. I have missed this quiet spot.

In the past few weeks as I look back on the summer, I am taking a look at how I invested my time, how I rested and am beginning to take some new things into consideration as I prepare for this new season. Today marks two weeks off of tamoxifen. If I am honest it is hard to tell if my side affects have subsided at all. It is difficult to pin point exactly what is a result of the medicine and what is the reality that is “I had cancer”. This day much like the last eight months, I find myself still in chemically induced menopause. I have hot flashes a little less frequent but my body shows no sign of my ovarian function returning. I must be honest this is one of the hardest realities. Every common side affect associated with menopause is very much a reality I am dealing with. Depression, anxiety, weight gain, hot flashes, night sweats… the list continues.

Yesterday I found myself at church, sitting alone in my same spot. It seems each Sunday morning a song is sung that speaks of God being a great healer. Of one day being made whole again. These songs bring me to tears in an instant. I wonder over the truth that one day I will be well. That my body will be complete again. That my body will no longer be the result of surgeries and that it will be scar free. I pray over the words in these songs as I let my tears fall during the service. I am beginning to trust this tender place that God has me in, as I process all that has been. I know someday soon I will miss the intimacy that this time brought. That I will long for the days when I was without control and left to be on my knees.

What moment have you found yourself in that your only choice was to surrender? How did God meet you in those moments?

Somehow cancer became the only story I know how to tell anymore. It is as though every compliment to my hair I have to provide the disclaimer that this is my chemo hair coming back. Then every time I am tired, or forget something I blame the chemotherapy. Or when I find myself stepping away from others I know far well that is the cancer too.

This month, September 30 will mark my one year anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer. I am dedicating this month to writing more, reading more, listening more, talking less, doing less and soaking up the sweet memories of one year ago.

May this day find you soaking up life joys, surrendering in your brokenness to see what is going on around you. Perhaps instead of changing your circumstances you can move more into your story to live with more intention and gratitude.

Have a wonderful day.

Love Kristina

The words I can never find….

I find it hard to explain what it feels like from my point of view. What the world looks like now? How my heart is softer, my spirit changed, my mind ever so quick to wander and the gentleness that is life today. The most common question I am asked is, How are you doing?

In order to answer I must ask you, Do you want the truth, the half truth or do you want to hear what is easy to comprehend?

I could tell you I am well. Which is partial truth. My body is doing remarkably well. I am currently training for a half marathon, working out just as I was before my surgery with minor modifications to accommodate my chest. My summer has been filled up, as it typically is. I rest a lot during the week, leaving the weekends for adventuring. Most evenings I find myself at home cooking dinner, watching TV or reading a book. This is the me time all alone. I treasure this so very much. Just one week ago I was in Cabo San Lucas for the week with three of my best friends. We got a lot of sun, a lot of dancing in and a lot of poolside drinks.

As for the rest of the truth. I pour myself into work every day. Show up. Work hard and try my best to leave everything else at the door step. My spirit, forgets all that the past year has been. It often forgets how much has happened. I have learned that I fail miserably at granting grace onto myself. I am hard on myself … especially hard. Turns out that despite still recovering from cancer treatment and diagnosis I have set the bar even higher. I have learned that I expect myself to bounce back and then some. Not to mention I had full intentions to live life well but with great joy, yet I find this so hard to do.

What you do not want to hear is that my cancer story is a living part of my every day. Whether it be an explanation for my short hair cut, my still broken finger nails, and sudden tears. I am still in chemically induced menopause and long for the day that I have a normal menstrual cycle again. Monday I made the decision to no longer take Tamoxifen, for a variety of reasons but feel it is the best decision for me at this time. (will share more sometime).

But more than those things, the real truth is that my story written long ago, God always knew I would have cancer. He knew I would be broken. He knew I would have trouble recognizing the person on the other side of mirror. He knew that my years of body shaming and self image hatred would rear up again as I recovered from cancer. He knew I would start telling myself that I no longer wanted children to hopefully lessen the blow should I never be able to have them. He knew that I would inspire others, yet be brought to tears because I don’t actually believe that I am touching others hearts or that my story means something. He knew I would be lost in the post cancer world. He knew I would miss the comfort and the routine that was treatments, appointments and a schedule. He knew that in this very moment I would doubt whether “remission” was actually a thing or rather a fancy word that doctors use to say until your cancer returns. He knew this. I know because he has met me in each of these places in the last few months.

I appreciate your prayers, kind words, cards, and thoughts. I will try and write more. In just one month I will celebrate my “cancerversary day” or whatever you want to call it. The day I was diagnosed. I also have a few announcements, some things I will be participating in that I would love for you to join if you can!

Hope this finds you well today.

Love Kristina

See below a couple of pictures from Mexico.

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